10 September 2015

MUNI sucks - and you're making it worse

With an estimated 40,000 new residents since 2010, life in SF is getting more challenging. This is showing in our infrastructure issues and in particular with MUNI.

MUNI was never a well-run or well-funded system, nor was it a complete one. But now MUNI is breaking under the strain.

And you all are not helping.

Let's be honest... MUNI sucks. We all know it.  We all say it, we all live it. But we can make it better. We can make the entire experience better for everyone who rides MUNI light rail, and it's not even difficult or any real sacrifice.

So here, from a 20+ year MUNI light rail rider, are the ways to make MUNI light rail better (for all of us) by simply behaving a little better.

  1. Lines. We're not like the English. We kind of suck at lines. That does not, however, mean that it's a fucking free for all out there. We all know the proper order based on who arrived when. There is a virtual line as a result. When you get all clever and slip around the outside and dart in ahead of everyone else you're not being smarter than the rest of us, nor are the rest of us being chumps. You're being an asshole. Wait your turn, behave like a decent human, and we'll all get on the train and get home and we'll do so without the current level of hatred and simmering conflict.
  2. Boarding. When the train arrives, wait. Let everyone get off before you get on. This is the simplest of rules and the simplest of fixes. This will increase the efficiency of unloading and unloading and will result in MUNI running better throughout the entire system. Once everyone has debarked, you need to go as far into the train as you can. Stopping as soon as you board and grabbing an upright like you're about to drown creates a bottleneck which results in boarding slowing dramatically. If you simply go to the center of the train quickly, everyone will get to board, the train will load more quickly (and thus MUNI will run more quickly overall) and the train will hold more passengers (also resulting in quicker and better operation of the system). 
  3. Seats. If you sit in the outside seat when the inside seat is empty, there is a decent chance no-one will ask to take the inside seat. It's a politeness thing. But, again, doing this is not an indication that you're smarter than everyone else. Not doing it doesn't make you a chump. No... doing this makes you a fucking asshole. If 4 people do this per car, you're talking 16 fewer passengers per double train. During rush hour, this works out to around 320 fewer passengers per hour. So yeah... move to the inside seat.
  4. Backpacks. This one I do not understand at all.  It's fucking obvious. First of all, MUNI at rush hour is like Tetris and if you leave your backpack on, fewer passengers can fit on a train. Secondly, every time you move around in a packed train with your backpack on you're assaulting everyone behind you. I've had coffee spilled on me this way, I've been knocked to the ground this way. Third, when you try to board or exit the train, you're a massive unwieldy object in motion through the crowd. Disasters are predictable. So... a simple and binary rule... Before you get on the train, take off your backpack. You can hold it in your hand between your legs, you can rest it on your feet - but just take it off your fucking back. Mkay?
  5. Arriving. First and foremost... if the train is packed and you're by the doors, and the train stops somewhere that isn't your destination - step off the train so people can get off. If it's super packed and you're a few people in from the door, you too might have to step off the train. Once off the train, wait until everyone gets off, and then re-board (in the reverse order of you you left). If you're on the platform waiting - let the kind people who got off the train board before you get on. Not doing so makes you on par with elevator farters and with luck you will spend hell in an elevator filled with farts. Now... if this is your stop, don't freak out. Calmly work your way towards the door. If there are people blocking your path, politely say "excuse me." And if someone says, "excuse me" because you're blocking their way off the train - get the fuck out the way. 
There we go.
Five simple steps, a handful of simple rules.
If we all start doing this - MUNI will suck demonstrably less. For all of us.

So why the hell would you NOT do this?

04 September 2015

The Worst People (San Francisco, Sept 2015)

10. Sepp Blatter
 9. Trust-fund Wantrepreneurs
 8. Everyone who wears a fucking backpack on MUNI during rush hour
 7. Fake "Seed Investors"
 6. Enterprise Sales People
 5. Fans of Ayn Rand
 4. Code Artists
 3. That guy who keeps tweeting about #gamergate
 2. People who fart in the elevator
 1. Technolibertarians

01 September 2015

A Realization - About SF, Portland and opportunity

Current San Francisco dogma says that there is nowhere in the world that presents more opportunity. This is why everyone wants to move here. This is why you can't find parking, why toast costs $4 and why your rent is going to be more than $4k a month here. Right? Kind of hard to argue against this, yeah?

I just returned from a visit to my old stomping grounds (Portland OR) and I have some new perspective on this topic.

Honestly, I kind of thought I'd be writing about how Bay Area tech is a virus that is destroying its hosts (as illustrated by PDX). And while it was sad and a little disgusting to see that the brogrammer culture has gestated in Portland as well - this isn't what is sticking with me from this trip after all.

While in Portland I realized something important - or at least important to me - about opportunity and definitions.

Portland is incredibly ripe with opportunity and potential. It's all around you and it's inspiring.
There is, however, a huge difference between the opportunity and potential available to you in Portland and in the Bay Area.

In Portland, you have the opportunity to do what you want to do and to be who you want to be.
In the Bay Area, on the other hand, you have the opportunity to become a highly valuable asset and resource.

I'm not saying one is universally better than the other - but rather that you should know this and own your choices.

But frankly it's hard to not be reminded of what SF was like back in the early 90s - when it too was rich with opportunity for self-creation, self-identification and the pursuit of crazy dreams. And it's hard to not worry that the dream of PDX will follow the same path and the destruction of that dream will be yet another loss that Bay Area tech will have to answer for.

20 March 2015

The Badge of Stupidity

I see a couple people like you every month. You live in SF and work in Tech. You seem to think that working yourself to death is a Badge of Honor. It's not. It's a Badge of Stupidity. 
The above was what my Dr told me after I'd been diagnosed with pneumonia two weeks ago.

I can't ignore it anymore. We have a problem in this industry and we need to talk about it.

My Dr is right. Putting your health at risk for your job isn't something to be proud of. It's not something to boast about. It's fucking stupid. Pure and simple. And we need to stop doing it.
Look back at the last year of your life. How many weeks were you able to put in 40 hours of really productive and efficient work? How many weeks were you not able to do so because you were sick or burned out or exhausted or stretched too thin? And how many hours a week of work time did you average?
She also asked me to consider the above set of questions.
So I did.
And if I'm honest... in the last year I've probably averaged between 50 and 60 hours of work time a week - and I'm probably at less than 30 hours of productive and effective work per week on average.

That's... fucked.

I'm putting my health at risk - and the end result is that I'm less productive and effective in my job. If I were to only work 40 hours a week I'd probably be more productive - and I'd clearly be healthier.
I'll make you a deal. You can either promise me that you will stay at home and not work until the following symptoms are completely cleared up - or I can admit you to the hospital right now.
This was my wake up call.
I made the right choice.

The pneumonia has cleared up and I'm symptom free. But I'm not going to forget this.

I know I'm going to get peer pressure to act in unhealthy ways. But I'm going to do everything I can to resist it. It's not healthy, it's not good for me OR for my employer.

It's fucking stupid. I don't want to wear the Badge of Stupidity anymore.
Do you want your headstone to read "he was always the last to leave the office"?

31 December 2014

This Is The End

And so another year ends.

Let's be honest - at a macro, philosophical, human level 2014 kind of sucked. Yeah... a lot of tech folks made a lot of money. Yeah... all sorts of cool new tools and toys were released. But between the governmental oppression and criminal behavior; the high level of douchebaggery amongst the humans on this planet in general (and within the tech industry in particular); the rampant sexism and the insane racism... just the ridiculously high levels of public bigotry -- it's hard to see a lot to be positive about.

But there are two things that are probably worth celebrating.

One - women stopped taking shit. From the US to Nigeria to India and from the Game industry to Politics to tech and Open Source Software - this was the year women said "fucking enough already." Female leaders stepped up and made their voices heard. To be fair - most were then abused, threatened and had their lives made hellish. But they didn't give up. And they're not letting anyone forget. As a result, things could well change for the better.

Second - some white people started understanding their privilege. Note.... "some" and "started." Yeah... baby steps. But we're not that far removed from the highest court in this land declaring we are in a "post racial society" so even baby steps are huge. This wasn't something that these white folks did, to be honest, so we / they get no fucking credit for this. White folks have had their heads in the sand for a long ass time, and the only reason anyone woke up at all was because it was forced on us. Black leaders, particularly young black leaders, are not shutting up. They're not letting us go back to pretending it's all just fine and dandy. And that is a really good thing.

Now.... the above makes it sound like things are getting better.
And in some specific and particular ways they are - and in the future I think there is a good chance things over all could be better.

But in the near future?

Not so fucking much.

My thoughts on 2015 are exactly the same as they were 12 months ago.
It's gonna be a rough ride folks. Better buckle in and hold on tight.

19 October 2014

Twitter, Capitalism, Hate, #gamergate

Note: I'm not going to go into the whole history of #gamergate. I'm going to assume you're already paying attention.

In many ways we should be glad that this whole fucking mess has happened. It's shining a bright light into some very dark corners of our society and we're seeing some ugly, ugly shit that we need to fix.

But while I would be proud to be called a Social Justice Warrior, I don't have a lick of credibility on the subject (being a highly privileged straight, white, upper middle class, educated male working in tech and all). So I'll leave that to the folks in the trenches like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu and Laurie Penny.

I do, however, have some credibility when it comes to tech - and in particular to the role that Twitter has played here.

Let me be very clear here....

Without Twitter's indulgence and implicit permission there would be no Gamergate. 

For many of us, Twitter is a service and a utility. The fact that Twitter is also a publicly traded commercial entity is of little to no interest. The problem is that Twitter the company is an unprofitable publicly traded commercial entity that is currently valued at at something like 130x next year's projected earnings.

As you can imagine, running business stuff at Twitter right now is probably highly stressful.

Twitter, the company, has been getting beat up for a while now about some of its metrics. In particular, investors are worried about their MAU (Monthly Active Users) count. More critically, investors are also worried about their Engagement Rates.

So right now those in charge of Twitter are highly, highly motivated to do things that will increase user activity and engagement - and are even more highly motivated to not do anything that would decrease these metrics.

As you can imagine, the whole misogynistic cesspool that is gamergate has almost certainly been a huge win for Twitter when it comes to these core business metrics. Four related hashtags have been top trending terms and I'm confident Twitter's TLV/MAU (their core Engagement KPI) has improved materially.

This is why a publicly traded utility is a terrible idea.

Twitter is putting the best interests of their shareholders ahead of the best interests of their users - and of society. Twitter is, in fact, doing harm to many users (and thus to society) through their inaction.

Without Twitter's enablement, the couple dozen core gamergate douchebags would still just be sitting around writing one-handed rape fantasies on some forum that no-one ever sees.

15 July 2014

Minimum Actionable Dataset

By this point, all thinking humans have come to accept that there are ethical problems with the current ungoverned way businesses, governments and organizations capture, store, use and monetize data.

I'm not going to debate the ethics themselves, or suggest any systemic or social methods for addressing the ethical failings that have created this problem (other than to suggest that ethics really needs to be a required course in both CS programs and MBA ones). Instead I'm simply going to suggest a new philosophical guideline.

Introducing the Minimum Actionable Dataset (aka MADs)
When defining the dataset your application, site or service is going to capture, store and use - start with the minimum set of data needed to make critical product and business decisions. Only add additional data when it is required to make these decisions.
While it is no longer acceptable to capture any and all data, and then later on figure out which stuff is valuable and which you want to analyze and use -- it's also unrealistic (and stupid) to not use data. We need the data we need to make good decisions on what customers and users want, value and need out of our products and services. We need the data to be able to run our businesses effectively, responsibly, sustainably and professionally. 

A little analogy....

Lazy developers, when working with a relational database, will often do a "SELECT * FROM" query in order to pull all data into the app, and then manipulate, sort, find the needed data from within that full set within the app logic itself. 

This is a Bad Thing.

It is equally bad (and lazy) to do this exact thing with your data capture.

Defining Your MADs

One of the reasons why I identify laziness as a root cause is my acceptance that for many developers, it's easier to simply capture all the data than define the Minimum Actionable Dataset.

Defining this dataset is a collaborative activity - and is one that involves multiple points of view and individuals within the organization. And that is messy, interpersonal and difficult. You need to define the data that is required by Product to make appropriate decisions around customer and user needs, desires and wishes. This obviously should be defined by Product. You need to define the data that is required by the Business to make appropriate decisions around business strategy, tactics, pricing, capitalization, partnerships, etc etc etc. 

So you just capture the requirements from both those stakeholders, merge them and voila, right?

No. Wrong.

This is how we got to the "capture it all and let god sort it later" mentality. Both Business and Product have a vested interest in raising the threshold of what is considered "minimum" in this case. So you'll need a counterbalance. You'll need someone who is the "keeper of the threshold."

Most companies do not have a Head of Privacy or a Head of Data Policy. If you do... this is your counterbalance and this person should be part of the decision-making and should have veto power (though, obviously, they can if needed be over-ruled by the CEO). In this context, their role isn't to "protect the user" or "keep us in legal compliance" as much as it is to "defend the minimum threshold." 

In other words... their job in this process is to be the one who challenges every new data point captured and requires a justification for why the business and the product couldn't be run effectively without that data.

Why MADs?

The tech industry has lost the trust of our customers and our users.

And we have not - and are not - stepping up to take the lead on fixing this.

We have to. And quickly.

If we don't.... Winter is coming (and by Winter... I mean Regulation).

It's time.