VCs and Taint

Dare has an interesting post on the way that VCs are now bragging about how they steer clear of anywhere Google might go.  I’ve noticed that VCs often think in “big dog”, “Moneyball”, “old boy” terms, so it’s not surprising.  That’s the challenge for Umair; he covers all of the same topics as the VCs, and in more depth, but he’s just a wee bit too intellectual.  He needs to sound just a bit more paternalistic and sexist if he wants to appeal to the baby boomers and sound like a member of the VC club.

Coincidentally, the other day, my aggregator fed me this post (warning, totally NSFW) by Sam Sugar about his conversation with Fred Wilson (a VC).  It was right next to a post by Fred; the irony wasn’t lost on me.  Fred made it pretty clear (very politely) that he wasn’t interested in even having a conversation about the topic, because of “taint”.  The interesting part is that the VCs have no problem investing in companies in Sam’s industry, as long as the “taint” is sufficiently dissociated.

The “taint” in Sam’s industry, of course, comes from the fact that we have a whole industry organized around exploitation.  As Sam chronicles, though, it’s a rather complex picture where the exploiters are increasingly as likely to be women as men.  I suspect that many VCs read Sam’s blog, since he thinks like a VC and asks the questions that VCs generally won’t ask publicly.

Speaking of, if you’re visiting Shanghai in the next couple of months (and you look British), don’t arrange private dinners with attractive single (or married, for that matter — I’m afraid to take my own wife to dinner in Shanghai now) Chinese women.  The angry mob is on the hunt for ChinaBounder, a British retard who thinks that Shanghainese promiscuity is a license to brag about his cross-cultural sexual exploits.  As the Sugar/Wilson conversation on “taint” shows, a bit of humor can help people push the edges and discuss an uncomfortable subject without blowing up.  Bounder (like Sugar) loves to quote Shakespeare.  But Bounder clearly is crossing the line between “poking fun to allow an uncomfortable subject to be discussed” and “mocking and provocation with malicious intent”.  The violent reaction was quite predictable, and the subject could have been raised with moderation and sensitivity, so Bounder has nobody to blame but himself for what he gets.

Don’t Marry a Smart Woman?

The editor of Forbes is trying desperately to put his magazine out of business.  This rubbish belongs in Maxim, not Forbes.

Statistics show that couples are more likely to stay married if each person feels that the other doesn’t have many better options.  This is the most important factor in success of a long-term relationship, and if you’ve paid attention in your life, you can probably cite several confirming examples from your own experience.

Armed with this knowledge, you have two ways to approach a relationship.  One is to look for someone who is going to be financially and socially enslaved by your relationship and tightly control her opportunities in life.  As long as she can rationalize that, “no other woman would put up with his crap”, she’ll feel like YOU are lucky to have HER, too, and the relationship will work.  This isn’t even cro-magnon; it’s neanderthal.  The problem with this system is that it’s a race to the bottom bounded only by the collective personal insecurities of the participants.

The other approach is to make sure both participants have high self-esteem.  If you hook up with an insecure partner, you’re going to have to work 10x as hard to pretend to be a loser so that she feels you are lucky to have her.  You really don’t want that.  Marry a smart woman with high self-confidence instead. 

So, what is it that keeps a smart woman feeling like she is lucky to have you?  Just don’t act like a jealous and insecure idiot like the Forbes editor.  Most intelligent women have crossed paths with enough men like that, that they’re going to feel lucky to be with a guy who’s not.  And if you do act like the Forbes editor, she’ll have plenty of smart guys at the office letting her know that she has better options — you’re better off marrying the nanny and racing to the bottom.

Talking Signs Seattle!

Congratulations to Seattle for winning the Federal DOT Grant for Remote Infrared Audio Signage!  This means that various real-world places around Seattle are going to be annotated with identifiers which can be directionally detected.

This should be interesting to Virtual Earth people, Wikimapia, and anyone interested in tacking metadata to real-world locations.

Talking signs address some scenarios which RFID, GPS, and other techniques cannot.  Being based on infrared; they work indoors and are directional (e.g. if the mens and womens bathrooms are next to one another; GPS isn’t necessarily going to tell you which is which).

Additionally, the directional (line of sight) aspect means that talking signs are useful for accessibility for people with vision impairment.  This is the underlying motivation for the project; the federal government is funding this because it’s the law — all cities will eventually be required to implement this technology.

Burn the Books

So, as I predicted when I booted all of my subscribers and converted this blog without copying old posts, my Google PageRank has plummeted (to 3).  I have actually brought back most of the old posts, but the URL format is a bit different (although the file at exists on the filesystem, WordPress returns a 404).  So more than 99% of post permalinks over the past 6 years are broken.  Watching the 404s pile up in my error log is heart-wrenching; I feel like Li Si presiding over the burning of the books.

I recently discussed this issue with Jeff Sandquist.  In the context of “e-mail retention policies”.  Some companies have such policies, which are really “e-mail deletion policies”.  Lawyers think it’s a good idea to have clear and consistent processes for deleting e-mail, so that people are not tempted to delete e-mail in ways that arouse suspicion.  On the other hand, people like me argue that the “delete” button is obsolete anyway, and deleting things is anti-human and destroys institutional memory.  Jeff tends to be rather pragmatic, arguing that “it’s not that big a deal when you get used to it”.  And he’s right.  But I prefer to argue from a religious standpoint.  As I argued in “Renmin Voice“, one of the two fundamental principles of semantic web is that people’s voices are indelible.  Or, as this photo of Google’s master plan (see, even lies are preserved!) jokingly states, the real master plan is “don’t erase”.  This week, Qwest communications called for mandatory data retention policies at online service providers; and in this case they really do mean retention (not deletion).  Qwest’s reasons were exactly the ones I used in defending Google, “When Privacy is Bad“.

The other fundamental law of renmin voice is that voices are audible — that is, no artificial barriers to your voice being heard by someone who has ears and wants to hear what you have to say.  Again, Jeff is right when he says that a private blog is still a blog.  But speaking religiously, anything that gets in the way of future humans hearing what you want to tell them, is unethical.  Depending on the circumstances, such barriers could include DRM, security ACLs, and proprietary closed formats for data like social networks.

Idea Slaves

Aaron Clauset has a rambling post attempting to contrast science favorably with non-science.  The key defining difference is easy to sum up; science seeks to disconfirm.  The rest of his post talks about things that are shared by science and non-science alike.

He does quote a useful little statement, which can be applied to the “Metcalfe’s Law” debates currently being retread by the A-List: “all models are wrong, but some models are more useful than others” (George Box).  I like the Richard Bandler variation, since it is more honest: “All generalizations are lies”.

The “Metcalfe’s Law” debate comes down to an argument about which “rule of thumb” is best for valuing networks.  It’s great debate fodder, because it can be used to kickstart any pet topic, like “it is/isn’t a bubble” (I agree with Umair), or “closed networks will die” (Closed networks/”moats” are still alive and well, but Marc’s ideas will win in the end).  But as Umair said last time the debate popped up, “it’s just a model, stupid!”

Since Aaron mentions Popper, I am reminded of George Soros’s crusade of the past ten years.  Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” theory has been responsible for massive wealth and liberty spread over the past couple of hundred years, but Soros points out that it is dangerous to extend it too far, saying “We need to maintain law and order. We need to maintain peace in the world. We need to protect the environment. We need to have some degree of social justice, equality of opportunity. The markets are not designed to take care of those needs. That’s a political process. And the market fundamentalists have managed to reduce providing those public goods.” 

In fact, his crusade seems to be falling on deaf ears.  The “market fundamentalists” are basically the same as the “evolutionary fundamentalists”, who are the same as the “scientific inquiry” fundamentalists.  And they are taking over everything.  I see evolutionary theory being used to explain all sorts of phenomena these days; and presumably all behaviors we have are related back to baboon’s desire to procreate and produce offspring.  Since B.F. Skinner is no longer fashionable, I’m trying to figure out how to train my dog via evolution (it will take a lot of dogs, but puppies are cute).  Or balance my checkbook (if we learn from mistakes, let’s make as many as possible).  All of these fundamentalists take their theories a bit too far, and fail to realize that all models have their limitations.

A rather disturbing example of this fundamentalist trifecta is the just-published “Origin of Wealth“.  Take a little bit of evolutionary “selfish gene” thinking, market speak, and cloak it in scientific discourse, and now market systems are practically laws of nature.


When Privacy is Bad: In Defense of Google

As much as I love to see people questioning Google’s stewardship of “all the world’s information”, I have to defend Google on this one.  An anonymous poster claiming to be from MSFT is over on a Google blog –using the AOL data leak as a way to smear Google.  That’s just plain wrong; and in the context of the original post, bordering on unethical.

There is an e-mail hoax making the rounds in India right now, purporting to explain how Google’s social networking service, Orkut, was created.  I’ve seen a few different versions going around, but they all have the same core story:

“A young software engineer travelling with his ‘girlfriend’ was in a train accident.  He survived, but could not find his girlfriend after the crash.  So, he wrote code day and night and hired a bunch of other coders to write Orkut.  In Orkut, people would type in the names of their friends, and their friends could type in the names of their friends, and so on.  After three years, he had millions of records and eventually one of her new friends entered her name in the database without her knowledge — our heartbroken lover was able to find his lost lover at last!”

Of course, the story is a complete fabrication; but were it true it would be rather creepy.

To some people this may seem “sweet”.  But you have to wonder why it wasn’t enough for this fellow to just put up a web page and let her Google for it herself.  Clearly, if he was so intent to “find out where she lives now and pay her a visit”, he was convinced that she was not going to contact him on her own.  Otherwise, the effort to build Orkut would have been senseless.  Stalkers always rationalize that their prey “want” it, so he surely had some reason why the poor girl was not going to contact him.  For example, “She is rather weak-minded, so she has probably had her heart stolen away by some evil man who has brainwashed her.  If only I go visit her at her new home, I can make her remember that she loves me instead.”  One reason that he might be so certain of this may be that she had done it in the past, before the train crash.  The poor fellow; always having to rescue his girl from manipulative men who make her unfaithful!

At first, I thought, “what a terribly unethical way to attract cyberstalkers to your social networking service!”  It’s not as if these people need any encouragement.  But then I remembered the “Committee of Gossips“.  The Internet makes it harder for people to hide from obsessive stalkers, but it also makes it harder for obsessive stalkers to operate in secret.


So a few days ago, Niniane Wang at Google discovered evidence of rape by looking through the AOL search logs.  Almost instantly, she was mobbed with (mostly anonymous and male) commenters screaming foul — “How DARE you pry into someone’s PRIVATE life; I will never trust Google again!”

These people operate on denial and self-delusion; secrecy and privacy are the oxygen that keeps their abusive behaviors alive.  The typical date-rapist or stalker will tell you that it’s just a difference of opinion, a private matter, and that it’s none of your business.  He knows that he loses if you have all of the facts and can judge for yourself.

In this case, Niniane was looking at PUBLIC logs, and the evidence is clear enough that a crime has been committed.  Not only did Niniane do nothing wrong by calling attention to this; I argue that law enforcement would be negligent to not follow up on this (if possible).  It is sad (yet common) that the victims in the examples she cites could reach out for help only by leaving private e-mails in a public place, or typing a query into a search engine with the hope that they might find some answers somewhere.

The truth is, there are probably thousands of queries like this every day, from people suffering depression, abuse, or other problems; and looking for help.  Search engines should provide a direct and smooth transition to priivate and confidential 1:1 counseling for people in these situations.  When someone asks the search engine “is it normal to cook for someone after they rape you?” (it’s not uncommon, BTW), this person clearly wants to connect with someone who understands.  When someone asks “why is it so hard to find a reason to live?”, they are reaching out.  You’re not invading their privacy by directing them to resources that can help them.

Of course, people will be discouraged from seeking help for depression, abuse, and these sorts of things if they feel like their private lives might appear on someone’s blog the next day.  But that’s not the gist of the comments objecting to Niniane’s post.  And one way to give hope to future victims is by showing them tht they’re not alone; that there are many people asking the exact same questions — people who never would have scanned the AOL logs themselves now know that they aren’t the only ones to be having the same questions; and that is nothing but good.


And if transparency is (understandably) a deterrent for victims to seek help, it’s doubly a deterrent for the abusers.  And in the case of abusers, shining the light can only do good.  The restaurant or venue owner who gets negative reviews on dianping will claim that “it’s just a difference of opinion or a misunderstanding”, and that may be the case (yes, sometimes the perp is the victim).  But you get to look at the evidence and decide for yourself.  The same should be true of heartbroken trainwreck survivors and date-rapists.  It’s only a matter of time until we have a “dianping for people”, and the committee of gossips have eyes everywhere.  This is what scares the anonymous protesters the most.

Jealous Scientists (Argument is a Whore and a Cuckold)

Every now and then on this blog, I poke fun at oversensitive “scientists” who are so wrapped up in the theology of science that they would greet Francis Bacon with Cartman-esqe screams of RESPECT maaah authori-TAY!!!

So I just love that “Nature’s Fundamental Laws May be Changing“.  To me, it is common sense.  Francis Bacon would have totally predicted this.  BTW, Francis Bacon is the ultimate authority in “scientific method”; any true scientist would never argue with Bacon.  It would be like a Republican arguing with Charlton Heston (he’s MOSES!) or anyone arguing with Clint Eastwood.  Just don’t even try it.

Somehow, I was lucky enough to be trained in scientific philosophy without being exposed to too many authoritarian scientists.  So when I read Michio Kaku’s lucid explanation of why superstring theory might make sense, I remember thinking, “duh!  how obvious!  doesn’t everyone know this?”  Even if you don’t buy superstring theory, the premise of limited knowledge he describes in his fishpond analogy is dead obvious.  Only someone locked in the grip of theological science could deny it.  This is the premise to which I alluded in my response to Doug’s post on directed panspermia and von neumann probes.  I’ve used the fishpond/dimensional anaology many times before; and am continually shocked when people need to be convinced.  It’s the same base idea that underlies Korzybski and much of western philosophy.

In fact, I have a secret about Michio Kaku, which perhaps I will reveal here some day.  And perhaps I will further elaborate on “dead obvious”, one day.  But today I am speaking only to “them who has ears” without trying to speak to scientific pharisees.

You see, science is like a jealous husband.  Science seeks to arrive at “truth” by constantly seeking to disprove the prevailing theory.  Even results which fail to disprove a theory must be tested repeatedly, in different contexts, before the scientist will accept them — and even then, the true scientist must reserve the possibility that the theory might be wrong.  The jealous husband always holds to the suspicion that his wife might be cheating.  He might explain his obsessively suspicious behavior by explaining that, “I can never be SURE that she’s not cheating, unless I fully test every possible situation and collect a complete data set of information!”

The beautiful thing is that, if he tests often enough and vigorously enough, he’ll either waste his life testing or find the evidence he seeks.  Then, when she promises not to do it again, the fun begins all over again!

Iago knew that jealous lovers can be a boatload of fun.  Even while they “protest too much” that “my lover would NEVER cheat on me!”, the Iago knows that a simple whisper in the ear is enough to set the poor cuckold off in paroxysms of self-doubt and obsessive “research”.  But the Othellos don’t hate Iago — Iago tells Othellos what they want to hear.  Othello’s reserve their blinding hate for the likes of Camus, because he is the one who tells them, “chill out, you can never know if she’s cheating or not anyway!”  That is sacrilege!

Perhaps this is why the authoritarian pharisees of the scientific community dislike Michio Kaku.  He doesn’t say “you can never know”, but he sure makes knowing a lot harder.  And this is certainly why they hate Ibrahim — not only does he say, “you can’t know”, but he adds I know, through a process of faith, not suspicion”OMFG, burn him at the stake so I can get back to my jealous obsessions!!!

And those of us “that has ears” know full well that William Shakespeare was the pen-name for Francis Bacon.  Francis Bacon; the messiah who delivered us the cult of reason/science, is the same man who gave us so many literary works revealing the mind of the jealous lover, and who penned the words “All the argument is a whore and a cuckold, a good quarrel to draw emulous factions and bleed to death upon!”

If Bacon were Heston, he might come back from the grave and humiliate them with a whip or a stick.  But if you read any Shakespeare, you see its better to just laugh at them.  Yes, he’s laughing from the grave.

“Othello, I only tell you this because I am your friend and I respect you.  I have heard that Francis is making fun of you, and people are whispering behind your back.  I pray that it’s not true, but I just thought you should know.  Not that you need it, but your gun is in the second desk drawer.  I am sure it’s just a baseless rumor; please forgive me — forget I said anything!”


Scientist, you know I loooove you.  Don’t be like that baby!  I’m sorrrry!!  I didn’t mean anything by it.

In fact I think that people who challenge science’s authority are a little bit like the article in The Onion.  “Rogue Scientist has Own Scientific Method“.  When I see sensationalist media report that speed of light is not constant, I am reminded of this comical loser’s assertion that the boiling point of water is “actually 547 degrees Fahrenheit”.  When I see the biased news media reporting that glass has a state between gas and liquid, I am reminded of the ficticious Hapner’s claim that “matter exists in four states: solid, liquid, gas, and powder”.  What is he on, cocaine?!?  Silly humans; lucky for them we have the church of science to keep them in line.


Mini is lamenting the growth in hiring at Microsoft; missing the “good old days”.  But I’m not complaining.  Yesterday, on my way across the soccer field, going from building 18 to meetings in buildings 10 and 2, what should I see, but … Ponies!!!

Yes, ponies, clowns, about 10 inflatable rides, a choo-choo train!  Sno Cones, cotton candy.  Then I didn’t wake up.  It wasn’t even a dream!

They even had Chamillionaire blasting over on the half of the soccer field where young pony riders couldn’t hear the words.  (And presumably, the parents were too busy checking their blackberries while standing in line with the tykes, that they wouldn’t have noticed anyway).

With all of the rainbow colors spread about, I couldn’t help but compare to the grassy area outside the Googleplex main cafeteria.  Like the plex, I noted the shirtless young men on the sandy voleyball court, hoping to land a tot-manufacture contract with a suitably impressed female passer-by.  In terms of beach-like atmosphere; the plex usually has the edge, but this day I think we won.  For the 4 months that the sun shines here, California is a barren wasteland in comparison.  And our open is just bigger, cleaner, and funner.  And how can you compete with ponies in the background of your volleyball court?  It felt like I had landed in a Seurat painting.

I think the primary thing you notice at the Googleplex, though, is age.  Google has a lot of people who look like they are too young to have graduated college.  Microsoft, on the other hand, has a lot of parents.  I blogged about the MSFT baby boom about 6 years ago.  But now it’s paying off.  There were young people EVERYWHERE!  All the way from 5 year-old princesses to clean-cut 15 year-olds I swear I saw last time I was at Google.

I don’t even know who threw this party.  It seems we have some sort of crazy surrealism on the soccer field every Friday.