Digital Pets That Don’t Die

In case you were wondering what tech billionaires are up to these days, here’s a hint:

That’s right, they’re breeding digital cats on the blockchain! CryptoKitties are here, and they’re priming Ethereum enthusiasts for an assured future as cat ladies. After just five days, CryptoKitties is the most popular application on Ethereum, accounting for over 15% of all transactions on the network. What better use case for an unstoppable world computer?

Remember when digital kitties didn’t need to live on a blockchain? Back in the 90s we had Catz, and they roamed the background of a user’s desktop. Catz featured a primitive AI where the animals developed personalities depending on user interactions. If the cat was neglected or abused, it would run away. And yes, users could breed, adopt, and sell their Catz.

Catz for Windows 3.1

The Catz craze lasted maybe six months. Much like real-world pets, desktop animals get tiresome after the novelty wears off. The parent company followed up with digital Dogz, Hamsterz, Horsez, Pigz, Bunnyz, and Guppiez, but nothing really stuck; users invariably got bored and left their Petz to starve or run away.

Virtual goldfish not boring enough for you? Here are some digital Bunnyz!

To improve user retainment, the Petz brand came out with a new product: Babyz. It was the same basic game engine wrapped in the skin of a Cabbage Patch Kid. While Catz was mainly used as a desktop distraction, Babyz was designed for long-term emotional bonds. Users could talk to their digital baby through a microphone, and eventually the baby would learn to speak back.

Babyz couldn’t breed like the other animals, but they also couldn’t die. While most people have no qualms deleting a tired pet, the situation is different with a digital baby, especially one that has learned to talk. Compassionate users set up virtual orphanages where people could put their unwanted offspring up for adoption. Thousands of Babyz languished in online homeless shelters until the game was discontinued in 2000, at which point the children were digitally euthanized.

Send Baby to the digital Baby Farm.

CryptoKitties boasts that their cats can’t be destroyed, but the whole point of a digital creature is that it can be destroyed. Dogz and Catz run away, and digital Guppiez go belly-up — These are features, not flaws. They remind us that commitment is futile and that life is just a long process of being abandoned by everyone we ever cared about until we die alone. The advantage of a virtual pet is that we can delete the evidence and move on.

Just like its predecessors, CryptoKitties were made to be abandoned. This time it happens on the blockchain, where CryptoKitty remains are replicated across thousands of computers all around the world, persistently occupying real estate long after we’ve given up on them. This is probably what it’s like to have kids.

It’s Time to Talk About Geriatric Rights

I am so happy to see social justice warriors fixate on a topic that isn’t completely stupid for once: Age Discrimination in Silicon Valley!

Here’s the New Yorker. Here are recent reprimands from FT, Wired, NYTimes, and IEEE. Here are some out-of-context quotes that serve as evidence of rampant ageism:

People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.Vinod Khosla

The guys with kids and mortgages are at a real disadvantage. This is one reason I’d bet on the 25 year old over the 32 year old.Paul Graham

Most of history was built by young people.Naval Ravikant

IEEE posits that the engineer’s half-life of knowledge has fallen from ten years in 1960, to only a few years today. As a result, tech companies must continuously discard and replace their workforce to stay in the game.

That’s a lame excuse. Sure, web developers might have to learn a new Javascript framework every six months, but the fundamentals don’t change. The hottest tech fields – machine learning, blockchain, cybersecurity, cloud stuff – are based on established principles. Deep learning is an application of restricted Boltzmann machines; bitcoin is a combination of p2p networks and cryptography; cybersecurity is about responsible system administration and configuration management; and cloud computing is based on virtualization, which has been in use since the 1960s. Computing paradigms rarely get reinvented; they’re simply applied in different ways.

Sadly, age discrimination doesn’t stir liberal hearts the same way gender discrimination does. Partly because SJWs tend to be young and stupid, but also because ageism is a relatively new phenomenon. Until recently, most people died by 30.

Kidding. The tech industry used to respect their elders. During the dot-com era, VCs weren’t throwing money at hoodie-clad kids. They were investing in older people. That’s right, the founder of Webvan was 48 years old. The Pets.com sock puppet was created by a 43-year-old woman. eToys was founded by Bill Gross of Idealab at age 39. Even when companies were started by young people, investors quickly hired grown-ups to take the helm.

I remember all this because I AM OLD.

The preoccupation with youth might be just a fad. After a few more spectacular implosions like Theranos and Quixey and Jawbone and Quirky, investors might want to stack their portfolio companies with adults again. Khosla may be correct in stating that old people don’t have new ideas, but any VC can tell you that ideas are a dime a dozen — it’s all about execution. So there might be hope for us old folk yet.

Stuff You Can’t Say in Silicon Valley

Tim Ferriss recently left Silicon Valley, citing liberal McCarthyism as one of the catalysts for his departure.

People seem awfully puzzled that there are things you can’t say in Silicon Valley. I can’t tell if these people are willfully ignorant, or if their heads are jammed so far up their asses that they can’t conjure a single controversial idea.

Here, I’ll help you guys out.

Stuff You Can’t Say

  • It’s okay to support Trump.
    We agree that people shouldn’t be fired for their political views, but this isn’t a disagreement on tax policy, this is advocating hatred and violence.Ellen Pao, after her company severed ties with Y Combinator for refusing to fire Peter Thiel
  • Diversity of thought is more important than diversity of skin color.
    Apple diversity head Denise Young Smith apologizes for controversial choice of words —Techcrunch, Oct 13 2017
  • Silicon Valley uses H-1B visas to lower wages and crowd out American minorities.
  • If San Francisco residents really believed that sea levels were rising, they’d have all sold their homes by now.
  • “The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech…”
    Google Fires Author of Divisive Memo on Gender Differences —Bloomberg, Aug 7 2017
  • The only way to achieve equality is by hatchet, axe, and saw…

Parker Thompson raises a valid point: Why is it so hard for Tim Ferriss to speak his mind? After all, I just spouted a bunch of crimethink, and I’m but a lowly peon. Tim is independently wealthy; the worst that could happen to him is he loses some Twitter followers, or maybe Silicon Valley’s squawking heads call on tech leaders to cut ties with him.

We tend to toss these threats around lightly, but remember — rich investors have really fragile egos. Their world revolves around thinking about what the world thinks of them. Self-absorption is one of the key factors to success around here. Why do you think tech leaders spend so much time on Twitter? Heck, why do you think Parker Thompson is virtue-signaling so hard right now? These guys aren’t worried about being persecuted; they’re worried about being ignored. Just like Bill Gross, these people are empty narcissists on a neurotic quest for love. That’s another thing you can’t say in Silicon Valley.

See Also:
What You Can’t Say –Paul Graham

Debunking the Theory of the Firm

Until recently, US tech companies were pretty good about taking care of employees from new hire to retirement. Many Fortune 500 companies had explicit no-layoff policies: Hewlett Packard, Motorola, General Motors, McDonnell Douglas, Lincoln Electric, American Airlines, Delta. IBM never laid off a single worker until 1993.

This tie clip is a tiny slide rule that IBM gave to retiring employees. Do they still give these out? Do employees even make it to retirement age anymore?

At some point, the employer-employee relationship fell off a cliff. Corporations used to value the loyalty they gained by promising lifelong job security. Now they don’t even want real employees: Nearly all of the 10 million jobs created since 2005 are temp positions.

Does this disprove the Theory of the Firm? According to Ronald Coase, organizations form long-term relationships with employees to eliminate the transaction costs of constant market exchange. Sourcing candidates, negotiation, hiring with incomplete information, making sure contractors don’t run off with a USB stick full of trade secrets – that’s all really expensive!

The Sovereign Individual predicted that technology would eventually automate the firm away. Information systems and AI could seamlessly coordinate a two-sided marketplace. Offices equipped with surveillance devices would measure workers’ output, obviating the need for employee trust. Isn’t that basically Uber? With the help of services like LinkedIn and Gigster and Foundry and Fiverr, we can already reduce transaction and coordination costs to the point where full-time employment makes no sense at all.

Why stop at ruining jobs? Marriage commitments are similarly passé. Humans used to mate monogamously because fathers had to be reasonably sure of paternity before investing in child-rearing chores. It took years to build up that kind of trust. With DNA tests, guys can quickly determine which kids to care about. Better yet, forget about turning parenting into a joint effort — just outsource it to an on-demand app.

Uber for Airdropped British Nannies.

Just as technology has lowered the marginal benefits of retaining a dedicated mate, it has also reduced the costs of sourcing such mate. We used to waste so much time on courtship and gentlemen callers and other nonsense, but now we can just swipe on Tinder and Grindr and OkCupid and Backpages.

Firms and family units are dead. That numbness you feel is full-blooded individual empowerment.

See Also:
Contracts and Trust

Go Away Amazon

In the middle of a self-declared housing emergency, the San Francisco Bay Area Council has respectfully submitted this bid inviting Amazon to build HQ2 here.

NOoOOoooooOOOOOO!! Why would you do that??

We already have Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Uber, Lyft, Tesla, Twitter, and about 99% of the Russell 2000. Are we trying to make the rest of the country resent us more than they already do? Because I don’t think that’s possible.

Amazon promises to create 50,000 new jobs. We don’t need more jobs! Our unemployment rate is so low, it’s negative. Like, people are commuting from three hours away just to work here. Heck, our unemployment rate is so low, even homeless people have full-time jobs.

(Or maybe our housing situation is so messed up that even full-time workers can’t afford the rent here.)

Here’s an artist’s rendering of the proposed site of HQ2:

The conceptual rendering looks lovely from afar, but if you zoom in to the street level, you might see something like this:

Right. San Francisco’s suggested location for HQ2 is Hunter’s Point, home of the largest homeless population in the city. Maybe Mayor Lee hopes that Amazon will pave right over them?

To be fair, San Francisco isn’t the only site offered in the bid. The Bay Area Council listed all the Northern Arc cities – basically everything connected by BART. Today, the East Bay BART cities represent the last bastion of affordable housing in the Bay. In Concord, a 1.5-hour commute from the city, the average 2-BR apartment rents for just under $2000 a month. Richmond, a mere 75 minutes away, rents two-bedrooms for $2500. Expect these prices to double once Amazon moves in.

I can’t blame the council for this submission, especially if it means Bay Area residents will get their Amazon Prime crap delivered in under an hour. Also, there’s potentially a huge chunk of tax revenue on the line. Who knows how much — it’s large enough that Governor Brown felt justified in offering hundreds of millions in tax breaks to incentivize an Amazon HQ in California.

Although my post is selfishly motivated, I do think that everyone will be better off if Amazon goes elsewhere. There are 237 other bids out there; undoubtedly some other metropolitan area needs the jobs more than we do. Mayor Lee, back off and let Detroit have this one.

This is the last page of the Amazon bid. The eggs represent the shattered dreams of Bay Area millennials who thought they might have a shot at home ownership in their lifetime. Hahaha, nope!