antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

tesla’s solarcity bid isn’t about energy production

Ben Thompson* (temporary paywall) makes an excellent first-order analysis of Elon Musk's bid to acquimerge SolarCity with Tesla. But he, uncharacteristically, stops short of seeing the mid- and long-term reasons for the acquimerge.

It's about SpaceX.

It's about Mars.

It's about the Moon.

Musk knows that he needs an incredibly-solid pipeline of technology to get SpaceX past its initial "toy" phases of being a launch company to the ISS.

He wants to ensure that he's able to support the future on non-terrestrial bodies – lunar missions, Mars missions, long-term space exploration, high-altitude space stations, etc.

Sure, it happens to be good for Tesla (integrating solar tech at Tesla charging stations is a no-brainer). But that's not the end game.

The goal is space.


* Follow Ben on Twitter – @benthompson

on ads

My colleague Sheila wrote a great, short piece on LinkedIn about ads recently.

And this is what I commented:

I held off for years in installing ad blockers/reducers.

But I have finally had to cave – been running Flash in “ask-only” mode for months now, and just added a couple blocker/reducer extensions to Chrome recently (in addition to the ones on my iPhone for Safari).

I like supporting a site as much as the next guy (I even run a few highly unobtrusive ones on my sites) – but I agree: when I cann’t tell whether it’s your content or an ad, or even get through all the popovers, splashes, etc, I’m leaving and not coming back

I hate the idea of ad blockers/reducers. But it is coming to such a point where you can’t read much of what is on the web because of the inundation of ads.

And mailing list offers. Oh my goodness the mailing list offers. Sadly, the only way to block those seems to be to disable javascript … which then also breaks lots of sites I need it to work on – and whitelisting becomes problematic with something like javascript, since it’s usefully ubiquitous (in addition to being uselessly ubiquitous).

For Safari on iOS 9, I have three blocker/reducer apps installed (they’re free, too: AdBlock Pro, AdBlock Plus, & Refine (App Store links)). It’d be nice if they worked for Firefox, Opera Mini, and Chrome, too – but alas they do not (yet).

Also run two blocking/reducing extensions in Chrome (my primary web browser) on my desktop – Adblock Plus & AdBlock).

Shame the web has come to this. Schneier’s written about it recently. As has Brad Jones & Phil Barrett.

Wired and Forbes even go so far as to tell you you’re running an ad blocker and ask to be whitelisted or pay a subscription.

Forbes’ message:

Hi again. Looks like you’re still using an ad blocker. Please turn it off in order to continue into Forbes’ ad-light experience.

And from Wired:

Here’s The Thing With Ad Blockers
We get it: Ads aren’t what you’re here for. But ads help us keep the lights on.
So, add us to your ad blocker’s whitelist or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of WIRED. Either way, you are supporting our journalism. We’d really appreciate it.

If you’re detecting my adblocker, maybe instead of telling me you won’t do anything until I whitelist you (or subscribe), you think about the problem with ads first.

Just a thought.

meetings

The author of a recent Medium post is so close to right, it’s scary. Gary says the best thing you can do is to cut your meeting length in half.

And that is a phenomenal step. One that needs to happen. But one that needs to happen in conjunction with an even more monumental shift.

Change the start time of meetings to something “weird”.

Don’t start on the hour or half hour. Don’t even start on the quarter hour.

Start at 10 past or 10 til, and go for 15, 30, or 45 minutes – with a hard cut off. Just like college classes. Oh – and just like class days when all you had was a test, as soon as your part of the meeting is over, leave. You may have to wait to leave until the end. But once your piece is done, just like when you finished your test, walk out and get on with your day.

i’m not technical

I am. But not really.

To paraphrase my prelicensing class instructor, “95% of consulting is not technical work – it’s psychological”. 5% of consulting is delivery. The remainder is listening, empathizing, training, selling, encouraging, improving, and a whole bunch more gerunds.

I’m an unlicensed psychiatrist dabbling in technology -just call me Frasier Malone – the single person every consultant has to be (even though on Cheers they were two people).

Part of the Art of Consulting™ is conveying ROI in the right terms to your current audience. My job as an automation consultant, project manager, and team lead is to convince customers (at all levels) that the tools I’m there to deliver, configure, and utilize are not “taking their jobs away” (in the wrong sense of the term). Ideally, my customers not only see me as their Trusted Advisor, but as someone who has “been there, done that” just like they have, and that I truly am there to help them: to help them save time (for engineers), to save headcount (for managers), and to save money (for executives).

Good consultants are, in many ways, like bartenders – they listen to the problems their customers have, and hand them things they hope will help. Like a good bartender, you need to deliver what has been agreed to. And like a good bartender, you need to know when to tell your customer “that’s not the best option – try this instead”. And like a good bartender, you need to know when to tell your customer “no”.

facebook is aol

Facebook is AOL.

Yes, that AOL.

America Online.

The one that advertised 20 years ago in conjunction with companies things like, “search AOL keyword ‘ford'”.

That’s what Facebook is now. It’s AOL – but without the ISP aspect.

Check that – Facebook is (or “has”) an ISP: just look at internet.org.

So we’ve come full circle.

The ISP that millions of Americans used to get online, send email, chat, read news, keep up with friends, follow/participate in chat rooms, and see “the web” (through an extremely walled garden, mind you) has been replaced wth a website that hundreds of millions of people around the world use to send messages, chat, read news, keep up with friends, participate in groups, and, apparently, get online (if you’re in a part of the world Facebook is targeting with its ISP, of course).

“like” problems: social ‘voting’ is a bad idea

The news story making the rounds about Facebook the past few days indicates they’re working on a kind of “dislike” button.

The problem with the Facebook “like” button is the same problem Google has with Google+ and their “+1” button: it doesn’t tell you anything meaningful.

Voting on Reddit doesn’t really convey much meaning, either.

Stack Overflow tries to address this with its up/down voting and being able to see the gestalt votes as a ratio (if your rep is high enough (an admittedly low bar, but still a bar, and an aspect of the gamification of Stack Oveflow)). But that doesn’t really cut it, either.

The problem with online “voting” (or “liking”, or “plussing”, etc) is that it is a dimensionless data point.

Does getting 300 “likes” on a post make it “good”? Does it reflect on its quality in any way? How about getting nearly 400 upvotes (and only a handful of downvotes) on a question about MySQL (along with 100+ “favorites”) mean the question is good? Does it show something is popular? Are people clicking the vote mechanism out of peer pressure, because they actually agree, or because they think it needs more visibility? Or something else entirely?

Dimensionless data that gets used as if it has meaning is a problem – one of many problems of social media and web sites in general.

Of course, you will object, quality is a potentially-subjective term – what does “quality” mean, exactly, when talking about a post, website, question, etc? Is it how well-written it is? Is it how long? How funny? How sad?

Take this question I asked on Stack Overflow, “CSS – how to trim text output?” It’s clearly-written, was answered excellently in 2 minutes, and is a “real” problem I had. Yet in the 4.5 years since asking, it’s only gotten 2 votes total (both “up”, but still only two).

Reddit has upvotes and downvotes – and your comment/post score is merely the sum of the ups and downs; below a certain [relative] threshold, you won’t see content unless you ask for it.

One of the biggest problems with all of these systems is that the “score” doesn’t actually tell you anything. An atheist subreddit, for example, will tend to downvote-into-oblivion comments that are theistic in nature (especially from Christians). Quora‘s voting system is highly untransparent – downvotes don’t really seem to mean much, and upvotes are pretty much just for show.

This derives from the fact that these sites use dimensionless data and try to give it a value or meaning outside of what it really is – a number.

What should be shown is the total number of “votes” a given post has gotten – positive negative, reshare, etc – but never combined. A ratio could be displayed, but the sum of the votes is a poor plan.

Facebook, Google+, and others should offer various voting options – “up”, “down”, “disagree”, “agree”, “share”, and possibly others – some of which may be mutually-exclusive (you cannot upvote and downvote the same thing), but you might downvote something you agree with (or upvote something you disagree with) just because of how it is written/presented, etc.

And the total of each type of click should be shown – show me 10,000 people disagreed with what I said, 15,000 agreed; 20,000 upvoted, and 30,000 downvoted; 12,000 reshared it (with, or without, comment).

Using voting as a means of hiding things (and trying to prevent others from seeing them) can be somewhat akin to online bullying – revenge voting has its problems; as does blindly upvoting anything a particular person says/does. Which is why assigning (and then displaying) dimensionless data anything more than a count is dangerous.

automation is a multiplier

Multipliers. They’re ubiquitous – from ratchet wrenches to fertilizer, blocks-and-tackle to calculators, humans rely on multipliers all the time.

Multipliers are amazing things because they allow an individual to “do more with less” – a single person can build a coral castle with nothing more complex than simple machines. Or move 70 people at 70 miles per hour down an interstate merely by flexing his foot and twitching his arm.

Feats and tasks otherwise impossible become possible due to multipliers.

Automation is a multiplier. Some automating is obviously multiplicative – robots on assembly lines allow car manufacturers to output far more vehicles than they could in the pre-robot era. Even the assembly line is an automating force, and multiplier regarding the number of cars that could be produced by a set number of people in a given time period.

In the ever-more-constrained world of IT that I orbit and transit through – with salary budgets cut or frozen, positions not backfilled, and the ever-growing demands of end-users (whether internal or external), technicians, engineers, project managers, and the like are always being expected to do more with the same, or do more with less.

And that is where I, and the toolsets I work with, come into play – in the vital-but-hidden world of automation. Maybe it’s something as mundane as cutting requisition-to-delivery time of a server or service from weeks to hours. Maybe it’s something as hidden as automatically expanding application tiers based on usage demands – and dropping extra capacity when it’s no longer needed (one of main selling points of cloud computing). The ROI of automation is always seen as a multiplier – because the individual actor is now able to Get Things Done™ and at least appear smarter (whether they are actually any smarter or not is a totally different question).

Go forth and multiply, my friends.