At the Facebook F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced that businesses would build chatbots on the Messenger platform, bringing the already strong hype around chatbots to a fever pitch. Chatbots, some argue, are the solution for all our problems. But are chatbots really the solution for everything? Or is it just an attempt to have a "next big thing" in order to generate more cash? [more inside]
Uncanny Valley. "Morale is down.. We are making plenty of money, but the office is teeming with salespeople: well-groomed social animals with good posture and dress shoes, men who chuckle and smooth their hair back when they can’t connect to our VPN. Their corner of the office is loud; their desks are scattered with freebies from other start-ups, stickers and koozies and flash drives. We escape for drinks and fret about our company culture. “Our culture is dying,” we say gravely, apocalyptic prophets all. “What should we do about the culture?”"
"Techies is a portrait project focused on sharing stories of tech employees in Silicon Valley. We cover subjects who tend to be underrepresented in the greater tech narrative. This includes (but is not limited to) women, people of color, folks over 50, LGBT, working parents, disabled, etc." [more inside]
If you're just waking up, you might not have noticed that Gmail rolled out Google Mic Drop overnight. This service adds a button to Gmail which allows you to "mic drop" out of a thread, complete with an appropriate Minion gif. Unfortunately it looks like Google didn't exactly think this through and may have lost some people their jobs. Google have since apologised and pulled the joke, a few hours after going live.
Kim-Mai Cutler: Nothing Like This Has Ever Happened Before - "San Francisco Bay Area poverty rates in all nine counties have increased in the last economic cycle, even with the Facebook and Twitter IPOs and private tech boom. The main transfer mechanism is land and housing costs, as rising rents and evictions push service and other low-wage workers to the brink. [Henry] George's solution was a single land tax that would replace all other government revenue sources. If an owner wanted to develop their property to make it more useful or productive, George argued that they should have the right to keep the value from those efforts. But increases in the value of underlying land were created by — and ultimately belonged to — the public at large." (previously: 1,2,3) [more inside]
The SFMTA is weighing an appeal that would dismantle the private commuter shuttle program, after the program was approved last November. Yesterday the board approved changes that would keep the program going for another year. [more inside]
Thousands of iPhone 6 users claim they have been left holding almost worthless phones because Apple’s latest operating system permanently disables the handset if it detects that a repair has been carried out by a non-Apple technician.
A Colleague Drank My Breast Milk And Other Wall Street Tales I kept the conversation light. I shared a funny story about my first day on Wall Street, when I opened up a pizza box to find condoms instead of pepperoni slices. Unwrapped. I was “the new girl,” and the guys just wanted to see me blush. I did blush, and I lived. “It’s not that bad anymore,” I said with a laugh. [more inside]
25 years ago, Paul M. Romer's oft-cited article: "Endogenous Technological Change" (pdf) was published in The Journal of Political Economy. In it, he tried to explain how technological progress and knowledge creation affected the dynamics of growth. Romer’s model (pdf) became the "primary engine that fueled a decade-long re-examination of long-term growth in economics." This past October, Dr. Romer posted 7 follow-up blog entries to his historic paper, in order to 'revisit the basics,' starting with: Nonrival Goods After 25 Years. [more inside]
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen the scooter before. It’s sort of a phenomenon.... It’s been on the Tonight Show, and showed up at the NBA Finals. Every time anyone uploads a video or picture of this scooter, the commenters all want to know two things: What’s that called, and where can I buy it? That’s where it gets weird.Wired digs into the world of generic segways without handlebars, often called hoverboards, while NPR's Planet Money comes to a similar conclusion, and actually digs inside one of the two-wheeled machines (bonus: not their take-apart, but someone else's), both finding the Hovertrax Kickstarter and related video from 2013.
"Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said he planned to take two months of paternity leave after his daughter is born this year, amid a debate about work-life balance at technology companies." (NYT)
The Slow Demise of a Unicorn Everybody knows how the first tech boom went bust. But this time around, something's different. More than 100 tech start-ups are currently valued at more than $1 billion dollars, if you go by what VCs and other early investors have paid to buy ownership stakes. Unlike in the early 2000s, very few of today's unicorns have gone public, so there's no way to know what the market really thinks they're worth. Lately though, it seems like the hype train may be coming of the rails. So what happens to those companies now? The New York Times profiles Living Social to find out.
"We all know tech is excluding most people from participating. But one group is actually over represented. And we’ve been conspicuously silent." Metafilter's own Anil Dash asserts that "Asian American men who work in tech are benefitting from tech’s systematic exclusion of women and non-Asian minorities" and gives some recommendations about what they should do about it.
Amazon has posted (on Medium, natch) an aggressive response to the “everyone at Amazon is miserable but also paid well but also crying all the time” story in the New York Times [Previously]. This story and its aftermath represent a bit of a trap, particularly in discussions on Twitter: If you think the original story contained both valuable information and flaws, your default position is to go to bat for the Times; if you read this story as a portrait of a tough workplace written to cast it in the worst possible light, but acknowledge that it contained some worrying anecdotes, then your tendency will be to defend Amazon.
But these too reveal themselves as proxy positions. It’s not story versus story, or publication versus tech company. It’s media versus tech. [more inside]
But these too reveal themselves as proxy positions. It’s not story versus story, or publication versus tech company. It’s media versus tech. [more inside]
Bros Funding Bros: What's Wrong with Venture Capital. "What really matters is that we are in the midst of a technological renaissance that will be much farther reaching than any of us can predict if we invest correctly. Our generation has an opportunity, in our lifetime, to put a massive dent in human suffering and make trillions of dollars in return. ... We need a wake up call on Sand Hill Road. We need to recapture our potential and open the doors." [more inside]
"Hi, my name is Isis. I’m a full-stack engineer at OneLogin." When self-described introvert nerd Isis Anchalee agreed to appear in a "hastily planned and executed" ad campaign for her employers, she didn't expect the internet to decide she couldn't possibly be an engineer based on her looks. She was a model, some said. No "real" engineer would make such a "come-hither" face, some said. It was a transparent attempt to sex up the tech world, some said. Those marketers really screwed this one up, some said. [more inside]
Hacking the digital and social system: Voja Antonić on being a microcomputer enthusiast in Yugoslavia (via Hack A Day)
As the demand for tech labor grows, ambitious teenagers are flooding into San Francisco. There’s no official tally of the number of teens who work in tech, but Fontenot estimates that there are as many as a hundred recent high school dropouts working on startups in the city. Some were too distracted by programming projects and weekend hackathons to go to class. Others couldn’t pay for college and questioned why they should go into debt when there is easy money to be made. Still others had already launched successful apps or businesses and didn’t see why they should wait at home for their lives to start. In Facebook groups for young technologists, they saw an alternative: teens lounging in sunny Dolores Park (dolo, as they call it), teens leasing expansive South of Market office space, teens throwing parties whenever they want. And so they moved to San Francisco, many of them landing in houses like Mission Control. -- The Real Teens of Silicon Valley: Inside the almost-adult lives of the industry’s newest recruits
Bitcoin is unsustainable Bitcoin's power usage per transaction isn't remotely sustainable as a wholesale replacement for the conventional financial system. [more inside]
"Who wrote this amazing, mysterious book satirizing tech startup culture?" "A mysterious little book called Iterating Grace is floating around San Francisco right now. At least a dozen people have received the book in the mail—or in my case, by secret hand-delivery to my house. (Which is a little creepy.) The artifact itself consists of a 2,001-word story interspersed with hand-drawn recreations of tweets by venture capitalists and startup people like Chris Sacca, Paul Graham, Brad Feld, Sam Altman, and others. The story’s lead character, Koons Crooks, goes on a spiritual quest by contemplating the social media feeds emanating from the startup world. It leads him to a Bolivian volcano and a chillingly hilarious final act with some cans of cat food, a DIY conference badge, and a pack of vicuñas (which are sort of like llamas)."
"But the problem runs much deeper, because Silicon Valley’s amorality problem arises from the implicit and explicit narrative of progress companies use for marketing and that people use to find meaning in their work. By accepting this narrative of progress uncritically, imagining that technological change equals historic human betterment, many in Silicon Valley excuse themselves from moral reflection. Put simply, the progress narrative short-circuits moral reflection on the consequences of new technologies."
Get ready to have your insides disrupted by SmartPipe, the Venmo of pipes! (adult swim, 11:01)
"But the expansion of gaming generally is the expansion of slot machines specifically — the modern casino typically earns 70 to 80 percent of its revenue from slots, a stratospheric rise from the 1970s when slots comprised 50 percent or less. New York, the latest state to introduce gaming, doesn’t even allow table games, and Pennsylvania, now the third-largest gaming state in the country after Nevada and New Jersey, only later allowed table games in an amendment to its legislation. And increasingly, the psychological and technical systems originally built for slot machines — including reward schedules and tracking systems — have found admirers in Silicon Valley."
Love is the only motivating force, and while love can motivate some pretty awful things, it’s nonetheless impossible to do any good without it. I have no love left for my job or career. Tim Chevalier on tech as a coping mechanism and a place of toxicity and moral stagnation.
...And Crafted The Best Seed Portfolio Ever
But his track record is also flecked with broken friendships and hard feelings. While he keeps a relatively low media profile–this story marks the first time he’s cooperating for a major story–his big mouth, incessant name-dropping and blunt elbows cause eyes to roll. “He’s got a bit of a hero complex,” says a peer who knows him well. “He’s an amazing investor, but that’s not enough–he has to do this heroic stuff.” At Google he crashed every meeting he could and then wouldn’t shut up. Twitter eventually had to pass a rule, driven in part by Sacca, barring nonemployees from showing up at all-staff meetings. He and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, once close friends, now barely speak, despite Sacca’s major stake in the company.
Tableflip Dot Club: 2015's coolest club is for all those women in tech who had feelings about Ellen Pao & more.
The Women I Pretend to Be, by novelist and game writer Naomi Alderman (previously):
No one in tech has ever been as sexist toward me as teachers and rabbis before I was 12 years old. But I've come to notice more and more how working within the particular masculine sexism of the tech industry has nudged the way I present myself, just a little. I've noticed how, very slowly, I've started to acquiesce into playing roles that get assigned to me. I've noticed how I disappear behind these masks.
What follows is not a horror story. It's a series of moments.
Yesterday, Jay-Z's streaming music service Tidal was launched. The press event featured over a dozen celebrity musicians as signing "owners" of the service (each reportedly received 3% equity in exchange for exclusive content), and, by some accounts, was a bit awkward and content-free. At $19.99, the subscription plan is double the cost of competing services like Spotify, and no "freemium" plan is offered. The justification is two-fold: 1. Artists should be compensated fairly for streaming; and 2. The service's high-fidelity, lossless streaming is far superior to the current standard (320 kbps AAC, as Spotify and Rdio currently provide.) You can take an online blind test between 320 kbps AAC and Tidal's lossless streaming, to see if you have the "equipment and ears" for lossless music. Is there really a noticeable difference, or is this snake oil? Will the artist-forward approach change the conversation and ingrained habits of streaming music listeners? Is Tidal a sort of streaming for the 1% rather than for struggling independent musicians? Is it a walled garden for artists at the expense of fans? Or is this all simply a great vertical move for Jay-Z's Roc Nation label? So many questions.
The Shut-In Economy The dream of on-demand, delivery everything is splitting tech-centered cities into two new classes: shut-ins and servants.
Coding Like a Girl - sailor mercury at Medium:
"Apparently, presenting as feminine makes you look like a beginner. It is very frustrating that I will either look like not a programmer or look like a permanent beginner because I have programmed since age 8. I have basically always wanted to be a programmer. I received undergrad and grad degrees from MIT. I’ve worked as a visiting researcher in Honda’s humanoid robotics division on machine learning algorithms for ASIMO.[more inside]
"I don’t think that any of these things make me a better programmer; I list them because I am pretty sure that if i were a white man with these credentials or even less than these credentials no one would doubt my programmer status."
You might have noticed that there were three advertisements for video games aired during February's Super Bowl. All three were for free to play mobile games (1 2 3). Bloomberg Business explores how you make that kind of money (warning, super excessive design) while Giant Bomb plays the actual games. Also, just who are these people spending all that money?
Erowid Recruiter A Markov-powered mashup of Erowid trip reports and tech recruiter emails. "front end engineer would literally make or break the next hour, I walked through this area for a while and then my face ended, and the rats."
Inspired by recent research on how boredom and mind-wandering contribute to creativity, public radio show New Tech City is launching a pro-boredom project. Bored and Brilliant invites participants to track how they use their phones to prevent moments of mental idleness, to try to reclaim free brain space and find oases of time, complete a week of creativity challenges, and contribute their responses to the conversation. BrainPickings' Maria Popova and artist Nina Katchadourian (who both joined the project's launch party to talk about how they"owe their careers" to boredom)and RadioLab's Jad Abumrad.
Amsterdam wants to be smarter than you. And it’s well on its way. The Netherlands capital is on a mission to turn itself into the smartest city in the world. Through a collaboration with government officials, private companies including telecom giant KPN, and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, the city is quickly becoming a futuristic tech hub.
There’s a widespread idea that “People who make things are simply different [read: better] than those who don’t.” [...] It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products. [more inside]
Intel Wants Diversity in the Workplace, Puts $300 Million Where Their Mouth Is - Also they have a cool stabby spider dress.
The New York Times looks back at the Stanford Class of 1994 and what they are all up to today.
The most recent episode of the Ruby Rogues podcast — #179 Accountability and Diversity with Meagan Waller — is a treasure trove of insights and info about unconscious biases, diversity, employment, culture, tech, and more. The podcast page features a timestamped topic outline of the discussion, as well as many links to the Ruby community websites, projects, studies, conferences, and controversies they discuss… [more inside]
The Online Legacy of a Suicide Cult and the Webmasters Who Stayed Behind. A short history of the Heaven's Gate Millenarian Cult and the (ex?) members who still keep the page running seventeen years after their last contact with the leader and members.
Why We're Not Driving the Friendly Skies A number of us can thank a cartoon character from the future, George Jetson, for instilling our longing. Students of aviation history might look for inspiration to the Autoplane prototype built in 1917 by the flight pioneer Glenn Curtiss. And tens of millions of motorists who have been stuck in traffic jams stretching toward the horizon must also feel a need to know: Where are the flying cars?