Category Archive 'Silicon Valley'
03 Dec 2019
Wes Enzinna, in Harper’s, describes the bizarre fringe existence of a millennial bourgeois Bohemian trying to find living space in ever-so-rich, ever-so-f*cked-up Bay Area California.
[T]he year of the Ghost Ship fire, I lived in a shack. Iâ€™d found the place just as Septemberâ€™s Indian summer was giving way to a wet October. There was no plumbing or running water to wash my hands or brush my teeth before sleep. Electricity came from an extension cord that snaked through a yard of coyote mint and monkey flower and up into a hole Iâ€™d drilled in my floorboards. The structure was smaller than a cell at San Quentinâ€”a tiny house or a huge coffin, depending on how you looked at itâ€”four by eight and ten feet tall, so cramped it fit little but a mattress, my suit jackets and ties, a space heater, some novels, and the mason jar I peed in.
The exterior of my hermitage was washed the color of runny egg yolk. Two redwood French doors with plexiglass windows hung cockeyed from creaky hinges at the entrance, and a combination lock provided meager security against intruders. White beadboard capped the roof, its brim shading a front porch set on cinder blocks.
After living on the East Coast for eight years, Iâ€™d recently left New York City to take a job at an investigative reporting magazine in San Francisco. If it seems odd that I was a fully employed editor who lived in a thirty-two-square-foot shack, thatâ€™s precisely the point: my situation was evidence of how distorted the Bay Area housing market had become, the brutality inflicted upon the poor now trickling up to everyone but the super-rich. The problem was nationwide, although, as Californians tend to do, theyâ€™d taken this trend to an extreme. Across the state, a quarter of all apartment dwellers spent half of their incomes on rent. Nearly half of the countryâ€™s unsheltered homeless population lived in California, even while the state had the highest concentration of billionaires in the nation. In the Bay Area, including West Oakland, where my shack was located, the crisis was most acute. Tent cities had sprung up along the sidewalks, swarming with capitalismâ€™s refugees. Telegraph, Mission, Market, Grant: every bridge and overpass had become someoneâ€™s roof.
Down these same streets, tourists scuttered along on Segways and techies surfed the hills on motorized longboards, transformed by their wealth into children, just as the sidewalk kids in cardboard boxes on Haight or in Peopleâ€™s Park aged overnight into decrepit adults, the former racing toward the future, the latter drifting away from it.
To my mother and girlfriend back East, the â€œshack situationâ€ was a problem to be solved. â€œCan we help you find another place?â€ â€œCan you just find roommates and live in a house?â€ But the shack was the solution, not the problem.
As penance for abandoning my girlfriend, I still paid part of our rent in New York, and after covering my portion of our bills, my student loan payment, and car insurance, I had about $1,500 left over each month. That wouldnâ€™t have been so little to live on, except that, according to some estimates, apartments then averaged $3,500 a month in San Francisco, $3,000 in Oakland. That year, 2016, 83,733 low-income San Franciscans would apply for the cityâ€™s affordable housing lottery, fighting for 1,025 slots. There were still cheap rooms available in the Bay, to be sure, mostly in ramshackle Victorians or weathered Maybeck bungalows where artists or activists or punks lived collectively and were protected by rent control, but these rooms were in dwindling supply and astonishingly high demand. On Craigslist or by word of mouth, vacancies were often offered exclusively to â€œQ.T.P.O.C.â€ (queer and trans people of color) or â€œB.A.B.R.â€ (Bay Area born and raised) roommates, a reasonable defensive measure against the ravages of the tech economy, which, block by block, was replacing the weird old counterculture with Stanford M.B.A.s and Google engineers.
For those of us caught in the middle, it meant that to score a bed, you had to have Q.T.P.O.C. friends willing to make an exception for you, or be a member of obscure Facebook groups like (â€™â€™â€™), which served as an underground network for people seeking shared housing. (The page also offered bartered services like massage and childcare and, on at least one occasion, a â€œfree hearse.â€) As in other cities under intense economic pressure, marginalized inhabitants had created an alternate, black-market rental economy: the currency may have been cultural capital, but competition was still fierce.
I spent a few weeks on friendsâ€™ couches before an acquaintance posted on Facebook about a room opening in his eight-bedroom house in Oakland for $475, a steal, and I messaged him immediately. Thirty people had already written, he said, and his roommates had also received scores of inquiries, so the odds werenâ€™t good. He stopped answering my emails after that. The same thing happened with a few vacant rooms I tracked down at illegal warehouses, cavernous lofts where residents scrimped on such things as functioning plumbing or reliable electricity in order to have space to paint and make sculptures and host bands all night, places like the Dildo Factory, or Hecoâ€™s, or Ghost Ship, whose leaseholder posted a roommate-wanted ad on Craigslist that winter seeking
all shamanic rattlesnake sexy jungle jazz hobo gunslingers looking for a space to house gear, use studio, develop next level Shaolin discipline after driving your taxi cab late at night, build fusion earth home bomb bunker spelunker shelters, and plant herbaceous colonies in the open sun & air.
I didnâ€™t answer the Ghost Ship ad, but I went to a few â€œauditionsâ€ at other lofts. There were so many people vying for the spaces, I rarely got a call back and was never offered a room. Iâ€™d squandered whatever cool I once possessed, it turned out, by building a â€œnormieâ€ career as a writer and editor on the East Coast.
09 Oct 2019
Wired explains why there has recently been a huge exodus of Astrophysicists out of Academia and into Silicon Valley where they are highly paid for studying consumer preferences instead of Stellar Dynamics.
To understand whatâ€™s driving astrophysicists into consumer product startups, consider the recent explosion of machine learning. Astrophysicists, who wrangle massive amounts of data collected from high-powered telescopes that survey the sky, have long used machine learning models, which â€œtrainâ€ computers to perform tasks based on examples. Tell a computer what to recognize in one intergalactic snapshot and it can do the same for 30 million more and start to make predictions. But machine learning can also be used to make predictions about customers, and around 2012, corporations started to staff up with people who knew how to deploy it.
These days, machine learning drives everything from Stitch Fixâ€™s curated boxes of clothes to Netflixâ€™s personalized movie recommendations. How does Spotify perfectly predict the songs that will surprise and delight you in its weekly personalized playlists? That’s machine learning at work. And while machine learning now constitutes its own field of study, because scientists from fields like astrophysicists have been working with those kinds of models for years, theyâ€™re natural hires on data science teams.
â€œWe were already in Big Data before Big Data became a thing,â€ says Sudeep Das, an astrophysicist who now works at Netflix.
Das got his PhD at Princeton, where he researched cosmic microwave backgroundâ€”basically the electromagnetic radiation left over from the Big Bang. Afterward, he spent a few years studying data from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope in Chile. The telescope collects nearly a terabyte of data from the cosmos every night, and from this massive data set, Das detected an elusive astrophysical signal. It was a rare payoff after years of painstaking work. The discovery earned him the attention of the University of Michigan, which offered him an assistant professorship.
But Das turned it down and moved to Silicon Valley insteadâ€”first to work as a data scientist at Beats Music, then at OpenTable, and now at Netflix.
The decision to leave academia came down to a few factors: The pay was certainly better, and the jobs were more plentiful. â€œThereâ€™s a bottleneck of getting into tenure-track positions,â€ he says. And being in the Bay Area meant he and his wifeâ€”who is also an astrophysicistâ€”would never have to worry about both finding jobs. But the real surprise, he says, was that the work in tech companies was actually interesting. At Beats, he says, he found â€œlike-minded people who were working on problems that didnâ€™t take away the intellectual high.â€ Same math, different application.
Das says heâ€™s noticed that more and more physicists are trading the difficult slog of academiaâ€”which can involve a decade of financially dicey postdoctoral workâ€”to take cushy jobs in tech. â€œOnly two people from my PhD batch at Princeton are not working in industry,â€ he says. â€œYou have to be a die-hard academic to stay.â€
This big bang extends across the industry. â€œAstrophysics is our number one domain,â€ says Eric Colson, Stitch Fixâ€™s chief algorithms officer emeritus. â€œMost folks have a PhD in a quantitative field, but if we did a histogram, I think astrophysics is number one. They teach math really wellâ€”a lot of physicists are better mathematicians than mathematicians. They also teach coding well. Theyâ€™re better computer scientists than most computer scientists.â€ …
In academia, astrophysicists can spend years stuck on a singular problem. And many of the exciting problems have already been solved, says Amber Roberts, a former astrophysicist who now helps academics transition to industry at Insight Data Science. â€œWe discovered the size of the universe. We measured the speed of light. We found pole stars. We found black holes,â€ she says. â€œA lot of those big things, like understanding how space-time works or how gravity distorts, are what get people interested in the study of space and cosmology. But what youâ€™re really doing is contributing to a very small subfield where youâ€™ll work about three years on a paper that about 10 people in the world are going to read. Youâ€™re not going to be Carl Sagan.â€
06 Oct 2018
Simone Stolzoff visits Facebook and concludes that cushy office perks Silicon-Valley-style are a trap.
I was there to see the headquarters of one of the most influential technology companies in the world, and it looked like a Lego fortress. The campus was all primary colors and serrated edges, as if cut from card stock for an elementary-school bulletin board.
Street art hung from the walls. Bicycles and scooters were strewn like forgotten toys. The corporate name was decapitalized. (Something about trying to be cool.)
â€œWe repurposed the sign from the old Sun Microsystems campus,â€ my greeter said when she met me at the campusâ€™ entrance. â€œWe leave it as a reminder to stay motivated.â€
As we walked past the iconic thumbs up on the front of the sign, I turned around to see the faded â€œSunâ€ on the back of it.
â€œWelcome to Facebook.â€
For a company built on openness and connectivity, the office felt like the walled garden Facebook itself has become. My greeter walked me to one of the complexâ€™s main arteries from Hacker Way toward Main Street. â€œThe campus was designed to be a cross between Disneyland and downtown Palo Alto.â€ I could tell. Thousands of employees filled the streets of Facebookâ€™s downtown area, a Main Street USA in a Magic Kingdom partial to hoodies and t-shirts.
There was a barbershop, a dental office, a bike shop.
If I worked here, I would never have to leave.
The gilded offices of Silicon Valley have both the amenities and exclusivity of a country club. The need to keep the outside world locked out is understandableâ€”tourists come from halfway around the world just to take pictures from Googleâ€™s drivewayâ€”but I worry that the locks go both ways.
â€œOrwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxleyâ€™s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history,â€ wrote media theorist Neil Postman. â€œAs he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.â€
The office is also a technology, a tool used to help get work done. And though there is something special about a workplace where you can get your dry-cleaning done between meetings, the blurring of work and not work can also veer toward oppression.
There’s no such thing as a free cupcake, as Robert A. Heinlein could have told you. All the good stuff in corporate headquarters is there to make you not want to leave, so that you’ll happily put in all sorts of unpaid overtime.
13 Aug 2018
Adding to the whole thing is the fact that those are not even ducks on the artificial Foster City Lake, they are lousy seagulls!
Sunil Rajaraman sucks at Ornithology, but he knows the Silicon Valley life really well. If you’ve been there and done it, you will laugh.
You canâ€™t fall back asleep. You reflect. You turn on the Headspace app and give yourself 10 minutes of peace. You have no idea whether meditation works or not. Itâ€™s really boring, and all your mind can think about is Instagram. It feels good, though.
Now you can spend the rest of your sleepless hours looking for new jobs on LinkedIn.
Your last start-up failed. You ran business development. It turns out your 27-year-old CEO, who never ran an enterprise software start-up, ran the company straight into the ground. You reflect for a bit on the reasons why this happened.
Your company had a â€œno egoâ€ and â€œno assholeâ€ hiring policy. He was somehow exempt from both rules.
Open-office concept by David Basulto
Maybe the company failed because, not unlike the companyâ€™s open-office concept, the companyâ€™s databases were open to hackers. Or maybe itâ€™s because you donâ€™t know who was actually doing work. To your knowledge, most of your coworkers were ordering stuff on Amazon, talking about each other on Slack, watching the World Cup, or WFH. The companyâ€™s business model should have been subleasing its $75-square-foot office space on Fridays, since no one showed up.
But life is better now. Forget start-ups; they are not for you. You used to think that life was over. Youâ€™re 35, and you havenâ€™t had an exit. You donâ€™t own a house, but now you tell people that renting is part of your â€œlong-term planâ€ to provide more flexibility. You used to think youâ€™re a failure.
But then you discovered Botox and realize you have more time than you think.
You drop off your kid at elementary school. Parents are part of an intricate social hierarchy. Itâ€™s public school, but somehow you are guilted into a â€œdonationâ€ every quarter. You run into Janice. She got drunk at the parent auction and bid $25,000 for Taylor Swift tickets. A week earlier, Dropbox IPOâ€™d. You do a calculation of her approximate net worth in your head. Drop in the bucket for her. Sheâ€™s now one of the â€œcoolâ€ parents. FML.
Ferdinand is out on the playground again 30 minutes after he dropped off his kid. He likes to chat up any mom who will flirt with himâ€Šâ€”â€Šwith that mesh baseball cap. He doesnâ€™t work. You give him a high five and a bro hug.
You realize high school never ends.
You took a job at a big company. Big, predictableâ€”thatâ€™s what you needed. You commute to Foster City. Way better than San Frat-cisco. You love the faux landfill lake filled with sickly ducksâ€”it inspires you on daily walks. The geese sometimes chase you around and make hissing noises, but so much lower key. You go to a poke place every day for lunch.
Faux Foster City Lake with ducks hanging out
You donâ€™t wear start-up logo hoodies anymore, and you instituted a household ban on Patagonia. Youâ€™ve attempted to read Manâ€™s Search for Meaning multiple times.
You donâ€™t need the excitement anymoreâ€”boring is where itâ€™s at. Your wife is the high flyer now. Her start-up took off. You are the junk bond; she is the high-growth stock. Youâ€™ve accepted your place in the portfolio.
You spend a lot of time in meetings. Meetings create a great rhythm for the day. Especially standing meetings. Youâ€™ve been to three meetings today with the same four people. Maybe you should put your desks together; then the whole day will be a meeting.
That one meeting last week was rough. You closed it out with, â€œThanks, guys.â€ You got reminded by the smug 24-year-old growth managerâ€”whose entire life experience has been comprised of private schools, vacationing in Laguna Beach and deciding what color BMW 3 Series to driveâ€”that you probably offended a large portion of the room by using that term. You vowed to be a better person.
You are standing beneath a company-values sign that reads, â€œHumility above all else!â€
Two years earlier.
10 Jul 2018
Antonio GarcÃa MartÃnez analyses the California dystopia where everyone talks and votes left, but lives in an unequal (and rather squalid) society that makes Norman England look like the land of Equality.
California is the future of the United States, goes the oft-cited clichÃ©. What the US is doing now, Europe will be doing in five years, goes another. Given those truthy maxims, letâ€™s examine the socioeconomics of the â€œCity by the Bayâ€ as a harbinger of whatâ€™s to come.
Data shows that technology and services make up a large fraction of citywide employment. It also shows that unemployment and housing prices follow the tech industryâ€™s boom-and-bust cycle. Amid the current boom, a family of four earning $117,400 now qualifies as low-income in San Francisco. Some readers laughed when I wrote in a memoir about working at Facebook that my six-figure compensation made me â€œbarely middle class.â€ As it turns out, I wasnâ€™t far off. With that credential, consider this rumination on bougie life inside the San Francisco bubble, which seems consistent with the data and the experience of other local techies.
San Francisco residents seem to be divided into four broad classes, or perhaps even castes:
The Inner Party of venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs who run the tech machine that is the engine of the cityâ€™s economy.
The Outer Party of skilled technicians, operations people, and marketers that keep the trains belonging to the Inner Party running on time. They are paid well, but they’re still essentially living middle-class livesâ€”or what lives the middle class used to have.
The Service Class in the â€œgig economy.â€ In the past, computers filled hard-for-humans gaps in a human value chain. Now humans fill hard-for-software gaps in a software value chain. These are the jobs that AI hasn’t managed to eliminate yet, where humans are expendable cogs in an automated machine: Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, TaskRabbit manual labor, etc.
Lastly, thereâ€™s the Untouchable class of the homeless, drug addicted, and/or criminal. These people live at the ever-growing margins: the tent cities and areas of hopeless urban blight. The Inner Party doesnâ€™t even see them, the Outer Party ignores them, and the Service Class eyes them warily; after all, they could end up there.
Mobility among the castes seems minimal. An Outer Party member could reach the Inner Party by chancing into an early job at a lottery-ticket company (such as Facebook or Google) or by becoming a successful entrepreneur. But thatâ€™s rare; most of the Outer Party prefers working for the Inner Party, gradually accumulating equity through stock grants and appreciating real estate.
The Service Class will likely never be able to drive/shop/handyman enough to rise to the Outer Party, at least not without additional training or skills. They’re mostly avoiding the descent to Untouchable status, while dealing with precarious gigs that disappear semi-regularly. Uber, for example, has made no bones about its intent to replace its drivers with robots. Delivery bots have already been deployed on city streets, though they were later restricted.
26 Apr 2018
Jaron Lanier tells New York Magazine how Big Internet Tech Companies went wrong.
We used to be kind of rebels, like, if you go back to the origins of Silicon Valley culture, there were these big traditional companies like IBM that seemed to be impenetrable fortresses. And we had to create our own world. To us, we were the underdogs and we had to struggle. And weâ€™ve won. I mean, we have just totally won. We run everything. We are the conduit of everything else happening in the world. Weâ€™ve disrupted absolutely everything. Politics, finance, education, media, relationships â€” family relationships, romantic relationships â€” weâ€™ve put ourselves in the middle of everything, weâ€™ve absolutely won. But we donâ€™t act like it.
We have no sense of balance or modesty or graciousness having won. Weâ€™re still acting as if weâ€™re in trouble and we have to defend ourselves, which is preposterous. And so in doing that we really kind of turn into assholes, you know? …
when you move out of the tech world, everybodyâ€™s struggling. Itâ€™s a very strange thing. The numbers show an economy thatâ€™s doing well, but the reality is that the way itâ€™s doing well doesnâ€™t give many people a feeling of security or confidence in their futures. Itâ€™s like everybodyâ€™s working for Uber in one way or another. Everythingâ€™s become the gig economy. And we routed it that way, thatâ€™s our doing. Thereâ€™s this strange feeling when you just look outside of the tight circle of Silicon Valley, almost like entering another country, where people are less secure. Itâ€™s not a good feeling. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s worth it, I think weâ€™re wrong to want that feeling.
Itâ€™s not so much that theyâ€™re doing badly, but they have only labor and no capital. Or the way I used to put it is, they have to sing for their supper, for every single meal. Itâ€™s making everyone else take on all the risk. Itâ€™s like weâ€™re the people running the casino and everybody else takes the risks and we donâ€™t. Thatâ€™s how it feels to me. Itâ€™s not so much that everyone else is doing badly as that theyâ€™ve lost economic capital and standing, and momentum and plannability. Itâ€™s a subtle difference. …
I think the fundamental mistake we made is that we set up the wrong financial incentives, and thatâ€™s caused us to turn into jerks and screw around with people too much. Way back in the â€™80s, we wanted everything to be free because we were hippie socialists. But we also loved entrepreneurs because we loved Steve Jobs. So you wanna be both a socialist and a libertarian at the same time, and itâ€™s absurd. But thatâ€™s the kind of absurdity that Silicon Valley culture has to grapple with.
And thereâ€™s only one way to merge the two things, which is what we call the advertising model, where everythingâ€™s free but you pay for it by selling ads. But then because the technology gets better and better, the computers get bigger and cheaper, thereâ€™s more and more data â€” what started out as advertising morphed into continuous behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them. So you end up with this mass behavior-modification empire, which is straight out of Philip K. Dick, or from earlier generations, from 1984.
Itâ€™s this thing that we were warned about. Itâ€™s this thing that we knew could happen. Norbert Wiener, who coined the term cybernetics, warned about it as a possibility. And despite all the warnings, and despite all of the cautions, we just walked right into it, and we created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks. We did it out of this desire to be both cool socialists and cool libertarians at the same time.
17 Aug 2017
The Washington Post reports that many of the key companies providing social networking, financial transfer, and even web-site registration have now decided to take it upon themselves to decide just who is, and who is not, worthy of Internet services and access.
Silicon Valley significantly escalated its war on white supremacy this week, choking off the ability of hate groups to raise money online, removing them from Internet search engines, and preventing some sites from registering at all.
The new moves go beyond censoring individual stories or posts. Tech companies such as Google, GoDaddy and PayPal are now reversing their hands-off approach about content supported by their services and making it much more difficult for alt-right organizations to reach mass audiences.
But the actions are also heightening concerns over how tech companies are becoming the arbiters of free speech in America. …
The censorship of hate speech by companies passes constitutional muster, according to First Amendment experts. But they said there is a downside of thrusting corporations into that role.
Silicon Valley firms may be ill-prepared to manage such a large societal responsibility, they added. The companies have limited experience handling these issues. They must answer to shareholders and demonstrate growth in users or profits â€” weighing in on free speech matters risks alienating large groups of customers across the political spectrum.
These platforms are also so massive â€” Facebook, for example, counts a third of the worldâ€™s population in its monthly user base; GoDaddy hosts and registers 71 million websites â€” it may actually be impossible for them to enforce their policies consistently.
Still, tech companies are forging ahead. On Wednesday, Facebook said it canceled the page of white nationalist Christopher Cantwell, who was connected to the Charlottesville rally. The company has shut down eight other pages in recent days, citing violations of the company’s hate speech policies. Twitter has suspended several extremist accounts, including @Millennial_Matt, a Nazi-obsessed social media personality.
On Monday, GoDaddy delisted the Daily Stormer, a prominent neo-Nazi site, after its founder celebrated the death of a woman killed in Charlottesville. The Daily Stormer then transferred its registration to Google, which also cut off the site. The site has since retreated to the â€œdark Web,â€ making it inaccessible to most Internet users.
PayPal late Tuesday said it would bar nearly three dozen users from accepting donations on its online payment platform following revelations that the company played a key role in raising money for the white supremacist rally.
In a lengthy blog post, PayPal outlined its long-standing policy of not allowing its services to be used to accept payments or donations to organizations that advocate racist views.
You won’t however find any mention of ANTIFA, the CPUSA, or any group on the Left receiving this kind of attention.
06 Aug 2017
When they are not saving the planet from the rest of us or enforcing the rights of the transgendered, Silicon Valley moguls drop by Hiroshi in Los Altos to dine on gold-topped Wagyu steak.
Hiroshi is an unusual restaurant for unusual clientele.
Located in Los Altos, California, the newly opened Japanese restaurant accommodates only eight people per night and has no menus, no windows, and one table. Dinner costs at minimum $395 a head, but it averages between $500 and $600 with beverages and tax. …
Located in a plaza in Los Altos â€” residents past and present include Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg â€” Hiroshi looked plain from the outside.
There were no hours posted on the door. A sign read “Open by appointment only.” …
Dim lighting cast a yellowish hue on the dining area, which was nearly swallowed whole by a single wooden table.
It was made from an 800-year-old Japanese keyaki tree. .. [I]t took 10 men and a small crane to lift the table into the restaurant. New walls were constructed around it.
I followed the aroma of meat crackling over an open fire to the kitchen, where I found the chef and owner, Hiroshi Kimura. He arrived at noon to prepare for the evening’s dinner.
On a business trip to the Bay Area in 2016, Kimura surveyed the restaurant scene and decided that few locations served the region’s wealthiest.
He decided the tech elite needed a high-end place to eat. The restaurant’s details â€” from the privacy shades on the windows to the discreet back entrance â€” caters to their needs.
Hiroshi accommodates just one seating of up to eight people per night. If a customer’s party has only six people, they must buy out the whole table. Dinner starts at $395 a head, but Biggerstaff said it averages much closer to $500 to $600 with beverages and tax.
Dinner is about 10 courses, and the menu changes daily. One dish, the tonkatsu sandwich, consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet prepared in a demi-glace.
Kimura and his sous-chef, who has a background in French cuisine, present each dish â€” like these sÅmen noodles topped with caviar â€” simply and tastefully.
Kimura specializes in a rare dish. “Since the age of 16, I have spent 40-plus years in pursuit of perfecting the art of wagyu steaks,” he wrote in a statement on the website. …
Wagyu fetches high prices. The American steak purveyor Allen Brothers sells four two-ounce tenderloin medallions for $165 online. Two rib-eye steaks cost a whopping $280.
Hiroshi has whole tenderloins flown in weekly from Japan. A supplier sends them sealed and packed on ice, via FedEx and includes a certificate of authenticity.
Kimura did not reveal much about how his wagyu steak is prepared. But we know he cooks the steaks over a hibachi â€” a traditional Japanese stove heated by charcoal. …
The wagyu steak is sprinkled with gold flakes and served with white asparagus and a ponzu sauce. “The gold is more for show,” … “It doesn’t really have any flavor.”
The dish arrives on a sheet of thin, fragrant wood, which prevents the sharp cutlery from destroying the plate.
Each guest has a miniature hibachi stove so they can cook their steak longer or reheat it.
14 May 2016
Ulysses768 speculates on why his fellow millennial tech workers are so commonly left-wing politically.
I know there appears to be an easy answer for this question, demographics. Of course they are liberal, you may say. Their workers are mostly young and urban. They reside in Northern California, Boston, and New York. How could they be anything but liberal?
That is true, but they also consist of engineers and highly skilled immigrants. They are people who have worked hard and are well compensated. While many of their peers were â€œstudyingâ€ sociology and womenâ€™s studies they were taking computer science and engineering courses. What they learned was rooted in logic and the physical world, not rehashed Marxism and utopian fantasies.
When I was growing up in Massachusetts, it made sense that my teachers were predominantly leftist. They belonged to a union and their pay was determined by how well they could scare the town into approving ever increasing school budgets and not by how well they did their jobs. I recall a great anticipation of reaching the working world where market forces would determine success and thus people would see the inherent benefits of individual liberty and classical liberal values.
Since graduating college Iâ€™ve been a naval officer, nuclear engineer, software engineer at an older tech company, and now one that is based in the Bay Area. Until now most of my fellow employees have appeared right of center, thus confirming my expectations. Thatâ€™s not to say it isnâ€™t a great place to work, it most certainly is. However, I am at a total loss to explain its culture or the cultures of other companies of its ilk.
I have a few theories, but I am not very confident in any of them. My definition of â€œnew tech companiesâ€ are those that have been created or risen to prominence in the last 15 years, such as Twitter or Facebook.
The people are the same but the companies are more authoritarian. Motivated by a very competitive job market and empowered by financial success, these companies seek to engage with their employees at a new level. They encourage their employees to basically live at work, breaking down the professional and personal divide. This fosters an environment not unlike a university. Everyone must be careful not to offend and the needs of all must be accommodated at the expense of the few. The cultures of victimhood and blind acceptance find fertile soil, and people who disagree learn to keep quiet.
Newer tech companies are more software- and web-based than their predecessors. Therefore aesthetically pleasing design is more important to the success of their products. Therefore more creatives are required and creatives trend left of center.
College indoctrination has become so successful that it has bled into the hard sciences and engineering spaces. My fellow employees seem more liberal because they actually are more liberal.
Read the whole thing.
09 Feb 2014
Samuel Beckett, circa 1970
Mark O’Connell explains, in Slate, how one line buried in one of Samuel Beckett’s obscure modernist works of prose pessimism rather miraculously escaped its confined context to become adopted as a Zen slogan by optimist achievers in Silicon Valley… and on the tennis circuit.
Stanislas Wawrinkaâ€™s defeat of Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open last weekend was a milestone not just in the career of a 28-year-old Swiss tennis player but also in the posthumous life of one of the 20th centuryâ€™s most unswervingly pessimistic writers. This is the first time a Grand Slam title has ever been won by a player with a Samuel Beckett quotation tattooed on his body (barring some unexpected revelation that, say, Ivan Lendl got himself a Waiting for Godotâ€“themed tramp stamp before beating John McEnroe in the 1984 French Open final). The words in question, inked in elaborately curlicued script up the length of Wawrinkaâ€™s inner left forearm, are these: â€œEver tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.â€
The quotation is from Worstward Ho, a late, fragmentary prose piece that is one of the most tersely oblique things Beckett ever wrote. But those six disembodied imperatives, from the textâ€™s opening page, have in their strange afterlife as a motivational meme come to much greater prominence than the text itself. The entrepreneurial class has adopted the phrase with particular enthusiasm, as a battle cry for a startup culture in which failure has come to be fetishized, even valorized. Sir Richard Branson, that affable old sage of private enterprise and bikini-based publicity shoots, has advocated from on high the benefits of Failing Better. He breaks out the quote near the end of an article about the future of his multinational venture capital conglomerate, telling us with characteristic self-assurance that it comes â€œfrom the playwright, Samuel Beckett, but it could just as easily come from the mouth of yours truly.â€
Hat tips to Steve Bodio and the Dish.
26 Nov 2013
Charlotte Allen, in the Weekly Standard, gives her readers a tour of the dystopian future represented by California’s Silicon Valley where left-wing politics goes hand-in-hand with spectacular inequality. The Tech Company owner lives in Atherton or owns, as the saying goes, “his own hilltop in Portola, while the merely upper-middle-class pay $1,200,000 to live in the sort of despicable ranch house equivalent of what a mailman might own in New Jersey. But they both have Mexican illegals to mow their lawns and paint their fences.
“If you live here, youâ€™ve made it,â€ David Berkey said to me as I rode shotgun in his car two months ago through the Silicon Valleyâ€™s wealth belt. The massive house toward which he was pointing belongs to Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google. With a net worth of $24 billion, Brin is Silicon Valleyâ€™s third-richest denizen and the fourteenth-richest man in America, according to Forbes. Berkey was chauffeuring me down Atherton Avenue, a wide, straight, completely tree-lined boulevard nicely bifurcating the city of Atherton (population 7,200), located 29 miles south of San Francisco, boasting no commercial real estate, and with a zip code (94027) that was recently listed by Forbes as Americaâ€™s most expensive.
You couldnâ€™t really see Brinâ€™s house from the car, thoughâ€”just a swatch of rooftop, maybe a chimneyâ€”because the point of the trees lining Atherton Avenue and nearly every other street in Atherton is to hide the dwellings behind them. Where the screens of trees happen to thin, property owners have constructed high hedges, high wooden fences, and high brick walls, so that when you look down Atherton Avenue from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west toward the commuter railroad station to the east, you see only the allÃ©e of treesâ€”pine, palms, eucalyptus, sycamore, and juniperâ€”shades of gray-green and brown-green shimmering placidly in the early autumn sun. â€œThis is the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es of Atherton,â€ Berkey explained. The other thing we didnâ€™t see from Berkeyâ€™s car is people, except for the occasional driver on the road. …
Berkey himself doesnâ€™t live in Atherton. He canâ€™t afford to. Heâ€™s a research fellow at Stanfordâ€™s Hoover Institution, and his wife, Eleanor Lacey, is general counsel at SurveyMonkey, which occupies Facebookâ€™s old startup quarters in downtown Palo Alto. That makes them part of what is known as the â€œmiddle classâ€ of Silicon Valley: two-career couples with family incomes in the low-to-mid six-figure-range. They and their two daughters live in neighboring Menlo Park, in what is essentially a modest 1950s tract house, the kind of flat-roofed, three-bedroom, two-bath, sliding-glass-patio-door, under-2,000-square-foot residences, pleasant but not pretentious, that were built en masse well into the 1970s as cheap starter homes, because back then it was conceivable that there could be such a thing as a cheap starter home in the valley. Berkey says his own house is currently valued at $1.2 million.
Thatâ€™s par for the course. Open on any random day the Daily Post, the throwaway newspaper serving the mid-peninsula, and there will be a full-page ad for a â€œcharming updated contemporary homeâ€ in Menlo Park or Palo Alto or Mountain View or Sunnyvale, with its single story, its gravel-topped roof, its living-room picture window, its teensy garden strip running alongside the jutting two-car garage that plugs into the kitchen, its pocket-size but grassy front lawn reminiscent of The Wonder Yearsâ€”and its 1,216 square feet of living spaceâ€”all â€œoffered at $949,000.â€ Thatâ€™s a bargain for the valley.
Berkey drove us out of Atherton, across El Camino Real, the peninsulaâ€™s main commercial highway, and across the railroad tracks past the tiny Atherton station, now part of Californiaâ€™s state-run Caltrain system and a commuter stop only on weekends. We were now in the featureless, nearly treeless, semi-industrial flatlands of Menlo Park stretching eastward to the bay. The demographic change was instant: Â¡No se habla inglÃ©s! There were suddenly plenty of people on the sidewalksâ€”and nearly every single one of them was Latino. There were suddenly plenty of commercial establishmentsâ€”ramshackle, brightly painted, graffiti-adorned storefronts with hand-painted business signs mostly in Spanish: â€œComida Nicaraguense,â€ â€œRestaurante Guatemalteco,â€ â€œCarnicerÃaâ€ (pork chops and steaks crudely painted on the walls), â€œPescaderÃaâ€ (fish and crustaceans crudely painted on the walls), â€œPanaderÃa,â€ â€œCheck Cashing,â€ â€œGonzalez Auto Sales,â€ â€œSanchez Jewelry,â€ â€œCheck Cashing,â€ â€œArturoâ€™s Shoe Repair,â€ â€œ99Â¢ and Over,â€ â€œCheck Cashing.â€
Menlo Park is actually only about 20 percent Hispanic and is unabashedly affluent in its own right, but its Hispanic population concentrated next door to the hedgy scrim of Atherton makes for a startling study in contrasts. No one pretends that the gravel-roofed, shack-size houses in this particular neighborhood are â€œcharmingâ€ midcentury modern gems. That would be hard to do, what with the weeds, the peeling paint, the chain-link fences, the chained-up guard dogs, and the front lawns paved over to accommodate multiple vehicles for multiple dwellers. The phrase â€œthe other side of the tracksâ€ has vivid meaning. â€œLook at the newspaper police blotters, and youâ€™ll see that in Atherton the main reported crime is identity theft,â€ said Berkey. â€œHere, itâ€™s break-ins.â€
You can laud this underbelly barrio as vibrant immigrant culture or you can decry it as an instant-slum product of untrammeled illegal border-crossing, but it represents an important fact on the ground: These are the people who earn their livings tending to the needs of the high-tech â€œcreative classâ€ that has made Silicon Valley famous. I could see them on Atherton Avenue, the amanuensis class heading up from Menlo Park in their wee panel trucks and Dodge minivans and their Ford flatbeds fitted out with racks for garden tools among the Bentleys, BMWs, Audis, and Lexuses that are the standard Atherton vehicles. They tend the meticulously clipped lawns, flower beds, hedges, and trees of Atherton (Berkey said that itâ€™s not uncommon for an Atherton sentence to begin, â€œMy arborist .â€‰â€‰.â€‰â€‰.â€‰â€). They clean the houses and the swimming pools, they deliver the catering, they watch the children, and they repair the roofs, the plumbing, the balconies, and the wine cellars of the very affluent and the very busy. You might say that across-the-tracks Menlo Park, along with down-market Latino neighborhoods just like it up and down the peninsulaâ€”East Palo Alto, parts of Redwood City, the southern end of San Joseâ€”functions as a kind of oversize servantsâ€™ wing. Itâ€™s safe to say that almost every hotel maid, restaurant busboy, cashier, janitor, retail stocker, and fast-food worker in the valley is Latino.
Master and servant. Cornucopian wealth for a few tech oligarchs plus relatively steady but relatively low-paying work for their lucky retainers. No middle class, unless the top 5 percent U.S. income bracket counts as middle class. Silicon Valley is a tableau vivant of what many economists and professional futurologists say is the coming fate of America itself, a fate to which Americans, if they canâ€™t embrace it as some futurologists hope, should at least resign themselves.
While I was driving with Berkey around Atherton, Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason University and author of The Great Stagnation (2011), published a new book, Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. There, Cowen bluntly predicted what he called â€œwage polarization.â€ The increasing ability of computers to perform ordinary tasks will inexorably transform America into an income oligarchy in which the top 15 percent of peopleâ€”with skills â€œthat are a complement to the computerâ€â€”will enjoy â€œcheeryâ€ labor-market prospects and soaring incomes, while the bottom 85 percent, that is to say, 267 million out of Americaâ€™s 315 million people, will be lucky to find Walmart-level jobs or scrape together marginal â€œfreelanceâ€ livings running $25-a-pop errands for their betters via TaskRabbit (say, picking up and delivering a pair of designer shoes from Nordstrom) or renting out their spare bedrooms (if they have any) to overnight lodgers via Airbnb. That is, if theyâ€™ll be working at all. â€œThere are many other historical periods, including medieval times, where inequality is high, upward mobility is fairly low, and the social order is fairly stable, even if we as moderns find some aspects of that order objectionable,â€ Cowen writes in his new book.
In other words, what is coming is the â€œnew feudalism,â€ a phrase coined by Chapman University urban studies professor Joel Kotkin, a prolific media presence whose New Geography website is an outlet for the trendâ€™s most vocal critics. â€œItâ€™s a weird Upstairs, Downstairs world in which thereâ€™s the gentry, and the role for everybody else is to be their servants,â€ Kotkin said in a telephone interview. â€œThe agenda of the gentry is to force the working class to live in apartments for the rest of their lives and be serfs. But thereâ€™s a weird cognitive dissonance. Everyone who says people ought to be living in apartments actually lives in gigantic houses or has multiple houses.â€
Itâ€™s hard to travel anywhere in the valley and not see what Kotkin is talking about.
Read the whole thing.
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