Come back, civility -- the Internet misses you

Hysteria on the Internet? You don't say! But recent NSF and PyCon outbursts exposes need for cooler heads, saner days

It seems the suffix "gate" has a lot of life in it after all. Over the past week we've seen two "gate" dustups that say a lot about what's wrong with Web.

Our first scandal out of the, er, gate involves ducks -- or more specifically, the sexual organs of male waterfowl. Four years ago the National Science Foundation wrote a check for $385,000 to Yale researchers to study how sexual competition caused mallards' members to evolve over time. Because this research was funded under the Obama Recovery Act -- and probably because it also involved evolution -- it turned into a duck-shaped piñata for conservative bloggers to moan about government waste.

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Given the scope of our nation's budgetary struggles, complaining about spending $400,000 to study quackers is a bit like booking the $40,000-a-night Hefner Villa at the Palms, then complaining about the cost of peanuts in the minibar. The opportunities for juvenile humor, not to mention reckless alliteration, are almost too tempting to pass up, but I'd rather not get fired -- which brings me to my next Web kerfuffle, known as Donglegate.

I spy with Twitter's eye

Picture this: You are in an auditorium at a tech conference with a couple hundred other people. The presentation is starting to drag a bit, so you make a few sniggering asides to your buddy sitting next to you. A young woman sitting in front of you turns around, smiles, and snaps three photos of you with her phone. The next thing you know, you're being hauled off for a serious talking to by conference sponsors. Two days later you're fired from your job.

If it were a screenplay, this scene wouldn't make it past the first draft. But it really happened, about 10 days ago.

Two employees of gaming company Play Haven were sitting at PyCon, the conference for developers who work with the Python programming language, when one of them made a couple of extremely dorky sexual jokes about the size of one's dongle and the pleasure of forking. The woman in front of them, Adria Richards from email delivery company SendGrid, snapped a photo of the two, then posted it to Twitter:

Come back, civility! The Internet misses you

She also complained about the pair to PyCon officials, who spoke to each of the dorks in turn and seemed to have settled the matter. From there, though, things went a little crazy. Somehow that tweet made it to Hacker News, where it erupted into heated discussions about whether jokes about dongles constituted yet another form of sexism in an industry infamous for it -- then to Reddit, Facebook, and back to Twitter.

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