All posts by paulgrichardson

Husband, dad,engineer, hobbyist critical thinker, surfer, occasional guitarist, perennial deliberator, grad student in waiting

Covid-19, Good Lord

My usual opening.

Stats for the Covid-19 pandemic have continued to grow and fortunately my family has not had to make significant changes in our day-to-day lives and the are certainly nowhere near what have had to. What has happened so far is awful. What should be different going forward?

Damage to our social and economic systems will exist for several years. In some instances, parts of these systems will never recover, and in turn, the people who depend them. I can only imagine how this time in our lives will impact my daughter’s generation beyond.

The kill rate of this virus is between three and four percent globally. We should consider it a warning shot, an opportunity to prepare for others which most members of the public health community are sure to come. We need to learn the lessons available to us from this experience.

How do we manage a virus which remains latent for two weeks or longer while simultaneously being highly infectious? What sort of investment do we make in our medical infrastructure? Would such a venture even be successful preventing the disruption we have seen during this pandemic.

At the beginning of this missive I asked what needs to happen going forward. In any solution to a problem before anything can happen decisions must be made. Some of these decisions are supposed to be made by leaders, in fact, decisions in times of crisis are supposed to be the calling card of a great leader. The current individual occupying- when not cowering in a bunker below it -White House is not part of that club. Keep that in mind when you go to vote this November, elections have consequences.

Whoa

Well, well, well, it has been a long time since I have written anything in this blog. Mueller’s investigation was about six months old, impeachment proceedings were a year off, and the Democrat primary season had not picked up steam. It has been so long I even forgot to link a song at the beginning of this post.

As I write this, the covid-19 pandemic is grinding along and notching up casualties. Italy, unfortunately, has taken the baton from China. The infection is continuing to progress and has landed in the states. It should come as no surprise that we are addressing it with our unique blend of alarm and hubris. And then, there our president adding his brand- literally -of madness into the mix.

During this time I often perform the mental exercise of sitting at the twenty thousand foot level and, in doing so, observe this pandemic is even more amazing; in a bad way. Early on, before Governor Newsom declared a statewide shutdown (bars, gyms, public spaces like movie theaters, and bars). I guess people have a hard time practicing common sense behavior unless forced to do so.

Many people struggle with the moderate limitations on our movements and behavior, telling themselves the numbers are only in the thousands, why worry? They’re missing the point. The idea is to put the hammer down now so that we don’t have to later. Maybe they should consider this an investment in the future, theirs and the rest of us.

Take care and be safe.

Hubris And The Cry For A Digital Nanny State

For some time now social media platforms have been hearing the footsteps of Ms. Mea Culpa as more and more evidence surfaces indicating that many of these platforms carried propaganda intended to shift the outcome of last November’s presidential election.

Propublica and other journalism organizations have reported that Facebook, and, most likely other social media platforms sold ad space to foreign entities for use in promoting propaganda and other ‘information’. Social media platforms when challenged as to whether or not foreign sources took out ads foreign entitles took out and used space to influence our elections responded emphatically no!!!!, and one, Facebook, by way of it’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg went so far as to not only minimize the scale on which Facebook was used, but to maintain that the practice was NOT wide spread and that thinking this tactic had influence on the election was crazy. This, even after President Obama personally pulled him aside at a meeting abroad and tried to give the leader a heads up. Zuckerberg’s response was especiall galling given that President Obama had access to information from our intelligence communities’ that Zuckerberg did not and would not ever have.

In my opinion, this was due both because of Zuckerberg’s hubris  (and that of the valley in general) his lack of knowledge around regarding how the entirety of Facebook works. The latter is forgivable given the size of the system underpinning Facebook. The former less so given that Zuckerberg, and other social media platform execs have little if any experience in foreign affairs, intelligence gathering, or other related activities. Unfortunately, in this culture, making money is more often than not attributed to being smart or smarter than someone else.

The funny thing about Zuck’s “crazy” denial regarding the impact of social media on elections is that in the abstract, he is also unwittingly discounting the actual value of ads placed on facebook by it’s clients. In short, he is undermining the very value his company provides to paid advertisers. Is this what he intended with his “crazy” refutation ?

To date, it seems that the concensus approach has been to push back on the Social Media platforms and demand they provide more scrutiny (and transparency) around account usage, the people resonsible for political ads of any ilk and to to monitor if not block  hate speech as best they can. I guess I should acknowledge the kindess of social media lords to take time out and actually take care of we , their consuming minons

It is is easy to what-if and therefore indrectly blame the social media industry. If only the social media industry had not rushed to be so ubiquitous, or to have least found a model in which good well crafted, depndable, reasoned journalism could have co-existed outside of their platforms instead of sucking all of the money it possibly could have into its coffers. If only people like Zuck had managed their hubris and ambition and just admitted there are in fact unintended consequences to their actions…

Or maybe, this:

What if the rest of us, the reading thinking, general public had not fallen asleep, become intellectually lazy, cheap at our own expense. Imagine if we had actually continued to develop our critical reading and thinking skills. Maybe we wouldn’t be wimpering while at the same time asking the social media industry to change our digtially soiled diapers.

Yes, if only, indeed

How Political Correctness Failed Us

Some time ago I was watching the news and noticed trump using the phrase “politically correct”. I hand’t heard that phrase in quite a while and upon hearing it, I reflected on what, if anything it might or might not mean in today’s Silicon Valley.

The phrase “politically correct” showed in up in the late 80s. By my reckoning it became part of the the 90’s zeitgeist know as diversity. While there was some progress made in 90s around diversity and multiculturalism- another linguistic blast from the past -I’d argue that political correctness, especially that part of it which spent time policing language contributed to the slow withering on the vine of any meaningful progress the real diversity work attempted in the 90s might have secured.

Yet again, in 2016, here in Silicon Valley we find ourselves yet again in a similar situation.Words like retention, implicit bias, growth mindset, level playing field, are all terms that pop up in an around what is now called diversity work in the valley. 

The sad thing is even with all of this work around linguistic precision we seem to be manufacturing, that same rigor has been lost in identifying and being specific about what the real challenges are in the valley, and who they affect. 

Yes, language is important, however until we decide to come to terms with the underlying concepts and problems our linguistic gymnastics are trying to describe. We will always find ourselves left with nothing more than a collection of important sounding words. That is the failure of political correctness

Why Twitter Reminds me of the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoon

First, resuming traditions established previously on this blog. The musical selection for this post is Beck’s Round The Bend

For some time now, the business model for Twitter has been falling short in providing a sustainable future for the company. Over the course of the last the last month or so, Twitter has found itself in the unenviable position of having to cut costs in the only way most companies know how to. The “axe”. Further evidence of Twitter’s new economy maturity can be seen in this comment from Dorsey during a conference call  “our board is committed to maximizing long-term shareholder value”. 

In the real world the laws of physics are a hard to violate, last I checked, you still can’t travel faster than the speed of light AND gravity still works. Similarly, in the business world, there are some fundamentals which cannot be ignored without consequence. The most fundamental is that a company HAS to produce revenue and profit.

I remember early on in the social media space how the most important objective was growth, not revenue growth, just growth. How to actually make money was always something to be determined afterwards. No one, myself included- a jaded HW -guy would dismiss the importance of cultivating market share. And yes, using the social media model of growth before revenue there have been some SIGNIFICANT successes. Unfortunately for the legions of entrepreneurs flooding our tech media and conscious those successes are relative far and few in between

What comes too mind for me in all of this are the Roadrunner cartoons I watched as a kid some 40 years ago. The coyote was always dreaming up all ploys intended to catch the roadrunner. Some were were marginally plausible, some were not. Always constant was the fact that the coyote NEVER caught the roadrunner. Usually, at the end of the show, there was one last grand attempt by the Coyote which as you might guess, also failed usually with much pain and some sort of long distance fall which ended up in a puff of dust at the base some canyon.

In unsuccessfully shopping itself around for a possible owner Twitter seems to have taken that final step and found it’s inner coyote. The question now is whether or not Twitter, like that coyote, will go over cliff and become that puff of dust.

 

The Valley’s Thiel Problem ?

Earlier this year venture capitalist Peter Thiel his announced support for Donald Trump and his run for the presidency. Mr. Thiel subsequently showed up as a speaker at the RNC in support of Presidential ticket. If you read the text of his remarks you he really wasn’t saying much that we haven’t heard before from a business leader here in the valley.

It’s funny the number of eyebrows that raised upon hearing Thiel’s position; that he believes policies in and around supporting business and innovation are more important when compared to the things he finds objectionable in both Trump and the Republican party.

Since Thiel’s sharing of his political leanings there have been grumblings as to whether or not he should be allowed to continue as a member of the Facebook board. Those grumblings managed to increase in volume such that Zuckerberg felt it necessary to address the issue directly. Zuckerberg argued the importance of diversity in thought and opinions. It’s certainly a valid- albeit hard to swallow – line of reasoning in this instance.

Zuckerberg and Thiel whether you agree with them or not, have decided to make compromises and prioritize the things they find are important to them. And that is not a bad thing, at least, let’s give them the benefit of using sort of of values based process to arrive at their positions.

The point in all of this is that both individuals think and act in ways  consistent with perceived values and norms at work in Silicon Valley. To be sure, it is reasonable to ask whether or not everyone (Zuck and Thiel included) is aware of and in agreement with these unspoken, informal norms. Based on the response from some in the valley when hearing  of Thiel’s (and subsequently Zuckerberg’s) position it’s reasonable to conclude that not everyone received and subsequently signed on to the values memo.

If we want to live in a place where there are certain non-negotiables around civility, if we want to live in a place where how we speak of, treat and act towards members of our community originates from a place of reasoned behavior. We will need to reconsider how aligned our perception of self is with our reality. That consideration may result in some discomfort. Assuming we can get past that discomfort, we then will need to articulate exactly what it is we want from members of this community. Finally, in order to hold ourselves accountable each of us will have agree to these values we perceive this community is collectively aspiring.

Self reflection is not a strong suit for communities like the valley. We might be well advised to investigate how other communities have managed their changes of sentiment in these areas. Before we do that however, we might be well served to admit that as part of the US business culture. We aren’t all that exceptional.

Grab your fork, and get ready for a little humble pie with some cod liver oil topping thrown in for taste. It won’t taste all that good, however, as those who have preceded us have admonished us, it will be good for for somebody ?

A Grand Circle Jerk

I have neglected including a song at the beginning of each of my blog posts. For this post please consider this tune.

The rise and recent fall of the bio-tech firm Theranos is yet another example the challenges inherent in the valley’s startup business culture and the media echo chamber which supports it.

Theranos, founded in 2003 by Elizabeth Holmes while she was a student at Stanford became  a poster child for both disruption and all that that is insanely great about the valley. Theranos was going change the world. Hmmm where have we heard that before ?

Under Holmes’ leadership Theranos was developing a more efficient blood test. The test could reportedly provide the requisite chemical analysis in support of 30 or more  different blood tests using only a single drop of blood obtained through the pin prick of a finger. This test was supposed to enable blood testing services in just about any location. These efficiencies in turn were going to empower the average consumer with information which could ultimately lead to better health and wellness outcomes.

There were early signals that Theranos’ technology may not have been delivering the results originally claimed. The company, mid to late last year admitted to backing away from the technology upon which it’s original value proposition was predicated. For some reason these early signals did not result in any serious re-evaluation of the company.

Entrepreneurs by nature, are  optimistic and fiercely committed to their ideas. Holmes was no exception. Unfortunately she also believed her company could ignore common practices around peer reviewed work in the health and science fields. This thinking finally caught up with Theranos. Earlier this year, the FDA and The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), the organization which certifies providers for the Medicare and Medicaid determined the company’s claims and lab practices questionable. CMS has taken actions to de-certify the company. The FDA and CMS  have gone as far as to ban Ms. Holmes and others in the company from running any sort of lab for two years effectively removing Theranos from any sort of relevance in the near term.

Going forward it’s not clear what is to become of Theranos. Maybe lady luck will strike and Theranos will survive to prove the value and efficacy of its original technology. Maybe not. Ms. Holmes in all likelihood will lay low and find herself a gig as an  EIR at one of the VC firms here in the valley. Certainly this is not the last we will see of Ms. Holmes in the valley based on her ability to raise capital alone.

What is certain is the more Silicon Valley (and the industry friendly press which writes about it) claims to be the purveyor of only the best,  ideas, best in breed  “power of the market and merit” community, and ethically evolved in contrast to the rest of the U.S.  business sector the less it seems to ring true.