Friday five: coding, calendars and canals

This week I had the priviledge of attending The Next Billion conference in London, organized by Quartz, about the potential impact on the world when the next billion internet users log on. It was fascinating, impressive speakers in an impressive setting. So much conviction and curiosity. Hope, construction, communication. It was smooth, it was tech, it was human. I’m looking forward to the next one.

We can’t let the robots take over, from The New York Times

An encouraging call to trust human ability, from Nicholas Carr.

“Every day we’re reminded of the superiority of our computers. Self-driving cars don’t fall victim to distractions or road rage. Robotic trains don’t speed out of control. Algorithms don’t suffer the cognitive biases that cloud the judgments of doctors, accountants and lawyers. Computers work with a speed and precision that make us look like bumbling slackers.

It seems obvious: The best way to get rid of human error is to get rid of humans.”

Carr goes on to cite examples of how human reaction and creativity solved problems and saved lives, and how reliance on computers is often what makes humans lazy and unprepared. It may be that humans made mistakes, but they made them because the technology had made them lazy.

This ties in with Carr’s other writings, most of which share the theme that the ubiquity and relatively low cost of technology today are making us dumber and less independent. He may have a point, but I don’t think that it would be very difficult to come up with a counter-example for each of the instances he cites, in which spectacular human error could have been avoided with better data or enhanced control. Basically, the data will tell us what we want to see. That doesn’t necessarily make it the truth.

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A mesmerising sculpture of concrete and glass by Ben Young, which while solid and cold, reminds me of waves crashing on the beach…

by Ben Young, via My Modern Met

by Ben Young, via My Modern Met

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Learn to code, it’s important – from Quartz

Sure, maybe it’s too technical for some. Sure, not everyone wants to or needs to become a programmer. But learning at least the basics of programming is, I believe, essential. Maybe kids will try it and decide that that’s what they want to do. That would be good, they’ll probably have no trouble getting a well-paid job after graduation, which is more than can be said for many. But even if it’s not for them, they should still be exposed to the skills. It’s not so much the learning how to program that’s important, it’s understanding what programming is. It changes your way of thinking. It teaches you to break problems down into little pieces, a good life skill, right? It shows you possible solutions that, if you didn’t have a grasp of programming notions, you might never come up with. It opens up processes, and building blocks, and scaling, useful tools in any profession.

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The canal walkways in London now have a duck lane. Let’s hope they respect it.

via LikeCool

via LikeCool

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The chokehold of calenders, via Medium

In my experience, most people don’t schedule their work. They schedule the interruptions that prevent their work from happening…

I’ve yet to see a résumé—and I hope I never do— that lists “attends meetings well” as a skill. Yet attending meetings ends up being a key component of many jobs. And it’s stupid.

Yes, yes and yes.

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Email pain, from Harvard Business Review

I’ve been out of town for three days, and my inbound email tray has been flooded with at least another 250 entries. None of them are crucially urgent, but many of them are important. Although the word important is part of the problem: I can delete the uninteresting ones right away. But are the interesting ones important, because they’re interesting? There are several that need my attention and response, but urgently – however, as a matter of principal I really try to respond to every email within 24 hours. I find it rude when others don’t, and I don’t want to fall into that bucket. So, they, too, are important? And there’s the news summaries and Google alerts that I can’t erase without skimming, because there might be a VERY IMPORTANT STORY tucked away in those lists. So, they, too, are important. In the end, it turns out that of the 250 or so new entries, at least 150 are important. And that’s just crazy.

So with hope and gusto I read Harvard Business Review’s article this week on email management.

“But no one solution is likely to cure your email woes, because email angst isn’t just one problem: it’s several. It’s the problem of how to cope with the volume of incoming messages, compounded by our fear of missing out on something and by our anxiety about staying in the loop. Writing and replying to messages incorporates our insecurities about written communication and any fears of miscommunication. And perhaps most of all, it’s the problem of how to balance work and personal time, which is bound up with our desire to be both a great professional and a great parent/partner/friend/human.”

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by Samsofy Pardugato, via Bored Panda

by Samsofy Pardugato, via Bored Panda

I love Lego, what can I say… Check out more fun scenes by Samsofy Pardugato, on Bored Panda.

by Samsofy Pardugato, via Bored Panda

by Samsofy Pardugato, via Bored Panda

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Focus on the possibility, via Medium

A beautiful article, written with perspective, a positive outlook and a fair amount of research. Inspiring. Who says we can’t do it? Maybe it’ll be harder than if we were white males. So? Let’s try anyway. We can either spend our time whining about how life isn’t fair, or we can just get to work, do well, and set an example.

“More universally, all tech entrepreneurs, not just female ones, encounter bias. Be it gender, age or business model, people make judgments about us as we pitch our vision long before we have data. Beyond biases, we face mixed data signals every day as we keep iterating between vision and reality over months and years. Were we to yield to stats or all the negative signaling, no one would ever start a company. But as a startup community, our most universal bias is towards possibility.”

The author embarked on a comprehensive survey of successful female tech entrepreneurs (230, a substantial number). Some interesting discoveries:

  • While we acknowledge the importance of STEM, it is very possible for women who do not hail from STEM to start tech. Some 16 percent of our respondents came from STEM undergraduate programs, while 84 percent did not.
  • The “entrepreneur gene” seems to run in our families.
  • Men have played an important role as professional mentors for most of us.
  • Women venture capitalists appear to be disproportionate supporters of female entrepreneurs.
  • Almost half of us — 43 percent — have had children while running our companies
  • About 86 percent agree that women are judged differently than men, with the most common issues cited around perceptions of our “aggressiveness” against expectations of “likeability,” and general unconscious bias within our culture.
  • Tenacity/Resilience, Drive/Passion and Work Ethic rank among the Top 3 traits cited by this group as most attributing to our success.

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3d-printed eyeglasses, via Design Milk

MONO-Eyewear-3D-Printed-to-fit-Your-Face-7-600x400

I am so not interested in fashion – a comfy T-shirt, jeans, flat shoes and I’m happy. But I think that these 3-d printed eye-glasses are cute. And I really like the idea of them being comfortable. My current ones invariably end up precariously perched on the bottom of my nose within 5 minutes of putting them on. I dunno, though… a bit geeky, perhaps?

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Have a great weekend! Local elections here in Spain, quite exciting… And, of course, the Eurovision Song Contest. Frivolous and flamboyant fun.

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