Showing posts from 2017

Competitive Ethos of Tech companies

Every so often we seem to get surprised by how one or another tech company behaves in a predatory and mean-spirited fashion and the refrain is - "how could nice guys wearing khakis and Patagonia vests behave that way". The founders and leaders of them are all these nerdy people who seem, if anything, shy and meek and then their companies are these bloodthirsty competition squashers who believe that "everything that is not prohibited is permitted".

I have grown to believe that there is really no inconsistency there if you look at the formative years of most of the Founders and leaders of the tech universe (and here I include companies like Uber and AirBnB who are not really "tech"). What I mean is that in their formative years these folks were playing a lot of computer games. They were largely not in the Boy Scouts (as Rex Tillerson) or on sports teams which teach honor and fairness and camaraderie even with one's opponents.

There is no "honor"…

I am for "enthusiastic consent", maybe even "repeated enthusiastic consent"

All the recent debates about sexual harassment and misconduct made me try to define what I really think would be the “best practice” of men towards women which I could subscribe to and wish everyone else did the same. And my preliminary conclusion is that the best thing I’ve heard so far is the notion of “enthusiastic consent” as the standard. I am guided here by 3 principles — what would I today consider in my past behaviours to be OK and something I don’t need to apologize for. And because I have both male and female grown children, what would I consider behaviour that I would wish men exhibited towards my daughter and that my son exhibited towards women. To make things as clear as possible, “enthusiastic consent” means verbal consent or the woman (apologies to my same sex dating friends — I just feel I am unqualified to opine on your dating mores) initiating physical contact. If an awkward kiss turns into a passionate one, that is fine. But if an awkward hug turns into a kiss whic…

More about Inequality and how is "equality" supposed to come about

I wrote a post about Inequality as "the big issue of our time" after Piketty's book inspired a lot of hang wringing over it.

This is a continuation and elaboration on the same.

I feel that because of the US Republican tax plan we are getting into another round of "Inequality" discussions.
And since I have written about it before and done some numbers, I wonder if people really have any idea what they are talking about when they are discussing inequality.
The first of those is is inequality a problem and if so for what reasons? Is it because it is unfair for some people to have more than others? Or is it because a prolonged and exacerbated inequality will create social conflict and things are going to end badly? Because depending on which of those you believe, the approach to lessening inequality could be very different.
So make up your mind - should a society mandate that no individual could make more than 15x what another person makes or have a 100x the Net Wor…

"Men Behaving Badly"

So all of this stuff about men behaving badly made me ponder my own behaviours to try and review have I ever done anything of the sort. If you are a guy and you say you did not think about it in the last few weeks you are lying.
And the conclusion I have come to, again, is that I simply am not able to relate to some of the states of mind that must be present when men do some of these things. If it did not happen so often, I would find the notion that it exists at all incredible.
For example, what is it with the getting undressed in front of a woman BF ("before foreplay")? How is that supposed to work in their own mind - your stuff is just so impressive that once your drop the towel, she will be unable to control her desire for IT and jump you? Where does this notion come from - have men been told this by their mothers, sisters or female friends? That this is a sure fire, never fails, way of getting a woman to have sex with you? If nobody told them that, why do they believe …

We are being had by Facebook and Google

The business model of Facebook is to get paid by serving advertising to you and me - the ads that show up in your NewsFeed in between posts and ads on the side panel. The more time we spend on Facebook, the more ads we "pass by", the more money FB makes.
So if I were Facebook, I would work on setting up my algorithms in such a way that people spend the maximum amount of time on FB. I would find things that make people stay online longer and post more. Posting a pic of a flower or your meal will get a few likes that take less than a second to click on and then we move on. But arguing and "debate" - well that is endless.
If I were FB, I would set the algorithm to show me posts which I am more likely to "engage" with and these days that means argue and disagree with. I would make it so that if on a thread of comments somebody has called me an idiot or a "moron" in the past, those should be the posts that I see first. Because it is more likely ther…

Understanding Bitcoin, Ether, cryptocurrencies, blockchain and "distributed ledger"

Here is a PSA for anyone confused by Bitcoin this, Bitcoin that, "cryptocurrencies", "blockchain" and all that.

First of all, you do not need to understand what "blockchain" is any more than you need to understand how your iPhone identifies you by your fingerprint. It is underlying technology serving a purpose.

Second, you do not need to understand anything about currencies. Later, you may but to understand the fundamental concepts involved which you can explain to a 12 year old, you don't.

So in order to avoid that let's start with something that is not money at all. Imagine that there was a ledger (a book with records) in which ownership of every piece of land was recorded. Each parcel of land is uniquely identified and it says next to it who owns it. There is such a ledger - it is called "land registry" or "cadastral system" and just about every country has them. Many of you have bought and sold property and are familiar wit…

About North Korea

On merit based Immigration

There is this building myth in the media by the likes of Chris Cuomo that immigrants to North America were somehow all the "huddled masses" of the fundraising poem written on the Statue of Liberty.
That is patently untrue - it was not the least capable and down on their luck people in Europe who emigrated to America (and Canada) in the early parts of the 20th century. If you were homeless, stupid or had no self-motivation you could not get onto the boat to book passage to the New World. In many ways it was the best and the brightest, the people who had the gumption and the ability and the courage that decided to embark on such a challenge. Not the meek and the docile. You think the village idiots booked passage to the New World? Think again.
And no wonder they did as well as they did when they arrived there. A great many of them. They were entrepreneurial and smart and go-getters. If your grandparents were immigrants think of the family memories of them. Were they the peopl…

A brief review of recent political history of Russia (according to me)

So in the early 90s something happened in Russia - the USSR fell and the country rejected the ideal of communism. Pretty much "organically" - there was never any allegation that this was somehow prompted by or orchestrated by anyone outside of Russia. The people of Russia have had enough and Gorbachev cracked the door open through which Yeltsin stepped to be the first democratically elected President of Russia. He was a popular President elected with outright majority of 58% of votes, 4 times that of the next candidate. During Yeltsin years there were 3 loci of power - the government, business broadly speaking which went on to become the "oligarchs" and organized crime, broadly speaking. It was the Wild East in which state assets were grabbed at throwaway prices by businessmen and criminals fought openly in the streets for control of parts of territory or segment of criminal activity. It was at times hard to tell where one of those stopped and others began, the 3 g…

In 1977 President Carter made a call to America to use more coal for energy

It is always good to have a sense of perspective and without it we may repeat mistakes of the past.
Below is the link to an address to the nation by President Carter in 1977. A Democrat and some would say progressive at that. And a genuinely good person as evidenced by his life path after presidency. So he is by no means evil or a shill for corporate interests.
And in his 1977 address to the nation he calls for significant increase in use of coal for America's energy needs. He also says that by the end of 1980s, the world is going to run out of oil and gas in the sense that from that point on annual production is going to be on decline. He predicts solar and wind will become significant sources of energy for the US in the medium term.
So I repeat - he was not an evil person - this was the best information available to the President of United States at the time and certainly consensus of 97% of scientists too.
And yet, it was massively wrong. Nobody "predicted" the US sh…

Carbon-based life

As the sunset of fossil fuel era approaches perhaps we should give those (Fossil Fuels) their due and put things in perspective about Carbon.

With all the negative connotations around how "CO2 is bad, bad, bad" and that there should be a "tax on Carbon" (which I support), it seems that we have put aside the fundamental fact of life which is that carbon IS life. We are all carbon based lifeforms and until that first sentient computer emerges or we have a confirmed encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence (and if that life is not carbon-based), carbon means life. Without carbon, life would not exist.

And because we are carbon based lifeforms all, the formerly existing carbon lifeforms have given us, the current lifeforms, a gift of their own bodies concentrated into what we call oil and gas as energy resources. There is a beautiful Circle of Life at work here if you chose to see it.

We should appreciate this circle of life rather than wring our hands over how we hav…

We live in The Guilt Era

Everything seems to be about assigning guilt these days. Guilt must be seen as a motivating force or why else would it be held up so much as something that will presumably foster change? All these folks who traffic in guilt must think that this is effective.

If you are human, you are guilty already.

You are destroying the planet, causing other species to become extinct faster than ever. If you eat meat you are very guilty and even if you don't, plants apparently "know" that they are being eaten and besides, your agricultural practices are just causing permanent damage to things that you don't actually consume.

If you are older, you are certainly guilty for a whole lot of things - first of all, having lived for a while, you have accumulated a lot of guilt simply by virtue of being a human being and being destructive in that way. But also you are guilty of a lack of forethought in how you wasted resources and ruined the planet for generations to come. If you are over 50 y…

Taking your "emotional temperature" (or "emotional vital signs")

One of the most important "life skills" which nobody teaches us but is enormously helpful is to be able to take our own "emotional temperature". Or to assess our own "emotional vital signs".

How am I feeling exactly - am I anxious, afraid, tired, angry, content, disappointed, lonely, elated, frustrated.

The parallel to our physical health is pretty direct - in order to know "what is wrong" with us physically, the first thing everybody does is check your vital signs. Temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respirations. Just by doing a quick scan of those we can zero in on or eliminate a whole bunch of areas to look at.

Our emotional states are no different but we don't really approach them that way. We just go along when angry without doing anything about it or even realizing that it is the state that we are in. If you had high blood pressure would you go and do things to make it worse until the point where you collapse? Well if you don't me…

I have an idea how to save $50 Billion annually on healthcare - ban pharmaceutical advertising and "marketing"

There is no reason for us to be inundated with happy looking people in ads telling us how wonderful Invokana or Cymbalta are (followed by fine print of horrible potential side effects). There is no reason why I should have to know what Invokana does and does not do - this is not about being an "informed consumer". If I need Invokana, there is a professional whose job it is to tell me that and to understand precisely how and why Invokana is for me - that would be my Doctor.

Pharmaceutical advertising is nothing but an arms race - companies spend Billions for something that is completely unnecessary if only from one point in time everyone had to play under different rules. Tobacco company profits did not go down when cigarette advertising was banned - they went up because they saved on all that advertising expense. Pharma companies would not have less money to invest in R & D if they were not allowed to advertise - arguably they would have more.

At the same time the entire p…

Rich people do not "care about money" more than poor (or not wealthy) people do

Recent political developments revived debates of inequality and how "the rich are getting richer" and in those discussions a fundamental point of difference has been completely missed which is that rich people do not care about money more than people who have less of it.

Or to put it differently, once one achieves a certain level of wealth, the concerns of money in terms of making more of it become a much lesser relative concern than they were when they had little and had to "put food on the table".

This makes so much sense and yet it is widely accepted that the opposite is true - that a Billionaire will be focused on money more so than somebody who is short rent money this month. And where it gets really off the rails is in the implication that somehow, in terms of their behaviour, wealthy people will be willing to compromise morals, ethics and even the law in order to "get more money" and do so more readily than poor people.

The unexamined and unspoken …

Young men protesting, rioting, looting and punching people

Recent weeks and months have seen a remarkable escalation of emotions spread around the world. I won’t go into why, what it means and what may happen next, at least not here.
What this recent period has made me realize is that the propensity of young men to “express” themselves through violence is a human universal, only this time around it has found a somewhat new, very thin, veneer under which to mask itself as being “different this time” than in other instances (such as French students protesting hikes in student fees).
First of all, this is about violence, about physical confrontation including vandalism and damage of property. While women protest plenty, it took a man at women’s march in Edmonton to actually throw a punch (at a woman). For men, physical confrontation is not only a key part of their “expressing themselves”, it seems to be innate.
Senseless violence of football hooligans in Europe has been around forever. Young men in Belgrade schedule to fight each others beca…

"Make America Great Again" was less about "Great" and much more about "Again"

The US Presidential election was not about whether America is great today so much as it was about the suggestion that we could all go back to some better, simpler time.

While few have actual memories of the 50s, most have an idea in their heads of what it was like when things were much simpler. A simple candidate, one so simple to border on a simpleton, came along after a long line of lifelong politicians. Whether slick political operators like Bill Clinton and Obama or the political dynasty of the Bush family.

Trump is simply not difficult to understand for most people. Almost everybody knows somebody who has some of his characteristics, both the good and the bad. He is bigoted while genuinely thinking that he isn't. He is believable in his denials because he is Archie Bunker with a private plane. He may be disagreeable but he is understandable.

There is nothing we don't understand about him - eating KFC on your plane is something everyone can understand. The KFC part of it, …