Re: By and on Packer, on and by Silicon Valley and Tkacik

1

This counterpoint by Ezra Klein was a good reminder that not all the startups are about minimizing the inconveniences of being a twenty-something with tons of money. And now I'll read the Tkacik piece!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 12:44 PM
horizontal rule
2

Goodness, I really do love Tkacik's stuff.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 12:55 PM
horizontal rule
3

Software today delivers the miracles of rapidly improving hardware.

Network and disk capacity are improving so quickly that indifferent engineering geared to fast deployment beats a more careful process for lots of clients.

Packer's writing in the OP is long-winded, a style problem for the New Yorker. Also nearly pointless-- the insular millionaires to the south in Hollywood are also obnoxious, similraly bankers and brokers in Manhattan. Is his other writing good?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:05 PM
horizontal rule
4

Funny, I always thought Facebook was staffed by mediocrities.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:19 PM
horizontal rule
5

This open letter by Tim Slee is a really good way into the politics of "disruption" and startups:

So now here comes AirBnB (to take one example), who want to keep the idea that it's about the noncommercial and "sharing" informal economy, and scale it up. They talk about their hosts in a non-commercial sense: earning "additional income", or "extra money" (link) -- rolling out, I could not help but notice, the very phrases used years ago to justify not giving women's jobs the same protections and benefits as men's jobs. It's not the real economy, it's just a bit of pocket money: we don't need all those expensive rules and regulations. But they want to build a billion dollar business on the back of it.

Please to see that L.A. cease-and-desisted Uber and Lyft yesterday.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:21 PM
horizontal rule
6

sorry, from Tom Slee to Tim Wu.

In related news, David Lowery has been pushing me closer to the Halford side of things, internet millionaire vs. content millionaire-wise. Although I still think that ISPs should pay a fee that gets divided up among musicians, Canada-blank-tape style, which probably makes no one happy.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:25 PM
horizontal rule
7

That second linked article is a weird stream of consciousness. I'll try to summarize.

"George Packer is a boring writer who is a stereotypical old white man. He likes Malcolm Gladwell. Is there anyone worse than Malcolm Gladwell? This book is boring. This book seems OK, but because it's so disorganized it is actually counterproductive. Also, it's dangerous. George Packer is a hack who is not a real journalist. He seems to be saying that this painkiller lobbyist got disillusioned because of all the bad things he did as a lobbyist, but it doesn't point out that he did bad things as a lobbyist, or that he likes Hernando De Soto, who is a horrible person. The New Yorker is boring, and so is George Packer, who clearly doesn't read the things he writes about. His book also sucks because a lot of it consists of repurposed magazine articles. And a lot of quotes from a guy named Jeff Connaughton, who I had a pleasant conversation with. To summarize, I have hereby employed various vague guilt-by-association tactics to try to make you not like George Packer."


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:34 PM
horizontal rule
8

Please to see that L.A. cease-and-desisted Uber and Lyft yesterday.

Which is worse, Lyft or Uber?

Uber: run by a libertarian Marina douchebag.
Lyft: fucking ugly pink mustaches on cars all over the city.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:36 PM
horizontal rule
9

7: the quotations she gave from Packer's book were enough to make me not like him.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:38 PM
horizontal rule
10

[Comment characterizing this as the usual generational conflict among media types.]

[Sardonic reference to Tkacik's "American defectors to North Korea are heroes of the human spirit because my father was a Reaganite Republican" article of a few months ago.]

[OT: No prison can hold Rusty the red panda.]


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:46 PM
horizontal rule
11

Which is worse, Lyft or Uber?

It probably doesn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, but Leap, which duplicates a Muni line but charges $6 for the privilege of not having to interact with the poor, sure seems to be trying to become hate-worthy.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 1:53 PM
horizontal rule
12

4: I never understood how Facebook got the reputation of being an impressive technology achievement. Google and iPhone, sure, but the reason for Facebook's success it that it started at Harvard, and we all like to curry favor with our betters.

6: Pandora created a system that can serve a million plays of the song over the Internet. And they're not going to get rich from this -- they managed $100 million in revenue in 2011.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 2:04 PM
horizontal rule
13

12.1: The cigarette is an impressive technology.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 2:44 PM
horizontal rule
14

12 - There's a good deal of interesting engineering work being done at Facebook. (Admittedly, some of it is in place to deal with earlier bad technology decisions.) Thrift, their PHP preprocessor, and the datacenter specs are the things that come to mind.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 2:47 PM
horizontal rule
15

Uber is clearly a regulatory dodge, but it's still quite clear that it's trying to facilitate a straightforward commercial transaction (hey, you, with a particular commercially-licenced vehicle: drive me somewhere for money). Lyft appears to be hesitant even to commit to that, with their talk of "donations" and the indirect way drivers are compensated. I think Lyft is vastly sketchier, even without the pink-moustache business.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 4:09 PM
horizontal rule
16

Please to see that L.A. cease-and-desisted Uber and Lyft yesterday.

Lyft can suck it, but then again so can the taxi cartel. There's no one to cheer for in that particular arena.

8: Uber has the virtue of not expecting you to fist-bump the driver. (They also make no pretense that they're a business, as opposed to Lyft which claims to be a "ride-sharing" facilitator.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 4:53 PM
horizontal rule
17

I had no idea until a couple of days ago that the deal with Lyft was that any random whoever could go pretend to be a taxi for a few hours. Shady!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 5:22 PM
horizontal rule
18

On the other hand I had forgotten until my last visit how egregiously, impossibly shitty the taxi situation is in SF. So, you know, they kinda deserve whatever disruption they get.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 5:23 PM
horizontal rule
19

I had no idea until just now. That's really how it works? How do you get the stupid mustache? How is this not a dream come true for a creepy dude?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 5:24 PM
horizontal rule
20

17: Particularly shady since most people's auto insurance policies exclude commercial use. I wonder how many people have been bitten by that so far.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 5:26 PM
horizontal rule
21

19: Yeah, you're supposed to sit in the front seat and make conversation with the driver to maintain the fiction that you're just catching a ride from a friend you haven't met yet.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 5:27 PM
horizontal rule
22

Ars Technica has had good articles on some of the stuff in 12:

http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/04/exclusive-a-behind-the-scenes-look-at-facebook-release-engineering/

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/06/facebook-opens-data-center-filled-entirely-with-servers-it-designed/


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 5:29 PM
horizontal rule
23

What's so impossibly, egregiously shitty about the taxi situation in SF?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 5:57 PM
horizontal rule
24

23: you call one on a saturday night and it's a solid hour at least before one shows up? They're impossible to hail anywhere outside of the central city?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 5:59 PM
horizontal rule
25

24 gets it right.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 6:08 PM
horizontal rule
26

That sounds a lot better than the taxi situation in Pittsburgh. Why don't the big-brained boffins at CMU cook up quasi-legal schemes to deal with these problems?

More seriously, why is the concept of "venture capital" so insanely limited geographically?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 6:19 PM
horizontal rule
27

14: I was thinking specifically of their cluster-fuck of an Android app, where they basically did no pre-processing of feed information on the server. Instead they would send tons of raw data to be processed by a dinky little phone-based client on the end of a potentially dodgy wireless connection. And then give hand-wavy excuses about shitty performance.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 6:46 PM
horizontal rule
28

Their iPhone app sux ballx, too.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 6:47 PM
horizontal rule
29

Also, I never enjoyed having to explain to my boss why the stupid like button suddenly reset to zero likes on his favorite page.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 6:53 PM
horizontal rule
30

26.1: I just took one. Sixty bucks, but it was right there because they like airport trips. New cab, wheel chair accessible and very spacious.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 7:21 PM
horizontal rule
31

||

Sort of on-topic: this opinion piece on Boeing, by financial analyst Richard Aboulafia. The short version is that Boeing management has been focusing on short-term profits, guided by financial metrics that may not reflect the long-term health of the company. This isn't the first time Aboulafia has complained that Boeing management is neglecting its core engineering talent, but this time he's arguing that it's more than a struggle between two competing viewpoints ("finance" vs "engineering"), it's actually damaging the performance of the company.

Moreover, from a broader perspective, these are the kinds of manufacturing/export jobs the US is trying to retain. But the public interest in keeping these jobs doesn't align with the goals that Boeing's management seems to be pursuing.

|>


Posted by: torrey pine (YK) | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 7:47 PM
horizontal rule
32

Boeing's management has chosen a whole lot of outsourcing, good for MBAs with spreadsheets and bad for union guys in WA.

The biggest hope for US manufacturing jobs for now is very cheap natural gas compensating for the cost of higher wages.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 7:57 PM
horizontal rule
33

I actually think US aerospace manufacturing is viable, though. Large components of the 787 were indeed outsourced... to Japanese industry, so it was obviously more about risk-aversion than high labor costs. Moreover, as everyone else in the small-airliner business* can attest, the Airbus-Boeing duopoly is well situated to keep out any lower-cost competitors.

*(Bombardier, Comac, Embraer, Mitsubishi, Antonov and Sukhoi... this means you!)


Posted by: torrey pine (YK) | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 8:18 PM
horizontal rule
34

Sure, similarly turbines, vacuum systems, fast lasers, lots of high-end gear. But Boeing management in particular I do not think sees even their engineers much less their machinists union as helpful partners.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 8:26 PM
horizontal rule
35

I hate those mustaches.

Über doesn't bother me. Richer people get better service, news at 11. Leap needs to get nailed for using bus stops.

On the general topic, last time I worked for a VC funded company, the CEO (one of the VCs, after he displaced the founder had this cute trick of asking me how long it would take to build/test/integrate/deploy a particular new feature, then cutting the estimate in half as my deliverable. I'm surprised the stuff we built didn't suck more than it did.


Posted by: grumbles | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 8:36 PM
horizontal rule
36

I wonder how much of the Boeing-vs-unions conflict is driven by tangible issues, and how much of it is cultural? Or maybe it's all gotten blurred together now.


Posted by: torrey pine (YK) | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 8:41 PM
horizontal rule
37

this cute trick of asking me how long it would take to build/test/integrate/deploy a particular new feature, then cutting the estimate in half as my deliverable.

Always pad your estimates.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 8:59 PM
horizontal rule
38

Oh man. This entire worldview is so frustrating to me because it is fundamentally based on the false notion that people are all treated equally. Seriously: In their world, there is no power differential, no matter what. Every transaction is between equals, even when the world is manifestly not equal.

Can you imagine Henry Louis Gates using Airbnb and having the cops called on him for being a "stranger" (read: black person) fumbling with the keys at his rented front door? Can you imagine the police not giving him the benefit of the doubt when he said he made arrangements with a stranger over the Internet who said the key was going to be under the blue flowerpot but it wasn't?

All of these services are perfectly useful and usable until they aren't. They all solve one set of problems, but create another. Maybe some people think those tradeoffs are worth it -- heck, in certain circumstances, *I* think they're worth it.

But man, it makes me unutterably angry to have to deal with people who think there aren't tradeoffs.

(Fairness compels me to add that Latoya Peterson at Racialicious did have an interesting article a few moths ago about why she liked Uber because she could actually be guaranteed a ride, unlike taxis that would refuse to stop and/or refuse to go where she wanted to go.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 9:13 PM
horizontal rule
39

24 23: you call one on a saturday night and it's a solid hour at least before one shows up? They're impossible to hail anywhere outside of the central city?

Isn't that the taxi situation in all but, I dunno, 3 cities in the US?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 9:25 PM
horizontal rule
40

I feel like Silicon Valley is slowly poisoning a lot of our intellectual culture. Like the physics postdoc I know who got enthusiastic about trying to find a way to apply his skills to doing actually useful things for the world, but quickly devolved into talking about what sort of things the VCs look for, and who suggested in all apparent seriousness to me that we could go a long way toward solving the problem of global warming by building an iPhone app that tells people how much carbon they're using on their daily commute.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 9:36 PM
horizontal rule
41

Also, it seems like for a lot of people I know, living in the Bay Area long enough asymptotically makes the probability that they believe something like "the most pressing problem facing mankind is that AIs will enslave us all" approach one.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 9:38 PM
horizontal rule
42

This is one of those nights where I'm talking to myself, isn't it?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 9:40 PM
horizontal rule
43

That Packer article didn't seem all that bad on the surface. I mean, there's not much more than surface, but eh. The Tkacik article seemed ok too. Everything's ok. I'm ok. Ok?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 9:40 PM
horizontal rule
44

Oh, right, there was an OP. There were articles in the OP. Maybe I should look at them.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 9:41 PM
horizontal rule
45

Now that I've read the linked articles, I think I disagree with the OP. I thought Packer very clearly knew his targets were odious. It doesn't read like a puff piece to me at all. It's all about how self-absorbed the Silicon Valley elites are and how little their idea of political engagement is connected to reality. But it's late; maybe nosflow's reading is the right one.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 10:09 PM
horizontal rule
46

I see barely ANYTHING positive in the Packer article, far from being a puff piece. Paragraph after paragraph of techies being encouraged to talk until they say something oblivious or pompous. Lots of outside commentators expressing their concern about the obliviousness and pompousness of techies. Lots of worried commentary about inequality and the frivolous use of vast wealth. The author shaking his head at regular intervals about how oblivious these people are, that they think their problems resemble at all the problems of the outer world.

The underlying themes are that these guys are oblivious to the triviality of their parochial concerns, they have no knowledge of how either government or capitalism works in the real world, they have no knowledge of the problems that real people face, their libertarianism is weirdly naive, they are the ultimate exemplar of the increased inequality in our society, and their obsession with making things look FUN is both naive and parochial. Making it all the more annoying that Tkacik decided to write a "review" that looks like a Matt Taibbi impersonator blathering about a Thomas Friedman impersonator.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 10:13 PM
horizontal rule
47

As if the robots will need slaves.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 10:16 PM
horizontal rule
48

46: Yes. Although her review is about his book, and not having read his book, I don't know how far I can extrapolate from his article. Still, my sense from the article is that he's someone who has his head in the right place. The Tkakic article reads like the sort of not-really-an-argument piece that can be a perfectly good way to savage someone like Friedman who your audience will already know about and kinda hate, but isn't really the way to convince anyone of anything they didn't already believe.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 10:18 PM
horizontal rule
49

pwnt. It took a while to write 46 because I started trying to incorporate quotes from the article, but gave up in a rage because of the thing that websites do now where whenever you copy and paste something it is augmented with a paragraph of text telling you to read the article you were just reading.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 10:22 PM
horizontal rule
50

Also, when I wrote "But it's late; maybe nosflow's reading is the right one", I was doing that thing I tend to do where I make some halfhearted gesture even though what I really think is "whoa, that is totes wrong in an unambiguous way". I should stop doing that, 'cause it's kinda disingenuous. I think it's some awful academic norm I've absorbed, to try to avoid saying outright that something is wrong.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 10:25 PM
horizontal rule
51

I prefer your academic norm of saying "I am right and I am definitely right. You may be right too, somehow, I gues." to the one in my discipline, where we say "This data supports a preliminary hypothesis which would suggest that I might potentially be right."


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 10:29 PM
horizontal rule
52

I've slogged through the Packer article, and I agree with essear and neb. The article is designed to make the people in it look like tools, without outright calling them tools. Newsom comes off particularly badly.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-26-13 11:38 PM
horizontal rule
53

Insomnia prompted to read the articles in the OP. I agree with the late 40s-early 50s numbered comment consensus, whatever the Packer article is it's not a puff piece. I should caveat this comment by saying that I found the Tcasklasck (sp) article literally incomprehensible, so maybe Nosflow was right that it's excellent #physicsslam.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 2:30 AM
horizontal rule
54

i thought the Packer article was overlong and suffered from an excess of "showing not telling" that relies on your audience following a series of baseline assumptions that you have not spelled out. This is possibly the thing that most annoys me about the New Yorker.

I found the Tkacik article lazy and personality-focused in a way that I don't typically associate with her writing. Usually I like her stuff a lot.

Possibly I am just grouchy.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 6:14 AM
horizontal rule
55

it's a regular failure mode of hers; she's usually pretty keen on argument by juxtaposition, and when the organisation breaks down, you get word salad.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 6:25 AM
horizontal rule
56

Seriously, what is the point of the multi-paragraph passage about Eric Weidner? It looks like an extended experiment with Extreme Guilt By Association Tactics Volume Five: The Catch-22, from which I concluded that not just are liberals contemptible for ignoring the wise words of Hernando De Soto just because he used to be a right-wing asshole, liberals are also contemptible if they DO listen to him now because he isn't actually saying anything he wasn't saying 13 years ago when he was a right-wing asshole. Aha! Bunch of dumb comfortable liberals.

And was he really a major public figure speaking about the MERS mortgage registration network anyway? Just odd.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 7:06 AM
horizontal rule
57

56.1 The New Yorker pays by the word.

I still don't know what to make of MERS. It was intended to replace a system that was pretty sclerotic. It seems like a shortcut that would lead to exploitation by hurried greedy lenders, but I can't work out who lost money as a consequence.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 7:32 AM
horizontal rule
58

I still don't know what to make of MERS

Kissinger said the USSR was Upper Volta with nukes; I say the US is like a big Guatemala that every so often invents jazz, the Liberty ship, or Google.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 7:57 AM
horizontal rule
59

The underlying themes are that these guys are oblivious to the triviality of their parochial concerns, they have no knowledge of how either government or capitalism works in the real world

Basically I think Witt is right about this (in 54). Essear, your physics postdoc with his idiotic ideas about global warming and iphone apps: do you think the people in Packer's article come off as tools to him?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 9:28 AM
horizontal rule
60

57: When MERS screwed up the docs so that there wasn't clear ownership of the note, the lender lost money.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 9:31 AM
horizontal rule
61

Local governments lost money. Registering and keeping track of titles is a big source of income for them, I think.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 9:41 AM
horizontal rule
62

Essear, your physics postdoc with his idiotic ideas about global warming and iphone apps: do you think the people in Packer's article come off as tools to him?

Hey, he IS one of those people. That's like asking if Roger Ailes thought the people in "The Selling of the President 1968" come off as tools.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 9:48 AM
horizontal rule
63

Well, I mean, there are people like those people who aren't already one of those people. I guess I just wanted to see something more ruthless. And more explicitly ruthless.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 9:59 AM
horizontal rule
64

60. OK, interesting but still puzzling. Are the lenders opposed to MERS then? Does MERS admit to having screwed up when they both a) genuinely fuck up or b) cut corners ?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 10:09 AM
horizontal rule
65

60 -- I wonder just how much money was really lost on account of this confusion.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 10:10 AM
horizontal rule
66

Huh, my earlier comment got eaten. To 58, cadastral registries run by central governments are IME more reliable and rigid. But these exist in places where the mortgage system is such that young people can't easily buy a place to live-- no long term mortgages, very high down payments, which means that effectively parents buy the young couple a place when they want to and can afford it.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 10:16 AM
horizontal rule
67

To be fair to the "physics postdoc with his idiotic ideas about global warming and iphone apps", I know a buncha honest-to-nelly Cassandras-since-the-1970s tenured on the IPCC testify before Congress climate scientists who think we need every last *sliver* of seemingly stupid little behavior tweaks, because we aren't going to get a big policy change until it's possibly too late, and every shift in behavior and dependency now is worth it.

The shorthand for this is the proportion of the Senate representing states dependent on coal, which is large. 48, maybe?

I don't think anybody knows where the emergy of cellphones, or of the Internet of Things, balances out against more efficient use of built stuff, should we achieve that.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 06-27-13 2:52 PM
horizontal rule