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Why Does Peter Thiel Support Donald Trump? Because He Wants to Save the World…

election-613132_1920So why does Peter Thiel support Donald Trump?

When I read headlines saying that Silicon Valley is baffled by his actions, I am baffled by their reactions.

It should be clear that there’s more going on here than meets the eye – though sometimes I wonder if Trump knows that…

Peter Thiel, for those of you who don’t know, is a brilliant billionaire tech tycoon who helped found PayPal and Palantir and who has his investment fingers in many other businesses.

As a tech-savvy, forward-thinking gay man – who has some unconventional ideas about technology, capitalism, economics, and the world we live in – he’s one of the last people you’d expect to see speaking in favor of a Trump presidency.

Yet that’s exactly what he did at the RNC, claiming that the economy and the government are “broken” and that he supports “people who are building new things.”

Donald Trump, he says, is a “builder…and it’s time to rebuild America.”

But…come on.

Donald Trump?

Really?

Donald Trump? That Guy?

man-845847_1280Trump openly:

After watching a BBC special pointing out that the USA’s demographics are shifting – and that white people will be a minority in a few decades – I felt that Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” might actually be a subliminal message, “Make America White Again.”

The New York Times came up with a better one: “Make America Hate Again.”

But I’ll try to avoid ranting about Trump.

Critical Thinking About the System

Attacking Trump’s rhetoric is easy and everyone does it.

That is too simple.

It feeds his flames and avoids more important questions that would uncover the machinery underlying the current system, like:

  • Why has a simple-minded salesperson – who simply repeats his target audience’s desires right back to them, like any good salesperson – become so successful financially (despite 4 bankruptcies) and made it this far in the electoral process, and what is it in his rhetoric that resonates with such a large demographic of Americans?
  • Why are we being forced to choose between a salesperson and someone who’s being legally accosted by the FBI right now?
  • Why do people regard him as a “marketing genius,” when in fact he has simply mastered the basics of salesmanship that have been expounded, extrapolated, and explored by great salesmen for the past 100 years?
  • Why does a smart, forward-thinking tech billionaire like Peter Thiel support Trump?

Why Peter Thiel Supports Trump (Take Nothing at Face Value)

chess-433071_1920Peter Thiel is a businessman who thinks strategically about his aims, so there is certainly more to his endorsement than we heard in his RNC speech.

There are a few possible reasons why Thiel might support Trump:

  • Thiel plans to replace Trump with an artificially intelligent, Trump-shaped robot after the election
  • He actually does believe in and support Trump
  • He sees this as an opportunity to take the administrative office from the political families who have been running the office for decades
  • He sees a dire situation, thinks Trump will win, and wants to influence the little guy when he gets into office
  • He wants to run for president in a few years and sees Trump as his best bet for changing and getting into the political game

I could only wish that this last one were true – we would be much better off with a smart “builder” like Thiel than anyone else who has run in a very, very long time. If this were the tech tycoon’s plan, then he’s probably setting himself up now as the rescuer who will fix up the country after Hillary or Donald inevitably make things worse during the next term.

But I doubt Thiel wants to be president (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Although, come to think of it, Mark Cuban, another famous billionaire who made big bucks in the tech industry, had said he’d been open to running for president…

Either Thiel plans to run for president in a few years (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) or…

Thiel Supports Trump Because He Thinks Trump Will Implode the Government, Which Will Make Room for Innovation … And a New Monopoly

gears-1236578_1920That’s pretty similar to what this guy at Business Insider said, but I can’t seem to find that article any more…

To find hints of Thiel’s real thinking, look past his RNC speech:

  • Thiel believes that innovation is driven by monopolistic companies, not by competition. According to Thiel, the ideas we use to discuss capitalism are based on models that are outdated and obsolete. Competitive businesses involve towards static equilibrium, and spend their money trying to outdo one another. They have no cash left over to innovate and create. A monopoly, however, is free to charge what it wants, then use those profits to drive innovation. Google is a perfect example of a monopoly in today’s economy. AT&T used to be one, as did IBM and Microsoft.
  • Innovation is at odds with competition and globalization…or they are at least perpendicular to one another. In one talk, Thiel used Japan as an example to demonstrate the difference between the two: since the time of the Meiji Restoration, the country has globalized but not innovated…that is, Japan copied the rest of the world. As a result, this island nation, which is smaller than California, has become a major world superpower. In the 80s, though, they ran out of stuff to copy and their previously explosive economic growth stagnated.
  • Technology and innovation are, for all intents and purposes, the same. Technology, he says, isn’t just limited to computers and software. This has been the most recent, most explosive area of innovation, in part due to the lack of regulation in this sector, which is a brand new industry. Other types of technology could also innovate and grow, but there are a variety of financial, regulatory, and other hurdles to overcome in those sectors – for instance, Elon Musk went to extreme lengths to overcome institutional, technical, regulatory, financial, and other obstacles in the preexisting aerospace industry in order to innovate with SpaceX. Not to mention Tesla.
  • Thiel runs Palantir, a secretive software company that tells the future. Well, fortune-telling may be a bit of a misnomer, but it does offer big data solutions that are used by big organizations, from governments to spy agencies to big name brands. Palantir is financially backed by the CIA and Thiel’s own venture capital company, among others. Supposedly, Palantir is valued at $20 billion and earned $1.7 billion in revenues in 2015. Some have suggested that Thiel’s support of Trump is a move to secure more government revenue for his company.

So how do all these bullet points apply to the topic at hand?

Many people look at a Trump presidency and see chaos…or worse.

Here are some quotes from a piece in the New Yorker, as quoted by a piece on Slate, written about the ghostwriter of Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal:

The prospect of President Trump terrified him. It wasn’t because of Trump’s ideology—Schwartz doubted that he had one. The problem was Trump’s personality, which he considered pathologically impulsive and self-centered…[Schwartz said,] “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization”…asked what he would call [a new book about Trump], he answered, “The Sociopath.”

Is it really possible that Thiel supports someone like Trump?

Or is the tech tycoon playing a different game?

All Good Monopolies … And Competitions … Come to an End

chess-603624_1920As Thiel has pointed out, competition results in stasis and old monopolies are out-innovated by newer monopolies. Trump, a a simple-minded salesperson, has somehow co-opted the Republican party and the election process.

Perhaps his very presence on the electoral stage signals the obsolescence of an old monopoly?

For instance, AT&T was replaced by a diversity of wireless providers. Microsoft replaced the IBM monopoly, and Microsoft is in turn being replaced by newer, more innovative monopolies.

A businessperson, like Trump or Thiel, might feel that businesses and governments are analogous processes.

Eventually, any monopolistic governmental structure, electoral competition, or economic machinery will become outdated and obsolete.

Then it will become replaced by a newer, more evolved monopoly.

If Trump gets elected, it will result in – at the very least – more division, conflict, and controversy than we are seeing right now.

In other words, Trump could cause so much havoc that we would have to wake up and restructure the system.

This would make room for innovation and growth.

Heck, maybe there is only one way to make the broken governmental engine work again…

Start banging on it with a Trump-shaped hammer and hope the world doesn’t end in nuclear war.

What the New Kindle Unlimited Payment System Means for the Future of Humanity

I came across this the other day and found it so fascinating I just had to write about it.

First, a quick recap for those who aren’t familiar with the Kindle Unlimited situation:

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription-based program that allows you instant access to an ocean of digital books. All you need to do is borrow books in order to read them. You don’t have to buy books that are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, just click “Borrow.” A virtual virtual library at your fingertips!

You, as a reader, only need to pay a measly $9.99 per month to subscribe to this plethora of digital pages, and you can cozy up by the fireplace with your digital romance novels for the rest of your life without ever having to purchase a single one…

DeathtoStock_Medium4To incentivize Kindle-published authors into enrolling in this program, Amazon has set up a multimillion-dollar fund to pay authors for every book that was digitally borrowed.

After July 1st, though, Amazon is making an interesting change…

Instead of being paid per borrow, authors will be paid based on the number of pages people actually read. According to Amazon, they will divide the KDP Select Global Fund by the total number of pages read, rather than by the total number of qualified borrows.

So if one of those borrow-crazy readers only reads one page of your book, you’ll be paid for that page alone. But if an avid fan reads your entire trilogy all the way through, you’ll get paid for all those pages.

Here’s the main reason why this could be a good thing:

Authors will be compensated on the quality of their work, rather than the quality of their book cover or the impulses of borrow-crazy Kindle owners.

Amazon claims this is the reason for the change. Well, not so much the book cover part…but the fact that authors wanted to “align the payout with the length of books.” Before this change, payouts took place when users read 10% of any Kindle title, and the payouts for 2,000-word short stories would be the same as for 200,000-word mega-novels.

On the surface, it may seem that this change will reward novelists and hurt short story writers. But as one Kindle author pointed out, there are plenty of very good, very prolific short story writers out there. Obviously, there are plenty of complex factors at play, such as the size of your genre, how many titles you’ve released, how big your following is, how good your writing is, and so on and so forth.

But I think that Amazon and Google are trying to accomplish the same thing with their algorithms: reward quality because quality is what the people want.

However, there’s one very fascinating takeaway from all this:

money-256319Kindle Unlimited is the prototype of a micropayment economy.

“What the heck’s that?” you might be asking.

Well, let’s look at the so-called information economy…

The web is full of free information. This article is free. Google is free. Facebook is free. You’re giving your personal information away to those companies for free.

In fact, it’s for reasons such as these that Jaron Lanier says the idea of “free information” is actually naive. And that in order to save the middle class, we’ll need to restructure that “free information” delusion and the economy and create a system wherein micropayments were exchanged for the information that is now being bottled up by the corporate juggernaut.

It’s been a while since I read Who Owns the Future?, so I may be wrong about some of the details.

Here are some examples of what micropayment systems might look like:

  • What if WordPress was a subscription-based service that users paid .05 per hour to use? What if I were given 2.5 cents for every minute someone spent on my site? Sure, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but if I have a total of 100 hours spent on my site per day by various visitors, that’s $2.50 a day and $75 a month. All because I’m blogging. Like I’m doing now. Which I’m not getting paid for. Unless you click this link and buy something.
  • What if fans were allowed to donate money to their favorite artists based on how much art was produced? Like Patreon.
  • What if Facebook actually paid people for content? Yeah right.
  • What if there was an online information and content marketplace that allowed people to package and sell information products to others in exchange for currency? Like Amazon.
  • What if you paid a flat monthly subscription fee for unlimited access to that information and the information producers were paid based on how much of that content you consumed? Like Kindle Unlimited.

I think that this micropayment system has such great potential, because it’s performance-based. The cream rises to the top of the crop. Those who produce better quality products will be rewarded for their effort.

Normally I’d go on some cynical tangent about the potentials for abuse by the evil corporate machine, but not today. Let’s bask in the warm glow of Kindle Unlimited’s all-just and all-encompassing warmth and love…while it lasts.

Of course, if there are any Kindle nerds out there who can see an obvious downside that I’m missing, shoot me an email.

I’m sure I’ll come up with something sooner or later.

Google Trends Says Laotians Love Japanese Girls

If you already understand how Google Trends works, you can skip to the “Why Google Trends is Stupid” Section.

Everyone else, welcome to my article.

For those who don’t know, Google Trends is a Google tool that allows you to examine the relative “interest” in search terms, search topics, where those terms and topics are most popular, other related searches, and other related data.

This type of data, of course, is extremely valuable for internet marketers engaged in research…or would be if it weren’t so sketchy.

Miley, You Lose

Let’s compare the literary genre of science fiction, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, the search term “hunger games,” the anime genre, and the term “miley cyrus.”

miley v anime google trendNot only does worldwide “interest” in anime consistently top all other searches, it even outperforms all the others combined at least 95% of the time. On the one hand, we never really think of anime as being so popular, but when you include the entire world’s search results, you can see how it compares to other genres and titles that garner so much attention from mainstream media.

When you look at the actual charts, Google’s site correlates popularity spikes with news events for you, so you can see that miley cyrus’s biggest spike coincided with her MTV music awards. Examine the “regional interest” section and you’ll see that her biggest fans aren’t in the United States, but in Guyana, the Faroe Islands, Guam, Belize…in fact, the USA is #8 on the list.

Interesting, or confusing?

The Japanese-Loving Laotians

laotians love japanese girlsjapan laos google trendsWhile first looking at some Japan-related search trends, I noticed something else: Laos tops the search term volume for “japan,” followed by Cambodia, Myanmar, Mongolia, and so on.

At the bottom of the Laos-specific search page, you will see related searches.

Now, anyone who has spent any time in southeast Asia doesn’t need to blink twice to know something’s wrong with this picture.

The “100” next to Laos means that it has the highest search volume in the world, and the other 1-to-100 numbers are calculated against that…or so I thought, based on Google’s unclear help bubble language, which says, “Numbers represent search volume relative to the highest point on the map which is always 100. Click on any region/point to see more details on the search volume there.”

The reason for these odd-looking results?

Google normalizes its data (see below), but, even in a post titled “How Trends Data is Normalized,” it doesn’t tell you how Trends data is normalized, it just explains what the normalized results look like.

We aren’t told what the search volume is, so I went over to Google AdWords to look at numbers. There, we find that Laos manages a paltry 1,360 searches per month vs. the USA’s 199,640. When I checked search volumes for “japan girl” plus “japan girls,” I found that Laos came up with 206 searches, and when you add “google japan” to that list, you only come up with 278, vs. the USA’s 43,422 for all three search terms.

Why Google Trends is Stupid

No numbers and no pre-normalization information means no meaningful picture.

Google really needs to work on its social skills. Its inability to successfully promote its social network Google+ is one glaring example of this, and the opaque Trends interface is another. Behind the scenes I’m sure they’re working on an artificial brain that will predict the future, but we’re all left in the dark with “interest” charts. I suppose that’s normal in this age of Big Data-hoarding.

Data Normalization

Wow, guess those Aussies like GoT. Too bad there's only 22 million of them

Wow, guess those Aussies like GoT. Too bad there’s only 22 million of them. How good is there internet infrastructure, I wonder? And what about demographic data?

To normalize a data set means that, according to the map-making software folks at AlignStar, you “transform the data so it may be compared in a meaningful way.” In the example they give on the AlignStar site, we see two maps of unemployment rates. One which shows absolute values within a US state, and the other which shows normalized values.

Each map paints a different picture.

If, for example, you wanted to measure the counties of a given state to see which have higher unemployment rates, then you would measure the absolute number of unemployed against the total workforce, which is what AlignStar did in their second map. This shows a couple counties that had relatively high unemployment rates. They pointed out,

The maps above portray a very different picture of the same information. Each map could prove useful depending on the point that the map creator was trying to make.  It is important to keep this in mind when creating thematic maps. Sometimes a very small change can result in a very different picture.

What is a Trend?

game of thrones australia usaWe don’t know what data goes into these graphs or how it is being processed.

Not normalizing the data would make many Trends rather boring, however, since the USA is the biggest user of Google and has one of the most powerful — if not the most powerful — telecommunications infrastructures in the world. It would probably look like the first map on the AlignStar website.

But what do Trends’s post-processed pictures actually tell us?

I’m no statistician, but there are some pretty obvious questions that come up as to how valid or useful this tool is. In the case of Game of Thrones, we see many first-world countries popping up on the map, so it is more reasonable to assume some relative popularity correlations between countries such as the USA and Australia. But without the raw data we can’t verify anything for ourselves.

Look at Laos and Cambodia. The vast majority of the population doesn’t even have internet access.

So, once you dig a little deeper, you realize that Google’s geographical “normalization” can, at times, be misleading, pointless, and wrong. Guyana‘s and the Faroe Islands’ supposedly vast interest in Miley Cyrus, for example, doesn’t tell us how many people in said countries have access to the internet, have smartphones, speak English, use Google, use other search engines, or have ever seen a computer.

In Cambodia, Japan’s second biggest fan, most people live in rural areas with no internet access or electricity, and will likely go their whole lives without ever seeing a computer except that one time that one white guy came to take pictures of an ox with his smartphone.

When you take such a ridiculously small search sample size from small countries with small populations that live the same way they have for the past thousand years, Google’s one-size-fits-all normalization clearly tells us absolutely nothing, except maybe that some travelers, Japanese expats, or other rich folks search for “japan” with more relative frequency than other countries.

Maybe, though, that’s the just data you’re looking for.

More Fun with Big Data

It’s just Big Data, and I hate Big Data, mostly because I don’t have any.

As Jaron Lanier has pointed out, and as I will probably write about again, that sacrosanct elixir of the techtopians has got a tenuous-at-best causal relationship between the input and the output. When you hide the quantities and use unknowns to algorithmically define terms like “popularity” or “interest,” without including (in this case) vital geographical and demographic factors such as economic status, internet infrastructure, population of said country, and so forth, then you start getting unverifiable and meaningless statistics. Bad data is even worse than bad science.

As I like to say, “No! No, Big Data, no. Bad Big Data. That’s a bad, bad Big Data.”

Without the ability to see and play around with absolute values ourselves and without knowing how those values are normalized, we are left only with pretty pictures and graphs. As with the Google algorithm, we just have to take their word for it. And with Google’s attitude toward the world’s data, do you really feel like doing that?

What’s in a Last Name?

I’ll tell you what’s in my last name.

It means “quivering bog.”

wtf

wtf

That’s absurd, I thought when I first came across this definition years ago in a name dictionary in the then-new $4 million downtown Seattle Public Library, which, by the way, is an equally absurd hodge podge of modernist “design” elements that looks like something out of a bad dream. That place should have been torn down the day it opened. Now these are some cool libraries.

But I digress. That particular definition has always gnawed at me, and the Surname Database offers the same lame definition, but it also offers a much more interesting and appealing meaning: “alder stream.”

This first meaning was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, a wide scale census, and the Surname Database says that Warne was the name of the stream of the place. I found the specific location of the Warne place on a website that made a database out of the Domesday book, which is in Devonshire, in southwest England. Wearne, a variant, also appears to originate in the same part of the country. There are a few roads and even a bed and breakfast that share variants of the name Warne, which include Wearne, Warn, and Wearn. The origin of the name seems to be a toss-up between Somerset and Devonshire, both in the same region of England.

The meaning that bothered me so much came from the Pipe Rolls of 1194, which is a tax document. Apparently, my last name was composed of pre-7th century elements meaning to quiver or to shake and bog/swamp/fen/marsh. Wage plus fen was how the transcriber copied down my precious last name, but after more research, I realized that there’s a potentially complete disconnect between this secretary’s transcription and the real “meaning.”

In other words, the scribe could have been having a bad hair day, and he could have simply copied down phonetically what he heard. I doubt that the tax collectors were very interested in preserving detailed semantics for antiquity from citizens who may not have put any stock or thought into the meaning of the name of the place where they lived. Additionally, there could be semantic nuances that don’t come across very well. “Shaking bog” means nothing to me, but “rustling marsh” or something along those lines tends to make more sense, because we tend to use words like shake and quiver to refer to objects, not landscape elements.

My lack of knowledge of the language and historical context is clearly a limitation, but these are some common sense logical connections the researcher can make.

Last names were new, at that time. Most people simply acquired the last name of the place where they lived, to comply with a new tax system that had recently come about. So it appears there were locations called Wearne in Somerset and Warne in Marytavy, Devonshire, so people living at those locations simply adopted the location name as their last name. Blah blah of Warne.

I couldn’t find any more revealing information in the UK National Archives.

Of course, I am rooting for “alder stream,” but I was not able to find an image of the page out of the Domesday book to verify the Surname Database claims about that particular meaning. More digging may turn it up.

Update 4/28/14:

An extensive genealogy of the Warne name exists on archive.org, but it doesn’t cover the meaning of the name, which is my chief interest.

After a bit more browsing (the internet really makes research a piece of cake), it seems clear that Warne and its many variants, whatever their origin, are related either to the elder or alder tree. The semantic and linguistic element, regardless of whether you are talking about the Gaulish vern, the Celtic element verno/uerno, the Welsh gwern, or any other variation, the common element appears to be elder or alder. The Online Etymology Dictionary, which I use so much it is pasted into my toolbar, points to completely different roots for the word alder, as well as verno, but also suggests there may be some confusion or relationship to the word elder.

Alder seems to be the general consensus, though I’d be interested to dig around more into the actual linguistic confusion around the issue. I know firsthand exactly how information spreads on the internet.

The etymological and semantic history, regardless of which language you’re researching, points to either an elder or alder tree, not a quivering bog, like some silly tax collector suggests.

You’re welcome, Warnes. ;)