My peoples lack a clue

My Facebook feed has lit of with people on both sides of the Peter Theil/Gawker revelation, but that’s because I personally know many of the people involved and have lived and worked in a tech bubble for the last 16 years.

Sadly, Half of them need to venture out of it for a bit to understand why this is an issue to the other 99.9%.

In the meantime, I guess this means I to be posting about how I work in the salt mines with a six figure salary, how the homeless need to get out of MY city, or something… Because here in the bubble, I’m the one that is “out-of-touch.”

(Hint: all the links above are to articles about Silicon Valley that are/were among the most-emailed articles in the New York Times at the time. Half my friends clearly misunderstand why they proved so popular.)

A Confession of Totebagger Sanctimony

I found this column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times highly offensive. The premise is that our nation’s “ivory tower” academia is some sort of racism in reverse.

Ignore for the moment that a conservative totebagger like Kristof claims to be a liberal so he can attack them and I’ll talk about an obvious anecdote and apply a bit of common sense.

Where was the confession of conservative intolerance?

I went to college at Caltech, the very definition of ivory tower for a budding young scientist.

Back then, the few people who would openly express their political views were all rabid conservatives to the point where one pair had a picture of Reagan in their dorm room and had a poster with a bunch of Jimmy Carter quotes mocking him outside posted outside it. I know this because they were friends who I engaged with but didn’t have enough knowledge to dispute even though I believed they were wrong at some level—kind of like a kid in high school right now who is a closet Hillary supporter amongst their friends who feel the Bern.

Historically, scientists as a class have been conservative politically—hence all the question of Hitler’s nuclear bomb program or the space race being “between our Germans and their Germans.”

The only modern right wing view that I ever saw attacked was strict Creationism. And the few people who held that clearly unscientfic view were only lightly teased by their friends… and only if they were biology majors.

When President George H.W. Bush came to Caltech to give a commencement speech and some protesters not part of the community protested, people were pissed. And not at the University for escorting the protesters away but at the protesters for disrupting a Caltech event.

And while CLAGS (The Caltech Lesbian and Gay Society) would host a pretty kickin’ party once a year in the student center and the college guide claimed a statistically a significant percentage of students were gay, the lesbian woman who ran the CLAGS booth was ostracized and made fun of while every week the largest and most social dormitory on campus would host a bible study that was not only accepted, it was well attended.

And yet where were was the RINO conservative columnist for the New York Times writing “A Confession of Conservative Intolerance?”

There were none because it, like “liberal intolerance,” is not where the problem lies.

False equivalence and common sense

When you say or bolster your argument with, “The same arguments I hear people make about evangelicals sound so familiar to the ways people often describe folk of color, i.e. politically unsophisticated, lacking education, angry, bitter, emotional, poor,” you make an equivalence between some close-minded people getting their fee-fees hurt in academia when they express a deliberately counter-factual view and the real racism that is still occurring today in our nation’s institutions.

That equivalence is false.

If scientists are naturally inclined to respect authority and share affinity for the conservative party of a country and you find that your top scientific institution doesn’t have a Republican among them and the refrain becomes “reality has a well known liberal bias,” then the natural conclusion is that that party is no longer conservative but anti-scientific and anti-reality.

If evangelicals were on the rise up until a decade ago and Christianity has and continues to dominate this country since its founding, and suddenly they’re on the decline and mildly ostracized now then maybe they should be looking at how they have changed instead of the demanding that we suddenly blindly accept anything a small religious sect slapped a “Christian” label to: whether it is a “war on Christmas,” “evolution is just a theory,” gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, or that the sun orbits the earth. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they’ve become increasingly less “evangelical” or “Christian” and started simply to be fundamentalists?

The natural conclusion is not to blame people who traditionally share your views for being intolerant of them. Liberals value freedom of speech, and the ACLU will fiercely protect that right. But they are under no obligation to protect a non-existent right for you to never feel ashamed when people laugh at you for saying stupid shit.

Nicholas Kristof, who among your colleagues will write an article defending you from the butt-hurt you’re about to receives (and rightly deserve) in the comments when you wrote this stupid column comparing people who celebrate their ignorance with the civil rights movement or the plight of gay and transgender peoplee?

Because apparently that “persecution” of you is exactly the same as racist rhetoric.

EDIT: Apparently the answer to the above question is the moderators at the @nytimes who closed the comment section. Lolz!

Sometimes they really are indistinguishable

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke

When a non-techie friend of mine moved to San Francisco, she overheard two guys talking next to her.

“What are you up to,” one of them asks?

The other replied, “Oh, I’m trying to learn Python.”

“Excuse me,” my friend interrupted them. “But I believe it’s called Parseltongue.”

(After living here for a while longer, she became very embarrassed. And though it wasn’t exactly what he meant, I still think Mr. Clarke would approve.)

Transamerica

Photo from August 30, 2007

Transamerica
North Beach, San Francisco, California

Panasonic DMC-LX1
1/500 sec at f/4.0, iso 80, 15.6mm (70mm)

Part of the same photo roll as this photograph, I ended up processing it also before I noticed the error.

It’s a “tourist snapshot” of the Transamerica Pyramid. From a photographic standpoint there is nothing to write about because I took it the same way any tourist might. Even though the camera shoots RAW, the dynamic range of small camera CCDs back then were just not up to the task of recording anything useable in the shadows. All I could do is use the “pump the blues” trick that any nature photographer knows to do for outdoor photos.

Even though Transamerica has long since moved to the East Coast, because it was built by them and its still in their logo, it’s still called the Transamerica Building and has been a the salient fixture of the San Francisco skyline for my entire life. I read somewhere that when it was built it was considered the ugliest building in the city until the Mariott “Jukebox” was built in 1989. I guess after that the One Rincon Tower Fan were built, San Franciscans were like, “You know, the Transamerica pyramid actually looks kind of nice.”

I snapped this photo outside my favorite sandwich shop at the time, Giordano Bros, which, like Transamerica, has moved to a different location.

A lot of people don’t “get” the All-in-One sandwich because they didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh, but putting french fries and coleslaw in a sandwich seems the most natural thing to do. Before I even ate at Primati’s I used to put Snyders of Berlin BBQ potato chips in my chipped ham sandwiches when I ran out of Isaly’s BBQ sauce.

Ever wonder why it took a Pittsburgh franchise to popularize the Bob’s Big Boy sandwich as the McDonald’s Big Mac? Go eat an All-In-One and then go eat a Big Mac and your culinary mind will be blown.

I may not have the tastebuds of a foodie, but to make up for it when I eat, with a single bite into a sandwich, my mind can travel trans-america from San Francisco, to Oak Brook, to Pittsburgh, to Los Angeles and back again. And that’s why my favorite sandwich in San Francisco when I snapped this photo was Giordano Bros’s Coppa All-in-One.

Executive Decisions

Some changes are happening at my last company and someone pointed me to this timeline a Wikipedian compiled of it, on which, I’m an early entry.

Despite understandable omissions and commissions , what a huge effort that must have been! I continue to be impressed with the dedication of the Wikipedian community.

The other day, a friend and co-worker wondered, “Could you imagine what would it’d be like if we were still there?” I responded, “I don’t since I would have resigned long before.” So I had only enough overlap with the outgoing Executive Director to form some suspicion, but not enough to say anything beyond what I’ve already said.

Instead I want to use this moment to comment on her predecessor, someone I did work long enough under long enough to form an opinion, Sue Gardner. I’ve never met anyone who can read so much about an organizational issue from such a small clue as Sue to the point where I chose intentionally each of my interactions with her. She was extremely thoughtful—as in putting a lot of thought into something—and expected and appreciated the same from others. Sometimes she’d make an observation in an area that I, who was working daily on it, had missed. When you are a chief executive who has less time for anything than anyone else, I learned from her these are essential skills to being a good one.

When she left she spent a number of hours with us to discuss hiring practices. One thing she said then was you should check yourself in a new hire because there will be no time you’ll feel better about your hire than the day you hire them.

That’s something that can be applied directly to replacing someone and indirectly through the ripples created by any hire. Too often people get excited about what a new person brings or might bring instead of wondering what will be lost by people leaving or being displaced. Instead of focusing in what you’ll be gaining with a new hire, ask, “What skills did the outgoing person have that they were great at?” Those are the ones your organization will definitely be losing with the person incoming.

Not every Apple product is for you

(An article I started in May of 2015)

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”
— Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

In 1992, one of my first postings on Usenet was an article on comp.sys.mac.* titled “Zen and the Art of Buying a Macintosh.” As someone whose first computer was an Apple ][+ in 1979, used Macs since they came out in 1984, and owned them since the “Fat Mac” in 1985, I was the very definition of an Apple-lover. In writing that post, I wanted to express the confusion and helplessness I felt when recommending a Macintosh to anyone. There were PowerBooks, Performas, LCs, Centrises, and Quadras, some of which were the same exact computer with different names. If a Mac fanboy like me couldn’t make heads-or-tails of it, something was seriously wrong for the Macintosh. It was clear to me that Apple had lost the very quality that attracted people like me to it in the first place. That post became popular enough that a number of Mac user group newsletters asked to republish it.

That Apple, the one that made infomercials, is no more. Steve Jobs retook the helm in 1997 and radically simplified its line into a quadrant based on two questions: Do you want a laptop or desktop computer? Are you a professional or consumer?

Those days are gone, but I can’t help but feel that Steve Jobs embedded in the DNA of Apple something to ensure they’d never again lose the very quality of “Apple” that would take it in a wrong direction. Apple became a company that stopped making something just because some business analyst said that they need to because it was “disruptive” or ” would protect their market share,” but rather a company that would only introduce a product when they had an idea who that product would be for.

Now to you kids, I want to tell you this: not every Apple product is for you.

Continue reading to have your bubble burst after the jump

Rethinking rituals for a new workforce

Cross-posted from the Tink Tank.

Yesterday, I came across this article on the economic and political impact of job automation on FiveThirtyEight. Their analysis was done by looking at the percentage of non-“routine” jobs, under the theory that those jobs are most at-risk for automation. It mentioned that these jobs accounted for all job growth in the United States since 2000, with the Bay Area, where I live, occupying two out of the top three metropolitan areas in smallest share of routine jobs, largest job growth, and largest average wage growth.

Let’s focus on the the discussion of “non-routine jobs.” Given that job growth is pretty much only in this sector, it is just another term for what is a clear change in the workforce of America. Consider that in 2002, sociologist Richard Florida referred to “no collar workers in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class—a distinction he drew up between the dress code of creatives from the blue collar and white collar workers of the previous generations. In 2006, business writer Daniel H Pink said that these new jobs were either “high-concept” or “high-touch” requiring right-brained thinking.

Notice the similarity in non-routine work of a no-collar worker that is either high-concept or high-touch doing work that is not-automateable because it requires right-brained, creative thinking. Ignoring the social and political implications, the reality is that this is a different workforce than the generations that preceded it.

And yet, the rituals that surround that work are firmly grounded in the past.

Our grandparents had their blue-collar wages negotiated under collective bargaining. Our parents had their white-collar salaries determined by performance reviews that were later modernized into 360 degree feedback. What do we have in our no-collar jobs?

As an engineering director with thirty direct reports in my final year at a top 10 internet company, I had to do 360-degree annual review. It was the most tedious part of being a manager and one of the most dreaded thing among my people. Doing a good job with it felt like a constant fight against the natural order of what motivated and inspired my engineers.

And yet, the cutting-edge job performance idea is taking that same process and increasing its frequency and adding big data-esque quantitative metrics. They believe that if you take incentives designed for a non-creative work, automate its application to evaluate non-automateable jobs, have them suffer this dread on a routine basis instead of once a year, and apply arbitrary qualitatively evaluations of right-brained, non-routine, high-concept/high-touch work that this will magically inspire these non-collar wearing creatives to perform better, and not the opposite.

That’s some serious wrong-thinking.

The Seagull 1963

If I keep processing only old photos, I’ll never get ahead, so I thought I’d process some photos I took recently with four different cameras . They’re all of the same subject so you can see how camera/lens choice affect composition and processing. But since this article is not about photography, I’ll put that discussion the the photo captions.

Instead I’ll talk about a watch I “splurged” on: the Seagull 1963 Re-issue. Here it is after I just opened the box (taken with a Nikon D810):

Seagull 1963 just opened
The Richmond, San Francisco, California

Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-80mm f/2.8G
0.4sec @ ƒ14, iso 100, 62mm

Since I already set up my tripod and lightbox for a different shoot, I used the same setup to photograph the unboxing of my newly purchased watched. This image is nothing to write home about as I only take unboxing photos to document how to return something to its original packaging.The nice thing about a tripod photo is that long exposure times don’t matter (as long as the watch isn’t running). The only adjustment I had to do was in exposure and contrast.

I guess they ran out of commemorative tins.

Continue reading mabout this watch (and more photos) after the jump

Ce Soir

Photo from October 9, 2005

Sorry for the delay in posting photos. I got sidetracked trying to understand how Lightroom organizes the world.

Ce Soir (California Aster)
Point Lobos, Monterey, California

Nikon D70, Lensbaby 2.0, Tokina macro adapter
1/1000 sec, iso 200, 50mm (75mm)

Continue reading about how to organize in Lightroom and how this photo was taken and processed after the jump

On being a beginner (again)

Compiled from three separate discussions on IRC, twitter, and in person:

“Whatcha do with your time these days? Learning Rails? 😈”

I did pick up Objective-C again after an aborted attempt at learning Swift. Mostly I’m trying to catch up on the javascript frameworks that have come out since I stopped coding. Right now it’s AngularJS—I figure I can jury-rig React into it if performance becomes an issue.

On the non-programming side, I’ve been messing with Ansible because I just got tired of doing things by hand—and I never needed to learn this because I’ve always had operations engineers working with me.

The ripping on Rails thing is over with me because there’s no point in arguing over how to solve a solved problem—today, the web problem is the easy part. What I find strange is people still feel the need to defend Ruby on Rails. I mean who the fuck cares what your middle layer code is written in when everything is an API to something written in Javascript?

“I don’t like that everything is an API to something in Javascript. As a user, the Web feels slower and flakier than it used to.”

I don’t like that everything on the front-end is pushed toward a single-page application. The reason for this is that the DOM-based model of front-end javascript (e.g. jQuery) gets so taxing when the application gets big because you’re bolting feature-on-feature, library-on-library to get it to work as smoothly as you envision. At a certain point, a true MV(VM) javascript framework (e.g. AngularJS) gives you much more because it abstracts all that in a consistent manner.

As soon as you buy into one of these, you’re invested into a huge initial javascript payload which causes you to not want the user to leave the page to unload anything, which then forces you into an API-based model with HTML partials and a client-side route/sitemap and more crap in the payload until you have a single-page application.

And then pretty soon your website is like Flickr where I swear every tenth click I’ve got to reload the page because the UI became non-responsive and I’m deciding to open the app in my iPhone just to do something without that frustration. How fucked up is that?

But then I look at Bootstrap and I figure, I’d rather have a SPA than everything looking like it was designed by some Apple-loving hipster (and this coming from a person who has used and loved Apple products longer than they’ve been alive).

“I’ve always enjoyed your talks and lamented that you didn’t remain on the PHP speaking circuit.”

Maybe I’ll start speaking when I have something to say. Like I’ve said before, PHP solves the “web problem” very well, but the web-problem is not a hard problem anymore.

Remember, it’s been four years since I’ve done any UI programming so everything is new to me. Basically, I’m a newbie, and I don’t think anyone wants to hear from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

But I did notice this from managing engineers: the worst problem a coder can get into is fear of having to start over. You get good at what you’re good at and when things pass you by, you feel the need to protect what you have because its what you know.

That’s how I feel about Ruby on Rails and that’s how I feel about me and PHP.

So, I’m a beginner again.