Author: Jon Evans

Blood money

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, but...

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

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 … in...

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

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. The...

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

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 lots...

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Our Precious

I’ve long theorized that one’s moral character is inversely proportional to the number of syllables in one’s Starbucks order. (Yes, this is a tech column. We’ll get to that. Have faith.) To which a friend pointed out that what Starbucks offers is control — your drink, exactly how you want it — and the smaller and pettier your life outside the coffee shop, the more control you want. Meanwhile, yesterday on Twitter I encountered what was, for a bred-in-the-bone Tolkien fan like me, the creepiest thing I’ve seen in a long while: Yeah. “It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don’t you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn’t rest without it in my pocket.” The One Ring of Sauron … or your smartphone? Let’s not start handwringing about technology changing culture. That is both welcome and inevitable. There is nothing intrinsically creepy about carrying a supercomputer in your pocket with immediate access to sizable fractions of both the rest of humanity and all human knowledge. That part is intrinsically wonderful. It’s the way we use them; more specifically, the way we’re enticed to use them. Dopamine...

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What is the meaning of LinkedIn?

Thanks to John Biggs for inspiring this piece; I cosign most of what he says here. I have long been mystified by LinkedIn, because of its spectacular uselessness (for me) as a professional social network. But I also assumed it was useful for someone. Now, though, I’m beginning to wonder if the emperor is naked after all, and LinkedIn is purely a fantasy social network for people cosplaying that game called success. Let me hasten to stress that LinkedIn isn’t useless full stop. It’s a very good CV repository, and, I am given to understand, a very good recruiting...

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Optimistic

I spent TechCrunch’s latest Disrupt extravaganza asking questions of various notables onstage, and what struck me most was how fantastically optimistic they were. To pick two examples: Kai-Fu Lee talked about preparing for a world of mass plenitude and abundance 30-50 years from now; Dario Gil waxed enthusiastic about quantum computers simulating life-changing new materials and pharmaceuticals, transforming everyone’s lives for the better. And then I turned around and returned to the world of hair-trigger outrage, condemnation, consternation, pessimism, gloom and impending apocalypse; which is to say, America and social media, where it sometimes seems an encouraging word is...

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Burning Man: sympathy for the turnkey devil

The most interesting thing about Burning Man, says me, is that it’s a testbed for a post-scarcity society. The irony of course is that such a testbed requires enormous amounts of money and resources, in a highly hostile and inaccessible environment. That’s how far you have to go to get away from the monetary / scarcity hierarchies of our world. It’s a lot of other things, of course — the world’s biggest, craziest, and most spectacular party, a huge EDM festival, a massive outdoor art gallery (both ephemeral and permanent — museum curators go out there to inspect the work with an eye towards adding to their collections), an experimental community, a secular pagan ritual, a set & setting for psychedelics, a holiday / reunion with one’s friends, etcetera etcetera. Amusingly it is widely misunderstood as a hippie event, when its flamethrowers:guitars ratio is roughly 100:1 and its mottos include “Safety Third” and “Keep Burning Man Potentially Lethal.” It is also even, sometimes, very weirdly, misinterpreted as some kind of holiday-hackathon extension of Silicon Valley. That last misunderstanding is instructive. The list of events this year included a so-called ‘VC/entrepreneur networking event and pitch session.’ I did not attend, but a close friend did, and reported “it was the ultimate Poe’s Law event … many people were genuinely crestfallen when they realized it was a joke.” It seems that...

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