Big Tech Is Testing You
> Large-scale social experiments are now ubiquitous, and conducted without public scrutiny. Has this new era of experimentation remembered the lessons of the old?
> Physics, chemistry, and medicine have had their revolution. But now, driven by experimentation, a further transformation is in the air. That’s the argument of “The Power of Experiments” (M.I.T.), by Michael Luca and Max H. Bazerman, both professors at the Harvard Business School. When it comes to driving our decisions in a world of data, they say, “the age of experiments is only beginning.”
SoftBank’s $375 Million Bet on Pizza Went Really Bad Really Fast
> By the time Garden headed back down the driveway, he was well on his way to a SoftBank investment of $375 million, with double that money on the table if his business gained traction. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Zume marks one of the biggest recent disappointments in SoftBank’s portfolio. As of this year it no longer makes or delivers pizzas. In January, Zume cut 360 jobs, leaving a little over 300 employees, and said it would focus on packaging and efficiency gains for other food delivery companies.
Levine commentary: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-02-14/robot-pizza-trucks-hit-some-bumps
> Just, what a closed loop it is. You run a pizza delivery business. You craft a pitch calculated to convince Masayoshi Son that your pizza delivery business will change the world. You meet with Masayoshi Son. He convinces you that you will change the world. Now you are all believers, all in it together. He hands you piles of money. You go home and weep to your friends, “I am going to change the world.” The friends are like “wait what with the pizzas?” But it is too late for skepticism, you have the money, the robots are in the trucks, they are fanning out across town, the cheese is everywhere, they cannot turn back.
People Are Jailbreaking Used Teslas to Get the Features They Expect
> Last week, Jalopnik ran an article about a person who bought a used Tesla from a dealer—who in turn bought it at auction directly from Tesla under California’s lemon law buyback program—advertised as having Autopilot, the company’s Advanced Driver Assistance System. The entire Autopilot package, which the car had when the dealer bought it, costs an extra $8,000. Then, Tesla remotely removed the software because “Full-Self Driving was not a feature that you had paid for.” Tesla said if the customer wanted Autopilot back, he’d have to fork over the $8,000.
A Decade of ‘Unicorns’ Ends With a Little Less Magic
> Despite their growing numbers and valuations, the performance of unicorns has been a mixed bag. On the whole, an investor in the second half of the decade was likelier to have put money into a unicorn that was unprofitable and whose value has dropped as a public company than an investor in the decade’s first half, The Wall Street Journal found.
In the modern commune, a case of beer is not welcome
> didn’t plan to move into a commune. But when The Economist sent me to San Francisco for two months to cover a gap in our Silicon Valley coverage, my housing options seemed unpalatable. I didn’t want to live in a soulless serviced apartment, and hotels and Airbnbs were horrifically expensive for long stays. So I found myself trawling Facebook groups with names like “San Francisco flatshare”. A stranger suggested I look at a spare room in a communal house he knew. I wrote an earnest email introducing myself to its occupants and asking whether they had a room for a month. A few hours later I was in.
> I felt like a Neanderthal, supping beer and interjecting to add that surely it was important to enjoy yourself now and again. This sat oddly with a group that was on a different path towards self-actualisation.
You Can’t Just Call Loans Options
> Also tech companies as banks, the bank of crypto and index funds.
> A weird feature of U.S. tax law is that, if you do a thing purely to get around tax rules, then that is bad and a sham and the IRS can look through it and make you pay your taxes. But if you do the thing not only to get around tax rules but also to get around other rules (like margin requirements), then from the IRS’s perspective you have a valid business purpose and you might be able to keep your good tax treatment. “We’re not just gaming your rules, we’re gaming other regulators’ rules too” is, surprisingly, an argument that might persuade the IRS.
> The advertising for the Apple card calls it “A new kind of credit card. Created by Apple, not a bank.” That appears to be true of the appearance of the physical card. But the credit algorithms were created by a bank, to Apple’s eventual embarrassment. It is just a little odd that Apple seems to have been so incurious about the algorithms. It’s a tech company!
The Google Squeeze
> OTAs have always been a special case when it comes to Aggregation Theory; like Aggregators, they serve customers on a zero marginal cost basis, and they have power over supply (hotels, primarily) by virtue of delivering them demand. The hangup for me is how they acquire that demand: first and foremost from Google.
> This arrangement between OTAs and Google has long been beneficial to both sides. Google drives traffic to the OTAs, which can monetize that traffic via commissions extracted from suppliers.2 Google, meanwhile, not only receives relevant results it could serve to customers, but also makes billions of dollars from OTAs buying search ads.
A look inside the never-before-seen interior of San Francisco’s Ferry Building clock tower
Beware the shitty autoplaying videos. Support local news!
But some of the pictures are kinda cool.
Knotel wants to be WeWork — without the ‘bloodbath’
Sun Microsystems: A Look Back at a Tech Company Ahead of its Time
> Sun Microsystems is a Silicon Valley legend. Ten years after it was acquired by Oracle, the company’s past employees still have fond feelings for their former home — and a historic reunion happened two weeks ago at the Hyatt Regency by the San Francisco airport. Over 1,000 former Sun employees reunited for an evening to re-connect and to reminisce.
We Could Really Use Some Money
> In better times, really not that long ago at all, we talked about WeWork as a clever financial arbitrage, segmenting the market so that it could appeal to debt investors as a boring stable real-estate company while appealing to equity investors as a fast-growing high-multiple tech company. Now, in worse times, it is the opposite: If you invest now, you can get some terrifying debt that lenders don’t want combined with some cursed equity that the stock market doesn’t want.
> Did WeWork founder Adam Neumann disturb a mummy and trigger an ancient curse? Was a WeWork built on a haunted graveyard, unleashing powerful dark energies and also elevated levels of formaldehyde? How do you have such a relentless parade of negative financial news and then find out that your phone booths cause cancer? “Our phone booths might cause cancer” was not an IPO risk factor. Nobody had “phone booths cause cancer” on their WeWork Disaster Bingo cards.
Cars Were Banned on 14th Street. The Apocalypse Did Not Come.
Goldman Sachs Tries Banking for the Masses. It’s Been a Struggle.
> Goldman’s new consumer bank, which operates under the brand Marcus, has lost $1.3 billion since launching in 2016. It spent heavily to buy startups and cloud-storage space, hire hundreds of techies, and build call centers in Utah and Texas. Loans have gone bad at a higher rate than that of rivals.
> A credit card developed with Apple Inc. was a coup, but a costly one: Thousands of engineers across Goldman were diverted to finish it in time for an August debut, delaying other projects. Apple ads for the card carried the phrase: “Designed by Apple, not a bank”—a line that didn’t appear in a giant banner ad in Goldman’s lobby this fall.
Plus some other interesting details in here.
WeWork C.E.O., Adam Neumann, Stepping Down Under Pressure
The Invention of Recombinant DNA Technology
> In the early 1970s, a momentous series of events in the history of science unfolded at points around the San Francisco Bay. Lines of inquiry pursued at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco converged on a set of discoveries that vastly expanded the productive capabilities of molecular genetics, disrupted the customary rhythms and routines of the scientific community, sparked bitter disputes about risks and responsibilities in scientific experimentation, and generated a tsunami of technological change that spread rapidly across multiple domains of productive activity and all around the globe.
> The first recombinant molecule containing DNA from different organisms was assembled late in 1971, in Paul Berg’s laboratory at Stanford. Berg hoped to transduce bacterial and mammalian cells with a recombinant virus in order to study gene expression systems, but subsequently chose not to carry out the planned experiments. He was persuaded by scientific colleagues to consider potential biohazard risks before moving ahead.
> The technology for propagating and expressing recombinant genes was invented by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer in 1973. It enabled the transformation of bacterial cells into living factories for the directed manufacture of select proteins. The technology was immediately recognized as a tool without parallel in genetics research, and was soon applied to practical ends in a wide variety of fields including medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, chemicals, and energy. It has since transformed the world in which we live.
> The history is complicated.
The Time Netflix Considered Selling Itself to Amazon for Peanuts
> It was the summer of 1998. DVDs had been in the U.S. market for a little over a year, and Netflix , the e-commerce company Reed Hastings and I had co-founded to sell and rent them through the mail, had been live for just over two months. I was the company’s CEO, Reed its largest investor.
> He was in his office, just hanging up the phone when we walked in. His desk, and the desks of the two other people he shared the office with, were made of doors mounted atop 4 × 4 wooden legs, braced with triangular metal pieces. I suddenly realized that every desk I’d seen in that office was the same.
> That would have been a pretty good outcome for me, since at the time, I owned about 30% of the company. Thirty percent of $15 million is a pretty nice return for 12 months of work—particularly when your wife is broadly hinting that it might be time to pull the kids out of private school, sell the house, and move to Montana.
> But for Reed, it wasn’t enough. He owned the other 70% of the company, but he’d also invested $2 million in it. And he was fresh off the sale of Pure Atria, the company formed out of his first software venture. He was already an “eight-figure guy.” A high-eight-figure guy.
Spacewar - Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums
> 7 December 1972
An account of the first computer game tournament.
> The trend owes its health to an odd array of influences: The youthful fervor and firm dis-Establishmentarianism of the freaks who design computer science; an astonishingly enlightened research program from the very top of the Defense Department; an unexpected market-Banking movement by the manufacturers of small calculating machines, and an irrepressible midnight phenomenon known as Spacewar.
> Reliably, at any nighttime moment (i.e. non-business hours) in North America hundreds of computer technicians are effectively out of their bodies, locked in life-or-death space combat computer-projected onto cathode ray tube display screens, for hours at a time, ruining their eyes, numbing their fingers in frenzied mashing of control buttons, joyously slaying their friend and wasting their employers’ valuable computer time. Something basic is going on.
Plus the beginnings of Xerox PARC.
> “You get just a few more agates in that group and you’ll have all the marbles.”
> The chief marble collector is - well, well - Bob Taylor. When he left the newly restricted ARPA he spent a year at Utah decompressing from the Pentagon and then went to Xerox and there continued his practice of finding and rewarding good men for doing pretty much whatever they considered important work. Freedom to explore in the company of talent is an irresistible lure. In two years Xerox had twenty of the best men around working. Toward what? Well, whatever.
A followup from 2016: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/stewart-brand-recalls-first-spacewar-video-game-tournament-187669/
The Lonely Work of Moderating Hacker News
> The site’s now characteristic tone of performative erudition—hyperrational, dispassionate, contrarian, authoritative—often masks a deeper recklessness. Ill-advised citations proliferate; thought experiments abound; humane arguments are dismissed as emotional or irrational. Logic, applied narrowly, is used to justify broad moral positions. The most admired arguments are made with data, but the origins, veracity, and malleability of those data tend to be ancillary concerns. The message-board intellectualism that might once have impressed V.C. observers like Graham has developed into an intellectual style all its own. Hacker News readers who visit the site to learn how engineers and entrepreneurs talk, and what they talk about, can find themselves immersed in conversations that resemble the output of duelling Markov bots trained on libertarian economics blogs, “The Tim Ferriss Show,” and the work of Yuval Noah Harari.
This is a pretty fun read I think, even for people who don’t like HN. Or perhaps especially so. Some great, and dismal, quotes. Even ngate makes an appearance.
Yelp is Screwing Over Restaurants By Quietly Replacing Their Phone Numbers
> The phone numbers add tracking before connecting to a restaurant so that Grubhub can bill for a marketing fee.
> “There’s a button where you could hit play and so I was like, what is this?” he said. “I hit play, and the first call was me on the phone, which freaked me out because I didn’t know I was being recorded.” The call was a customer who had his restaurant confused with another restaurant. It took four minutes to figure this out before the customer hung up without placing an order. “I got charged almost $8 for that phone call.”
BART slows rollout of new trains as it contends with more repairs than expected
> One example is the “D” cars, which have a cab where the operator sits. The agency expects them to run 6,000 hours before hitting any kind of equipment failure that causes a delay of five minutes or more. They’re hovering at 1,000 hours.