Friday, April 14, 2017

President Trump’s beautiful flip-flops

To the surprise of many, it took President Trump only 48 hours to suddenly change his mind about a host of hefty issues. He decided China was not a “currency manipulator,” after all; ordered a massive missile strike on a Syrian air field; cooled toward Russia and its perceived strongman; acknowledged NATO was no longer obsolete; and praised the U.S. Export-Import Bank – which he had pledged to shut down. One of the explanations given for this torrent of policy U-turns is that the country’s CEO is simply learning about all the issues involved – and finding out these may be more complicated than Fox News had led him to believe. For example, President Trump noted it had taken 10 minutes of conversation with the Chinese president (more like 5 – if the translation is not counted) to make him see China’s relation to North Korea in new light. Whatever the failing liberal press was saying, he seemed to believe his new “flexibility” only showed he was pragmatic rather than bound to rigid ideological commandments. There may be, however, a less charitable explanation for it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Our startups, ourselves

In the NYT, John Herrman recalls an astute observation made by computer scientist John Dougman in the now distant 1990 (“New Technology Is Built on a ‘Stack.’ Is That the Best Way to Understand Everything Else, Too?” “Invariably,” Dougman wrote, “the explanatory metaphors of a given era incorporate the devices and the spectacles of the day.” The ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, deployed hydraulic and pneumatic metaphors reflecting the technology they used to pump water. During the Enlightenment, the human organism was conceived as a sophisticated machine, not unlike the newly ubiquitous mechanical clocks, watches, and related mechanisms. With the spread of IT, terms borrowed from computer science – like programmed, bandwidth, or hack – become the new master metaphors. One of the trendiest among these seems to be the “stack” – a combination of elements arranged (as if) on top of each other, well integrated and assuring the smooth functioning of a company (or a human being).