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Hoodies and Sexual Harassment Every week we see another bombshell report on the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the technology and startup community. Anyone who has worked in technology did not need to read former Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s post on the sexual harassment she experienced at Uber to understand that a serious problem exists. I know women at some of the most highly respected companies in technology who have suffered demeaning and disrespectful treatment. The stories all have a dreary sameness – hardworking women who have had to work twice as hard to succeed in a male-dominated profession suffer objectification or outright dismissal simply for being female. This week’s New York Times report on female startup founders being sexual harassed by potential backers was especially disheartening. I had a huge amount of respect for some of the investors mentioned in the article. Treating pitch meetings like Tinder dates is unacceptable. The question has been asked: Is there something in the culture of technology that is encouraging this behavior? The obvious solution is that the ratio of men to women in technology needs to change. This is an imperative. But I also believe there is a lack of professionalism in technology that encourages this type of behavior. Why does this matter? Even leaving aside the fact that women should be able to work and live without being propositioned or dismissed for their gender, sexual harassment in technology is becoming an economic issue. Some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world are technology companies. Our economy cannot afford for these companies to be hit by continual crises because people won’t act like adults. Imagine you work for one of these companies. You show up every day in your t-shirt, jeans, and hoodie. These are the same clothes you wore in college, wear on the weekend and wear to bars. There is no professional differentiation in your clothing so is it any wonder that the is no professional differentiation in behavior. Wear a suit in Silicon Valley and people wonder what is wrong with you. (Trust me, I know.) There is an active and aggressive culture of dorm room schlubiness that is enforced through peer pressure and derision. Venture capitalists, engineers and executives all dress and act like hormonal adolescents well into their forties. In a nutshell: College has ended. Dress accordingly. Read More The Good-Enough Chip Intel released their new Core i9-7900X chip this week. It has the distinction of being both the fastest chip in the world and the most expensive standard chip available. Industry observers have suggested that Intel may have rushed the release of these new chips because they have been losing market share to a reinvigorated AMD. The days of Intel’s chip monopoly seem to be ending, but they are still making chips that lead the industry. But does anyone really need a chip that costs $1,000? Has Moore’s Law reached a point of diminishing returns. Why does this matter? I’m typing this on a computer with an i7, the previous generation of Intel chips. Currently, I have Photoshop, Sublime Text, Balsamiq Mockups, Adobe Acrobat, Slack, Hipchat, Github Desktop, a Tor Browser and of course,  seven tabs in Chrome open on my desktop. Everything is responding instantly and the system is juggling all of these applications effortlessly. That’s because the chip is no longer the limiting factor for many modern computers. The speed of my internet connection (100 up/100 down thanks to Pilot Fiber) is much more important than the vintage of my chip. Most of my work is done through web apps and I could just as easily be using a Chromebook for 90% of my work. In the office, we have computers dating back to 2009 that are just as fast and functional for most tasks. If you are willing to do without old school desktop applications like Microsoft Office, most work makes low demands on the processor. Just as the pace of Moore’s Law seems to be slowing down, the need for ever-faster personal computers seems to be evaporating. In a nutshell: Your old computer may be good enough. Read More The Terminator Delivers the Pizza Ohio has just become the fifth state to permit delivery robots on public sidewalks joining Florida, Wisconsin, Idaho, and Virginia. Starship Technologies, a company that manufactures these delivery robots, has been instrumental in getting these new laws passed in each state. Starship is an Estonian company started by a couple of Skype cofounders. They insist that they have no immediate plans to begin robot deliveries, although they are planning a test in Florida in the next year. Why does this matter? There is a lot of hysteria about robots. Certain high-profile technology futurists insist we are one singularity away from a genocidal attack by “the machines.” Certainly, it’s possible that if rebellious robots refused to deliver our pizzas some of us might die of starvation. But the real problem with robots taking over human jobs is that our society depends on the existence of low skill, low education jobs. Our educational system simply doesn’t have the funding or the quality to provide everyone a position in a knowledge-based economy. Most states spend less than 4% of state GDP on education for primary and secondary education combined. The American allergy to paying taxes equal to the rest of the industrialized world means that we need jobs to exist for people who don’t have the means or the skills to succeed in our modified social Darwinian system. (I say “modified” because being the son of a professor and a librarian may have given me certain educational advantages not accounted for by Randian objectivism.) So there is a danger in having robots on our streets, but it is not the danger of the Terminator. It is the danger of creating a permanent underemployed underclass with zero investment in the societal order. In a nutshell: Using technology, we are re-engineering the social order with huge, foreseeable consequences. Read More

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