Monthly Archives: April 2014

Silicon Valley’s executive cartel

Why did the CEOs of several major tech companies get away with agreeing to a no-poaching pact — and thereby suppressing the potential wages of their employees – for so long? New York’s Kevin Roose is convinced that the very tech workers who would have otherwise complained sooner were lulled into inaction by their own privilege and high pay, unable to rally the kind of outrage that would have been sparked if such anti-worker tactics had been enlisted in industries with more working class earners:

What makes tech different from other industries is that its workers are often so privileged that they don’t notice they’re getting the shaft. Even when they do, many engineers feel guilty advocating for more money, which is why events like this “Startup Equity Rally” in March almost always fall flat. (Keep in mind, also, that this guilt is partly deliberately cultivated by the executive class – the original impetus for giving tech employees over-the-top perks, after all, was to keep them from unionizing.) But high tech salaries and plentiful perks don’t make the executives’ advantage-taking any more ethical.

Are Macs less intuitive than Apple fans would have you believe?

Whenever you work in any facet of the tech industry, you’re often looked at in derision if you dare to walk into a room and open up a PC laptop. In many cases you’ll be the only PC in a sea of Macs, and you can feel your hipness level quickly fading until you’re half expecting the jocks from Revenge of the Nerds to come running in to deliver a fusillade of wedgies.

But as someone who has spent a good bit of time with both Macs and PCs (I’ve always purchased PCs for personal use while I use a MacBook Pro at work), I couldn’t help but nod along while reading of Austin Powell’s struggle to adapt to his new Macbook Air after a lifetime of PC use:

It takes a while to find your rhythm on any new keyboard, granted, but at this rate I’d have better luck tracking down Satoshi Nakamoto. It’s as if I’ve suffered a stroke and am having to learn to type all over again—slowly typing and pounding the space bar to ensure each key takes. It’s maddening. I was almost better off when two letters were broken. At least then I had both backspace and delete buttons to work with, and I wasn’t getting tripped up by this “command” function.

I’ve spent the last few days at work as a walking “Explain Like I’m Five”Reddit thread, seeking counsel on the simplest of matters: “How do I get all of this junk off of the navigation bar?” “How do I make an em dash?” “What’s the Mac equivalent of ‘msconfig’?” It’s humiliating.

What I’ve come to realize is that many of the things that millennials consider innate simply aren’t.

Kara Swisher: “Every day, the blogosphere is getting better and print media is getting worse”

A lot of people are making hay over Recode founder Kara Swisher’s remarks that Google is a “thuggish company” (the quote made notable by the fact that her wife is a Googler), but I found her defense of tech bloggers who operate outside the mainstream media to be equally fascinating:

Do you really think these media giants are threatened by you? 
People are worried about what’s goingto happen to journalism—and they should be. Every day, the blogosphere is getting better and print media is getting worse; you have to be an idiot not to see that. The fact that we’re still arguing it is comical. It’s like arguing gay marriage: I’ve had it. It’s done, you’re wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What do you make of the argument that online tech journalism is too close to its subject?
As soon as you tell me what the ethical problem is, I will be happy to answer. But the “problem” seems to be that the journalist has some say in the business. That doesn’t mean that they’re selling ads or writing nice stories to be nicer to advertisers. That’s bullshit—nobody does that.

But some people do.
Of course. But the good people don’t. Why do we have to get pilloried for other people’s behavior? I’m not responsible for the people who cut corners. I wish that they didn’t, but it’s not what we do. The new meme is that tech journalists are too in bed with their sources. It’s the nature of journalism to need to be close to your subjects. And either you’re able to be tough on them, which a lot of us are, or you get in bed with them, and some people do. I just don’t think it’s new.

The fall of the independent blog

I remember the days, in the early 2000s, when many of the blogs that populated the Technorati Top 100 — a then-highly-regarded blog popularity ranking — were made up of independent, single author blogs, many of which focused on tech or politics. But starting sometime around 2008, many who would have otherwise started their own blogs found it more convenient to write for sites with already-established audiences (like Huffington Post) or were hired by actual mainstream news organizations. Millions more found the sharing and publishing capabilities of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to be more than adequate and so didn’t bother with the arduous task of maintaining their own blogs. Though there are still lots of independent bloggers today, the web has lost a good portion of its decentralized nature as users congregated onto platforms owned by massive corporations that had ultimate control over the kind of content published and could determine anything you wrote to suddenly be in violation of their terms of service and promptly delete it (Anil Dash famously catalogued this movement in The Web We Lost).

Dan Gillmor, writing for Slate, profiles a growing movement of techies who are trying to re-decentralize the web, building open source tools that, while compatible with social media platforms, return much of the power back to the user:

Amber Case, one of the Indie Web creators, was drawn to the idea because the Internet had become “a claustrophobic space where all I could do was consume, with barriers to building and owning.” She saw a new generation of Web users who’d never registered a domain name and weren’t even aware of what was possible.

That happened, in part, because “Twitter and Facebook showed an easier path to creating online,” says Aaron Pareki, another Indie Web organizer. “The original vision was everyone has their own space and made things. Then the silos formed and attracted people because it was easier.”

Washington Post fact checks GOP claims that there’s a net increase in uninsured, finds them false

It’s become a common refrain in GOP circles to claim that the success of Obamacare’s enrollment numbers are anything but due to the number of insurance cancellations in 2013 outnumbering new signups on the exchange. While there aren’t strong data on the number of cancellations due to Obamacare vs the typical churn in the individual insurance market, several health care wonks have offered analysis saying that cancellations due solely to Obamacare were minimal at best. This hasn’t stopped the GOP from continuing to inflate cancellation numbers in order to negate any positive effect Obamacare has had on insurance signups. The Washington Post fact checkers slapped down one Congressmen in particular who conveniently went silent when asked to provide numbers to back up his claims:

Members of Congress have a responsibility to be factual and accurate, especially when speaking to constituents about federal policies. But as far as we can tell, in at least two instances Huelskamp simply invented his claim that “numbers” exist showing that “there are more people uninsured today in Kansas” since the health-care law was implemented. Not only are there no up-to-date data, but the available figures concerning young adults and exchange enrollments provide good evidence that the law has led to a decrease in the number of uninsured.

Huelskamp can be as big as critic of the law as he wants, but he’s not entitled to conjure phony facts out of thin air.