MEK Studios,2013-02-10:/notional/20130210055031443 Critical thinking to start your day.<br>A blog of ideas, thoughts, and concepts for consideration. Copyright (c) 2013 Michael E. Kirkpatrick 2018-05-03T15:36:43-07:00 Michael E. Kirkpatrick Lobe - Deep Learning Made Simple,2018-05-03:/2018/05/lobe-deep-learning-made-simple 2018-05-03T15:36:43-07:00 2018-05-03T15:36:43-07:00 Lobe <p>It’s amazing to me how accessible machine learning is becoming to everyday people. Lobe is another step in that direction.</p> <p>Via Daring Fireball</p> Divine Discontent: Disruption’s Antidote,2018-05-03:/2018/05/divine-discontent-disruptions-antidote 2018-05-03T15:10:55-07:00 2018-05-03T15:10:55-07:00 Ben Thompson <p>This section of Ben’s piece is worth quoting in its entirety. The key sentence is the last.</p> <blockquote> <p>Jeff Bezos has been writing an annual letter to shareholders since 1997, and he attaches that original letter to one he pens every year. It included this section entitled Obsess Over Customers:</p> <blockquote> <p>From the beginning, our focus has been on offering our customers compelling value. We realized that the Web was, and still is, the World Wide Wait. Therefore, we set out to offer customers something they simply could not get any other way, and began serving them with books. We brought them much more selection than was possible in a physical store (our store would now occupy 6 football fields), and presented it in a useful, easy-to-search, and easy-to-browse format in a store open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. We maintained a dogged focus on improving the shopping experience, and in 1997 substantially enhanced our store. We now offer customers gift certificates, 1-Click shopping, and vastly more reviews, content, browsing options, and recommendation features. We dramatically lowered prices, further increasing customer value. Word of mouth remains the most powerful customer acquisition tool we have, and we are grateful for the trust our customers have placed in us. Repeat purchases and word of mouth have combined to make the market leader in online bookselling.</p> </blockquote> <p>Over the last 20 years Amazon has dramatically changed, but Bezos’ annual focus on consumers has not. This year, after highlighting just how much customers love Amazon (answer: a lot), Bezos wrote:</p> <blockquote> <p>One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static — they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’. I see that cycle of improvement happening at a faster rate than ever before. It may be because customers have such easy access to more information than ever before — in only a few seconds and with a couple taps on their phones, customers can read reviews, compare prices from multiple retailers, see whether something’s in stock, find out how fast it will ship or be available for pick-up, and more. These examples are from retail, but I sense that the same customer empowerment phenomenon is happening broadly across everything we do at Amazon and most other industries as well. You cannot rest on your laurels in this world. Customers won’t have it.</p> </blockquote> <p>Critically, when it comes to Internet-based services, this customer focus does not come at the expense of a focus on infrastructure or distribution or suppliers: while those were the means to customers in the analog world, in the online world controlling the customer relationship gives a company power over its suppliers, the capital to build out infrastructure, and control over distribution. Bezos is not so much choosing to prioritize customers insomuch as he has unlocked the key to controlling value chains in an era of aggregation.</p> <p>Bezos’s letter, though, reveals another advantage of focusing on customers: it makes it impossible to overshoot.</p> </blockquote> Productivity,2018-04-11:/2018/04/productivity 2018-04-11T12:01:15-07:00 2018-04-11T12:01:15-07:00 Sam Altman <p>I think often about how I can best use my time — and get frustrated when I feel like I’m doing things that aren’t helping me get where I want to go. Sam Altman wrote up some of his thoughts on productivity (linked here). I don’t think there’s a single quote that’s worth pulling; the whole thing is worth a read. I don’t subscribe to some of his ideas but this post like most of.</p> <p>See also: <a href="/2014/01/the-builders-high">The Builder’s High</a></p> The Federal Deficit,2018-04-10:/2018/04/the-federal-deficit 2018-04-10T13:24:07-07:00 2018-04-10T13:24:07-07:00 Michael E. Kirkpatrick <p>I was recently talking to my grandmother about the federal budget and where money was being spent. We looked at the fact that nearly half of the federal budget (47.8% to be exact, totaling $1.9 trillion) is spent on Social Security ($939 billion), Medicare ($591 billion) and Medicaid ($375 billion) (<a href="">Source</a>).</p> <p>Today, the Congressional Budget Office that provides nonpartisan analysis for Congress released a report titled “<a href="">The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2018 to 2028</a>”; basically a 10-year look ahead for Congress on the budget based on current laws.</p> <p>After reading that report, I wrote her this email:</p> <p>Good morning Grandma!</p> <p>Following up our conversation about the federal debt, I found it interesting to see a new chart that projects forward the amount of national debt for the next ten years based on congressional budgets. The scary part to me is that at some point the debt must be paid (e.g., a 10-year treasury note). The projection is that debt will reach 96% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product - the value of the goods produced in the United States in one year) equivalent to $29 trillion. In other words, if the debt gets to that level, as a country we would have to take 96% of the income we derived from sales that year to pay off our debt. Hard to imagine. Today the debt is $16 trillion. The last time we had debt near 100% of GDP we were at war (1945).</p> <p><img src="/images/notional/cbo-federal-debt-held-by-the-public-1940-2028.png" alt="Federal Debt Held by the Public" class="img-fluid" /></p> <p>A few notes from the report that I found interesting:</p> <blockquote> <p>As deficits accumulate in CBO’s projections, debt held by the public rises from 78 percent of GDP (or $16 trillion) at the end of 2018 to 96 percent of GDP (or $29 trillion) by 2028. That percentage would be the largest since 1946 and well more than twice the average over the past five decades (see Summary Figure 2).</p> <p>Such high and rising debt would have serious negative consequences for the budget and the nation:</p> <p>Federal spending on interest payments on that debt would increase substantially, especially because interest rates are projected to rise over the next few years.</p> </blockquote> <p>Remember that our current budget spends nearly 50% on things like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If we have to increase our spending as a nation to pay back the debt, we necessarily have to cut from somewhere else (e.g., one of those programs)</p> <blockquote> <p>Because federal borrowing reduces total saving in the economy over time, the nation’s capital stock would ultimately be smaller, and productivity and total wages would be lower.</p> <p>Lawmakers would have less flexibility to use tax and spending policies to respond to unexpected challenges.</p> <p>The likelihood of a fiscal crisis in the United States would increase. There would be a greater risk that investors would become unwilling to finance the government’s borrowing unless they were compensated with very high-interest rates; if that happened, interest rates on federal debt would rise suddenly and sharply.</p> </blockquote> <p>And this last point is interesting because it’s true. The more debt we have (the more debt you and I might have) the riskier it is as an investor to loan us more money. More risk requires a higher potential payout (e.g., I’m not sure if you’re going to pay me back, so I want a high level of return to get back whatever I can). Higher interest rates for people with poor credit is true for car loans today and may be true for our government if our country gets into a situation where we are overloaded with debt (at 96% of GDP). Because ultimately, it’s our tax dollars that fund the government, and it’s the government that has gone into such massive debt.</p> <p>Oh boy.</p> <p>-Michael</p> Why Zuckerberg’s 14-year Apology Tour Hasn’t Fixed Facebook,2018-04-08:/2018/04/why-zuckerbergs-14-year-apology-tour-hasnt-fixed-facebook 2018-04-08T11:11:58-07:00 2018-04-08T11:11:58-07:00 Zeynep Tufekci <blockquote> <p>In 2003, one year before Facebook was founded, a website called Facemash began nonconsensually scraping pictures of students at Harvard from the school’s intranet and asking users to rate their hotness. Obviously, it caused an outcry. The website’s developer quickly proffered an apology. “I hope you understand, this is not how I meant for things to go, and I apologize for any harm done as a result of my neglect to consider how quickly the site would spread and its consequences thereafter,” wrote a young Mark Zuckerberg. “I definitely see how my intentions could be seen in the wrong light.”</p> <p>…By 2008, Zuckerberg had written only four posts on Facebook’s blog: Every single one of them was an apology or an attempt to explain a decision that had upset users.</p> <p>…By now, it ought to be plain to [Facebook employees], and to everyone, that Facebook’s 2 billion-plus users are surveilled and profiled, that their attention is then sold to advertisers and, it seems, practically anyone else who will pay Facebook—including unsavory dictators like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. That is Facebook’s business model. That is why the company has an almost half-a-trillion-dollar market capitalization, along with billions in spare cash to buy competitors.</p> <p>These are such readily apparent facts that any denial of them is quite astounding.</p> <p>And yet, it appears that nobody around Facebook’s sovereign and singular ruler has managed to convince their leader that these are blindingly obvious truths whose acceptance may well provide us with some hints of a healthier way forward. That the repeated word of the use “community” to refer Facebook’s users is not appropriate and is, in fact, misleading. That the constant repetition of “sorry” and “we meant well” and “we will fix it this time!” to refer to what is basically the same betrayal over 14 years should no longer be accepted as a promise to do better, but should instead be seen as but one symptom of a profound crisis of accountability. When a large chorus of people outside the company raises alarms on a regular basis, it’s not a sufficient explanation to say, “Oh we were blindsided (again).”</p> </blockquote> <p>Privacy is important to me. I don’t use Facebook, or its products, because I don’t like the amount of data they collect or how information (e.g. photos and updates) that I add to their platform gets shared.</p> <p>It’s tough because while I provide value to Facebook, it’s not monetary. And those who do pay Facebook — advertisers — are the real customers.</p> Google now knows when its users go to the store and buy stuff,2017-05-27:/2017/05/google-now-knows-when-its-users-go-to-the-store-and-buy-stuff 2017-05-27T09:31:50-07:00 2017-05-27T09:31:50-07:00 Elizabeth Dwoskin; Craig Timberg <blockquote> <p>Google has begun using billions of credit-card transaction records to prove that its online ads are prompting people to make purchases — even when they happen offline in brick-and-mortar stores, the company said Tuesday.</p> <p>The advance allows Google to determine how many sales have been generated by digital ad campaigns, a goal that industry insiders have long described as “the holy grail” of online advertising. But the announcement also renewed long-standing privacy complaints about how the company uses personal information.</p> </blockquote> Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria,2017-05-14:/2017/05/torching-the-modern-day-library-of-alexandria 2017-05-14T08:31:02-07:00 2017-05-14T08:31:02-07:00 Jame Somers <blockquote> <p>You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else–a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe–would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.</p> <p>At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable–as alive in the digital world–as web pages.</p> <p>It was to be the realization of a long-held dream. “The universal library has been talked about for millennia,” Richard Ovenden, the head of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, has said. “It was possible to think in the Renaissance that you might be able to amass the whole of published knowledge in a single room or a single institution.” In the spring of 2011, it seemed we’d amassed it in a terminal small enough to fit on a desk.</p> <p>“This is a watershed event and can serve as a catalyst for the reinvention of education, research, and intellectual life,” one eager observer wrote at the time.</p> <p>On March 22 of that year, however, the legal agreement that would have unlocked a century’s worth of books and peppered the country with access terminals to a universal library was rejected under Rule 23(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.</p> <p>When the library at Alexandria burned it was said to be an “international catastrophe.” When the most significant humanities project of our time was dismantled in court, the scholars, archivists, and librarians who’d had a hand in its undoing breathed a sigh of relief, for they believed, at the time, that they had narrowly averted disaster.</p> </blockquote> The Local News Business Model,2017-05-14:/2017/05/the-local-news-business-model 2017-05-14T08:29:20-07:00 2017-05-14T08:29:20-07:00 Ben Thompson <blockquote> <p>It’s hardly controversial to note that the traditional business model for most publishers, particularly newspapers, is obsolete. Absent the geographic monopolies formerly imposed by owning distribution, newspapers have nothing to offer advertisers: the sort of advertising that was formerly done in newspapers, both classified and display, is better done online…</p> <p>…the future of “local news” [will] almost certainly be subscription, not advertising-based.</p> <p>I think it’s worth expounding on that point. What most, including Rutenberg, fail to understand about newspapers is that it is not simply the business model that is obsolete: rather, everything is obsolete. Most local newspapers are simply not worth saving, not because local news isn’t valuable, but rather because everything else in your typical local newspaper is worthless (from a business perspective). That is why I was careful in my wording: subscriptions will not save newspapers, but they just might save local news, and the sooner that distinction is made the better.</p> </blockquote> Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future,2017-05-13:/2017/05/glass-works-how-corning-created-the-ultrathin-ultrastrong-material-of-the-future 2017-05-13T21:51:04-07:00 2017-05-13T21:51:04-07:00 Bryan Gardiner <blockquote> <p>From above, Corning’s headquarters in upstate New York looks like a Space Invaders alien: Designed by architect Kevin Roche in the early ’90s, the structure fans out in staggered blocks. From the ground, though, the tinted windows and extended eaves make the building look more like a glossy, futuristic Japanese palace.</p> <p>The office of Wendell Weeks, Corning’s CEO, is on the second floor, looking out onto the Chemung River. It was here that Steve Jobs gave the 53-year-old Weeks a seemingly impossible task: Make millions of square feet of ultrathin, ultrastrong glass that didn’t yet exist. Oh, and do it in six months. The story of their collaboration–including Jobs’ attempt to lecture Weeks on the principles of glass and his insistence that such a feat could be accomplished–is well known. How Corning actually pulled it off is not.</p> </blockquote> How to Accidentally Stop a Global Cyber Attacks,2017-05-13:/2017/05/how-to-accidentally-stop-a-global-cyber-attacks 2017-05-13T21:06:31-07:00 2017-05-13T21:06:31-07:00 MalwareTech <p>Incredible story of how the registration of a single domain effectively stopped the recent global malware breakout.</p> <p>I don’t know much about malware or worms, but these guys do and I’m glad they’re on the lookout.</p> <p>Great work.</p> <blockquote> <p>I woke up at around 10 AM and checked onto the UK cyber threat sharing platform where i had been following the spread of the Emotet banking malware, something which seemed incredibly significant until today. There were a few of your usual posts about various organisations being hit with ransomware, but nothing significant…yet. I ended up going out to lunch with a friend, meanwhile the WannaCrypt ransomware campaign had entered full swing.</p> <p>When I returned home at about 2:30, the threat sharing platform was flooded with posts about various NHS systems all across the country being hit, which was what tipped me of to the fact this was something big. Although ransomware on a public sector system isn’t even newsworthy, systems being hit simultaneously across the country is (contrary to popular belief, most NHS employees don’t open phishing emails which suggested that something to be this widespread it would have to be propagated using another method). I was quickly able to get a sample of the malware with the help of Kafeine, a good friend and fellow researcher. Upon running the sample in my analysis environment I instantly noticed it queried an unregistered domain, which i promptly registered.</p> </blockquote> Moneyball: The Art of Scouting Programming Talent,2017-04-24:/2017/04/moneyball-the-art-of-scouting-programming-talent 2017-04-24T08:47:54-07:00 2017-04-24T08:47:54-07:00 Janie Clayton <p>Ms. Clayton brings up some very interesting points and observations about the hiring of software developers and how they are treated in the workplace. It’s a bit of a rant to be sure, but with some insights.</p> <blockquote> <p>…Billy Beane was allowed to languish in baseball for ten years in spite of a poor track record of success because he had the right look. Everyone was waiting for him to shake off whatever was wrong with him so that he could be the player everyone imagined he could be. Baseball scouting is less about what someone has done and more about what you can imaging them becoming.</p> <p>This applies so much to technology as well. We have the myth of the 20-year-old programmer in a hoodie who writes code that changes the world. We have ingrained in ourselves what we think a programmer is and how they’re supposed to look and act. If you’re a venture capitalist, you’re not looking at a track record of past success, you’re looking for someone that feels right. You look at what you imaging that person can be rather than who they are.</p> <p>Having several failed start ups is seen as a bonus, but only if you’re the right kind of person. People are willing to keep giving you chances because they have a gut feeling that you are going to become something even though you have no past track record to back it up.</p> <p>If you’re black, or female, or trans, or some other underrepresented minority group, it’s harder for venture capitalists to imagine what you could become. It doesn’t matter as much if you have a solid business plan or if you’re doing something no one else is doing. If it’s something that is outside of their scope of understanding, you’re not going to sell them of the fantasy of being Peter Theil investing in Facebook.</p> </blockquote> Be Wary of Free Services,2017-04-24:/2017/04/be-wary-of-free-services 2017-04-24T08:42:40-07:00 2017-04-24T08:42:40-07:00 Jojo Hedaya <p>You should always beware of free services. If they’re not making money from you, they are making money some other way; possibly by selling you (your data or access to you) to others (e.g. data mining companies, advertisers, etc.).</p> <p>Jojo Hedaya, CEO of, who was exposed for selling user’s emails (ostensibly “anonymized”) in the recent New York Times piece about Uber’s CEO, seems trite and insincere in his response:</p> <blockquote> <p>Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.</p> <p>And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough.</p> </blockquote> <p>If you don’t know how the free service you use pays for itself, don’t use it. Odds are your data is funding the continued free service.</p> Uber’s C.E.O. Plays With Fire,2017-04-24:/2017/04/ubers-ceo-plays-with-fire 2017-04-24T08:36:03-07:00 2017-04-24T08:36:03-07:00 Mike Isaac <p>A profile of Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick. His leadership is scary.</p> <blockquote> <p>In a quest to build Uber into the world’s dominant ride-hailing entity, Mr. Kalanick has openly disregarded many rules and norms, backing down only when caught or cornered. He has flouted transportation and safety regulations, bucked against entrenched competitors and capitalized on legal loopholes and gray areas to gain a business advantage. In the process, Mr. Kalanick has helped create a new transportation industry, with Uber spreading to more than 70 countries and gaining a valuation of nearly $70 billion, and its business continues to grow.</p> <p>…Crossing that line was not a one-off for Mr. Kalanick. According to interviews with more than 50 current and former Uber employees, investors and others with whom the executive had personal relationships, Mr. Kalanick, 40, is driven to the point that he must win at whatever he puts his mind to and at whatever cost – a trait that has now plunged Uber into its most sustained set of crises since its founding in 2009.</p> <p>“Travis’s biggest strength is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals,” said Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire investor who has mentored Mr. Kalanick. “Travis’s biggest weakness is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals. That’s the best way to describe him.”</p> </blockquote> Jeff Bezos’ 2017 Letter to Shareholders,2017-04-24:/2017/04/jeff-bezos-2017-letter-to-shareholders 2017-04-24T08:33:10-07:00 2017-04-24T08:33:10-07:00 Jeff Bezos <p>This is the first time I’ve read one of Mr. Bezos’ letters, and I think it’s well worth the read. He starts out with True Customer Obsession:</p> <blockquote> <p>There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.</p> <p>Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.</p> <p>Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.</p> </blockquote> <p>He goes on to talk about resisting proxies (for decisions), embracing external trends, and high-velocity decision making.</p>