Updates from October, 2015 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 9:16 pm on October 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , global mind, , tech mysticism,   

    the extremely disturbing dreams of mark zuckerberg  

    From The Boy Kings, by Katherine Losse, pg 166:

    Later on, when I was working directly for Mark and charged with the task of interpreting his thoughts for the world, Mark told me that his dream for Facebook was something like this, to make us all cells in a single organism, communicating automatically in spite of ourselves, perhaps without the need for intention or speech.

  • Mark 5:53 pm on October 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: contract labour, , on demand economy, , ,   

    the turn away from contract labour in the sharing economy  

    This is an interesting development: there’s clearly an interest served by the announcement but the potential success of this positioning could prove influential if legal challenges to contract labour gain some traction:

    Shift, an on-demand startup that helps people buy and sell cars, is looking to make employees out of its contract-based labor force. Almost 100 California-based “car enthusiasts” — what Shift calls the people who do price checks, coordinate inspections, facilitate test drives, and otherwise help with the transaction — are being given the opportunity to join the company as employees, starting December 1.

    Use of contract labor by tech companies is a hot topic. Companies including Postmates, Washio, Handy, Lyft and Uber are currently being sued by workers who say they should be receiving the benefits and compensation befitting employees.

    Not all on-demand companies use independent contractors — Munchery, WashUp, Alfred and Managed by Q, to name a few, use employees. Still others, such as Shyp, Instacart and Sprig, have announced intentions to transition their workforce from contract-based to employee status.


    Another BuzzFeed article gives an excellent overview of a legal challenge currently being mounted by four amazon staff over their status as contract labour:

    Amazon contractors — drivers who worked for Prime Now, Amazon’s two-hour local delivery service, and were hired through a third-party contracting company — have proposed a lawsuit against the company, accusing Amazon of misclassifying them as contractors.

    The drivers, their lawyer Beth Ross argues, should be classified as employees for a number of reasons, including that they work shifts rather than on a gig basis, have to wear shirts and hats with company branding, and are told by the company where to be and when. In addition, the workers are concerned that the cost of gas, tolls, and other incidental expenditures makes their total income below the legal minimum wage in California. (Amazon advertises that the drivers will make around $20 an hour; the minimum wage in California, where these workers live, is $9.)


  • Mark 4:48 pm on October 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , time regimes   

    the multiple time regimes within facebook 

    From The Boys, by Katherine Losse, pg 146:

    My career upgrade from dungeon department to quasi- technical role meant, along with a better salary and more respect from the technical echelon of the company, that I was now on engineering time. This meant that while I could come to work later, as late as lunchtime, I was expected to stay up until all hours answering emails and devoting myself even more monastically to our new enterprise. However, even as the respect and pay were higher, which was a huge relief, genuflecting to external application developers, even if I didn’t agree with what they were doing, felt a lot like the eternal reverence we nontechnical employees were all expected to exhibit for Mark and the engineering department.

    From page 152:

    Becoming a fully fledged member of the engineering team that winter felt, as I long dreamed of doing, like going from being slave to being conqueror. Suddenly, I could arrive at work on my own time, as long as I was working late into the night, because it was assumed that I, like all the engineers, was upholding and advancing a whole new world, even if sometimes we were just sitting around in the office eating snacks and playing games. In engineering, getting to work late was cool, even necessary. It meant, in the ideology of the lone and maverick hacker, that you weren’t beholden to authority, and that you might have been up late coding something brilliant and life- changing and disruptive (even if you were just trolling Facebook or watching porn). Being in engineering wasn’t an escape from the game so much as the ultimate playground.

    From page 155 to 156:

    I spent days with the professional translators while they read through pages of translations and made corrections as needed. They were working by the hour, clocking out at six o’clock, and thought it strange that I seemed perennially online the entire week, answering chats, reading Facebook, talking with them, answering questions, and responding to emails at all hours. When they left the office at the end of the day, they were done until the next morning. That, in turn, seemed strange to me. I couldn’t remember when the last time was that I wasn’t within spitting distance of my computer and smart phone. As much as I had once made fun of the Facebook boys for staring at their phones more often than they looked up, I had become one of them.

  • Mark 4:38 pm on October 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    you are always being ranked and it’s your job to perform  

    A fascinating snippet from The Boy Kings, by Katherine Losse, describing the approach of a new operations director joining Facebook in 2007. From pg 144:

    The next week, Chamath asked me and my management colleagues in customer support to do an evaluation exercise in which we ranked everyone on the Customer Support Team from highest to lowest. Sitting up late that night in the office, I assigned a score to each person on the team. Some were easy to score: They were either spectacularly hard workers or rather lazy, preferring to play company- sponsored Beirut games to the alternately hard and tedious work of solving user problems, but for most it was a queasy and difficult process of comparing apples to oranges, which, in this case, might be one person’s quickness at answering emails versus another’s thoroughness and accuracy. 

    When the results were in, Chamath came back to deliver a speech. “Look around you,” he told us. “In a few weeks, some of the people in this room won’t be here. They will be moved to other departments, because they’ve worked hard and have made themselves valuable to the company. Other people in this room won’t be here, because they haven’t worked hard enough. I’m telling you this because you need to understand that this is how it works: You are always being ranked, and it’s your job to perform. How you do here is up to you, but no one’s going to let you get away with not pulling your weight.”

  • Mark 4:14 pm on October 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: bros, , , , , tech bros,   

    the rituals of tech bros  

    From The Boy Kings, by Katherine Losse, pg 134:

    That Sunday, after I’d slept off our long night, I logged in to Facebook to see an endless stream of videos that the boys had filmed at the club. In them, the boys were not chatting up or kissing girls they had met, as I had expected. Instead, they were performing an elaborate ritual only they would have the strange, cold vanity to invent, in which they would methodically chat up and reject girls that the bouncers had brought to their table. “Leave! You’re not pretty enough!” one of them seemed to say over the din of the club as he shooed the girls away in succession like so many servants. Even though I had been living in this boys’ world for almost two years, I was still a bit shocked. Their products ultimately reflected their real- life behavior. Instead of making a technology of understanding, we seemed sometimes to be making a technology of the opposite: pure, dehumanizing objectification. We were optimizing ways to judge and use and dispose of people, without having to consider their feelings, or that they had feelings at all.

    The intruiging suggestion made by Losse is that these tech bros represent an epochal transformation in American alpha masculinity. She doesn’t really follow it up but I’m completely persuaded that tech bros, as well as bro culture in general, represent something of profound sociological significance.

  • Mark 6:53 am on October 30, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: ceo cult, , cult of personality, , , ,   

    the creepy rituals of the facebook office 

    From The Boy Kings, by Katherine Losse, pg 25:

    For example, on Mark’s birthday, in May 2006, I received an email from his administrative assistant telling me that it would be my job that day, along with all the other women in the office, to wear a T- shirt with Mark’s picture on it. Wait, what? I thought, he’s not my god or my president; I just work here . The men in the office were told that they would be wearing Adidas sandals that day, also in homage to Mark. The gender coding was clear: women were to declare allegiance to Mark, and men were to become Mark, or to at least dress like him. I decided that this was more than I could stomach and stayed home to play sick that day. I was the only one. The other women in the office, including Mark’s girlfriend, who did not work at Facebook, but had come to the office to celebrate his birthday, happily posed for pictures wearing identical shirts printed with Mark’s picture, like teenage girls at an *NSYNC concert or more disturbingly, like so many polygamous wives in a cult.

    Gawker apparently posted photos of this at the time but I’m struggling to find them.

  • Mark 6:22 am on October 30, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , ritual, ,   

    mark zuckerberg: domination or revolution! 

    From The Boy Kings, by Katherine Losse, pg 13:

    I liked to listen to Mark’s discussion of the product philosophy and goals at these meetings, which were to me the most fascinating part of the job: what were we trying to do, with this fledgling Internet identity registration system? “I just want to create information flow,” he said in his still nearly adolescent voice, lips pursed forward as if jumping to the next word, and everyone would nod, all cogitating in their own way about what this meant. Mark’s idea of information flow, though vague, was also too vague to be disagreed with, and even if we came up with counter- instances to a model of pure information efficiency (for example, I wondered, do I want my Social Security number to flow freely?), we knew that we weren’t supposed to disagree. Mark was our leader, for better or worse. When the meetings ended he would say either “domination” or “revolution,” with a joking flourish of a fist, and everyone would laugh, nervously, but with a warm and almost chilling excitement. It was like we were being given a charter, by a boy younger than most of us, to take over the world and get paid to do it.

  • Mark 5:41 pm on October 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    the centre for social ontology book series 

    We’re now up to book number 4. This is the first one I’ve contributed to personally & it’s due to be published in early 2016. These are the first three volumes in the series:

    Social MorphogenesisLate Modernity: Trajectories Towards Morphogenic SocietyGenerative Mechanisms Transforming the Social Order

    Here’s the coverage of the books that I know of. Please do let me know if you come across something else! I’ll keep this list updated over the coming months:

  • Mark 12:30 pm on October 29, 2015 Permalink

    please tell early career scholars: the isrf social media essay competition 

    The Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) and Big Data & Society (BD&S) intend to award a prize of CHF 1,000 for the best essay on the topic ‘Influence and Power’. This is a topic, not a title. Accordingly, authors are free to choose an essay title within this field. The winner will also be invited to present the work during a special event at Social Media & Society 2016 and will have the conference fee waived and travel costs covered.

    Please read these details carefully before submitting your essay for consideration or contacting the Independent Social Research Foundation or Big Data & Society with a query.

    The essay will be judged on its originality and independence of thought, its scholarly quality, its potential to challenge received ideas, and the success with which it matches the criteria of the ISRF and BD&S. The successful essay will be intellectually radical, orthogonal to existing debates, and may articulate a strong internal critique across the field of social science in relation to the digital. Its challenge to received ideas will have the potential to provoke a re-thinking of the topic. The ISRF is interested in original research ideas that take new approaches and suggest new solutions, to real world social problems. The full statement of the ISRF’s criteria and goals may be viewed here.

    Big Data & Society publishes interdisciplinary work principally in the social sciences, humanities and computing and their intersections with the arts and natural sciences about the implications of Big Data for societies. The Journal’s key purpose is to provide a space for connecting debates about the emerging field of Big Data practices and how they are reconfiguring academic, social, industry, business and government relations, expertise, methods, concepts and knowledge.

    The ISRF and BD&S invite submissions from scholars across the social science disciplines, philosophy, and the humanities, whose work has implications for the competition’s theme and falls within the remit of BD&S’s goals. For the purposes of the competition, participants should either be current doctoral students or within three years of being awarded their doctorate.

    The submitted essays will be judged and the winning essay will be chosen by an academic panel (the ISRF Essay Prize Committee). The panel’s decision will be final, and no assessments or comments will be made available. The result will be notified to applicants by email during April 2016 and will then be announced by posting on the websites of the ISRF and of BD&S. The ISRF and BD&S reserve the right not to award the prize, and no award will be made if the submitted essays are of insufficient merit.

    The winning essay will be accepted for publication in the Journal; the author may be asked to make some revisions before publication. Other applicants may have their submissions accepted for publication in the Early Career Researcher forum of BD&S subject to the Journal’s peer review and decision-making process.

    The details and criteria are:

    Essay topic: Influence and Power (This is a topic, not a title. Accordingly, authors are free to choose an essay title within this field.)

    Eligibility: Participants should either be current doctoral students or within three years of being awarded their doctorate.

    Essay length: 5,000 to 7,000 words

    Essay format: Follow the BD&S Author Guidelines, available on the BD&S website.

    Language: English

    Submission deadline: 31 January 2016


    Submissions should be made online at https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/bdas and authors should indicate that their submission is for the special theme, ‘ISRF Essay Prize.’ 

  • Mark 12:08 pm on October 29, 2015 Permalink

    still places left for tomorrow: sociological careers outside of academia 

    A few places have opened up for tomorrow’s event

    The Sociological Review’s Early Career Researchers Event: Working Outside of Academia
    Organised by The Sociological Review Early Career Researcher team

    For those with a background in social science, career paths do not always followed a straight forward traditional academic trajectory. With the current shortage of entry-level academic jobs and the opportunities in academia being short term or exploitative for recent graduates, many may seek employment outside of the academy.

    Social scientists have a lot to offer other employment sectors. Whether you are activity pursuing employment outside of academia or thinking of taking a new direction in your career, this event will provide an insight into the world of social scientists engaged in practice outside the university.

    Please join The Sociological Review’s Early Careers Researchers’ event for what is going to be informative and stimulating event.

    Speakers include:

    Carole McNaughton Nichols (Director at Truth),
    Simon Roberts (Stripe Partners),
    Kandy Woodfield (Higher Education Academy)
    George Julian (Indie researcher)
    Nick Fox (BSA Sociologists Outside of Academia)

    Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-sociological-review-working-outside-of-academia-tickets-17392202546

  • Mark 12:04 pm on October 29, 2015 Permalink

    deadline tomorrow! the question of the human in social theory & social research 

    25th November 2015, 11:00 to 17:00
    WT0.05, University of Warwick 

    This workshop and symposium will explore the, mostly implicit, conceptions of the human, humanity and human nature that underpin various contemporary conceptions of social life. In the context of much-publicised post-human futures, this is an invitation to reconsider the idea that social life itself is predicated on the fact that human beings are capable of such collective existence. Humans are beings who have a continuity of consciousness so that they see themselves as themselves throughout their life; human are beings who negotiate a multiplicity of sometimes contradictory identities and recognise each other as members of the same species, and they are also beings who can create and interpret cultural artefacts. Crucially, humans are beings who can deploy a sense of self-transcendence so that they are able to look at the world from somebody else’s point of view and thus conceive new social institutions.

    The main focus throughout the day will be on how questions about the human are encountered in social theory and social research and what are the various implications and challenges of taking these seriously in our work. The day of activities will be divided into two parts. During the morning, we will have a participatory workshop for PhD students and early-career researchers. The goal of the workshop is to help participants negotiate the sometimes abstruse scientific, philosophical, moral, and even theological underpinnings of asking questions about ‘the human’ in the context of their own research projects. Dr Daniel Chernilo (Loughborough University) will offer a general overview of this field of enquiry as well as reflect on its various implications. We will also invite participants to reflect on their own research projects by making a brief (10-minute) presentation of their research projects and how questions about the human have been or are expected to be encountered within them. We’d like to ask all participants to reflect in advance on conceptions of the human and how they pertain to their projects. Uncertainty here is not a problem, in fact it will be a useful contribution to discussions on the day! In the afternoon, we will have a symposium in which Dr Mark Carrigan, Professor Margaret Archer and Daniel Chernilo will engage with questions of the human as they unfold in their own work on digital sociology (Carrigan), the morphogenetic society (Archer), and philosophical sociology (Chernilo).

    To register your interest, please contact D.Chernilo@lboro.ac.uk and Mark@Markcarrigan.net with a brief description (500 words or less) of your research and how questions of the human are relevant to it by October 31st, 2015. The event is free but places are limited. Travel bursaries are available for those in need of it, please ask for more details

  • Mark 10:17 am on October 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , context, context collapse, , ,   

    social media and the noise it injects into daily life  

    From The Boy Kings, by Katherine Losse, loc 184:

    The interjection of distant voices on friends’ walls was always vaguely unreadable, unpredictable, illicit. “Let’s play this weekend,” a girl would post on the wall of a guy I knew, suggestively, and it felt weird to read, not because I didn’t think girls liked him but because the utterance didn’t actually reveal anything that was particularly relevant or useful. A girl wants him, I now knew, but I already knew that. Lots of girls did. The technology invited me to speculate about whether he wanted this girl back and whether they would go out and what would happen next, offline, all of which was really, in the end, irrelevant to be speculating on in advance. If two people like each other, they’ll hook up, if not, they won’t. All this noise was just noise, but a very present noise, a noise that we all, now, needed to consume, whether we cared to or not.

  • Mark 9:41 am on October 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , eugenics, , , ,   

    the eugenecist temptation for digital elites  

    It’s perhaps slightly unfair to use the term ‘eugenecist’ in relation to these remarks. But I’m interested in how the the notion of being ‘smart’ is constructed amongst digital elites, as well as how this might develop into  something much nastier as the broader political climate changes. From Elon Musk, by Ashlee Vance, pg 357:

    Musk has talked about having more kids, and it’s on this subject that he delivers some controversial philosophizing vis- à- vis the creator of Beavis and Butt- head. “There’s this point that Mike Judge makes in Idiocracy , which is like smart people, you know, should at least sustain their numbers,” Musk said. “Like, if it’s a negative Darwinian vector, then obviously that’s not a good thing. It should be at least neutral. But if each successive generation of smart people has fewer kids, that’s probably bad, too. I mean, Europe, Japan, Russia, China are all headed for demographic implosion. And the fact of the matter is that basically the wealthier— basically wealth, education, and being secular are all indicative of low birth rate. They all correlate with low birth rate. I’m not saying like only smart people should have kids. I’m just saying that smart people should have kids as well. They should at least maintain— at least be a replacement rate. And the fact of the matter is that I notice that a lot of really smart women have zero or one kid. You’re like, ‘Wow, that’s probably not good.’”

    This builds upon what I’ve argued is a fetishisation of intelligence within the broader culture. See here for the original clips.

    An interesting exchange on Twitter last year about how intelligence is represented in film and TV has stayed with me since it occurred. Watching Hannibal with a friend who was a big fan of it, I found myself obsessed by the quasi-supernatural form which Will Graham’s intelligence takes in the show, allowing him to see through the superficial veneer of a crime scene and reconstruct the truth of what occurred. Though Hannibal’s talent is slightly different to Will’s, relying on personal observation rather than contextual reconstruction, it’s also nonetheless akin to a superpower. Will has “pure empathy” and can entirely assume another’s point of view, whereas Hannibal can anatomise the psyche of an individual, pulling it apart as reliably as if he were taking a scalpel to their brain:

    Much to my friend’s irritation, I found myself embroiled in a fascinating conversation on Twitter about the cultural politics of how intelligence is represented. One of the people I was talking to, whose name I have forgotten and would love to know if they happen to read this so that I can attribute the thought to them, pointed out that this is a broader tendency in contemporary television: intelligence is fetishised because ‘merit’ is such an ambivalent topic within our ‘meritocracy’. Once you start looking for it, there are examples everywhere. One of the most prominent is the “Sherlock Scan” portrayed so characteristically by Benedict Cumberbach:

    A few years ago I found myself strangely obsessed with a pretty awful show calls Suits. It’s a weird throwback to the 1980s, with obnoxious corporate lawyers being presented as noble warriors in suits. Utterly devoid of irony, it rests upon the exploits of Harvey Spectre, the supernaturally self-possessed attorney, mentoring his young protoge Mike Ross. What got me hooked on the show is how it presents the latter’s talent. He wanders into a recruitment event for the high powered law firm, which only hires from Harvard Law School, in order to escape a drug deal gone wrong. With his photographic memory, he proves sufficiently impressive that they hire him, before increasing numbers of staff at the firm come to look the other way in virtue of his sheer talent.

    Talent trumps prestige. If someone sufficiently talented takes their chance, no matter how bizarre the circumstances are that lead to it, their advancement is justified. But what is this talent? In effect, he’s an informational sponge. His talent is not only akin to a superpower, it’s one emptied of positive content. It’s not an ability to do things in the world as such but rather that Mike lacks the tendency of others to lose information. Yet the show frames attempts to expose him by enemies at the firm as irrational projects motivated by petty loathings and personal jealousies, rather than their seeking to hold to account a drug dealer who wandered into a law firm and now regularly goes up in front of judges pretending to be a lawyer.

    Another example is The West Wing’s Jed Bartlett, though in a slightly different way. He’s a liberal fantasy figure, allowing mainstream Democrats in the US to imagine a world in which Bill Clinton was also a morally flawless figure with a nobel prize in Economics. The most obvious example of this is the debate in an early season between Bartlett (Al Gore) and Richie (Bush) but this stuff pervades the whole show:

    I particularly love the “oh my god” from CJ Craig at the end of this clip: “he’s so smart, so witty, so articulate! how lucky we are to have such an intelligent president”. However what interests me about this is how Bartlett’s intelligence is represented. He’s obsessed with trivia and constantly quizzing his staff on obscure topics. We see intelligence reduced to an ability to recall ephemera and to litter utterances with it at a rate which is at best unlikely and at worst utterly ridiculous. This is reflected more broadly in Aaron Sorkin’s characteristic fast talking dialogue, representing intelligent people being intelligent as little more than talking very fast and very articulately, usually while walking.

    These representations interest me because ‘talent’ has become so integral to the defence of social inequality. We can see this when Boris Johnson mocks the 16% ‘of our species’ with an IQ below 85 and praises the 2% with an IQ over 130. It’s why the popularisation of developmental neuroscience is so sinister: it heralds a social imaginary in which ‘talent’ can be understood as hardwired, while still acknowledging that circumstances plays a role in how these characteristics are inscribed in the human i.e. it justifies present arrangements while licensing punitive interventions against parents who fail to raise their children in a way conducive to the genesis of talent. Looking to the more ridiculous forms this fetishisation of talent takes can help us critique the more insidious and sophisticated variants that are increasingly dominant. This case can be made in particular about the most popular forms of self-help in recent years:

    And this is the most remarkable feat of The Secret: its ability to defend inequality. While the 99 per cent has become a worldwide slogan questioning the concentration of wealth, the author of The Secret offers an alternative view of the situation. ‘Why do you think that 1 percent of the population earns around 97 percent of all the money that’s being earned?’, Bob Proctors is asked rhetorically in the book, answering, ‘People who have drawn wealth into their lived used The Secret, whether consciously or unconsciously. They think thoughts of abundance and wealth, and they do not allow any contradictory thoughts to take root in their mind.

    The Wellness Syndrome, Carl Cederstrom & Andre Spicer, pg 80

    What makes The Secret so interesting is how nakedly metaphysical it is. The affluent do it ‘unconsciously’ and that is why they are affluent. Those who are not nonetheless have the choice to do it. If they do it correctly then they too will become affluent. If they do not then they deserve their fate. This bizarre concept of “The Secret” fascinates me because it’s easy to see how it holds the whole picture together: this latent faculty, to which we all have access, allows us to succeed. Some people are disposed to access it already (inherited privilege) but this places no restriction on others. We can all access this latent ability to be a success if only we choose to do so and then use it in the proper way. Replace “The Secret” with “Intelligence” or “Talent” and you have the governing ideology of neoliberalism.

    Weirdly, it seems to me that The Secret is actually more coherent. Its metaphysical character reconciles the tension within neoliberalism, much as the eidetic memory of Mike Ross obscures the fact that lawyers probably do need some specialised training. As soon we start specifying what ‘intelligence’ or ‘talent’ is in a positive way, we find ourselves embroiled in complex questions of social causation which undercut the simplistic moral logic in which each gets what they deserve. Representing talent as magical or metaphysical escapes this problem and, through continuous repetition in popular culture, reinforces the intuitive plausibility of successful people being so in virtue of their innate talent.

  • Mark 7:33 am on October 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , elite counter-culture, ,   

    how many dancing billionaires are there at burning man? 

    From Elon Musk, by Ashlee Vance, pg 318:

    After arriving at Burning Man, Musk, a regular at the event, and his family went through their standard routines. They set up camp and prepped their art car for a drive. This year, they had cut the roof off a small car, elevated the steering wheel, shifted it to the right so that it was placed near the middle of the vehicle, and replaced the seats with a couch. Musk took a lot of pleasure in driving the funky creation. 19 “Elon likes to see the rawness of people there,” said Bill Lee, his longtime friend. “It’s his version of camping. He wants to go and drive the art cars and see installations and the great light shows. He dances a lot.” Musk put on a display of strength and determination at the event as well. There was a wooden pole perhaps thirty feet high with a dancing platform at the top. Dozens of people tried and failed to climb it, and then Musk gave it a go. “His technique was very awkward, and he should not have succeeded,” said Lyndon. “But he hugged it and just inched up and inched up until he reached the top.”

  • Mark 2:17 pm on October 28, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , ratcheting up expectations,   

    a perpetual-motion machine that runs on a weird mix of dissatisfaction and eternal hope 

    What a glorious way to describe the life of an organisation. I wonder which other organisations this might be an apt description for? What’s it like to work  under these conditions? From Elon Musk, by Ashlee Vance, pg 258 (my emphasis):

    Just as it did in the early days, SpaceX continues to experiment with these new vehicles during actual launches in ways that other companies would dare not do. SpaceX will often announce that it’s trying out a new engine or its landing legs and place the emphasis on that one upgrade in the marketing material leading up to a launch. It’s common, though, for SpaceX to test out a dozen other objectives in secret during a mission. Musk essentially asks employees to do the impossible on top of the impossible. One former SpaceX executive described the working atmosphere as a perpetual- motion machine that runs on a weird mix of dissatisfaction and eternal hope. “It’s like he has everyone working on this car that is meant to get from Los Angeles to New York on one tank of gas,” this executive said. “They will work on the car for a year and test all of its parts. Then, when they set off for New York after that year, all of the vice presidents think privately that the car will be lucky to get to Las Vegas. What ends up happening is that the car gets to New Mexico— twice as far as they ever expected— and Elon is still mad. He gets twice as much as anyone else out of people.”

  • Mark 9:09 am on October 28, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: acronyms, , , , , ,   

    acronyms seriously suck  

    An email sent to the entirety of SpaceX by Elon Musk, as quoted in Ashlee Vance’s book about him, pg 238-239:

    There is a creeping tendency to use made up acronyms at SpaceX. Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication and keeping communication good as we grow is incredibly important. Individually, a few acronyms here and there may not seem so bad, but if a thousand people are making these up, over time the result will be a huge glossary that we have to issue to new employees. No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees. That needs to stop immediately or I will take drastic action— I have given enough warnings over the years. Unless an acronym is approved by me, it should not enter the SpaceX glossary. 

    If there is an existing acronym that cannot reasonably be justified, it should be eliminated, as I have requested in the past. For example, there should be no “HTS” [horizontal test stand] or “VTS” [vertical test stand] designations for test stands. Those are particularly dumb, as they contain unnecessary words. A “stand” at our test site is obviously a *test* stand. VTS- 3 is four syllables compared with “Tripod,” which is two, so the bloody acronym version actually takes longer to say than the name! The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication. An acronym that most engineers outside of SpaceX already know, such as GUI, is fine to use. It is also ok to make up a few acronyms/contractions every now and again, assuming I have approved them, eg MVac and M9 instead of Merlin 1C- Vacuum or Merlin 1C- Sea Level, but those need to be kept to a minimum.

  • Mark 7:08 am on October 28, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , hiring practices, space x,   

    the hiring rituals of tech companies  

    From Elon Musk, by Ashlee Vance, pg 220-222:

    Like many tech companies, SpaceX subjects potential hires to a gauntlet of interviews and tests. Some of the interviews are easygoing chats in which both parties get to feel each other out; others are filled with quizzes that can be quite hard. Engineers tend to face the most rigorous interrogations, although business types and salesmen are made to suffer, too. Coders who expect to pass through standard challenges have rude awakenings. Companies will typically challenge software developers on the spot by asking them to solve problems that require a couple of dozen lines of code. The standard SpaceX problem requires five hundred or more lines of code. All potential employees who make their way to the end of the interview process then handle one more task. They’re asked to write an essay for Musk about why they want to work at SpaceX. 

    The reward for solving the puzzles, acting clever in interviews, and penning up a good essay is a meeting with Musk. He interviewed almost every one of SpaceX’s first one thousand hires, including the janitors and technicians, and has continued to interview the engineers as the company’s workforce swelled. Each employee receives a warning before going to meet with Musk. The interview, he or she is told, could last anywhere from thirty seconds to fifteen minutes. Elon will likely keep on writing e- mails and working during the initial part of the interview and not speak much. Don’t panic. That’s normal. Eventually, he will turn around in his chair to face you. Even then, though, he might not make actual eye contact with you or fully acknowledge your presence. Don’t panic. That’s normal. In due course, he will speak to you.

    From that point, the tales of engineers who have interviewed with Musk run the gamut from torturous experiences to the sublime. He might ask one question or he might ask several. You can be sure, though, that he will roll out the Riddle: “You’re standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?” One answer to that is the North Pole, and most of the engineers get it right away. That’s when Musk will follow with “Where else could you be?” The other answer is somewhere close to the South Pole where, if you walk one mile south, the circumference of the Earth becomes one mile. Fewer engineers get this answer, and Musk will happily walk them through that riddle and others and cite any relevant equations during his explanations. He tends to care less about whether or not the person gets the answer than about how they describe the problem and their approach to solving it.

  • Mark 12:14 pm on October 27, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: ,   

    the performativity of bins 


  • Mark 9:34 am on October 27, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , palantir, , ,   

    interview with the founder and ceo of palantir 

    Interview with Alex Karp, Founder and CEO of Palantir:

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