Category Archives: Culture

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.

 

A Simple Yes Would Do

It is unfortunate that this past May Facebook felt compelled to invite members from conservative media leadership to join a discussion  of  bias against conservative content. Zuckerberg and Sandberg are a demonstrably impressive duo when it comes to leading technology driven companies. In this space however, I believe both Zuck and Ms. Sandberg are operating outside of their wheelhouse. It’s not their fault.  Silicon Valley has a history of accomplished folk leaving the relatively safe and focused confines of the tech sector to insert themselves into others.

Those of us in the peanut gallery see that more often than not these folks by way of their resources have significant voices and/or roles in areas including education and feminism. It is not always the case that they should have these voices.

Silicon Valley is a community chocked full of the smartest – a universal definition of smart would be helpful here – people in the room.  At least that is what we are repeatedly told. Furthermore, they are so smart it only makes sense to for them to branch out into other areas, to bring their smarts to bear on those areas and resolve issues within them, e.g. to change the world.

It is true that in certain areas of ability there are incredibly smart people at work here in the valley. The challenge for these folks however, is to recognize where mastery of subject matter in a space is a pre-requisite to actually solving problems – there are those spaces where there is no problem as we think of them, they are what they are – in those spaces.  Many times immersing one’s self in a space for a brief but intense period is not enough. In some cases, considerable time observing over the course of years, and deliberation should occur before jumping into the fray.

In 2010 Mark Zuckerberg, armed with money and good intentions  donated 100 million dollars to the Newark, New Jersey school district in the hopes of improving schools there. The outcomes after this announcement are well documented  (Russakoff). Similarly,  Sandberg with her 2013 book Lean In, and subsequent organization of the same name found herself in the center of a dialogue around feminism as it was relevant both in and out of the workplace. Some from the academy weighed in with their critiques (Hooks) and (Rottenberg).

I mention these examples because education reform and feminism are social issues obvious in their need for improvement; they are also incredibly complex once you look behind their respective curtains. They need more than good intentions, interest in the space, and financial resources. Actual experience, and ability in large system transformation is required.

Then there is the political media space kerfuffle Facebook found itself involved in. In political media there are no simple immutable issues around which to rally. Everything is highly subjective and in the end, it is a space where there is no pleasing anyone.

After his meeting with the conservatives Zuckerberg indicated there would be an investigation. What the hell for ? In that moment, the right had already won or at least already scored before Zuckerberg and Sandberg had even suited up.  I have to assume that for an instant the Facebook folks forgot to recognize the fact that their company is a publicly traded one.Surely, the market would reflect its desires for Facebook to become more friendly to the right by way of the stock price no ? Maybe this was a loss of what Hemingway called “grace under pressure”.

To no one’s surprise the investigation that Zuck said would go forward came back and declared there was no bias. Again, Facebook missed the point of this exercise.  All the right wanted with this shot across the bow was to draw some attention to their complaint. The conservative right of the last 3o years or so has become quite adept at playing the long game when it comes to media (Lakoff). Furthermore there has been and will always be bias in media. We need to get past thinking all media HAS to be ideologically neutral. In Europe, the Far East,  Latin America, Africa and other parts of the world the media and news don’t hide the fact that they have biases. It is the responsibility of the consuming public to account for these  biases . Goodness, Zuck has heard of Fox News hasn’t he ?

Just for fun let’s imagine for a moment  that we were in the room during the meeting. Zuckerberg and Sandberg are asked directly if there is any bias in how they curate content. Instead of setting the expectation they would twist themselves into knots determining  whether there was any, and, to prove a true understanding of  real-world media. Both should have visualized Occam’s Razor in their mind’s eye and simply answered yes.

Works Cited

Russakoff, DaleThe Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Hooks, Bell. “Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In.” The Feminist Wire. N.p., 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 26 June 2016.
Rottenberg, Catherine. “The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism.” Cultural Studies 28.3 (2013): 418-37. Print.

Lakoff, George. Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. Carlton North, Vic.: Scribe, 2005. Print.

Post Script:

Zuckerberg and Sandberg have, to their credit, continued their evolution. Zuckerberg and his wife have started a school in Menlo Park working with educators, we’ll see. Sandberg, after the sudden loss of her husband last year, has begun seeing feminism through the lens of be being a single mother.

The 2016 Oakland Book Festival

While it doesn’t happen as often as I would like. Oakland can still put on a gathering which  reminds me while I have been living here virtually non-stop since 1992.

Last weekend’s Oakland Book Festival held downtown was a true local pleasure. It isn’t the largest book festival. It didn’t attract all of the A-list literati, and there were scheduling conflicts. I suppose the latter is a good thing because it means there lots of interesting topics.

My only misgiving regarding the festival was the lack of us. Where “us” means my black community. That’s not to say there weren’t any black folk in the house. I just wish more of us would show up at these things. These sorts of events take their programming cues from the communities which attend them. Know what I mean ?

Given the current climate around race.We can’t always stand aside aloof legitimately criticizing the oppressive racial climate which exists.If a genuine, grass-roots opportunity to be in community with a broad spectrum of the Oakland racial landscape makes itself available. It’s worth our while to take advantage of it. Most of the countries’ issues around race are BECAUSE we don’t spend time together. Not to mention that a day in community around books and interesting ideas is good day. No matter who you are.

Finally, unlike our neighbor who shares a northern border with us. We are the Oakland Book Festival, and  being about Oakland is way more valuable to me than being about the Bay area sometimes.

 

Prince and the arts

Music for this blog entry: A couple of songs sharing the joy of music. The first by sister Esperanza Spaulding, the second my Mayer Hawthorne.
Losing Prince is to lose the person behind some of my most memorable moments while I was in my very early 20s. I remember hearing “Head” for the first time on the first day of my college life on the east coast. Or how many times we played Darling Nikki on the record player in a friends dorm room at Boston Univ. Or how “Erotic City” was the game changer at MIT’s Chocolate City parties back then
Prince and many others provided the sound track at important touch points throughout my life. Artists like Prince were able to produce more art because they were paid for their efforts. It’s something we need to remember in the “everything should be free on the internet era”. Try to imagine your life without the work of people like Prince and those in who produce other art forms. I am betting it would not be nearly as rich.
If you aren’t doing so already.Use Prince’s memory to motivate you in actually materially supporting  music and other art as opposed to acquiring them for free.
How priceless is the emotional joy Prince and others have brought people ? Is it worth 1, 2 maybe three Apple’s, a couple Tesla Incs, a few Googles ? Maybe more ?
For those of us in communities of color maybe it’s time we lead by example and show the world how we commit  to enabling our incredible artists with material support .I’d rather that then a gazillion more average or even exceptional  “Software language or Framework du jour”  coders… Wouldn’t you ?
7, by Prince and the NPG…
All 7 and we’ll watch them fall
They stand in the way of love
And we will smoke them all
With an intellect and a savoir-faire
No one in the whole universe
Will ever compare
I am yours now and u are mine
And together we’ll love through
All space and time, so don’t cry
One day all 7 will die
All 7 and we’ll watch them fall
They stand in the way of love
And we will smoke them all
With an intellect and a savoir-faire
No one in the whole universe
Will ever compare
I am yours now and u are mine
And together we’ll love through
All space and time, so don’t cry
One day all 7 will die
And I saw an angel come down unto me
In her hand she holds the very key
Words of compassion, words of peace
And in the distance an army’s marching feet (1,2,3,4 – 1,2,3,4)
But behold, we will watch them fall
And we lay down on the sand of the sea
And before us animosity will stand and decree
That we speak not of love only blasphemy
And in the distance, 6 others will curse me
But that’s alright, (that’s alright)
4 I will watch them fall(1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
All 7 and we’ll watch them fall
They stand in the way of love
And we will smoke them all
With an intellect and a savoir-faire
No one in the whole universe
Will ever compare
I am yours now and u are mine
And together we’ll love through
All space and time, so don’t cry
One day all 7 will die
[(Just how old)]
And we will see a plague and a river of blood
And every evil soul will surely die in spite of
Their 7 tears, but do not fear
4 in the distance, 12 souls from now
U and me will still be here – we will still be here
There will be a new city with streets of gold
The young so educated they never grow old
And a, there will be no death 4 with every breath
The voice of many colors sings a song
That’s so bold
Sing it while we watch them fall
All 7 and we’ll watch them fall
They stand in the way of love
And we will smoke them all
With an intellect and a savoir-faire
No one in the whole universe
Will ever compare
I am yours now and u are mine
And together we’ll love through
All space and time, so don’t cry
One day all 7 will die
(Just how old)
(Just how old)
(Just how

Off Topic, at least for this Blog

The accompanying tune: I don’t usually write publicly about stuff that happens outside of tech, after the events in San Berdoo however I felt compelled to do so. Here goes

It’s funny the flip-flopping that people do when it suits them. Sometimes, people often times public figures will swear words don’t have meaning, and other times, they fall over themselves declaring how words can hurt.

I have watched over the course of the last 20 or 30 years, how our discourse has become increasingly less civil; the acceptance of intolerance when speaking of others who hold different beliefs and values. SO much so that I doubt we can even parse rhetorical nuance anymore. It’s very black and white these days, you are either good or evil.For or against us, not shades of grade. Worse still, you’re not supposed to evolve and rethink positions you may have in previous years

I had hoped upon hope that the shooters in San Bernadino had no connection whatsoever to any “terrorist” orgs in any capacity. Don’t get me wrong, what they did was horrific, but seeing the rhetorical trajectory of all things related to the practitioners of Islam I knew any connections found would not help. Alas, my hopes were dashed.

What irks me though, is that while there was a short search for a connection in this case. There was no need of any similar search regarding the beliefs of the planned parenthood shooter. It was pretty clear, and worse tolerated that the shootings at Planned Parenthood were to be viewed as stimulating a national discourse around abortion rights.I even heard as such on an NPR show of all places while at the same time taking the recent shooting NOT as a catalyst for discussion. Instead, a dictum for more intolerant “they’re not one of us, they don’t have OUR values” acton

Words do in fact matter, what people,whether they are prominent nationally, or just a friend next door, say has an affect on someone somewhere, for good or for bad. I wish folks would remember that and at least take responsibility for it when the “collateral” damage as a result of their words occurs

I live in Oakland, I am from Los Angeles

First the music.

I was out in Oakland yesterday for a spell to meet a friend who as relocating out here for a while. He’s a performing artist so I agreed to check his gig out and then go hang.

We found ourselves in Jack London Square at a block party which was part of the Megapolis festival. As a testament to how out of touch I have been with Oakland over the last few years. I was surprised to find out this was the 4th year for Megapolis.There are lots of reasons why  have been disconnected from the community.Work, parenting, my own projects, to name a few.

As my friends observed, things have changed significantly. Oakland is well on its way along the path of gentrification, ah yes gentrification, that special code word. BTW Why do we speak in code so much ?

In any event, Oakland has changed, and I am slowly  wrapping my head around the fact that some of this change change might wind up being good for Oakland despite my frustration around the how and the who.

P.S. And then there is our new mayor. The honorable Libby Schaaf who getting her feet on the ground and teasing us with some of her true colors. The comments at the end of the linked piece are interesting as well.

It always seems hard for people to account for the frustrations people develop around not being heard, or worse, recognized; and how those frustrations can often times provide an environment in which protest can often time also be the space for random venting as well.

KCRW + Internet = Music Heaven

Since about 2000 which was my last serious bout of “I wanna move back home to Los Angeles”. I have been listening to LA’s gem of a radio station KCRW. I lie to you not, nor is this any hometown hyperbole. KCRW flat out is, for people like me who have musical tastes which span from Britten to vintage NWA, from Andrew Hill to DJ Sasha, the best source on air going. Couple that with the ability to search out artists heard there and use the jazz music aficionado’s (of which I am one) trick of searching out the entire band lineup for work they might have done elsewhere via the internet, and yes, you too can spend countless hours in something way more productive and individual in spirit then trolling Facebook of algorithmically based music tastes. Here are two examples of tuneage I came to just in the last two days Submotion Orchestra’s Trust/Lust and Hiatus Kaiote’s Laputa

That is all