It’s hard to artic­u­late how I feel about this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. So much of it has already been said. Part of me is still unable to com­pre­hend how this out­come is even pos­si­ble. I’m forced to real­ize that Amer­i­ca is not the place that I was brought up to believe it was: a land of oppor­tu­ni­ty and idealism–a place where any­one can make it. A new cul­ture has tak­en hold, decades in the mak­ing, and it’s repul­sive. And togeth­er “we” have ele­vat­ed a vain, ill-tem­pered, igno­rant, racist, sex­ist, xeno­phobe with no pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­fi­ca­tions to the most impor­tant office in the land–the so-called leader of the free world.

I am grate­ful in this moment for the com­pa­ny of my daugh­ter, who is cheer­ful­ly unaware of cur­rent events. I don’t look for­ward to the day I have to explain to her how fem­i­nism died in 2016. I hope I nev­er have to tell her how democracy’s promise of free­dom and peace died too.

November 9, 2016 November 9, 2016 politics by Scott No Comments

I thought I’d write a polit­i­cal post that’s not about Trump. You’re wel­come.

I saw on the Interblogs this morn­ing that Giphy raised anoth­er $72 mil­lion in fund­ing at a val­u­a­tion of $600 mil­lion. Yes, that’s right, anoth­er $72 mil­lion… for a search engine… of ani­mat­ed GIFs.

The arti­cle goes on about the busi­ness: blah blah mon­e­ti­za­tion blah blah. But it makes no effort to address the point that invest­ing in the com­pa­ny is obvi­ous­ly a short-term bet, moti­vat­ed by some low but appar­ent­ly nonze­ro prob­a­bil­i­ty that peo­ple of the future will com­mu­ni­cate only through two-sec­ond reac­tion shots of tele­vi­sion char­ac­ters.

The mes­sage this invest­ment sends is eth­i­cal­ly ques­tion­able. I don’t have a prob­lem with entre­pre­neur­ship. I’m a start­up guy. My liveli­hood depends to some extent on ven­ture cap­i­tal and [hope­ful­ly] occa­sion­al suc­cess. But my lit­mus test for any busi­ness mod­el is sim­ple: does it strive to cre­ate val­ue as well as wealth? It’s a test that Giphy fails mis­er­ably (to say noth­ing about many arms of the finan­cial indus­try that sup­ports it).

So what. But I couldn’t help think­ing about the guy who writes the $72 mil­lion check and address­es it to a repos­i­to­ry of GIFs. What does that feel like? I won­der if he or she has read Pres­i­dent Eisenhower’s famous “Chance for Peace” speech. Eisen­how­er was talk­ing about the per­ils of Cold War defense spend­ing, but it’s not a com­plete­ly sil­ly par­al­lel to ven­ture cap­i­tal in 2016. He wrote, in 1953:

Every gun that is made, every war­ship launched, every rock­et fired sig­ni­fies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spend­ing mon­ey alone.

It is spend­ing the sweat of its labor­ers, the genius of its sci­en­tists, the hopes of its chil­dren.

The speech (which you should read in its entire­ty), famous­ly goes on to list a num­ber of incred­i­ble, world-chang­ing things one could buy for the price of a new bomber, fight­er jet, or destroy­er: schools, pow­er plants, hos­pi­tals, food, and homes.

How far we have come in 63 years. Eisen­how­er was furi­ous about ratch­et­ing up the machines of war just a few years after World War II scarred the world. Today our coun­try has enjoyed the longest peri­od of rel­a­tive peace and pros­per­i­ty in its his­to­ry, and ven­ture cap­i­tal is pump­ing out bil­lions of dol­lars. But rather than invest in our future as a soci­ety, they have decid­ed to dou­ble down on GIFs.

October 31, 2016 October 31, 2016 politics by Scott No Comments

The AP’s Eric Lev­en­son writes about Trump: “…New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can offi­cials have strug­gled to embrace him as he con­tin­ues to make eye­brow-rais­ing com­ments about minori­ties and women.”

I would be curi­ous to hear the AP explain how they draw the line between “eye­brow-rais­ing com­ments about minori­ties and women” and “racist and sex­ist com­ments.”

June 13, 2016 June 13, 2016 politics by Scott No Comments

Today is the spe­cial pri­ma­ry elec­tion for Mass­a­chu­setts’ Eighth Suf­folk Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dis­trict.

How would I know that? And why was I so excit­ed to vote?

For starters, F and I have met both can­di­dates for our party–Jay Liv­ing­stone and Josh Daw­son. They have rang our door­bell sev­er­al times over the last cou­ple of months. So have many of their sup­port­ers. They have left mes­sages on our answer­ing machine. They have hung tags on our door­knobs. They have slipped notes under our front door that say, “sor­ry I missed you!”

I don’t think I would have paid any atten­tion to this elec­tion if it hadn’t been for the sheer ener­gy of these can­di­dates. With the stakes appar­ent­ly so high for these guys, I felt oblig­ed to cast a vote one way or anoth­er. But how? Their plat­forms are so sim­i­lar. Liv­ing­stone got a lot of key endorse­ments, but Daw­son even­tu­al­ly earned the Globe’s. Both nice peo­ple with sen­si­ble views. Hap­py smil­ing fam­i­lies. Both live in my neigh­bor­hood.

I’ve nev­er seen an elec­tion like this. (Per­haps this is because I don’t live in a swing state.)

When I got home from work this evening, there were four mes­sages on our answer­ing machine: two from Livingstone’s vol­un­teers, one from Dawson’s staff, and a final mes­sage from Daw­son him­self, men­tion­ing me by name and say­ing that he would be hon­ored to have my vote.

Well, Mr. Daw­son, I am hap­py to say you earned it. I am dis­ap­point­ed to see that you may have lost this elec­tion. Best of luck next time.

May 28, 2013 May 28, 2013 politics by Scott No Comments

Media stand outside convention center Cables outside convention center Trucks outside convention center

The Boston Con­ven­tion and Exhi­bi­tion Cen­ter is a short walk from my office, so I went to check out the scene at lunch today. Exhaust­ing as they are, one of the things I find so fas­ci­nat­ing about Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tions is the way they cap­ture such rapt inter­na­tion­al atten­tion. I vivid­ly remem­ber wan­der­ing through the out­door fes­ti­val in Cop­ley Square eight years ago, watch­ing rows and rows of reporters from far-flung places report­ing to their cam­eras on John Kerry’s sit­u­a­tion.

It’s kind of like that here again. At least, the jour­nal­ists are back. But in a more dis­mal setting–indoors, in a bland con­ven­tion cen­ter in a rel­a­tive­ly unin­hab­it­ed part of town. With a can­di­date in whom I have no inter­est. But still, it’s neat to see the world look­ing so close­ly at us, even for a day.

November 5, 2012 November 5, 2012 politics by Scott No Comments

I’m proud of myself: I have not watched any of the debates this year. As an informed and com­plete­ly decid­ed vot­er, I have noth­ing to gain.

In past years, watch­ing the debates was an alter­nate­ly exhil­a­rat­ing and gut-wrench­ing expe­ri­ence. It made me want to pace back and forth and occa­sion­al­ly shout back at the tele­vi­sion set. I final­ly real­ized that this must be what it’s like for peo­ple who care about foot­ball to watch peo­ple play­ing foot­ball on TV.

October 20, 2012 October 20, 2012 politics by Scott No Comments

Wireless Network Names Just check­ing to see if the neigh­bors still have their wire­less net­work run­ning. Yup.

August 12, 2012 August 12, 2012 politics by Scott 1 Comment

The U.S. patent sys­tem is bro­ken. In the old days, the goal was to pro­tect the small-time inven­tor from get­ting ripped off by big com­pa­nies. That would seem­ing­ly encour­age inno­va­tion, which is regard­ed as a Good Thing. For decades how­ev­er, the sys­tem has shift­ed to favor the deep-pock­et­ed com­pa­nies, who have dis­cov­ered that with enough legal wran­gling they can gen­er­al­ly get util­i­ty patents on any­thing they want. Such patents are assigned a the­o­ret­i­cal val­ue and become bar­gain­ing chips. So that’s a bum­mer, but not the end of the world.

Late­ly, a num­ber of hos­tile players–patent trolls–have tak­en to the scene. These are indi­vid­u­als, com­pa­nies, or even shell com­pa­nies who are nei­ther inven­tors nor pro­duc­ers of goods. They sim­ply buy the rights to patents and sue the shit out of peo­ple who may or may not be in vio­la­tion. Most defen­dants set­tle because the cost of pur­su­ing a legal bat­tle over arcane and tech­ni­cal mat­ters is pro­hib­i­tive for all but the most well-fund­ed com­pa­nies. (For more infor­ma­tion, see exhib­it A and exhib­it B.)

I pro­pose a sim­ple three-step fix to the sys­tem:

  1. Elim­i­nate soft­ware patents entire­ly. This was a real­ly bad idea. In soft­ware, last year’s nov­el inven­tion is this year’s stan­dard indus­try prac­tice. Does the patent you got for an Inter­net shop­ping cart in the ’90s enti­tle you to bil­lions of dol­lars of roy­al­ties today? No. And how can you real­ly prove when some­one is in vio­la­tion? Spe­cif­ic exe­cu­tions of soft­ware con­cepts are pro­tect­ed under exist­ing copy­right law. What hap­pens under the hood is just dig­i­tal plumb­ing.
  2. Pro­hib­it “non-prac­tic­ing enti­ties” from own­ing patents. All patents should be assigned to either the actu­al inven­tors or to a com­pa­ny active­ly engaged in the busi­ness. Any oth­er own­er­ship is not in the best inter­ests of society–remember that we want to pro­vide incen­tives for only the cre­ation and exe­cu­tion of ideas.
  3. Elim­i­nate jury tri­als for patent cas­es. All patent lit­i­ga­tion should be resolved by a judge assist­ed by a pan­el of experts drawn from indus­try and acad­e­mia. I’ve served on a jury of my “peers,” and I can cer­ti­fy that nobody on that pan­el would have been qual­i­fied to eval­u­ate a sub­tle ques­tion about pro­gram­ming, engi­neer­ing, or pret­ty much any tech­ni­cal sub­ject. It pains me to imag­ine what the jury had to say about the inner work­ings of Java APIs dur­ing May’s Google-Ora­cle tri­al.

July 7, 2012 September 8, 2012 politics by Scott No Comments