“In today’s innovative world…”

The teenagers whose essays I read think we live in a phenomenally innovative time. Smartphones. Computers. The internet.

Yes, this all happened in the last 50 years.

In the 50 years before that we landed on the moon, split the atom, came up with the bomb, made cars and film widely available and saved countless lives with penicillin.

And Nike isn’t perfect

Finally, I mustered the courage to go for a run, the first time after the Christmas-New Year gluttony season. I launched myself off my behind and out the door, only to realise that my runners hurt my feet because they’re weathered and to retreat.

When I was younger, I loved jogging. The trouble is that urban running will turn to dust even the sturdiest knees, so I avoid it (except barefoot on the beach, but you couldn’t do that where I live).

I always worried about biomechanics and can vouch for Brooks Adrenalines, Brooks Ariel and Nike Lunar Glides.

As I only need these for the occasional run, I decided to go with the less extravagant Nike Lunars.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because design. They make it out like it is all so slick and cool (in some ways it is), but to order a pair of Nike shoes I had to:

  • launch a LiveChat from the purchase page as it was giving me gobbledygook error codes
  • the LiveChat person told me that I am on the Irish site, but LiveChat doesn’t service the Irish site, only the UK one, and I have to ring the Irish customer service
  • I rang the Irish customer service only to be told that well, who knows, just clear the cache and try again in an hour
  • the fact that this advice worked only emphasises the randomness of how Nike handle the process

Why was there a link to LiveChat from a page that isn’t services by LiveChat? (the URL contained ie, the Irish country domain)

Why does the UK LiveChat not deal with the Irish site?

Why is there no Irish LiveChat if there is an Irish call centre? (The guy who answered the phone sounded local).

Why does the website spew error codes that are remedied by, basically, giving it a kick?

Nike has such pristine design. Always has. Let’s be honest, I shop in Nike not just for the biomechanics, but for the clean feeling that their design brings. A bit like getting your teeth cleaned.

But this part of the user experience is more like falling into a barrel of tangled wires. I’m not annoyed, just a little disillusioned. Santa isn’t real –  and Nike isn’t perfect. A company that is so driven by image, they really have to get their online act together.

So that I can get that clean feeling again.

Five in one

Here are four five pretty unrelated things that have been on my mind:

Entrepreneurs: sell vs befriend

I, like I am sure millions of other people, keep getting followed by all sorts of dealers who promise to “help small business” and lead to “explosive growth” on social media. Why do these people exist? How have they not been banned by everyone? Or will selling hope always be big business?

It would be nice to have a community of entrepreneurs. But what do entrepreneurs do? They sell and they compete. Trying to have a community of entrepreneurs is like trying to farm spiders. They will eat each other.

A community of this nature could only form based on prior friendship, where social bonds are stronger than the need to sell. But most of these communities offer to put you into a network for a small fee: this doesn’t exactly inspire warm and fuzzy feelings. The circular nature of their business is also worrying. Conferences, seminars, mindset trainings, honestly…

I have, on the other hand, made many friends online, who happen to be entrepreneurs, but never directly in connection with their entrepreneurship. (You know who you are. Perhaps, some of you would like to meet my recently acquired Buddhist friend.)

Nietzsche: is it all lies?

I am quite worried about how things are unfolding in the US.

Nietzsche keeps getting brought up. He has to be the most misunderstood philosopher. Did his relatives doctor his writings too much after he died? Or is he just forever contradicting himself?

Any Nietzsche scholars very welcome to comment on this article of Nietzsche and the alt-right.

Curate or censor?

In other news, Google recently stopped Gab, apparently a sort of Twitter for people who get banned from Twitter, from being able to be downloaded from their Playstore. Apple stopped them a little earlier this year. Also, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom wants to curate the Internet.

Taleb is in a new battle with the establishment.

Vaccinate or die

France is tightening vaccination requirements. I support vaccines, of course. As a society though, are we better off having people die from preventable diseases or limiting their freedoms?

Diabetes is a preventable disease, but I don’t see anyone being confined to a gym by law. Though the herd immunity argument makes vaccines different. In addition, the fact that it is children who are affected makes vaccines different, but then again we can’t stop some people overfeeding their children with junk. I’ve taken enough trips on routes that serve hospitals to know that you don’t have to be above one year of age to be served Coke in your bottle.

Control

There is a philosophy that suggests that taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is the best way to live (e.g. William James).

I think that the world is one giant furnace of entropy and within that we each have a small island we call the self, where we can affect things. I cannot force someone to ask me to come to their party, but there is a myriad of things I can do to try to gently weasel my way into it.

The single most damaging thing I do, my worst bad habit, is fretting about things I cannot control. In other words, I feel responsible for things that are beyond my reach. I sit there and feel like a failure if I am not invited to the metaphorical party.

The question is: does this fretting push me to look for solutions that I wouldn’t have found if I just rested within my boundaries? Or are parts of William James and his followers’ philosophy just soothingly empowering wishful thinking? Or am I even doing damage by fretting and preventing myself from seeing ways to get into the party? Please share your thoughts on this last thing.

P.S. I couldn’t find a picture of a weasel, so here is a nice chilled out otter. I must take some of my own pictures soon.

Can we have both equality and diversity?

About the infamous Google Memo… Here is a review of reactions to the controversial piece.

Facts:

  • A Google engineer, James Damore, wrote a memo entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber. [Read original]
  • It went viral via internal communication means within Google.
  • He got fired because of it.
  • (A less relevant, but curious fact: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, offered him a job and accused Google of censorship.)

Here are some interesting articles from both sides:

The Economist (sits on the fence)

“This isn’t a question of legality or policy. This is a question of virtue-signalling” [Read]

Bloomberg (argues it was wrong for Google to foreclose the debate so crudely)

“An employee trying to grapple with these problems — clumsily but earnestly — has now been shown the door, thanks mostly to performative online outrage.” [Read]

The Financial Times (denounces the author)

“Responding to the memo is somewhat challenging because it is almost pure drivel, offering up a mix of fallacies, mindless reductions of popular social science and hand-waving at ‘research.'” [Read]

The Atlantic (addressing the error-full coverage of the matter)

“To object to a means of achieving x is not to be anti-x.” [Read]

The Atlantic, again (agrees memo is discriminatory)

“The memo… seemed to dash hopes that much progress has been made in unraveling the systemic conditions that produce and perpetuate inequity in the technology industry. “[Read]

Slate (is pretty enraged)

“The manifesto suggests a culture that is inviting enough for someone who views some of his fellow employees as lesser to share his opinions and be cheered on” [Read]

Business Insider (highlights authors vulnerable legal position in the context of free speech)

The First Amendment to the US Constitution prevents the government from restricting your speech. It doesn’t restrict your employer from controlling your speech when you are at work, citing a Google manager: “freedom of speech is the right to freely express an opinion. It is most assuredly not the right to express an opinion with freedom from the consequences.”

Quillette (has four psychologists sustain points made my memo author)

“Psychological interchangeability makes diversity meaningless. But psychological differences make equal outcomes impossible. Equality or diversity. You can’t have both.” [Read]

Right-wing Twitter is rallying to support the author of the memo:

Google memo right wing twitter commentary

A Linked influencer, Adam Grant (argues that differences between men and women are exaggerated)

“Across 128 domains of the mind and behavior, “78% of gender differences are small or close to zero.” A recent addition to that list is leadership, where men feel more confident but women are rated as more competent.” [Read]

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex (refutes Grant’s points)

“Suppose I wanted to convince you that men and women had physically identical bodies. I run studies on things like number of arms, number of kidneys, size of the pancreas, caliber of the aorta, whether the brain is in the head or the chest, et cetera. 90% of these come back identical – in fact, the only ones that don’t are a few outliers like “breast size” or “number of penises”. I conclude that men and women are mostly physically similar. I can even make a statistic like “men and women are physically the same in 78% of traits”.”

Something that occurred to me that I haven’t seen anywhere – and this neither disproves not confirms the memo author’s argument, but it’s something that I feel is important.

Assuming that average men and average women are different in their precise cognitive and emotional strengths, this bears very little significance when it comes to outliers. For its tech roles Google hires from the very top, i.e. from the extreme “end” of the right tail. Outlier men and outlier women don’t behave the same way as average men and women. In fact, outliers are virtually impossible to study with the same confidence that we study average people.

Very curious what you think.

And let’s keep the mood light 🙂

UPD: somebody invited me to Google image “white man and white woman” and “European people history”. What Google shows is below.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 12.58.28Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 12.58.46

One more point of information: Duck Duck Go search results are virtually the same. Make of it what you will.

UPD 2: Jordan Peterson, who himself was nearly kicked out of Google’s YouTube recently, interviews James Damore [Video]

Management consultants now selling neuroscience

The Financial Times published an interesting post today on how management consultants are looking at brain chemicals to help analyse leadership and workplace trust.

Deloitte is looking into brain chemistry – and how they can apply what they learnt in neuroscience to management. Some of the quotes from management consultants sound like they need a bit more time in the oven: “Neuroscience would be saying you need more neural pathways to make people think differently.”

management consulting psychology neuroscience

I think Thinking Fast and Slow should be read by every management consultant and leader. I wonder what these guys will have to add on top of this. Paul Zak, the neuroscientist that the FT quotes, talks about trust as an “economic lubricant”. Isn’t that Marketing 101? In fact, I doodled about it here. Ok, they mention a few chemicals that most management consulting folk and their clients probably haven’t heard of before like oxytocin. In management consulting, a new name usually means a new sales pitch, so I can see why they are excited. Another management consultant references the idea that we are more irrational when we are in fight or flight mode. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised that in some boardroom some CEO of a gargantuan business is signing off on a contract with a management consultancy that just presented this – but really, it does sound like plain common sense.

There is one very interesting idea in the article: predictive hiring.

Instead of relying upon CVs and interviews, they ask applicants to play 15 or 20 computer games designed with the aid of neuroscience — revealing a cognitive and emotional profile. The result is matched against the gaming profile of high-performers in the role to be filled. Combined with techniques such as machine-learning and trawling social media profiles, this approach opens the way to hiring based on capability. “Companies won’t worry where they went to school or what their grades are”…

I think that games that seeing how a person takes decisions is a great way to understand their personality. It is the basis of psychological tests. However, if, instead of trying to go into the reasons why a person is like this and what they can do about it, we could simply use this information for what it is, I think it would really help to match people with certain jobs. It’s like a decision making genome that you can then marry with a job description – of course only after you accumulate enough data.

using psychology neuroscience in management consulting

What the internet will look like in 10 years

Only about 40% of the world’s population have an internet connection today. The largest group are the Chinese with 0.72 bn users, but only 52% penetrance (i.e. only 52% of the Chinese population have access to the internet). With that, certain services are off-limits to ordinary Chinese people. The countries with the highest penetrance include rich European countries such as Iceland and Denmark (it’s cold and dark outside – so no wonder). Interestingly, the English speaking world – US, UK, Australia and so on – hover around 80-90%. This means, in Ireland for example, 1 in 5 people aren’t online. I find that hard to believe. [Source: Internet Live Stats]

As the internet becomes cheaper and more accessible, we are likely to see large influxes of users from India and China. With a population in India of nearly 1.4 bn the penetrance is only 35%. Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan also have huge populations with relatively low penetrance.

While it would seem obvious that there is a huge part of the internet that I have never seen, I wonder what way the online world will change as more people join. Without any judgement on whether it is good or bad, the internet that I know is dominated by white English speaking people. I am also familiar with the Russian province of the web – it is much like the English one, only in Russian. They also lack certain services, such as eBay, etc. However, they replaced it with their own homegrown analogues.

The Economist recently said that for those who spend a lot of time in both China and the West, using online services from the West in like going back in time. WeChat is something else apparently. Musically is another Chinese creation and has taken the West by storm.

I wonder what the internet will be like in 10 years. I think there will be even more video – including through VR. My cousin recently came back from holidays and instead of showing me photos – showed me a bunch of 360 video clips. Video is taking over the world. In my own experience of Facebook advertising, the cost of a video ad versus a text ad is out by at least a factor of magnitude. I think that the West will lose some of it’s domination over the internet. If the next Facebook is from somewhere like Shanghai, it’ll be very interesting. It sounds silly, but the only thing that has really taken over the West that isn’t Western is Pokemon – at least in my echo chamber. The fact that it is so popular is a net gain for all of us. It carries with it a culture and a philosophy that’s a bit different. We’re a smaller population than India and China, so our network effect isn’t as strong. Having said that, there is not only freedom of speech – but freedom of what we choose to hear on the internet. A great example of this was seeing the reaction of those who though that Brexit and Trump were impossible. While the internet does result in what Taleb called a monoculture, it still allows for resonant echo chambers. Good or bad, they are a natural way to segment the internet. Probably though, more internet will mean more globalisation.

There will come a point when the internet will be replaced by something related, a bit like home phones and TVs were replaced by smartphones and social media. I wonder what way VR will come into our lives. Perhaps, I will be sitting in a set of slick glasses walking around a virtual Prado as my driverless car is going… Actually, I wonder where it will be going if I can get anywhere through VR and drones can deliver everything else to me.

what the internet will look like in 10 years

Time, Socrates and Taleb

N.N. Taleb has to be one of my favourite thinkers of our time. He has taken uncertainty – the root of all evil to so many people – and mathematically explained why it’s not such a bad things at all. In fact, in certain circumstances, we can benefit from uncertainty by being what he calls antifragile. WordPress just underlined this word in red, which is disappointing. It’s a concept that should spread widely.

He sometimes posts one liners on Facebook that then generate a lot of discussion. His most recent:

“The tragedy of our time is the monoculture of ideas: all ‘thinkers’ are forced to believe the same bullshit.”

Not that I am trying to meta-prove him wrong, but I disagree. It’s not the tragedy of our time. It has almost certainly always been that way. Ever since I first heard Socrates talking about youth, I’ve been highly sceptical of any remarks that proclaim that our time is somehow unique. Arguably one of the most powerful minds of all times said:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

It’s quite fascinating really. You’d swear he was talking about the kids now – with their latest iPads. However, he said this sometime during 5th century BC.

It would be too sweeping a statement to say that nothing ever changes, but it’s fair to say that human nature remains fairly constant – which is what Taleb’s comment is addressing. I don’t think that that’s a pedantic reason to disagree with him. I think we’re so prone to see ourselves as unique and special that we forget to learn from history.

UPDATE: So I left a brief comment to this effect on Taleb’s post; my first time to do so. And then – he replied! He replied to only 2 comments of over a hundred (the other one exposed him as a Russian spy), so I feel a bit like the sensei at the top of the mountain talked back. His comment was: Globalisation. That’s an interesting take on it. On top of globalisation, there is also the internet – so the monoculture gets even stronger. I guess there is an interesting point arising out of this discussion: our propensity for herd mentality is made even worse by the internet. 

It’s difficult to meaningfully stand out when the way to get heard is through the network effect.

human nature doesn't change