In Defense of Email

One of the “first world problems” that I seem to hear most often, but understand the least, is people who complain about email: getting too much of it, how it’s a waste of time, interpreting it, the list of complaints goes on. Usually, the people making this argument are selling something (like, say, an enterprise chat solution) or relying on email for something it’s not as useful for (like a substitution for a verbal discussion). So allow me make the counterargument: email is great. Email was literally the first thing humans used networked computers for and it is the ur-example of how open standards truly power the internet.

Unfortunately, this is also why I am increasingly dubious about the centralization of global email platforms, particularly Gmail, which threaten this model for how email works.

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The History of the Future

You cannot separate “history” from how history is done. This makes intuitive sense to anyone who thinks about it, but is easy to forget when you think of “history” as something that’s already known, as opposed to a field where there is lots of new research, discoveries, and re-interpretations of all manner of things that everyone thought they already knew. The methodologies used to do historical research have a direct impact on what we are able to draw from that research. This has me thinking a lot about how “doing history” in the future is going to be dramatically different than it is today, with big implications for whose stories are preserved and understood.

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Top Talent and HQ2

A popular parlor game around the Raleigh/Durham area of late, like in many other cities, has been handicapping our region’s chances of being picked for Amazon’s HQ2. My guess is that we’re in the top 3 or 4 cities, but hey, who knows? There are lots of pro/con positions for Raleigh (which really means the whole Research Triangle region): ex. available office space plus plenty of room to expand and good housing inventory, but a paucity of public transport. It’s a fun exercise to go back and forth on.

Yet one factor looms above the others, and it’s a persistent source of insecurity by the not just the Raleigh/Durham metro, but dozens of others around the country: the local availability of “top talent.” Specifically, this criticism says that the region in question does not have access to a global pool of people who can run or lead a major corporation. Since people run companies, not being able to tap that pool is a kiss of death. Fin.

The genius behind Thiel’s famous interview question, “what do you believe that no one else does?” is that it reveals where a person sees opportunity. It’s awfully hard to build something new and valuable if you only hold consensus views, after all. So here’s one of mine: 90% of consensus ideas about “talent,” including the one above, are utter nonsense. It’s both a self-serving criticism by Ascelaland devotees and implicitly relies on a whole theory of “talent” that is logically inconsistent and perpetuates a toxic and reductive view of what humans can do.

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My go-to jambalaya recipe

Throw the following things in a slow cooker, in more or less this order:

  • 2 lbs of chicken. If raw, cut into pieces; I like to just throw full frozen breasts in and cut/shred them up after a couple of hours
  • 1 package (12 oz) of cooked chicken sausage
  • 1 can (28 oz) of diced tomatoes
  • 1.5 cup of chicken broth
  • 1 chopped-up green pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 2 ribs of cut up celery
  • a bunch of garlic (to me, this means ~5 cloves)
  • 2 chopped jalapenos (substitute habanero if you’re brave)
  • Seasoning (to me, this means some salt, pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, dried basil or parsley, or whatever else I can find
  • (a little bit of white wine if you’re into that)

Cook on low for ~8 hours, give or take an hour. It’ll smell amazing.

THEN, throw in about 2 lbs of uncooked, peeled/deveined shrimp for about 20 minutes or until they’re pink. You can also just cook them in a pan and toss them in separately. I mean, whatever you want, it’s jambalaya.

Pour all of that over some brown rice and get to eating. Makes enough for at least several meals for the week.

Cost: Your shrimp and chicken are the big cost drivers. You can cut the shrimp if you want, but jambalaya without shrimp is just sort of chicken & sausage stew. It costs me about $30 at my local grocery store, but for the number of meals you get, it’s a total deal.

Facebook and data sovereignty

The transatlantic controversy over Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal is really just starting to unfold. I have no doubt that in the coming days/weeks/months, similar stories will emerge of other third-party applications that have inappropriately saved, shared or misused Facebook user data – CA is far from the first (or last) to do so, however egregiously.

While a lot of the attention right now is around possible regulation of Big Tech (which is good), the underlying issues at play are actually much bigger and more fundamental. Particularly for us in the United States, the fundamental questions are about personal data, our notions of privacy, and how (or whether) we want to prepare legally for the next couple of decades. And I fear that, already, policymakers are thinking much too small about the role of data sovereignty and the balance of power between citizens and a tiny number of corporations that control the information our societies run on.

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The Bread and Circuses of Space Exploration

(This is a re-write of a much earlier post of mine on Medium.)

I’m going to write something shocking here that I need to prepare you for first. Bear in mind that this comes from a total sci-fi geek – I have, at various times in my life, owned not only a toy phaser, but a tricorder and communicator to boot. I have seen every episode of Star Trek ever made (really) and love Battlestar Galactica. I can have an informed discussion about the relative merits of visions of the future embodied by the Foundation series, the Culture, or the Hegemony of Man. I love this stuff.

Yet any way I approach it, one conclusion seems inevitable: manned spaceflight is mostly a waste of resources, and we should put a stop to it. Hear me out.

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Building Products for the Enterprise is live!

I’m thrilled to announce that Building Products for the Enterprise is now on sale on Amazon. Ebook versions can be downloaded immediately, and hard copies have begun shipping:

We’re authors!

Ben and I wrote this book because we thought it needed to be written. In it, we’ve tried to make a worthwhile contribution to the product management literature out there. We hope you agree that it lives up to that goal. If you do, would you mind leaving a good review? They help. Thanks a lot!

We’re outta here

As I mentioned on Twitter the other week, our family is leaving New York City and going home to North Carolina. Our plan was to try living here for a year or two, and we’ve done that now. We bought a house back in the Triangle (that’s the Raleigh/Durham area for anyone unaware) for a small fraction of what a crappy 1BR costs anywhere in the New York metro area, and we’ll be there for the foreseeable future.

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Losing Faith

One of the biggest cultural megatrends happening in America today also happens to be the least-reported: American Christianity is collapsing.

While 61% of the white population 65 and older identifies as mainline Protestant or Catholic (and 26% of those as “evangelical”), only 22% of those 18-29 do. There is a steady and sustained shift towards identification as “Nones” – respondents who report no affinity for a given faith, or indeed, any faith at all.

This tracks with a lot of prior research that demonstrates that younger Americans are increasingly turning away from traditionally organized religion. And while many of these people do report being “spiritual” in less traditional ways (professing belief in an abstract higher power and/or praying daily, for example), more than a third do not. In fact, there’s research that suggests that as many as 10-20% of Americans are actually atheists, and simply eschew the term because of stigma.

It’s not axe-grinding to observe that the core of those self-professed Christians who remain are, on the whole, generally more ideological than in the past. Indeed, the term “Christian” itself has taken on a distinct and recognizably political tone in the culture, rather than as primarily a rubric of moral guidance. A perfect example of this is the arc between two generations of leadership in American Christianity: the late reverends Billy Graham (“America’s pastor”) and Jerry Falwell, and their respective sons.

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