Author: Jon Evans

The slow corrosion of techno-optimism

TECHCRUNCH Two weeks from now, the Swahilipot Hub, a hackerspace / makerspace / center for techies and artists in Mombasa, Kenya, is hosting a Pwani Innovation Week, “to stimulate the innovation ecosystem in the Pwani Region.” Some of its organizers showed me around Mombasa’s cable landing site some years ago; they’re impressive people. The idea of the Hub and its forthcoming event fills me with unleavened enthusiasm, and optimism … and a bleak realization that it’s been a while since I’ve felt this way about a tech initiative. What happened? How did we go from predictions that the tech...

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Mattereum, perhaps the world’s weirdest and most daring startup, intends to own literally everything

TECHCRUNCH How’s this for eyebrow-raising? In London, for the last year and a half, a team of lawyers, cryptographers, software engineers, and/or former military consultants have been brewing a bizarre and/or brilliant plan for a bridge between the blockchain and the real world — a system whose success is directly proportional to the extent to which it achieves legal title over every physical object in the world. Wait. Let me explain. Their name is Mattereum, and they are not Bond villains seeking to conquer the planet. Rather, they are trying to bridge the gap between programmable blockchain “smart contracts”...

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What if Google unionized?

TECHCRUNCH Last week more than 20,000 Google employees walked out of their workplace to protest, and demand major changes in, how the company handles harassment and discrimination. Mass employee organization, demands made of management — doesn’t that all vaguely remind you of some kind of old-fashioned twentieth-century concept? What was it called again? The name’s on the tip of my tongue, I swear… A participant said, “Just the threat of us walking out was enough for the company to remove DeVaul from the payroll,” referring to Richard DeVaul, the Google executive who resigned this week amid a swirling storm of accusations of sexual harassment and worse. Meanwhile, an organizer of the walkout said, plaintively, “I hope I still have a career in Silicon Valley after this” … while other organizers declined to go on the record. If only there were some formal, structured way in which tech employees could bring grievances to their management, and negotiate with them as a group, via, say, elected representatives, for whom protection from retaliation could be established. Surely the disruptors and out-of-the-box thinkers of Silicon Valley could come up with some revolutionary new system for that. Imagine — and I know this sounds like science fiction but bear with me — one day, such a structure might even achieve some kind of special legal recognition and protections. But what would they call it?...

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The tools, they are a-changing

TECHCRUNCH Building web services and smartphone apps, which is most of what I’ve been doing professionally at HappyFunCorp1 for the last decade or so used to be pretty straightforward. Not easy, but straightforward, especially when the client was a consumer startup, which so many of them were. The more we did the better we got at it. Design and write two native apps, usually iOS first and Android second. Don’t skimp on the design. Connect them to a JSON API, usually written in Ruby on Rails, which also powered the web site. There’s always a web site; consumers might...

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Blood money

TECHCRUNCH Some years ago an investor I met at a TechCrunch event invited me out for a coffee. This happens a lot; as a weekly columnist here I am deemed an official Media Influencer, and people in turn want to influence me, until they realize I’m just going to ignore them and write about whatever weird idea comes into my head instead. I accepted this invitation, though, because this guy’s job was unusually interesting, in a bad way — he represented a venture fund affiliated with the Kremlin. This was before Russia was the democracy-manipulating enemy it is today,...

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At what point do we admit that geoengineering is an option?

TECHCRUNCH In 1883, Krakatoa erupted, spewing volcanic ash and gas into the stratosphere, making clouds more reflective and cooling the entire planet by roughly 1° C that year. In 2018, the UN reported that human activity has already raised Earth’s temperature by 1°, and if we don’t do something drastic soon, the results will be catastrophic. The optimal solution is staring us in the face, of course; reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately this optimal solution is politically untenable and extremely expensive. A decade ago McKinsey estimated it would cost $1 trillion just to halve the growth of carbon emissions …...

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I’m very sorry, but you’re going to have to learn to love the blockchain

TECHCRUNCH I apologize. I get it. You hear “blockchain” and you immediately think “shady get-rich-quick schemes” or “bubble of magical fake Internet money” or “libertarian enfants terribles,” and when a true believer tries to explain to you why you should care, why it will change the world beyond just minting a new set of paper oligarchs, you think “wait, why not just use a database?” I hear you. And you’re not wrong. In the developed world, at least, there isn’t a lot that Bitcoin can do which isn’t already handled better, and more safely, by banks and credit cards....

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What the heck is going on with measures of programming language popularity?

TECHCRUNCH I looked at the TIOBE index today, as I do every so often, as most of the software pros I know do every so often. It purports to measure the popularity of the world’s programming languages, and its popularity-over-time chart tells a simple story: Java and C are, and have been since time immemorial, by some distance the co-kings of language. But wait. Not so fast. The rival “PYPL Index” (PopularitY of Programming Languages) says that Python and Java are co-kings, and C (which is lumped in with C++, surprisingly) is way down the list. What’s going on here? What’s going on is that the two indexes have very different methodologies … although what their methodologies have in common is both are very questionable, if the objective is to measure the popularity of programming languages. TIOBE measures the sheer quantity of search engine hits. PYPL measures how often language tutorials are Googled. Both are bad measures. We can expect the availability of online resources to be an extremely lagging indicator; a once-dominant dead language would probably still have millions of relict web pages devoted to it, zombie sites and blog posts unread for years. And the frequency of tutorial searches will be very heavily biased towards languages taught en masse to students. That’s not a meaningful measure of which languages are actually in use by practitioners. There are...

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