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Why you shouldn't believe anything you read. Including this.

A few weeks ago I was chat­ting with my fa­ther in law and (s­ince I work with com­put­ers and must there­fore know ev­ery­thing com­put­er re­lat­ed) he asked me if I had heard of the 9 year old kid that worked for Mi­cro­soft as an en­gi­neer.

I said that prob­a­bly, hir­ing 9 year olds to work as en­gi­neers was il­le­gal, and that in most places to be­come an "engi­neer" you need to go to col­lege, but any way it stayed in my head, like a pea in a mara­ca but any­way, I de­cid­ed to check it out a bit.

First: no, there is no 9 year old work­ing for Mi­crosoft, as far as I know.

And then, a cu­ri­ous pat­tern ap­peared: there is not one sto­ry about that, there are sev­er­al. And about dif­fer­ent kid­s. And most­ly in span­ish-s­peak­ing me­di­a.

Let's check Mah­mud Wael first.

Here's what In­foBAE says about him:

Mah­mud Wael, un egip­cio de 11 años y as­pec­to frágil, es el nue­vo téc­ni­co de Mi­cro­soft gra­cias a su ca­paci­dad para re­solver com­ple­jos cál­cu­los en cuestión de se­gun­dos y mo­verse sin prob­le­mas por las re­des in­for­máti­cas


Mah­mud Wael, a frag­ile look­ing 11 year old egyp­tian, is the lat­est Mi­cro­soft tech­ni­cian thanks to his abil­i­ty to solve com­plex cal­cu­la­tions in sec­onds and to move ef­fort­less­ly through in­for­ma­tion net­work­s.

If one ac­tu­al­ly both­ers read­ing the sto­ry there's more: ap­par­ent­ly Mah­mud joined the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty in Cairo at age 9, and is now at­tend­ing Cairo Uni­ver­si­ty for a de­gree in some com­put­er-re­lat­ed area.

Now, I don't want to pick on In­foBAE be­cause the same thing is re­port­ed in many oth­er places (the pre­vi­ous links are just the first few that google gave me).

In fac­t, a bunch of those sto­ries even say "With 11 years, he al­ready works at Mi­crosoft­", which is some­how not in the In­foBAE sto­ry which is tak­en from the EFE agen­cy.

Now... does he work at Mi­crosoft? I bet he does­n't (or EFE would have men­tioned it). It's just that when some­one writes "Mi­crosoft Tech­ni­cian" or "Mi­crosoft En­gi­neer" in en­glish, well, that makes no sense in span­ish, so the span­ish me­dia and read­ers are lead astray.

A Mi­cro­soft Cer­ti­fied En­gi­neer is some­one who has tak­en some Mi­cro­soft train­ing cour­ses and ex­am­s.

On the oth­er hand, in most of the span­ish speak­ing world, you can't call your­self an en­gi­neer un­less you get an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree from a uni­ver­si­ty. In fact in Ar­genti­na call­ing your­self an en­gi­neer if you don't have one is il­le­gal.

So, "Mi­crosoft En­gi­neer" is tak­en as "an en­gi­neer that works at Mi­crosoft­", be­cause the al­ter­na­tive sim­ply makes no sense.

What is the re­al sto­ry about Mah­mud Wael? Well, let's check some egyp­tian sources, which is what all those news­pa­pers should have done in the first place.

Here's Egypt To­day's take on it from when he was 9.

Did he at­tend the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty?

Well, he had a schol­ar­ship from them to at­tend the Green­land In­ter­na­tion­al Lan­guage School, and at­tend­ed one eng­lish course.

What about the "Mi­crosoft En­gi­neer" thing? He was plan­ning to take the MCSD ex­am­s. Did he suc­ceed? Well, Reuters says he got a MCTS.

An MCTS is not an MCS­D, or an MCSE. In fac­t, just by say­ing some­one has an MCTS (very im­pres­sive for an 11 year old!) you have no idea of what he knows, be­cause a MCTS is about a spe­cif­ic pro­duc­t, and there are MCTSs for al­most all of MS prod­uct­s.

So, in short: Mah­mud is a very im­pres­sive and in­tel­li­gent kid, but he is not an en­gi­neer, have a col­lege de­gree or work at Mi­cro­soft.

And now the sec­ond case, Marko Calasan from Mace­do­nia, which is the one ac­tu­al­ly men­tioned to me.

And it's ex­act­ly the same sto­ry, ex­cept that he got a much bet­ter cert from MS than Mah­mud, and he got it ear­li­er.

Again the "works at Mi­crosoft" thing seems to be ex­clu­sive to the span­ish speak­ing me­di­a, and prob­a­bly for the same rea­son.

Now, let's think about what this says of jour­nal­is­m. These sto­ries were not hard to check. All you need is pass­able eng­lish skills and google. And if your eng­lish suck­s, google can help you with that too.

But dozens of news­pa­pers and sites just run with it be­cause the "Mi­crosoft hires (s­mall age) kid!" is just too nice and peo­ple would ac­cept it be­cause hey, it's in the news­pa­per­s.

And you know what? I sus­pect that it's the same thing with a large part of what you read in the pa­per­s. If check­ing a tiny piece just be­cause I have some pe­riph­er­al knowl­edge about it says there are dozens of ar­ti­cles that are just wrong, what hap­pens in all the ar­eas where I am clue­less?

Be­cause we are all clue­less in al­most ev­ery­thing, and jour­nal­ists are prob­a­bly clue­less about 90% of what they write about. It's not even a con­spir­a­cy, it's just ig­no­rance am­pli­fied by their job de­scrip­tion.

A short short scifi story

I wrote this for a con­test at the New Sci­en­tist mag­a­zine. I thought what the heck, maybe some­one will like it. And no, I won't ex­plain it, be­cause that spoils the whole thing.

Space Platform by Murray Leinster: rooting for the Death Star

I just fin­ished read­ing Mur­ray Le­in­ster's Space Plat­form (in my new phone yay!).

You can read it too, if you wan­t, be­cause it's avail­able, for free, from Many­book­ in any for­mat you may need.

It's a very old-­fash­ioned (pub­lished in 1953) sci­fi sto­ry, but what re­al­ly shocked me was that in the 25 years be­tween this and Star Wars (1978) ev­ery­thing changed.

Why? Be­cause this is a book writ­ten from the per­spec­tive of work­ers build­ing the Death Star.

Specif­i­cal­ly, the main char­ac­ter, Joe, is work­ing on build­ing the gy­ro­scopes for a space sta­tion which will be the first per­ma­nent ar­ti­fi­cial ob­ject in or­bit... and is ful­ly load­ed with nukes.

Fur­ther, it's strict­ly a USA project (although there is a men­tion of it "be­ing of­fered" to the UN) and the whole book is spent show­ing the coura­geous work­ers and sol­diers fight­ing sabo­teurs in Ari­zon­a.

Re­place USA by "the em­pire", work­ers and sol­diers by storm troop­er­s, space plat­form by death star, com­mu­nists and an­ar­chists by ewoks and rebels and... well, it's "Re­turn of the Jedi", ex­cept the em­pire wins and all ewoks are killed in the end.

This short nov­el is com­plete­ly acrit­i­cal: US hav­ing the pow­er to de­stroy any city in the world at will is good. All oth­er coun­tries be­ing un­able to re­tal­i­ate is good. Try­ing to pre­vent it by any mean­s? Bad and cow­ard­ly.

In just 25 years, though, films de­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion ex­act­ly from the op­po­site point of view had ev­ery kid cheer­ing for the sabo­teurs.

It's amaz­ing that this book is clos­er in time to Star Wars than Star Wars is to to­day.

Space Platform (To the Stars, Book 1)

Cover for Space Platform (To the Stars, Book 1)


This is ex­act­ly "The re­turn of the Jedi", ex­cept from the POV of the em­pire and all ewoks are killed. Not a pleas­ant read, re­al­ly. Acrit­i­cal and jin­go­is­tic.

Reason #219 why you should learn english if you are a programmer

Here's pret­ty much the on­ly place where you can buy Mark Sum­mer­field­'s "Python 3" book in Ar­genti­na: Cúspi­de.

It costs $372.50 in pe­sos which is about $94 in dol­lars.

Oh, and you have to go to a book store to pick it up, or add ship­ping.

How much does it cost to buy that book in eng­land and have it shipped to your door? $16. That's a whoop­ing 17% of the lo­cal cost.

And no, it won't pay im­port tax­es, be­cause books are ex­emp­t.

And did I men­tion that the eng­lish ver­sion came out a year ear­lier?

So, if you don't learn en­glish, you pay al­most 6 times for the book, and wait a year.

Any pro­gram­mer that does­n't know enough eng­lish is a third class cit­i­zen.

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