I participated in the Summer of Protocols research program this summer as a Core Researcher. It was an 18-week program, funded by the Ethereum Foundation, that aimed to catalyze a wider exploration of protocols and their social implications.
TLDR: Most conversations about “top talent” assume Pareto distribution; however, a closer examination suggests that different corporate cultures benefit from different types of talent distribution (normal, Pareto, and a third option – bimodal) according to the problem they’re trying to solve. Bimodal talent distribution is rare but more frequently observed in creative industries, including some types of software companies.
In the summer of 2022, with support from Schmidt Futures, I took a closer look at several emerging science funding mechanisms – rapid grants, scout programs, and focused research organizations (FROs) – to understand how they serve the needs of early stage science. I also conducted interviews with funders, program administrators, and grantees to understand their goals, operations, and intended impact, and how their work fits into the existing science funding landscape.
Climate is a gravity well for talent, but why don’t other, equally impactful topics attract talent in the same way? Why isn’t everyone dropping everything to work on homelessness, or global poverty, or curing cancer? With many peers in tech now working on climate issues, I tried to understand why this topic holds such purchase for so many people – and its incredible staying power over the decades.
I didn’t always know that I wanted to have kids. I wasn’t against it, necessarily – for awhile, there were just more reasons in the “why not” column than the “why”: uncertainty about whether I’d be a good parent, fear of losing my identity, a lack of maternal instinct. Those reasons gradually faded away as I grew older and got to know myself better.
Tech as a system of values, and not just an industry, is heavily driven by its subcultures and their ideologies. Where do these ideologies come from, and how do they influence what’s accomplished?
For those who sit between science and tech, it’s hard not to notice the proliferation of new initiatives launched in the last two years, aimed at making major improvements in the life sciences especially.
I’ve had some lingering thoughts over the past year about what it means to be a “creator,” further accelerated by a recent conversation with a friend, and I want to try to unpack those feelings here.
I had the pleasure of stumbling upon the work of Michael Crow, Arizona State University’s president, earlier this year, and I so enjoyed his thoughts on knowledge production that I immediately wondered how his philosophy would translate to ASU as an organization. Turns out, President Crow was many steps ahead of me and not only co-authored a book about it in 2015, Designing the New American University, but has been leading the charge in higher education to rethink the modern university.
Sometime at the end of last year, I wondered about what it would look like to have a mass-organized abstention campaign. My interest in this topic was mostly casual, but in a moment of enthusiasm, I shared these thoughts on a mailing list with a bunch of creative politically-minded folks, looking for ideas and inspiration.
I recently decided to wrap up my time at Protocol Labs, and along with it, my time in open source research.
Silicon Valley is a coal mine for ideas. There’s something special about it: unlike a coal miner, you get to keep and sell what you extract from the ore deposits, and I feel lucky to have the setup that I do. But it is work.
I recently spent a hot July weekend visiting some friends in a lovely Southern town . We spent our mornings binging on history and our afternoons drinking beers in the river: a quiet, wide-mouthed expanse of cool, fresh water, surrounded by grassy clusters of giant flat rocks and sandy banks.
Name omitted, of course, to protect the undiscovered. ↩
I’m thrilled about the launch of GitHub Sponsors, which signals a strong commitment from GitHub to support financial infrastructure and tooling for developers. It’s arguably the biggest open source funding experiment to date and will create plenty of opportunities to learn from.
China Miéville’s novel Embassytown describes a world in which an alien species, the Ariekei, becomes enthralled by a human’s ability to speak their language. What starts out as novelty gives way to obsession, and they become addicted to his voice, their lives falling to pieces, wandering the streets like zombies, tearing the world apart in search of more “god-drug”. Their obsession has nothing to do with the person behind it, but rather the thing he can provide.
I ran a personal microgrant program called Helium Grants for two years. After reading ~4,000 applications and awarding nearly $40,000 in grants to 26 people, I’ve decided to put it on indefinite hiatus and focus on other projects.
I started a newsletter a few years ago. I added it as an afterthought to one of my blog posts with the message: “Sign up here to get updates when I post something new”. That blog post happened to blow up, so I found myself with a solid audience within a few days.
I’m often asked about the role of licenses in open source: e.g. would a commercial license help pay maintainers for their work? I figured I should write a quick post summarizing my thoughts.
I’ve enjoyed playing a game called Avalon recently. I won’t go too far into the rules, but it’s a hidden role game in the vein of Secret Hitler or Werewolf, where one team is “good”, trying to uncover who among them is “evil”, before the evil team wins.
In 1961, Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities as a reaction to the rosy glow of 1950s urban planning policy, which she felt had become a self-serving discipline, largely divorced from reality.
We sleep, we watch Netflix, we smoke, we have sex, we laugh at cat memes and lie tangled in the sheets on a Saturday morning. On other days, we get out of bed, we comb our hair, we make witty comments in work meetings, we form mental models and test them out, we try to figure out what the world is all about, and - if we’re lucky - leave a legacy.
It’s been nearly two years since I started doing Helium Grants, so I thought it’d be good to reflect on what I’ve learned about personal giving, and where I’d like to go next.
I’ve recently had several conversations with projects about software foundations, so I figured I should type up my thoughts here.
I was a vegetarian for ten years. When I was twelve, I read something on the internet about how poorly animals were treated on factory farms, and I decided that it was unethical for me to continue eating meat.
As a project matures, one of the biggest demands on a software maintainer’s time is user support: not just bug reports or feature requests, but also “How do I?”-type questions. What starts as an occasional question slowly grows to a support queue, and time spent on the project might go from mostly proactive (coding) to mostly reactive (support) work.
When my paternal grandmother moved to Germany, she didn’t speak a word of German. But she was alone, in her forties, with two small kids, so she had to learn. She taught herself by watching TV and listening to the radio until all the words began to decipher themselves, a hard knot unraveling before her eyes.
I’ve been mulling on Handshake, a new DNS service that recently announced their intent to give away 70% of their value to developers.
As more open source projects attract funding, an important follow-up question becomes: “How should they spend it?”
A lot of people are interested in measuring the health and velocity of open source projects. After digging through the current research landscape, I’d like to summarize the most common approaches I’ve seen, and my conclusions here.
I sent an email to the Helium Grant mailing list about why I’m keeping grantees’ identities private, and I realized it’s an important topic I want to discuss more publicly, as well.
I’ve been trying to understand why the threat of forks is so frequently discussed by cryptocurrency projects, compared to open source at large.
Adarsh Pandit recently introduced me to the concept of the “gentleman scientist”: a researcher who funds their work independently. After digging around a bit, I was fascinated to learn that independent researchers were fairly common in the 18th and 19th centuries.
I recently read Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons and have been evangelizing it so enthusiastically that I figured I’d do a quick writeup of its main points, and why it’s been so transformative to my thinking.
The past few years have generated a lot of interest, but also a lot of questions, about how our digital infrastructure gets made.
Life on the internet can feel like a proverbial family reunion dinner. One relative makes an off-color remark, and all the kids leap half out of their chairs, screaming at one another.
When it comes to making money, software developers are an odd bunch. Developers produce code, and code is in high demand. At a glance, it seems obvious that this work pays for itself.
(I don’t write about this topic often, so forgive me for any awkwardness.)
Today the Drupal world is up in arms because a longtime leader, Larry Garfield, was quietly expelled from the community after months of harassment and bullying, due to his private kink lifestyle.
This week, Apple refused to comply with a federal court order to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of a San Bernardino shooter.
A Pew Research study released last month found that 40% of U.S. Millennials believe government should be able to censor speech that is “offensive to minority groups”, higher than any other generation.
Much has been made of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s decision to use an LLC, not a nonprofit, to oversee $45B worth of Facebook shares.
An article written by Ian Bogost in The Atlantic today declared that programmers should “stop calling themselves engineers”, calling it a disservice to the civic professionals who build our skyscrapers and heavy machinery.
The Internet got itself up in arms recently about Marco Arment’s decision to support his new podcast app, Overcast 2, through donations only, embracing patronage as an explicit revenue model.
I’ve been silent these past couple of months, partially because I’ve been trying to listen. Although I’ve been quiet online, I’ve been keeping busy, putting myself out there in analog form, learning from others, testing theories in the wild. Some of the things I felt most sure about, I’ve now rejected. Some ideas have shown positive signs beyond what I could have hoped for. Some ideas have pleasantly popped out of nowhere, things I hadn’t even considered.
We see this story crop up every once in awhile on Facebook: “share your truest self”, “post about your real life”, “why do we only share sunsets and puppies?”. While I admire the sentiment, as it stands today, I don’t think we can expect people to share their unfiltered selves in a one-to-many format (i.e. broadcast social media).
My uncle, Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, was a futurist and transhumanist who changed his name to FM-2030 many decades before I was born, because he believed that “the years around 2030 will be a magical time”.
Milan Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, uses the phrase “Es muss sein” (“It must be”, in German) to explore how we make our most meaningful choices in life.
In middle school, I had a math teacher who didn’t let us use calculators. We had to do all our simple arithmetic in our heads. When I got to high school, my freshman year algebra teacher kept his slide rule proudly displayed in its leather case in our classroom. Calculators, my teachers claimed, made us lazy.
This week, Chris Dixon voiced a concern many of us feel for the future of technology: that in the battle of proprietary services (like AOL or Facebook) vs. open protocols (like HTTP or SMTP), we’re currently on the wrong side of history. This topic is timely for those watching the story unfold between Meerkat and Periscope (which was recently acquired by Twitter).
I had a great conversation recently about creativity: how we define it, how it’s manifested, and how it plays into other parts of our life.
I attended Y Combinator’s second Female Founder Conference this past weekend, and I left feeling inspired. Here’s why:
When we talk about changing venture capital, there are a couple of areas that get the bulk of attention:
Recently, I mused aloud to a couple of friends that I seem to know a lot of women who are going to graduate school, but that most of the men in my peer group were entering tech or entrepreneurship.
I’ve noticed an interesting pattern among a couple founders I’ve spoken to recently.
I’ve been thinking about peer-to-peer models today, and what early learnings signify for how these businesses might work at scale.
Since Yo announced its $1M raise last month, there has been no shortage of commentary weighing in on whether Yo - an app that does nothing more than send a “Yo” push notification to one’s friends - deserves a dollar of investor money.
There have been a couple of Product Hunt data projects floating around the internet lately. Leo’s analysis looked at trends in product names and taglines. Mattermark’s analysis looked at the correlation between Product Hunt and fundraising. And Artiom’s project visualized metrics around products and contributors.
We’ve all heard the refrain, “You can’t fight progress”, in response to dialogue about the tradeoffs between technology and a healthy, balanced society.
Recently, I finished George Saunders’ In Persuasion Nation - a collection of short stories that satirize the American obsession with materialism and frivolities. I enjoyed his writing immensely, but I also noticed that these critiques, published in 2007, are starting to feel dated.
In a recent article, NYU professors Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis shed light on some of the dangerous assumptions we make about big data. One of those was making future bets based on the past while your measurement tool is changing.
In the offline world, there are a number of public services running in the background to keep our society running smoothly. Things like street lights, policemen, waste management and sewage.
Among philanthropic funders, there’s been an emerging interest in so-called “innovation funding”: the seeking out of riskier ideas with transformative potential for society.
When I published a post last week about alternate funding structures that better align innovation with business, a common response I got was, “Isn’t that what B Corps are for?”
Silicon Valley types are characterized as people who care about not caring.
Philip Evans of Boston Consulting Group recently gave a talk about how the traditional business model - one with a scalable value chain - is breaking down. For some companies, including marketplaces and user-generated content platforms, the vertical value chain is breaking up into a horizontal one with many microsuppliers. Evans suggests that business strategy is becoming about curation of the herd rather than executing upon a traditional business model.