A List of Books I Read in 2019

  • 2019 Goal: 25 BOOKS
  • 2019 Actual: 21 BOOKS

I didn’t reach my goal of 25 books read in 2019. I have great excuses though!

In early March my wife gave birth to our second daughter. I don’t feel as though it was properly explained to me how having 2 children would mean that almost ~19-20 hours a day could be spent caring for the kids. Distractions were frequent, routines were shattered. But our kids are happy and healthy!

I also dove headfirst into podcasts, finally. I gorged on The Bill Simmons podcast and all the archived episodes of R.U. Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME?, The Rewatchables, etc. I started listening to The Lead from The Athletic, a ton of engineering management podcasts, cloud computing podcasts, etc. I was many years late on this trend. Combine that with more Netflix and a buffet of streaming services, and I’ve become a perfect member of the consumer demographic.

Other notes:

  • I found it hard to focus on books that didn’t sell me before I even read them.
  • I also found it hard to select books by women or other minorities, and did worse than usual in this regard.
  • I almost completely avoided politics because of the depressing reality of a collapsing American empire to the hands of kleptocrats.
  • I became more acutely aware of how I find new books: sometimes it’s the subject of a NYTimes article, but increasingly it’s an off-hand mention covering some other story, or author network graphs. I hate reading lists of books from other people; I rarely find any overlaps in my own interests.
  • I have some personal interest areas for which I’ve gotten a lot closer to not finding documentation, books, or discussion on. While I’m pragmatic and typically don’t use things without a sufficient body of evidence and other people proving something’s viability, I also feel like I’m trying to catch up, and getting closer to the border of known unknowns feels like progress to me.

I am going to set my limit to 20 books for 2020. It’s only fitting, given the year. But I also am humbled with 2 young kids, little travel planned, more working from home planned, and more podcasts on the commute instead of reading.

Books I read in 2019 (10 is a must-read, 8-9 is very good, 6-7 is bare minimum, and 5 and below is like how did I get conned into reading this?):

  1. (5) The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups – Daniel Coyle. A perfect example of an online essay that was painfully stretched out into a book. The concept of team chemistry is fascinating to me but trotting out some military unit and cherry-picking other teams feels like someone padding a college paper.
  2. (9) Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor – Erik Dietrich. How come this book isn’t talked about more? Basically the author argues that, for a software developer, their value is almost always being under-rewarded unless they are consulting. The book forces developers to see the economic reality of companies employing engineers, and implores engineers to demand more money and spend less time working for someone else. My only complaint is that it can get a little dense during the historical catchup portion of the book.
  3. (6) Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1) – Randy Ellefson. It’s tremendously hard to find resources for game world creation. This is a pure attempt. It might be a bit too basic though, providing more of a checklist than a way to tie it all together.
  4. (10) Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America – Beth Macy. This book rocked me to my core. Opioids, rotting the country from the inside out, affect all levels of society, and our institutions are disastrously ill-equipped to fight against dopesickness. This is the kind of book I desperately seek to read every year. It’s like The Wire in an investigative book. I felt so much more equipped to understand the issue after reading this, and personally crushed for how dopesickness has destroyed so many families.
  5. (8) Delta-v – Daniel Suarez. My favorite near-future author. The book is like part Contact, part Danny Boyle Sunshine, post-The Martian. I’d read anything this author wrote.
  6. (10) How Google Tests Software – James A. Whittaker. Why is there such a gap in how to create a team of software testers and engineers-in-test? This is the strongest book in explaining how to form the resources necessary to test well within a department. I don’t even know where to go from here — my sense is that there’s a huge opportunity here.
  7. (7) Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations – Nicole Forsgren. Crystallized the process of devops and effective execution for me. I wanted a bit more in how to reduce feedback loop times though. I felt as though I read a research paper, but I constantly wanted more information on how to apply this to my organization.
  8. (6) Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World – David Epstein. I read an interview with the author on podcast and it spoke to my belief in discovering talent outside current hiring practices, a la Moneyball. I should have stuck with just the podcast though, as this book was more Gladwell and less focused enough on the secret sauce.
  9. (6) The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams – Deepak Chopra.  I read this solely because I respected my beloved management coach who recommended it. This is a book you are supposed to reread often for realignment, with a different law per day. What I took most from it was that I should not let others affect my happiness, and that I am my own primary obstacle towards being a force multiplier to others.
  10. (7) The Truths We Hold: An American Journey – Kamala Harris. I left this book with a much higher opinion of Kamala Harris. I felt as though it influenced my opinion of her and I felt public criticisms against her during her campaign didn’t align with what she talks about in the book. So it succeeded in shaping my opinion but I’m not quite sure if that’s good or bad. Both?
  11. (9) An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management – Will Larson. One of the better engineering management books I’ve read, and it would be on my list of must-reads for managers if I had such a list. Practical and relevant advice, and this goes in my top list for books that helped me in my directorship.
  12. (9) Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It – Mike Monteiro. I love Mike on Twitter. Aggressive, with high standards for design and those within that craft. Points responsibility squarely on makers at FAANGs. I don’t think that he actually believes makers should change tech companies from within, as he states in the book. I think he believes they’re rotten to the core but he’s trying to be positive in the book.
  13. (9) The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower – Michael Pillsbury. One of those books that is so opinionated and backed by legit experiences but not shared by other mandarins, journalists, historians, etc. that I have to investigate separately whether it is legit or not. It makes me angry, China’s intentions or not, that the US is so inept in the face of it all. This book filled gaps of discussion that I missed even at Georgetown, and that concerns me; I’m old and experienced enough to trust my instincts when things don’t add up.
  14. (8) Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow – Matthew Skelton. We modified our teams from horizontal teams to a mix of those and domain teams. This book helped me to confirm I was on the right track, and to put language to what I was feeling. Truly an instructive set of concepts I will take with me to every future department.
  15. (10) Astroball: The New Way to Win It All – Ben Reiter. My favorite book of the year along with Dopesick. Moneyball the book and film captured my imagination. Reading this look at Moneyball 2.0 for a team I watched a lot of in the 80s was umami for the brain. Astros had an edge because of their quant-heavy analysis and marrying it with scouting, but in light of this massive scandal it all takes on a heightened importance. Without trashcans and touch sensors, are their batters legitimately better at taking pitches and drawing walks? Gerrit Cole speaks for himself though.
  16. (4) Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End – Kevin Alexander. The premise of the book sold to me was enough to make me buy the book, but it only talked about the end of foodies at the beginning! It then turned into stories about various entrepreneurs which was only interesting because some establishments my wife and I visited during our courtship (Death & Co, Mayahuel, Pegu Club) were mentioned.
  17. (7) What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture – Ben Horowitz. The Hard Thing About Hard Things felt like a book that was in my corner. This book is a little more Gladwellish. Basically what this book gave me was more confidence that strong leadership empowers and propels an organization, and weak leadership destroys culture and you just can’t explain it to non-believers.
  18. (6) The Effective Manager – Mark Horstman. A decent starter book but shares a lot with other books at this point. I would feel completely comfortable sending engineers to this training though as I’ve listened to their other works also, and in particularly the author’s discussion about CEOs and other leaders of a company and what their mindsets should be seemed like advice you’d have to pay a ton for normally.
  19. (6) Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations – Robert D. Austin. A lot of other books and resources reference this book but it’s a bit dry. Mostly what I want is more case studies about how to link the business and its success criteria towards engineering objectives, and how to track it all with metrics. I can find bits and pieces of these discussed separately, but none brought together. An example might be the oft-quoted tale about Amazon tracking web site latency against revenue: 100ms equaling 1% sales.
  20. (10) The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Digital Disruption, Redshirts, and Overthrowing the Ancient Powerful Order – Gene Kim. Every bit as good as The Phoenix Project. Will reach into your startup past and haunt your dreams. Also fun to see how it completely ran parallel to the first book but rarely directly overlapped with the original story. The book serves as a friend if you are dealing with organizational dysfunction and you don’t know whether or not to trust your instincts.
  21. (6) Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework – Mik Kersten. No doubt the author is experienced and has a great framework, but I wouldn’t know how to apply it to a real-world situation. Too abstract for me to have really identified with it, and it triggered me in some of the ways that only product can to an engineer.

A List of Books I Read in 2018

  • 2018 Goal: 25 BOOKS
  • 2018 Actual: 27 BOOKS

Books I read in 2018:

I spent 2018 trying to learn as quickly as I could for new roles: father of a 1-2 year-old, an engineering lead and manager, and director of engineering needing to contribute to product vision and roadmaps.

As a result, my book-reading was oriented towards that. I ended up re-reading Phoenix Project and Game Programming Patterns; they’re just so, so good and so applicable.

I rated 6 of the 27 books as 10s. The number of women I read this year was extremely low, unfortunately. Books on tech continue to be lackluster, and I rely on a layered approach of reading dozens of articles in order to figure out how to use new technologies. Info ops and the reporting on them are out in the open now — it would have been hard to imagine that stuff maybe 5 years ago.

Next year I’m going to have another child in the apartment, but I think my contributions at work will begin to hit a good stride and hopefully my team will begin to unlock its force multiplication effects.

As a result I’m going to just re-use my goal for 2019 at 25 books again.

And once again, if you can suggest books written by good journalists, I’d love to hear about them!

Opening Up Galapag.us for Alpha

My thesis project for NYU-ITP has been Galapag.us, a tribe and ecosystem for promoting the idea that we should be radically open and transparent with our data so that we can form and share metrics to measure our progress and success in different areas of our lives.  More info at the front page of Galapag.us.

User Zero

I came up with the idea in 2006.  An email I sent to my Army buddy in April, 2006:

I sort of had an idea but it seems like it’ll be difficult to build out.  My idea would be for something similar to Xbox Live’s ranking system.  Except it’s for your life.  Privacy issues aside, people would volunteer to put in as much personal info as they want.  At first it might seem cumbersome putting in so much info but I think as myspace and other services have shown, people are willing to do it if it means it cultivates their identity.

So for instance you put in your income and number of kids and connect your accounts for online game rankings (like in Halo or Battlefield 2) and your exercise plan and your birthdate and your finances and investments and how many web sites you’re on (like myspace, digg, yahoo, etc.) and from all that data, the company would generate statistics that break down your life and give you info about how much time you spend on certain tasks, how efficient you are with your money, what your online reputation is.  Stuff like that.  The core would be statistics…anonymous statistics I think so people won’t have any incentive to forge their results.  The point would be to turn peoples’ lives into a numeric game where they can see how they rate in certain aspects of their lives.  Think of all those online quizzes people take about what kind of lover they are or what their personality is.  That could be tabulated into the statistics, which could be searchable or broke down any way the person wanted.

At the end of a year, we could look internally at our statistics and go visit the top overall people in person to go verify their data and videotape their lives, interview them.  Then a winner would be announced…like the best person award.  Heh…there’d be so much controversy and whining and competition if it caught on.  Then we could write a book about our experiences going out and discovering what makes someone “the best” compared to everyone else.

So…that’s my idea so far.  Sort of like a real-life RPG.  Perhaps we could offer points for real-world scavenger hunts or traveling to different countries around the globe.  What about having life coaches for certain segments, if someone was weak in an area like professional development?  I was thinking we could also offer points for accomplishing certain tasks like humanitarian work.

A lot of stuff happened in the meantime: I got out of the Army, went to study foreign policy in DC, worked for Homeland Security, moved to NYC for school.  And so now I’m wrapping up the thesis, which allowed me more than a semester to work just about full-time (including any waking moment) on trying to make Galapag.us a reality before I can either A) get funding or B) get an engineer/developer job after school.

So I present Galapag.us for thesis on May 15 at NYU.  I have two weeks still to work on it before then.  I think I’ve gotten it to a point where I can start letting alpha testers in to explore, and think about it.  My work log has been tracked on the thesis blog.

Beginning Alpha Testing with Thesis

Want to help alpha test or just look around?  Give it a try at https://galapag.us/login and see what you think!

Here’s the slide deck I’ll be presenting at thesis:

Stack

  • Amazon EC2 small instance with ubuntu
  • node.js/express.js: So easy to build a site using this framework.
  • varnish/nginx+ngx_pagespeed: Caching, run-time optimizations for faster page loads/downloads.  Routes to https and socket.io server too.
  • python scripts for maintaining server default state
  • celery for queuing
  • redis for temporary data dumps and lookups
  • mongodb for permanent data storage
  • angularjs for the comment system
  • mocha, unittest, qunit for unit testing in python and javascript

 

I know the site’s confusing — like an airplane pilot dashboard.  It’ll become more cohesive over time.  A lot of things aren’t quite working yet, or they have filler data to get them going.  Apologies for that.  For more familiarization, try the welcome demo.

But here are some features that are worth checking out:

Comment System

Comments will be available for tribe forums, formula critiques, peoples’ profiles.  I decided to use angularjs so I could learn how to build SPAs with it!

ss_comments

 

Tribes

By tracking individual data, one can also track internal company metrics and state-level happiness metrics too!

ss_graph

 

The Islands

Each island has its own weather, environment, and bonuses/penalties for certain user behavior, so it benefits you to live on the island that incorporates your style best.

ss_islands

 

Professions and Skills

What does it mean to be “good” at something? Are companies hiring the most qualified candidates? How do we standardize that?

ss_professions

 

Your Genome

A profile for your data.  You get reputation scores in different areas.  Those scores are determined by which formulas you choose to use.  You can also see your internet of things (devices, pets, objects) is on the bottom right, while you’ll also be able to create gaming characters using your own data.

ss_profile

 

Quests

You can complete quests within Galapag.us to gain experience.  Some tasks will be data-gardening for other people, some will be to introduce gaming elements, others will be to visit lesser-seen parts of the site.  But mostly the quests should be geared towards helping others.

ss_quests

 

Status Bar

I love github’s command bar. I want users to be able to do most everything through the search bar.

ss_searchbar

 

Tribes and Their Genomes

Tribes are important to our identities. formulas serve as their DNA.

ss_tribes

 

Universal Reputation Lookup

The left-side widget can be opened on most pages to see what reputations the people named on them have.  I intend to allow people to look up reputations from just about anywhere.

ss_widget

 

 

API/Sandbox

Galapag.us will have an API to access one’s data, as well as common stats such as state population census results, zodiac signs, and global stats.  Plus a place to test the routes, within the sandbox:

ss_api

 

So with all that, please go help alpha test at https://galapag.us/login to begin your exploration of identity and reputation.  Thanks, and come to the ITP Spring Show if you can!

Facebook Privacy Stats Discussion

My friend Kevin Donovan sent me a link (thanks Kevin) to this post (by Fred Stutzman) criticizing a NYTimes article (by Randall Stross) about how Facebook is affecting privacy boundaries for different age groups.

Personally I think the post is a bit too harsh on the NYTimes article (along with Michael Zimmer‘s), but provides excellent data points in his criticism.

Stutzman quotes some excellent data (see his post for references):

Stross simply has this one wrong.  Instead of misguided intuition, let’s look at the numbers.  In the Summer/Fall of 2008, Jacob Kramer-Duffield and I ran a survey of undergraduate Facebook users.  We employed a list-based simple random sample, with 494 respondents.  When asked the question Have you changed the default Facebook privacy settings to give yourself enhanced privacy in Facebook?, 72.47% responded “Yes.” To the question Based on your Facebook privacy settings choices, who do you allow to see your Facebook profile?, 50% answered “Only my Facebook friends.” (1)

It’s good to see that Facebook users are beginning to learn how to use the many settings Facebook gives them to control their privacy, such that the percentages have changed dramatically.  It had been weird to see so many Facebook users unresponsive to the privacy tools given to them.

I also liked Stutzman’s final comments:

First, Facebook defaults have changed over the years, so a default now may have been a modification in the past.  Second, Facebook’s audience is increasingly international, so we must remember that norms will vary significantly across nations and cultures.  Third, privacy is not in Facebook’s business interests.  Less privacy = more content, so it may not be in Facebook’s interest to craft a privacy statistic that reflects current norms.

But Stutzman concludes with this:

Young people didn’t simply decide to give up privacy.  Rather, the studies show that social network sites, in their early iterations, created a very meaningful sense of close community.  Young people disclosed not because attitudes about privacy instantly and simultaneously changed, but because they felt very comfortable with their audience.

Hmm.  It seems as though Randall Stross was just saying that older people do not take as freely to sharing their lives publicly as younger people would.  Is that horribly wrong to say?  While there is more resistance among older people, sure, many will eventually adapt (I’ve been getting my dad to share more online).

But generational memory and identity are hard to break; try as we might, there will be many of the older generations who will just never change, and will never want to share online.  They grew up in a different world, and it sticks with them.  I’m not saying Stutzman is wrong — I would just like to see him add generational memory to the study of old vs. young people.  I’d argue that kids these days are being wired to accept a future flesh/digital hybrid world…one where a radical transparency and accountability system exists and there is little privacy except for the most intimate parts of our lives.

Building Online Communities

[Before I begin, I just wanted to link to this O’Reilly Radar post that shows how Facebook continues to blow away its competition, with 175 million users worldwide.  Another conflicting post from another source has a different number of total users, at 222 million.  Facebook is posting great growth numbers abroad and in the US — I say all this because I believe Facebook is taking over the planet in social networking shortly before the personal data jailbreak is to occur.]

Somewhere between researching my final orals exam topic of “individualized identity and reputation for international development” (for my MSFS degree) and studying how to design both a competitive and collaborative ecosystem for my start-up, I came across some very cool pages at Yahoo!.

Yahoo!’s developer network has available some tips and examples of how to build competition, reputation, rankings, leaderboards, and other social interaction devices into a web site.

Check some of them out:

YDN (Yahoo! Developer Network) has grouped these and many other categories loosely under “Reputation” in one of its menu hierarchies.

These pages have some interesting linkages.  From one post it links to:

“The famed #1 book reviewer on Amazon.com (who does claim to be a speed-reader) posts, on average, 7 book reviews a day. So not only does Harriet have time for reading all these books, she can also whip off reviews of them pretty quickly, too.”

Another example:

“Avoid even slightly offensive names for levels (e.g., Music Hotshot! or Photo Flyguy!)

  • These may be learnable with appropriate supporting material, but remember that reputations are also a form of self-expression and odds are good that a sizable portion of your community won’t want to be identified with frivolous, insulting or just goofy-sounding labels.
  • Ambiguous level names like these tested very poorly with some of our users.”

What’s interesting to me about all this is that it provides some basic examples of when to use certain systems and when not to.  Sometimes you may not want people to be competitive, because it may detract from their desires to collaborate.  What I read between the lines is that different cultures will adopt different preferences for how their self-designed systems will create and generate the maximum value and benefit for them.  Such a system might not be of maximum utility to another culture, however.

This implies that systems may need to be designed that are flexible to different peoples’ values.  It also implies that certain web sites may work where they were previously thought not to, just by providing an alternate version specific to that culture or tribe.  The easiest example of this to visualize would be language-localized versions of web sites.  Facebook adding Arabic and Hebrew versions recently will bring in many more Arab- and Hebrew- speakers through this alone.  But other cultural dimensions beyond language have yet to be addressed.

Not too long ago, I attended the Future of Web Apps conference in Miami.  It amazed me to see just how involved companies like Yahoo! and Facebook are getting into building online communities.  I also picked up some cool Yahoo! schwag including a foldable map that shows all of Yahoo!’s APIs and services.  Pretty impressive.  What’s even better, these companies are being extremely open about all of this.  The social networking community looked nothing like this when we first began our research not too long ago in August!  Pretty awesome!

Studying Russia

[To round out my research, I need to study the BRIC countries — however I realize I do not have the time to give them much more than a cursory look in all their dimensions:  demographics, political economy, sociography, history, culture, religion, etc.  So I thought if I were to look at them through the lens of how it might affect the expression of their cultures/countries online, that might be sufficient.

Now, please, I am not a regional expert by any means, so if I overgeneralize or say something blatantly wrong, please correct me in the comments but don’t take what I write personally — I’m only going off what I could find online, mainly through Wikipedia.  Here’s Russia’s Wikipedia page, for example.]

Russia

Government: Parag Khanna argues in “The Second World” that Gazprom, Russia’s oil corporation, controls Russia and the government, with Vladimir Putin running a revivalist, nationalist agenda.  It is, as Khanna says, a petrocracy, one that is acutely sensitive to oil prices.  Russia is not politically free, but it is economically free — if you’re rich, you’re living well.  The rest of the country has languished.  Journalists who have attempted to investigate the government have been intimidated or murdered.

International Affairs: Russia continues to be a formidable security presence, exerting its influence on former Soviet satellites and in throttling Europe’s exposure to natural gas and oil.  However, it seems reliant on Europe for investment, and is being trumped by China on its eastern borders.  Russia’s military has not benefited from oil/gas profits — thus its ability to exert leverage has become even more concentrated in its ability to control natural resources.  It can be argued that Russia now looks with embarrassment as China as a successful Communist model.

Demographics: According to Khanna, 2/3 of the Russian population lives near the poverty line.  Russia has an aging population that is emigrating from the country if possible.  It is still well-educated.  HIV/AIDS and other health problems have surfaced as health care systems languished.  Russia is in danger of losing its eastern provinces (providing most of its land mass) to China, whose economic success and cultural roots prove far more inviting.  3/4 of Russia’s economy is concentrated in Moscow.

Religion: Russian Orthodox 63%, agnostic 12%, atheist 13%, 6% Muslim.

Telecom: Russia has very low penetration, at 14%.  According to comScore, the Russian internet market grew 25% in 2007, making it one of the fastest-growing (and largest) markets in the world.

Social Media Usage:

In Russia, there are two major social networking sites (SNSs):  Odnoklassniki and vkontakte.  Odnoklassniki is primarily for students to find each other, while Vkontakte is a blatant Facebook rip-off.  Both have the same percentage reach of the overall internet market.  The difference is that Vkontakte users spend 689 average minutes on the site per month, whereas Odnoklassniki users only spend 120 average minutes on their site. (comScore)  This means that although both have similar statistics, Vkontakte usage is richer, and, in the long-run, will grow faster.

One blog post says,

“What’s more, some users try to demonstrate to their friends that they no longer use Odnoklassniki and have moved to Vkontakte by displaying a graphical image as their avatar or one of the photos reading “moved to Vkontakte” to avoid the automatic filters for the text messages – but such photos are quickly deleted by moderators of the network anyway.

“I have to admit this looks like a creative way to avoid migration of your users to your competitor but at the same time I have a feeling it should be frowned on at the very least. For example, I have seen Odnoklassniki buying ad space on Facebook to display to the Russian users and a Facebook advertising team representative told me that their ToS for the advertising program did not prevent competitors from paying to reach the users of the social network.”

Noticeable is that Facebook has almost no exposure in Russia, although it only added language localization in June of 2008.

Questions

Odnoklassniki seems on the surface to not be appealing in a broader sense than networking among students.  Facebook started off this way, however, but expanded for wider social networking.  Vkontakte is exploiting the success of Facebook, but in an inferior manner — fewer controls and features.

Furthermore, I disagree with the blog post that suggests the only option for Facebook is to buy its clone Vkontakte to take the users and grab much of the Russian market.  I would predict that if Russia’s integration into the larger internet community grows, Facebook will quickly syphon users away from Vkontakte.

Some Effects of Cultural Context

Over on my reputation research blog, I wrote a long piece, mainly to do with Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “Outliers”.  I felt the post was also relevant for this blog because Gladwell talks about how cultural history affects modern-day events, design, and culture.

For instance, Gladwell writes that some Asian civilizations, being primarily rice-growers, approach problems the same way they grow rice.  Rice must be nurtured extensively, carefully grown, and constantly improved.  Wheat and corn growers, on the other hand, are not necessarily required to plant seeds perfectly spaced apart, to build perfect soil or mud/clay for the crop, or to spend lots of time maintaining the crops.  What Gladwell says is that rice-growing civilizations have been measured to spend more time thinking about a problem before giving up than wheat- or corn- growing civilizations.  They have more patience and determination to be good at things like math.

He also talks about how, until training accounted for the problem, Korean Air had a massive problem with communication among its pilots and first mates.  This led to a spate of crashes, and black box recordings showed that a cultural context where one does not question authority, and does not speak directly, instead using hints or suggestions, is not good for an industry where if the crew doesn’t make direct, well-communicated decisions, its plane will end up smashing into the ground.

So check out my post, and read Gladwell’s book.  It’s fascinating.  The premise is sort of what I’m hoping to get out of my research into how international values shape social networking sites within the context of privacy and identity.

On Negative Identity

Over on my reputation research blog, I wrote a post that applies to our Yahoo! work too.

It’s on the concept of “negative identity”:  perhaps social identity formation consists of an element of defining yourself by what you are not.  That is, you don’t always actively define your identity in terms of all the things you like to do, but instead, by who you are not and by what you don’t like.

Most social networking sites tend to allow users to define themselves only by what they are:  that is, what are your favorite hobbies, music, movies, etc.?  Who are your friends?  But you don’t really use social groups on social networking sites to keep other groups out, do you?

Anyway, check my post out.

Exponential Times

Watch this video on how technology is affecting our world (thanks to Itzbeth for the link!):

Not that readers of this blog are unaware of this, but we live in exponential times where technology is pulling us kicking and screaming into a future that our cultural institutions are not equipped to deal with yet.

Be fast, be flexible, be adaptable.  The stats on labor (many of today’s top jobs did not exist a decade ago, and the number of jobs in one’s career is skyrocketing compared to past generations) are impressive within the context of a collapse in an American auto industry that guaranteed pensions to its retirees.

Also the massive growth within the BRIC countries will add new layers of complexity, ingenuity, and vectors for innovation that we can’t imagine right now. Perhaps through social networking sites will be the only way that we will be able to organize and visualize the enormous changes in ways that we can process. Old traditions and institutions will be tested, but we will have to rely on an underlying value system that those old institutions previously provided to keep some sort of semblance of stability and order.

That’s a lot of what this blog and our research is about.