Too Big to Fail?

Is Silicon Valley’s growing prominence in pop culture a sign that the Valley is back? Setting aside the question of what does that really means anyway, the answer is “no,” or at least not according to Google Trends.

However, the world at large is very interested in Google and Facebook.

People often confuse Google and Facebook with Silicon Valley, but they by no means reflect the health and welfare of the thousands of startups toiling away in the trenches. The real question shouldn’t be whether “Silicon Valley has made it” but whether the prominence of these oligopolies is good for Silicon Valley.

Open Season on Open Offices

Open plan offices attract the highest levels of worker dissatisfaction, with cramped quarters, lack of privacy and noise topping the list of gripes, a large study has found.

An open plan workplace, in which enclosed rooms are eschewed in favour of partitioned or non-partitioned desks arranged around a large room, are supposed to promote interaction between workers and boost teamwork.

However, a study of over 40,000 survey responses collected over a decade has found that the benefits for workers are quickly outweighed by the disadvantages …

Professor Richard de Dear, Head of Architectural Design Science at the University of Sydney and a co-author of the paper, said worker satisfaction was important because it was linked to productivity.

“The productivity benefits of teams working together have been used to sell the open plan office for decades. Yet, if you do these evaluations and actually talk to occupants of open plan offices, very few people think that they are productive spaces. You need places to concentrate.”

The Conversation, 9/17/13

Skynet, Wall Street Style

A new paper has gone searching through historic trading for these sorts of glitches and ended up finding a lot of—over 18,000, all of which took place too fast for human intervention to have driven them. When they generated a mathematical model of this trading, they found that they showed indications of many traders executing a similar strategy, exactly as you’d expect from automated trading systems. The rise in this style of trading appears to be an emergent property of computerized trading, and it seems to have reached an inflection point near the start of the financial crisis.

…[F]ast trading systems, coupled to a limited number of trading strategies, have caused a fundamental change in the behavior of the stock market. This shift leads to sudden changes in the value of stocks that aren’t linked to any underlying financial factors. (In most cases, the change seems to be transient, and stocks return to their former value rapidly.) What’s not at all clear is what triggers these [ultrafast extreme events], and whether changes in market regulations or trading strategies could eliminate them.

– “Trading bots create extreme events faster than humans can react: Our algorithms now show collective behavior that we do not control” by John Timmer, Ars Technica, 9/15/13


Coming on the heels of Time Magazine’s cover story called “How Wall Street Won: Five Years After the Crash, It Could Happen All Over Again,” this Ars Technica article highlights the technical arms race that could lay the foundation for another crash.

By comparison, the Terminator movies seem almost tame.

Where’s the Wow?

As much as I am rooting for Apple, Tim Cook just seems so colorless. From the very little that I know about him, he comes across as a technocrat with inordinate skill in supply chain management – in other words, someone skilled at executing other peoples’ visions, not necessarily dreaming up the next big thing. Apple has always been a company that shoots for the stars. I don’t hear “that vision thing” in Cook’s plans for the future.

Twitter Violates Its Own Confidentiality

That’s it. I’m never going to trust Twitter with one of my secrets ever again.

Twitter has filed for an initial public offering of stock, months earlier than expected.

The 7-year-old microblogging site announced the news — via tweet, of course — on Thursday afternoon: “We’ve confidentially submitted an S-1 to the SEC for a planned IPO. This Tweet does not constitute an offer of any securities for sale.”

A minute later, Twitter followed up its IPO tweet with a new message: “Now, back to work” along with a photo of employees in the company’s San Francisco offices.

Los Angeles Times, 9/12/13

Is Facebook Making You Happier?

… [T]he world of constant connectivity and media, as embodied by Facebook, is the social network’s worst enemy: in every study that distinguished the two types of Facebook experiences—active versus passive—people spent, on average, far more time passively scrolling through newsfeeds than they did actively engaging with content. This may be why general studies of overall Facebook use … so often show deleterious effects on our emotional state. Demands on our attention lead us to use Facebook more passively than actively, and passive experiences, no matter the medium, translate to feelings of disconnection and boredom.

– “How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy” by Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker, September 10, 2013

Is Facebook a good thing? In one sense, yes: as a parent of two little kids with no time to spare, it gives me an easy way to keep track of what my friends are doing. But Facebook has also devalued the concept of “friendship”: the bar to become “friends” and the effort that one has to invest in “friendships” are now so low that the word has lost much of its meaning. I also find myself passively peering at Facebook, not “engaging with content” as these studies recommend. (Truth be told, people who are “engaged” on Facebook scare me.) I worry about the impact Facebook will have on my kids and their ability to foster relationships with others. As remarkable as it is that we can now keep track of everybody in our lives, there is a cost to our dependence on Facebook, and this amount is growing with every passing day.