Category Archives: Uncategorized

The immaturity of silicon valley

December 14, 2014 | Filed under: Uncategorized

Sooo.. I read (for the first time) today some details of all of the sexual harassment cases that zillow are fighting. Reading about them makes me sigh quite heavily, because stuff like this is just *more evidence* that silicon valley is a VERY immature place.

Some background: I’m British and 45 years old. I’ve visited San Fransisco three times, that’s the extent to which I know the place personally, so these are the views of an older, foreign outsider.

I remember back when Bill Gates was ‘the new rich dude’ and computer people were suddenly becoming very wealthy and successful. I was really incredibly positive about the whole thing. As a scruffy long haired and occasionally bearded geek, I loved the idea that no longer could I be automatically sneered at in posh hotels or restaurants on the assumption I must be some homeless loser. For all anyone knew, that scruffy guy sat there in the corner was a dotcom billionaire. Plus the idea that I could have memorized the script to star wars, enjoy computer programming, and NOT be regarded as a ‘dork’ was awesome. It was time for the geek to inherit the earth.
And there is no doubt that we did. Us geeks with our understanding of C++ suddenly became very cool,. very famous, and very, very well paid. Maybe less so now, but even so, computer programmers do ok in the UK…

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And of course those of us who have a LOT of experience, and start our own software business can do much, much, much better than that. Excellent! we win! we have replaced the city-types and the arrogant smooth-talking idiots in suits and a new world order is here…
Except the new wave of highly skilled computer-geek intelligentsia seem to be perpetually behaving like they are still in kindergarten. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to be associated with the ‘silicon valley dotcom success story’ type.

Exhibit A: Stupid office accessories.

When you are 15 years old, or even a drunk twenty something, an office filled with slides and bumper cars sounds awesome. But beyond a certain age, or level of maturity, it just seems kinda dumb. Do you really want to negotiate million dollar deals while sat in a bumper car? Do you genuinely think it makes you more creative? Was creativity not invented until people designed slides and bean bags? To me, an office filled with bean bags and ‘zany’ things is a lot like someone who wears over-sized brightly colored glasses and a loud bow-tie everywhere. In other words, its a desperate attempt to compensate for the fact that you know you don’t have any creativity, and convey a tragic, almost pleading message to the outside world that convinces us otherwise.

Google-office-007

Exhibit B: A complete lack of awareness of the real world.

There is life outside silicon valley. There are countries whose main problems are a lack of clean drinking water and a lack of energy or food. Silicon valley focuses purely on people whose main problem is that they think their smartphone isn’t bendy enough, or that a 2048 resolution for their TV isn’t good enough. Social problems are largely ignored, especially if the start-ups actually contribute to them. Ifd there is a massive property price problem and inequality being caused by the tech workers, no problem! just bus your workers past the poor people so they don’t get in the way!

google-bus-640-craig-frost-twitter_large_verge_medium_landscape

Exhibit C: Short-term thinking.

Some Silicon valley types are awesome at this. It seems like Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk really get it. Most don’t. Especially the desperate young twenty-somethings who want to become a billionaire NOW, RIGHT NOW, and it really doesn’t matter what happens the day after they ‘cash-out’. Everyone is obsessed with an exit-plan, not a plan to grow something you are proud of, make people happy and create something worthwhile. Just big piles of cash and an exit plan. Many of them even intend to sell their company long before it’s made any profit. As an environmentalist, I’m really sick of business people with short term thinking. Many silicon valley types just want to be rich. They don’t care how, or why. The product is irrelevant to them.

Exhibit D: Laddish, ostentatious behavior.

When people spend an insane amount on a wedding, trash part of the environment in the process, then make amends by just throwing a pile of cash at it afterwards to ‘fix the damage’, I am strongly reminded of the attitude of the upper class UK ‘bullingdon club’ (see below) who would trash expensive restaurants then throw money in the faces of the owners. In short, there is nothing wrong with being rich, but when you literally throw that money at people with indifference after you behave outrageously, and think that makes it ok, then people are perfectly justified in calling you a spoiled brat. The differences between some of the silicon valley set and the wold-of-wall-street set is paper thin. That goes especially for people who hire escorts to mingle at office parties.

bullingdon

Exhibit E: Regulation is so last-century.

I’ve been in Uber cars, thanks to smart friends with smartphones. (I don’t ever really use a phone) I like the ‘idea’ of Uber. I think it could work well. Not having to pay the driver is cool. Knowing when they will show up is cool. Bringing the free market to the closed-in monopolies of city cab firms is awesome. But guess what? Cab drivers need regulation. You need to know that driver is paying tax, you need to know that driver isn’t someone with a history of violent assaults. You need to know that vehicle is safe to drive, and taxed. These regulations exist for a reason. The same applies to regulations about renting out a house or flat/apartment. There are regulations on fire escapes and insurance and safety for a reason. The reason given by the owners of Uber and AirBnB for ignoring all the regulation seems to be ‘errrr….internet dude!’. Sorry that just doesn’t cut it with me, and I’m hardly a flag waving communist.

Exhibit F: Taxes.

As I just said, I’m hardly a marx-quoting leftie, but taxes are the price we pay to live in a fair, safe society. Tax rates in Italy might be nuts, but not in the US or UK. Don’t be dicks, you have stockpiles of cash. Paying your fair share of tax is what makes you a pillar of society, rather than a cancer upon it. Don’t be dicks about tax. And yup, Positech pays all the tax it should, as a normal company registered in the UK, and paying UK corp tax levels on every penny it earns. It’s really not that difficult to do the right thing.

google

So anyway…my basic theme, is internet billionaires, we thought you could be so much better than this. You are making geeks look bad. Get your shit together. Act like grown ups, not frat-boys.

 

 

 

 

I worry. I worry about the future. it’s a long story, but I really do. And the thing is, I tend to worry not so much about me, but about everyone else. Frankly I live in a wealthy part of a wealthy country with a good job. I’m ok. I am also a pretty experienced computer programmer. Like I say…I’m ok.

I read the old futurist books now and then. I also watch videos of robots like these.

If you know a friend who works in a warehouse and is NOT currently studying part-time to develop some technical skill in some area, show them that video. Then ask them what they will be doing for a living in ten years time. Or maybe in just five. They already wiped out the need to walk around the warehouse, how long will the ‘pick worker’ be human? Not long that’s for sure. Robots work 24/7, never strike, never get ill, never argue, never sue you, don’t need lighting, heating, toilets, car parking space… If you can replace a human with a robot, it’s an absolute no-brainer. If you were building a new factory now, would you assume a need for *any* human input?

Now look at the date on that video…Yup, this is OLD technology. REALLY OLD. Imagine how much better it is now, in the warehouses we don’t get to see because they don’t want competitors to know about it. I think we can safely kiss goodbye to every warehouse job in a decade or two. What’s next? Well why pay people to stack shelves in a supermarket when robots could do it when the store shuts?  How long till that happens? they already replaced a lot of checkout staff, the shelf stackers will be next. Even the security guard is likely to be replaced by some sort of drone in the next twenty years.

Twenty years will probably see mass market acceptance of driverless vehicles in at least some countries. Kiss goodbye to every taxi driver, every delivery driver, every bus driver, every train driver, every chauffeur. Digital cameras basically put kodak out of business. They employed 145,000 people worldwide. That business no longer exists. That was relatively unskilled work too, gone. We have tens of thousands employed in call centers. For how long? isn’t AI getting better at that sort of thing than call center staff? How many people will the mass-deployment of ‘siri’ style tech put out of work? A million? ten million? I’m drinking coffee as good as any I’ve tasted as I type this. It wasn’t made by an expert barista. It was a £200 machine you can buy. Yup, robot baristas are already a mass-market thing. Those jobs are gone too.

So where are the unskilled jobs going to be? Maybe some will exist in the developed world with appalling labor conditions and wages digging in mines or sorting trash, but where is someone living in London with no skills going to work in 2035? I’m guessing nowhere. I don’t think any such job is going to exist.

And this is what worries me, because nobody I meet who does such work has any clue how doomed it is. No politician really discusses it. We worry about short-term 1 or 2% ups and downs in consumer spending, as if that really matters when it comes to employment and wages. All the commentators and economists out there seem to be ‘surprised’ that the economy is doing well but wages are low. Really? you didn’t predict that millions of unskilled people fighting over the same dwindling supply of jobs was going to depress wages?

Whether you are left wing or right wing, no sensible debate on unemployment, wages and inequality can be taken seriously unless the topic of unskilled labour is put front and center. It is just *not an option* to have unskilled people in a modern society. We should stop arguing about which company will, or will not bring unskilled labour jobs to our country, or what wage they will pay those people. It is a false debate. Those jobs are going very soon regardless who people elect the govern the country.

 

 

Much Needed Break

November 05, 2014 | Filed under: Uncategorized

So…I’m about to head off on a much needed holiday somewhere nice. Right now it’s raining outside here. Haha, I shall think about the British rain while I’m here…

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This will be the last time I actually have a real holiday before I release Gratuitous Space Battles 2. A small army of highly skilled assistants are working away on various cool art things while I’m not here. Unlike most geeks, I’m very into the whole ‘unplugging’ thing. I’m not taking a laptop. I have a ‘smart’ phone I guess, but I never use it for the internet. I’m taking it just for emergencies. I think it’s good to break away from the world of computers and games and get some fresh input into my mind. Maybe it will inspire me to make a different game, or who knows what. I’m away for almost three weeks, the longest holiday I have ever had, as I recall. I wonder if the cats will recognize me when I return.

Look at this sad, sad image below:

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This is my internet speed, and this is a GODO day with a BRAND NEW router. TBH, the 6MB download is generally quite enough for me. I have a 110GB monthly cap anyway, and I can stream through amazon video on that, plus I don’t download a huge pile of AAA games every day so it doesn’t really bother me. I have a monthly cap because I’m with a really reliable ISP who charge a lot but provide decent tech support and actually have human staff who aren’t in some call center 10,000 miles away…

Anyway, it’s the upload speed that is a pain. Imagine uploading a 100MB game installer with that. Now imagine a 300MB installer… And then the mac build, then linux, then to 3 other portals, and then a 300MB promo video… And then all of it again because you found a bug :D.

When I check out the upgrade plans for the nearest exchange to me, BT list it as ‘2014’ which is very encouraging. So I *may* get faster broadband before GSB2 ships (I really hope so). I suspect this will be FTTC, and not FTTH, but to be honest if I can just get a service that doubles my upload speed it would be a godsend, let alone all this 50MB stuff people have.

I live in a pretty remote village of maybe 60 houses, so we don’t have any cable service here. Our telephone lines are all raised up on poles right outside the houses, subject to the random whims of the local vegetation and wildlife.  There is vague talk of community broadband being set up using a radar link? but I think that might be unlikely to happen, whereas presumably if BT write ‘2014’ on the exchange, it’s definitely going to happen, even if it gets delayed.

I bet the prices go up too…