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