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A medium is born

Artistic mediums are a small, rarefied lot. The spectrum from War and Peace to The Da Vinci Code is huge, but it’s all a single medium: books. Citizen Kane and Jackass may not have much in common, but they’re both movies. Art, music, theater, radio, games, maybe graphic novels…that’s pretty much it. We can haggle over subtypes like radio drama or journalism or stand-up comedy, but still. Thousands of years of civilization, and we can count the main artistic mediums on just two hands, with room to spare.

…except now. VR is here, and it’s a truly new medium. You and I have the awesome privilege of witnessing its birth firsthand. That doesn’t happen often, and it’s pretty damn cool. Continue reading

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Drawbridge up, drawbridge down

When populations are homogenous, people see that other people are mostly like them – ethnically, culturally, socioeconomically, etc. This boosts trust broadly, which makes everyone more open to progressive social policies and safety nets.

When populations are diverse, people are more visibly different, at least on the surface, which leads to othering, dampens trust, and leads to more protectionist, socially conservative policies.

This is an oversimplification, and happens only in our subconscious, but there may still be a nugget of truth to it. It might be one reason that Scandinavian countries have long been so open, progressive, and even socialist: their populations are extremely homogenous. North America and western Europe are historically diverse, on the other hand, now more than ever, which has coincided with populist waves of nationalism, isolationism, and xenophobia. Continue reading

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Channeling the hacker way

Also posted on the Color Genomics blog.

We have big dreams and ambitious plans. We want to push the state of the art in health and genetics, and we need broad, crazy moonshot product ideas to get us there. How do we find those ideas?

We’ve always been inspired by 20% time at Google and 3M and hack weeks at Twitter, so we decided to do our own hack week. We invited everyone to put normal work on hold for a full week to try out new ideas, no matter how crazy or tangential. We didn’t know how many people would participate, or whether we could ship any of the results, but it was worth a shot! Continue reading

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Wanted: climate change project

I’m in the market for a new side project. I’m looking for something related to climate change. I don’t know if I’ll end up farming biochar, spraying aerosols into the sky, hacking solar panel trackers, or something else entirely, but those are the kinds of thing I’m thinking about.

I’m leaning toward something technical. I’m open to coding, but ideally that won’t be my primary contribution. I’ve had a blast hacking on open source projects, and I’m sure I’ll do more, but right now I’m thinking about something different.

So far, I’ve just been reading a lot and learning as much as I can. There’s lots of great stuff going on, and I’ve found a few open communities here and there, but most substantial projects are either companies or academic research labs. Those are both great, but they’re hard to join part time and contribute a handful of hours a week.

The next step is to talk to people who know more, or know other people who do. If you know the space and have an interesting problem I might be able to help with, or if you know someone who might, please drop me a line!

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College is more than a job ticket

It’s become fashionable recently to second guess college. The ROI no longer works: it’s too expensive and doesn’t guarantee you a good job. It’s elitist and out of touch with reality. Student debt is predatory and out of control. Anyway, MOOCs’ unbundling model is the future of higher ed, so we might as well get on board, right?

That all may be true, but I think it’s too narrow. There’s a corollary to “you can’t optimize what you don’t measure”: measurement can give you tunnel vision. You can collect X University grads’ incomes, divide by tuition, and compare to College Y, but that doesn’t mean you can reduce either one to a simple financial investment you optimize to get the best salary. Continue reading

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Decentralized Web Summit

I spent the last few days at the Decentralized Web Summit, a small gathering of like-minded hackers, thinkers, and activists from all over. I don’t go to many conferences, but this one was inspiring and exciting. Even the mainstream press noticed. I’ll see if I can describe why.

I spent some time in the peer-to-peer community during the first dot com boom. I hung out with the p2p-hackers and CodeCon folks, co-created a toy P2P network and contributed to others, idolized Nullsoft and Bram Cohen and anonymous remailers, and generally yearned to be free of The Man in the middle. By the time BitTorrent hit it big, P2P seemed unstoppable, even inevitable. Continue reading

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Judging campaign tactics

Donald Trump.

Admit it, you have half a lather worked up already. The man is incendiary; the campaign is astounding. He’s built a big base of support with tactics that we thought were off the table entirely and should have sunk him long ago.

What changed? Do we not have the grasp on campaign tactics we thought we did? Do we need to dive back into modern electioneering, break it down, and really understand it piece by piece if we want to get the leaders we think we’re electing?

Campaigning today is a complicated business. Fundraising, optics, opposition research, social media…there’s a lot to it, all far removed from the actual task of governing and policy making. (You may still spend much of your time fundraising and campaigning once you’re in office, but that’s a different issue.) Continue reading

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