Quotulatiousness

August 11, 2014

The science of “wine fingerprints”

Filed under: Science, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:27

Okay, the title of this post is a bit ahead of the facts: scientists are still developing ways to detect the differences in wine from various regions, but they think they’re on the right track.

Malbecs from Argentina and California made by the same winemaker and using the same protocol had distinct molecular signatures and flavours.

But the delicate aroma of a rare vintage can quickly be eroded by poor storage after bottling, the team said.

Details were reported at the American Chemical Society meeting.

Despite the cynicism over wine critique — and the rather grandiose adjectives lavished upon certain appellations — it really does matter where your plonk comes from, according to the researchers from the University of California Davis.

They are attempting to fingerprint “terroir” — the unique characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestows upon a wine.

Subjective regional character is based on the appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel (texture) of the wine — all of which combine to create its flavour.

But demand is growing for a more objective test — to help consumers bypass woolly terminology, protect artisan producers’ intellectual property, and help auction houses detect fraud — a growing problem.

August 7, 2014

Can you really call it a “cork” when it’s made of plastic?

Filed under: Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

I have to agree with Michael Pinkus on this issue: wines that are sealed with a synthetic cork really should carry a warning label or at least use a transparent capsule to avoid disappointment for the consumer. Fortunately, most of the wineries I favour have either stuck with traditional cork or have gone to steel closures, but I’ve had some unhappy experiences with Californian wine (and not always the cheap stuff) locked down under a blob of synthetic material.

The question I brought up in my post was why use a plastic cork in a knowingly ageable wine? First generation plastic, self-admitted by one of the leading synthetic manufacturer’s in the US, is for drink-now wines (at least within 3-4 years maximum); yet the Washington based Hedges is still claiming the possibility of 20 years. Now I am aware that better technology in synthetic is currently being studied and marketed to preserve bottles longer, but the fact still remains that a bottle closed in 2002 and opened in 2014 wasn’t given proper opportunity to age 5 years, let alone 20, based solely on choice of closure by the wine makers. But knowing what they know now about the older synthetics should not Hedges change their tune on their older bottles? Why stick by the 20 year number? It would be more appropriate to say: ‘you’d be very lucky for 20 years, or even 10, we recommend a maximum of 5 years.’

The Montreal-based writer, who took me to task, said that he did not approve of my anti-synthetic stance and said that I blamed the producer for a choice they made 12 years ago “as if they knew it would fail” over the long haul. He argued that taking into account the thinking of the time: that synthetic would do a better job and eliminate dreaded cork taint (TCA), I should give the producer a break. I’ll agree that maybe it is a little unfair of me to blame them for a decision they made 12 years ago; but what’s their excuse today? My demand NOW is to know what is sealing my bottles today.

A well-known and award winning winery here in Ontario used synthetic for their 2002-2005 vintage wines and consider it now to be “one of their worst mistakes ever”, once they realized their poor ageing ability. I recently dumped a number of their wines down the drain after discovering, and tasting, the wines I had in my cellar, sealed synthetically, and their marketing manager says he has done the very same with what he had considered, at the time of bottling, “some beautiful wines”. A popular, longtime wine writer and friend confided that upon noticing that this winery had moved to the synthetic closure said “my opinion of their wines was tainted”.

These are just two examples of industry insiders, from two sides of the industry (writing and marketing — each over 15 years in the business) knowingly making the decision against synthetic for long-term aging. So I know I’m not alone in my thinking; and where there is two in such close vicinity that means there are plenty more of us around the world.

July 19, 2014

California moves to pressure universities over sexual assault numbers

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:04

Ben Boychuk explains how California legislators are using their financial muscle to force colleges and universities to crack down on the epidemic of sexual assault in the state’s institutions of higher education. As we’re often told, women in university are at great risk of sexual assault — figures from one in four to one in five are often quoted — yet the universities are not punishing anywhere near that proportion of male students. To lawmakers, this is proof positive that university administrations are not taking the dangers seriously enough and they’re going to use all the tools at hand to force that to change.

[...] at a June hearing of the California State Assembly Higher Education and Joint Legislative Audit committees, chairman Das Williams couldn’t understand why the number of students disciplined for sexual misconduct was so low. A University of California at Berkeley administrator, for example, reported just 10 suspensions or expulsions out of 43 cases involving non-consensual sex over the last six years. How could that possibly be?

Williams, a Santa Barbara Democrat, concluded that the number of suspensions and expulsions of these alleged perpetrators of sexual violence had to increase. The consequences for student assailants are “not significant enough to act as a deterrent,” he warned — failing to consider that perhaps the problem of campus sexual violence isn’t as widespread as he’d been led to believe. In any event, Williams’s point was unmistakable: California’s universities had better start punishing more alleged offenders, or there will be consequences for the universities. And if administrators need a lower standard of proof to boost punishments, he and his colleagues would be more than happy to give it to them.

Williams is promising a slate of bills early next year that would mandate training for all university employees to respond to, and intervene to prevent, sexual assault, and, more significantly, to beef up punishments for alleged assailants. “Rape is a very difficult thing to prosecute,” he told the Sacramento Bee. Because most college disciplinary boards already use the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard — as opposed to the more rigorous “reasonable doubt” standard that criminal courts apply — “there is a real role that schools can play that law enforcement can’t.”

The reigning assumption in Sacramento — and Washington, D.C., for that matter — is that universities aren’t taking the problem of campus sexual assault seriously enough. A state audit released in June drew precisely that conclusion, and recommended that California’s state universities “do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence.” Every campus has a rape crisis center of some kind, with counselors on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every campus police department offers rape defense programs. “Take Back the Night” programs are ubiquitous. Is more training and “education” — meaning more bureaucracy — really the answer?

You can certainly understand the concern: with so many young women suffering (although not necessarily reporting the criminal acts), the universities must be literal predator paradises, as the sexual assault rate in the general population is so much lower than on campus (Heather Mac Donald noted that the sexual assault rate in New Orleans in 2012 was only .0234 percent, making it a far safer place for women than any Californian university).

July 12, 2014

Sriracha factory dispute – “THIS PROBLEM NEEDS TO BE TAKEN CARE OF NOW, NOT LATER!!!!!”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

Sriracha rooster sauceSriracha fans were relieved when the Huy Fong plant in California was allowed to re-open after a farcical ‘elf-and-safety’ shakedown (original story here). Reason‘s Zenon Evans has more on the behind-the-scenes bullshit that triggered the near-national panic among hot sauce consumers:

The public just got some new insight into one of the last year’s spiciest (and fishiest) political kerfuffles: the push by the city council of Irwindale, California to shut down Huy Fong Foods, the makers of Sriracha hot sauce. The tireless freedom-of-information requesters at MuckRock yesterday published internal council documents, revealing theatrically furious communication among the local government officials and a desire to exploit regulations to force the company into submission.

[...]

The newly revealed memos and emails show that some members of government were actually “happy to report the scent of chilies” emanating when production began in 2012, but, a year later Ortiz and Councilman David Fuentes, who also lived near the factory (and also ultimately recused himself from the matter), saw a total shutdown as the first and only appropriate course of action.

“I just received notice that the odor at this place is very strong. We must proceed with SHUT DOWN immediately,” demanded Ortiz in an email, despite the fact that he had previously applauded how much safer that part of town had become since the $80 million business moved in.

Fuentes was even more adamant. “THIS PROBLEM NEEDS TO BE TAKEN CARE OF NOW, NOT LATER!!!!!,” he emailed his fellow council members in October. Notably, he also suggested that “if we need to shut them down for non compliance, then let’s do what we have to do.”

Although it’s not clear exactly what Fuentes meant by “non compliance” or if the council made moves based on his plot, the city did sue Huy Fong and got a judge to order a partial shutdown in November, even though that the judge acknowledged a “lack of credible evidence” regarding the health risk claims. Likewise, California’s health regulators stepped in and changed their own food rules in December as they demanded a 30-day hold on operations, which created fear of a national Sriracha shortage.

June 11, 2014

LA court delivers a major blow against tenure for teachers in California

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:14

The Los Angeles Times on yesterday’s decision:

Teachers union officials denounced a ruling Tuesday by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge deeming job protections for teachers in California as unconstitutional as a misguided attack on teachers and students.

The ruling represents a major loss for the unions and a groundbreaking win by attorneys who argued that state laws governing teacher layoffs, tenure and dismissals harm students by making them more likely to suffer from grossly ineffective instruction.

If the preliminary ruling becomes final and is upheld, the effect will be sweeping across California and possibly the nation.

Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled, in effect, that it was too easy for teachers to gain strong job protections and too difficult to dismiss those who performed poorly in the classroom. If the ruling stands, California will have to craft new rules for hiring and firing teachers.

[...]

The Silicon Valley-based group Students Matter brought the lawsuit on behalf of nine students, contending that five laws hindered the removal of ineffective teachers.

The result, attorneys for the plaintiffs said, is a workforce with thousands of “grossly ineffective” teachers, disproportionately hurting low-income and minority students. As a result, the suit argued, the laws violated California’s constitution, which provides for equal educational opportunity.

The laws were defended by the state of California and the two largest teacher unions — the California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers. Their attorneys countered that it is not the laws but poor management that is to blame for districts’ failing to root out incompetent instructors.

May 29, 2014

Mass murder as performance art

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:21

Kevin Williamson on the most recent mass killing:

Mass murders on the Elliot Rodger model are not a modern thing; we all know the story of Columbine, but the worst school slaughter in American history happened in 1927 in Michigan. Nor are they a gun thing; that Michigan massacre required no firearms, and neither did the crimes of Timothy McVeigh. They are not a “white privilege” thing, soiled as I feel for being obliged to write the words “white privilege”; the worst such massacre in recent U.S. history was carried out by a Korean-born American. They are not a male thing; Brenda Spencer’s explanation of her shooting spree in San Diego inspired the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.” They are not an American thing; Anders Breivik of Norway carried out the largest mass murder in modern history, though it is possible that Beijing’s Tian Mingjian killed more; Europe, the Americas, and Asia have experienced roughly comparable numbers of mass murders, with the Asian numbers slightly ahead of the rest. They are not an ideological thing; mass murders sometimes issue manifestos, but they are generally incoherent and shallow. The phenomenon of mass killings has little to do with race, sex, politics, economics, or the availability of legal firearms. Such episodes are primarily an act of theater.

[...]

Elliot Rodger’s family was in relatively difficult financial circumstances, though relatively must be emphasized. His father was the assistant director of The Hunger Games, and the young man was apparently proud of his BMW coupe, but his family’s financial position was modest by Hollywood standards. Through his family, Rodger enjoyed some enviable social connections, but could not achieve the connection he desired, a romantic one. His was an individualism suffered as a burden. In another century, his life might have been given some structure by the church or by his extended family, or simply by the fundamental struggle to feed and shelter himself, which was the organizing principle of the great majority of human lives for millennia. Modernity sets us free, but it does not offer any answer to the question, “Free to do what?”

Art, particularly theater, has for a long time helped to answer that question. What we see on stage, however far removed from our own experience, is an intensified version of our own lives. The Mass is, if nothing else, an act of theater, but it is also the case, as Mikhail Bakunin wrote, that “the passion for destruction is a creative passion.” It is not mere coincidence that so many mass murderers, from the Columbine killers to McVeigh, imagine themselves to be instigators of revolution, or that their serial-killer cousins so often think of themselves as artists. Their delusions are pathetic, but they are not at all alien to common human experience. That they so often end in suicide is not coincidence, either. Their rampages are at once a quest for significance and a final escape from significance and its burdens. Whatever particular motive such killers cite is secondary at best. The killing itself is the point — it is not a means to some other end.

May 25, 2014

Our modern tendency is to blame anyone and anything but the murderer

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:04

Brendan O’Neill on the Santa Barbara murders:

The bodies in Santa Barbara were barely cold before feminist clicktivists were exploiting this horrendous mass murder to boost their campaign against sexist trolling and online misogyny. The revelation that the shooter, Elliot Rodger, was a visitor to those saddo-packed ‘men’s rights’ websites, and had produced a badly written 140-page screed about how much he hated women for showing no interest in him, was all that the victim-feminist lobby needed: within minutes it was saying that Rodger’s outpourings and actions confirm that we need to ‘stamp out misogyny’. He is no ‘mere glitch in the system’, they claimed, but rather the ‘product’ of a society that apparently hates women.

Let’s leave aside the fact that this kind of argument is indistinguishable from the blue-rinse, conservative insistence that violent movies make men into maniacs or that saucy novels churn out real-world rapists. Truly are radical feminists the heirs to the backward Mary Whitehouse view of human beings as the amoeba-like products of their cultural surrounds, in this case of sexist websites — a view which not only treats us all as easily brainwashed by movies and literature but, even worse, lessens actual killers’ and rapists’ responsibility for their actions by depicting them as simply the warped end products of big, bad culture. More pointedly, the reading of profound social meaning into losers’ and loners’ manifestos gives way too much credence to these individuals, overlooking the fact that more often than not they are simply grasping for a serious-sounding reason for their already existing desire to commit a crime and cause hurt.

Everyone with a cause seems to jump on events like this to push their favourite agenda: the gun control folks are also frothing that “better” gun controls would have prevented the murders (yet California already has most of the rules they demand, and the shooter got his weapons legally). Blame the guns. Blame the “men’s rights” movement. Blame video games (you know people are busy searching right now to see if the shooter played any video games at all). Blame anything except the severely disturbed mind of the shooter.

Update, 26 May. According to this slightly OTT summary, even the basic facts of the case were already being “manipulated” to further particular agendas:

Let’s examine the true facts.

- Fact: 6 people were murdered, not 7. The 7th “victim” was the chicken sh!t murderer offing himself.
- Fact: Only 2 of the 6 victims were killed by gunfire. 3 of them were stabbed to death and 1 was killed with the murder’s car.
- Fact: Only 2 of the murder victims were female, the other 4 were male.
- Fact: The magazines found in the coward’s possession were all CA legal 10 round magazines. Not the heinous, world ending “high capacity” magazines the antis attribute so much death and destruction to.
- Fact: All three handguns (note, no evil assault rifle that is the scourge of humanity) the murderer had in his possession were all legally purchased by him in CA, despite the ludicrously stringent gun laws in this state. Despite the 10 day waiting period, despite the extensive background checks, despite the state wide handgun registry, despite the “prohibited persons” database, despite the fact that he went through all the steps the anti-gunners claim they want to save lives, he was able to purchase his guns legally.

But that is just The Daily Beast, hardly a reputable news source. So, let’s take a look at what Jessica Valenti, a writer at the beacon of honest news, the Guardian, had to say. According to her, it was not his mental illness that is to blame. No, we cannot blame that because that would be a “mistake” and would only serve to stigmatize other mentally ill people. Instead, she blames the “gun culture” and “misogyny”. Yes, the war on women! Of course, why did I not see that? I’m so stupid. Then she quotes some female artist, whom I have never heard of, who incorrectly labeled this incident terrorism in a tweet. Where to start?

Well, first of all, I must point out, that not only were more of the murdered victims male than female (2-1 ratio in fact), he also made threats to kill men in his videos and “manifesto” (ie: written rantings of a psycho), but since that does not bolster her point, she conveniently ignores that. As for the “gun culture” involvement in this crime, since the majority of the victims of this incident were not killed with guns (again, 2-1 ratio were killed with non-guns), blaming the “gun culture” is just another false flag.

May 24, 2014

The technological democratization of law enforcement and the rise of “Little Brother”

Filed under: Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:44

If you care about your privacy, you’re equally worried about the intrusive surveillance state and the unconstrained snooping of corporations. You may now need to worry about your snoopy neighbours also getting in on the act, as Declan McCullagh explains on Google+. This is a response to someone on a private mailing list for Silicon Valley folks, who said that he had no issue with automated collection of license plate data:

Tomorrow one of your PV [Portola Valley] neighbors will set up a computer-connected camera on private property and aimed at the street. It records all those “plates exposed” going by and, by doing optical character recognition with free software such as ANPR MX (C# code, BSD-licensed), it records every time a car goes by. The DMV will happily provide drivers’ names based on the license plate*; there’s even a process for “bulk quantities” of data.** That information doesn’t include a home address, but that’s easy to come by through other searches.

Then the neighbor launches PVPeopleTracker.com. It updates in real time showing whenever someone is at home, and marks their house in bright red if they’re gone on an extended trip. If there are odd patterns of movement compared to a baseline — perhaps suspicious late-night outings — those can be flagged as well. Any visitor to PVPeopleTracker.com can sign up for handy free email alerts reporting at what time their targeted house becomes vacant each weekday morning. Other network-linked cameras in PV can supplement the PVPeopleTracker.com database, so that everyone driving in town will have their movements monitored, archived, and publicly visible at all times.

With more than one network-linked camera separated by a known distance by roads with known speed limits, it would be simple to calculate speeding violations and send automated alerts, with MP4 videos attached as evidence, to the sheriff and CHP. PVPeopleTracker.com can also be cross-referenced against databases showing, say, marijuana convictions; if your movement profile matches a known drug trafficker, law enforcement can be alerted. (Sorry about those false positives!)

April 4, 2014

“Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them”

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

In Slate, Will Saletan digs through the data to find the next set of targets:

Some of my colleagues are celebrating. They call Eich a bigot who got what he deserved. I agree. But let’s not stop here. If we’re serious about enforcing the new standard, thousands of other employees who donated to the same anti-gay ballot measure must be punished.

More than 35,000 people gave money to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that declared, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” You can download the entire list, via the Los Angeles Times, as a compressed spreadsheet. (Click the link that says, “Download CSV.”) Each row lists the donor’s employer. If you organize the data by company, you can add up the total number of donors and dollars that came from people associated with that company.

The first thing you’ll notice, if you search for Eich, is that he’s the only Mozilla employee who gave to the campaign for Prop 8. His $1,000 was more than canceled out by three Mozilla employees who donated to the other side.

The next thing you’ll notice is that other companies, including other tech firms, substantially outscored Mozilla in pro-Prop 8 contributions attributed to their employees. That includes Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo, as well as Disney, DreamWorks, Gap, and Warner Bros.

Thirty-seven companies in the database are linked to more than 1,300 employees who gave nearly $1 million in combined contributions to the campaign for Prop 8. Twenty-five tech companies are linked to 435 employees who gave more than $300,000. Many of these employees gave $1,000 apiece, if not more. Some, like Eich, are probably senior executives.

Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them.

Welcome to the church of SSM militant

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:20

A National Review editorial on the Mozilla CEO’s short tenure after being outed as a supporter of a Californian anti-SSM ballot initiative:

In 2008, Barack Obama and Brendan Eich both were against gay marriage. Senator Obama averred his support for the one-man/one-woman view of marriage, while Mr. Eich, a cofounder of the Mozilla web-browser company, donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 — a California ballot initiative that had the effect of making Senator Obama’s avowed marriage policy the law in California, at least until a federal court overturned it on the theory that California’s constitution is unconstitutional. Barack Obama inexplicably remains, as of this writing, president of the United States of America, but Mr. Eich has just been forced out as CEO of Mozilla because of his political views.

The various tendencies that operate under the general heading of “gay rights” have had an extraordinary run of it in the past several years, in both the political and the cultural theaters. We now have a constitutional right to commit homosexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas), while Facebook offers at last count 56 different gender options to its users (trans with or without asterisk, genderqueer, neutrois, and two-spirit among them). Having won the battle in California, the sore winners are roaming the battlefield with bayonets and taking no prisoners. Mr. Eich’s donation had been a matter of public record for some years, but Eros is a jealous god, and he will have blood from time to time. Mr. Eich’s elevation to the chief executive’s position provided occasion for critics within his firm and without to make an example of him.

[...]

Again, it is in this case a matter of culture. The nation’s full-time gay-rights professionals simply will not rest until a homogeneous and stultifying monoculture is settled upon the land, and if that means deploying a ridiculous lynch mob to pronounce anathema upon a California technology executive for private views acted on in his private life, then so be it. The gay agenda of the moment is, ironically enough, to force nonconformists into the metaphorical closet. If through the miracle of modern medicine you end up with five sets of mixed genitals, you’ll get your own section in the California civil-rights statutes; cling to nearly universal views about marriage for a few months after it’s become unfashionable, and you’re an untouchable.

Unless, that is, you’re the anti-gay-marriage candidate that all the pro-gay-marriage people voted for in 2008, in which case you get a pass, apparently on the theory that everybody assumed you were being willfully dishonest for political reasons. (That assumption provides a relatively rare point of agreement between homosexual activists and the editors of this magazine.) There simply is to be no disagreement, no dissent, and no tolerance for other points of view.

Update: In Time, Nick Gillespie says there’s both good and bad aspects of this event.

Welcome to the brave new world of socially conscious… web-browsing. In the past, consumers might patronize certain businesses (Whole Foods, say, or Ben & Jerry’s) whose stated missions extended beyond increasing shareholder value and avoided others that might have politically objectionable CEOs or reputations for being anti-abortion (Domino’s Pizza, say) or public positions opposed to certain forms of birth control (Hobby Lobby, for instance). Now we’re boycotting free products such as Firefox and demanding companies dance to the tune called by customers. I think that’s a good thing overall — but it may end up being just as difficult for consumers to live with as it will be for corporations.

Whether you care about gay marriage or politically correct web experiences, Eich’s resignation shows how businesses respond to market signals. “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech,” writes Mitchell Baker, the organization’s executive chairwoman, in announcing Eich’s stepping down. “And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

Just as the Internet has empowered consumers to find cheaper prices, more-extensive reviews, and a wider variety of goods than ever before, it’s also made it easier for them to call out companies for all sorts of dastardly actions, screw-ups, and problems. I like that OKCupid’s intervention wasn’t a call for government action to limit people’s choices or ban something. Indeed, OKCupid didn’t even block Firefox users from its site — rather, it politely asked them to consider getting to the site via a different browser.

March 25, 2014

Tech culture and ageism

Filed under: Business, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

Noam Scheiber examines the fanatic devotion to youth in (some parts of) the high tech culture:

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’”

Investors have also become addicted to the youth movement:

The economics of the V.C. industry help explain why. Investing in new companies is fantastically risky, and even the best V.C.s fail a large majority of the time. That makes it essential for the returns on successes to be enormous. Whereas a 500 percent return on a $2 million investment (or “5x,” as it’s known) would be considered remarkable in any other line of work, the investments that sustain a large V.C. fund are the “unicorns” and “super-unicorns” that return 100x or 1,000x — the Googles and the Facebooks.

And this is where finance meets what might charitably be called sociology but is really just Silicon Valley mysticism. Finding themselves in the position of chasing 100x or 1,000x returns, V.C.s invariably tell themselves a story about youngsters. “One of the reasons they collectively prefer youth is because youth has the potential for the black swan,” one V.C. told me of his competitors. “It hasn’t been marked down to reality yet. If I was at Google for five years, what’s the chance I would be a black swan? A lot lower than if you never heard of me. That’s the collective mentality.”

Some of the corporate cultures sound more like playgroups than workgroups:

Whatever the case, the veneration of youth in Silicon Valley now seems way out of proportion to its usefulness. Take Dropbox, which an MIT alumnus named Drew Houston co-founded in 2007, after he got tired of losing access to his files whenever he forgot a thumb drive. Dropbox quickly caught on among users and began to vacuum up piles of venture capital. But the company has never quite outgrown its dorm-room vibe, even now that it houses hundreds of employees in an 85,000-square-foot space. Dropbox has a full-service jamming studio and observes a weekly ritual known as whiskey Fridays. Job candidates have complained about being interviewed in conference rooms with names like “The Break-up Room” and the “Bromance Chamber.” (A spokesman says the names were recently changed.)

Once a year, Houston, who still wears his chunky MIT class ring, presides over “Hack Week,” during which Dropbox headquarters turns into the world’s best-capitalized rumpus room. Employees ride around on skateboards and scooters, play with Legos at all hours, and generally tool around with whatever happens to interest them, other than work, which they are encouraged to set aside. “I’ve been up for about forty hours working on Dropbox Jeopardy,” one engineer told a documentarian who filmed a recent Hack Week. “It’s close to nearing insanity, but it feels worth it.”

It’s safe to say that the reigning sensibility at Dropbox has conquered more or less every corner of the tech world. The ping-pong playing can be ceaseless. The sexual mores are imported from college—“They’ll say something like, ‘This has been such a long day. I have to go out and meet some girls, hook up tonight,’ ” says one fortysomething consultant to several start-ups. And the vernacular is steroidally bro-ish. Another engineer in his forties who recently worked at a crowdsourcing company would steel himself anytime he reviewed a colleague’s work. “In programming, you need a throw-away variable,” the engineer explained to me. “So you come up with something quick.” With his co-workers “it would always be ‘dong’ this, ‘dick’ that, ‘balls’ this.”

There’s also the blind spot about having too many youth-focussed firms in the same market:

The most common advice V.C.s give entrepreneurs is to solve a problem they encounter in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the problems the average 22-year-old male programmer has experienced are all about being an affluent single guy in Northern California. That’s how we’ve ended up with so many games (Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Crappy Bird) and all those apps for what one start-up founder described to me as cooler ways to hang out with friends on a Saturday night.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

February 17, 2014

Ultra-progressive agenda to fix California’s woes

Filed under: Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:06

Let’s be clear: parts of California are doing fantastically well, but other portions of the state are suffering disproportionally. Here are a few suggested legislative fixes to redress the inequalities of life faced by too many disadvantaged people in the state:

2. The Undocumented Immigrant Equity Act

The “I am Juan too Act” would assess all California communities by U.S. Census data to ascertain average per-household income levels as well as diversity percentages. Those counties assessed on average in the top 10% bracket of the state’s per-household income level, and which do not reflect the general ethnic make-up of the state, would be required to provide low-income housing for undocumented immigrants, who by 2020 would by law make up not less than 20% of such targeted communities’ general populations.

There are dozens of empty miles, for example, along the 280 freeway corridor from Palo Alto to Burlingame — an ideal place for high-density, low-income housing, served by high-speed rail. Aim: One, to achieve economic parity for undocumented immigrants by allowing them affordable housing in affluent areas where jobs are plentiful, wages are high, and opportunities exist for mentorships; and, two, to ensure cultural diversity among the non-diverse host community, bringing it into compliance with the state’s ethnic profile.

[...]

4. The Silicon Valley Transparency and Fair Jobs Act

This “Google Good Citizen Act” would set up a regional board to monitor commerce in the San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara tri-county area. The state regulatory commission would monitor offshore investment, outsourcing, and unionization. All commercial entities, with over 100 employees, would be in violation and face state fines if: 1) the number of a firm’s employees overseas accounted for 10% or more of the workforce currently employed within the tri-county Silicon Valley area; 2) more than 1% of the current capitalization of a Silicon Valley company were deposited in banks outside the United States; and 3) more than 50% of a tri-county company’s workforce were non-union. Aim: To ensure progressive Silicon Valley commercial businesses are caring progressive state citizens.

5. The California Firearms Safety Act

The “No Guns for Grandees Act” would forbid private security details to be armed with handguns or semi-automatic long guns. It would allow private security personnel to be armed only with paintball, BB or pellet guns. Aim: To prevent unnecessary armed deterrence by private security units in the hire of the affluent.

6. The Fair Housing Adjustment Act

The “Everywhere an Atherton Act” would tax all private residential square footage in excess of 1800 square feet at four times the current per square foot assessment. Aim: It would ensure state resources are equally distributed and not inordinately siphoned off to a small minority of the state population. Would encourage existing large homes to downsize through reverse remodeling.

February 10, 2014

A “Dumb” parody that Starbucks finds unamusing

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:23

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this “parody” of a Starbucks shop is too similar to the real thing and that it would be easy for someone to think they were buying “the real thing” at this store:

A store labeled as “Dumb Starbucks,” using the Starbucks corporate logo and bearing an almost identical look to an actual Starbucks, opened up in Los Feliz on Friday, according to employees.

It was open until about 6 p.m. Saturday and drinks were free as part of what a barista called a “grand opening.”

The coffee shop reopened again Sunday morning and coffee was again free. Dozens of people could be seen waiting in line to get in.

Messages left with people associated with “Dumb Starbucks” seeking comment have not been returned. Messages left with Starbucks Corporation have also not been returned.

The menu was limited.

On Sunday, there still was no business license or health code rating posted in the establishment. The baristas said they were hired from Craigslist.

Despite the popularity, customers seemed confused about what exactly was going on.

“I saw online that there was a Dumb Starbucks sign. One of my friends posted about it, and I live across the street, so I just walked over,” Jonathan Brown told KPCC. He described it as “weirdly off-kilter,” with everything looking like a regular Starbucks except for the word “dumb” in front of it.

Their “FAQ” posting shows that they’re aware that this ploy may not be lawyer-proof:

Dumb Starbucks FAQ

Update, 11 February: The prank is revealed to be the work of Nathan Fielder.

Mr Fielder appeared in person at the store to make the announcement, where he said there are plans to open a second outlet in Brooklyn, New York.

There had been widespread speculation that the store, which uses Starbucks’ trademarks, was a publicity stunt.

Starbucks said they were aware of the store but denied any affiliation.

“We are evaluating next steps and while we appreciate the humour, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement.

December 21, 2013

Overzealous regulators create nationwide Sriracha shortage

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:56

Baylen Linnekin on the latest attempt to be safer-than-safe in food regulation:

Sriracha rooster sauceLast week California health regulators ordered the makers of Sriracha hot sauce to suspend operations for 30 days. The 30-day hold comes despite the fact the product has been on the market for more than three decades and that “no recall has been ordered and no pathogenic bacteria have been found[.]”

So what’s the issue?

The problem, reports the Pasadena Star News, is that Sriracha is a raw food.

“Because Sriracha is not cooked, only mashed and blended, Huy Fong needs to make sure its bottles won’t harbor dangerous bacteria,” writes the Star News.

Aren’t three decades of sales sufficient proof of that fact?

“The regulations outlining this process have been in existence for years,” writes California health department official Anita Gore, in a statement she sent to L.A. Weekly, “but the modified production requirements were established for the firm this year.”

In other words, the state changed the rules of the game.

October 31, 2013

A garage of historical significance

Filed under: History, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:28

In The Register, a remarkably blasé report on the designation of the house where Jobs and Wozniak created the first Apple computers:

The house where Steve Jobs built his first computers has been added to a list of historic buildings in Los Altos.

The Los Altos Historical Commission voted unanimously to add the home at 2066 Crist Drive as a historic resources, since its hallowed garage was where Jobs made his first computers and co-founded Apple, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The commission’s report said that it had been reviewing the property for potential designation for the past two years due to its “association with an event and an individual of historic significance”.

From other discussion on the topic, this will require the current owner of the property (Patricia Jobs, the sister of the late Steve Jobs) to get the commission’s advance permission to do any kind of work on the house … including ordinary maintenance. No funds from the municipality go along with this designation: once your house has been so designated, you no longer exercise full rights of ownership, but you still are required to pay for any work the commission deems necessary or desirable. Ms Jobs apparently still has a right to appeal, but I don’t know what her chances of success might be.

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