Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How to Save Barnes and Noble

There's a Florida bookstore that only allows books from local authors. They pay $60 for 3 months, and they also pay a $15 initiation fee.

I think that's going to be the future of Barnes and Noble.

Barnes and Noble (henceforth BN) already does that for the Big 5 publishers. They pay for co-op, for shelf space, end caps, etc. There are self-published authors who would love to be in bookstores as ubiquitous as BN. If BN let in the very cream of the crop of self-published authors - say the ones who have hit the NYT - they might see some sales increases. And the cream of the crop is making more than a million a year, so they can afford placement in BN.

The second half of the solution might be turning BN into part coworking space. The coworking trend is hot right now, and I think that BN is primed for it. Instead of having free wifi, they'd have annual membership only wifi, meaning that the campers would be given an incentive to pay BN for hanging out there. It would automatically renew each year. I don't know what BN would need to charge to make that viable - space isn't free, after all - but I think that it would be possible for BN to leverage being a physical space.

Monday, March 9, 2015

It Couldn't Happen Here, in Oz

I wrote about Ferguson before. I was bewildered by it, but I believed that I'd never be touched by something like that. I don't have family in St. Louis, and none of us live in a place where racial tensions are high.

I was wrong.

Tony Robinson was shot by a white police officer.

Madison is not a place that is rife with racial issues. I'd have told you, as recently as last Thursday, that Madison was not a place where something like Ferguson or even the Trayvon Martin case could ever happen. Madison is integrated -- maybe not 100% smoothly, but there are many diverse neighborhoods with people of different origins. I go to church in an area that's predominantly black and less than 2 miles away from my home.

From CNN:

The incident started when authorities got a call that a black male was yelling and jumping in front of cars, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said.
Dispatchers identified him as Tony Robinson, according to 911 audio obtained by WKOW.
A little later, the dispatcher says, "Apparently Tony hit one of his friends. No weapons seen."
About four minutes later, the dispatcher says, "I got another call for the same suspect at [the same address]. He tried to strangle another patron."
About 30 seconds later, an unidentified officer says, "Shots fired, shots fired."
When Officer Matt Kenny went to the apartment, he heard some commotion and forced his way in, Koval said.
"Once inside the home the subject involved in this incident -- the same one allegedly out in traffic and that had battered someone -- assaulted my officer," Koval said.
After that, according to the chief, "The officer did draw his revolver and subsequently shot the subject."

You can hear the 911 call in the video on that page. There are a lot of things that 19-year-old kids do, but they don't deserve to die for it. I've got hurt in my heart from all the violence that's been covered in the news recently. For me, it doesn't matter what color the children's skin might be; I'd grieve if every kid was white.
The family of an unarmed biracial 19-year-old killed by police in Madison, Wisconsin, is pushing for peaceful protests online and in the streets.
"Our hands are stained with the blood of my nephew, and we are all left to deal with the aftermath," Turin Carter, the teen's uncle, told reporters on Monday.
Carter stressed that his family wasn't anti-police, but said Tony Robinson's death "highlights a universal problem with law enforcement and how its procedures have been carried out, specifically in regards to the systematic targeting of young black males."
But he said the problem goes beyond the chants of "black lives matter" that have already been used at protests over the case.
"I encourage everybody to show support regardless of race because this is truly a universal issue. ... We don't want to stop at just 'black lives matter,' because all lives matter," he said.
I'm still in shock from something like this happening in Madison, which is an idyllic, relatively small college town. It happened on the isthmus, which is Madison's compact and safe downtown area. All I can do is hope that Madison bounces back from the fallout of this. It's hard to watch this kind of thing happen at the same time that I see all the coverage from the Obamas going to Selma, Alabama to remember MLK, Jr.'s work.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Creativity and Kaizen

This reminded me of two things: kaizen and the marshmallow challenge.

The only way to get better is to iterate and learn from your mistakes.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Underrepresented Minorities in CS

So  wrote an interesting article for TechCrunch. It debunks the myth that it's just the pipeline that prevents Silicon Valley from being diverse. He's a Nigerian-born CS student at Berkeley.

I'm 100% for adding more diversity to the tech world. I talked about it here. But there's still a common theme: Asian doesn't count as "diverse" to these people. I find that discriminatory.

Asians are a minority in the US. And they certainly aren't underrepresented in the tech world, it's true. But it's wrong to say that companies with only Asians and whites are homogeneous.
Saying someone is "Asian" includes Russians, Indians, and Thai people; those groups are very different. Asians are ~60% (61% in the graphic above) of the entire world. Saying that 61% of the world doesn't include any internal diversity seems wrong to me.

From Marc Andreessen
I think the critique that Silicon Valley companies are deliberately, systematically discriminatory is incorrect, and there are two reasons to believe that that’s the case. No. 1, these companies are like the United Nations internally. All the diversity studies say that the engineering population is like 70 percent white and Asian. Let’s dig into that for a second. First, apparently Asian doesn’t count as diverse. And then “white”: When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese. All these different countries, all these different cultures. To believe in a systematic pattern of discrimination, you’d have to believe that we’re discriminatory toward certain people without being discriminatory at all toward an extremely broad range of ethnicities and religions. Because of Pakistanis, we’re seeing a higher-than-ever proportion of Muslim employees in a lot of our companies.
No. 2, our companies are desperate for talent. Desperate. Our companies are dying for talent. They’re like lying on the beach gasping because they can’t get enough talented people in for these jobs. The motivation to go find talent wherever it is is unbelievably high.

I get that some kids don't get the game being played around them. Ramit Sethi talked a lot about how at Stanford he had a group of friends that practiced for interviews together. Those friends went to the top companies, such as McKinsey and Bain. Omotayo doesn't have that same kind of support network, and that's something that definitely should be fixed. He's right that companies should come to campus and teach people how the interview process goes; that's easy to find out for some students, and hard to find out for others. If Silicon Valley is truly a meritocracy, all kids need to be able to access that kind of basic information.
If you have a diversity team, include them in the interviewing process, too.  At one large tech company, I was the only person of color among 20 students attending on-site interviews. I immediately got intimidated, lost my confidence and failed my interview. 
When you say "person of color," I believe that you are saying black or Hispanic, since you're complaining about the number of Asians. And I think that's wrong. I consider Asians people of color, and quite a few people have. And Asians face their own problems in the corporate world, including but not limited to the bamboo ceiling.

There's a lot of work to be done to fix the valid problems that he pointed out. This kid hasn't gained my sympathy and support like Maurice did, though. Maurice has risen through a lot of the obstacles that have come up in this way, and so has Omotayo. However, Maurice is excelling despite that, not writing bitter articles about how he choked at an interview because he felt different.

Maurice made the effort to network on his own. He didn't limit himself by thinking "that mentor isn't black, so he'll never call me back", even though one of the mentors (the one who didn't write the article) did. You have to try and connect with other people, even if it opens up the potential for failure and rejection. I had a bunch of black friends in college from my psych (and other) classes, because we would sit near each other, help each other with homework, do group work together, email each other for notes when we missed class, etc. I did the exact same thing with my white and Hispanic friends. It's what we did. Someone who had the drive to get into Goldman Sachs for an internship would be a potential friend, regardless of skin color. Race is a barrier that can only be defeated when you knock down the wall, and I think that Omotayo is limiting himself by lack of faith in other people.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pebble Time Non Review

I'm not buying a Pebble Time.

This may sound surprising, since the last time I talked about my Pebble Smartwatch, I was singing its praises.

But that was the first day. By 18 months later, I'd soured on the experience.


1. My watch strap broke under normal usage. I would push the watchstrap's pin back into place, only to have it fall out as soon as I did something daring and audacious, such as bending my elbow while wearing long sleeves. 

2. My watch's internal system broke. I had to stop wearing it, obviously, and I used it on a countertop in the bathroom, reasoning that something that could go 30 meters down would be able to withstand the humidity of my bathroom.

I was wrong. 

Having it in my bathroom resulted in a display not unlike this one:

And this one:
3. The lack of support was awful. You're encouraged to go to the forums to get help. That's fine for Tier 1 support (how do I turn it on?). It's not good for anything really complex. They could've outsourced customer service and tech support to someone like ZenDesk rather than basically lack it entirely. But they chose the latter. 

4. The Pebble app crashes constantly, which has been noted by a lot of people. There was a high profile buggy version. Every time I opened it, it crashed at some point or another. They finally started collected bug reports, which I was grateful for, but they didn't make it more stable.

5. This is the least important out of all the reasons, but they didn't deliver the watches when they said they would. They sent us a lot of updates showing us the work that they were doing. And I understand that they had a lot of watches to print. Nonetheless, they didn't deliver on their promises.
Source: Tech Crunch

So while the Pebble Time looks beautiful and cutting edge, I won't buy one. I already got sucked down that rabbit hole. The watch and the watch strap will break, and the experience of being a Pebble user is poor.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dijkstra and the War for Programmers

I follow Marc Andreessen on Twitter, and he sometimes posts interesting things.
I of course was interested in that statement. Dijkstra founded programming languages, in a lot of ways, and it was fascinating to me that he was known to not really use computers.
Dijkstra in 1994
Source: Wikimedia

From the University of Texas Austin memorial:
Almost all articles in this series appearing after 1972 are hand-written. Having invented much of the technology of software, Dijkstra eschewed the use of computers in his own work for many decades. Even after he succumbed to his UT colleagues’ encouragement and acquired a Macintosh computer, he used it only for e-mail and for browsing the World Wide Web. He had no use for word processors, believing that one should be able to write a letter or article without rough drafts, rewriting, or any significant editing. He would work it all out in his head before putting pen to paper, and once mentioned that when he was a physics student he would solve his homework problems in his head while walking the dark streets of Leyden. 
The archives of his EWD papers are online. There was one where he talks about becoming a programmer, and he ends talking about the programming industry as a whole.

What I found fascinating -- and I'm sure that there will be a lot of people who focus on other things -- but he talked about the problems with teaching children how to code, even though it clearly was a growing industry.
There may also be political impediments. Even if we know how to educate tomorrow’s professional programmer, it is not certain that the society we are living in will allow us to do so. The first effect of teaching a methodology — rather than disseminating knowledge — is that of enhancing the capacities of the already capable, thus magnifying the difference in intelligence. In a society in which the educational system is used as an instrument for the establishment of a homogenized culture, in which the cream is prevented from rising to the top, the education of competent programmers could be politically impalatable.
He said that in 1972, when he was still in the Netherlands. However, it holds true for the US as well. I've talked about Neil Fraser and the political fight to get more kids to code. And this is today, so much later. It really should be presented to parents in terms of job prospects. There is a gaping hole for programmers. Even 10 years from now, I think that America will struggle to have enough computer science people. That's why I'm encouraging the younger generation to do it.

And for many of them, CS is not the right choice. And they'll go into the undifferentiated workforce, and they'll find other jobs, jobs that don't have as high of a demand as CS.

From an earlier post of mine:
 In Average Is OverTyler Cowen's new book, he talks about the bifurcation of the job market into software and not-software. One is growing rapidly and the other is losing ground.
I want my family to be on the right side of the divide, but they've chosen the 2nd side. Programming is boring, they tell me.

And they'll go on to have middle-class lives, so they'll be ok. But there'll always be a war for programmers.

War for Programmers

In a broad spread of industries, from carmaking to aerospace to domestic appliances, products have ever more lines of code embedded in them. These firms, too, are struggling to hire enough developers. Ford advertises as many jobs in software as many a midsized tech firm. As they seek to serve their customers via smartphone apps, all sorts of service businesses, from banking to retailing, need more people with software skills.
If the battle for programming talent is not just being fought among the titans of tech, that is where the front line lies. To a greater extent than makers of hardware, software-based firms are dependent on the hard-to-replicate talent that walks through their doors each morning. Hence the effort they put into recruitment and retention. Tangible rewards in the form of large salaries and attractive share options are part of it. But there is more to their human-resources strategies than generous compensation and perks such as on-site yoga classes and free gourmet meals.
Like other creative types, the best software workers strongly believe that caring means sharing. All-hands meetings are not just for tiny startups; staff at even the largest tech firms expect their bosses to appear frequently in person or by video link, to be grilled about everything from corporate strategy to the quality of the office coffee. The prospect of such radical openness makes buttoned-up executives in other industries quake in their boots.
Having worked in the software industry, I know that dramatic transparency is important. It makes the company work faster, and it encourages contributions from everyone.

To everyone that tells me that there are no jobs, I normally say that there are two paths: working in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota (no longer as lucrative with the sharp drop in the price of gas) and software. I point everyone to, which has tons of jobs for people looking in the right place.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Perception and Reality of Feminism

It's been a while since I wrote a post only about feminism.
From Society Pages
I got in an Internet argument today, and someone said, "If you're a feminist, close your eyes now." And other people got angry and said, "How dare you say, 'If you're for women's equality, ignore my ill-conceived diatribe.'" And the first person got angry and said that the second person was twisting their words so that they were unrecognizable.

There's a gap between perception and reality when it comes to feminism. I didn't consider myself a feminist until taking my Psychology of Women class.

I have a two-question test for feminism:

  1. Do you believe that women have the right to have an education?
  2. Do you believe that women should have the right to vote?
Yes to either of those questions qualifies you as a feminist.

From Wikipedia:

Feminist movements have and continue to campaign for many women's rights, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to fair wages or equal pay, to own propertyto education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage, and to have maternity leave. Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity, and to protect women and girls from rapesexual harassment, anddomestic violence.[7]
Feminist campaigns are generally considered to be main force behind major historical societal changes, particularly in the West, where they are near-universally credited with having achieved women's suffragegender neutrality in Englishequal pay for women, reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property.

Feminism certainly covers a lot more, but if you believe that women should have the right to vote, you are a feminist. It seems crazy, but it really wasn't that long ago that women couldn't vote at all. There are a lot of places in the world today where women aren't allowed to go to school or to own property. That's why I'm a feminist.