America: Grabbed by the Pussy

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.

The Chance for Sanity

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.

18 Wheels

I just saw a Boston Globe article in which cycling advocacy groups are demanding that 18-wheel trucks be banned from the city after yet another cyclist fatality caused by a turning truck.

I think this is a great idea, but cycling safety shouldn’t be the only motivation. I have always been annoyed at how wasteful and ridiculous it is to have enormous diesel semis roaring through compact city streets to cover relatively short distances with small amounts of cargo. Starbucks uses 53′ trailers to deliver coffee and cups to their stores, for example. Really, you couldn’t do that with a lightweight van?

I’m sure that with all the construction in town, an absolute ban is not feasible, but there’s no reason we couldn’t head the direction of more progressive cities like Oslo and Paris by requiring that delivery vehicles get smaller, lighter, and more electric.

Running, away from home

This article about fitness in Cairo amused me. When I visited Egypt pre-revolution in 2008, I managed some runs along the Nile, which seemed like a perfectly obvious thing to do. I run everywhere I travel. But it’s true that everyone I passed stared at me as if perhaps I had just shoplifted.

There are other major cities where outdoor fitness pursuits still seem relatively uncommon, like Paris. But the scene there is changing too. I’m just surprised it has taken this long.

In Stereo

Why are all stereo components from every brand just over 17 inches wide? As the new owner of a 16.75 inch wide cabinet, that is a frustrating discovery. If you’ve ever taken apart a modern piece of stereo equipment, you’ll find it is mostly air. I’ve never seen a piece of solid-state Hi-Fi gear that comes anywhere close to using the full volume of its enclosure.

Did I mention that I want something simple for stereo speakers and a turntable. No 7-source HDMI switching with on-screen displays. No 40-channel surround sound. No “concert hall” echo effects. No 100-button remote control. FM radio would be nice.

I could just use another Sonos zone, but I really want something with a physical user interface. I know, I know: why do I hold on to such bygone concepts as volume knobs? And power switches?

I know volume knobs are obsolete. It’s obviously much more convenient to take a smartphone out of your pocket, unlock it with your passcode, navigate to the home screen, open an app, wait a few seconds while it connects, page to the volume screen, and adjust the sound from there.

The strange state of racism, sexism in 2016

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.”

Why not “Made in U.S.A.?”

Compass Bicycles: Why not “Made in U.S.A.?”

This article is a really thoughtful answer to a common question. It’s an interesting predicament for those (like me) who think we should build more things in America. And it offers further proof that the anti-globalization, anti-trade policies championed by many candidates in this year’s election–guilty parties include Trump, Cruz, and yes, Sanders–are a completely wrong and disastrous solution to the problem of declining industrial output.

On Microsoft-bashing

I just spent a few days at the Embedded Linux Conference. I get that it’s probably one of the largest communities of desktop Linux users assembled anywhere, but I am surprised to see that Microsoft-bashing is still a thing.

The fact is–and I don’t know how they’re doing it–Microsoft is firing on all cylinders these days. Windows 10 is actually really nice, to the point where it feels like a subtly colorful, human-centric breath of fresh air next to Mac OS X. They are increasingly embracing open standards, interoperability, and open source in surprising ways, while Apple and Google move the other direction.

Meanwhile, Linux as a desktop is still pretty terrible in 2016 for all but console-driven programmers. (I say this as a serious user of the Linux command line.)