Month: June 2018

Book Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Better Angels of our NatureIf you are one of those people constantly watching news and worrying about the sorry state of the world. Read this book. It’ll convince you with data, instead of baseless sensationalism, that life has never been more peaceful, safer and better than right now.

I procrastinated on starting reading this book because I already fully buy Steven Pinker’s proposition that we are living the most peaceful time in human kind, but I’m glad I’m reading it now. This book is full of well researched nuggets of information that are very interesting.

I’m fascinated by the explanation of why USA is so violent compared to all other developed countries (having murder rates similar to third world countries). I’m not sure I buy all of it, but it’s interesting to see how things were different there compared to western Europe, Canada, etc.

Having been raised in one of the dysfunctional governments he describes as promoting violence through corruption and negligence, I was thrilled when he called them crappy governments, because that’s the category they have in my mind. I was a little bit miffed by him using the word “negro”. He used it to refer to groups of people back when those groups of people were referred to as negros and in the context of their class struggle, but it was still weird.

Another interesting aspect was how people that live in crappy governments do differently in some psychological tests showing how deep a dysfunctional authority can affect people and why countries that are at the top remain at the top and countries that are at the bottom, remain at the bottom.

This book is long, and in a good way. It feels it covers everything there’s to cover about the subject, so, it would be impossible for me to do a full review. All I’m going to say is this: read it. It’ll surprise you in at least one way. It may change how you see the world entirely.

★★★★★

Buy The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in USA

Buy The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in UK

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The $10 weekend (or why selling to techies is sometimes so hard)

The first version of Dashman didn’t have a centralized configuration system to control a lot of displays at once. It was a one time fee software to run in one computer. Its price was $10.

I started networking, going to events, trying to find customers. I’m a techie, but I cleaned up, trimmed my beard, combed my hair, put on a suit (well, most of one… I still have issues with ties) and off I went, looking like this:

pupeno6

Techies stopped identifying me as part of their crowd which was enlightening. I was the target of so much condescension. It was funny. I still remember the face of a coder that told me he was building his application on Lisp and I asked “Which one?”. His face lit up when we discussed Common Lisp vs others, or SBCL vs other Common Lisp compilers. We became friends, but I digress.

One of my most enlightening discussions was with a developer that told me that he didn’t need my product because he could hack something together in a weekend. Let’s assume this is correct. He preferred to work for a weekend over spending $10. Or put in a different way, his weekend rate was $0.42 per hour. “Excuse me, can I hire you?”

Building something because it’s fun or educational is obviously a very rewarding activity and everybody that wants to do it should do it. When it comes to business, the equation of whether to build or buy should be a financial one.

Weird interaction with Google, was it Duplex?

For a few weeks I’ve been receiving this email from Google:

birth control

My first question is why is birth control an issue. Is Google limiting the advertisement of birth control? Why? Did we somehow slipped into the 19th century and nobody told me?

My second question was… how could they think I have anything to do with birth control. I guess that was nothing more than AI failing miserably, so, I decided to go and fix it. The important caveat here is that I haven’t run any ads in months, maybe more than a year.

I click the Fix button and and it took me to a black page with the “Unknown Business” title. There was no way to text support, so, when the emails got annoying enough, I called them.

The support guy was nice, but he couldn’t do much about it. I explained that I wasn’t running any ads and I didn’t plan on running any for now, but maybe in the future. He told me to ignore the emails.  I asked if there was a way to stop them and he told me to search for an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. That’s not what I meant, I want to fix the problem. All right, that was enough time on the phone, I’ll just ignore the emails.

Now is when it got weirder. The support guy said that his supervisor was there and wanted to talk to me. Ok… Click! Someone else starts speaking:

Supervisor: Hello Hos (their way of pronouncing José), did so-and-so answer your query today?

I’m always careful here. He didn’t solve the problem but I’m sure it wasn’t his fault. Most of the times I have an issue, it’s their system being broken and a support specialist shouldn’t be punished for that.

Me: Sort-of…

And as I was trying to explain the situation, the supervisor interrupt me:

Supervisor: Ok then. If you have any other questions, feel free to call us between 9 am and 5 pm.

Click! Hung up. Wow… that was rude… and odd. And now I’m thinking, did I just talk to Duplex and it failed at managing my answer?

When it comes to technology such as Duplex, my take is this: it’s going to happen no matter what, fighting it is futile, let’s try to figure out how to make the most out of it. But I have to admit having interacted with what I suspect was Duplex gives me an odd feeling (even if it was it). It makes me want to rebel, it makes me want to test it the next time I call to try to figure out if it’s a human or not. This is obviously useless; the only thing that matters is getting my issue resolved. What concerns me here is that if a technology-loving person such as myself is getting this strong reaction, how will the general population react?

I think we are going to have some interesting growing pains in the next couple of decades.