📬 The Free-Range Technologist Nov 2019 🚀

I had a great time talking about blockchain to supply chain students last month. Let me know if you need someone to talk about AI, Blockchain, IoT or Teaching !

I always enjoy sharing what I have learned!

Mid-Nov Edition

Discoveries and Lifehacks

Discovery: Crystal Knows

Crystal Knows is an AI-driven service that gathers publicly available information about a person and then develops a profile to help you understand how to approach them. For those who are trying to make cold calls, it helps you understand if the person needs a lot of context for your message or wants you to get to the point quickly, how they work and operate, etc., so that you can craft a better email or script for a phone call.
My profile seems to fit me well. Several of the statements from Crystal Knows are hard for me to evaluate since I would like to think that I am easy-going, cooperative, thoughtful, etc. However, I can confirm that these statements are true: Relationships are important to me, and I want "plenty of space to work independently from others," and I "prefer to work alone so I can follow specific methods to finish projects." Try it out for yourself: Crystal Knows.

Discovery: Influencing Agile
I just discovered that my friend and colleague Andrew Stewart has a new blog and resource for project management leadership: Become 21st Century Prototype Leaders. Andrew reads a lot and is a real servant-leader, always looking to serve his team and help them become their best selves. He posts his insights and tips for managing organizations. Check it out here.

Discovery: Brave Web Browser
For years I have been using the Firefox browser since it has better controls and a reputation for not tracking users across the web. I am now testing Brave, a new web browser that promises to go well beyond Firefox's controls. Brave, blocks ads and tracking (by cookies and other means) but also offers the ability to "tip" or make micro-payments to creators whose content you enjoy so they can make money without having to rely on ads for revenue.

Book Reviews

Book: LikeWar by P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking (Amazon Link).
This extremely well-written book details how social media has gone from a liberating tool of the suppressed (think Arab Spring) to a weapon of dictators (think Duarte), terrorists (think ISIS), and unscrupulous actors across the political spectrum. Along the way, the authors examine how "virality can overwhelm truth" and how the data and meta-data about what we post (when a post is made, where the poster is located, which filters are applied to a photo) can expose truths about our psychology and biases. And how we can be manipulated! These LikeWars can lead to real consequences and death. Not to mention accelerating the demise of our civic dialogue. I highly recommend this book to everyone. I have been assigning parts of it to my students. Here is an excerpt.

Book: SuperPumped, the Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac (Amazon Link).
This book is a very well-written chronology of Uber from its start to its IPO. Described along the way are Ubers many sins and crimes, including the downfall of its founder/CEO Travis Kalanick. I started following the Uber story in 2017 when Susan Fowler's blog post began to pull back the curtain on the toxic culture that the bros of Uber had created, so this book provided some excellent insight about the years leading up to that shocking report.
One lesson that Uber learned early on was is that it doesn't matter if a state or city has a law or regulation against a practice that Uber wanted to deploy. What matters is if that law or regulation is enforced or not. And of course, when the law was enforced, Uber used technology tools that they build to make sure that authorities could not monitor Uber activities (the so-called Greybar application).
Since its IPO, Uber stock has not done particularly well (see graph), and I predict it will decrease by another 20% in the next six months. Uber was overvalued Pre-IPO thanks to Softbank and Saudi Arabia's money (who, according to the new Uber CEO, have also made some "mistakes" when dealing with journalists).

Uber's stock price could dramatically increase if they can figure out: self-driving cars or a multi-modal planning system for transportation, such that you could use your Uber app to plan a trip to attend a conference in Portland and the app would book a ride to the airport, your airline ticket, a hotel in Portland and an uber to get back and forth, etc. etc.
Only time will tell. (Full disclosure, I have several brilliant former students who work at Uber. If they are making some of the strategic decisions, then Uber has a good of a chance at recovering and going on to many great things.)

Audio-Book: Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us by Dan Lyons. (Amazon Link)
I enjoyed, and highly recommend, Dan Lyons's previous book (Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble), so I was looking forward to this book. While it has some good points, I was disappointed. He writes well, and he provides well-researched data about how corporations (tech companies in particular) are using technology and fear of job loss to bend the labor market to their will and profits. He also looks at the more significant trends around job security and wealth inequalities.
But I find fault with the way Lyons classifies any new management technique as garbage. In the audio-book, his narration drips with sarcasm when he presents his stories about how Agile project management and other ideas are just scams. Granted, he may have experienced the extremes--some proponents of new management ideas do act like cult leaders. Rather than look at where these ideas work well, and where they should not be applied, Lyons uses anecdotal evidence to cast a shadow of gimmicky on these frameworks and implies that all teachers of these ideas are scam artists or charlatans.
I tell my students that "good project managers borrow, great project managers steal," a line stolen and adapted from Picasso. Lyons fails to see when specific techniques are useful and when they have limitations (same holds for existing practices). This bias is probably because his career is that of a journalist and not a programmer or producer of technology. I would NOT recommend this book: other books do a better job of discussing labor issues in the gig economy.

Must Read/Watch/Listen

Documentary: General Magic
General Magic is "the most important company to come out of Silicon Valley that no one has ever heard of." Former Apple CEO John Sculley

General Magic was the brainchild of Marc Porat who—in 1990!—envisioned a day when we would all be carrying around a personal communication device and using it continuously for our work, chores, and entertainment. Spun out of Apple, General Magic assembled the brightest minds in technology to build this magical device. You don't have to watch the movie to know how it worked out: we don't wait to hear when the new General Magic phones will ship.
General Magic was very much ahead of its time but was also taken off-guard by the rapid spread of the web (as were a lot of companies) and suffered from "analysis paralysis." But they understood, and could clearly explain, most of the concepts and features we see in our devices today. After bankruptcy, the General Magic employees applied what they learned to develop new companies and products: inventing the iPod at Apple, starting Nest, inventing the Android operating system, becoming the CTO for the United States, etc. You know, the type of things everyone does when their company fails...
Personally, I like the film since I got to see my tech heroes in action, and reflecting on their careers: Joanna Hoffman, Andy Hertzfeld, Megan Smith, etc. I would have liked to have seen more about what all the former General Magic Employees did afterward, but that is likely because I am already familiar with the story of General Magic.
You can purchase General Magic on iTunes, YouTube, etc. Here is an interview with the producers of the film on the Recode podcast if you are interested: General Magic tried to invent a smartphone in the 1990s. This is why it failed.

Podcast: Reset
Reset examines how technology impacts our lives, for good and bad. Published several times a week, this pod is hosted by veteran tech reporter Arielle Duhaime-Ross [https://twitter.com/adrs]. I have subscribed since it started and enjoy it because it often offers a perspective or application that I have not encountered.
For example, a recent episode titled "The Birds and the Bees...and the bot" is about a sex education chatbot designed to provide answers to questions about sex from teens that is anonymous and science-based. The bot was programmed to not guess when confronted with an issue or value questions--"Is it a sin to do x, y or z"--but respond along the lines of "this is not a subject I am equipped to deal with." At a time when our institutions are failing to help teens through puberty and transitioning into adulthood either through ideology or funding failures, an unbiased sex-education bot seems like a very positive use of technology.


Trying to keep to the habit of Exploring-->Learning-->Building--> Sharing. I am encouraged that people are interested in learning more about how AI is weaponized on social media platforms. I got to share what I have learned on several outlets in the past couple of weeks:

  • What effect will AI have on our society? How is AI used by social media to change our behavior and emotions? These are a couple of topics I discussed during "Artificial Intelligence 102" on KOPN's Evening Edition this past week. Thanks to Daria Kerridge for having me on the show! Click here to listen.

  • Point, Counterpoint Podcast: J Scott Christianson on Artificial Intelligence and Technology. "As a technologist, he focuses on many different things. These include artificial intelligence and how it is used to influence people, social media, big tech, and more.." Listen to it on Sticher, iTunes, or Spotify.

  • Radio Friends with Paul Pepper "Creepy or helpful? That's the question we raise during our discussion about technology's way of storing information about its user with AI enthusiast and University of Missouri assistant professor J Scott Christianson." Click here to watch.

BTW, I created a page with resources for those who are interested in AI and Social Media: http://learnabout.ai Let me know if there are resources that I should add!

What I Am Looking Forward To

Getting responses from you all, hearing about you have been creating recently, and the resources/lifehacks you are using!! Just hit the reply button and fill me in!


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