I make software, research robotics, and play games. I talk about general tech, Debian GNU/Linux, MTGO, programming, and other random things.
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The meritocracy trap

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This recent quote from an early PayPal exec is absurd: “If meritocracy exists anywhere on earth, it is in Silicon Valley.”

It's pretty common for successful people to imagine that their success is solely the result of merit. It's more satisfying than pointing to all the external factors that have contributed to that success. The trap is in being satisfied. Satisfaction in their meritocracy causes companies, industries and cultures to calcify, to harden themselves against new ideas and new people.

CULTURE is something we create, and culture works against pure merit. That's because culture creates insulation and connections and histories that count at least as much as the pure horsepower of merit.

HEAD STARTS get compounded. Early success gives people the resources, confidence and connections that can be used to create later success. 

LOCK IN means that organizations and ideas can succeed far longer than they would without it. You don't give up on a social network or smart phone merely because one element of it isn't the best available one. It's easier to stick than to switch.

And of course, lock in goes way beyond operating systems. It includes worldviews, friendships, momentum of all kinds.

At the philharmonic, the first chair violinist might believe the job came solely as a result of merit, through blind auditions. But the combination of culture (going all the way back to the age of 5, combined with access to teachers, combined with the tenure that comes with many roles) means that even at these rarified heights, merit alone isn't the guiding force. On this day, is this violinist actually the very best violinist in the world? (And defining merit gets super difficult once we mix it together with vague measures of effort and potential).

And so, in Silicon Valley there is we have a deeply ingrained culture that rewards people who understand it, that play by certain rules and have access to various resources that seem out of reach to many. A great idea, powerful work ethic and good design are rarely sufficient on their own. And lucky people who are bold enough to dig in often find that early effort leads to a head start, that they can choose to compound, which, in the most legendary cases, leads to a lock-in a market that can last for a decade or more. 

And of course, it's not just Silicon Valley. It's the breaks I got along the way, the resources that let me do my work and the ability to post this blog daily, it's the farmer who was born with access to a better piece of land, it's everywhere where we build a culture, a system for creating utility, a network. And it works. Until it doesn't.

For me, the huge hurdle we face is, "seems out of reach." In cultures and economies with rapid change (and the Valley certainly qualifies) there are huge opportunities, but too many people talk themselves out of reaching, aren't thirsty enough to take a leap. Part of that resistance comes from the industry itself proclaiming its meritocracy as opposed to actively opening doors and selling people (hard) on finding the thirst, the desire to leap.

[If someone is looking for a true meritocracy, where the deck is reshuffled and the best weighs in first, check out pumpkin growing].

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jamuraa
2206 days ago
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Good thoughts about silicon valley culture and the meritocracy. The lines about silicon valley culture make my thoughts drift to culture clash between SF startups and SF embedded culture.
Minneapolis, MN
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futurile
2215 days ago
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Hits the nail with this one ...
London

Samsung Fudges ALS Challenge

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Samsung made a video purporting to show the Galaxy S5 taking the “ice bucket challenge”, not to raise awareness for ALS, but in order to mock competing phones (including the iPhone 5S) for their lack of water resistance.

But here’s the thing: Watch the time at the top right of the Galaxy’s status bar. Samsung lacks integrity even when doing something ostensibly for a charity. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

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jamuraa
2335 days ago
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Phone in gallery mode viewing screenshots so that the "lock screen" doesn't disappear when the water triggers the screen. You can clearly see the swipe transition to the next image. Unless he thinks there was some kind of trickery, it seems on-the-level.
Minneapolis, MN
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Facial recognition

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Dear crazyweb,

while there seem to be good GUI tools to enable facial recognition with FLOSS, they all fall short of my requirements. And while there seem to be a lot of research projects with open code, they seem to be lacking in the "usable in real life" department.

It seems as if there should be something to scratch that itch, but I couldn't find it...

Thus, my wishlist for facial recognition software

  • MUST NOT send any data to any third parties!
  • Must run on Linux
  • GUI and CLI are both fine as long as the rest of the specs are met, but good CLI-integration would be a huge plus
  • Should offer batch-verification of detected faces like so
  • Must not rely on duplicating files in its own data structure/DB/directory; symlinks are fine
  • Should cope with source files disappearing
  • Should be able to list/diff files which are new or not yet tagged
  • Must not require being able to write to any picture files
  • Must be able to store data outside of the original pictures
  • Should not modify the source directories without being told to; temp files, face DB, and similar should all be located in a place I decide upon
  • Should offer batch-processing
  • Must be able to trigger a command or script for all verified identifications i.e. the ones I manually set to matching the person; alternatively, at least be able to export data in a way I can build scripts upon
  • Should be able to cope with faces changing over time, people growing older, getting a beard, etc
  • Should be FLOSS if at all possible
  • MUST NOT send any data to any third parties!
  • I consider tags to be permanent, the DB for the program should ideally be ephemeral but I am aware that this may not be possible
  • If the DB needs to be retained, it should ideally be in a merge-friendly text format not binary but that may be asking too much ;)
  • MUST NOT send any data to any third parties!
  • Ponies.

I will gladly follow up with a workflow blog post assuming I end up with useful feedback.

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jamuraa
2509 days ago
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If it's open source, couldn't you just rip out the part that sends stuff to the third parties?
Minneapolis, MN
reconbot
2507 days ago
There are a ton of tools that use 3rd party api's for the actual detection.
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skorgu
2510 days ago
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+1 this request, especially the ponies.

“We’re Just Flipping Through Index Cards”

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Myke Hurley’s recent podcast interview of John Roderick is excellent.

At 39 minutes, Myke asked how music promotion works today. I’ve quoted part of John’s response, with some slight editing and paraphrasing to read more easily:

[40:30]
[Ten years ago,] you were dependent on this whole cultural architecture of magazine writers, newspaper writers, college radio, commercial radio, public radio… and if your record got into the stream, and the right person liked it and talked about it, then pretty soon you’ve created a storm of interest that started with one or two people who decided that this record was something that really mattered.

If you couldn’t get those people to take an interest in your record — because of course everybody in the world knows who those few people are, and they’re inundating them with albums — if you couldn’t get that person to take the time, or if they just didn’t like it, then you’d be struggling, grasping at every opportunity to get someone further down the food chain to take an interest in this album. …

[43:07]
Well, five years ago, all of a sudden the conventional wisdom started to change. “Oh, no, we don’t have to do any of that anymore! You just put it on the internet, everybody listens to it, and ‘the crowd’ decides! And you don’t have to do any of that bullshit anymore. You can just tweet about your record, and everybody’s going to listen to it and love it!”

And for a brief moment, when the internet was still comprised mostly of all the right people, it was just the cool kids that were on there. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah could put out a record on Myspace, and the cool kids would all get it.

But, of course, that window was short-lived. Now, we’re back to a world where everybody’s on the internet, and nobody cares. Nobody’s following your tweet link to your record anymore! Except your fans, people who already like you.

My Twitter feed is now 85% links to people’s Kickstarters and YouTube videos. And I only follow people I know! Imagine following your favorite bands — it would be never-ending. Everybody’s trying to promote themselves the same way.

The problem is now, if you hire a publicist, what are they doing? They’re just tweeting about it, too, because the magazines are gone, the record stores are gone… it’s anybody’s guess how to promote a record now. …

[45:28] I hate to sound curmudgenly, but … what is inevitable is that the mean quality of everything is declining. In the early ’70s, it was very expensive to make a record, and you had to be really good at it to even get into the studio to give it a shot. The record companies were very selective, and the music that made it all the way out to the marketplace was astonishingly good. Think about the music that came out between 1962 and 1972: what an astonishing quality of music, in every genre. Ten different genres of music were invented and perfected.

Now, we live in a world where there are probably more records coming out this week than what came out in all of 1967. All of that quantity probably hasn’t produced a single record that was as good as the worst record from 1967. Everything is easier to make, so more people are making it, the standard is so much lower for what you need, and it’s a confusing din.

As a culture, we are satisfied with worse, because there’s so much more of everything.

When a Marvin Gaye record came out 40 years ago, presumably, you went and spent your record-buying allowance on it, and you brought it home and listened to it exclusively for 2 weeks. It was an investment. This was it! You’re going to listen to this, or you’ve got an AM radio and a newspaper.

Now, we’re just clicking through songs. “How does this one sound? Oh, that’s good. How does this one sound? Pretty good. This one’s good.”

We’re just flipping through index cards.

This is equally true in all media today, including software.

This is why a hundred other sites are trying to be Daring Fireball, why everybody’s starting a podcast, and why nobody’s buying your app in the App Store.

The democratization of media production and distribution over the last few decades has worked incredibly well. Overall, it’s a net win for society. But the downside is that everything’s now extremely crowded.

There’s a lot of money and attention out there to go around, but there’s also a lot more competition for everything.

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jamuraa
2550 days ago
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Doesn't this "everything is crap, and it's everywhere" just open up a big market for tastemakers? I feel like there's maybe some cycle going on - lots of content demands curators which leads to middlemen with too much power which leads to backlash which leads back to democratization?
Minneapolis, MN
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MotherHydra
2550 days ago
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I came here for coffee. I don't want Gruber in my coffee.
Space City, USA

★ On Google’s Acquisition of Nest

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Tony Fadell, in an interview today with Om Malik, on why Nest sold to Google:

I was spending nearly ninety percent of my time on building the infrastructure of the company and I wasn’t able to spend enough time and cycles on what I love doing: products and creating differentiated experiences for our customers. That is where my love is and Google offered to let us focus on that, but with scale that will help bring our horizon closer to us, faster. Google offers to bring that scale to us. For me, ultimately building great products is key.

Consider Fadell’s record with the iPod at Apple. Clearly, he knows how to do hardware: design, utility, software integration. But he also knows scale — creating devices that sell tens of millions of units. And he knows iteration: not just building and shipping an iPod, but building and shipping new iPods year after year, each better, in some way, than the last.

One of Alan Kay’s numerous oft-cited quotations is, “People who are really serious about software should partner with an OEM in Asia.” No, wait, that’s not what he said. What he said is, “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” That’s never been true of Google, putting aside Motorola (which they seemingly acquired more for its patent portfolio than for its phone hardware acumen) and the niche Google Search Appliance.

In a sense, Google has always followed Kay’s adage. The software that Google was most serious about — web search, Gmail, and so forth — ran in the cloud, and with the company’s legendary data centers, they effectively built their own hardware.

Google now has a division with a remarkable consumer hardware track record. Nest and Fadell now have the financial resources to work faster. Money doesn’t solve scaling problems, but the actual solutions to scaling problems always cost money. Google’s Nest acquisition has very little to do with selling thermostats and smoke detectors in particular. Instead, it’s about Google having the ability to do consumer hardware right, in general.

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jamuraa
2558 days ago
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Saying that Google only bought Motorola for patents after they successfully released the Moto X (assembled in Texas, btw) and Moto G after acquisition seems a bit wrong. Also, they've been heading toward designing their own hardware a while - see Nexus Q and Chromecast. Nest acquisition definitely puts them farther into this area they've been seeping into for a while.
Minneapolis, MN
il_guru
2558 days ago
It's true that Motorla has released those phones, but they are not thought nor perceived by the public as "Google Phones". The only phones branded from Google directly are the Nexus which were built by Samsung and LG
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retroneo
2558 days ago
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Google Chromebook Pixel?
aaronwe
2558 days ago
The Pixel is not a consumer product in any meaningful sense. It's the laptop equivalent of an auto brand's "halo" car. The Moto X, however, is a real consumer product that Google is making and selling in real quantities, if not iPhone scale. As the Moto X deal meltdown over the holidays shows, Google still has some learning to do in that space.

Target refuses to sell 'Beyoncé' due to iTunes-first launch

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Beyoncé's stealthy new album is a digital smash hit, but one major retailer is skipping the party for the CD version. Target says that it won't sell Beyoncé because the record was released on iTunes first before making its way to retail store shelves. "At Target we focus on offering our guests a wide assortment of physical CDs, and when a new album is available digitally before it is available physically, it impacts demand and sales projections," a spokesperson said to Billboard.

Continue reading…

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jamuraa
2586 days ago
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This is just good business sense honestly, most of the sales of a big album release come in the first week. It doesn't pay Target to be the long tail.
Minneapolis, MN
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wim_s
2586 days ago
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Don't think it will it hurt the sales. They're just proving their own obsolescence.
jbloom
2586 days ago
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Jealous much?
Columbus, Ohio
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