Category Archives: Uncategorized

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 ?

Those Halcyon Days

Note: This was a originally a fairly different post about Millenials and hyper self documentation.I had started it way back in 2015 and just saw the draft slowly drowning in my blog drafts queue.Then I heard a song whch changed my life. At least it changed the life I was living today. Who knows what fuck I’ll be living tomorrow. 

I was in the office today banging out some code (yes hw engineers can code, they can even develop software if need be) for performance testing I had taken on. It was pretty low intensity think-work so I decided to put some music on. As luck would have it, Lisa Shaw’s tune All Night High came on. After the first listen I put it on repeat, that was at 4:00pm, its been on repeat ever since and it is now 6:26pm-There is something about the combination of her voice and Migs’ production- and during that period of time the part of me that used to know how to live managed to swim ashore and dust off memories of parties and clubs I had been to. Where there was an abundance of people just dancing their asses off. Places like Nikes in SF, a place in NYC Don-Els (I hope that’s the right name), a particularly epic rooftop party in Brooklyn, some Chocolate City joints at MIT, some amazing sets in Barcelona, and even a get-down in Tel-Aviv. And then there were the people, the thinking I used to do for no other reason than just to think.

I had convinced myself that those sorts of times and experiences were occurring less and less because of age. That’s a lie. At least for me. The truth of the matter is that I gave up. I guess I finally ran myself into a state of being caught up. 

My life in tech has been pretty good in a lot of ways over the last 33 years, though the last 10 or so I have watched the lustre of my passion and experiences ooze off into some hole where I can’t see much less try to retrieve them from kind of like this . Well at least the ooze part. Some of it is the industry itself, and some of it is me changing.Tech or at least tech as I understand it is not a bad place. It’s just not a place I want to be.

I started writing this blog at a time when I believed my next move was to become an analyst for one of those shops which builds opinions and then key-influencerizes a market into existence based on those opinions. It’s a good thing no one hired me as it would have been hard for me to sing a lot of the songs that career path would have required from me. I am going to write about the industry sometimes. However I am going to write about the things in the industry I want to write about. I am also back in school and you know how dangerous that can be for someone who is ready to revisit their education. Did I foget to mention I just watched The Spookl Who Sat by the Door again today ? Hmmm, I wonder what that’s about… Not feeling the Bern but I guess I have freed my ass, I hope my mind will follow….

 

 

 

IBM and Hairdryers, who knew

Musical accompaniment included here

Poor IBM. They seem to have found themselves in a bit of hot water  or is it steam around their recent advertising which managed to spawn a “Hack the Hairdryer” meme and earn the ire of some.

The irony in all of this is that IBM has a WOMAN, Gina Rometty, an electrical engineer running the company. Having worked in corporate space myself, I have to imagine final approval had to have been made somewhere near the top, and that maybe even a woman was involved. If such is the case, it shows how hard and builtin this sort of thinking is AND how hard it is to avoid making mistakes.

This latest misstep also underlines the limitations of a “diversity” based model stood up as the solution for improving the “numbers” of  under-represented groups within a given community. Thinking about it, where is the master list for these groups, I mean gee whiz, someone ought to know right ? Or maybe that is the problem; we aren’t being specific enough about what group we intend to help.

We need to go back to first principles and determine what diversity really means. If we really want to see a change,answering that question honestly might help to determine what the tech community is really capable of not to mention being a really good first step.

We also need to address the thinking of communities , after all, and especially with the millennial generation, it’s all about communities.This means community leaders and members need to dust off that little used self-reflection skill set (or maybe develop one) and come to  a true  understanding of why a hair-dryer was chosen as opposed to a lawnmower. While we’re at it, lets update our notion of “meritocracy”  and add the word “equity” to our conversations as well.

 

So what exactly did Facebook Open Source for Deep Learning HW

Facebook recently announced it was open sourcing it’s AI/Deep Learning HW design, Big Sur.

I am not a member of OCP so it’s not clear I can get all of the documentation. However, from the way the industry media is falling over itself heralding this act of open sourcing it must be something compelling right.

In all of the articles I have read so far I have seen nothing of new processors, switch fabric ASICS etc… That is not to say that motherboard level design is trivial however I would have expect something more significant based on the column inches I have pawed through in the last two days

Maybe someone can help me understand what I am missing