Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Review of ‘Chaos Monkeys’, Silicon Valley tell-all (nytimes.com)
88 points by mathattack on June 29, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments



The OP mentions that the second half of the book chronicles the author's time at FB. This was excerpted in Vanity Fair, and the HN commentary from early this month is here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11830108

The NYT reviewer in the OP was repelled by the author's pose ("The aphorisms are sometimes lazy, the facts can be sloppy, and the studied cool – all the while insisting that “I am the uncoolest person you will ever meet” – can be grating."), but ultimately able to get past it to the anecdotes and "directionally correct" analysis in the book.

You can note that the HN readership also had a similar reaction, with varying degrees of being able to move past the initial impression.


One challenge is the most earnest writers usually make the most boring stories. This is also why the imperfect narrator is used so often in great literature.


[flagged]


Dude, he called your book "a must read" in the official New York Times review. What more do you want out of the guy?


You seem very thin-skinned


OK. You're right. My editor told me it's actually positive. I fixate on the negative to much. There it is...


Seems like you are pretty good at trolling yourself, no need for others to get involved.


You're right.


Most hilarious item is where the author states that we should have a conversation about whether startups are society's best use of our brightest graduates, i.e. Harvard Business School grads.

Somehow after years of complaining about financial services hiring all our promising mathematicians and physicist, this comment tickles me and puts me in my place at the same time. Sadly, I fear this was not intended as a joke


A significant proportion of Harvard Business School graduates (though by no means all of them) are people who are “ambitious” in a way primarily defined around money, social status, and power, rather than curiosity or societal contribution. They’re going to inevitably be drawn to whatever field looks most promising for a lucrative and influential career.

It would be nice if we could economically rearrange society to amply reward careers in research, teaching, government, public-interest law, community organizing and development, providing social services, and so on (not to mention just regular jobs in factories, agriculture, retail, food preparation, etc.), so that doing work that benefited society was more attractive vis-à-vis zero-sum financial hocus pocus, predatory legal engineering, aggressive marketing/propaganda, internet surveillance, quasi-legal fraud, etc.

[My recommendation would be to dramatically increase taxes on land, inheritances, long-term capital gains, and carbon emissions, and redistribute the proceeds evenly to all citizens. And also to return anti-trust law to its roots and aggressively break apart monopolies and monopsonies, separate different types of financial activities to reduce conflicts of interest, and to dramatically increase funding for government regulatory agencies which are currently infinitely outclassed by industry.]

But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, in our current society. I’m not sure what can be done to help e.g. the kind of business school grads who have already decided that personal success is more important than general social welfare.


These money hungry HBS graduates perform jobs that are in themselves so boring, stressful and costly on a personal level that nobody would do them if it weren't for the large rewards they come with -- creating new technological infrastructure and organizations that supply society with the products and services it needs.


Do you mean jobs in finance? I'm not so sure society really needs most of the products and services finance generates.


In fact, it can be argued the whole portfolio of financial products we have now is a negative value to society.


Societies need financial infrastructure. Very little of it can be replaced with software, and innovations in finance is just as important to economic development as technology is.


While society needs a certain amount of financial infrastructure we can probably don't need the massive amount of finance biz that we have now.

"Market share[edit] US[edit] As of 2004 the financial services industry (finance industry) represented 20% of the market capitalization of the S&P 500 in the United States.[citation needed]" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_services

As Warren Buffet once said: "It has always been a fantasy of mine that a boatload of 25 brokers would be shipwrecked and struggle to an island from which there could be no rescue. Faced with developing an economy that would maximize their consumption and pleasure, would they, I wonder, assign 20 of their number to produce food, clothing, shelter, etc., while setting five to trading endlessly on the future output of the 20?" -Warren Buffet


The necessity of financial infrastructure seems pretty easy to take at face value.

The idea that "very little" of it can be replaced with software seems like it might need more support than a bare assertion.


> It would be nice if we could economically rearrange society to amply reward careers in research, teaching, government, public-interest law, community organizing and development, providing social services, and so on (not to mention just regular jobs in factories, agriculture, retail, food preparation, etc.), so that doing work that benefited society was more attractive vis-à-vis zero-sum financial hocus pocus, predatory legal engineering, aggressive marketing/propaganda, internet surveillance, quasi-legal fraud, etc.

How would you decide what benefited society and what didn't? Centrally planned economies have been tried and failed - the economy is too complex for any single organization to understand, just as the Internet would grind to a halt if a central facility had to decide which way all the packets were routed. The Soviet Union in its early years had some incredibly innovative work in psychology and biology - that no-one followed up because the central planners didn't think it was valuable. In its later years it's estimated that some factories had negative productivity - they were taking valuable raw materials and turning them into products that had made sense in the '30s but no-one now wanted.

We can go into the specifics, but I feel like a lot of the careers in your first list are things that people assume must be valuable because they're public service and/or low-paid. Whereas often these things are low-paid because, when push comes to shove, people don't really put a lot of value on them. Everyone is happy to talk about spending more of other people's money on teachers, community organizers or the like, but when you ask how much they personally would be willing to spend on them, suddenly the answer changes.

(FWIW a lot of finance creates a lot of value through efficient allocation of resources - I won't deny that there are zero-sum aspects (particularly tax avoidance schemes) but the main way these businesses make money is by providing valuable services. Not that I expect you to agree with me. More generally look at e.g. the contributions of private for-profit schools and businesses to the UN development goals for Africa, and compare that to how much well-meaning NGOs and the like have achieved)

> [My recommendation would be to dramatically increase taxes on land, inheritances, long-term capital gains, and carbon emissions, and redistribute the proceeds evenly to all citizens. And also to return anti-trust law to its roots and aggressively break apart monopolies and monopsonies, separate different types of financial activities to reduce conflicts of interest, and to dramatically increase funding for government regulatory agencies which are currently infinitely outclassed by industry.]

First, good on you for giving concrete proposals.

Land tax: completely agreed. Direct money transfers to citizens rather than organized public services: also agreed, but what's your approach to people who e.g. spend all their money at the start of the month and then can't buy food? Or to things like healthcare where it's enormous occasional costs rather than small regular costs? Inheritances: not convinced; it punishes people whose parents die young, and seems impossible to police fairly. Capital gains: I would argue for just taxing it like income, we don't want to discourage investment but nor do we want to disproportionately encourage it. Carbon emissions: disagree with distributing the proceeds, we should be taxing emissions at what it costs to clean them up, and spending the money on doing that. Anti-trust laws: agreed. Financial activities: if you split them up you're going to force more bankruptcies (or more bailouts) - a bank's whole purpose is to be large and diversified so that people can keep their deposits there with confidence. I see that as a much bigger issue than conflicts of interest. Regulatory agencies: maybe. Better to ensure that the regulations are such that it's easy to detect violations, IMO.


> if we could economically rearrange society

Maslow's Hammer rears its head https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_instrument


“Economically rearrange society” doesn’t insist on some particular means. I assume you agree with me that the current “arrangement” is fundamentally broken and unjust with horribly skewed incentives and abounding in conflicts of interest? I’m not sure what you are getting at.


Bravo.


I don't understand your point? Is it the same guy who lauded graduates going to finance and then doesn't like grads going to startups?

Because if it isn't the same guy, then what are you talking about?


I'm the guy who consider finance a waste of math and physics grads. Now I'm reading this and thinking "what an idiot. He thinks its crucial to society to make best use of MBAs". Then I realize I'm making a similar judgement about math and physics. Is society objectively better off if we do more math and physics? Hard to say yes. I'm biased as he is.

Even so, assuming Harvard MBAs are a valuable national resource cracks me up. I've dealt with a few


Your response to that is a complaint followed by no discussion. "Somehow funny."


I came here to say that this line

"Underneath the braggadocio and evisceration of professional nemeses in Antonio García Martinez’s book lies the beating heart of a formidable teacher."

is everything that is wrong with journalism. It is hard to read a single sentence after that, your brain just shuts off.

...but to copy that line I couldn't just select and paste because of the NYT's weird website, so I viewed the source. And then it hit even harder...

<meta itemprop="description" name="description" content="Underneath the braggadocio and evisceration of professional nemeses in Antonio García Martinez’s book lies the beating heart of a formidable teacher." />


Author here, for all your trolling needs.


Between physics at Berkeley, derivatives at Goldman Sachs, and analytics at Facebook, could you summarize their pros and cons in terms of intellectual challenge and work/life balance?


I'd love to know about the work life balance. In an industry where burnouts are common, and your work history being some of the most demanding companies in the industry, how did you handle it?


I drank a lot, and did stupid things. It was really self-destructive. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Really.


All of them? Or one in particular?


Hello,

I haven't read the book but I am planning to.

I caught the last few minutes of your interview on NPR the other day. You said you built the FB Exchange. I made a mental note to look that up later and now serendipitously, it shows up here. Anyhow, not familiar with it but it sounded like some sort of an interface to Amazon. Would you care to elaborate?


Exchange is/was FB's retargeting/remarketing solution, AKA "we will follow you everywhere you go on the Web and remind you that you once looked at a pair of shoes on our site." Some detail would be cool -- adtech is intrinsically interesting, if ethically somewhat murky.


True!


Who is the target audience of the book?

You don't dig all that deep into the tech side of the valley, so it's not the geeks. You don't talk all that much about the details of the deals, so it's not the suits. That, leaves ... tourists?


No offense, but not the HN crowd. Supposed to be mainstream normals. Sales, yo....


When did you get the phd at Berkeley? What did you specialize in and did that specialization help you get a job at Goldman Sachs?


How would you contrast the culture at Facebook vs. Twitter?


Facebook was a bit frat boy, but also had a really cohesive culture. Twitter was a more hipsters and design-y, but they didn't seem to have the balls to ship every day all day.


Are you optimistic about the future of Silicon Valley?

What do you think of Michael O. Church?


Just started the book. Out of curiosity, what do you think about FB's decision to shut down FBX? It is hard to see past closed garden approach. Is there a better reason?


Thank you for joining and opening yourself up to the trolls, gadflies and haters. :-)


At ~$100k, a 40-foot sailboat seems like a reasonably affordable option for housing in SF.


"It's a trap!"

There is nothing about a boat that saves money, ever. It's an incredibly rewarding hobby if you're into it, but not cheap!


"If it flies, floats, or fucks you should rent it" is the common advice passed around by jaded and wealthy divorced men that I know.


Also a quote by Dwayne Johnson in the show Ballers... though I think he added "drives" as well.


I wonder if this aphorism applies, if studied strictly on the basis of economics for homosexual prostitution.


I am in no position to dispute this, but I have a friend who has lived on a sailboat in the Bay Area for many years now, and for him it was a way to get out of the apartment-renting game much, much earlier than he ever could have afforded to buy a place on land.

If he had done the same thing in a saner real-estate market then maybe by now his sailboat habit would have cost him as much as a flat would have, only later. But in the SF Bay I'm pretty sure he never would have caught up, and this way he's the lord & master & captain of his own tiny domain.


You are only "lord and master of your own domain" to a limited extent if you're paying $700/month moorage... You've just exchanged high rent for an apartment for renting a moorage space. There are very few marinas organized on a condominium or coop share ownership model.


Berkeley marina is fairly affordable to live at: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Parks_Rec_Waterfront/Marina/Ber...

I know some people who do, and they enjoy it. Some of them even sail their homes, or take off to Hawaii for a few weeks in their home.


You'd need to multiply that by three to approach ANY apartment you'd have to yourself in SF.


$700/month is a very cheap rent. I'd like to know what utilities and maintenance for a reasonable boat would be.


Utilities are water, metered power, and pumpouts for sewage. Maintenance costs are low four digits each year, rising quickly if purchase price is over $100k.


Maintenance costs are low four digits each year? Yeah, until you need to haul a 60' boat out of the water and scrape + re-paint its hull, which will need to happen on a regular schedule for the life of the vessel.


My comment relates to any boat around 40ft in length or less. A 60ft boat's expenses will be an order of magnitude higher.


Still, $100k for a place you can live is a very nice deal. Let's say $100k in housing could be rented for $500 a month. That'd would make the boat cost you about $1200/month. That's still a very reasonable price for a property close to the beach.


Boat (N):

   1.) ...

   ...

   5). An odd shaped hole in the water you throw money into.


That's right. If you can pony up the cash, and maintain the boat (read: elbow grease) it's not a bad choice. But you have to love the boat, and the sea.


Do you have to love fixing engines while surrounded by bilge water?


Kind of, yes.


It is a sail boat that you want. Not much engine fixing.


Inboard maintenance in cramped quarters ankle-deep in oily bilge muck is not a joke. Any sailboat big enough to live aboard is going to have an engine of some sort. Outboards are probably the least bad if you can make that work and not drop it into the sea, but most have inboards which require some degree of maintenance.


BOAT = bring out another thousand.

Source: I owned a 25 foot sailboat.


From watching various youtube channels made by people sailing around the world, such as the excellent S/V Delos channel, I've learned that if you want to be a sailor you have to really enjoy boat maintenance. If you're one of those people who would fix crap on a boat and do small engine maintenance for fun in your spare time and even go down to the local machine shop and learn how to custom make parts just cause you liked it -- if hauling your boat out of the water to sand it and paint it while wearing protective gear makes you feel proud -- then sailing is definitely for you.


Well, maybe, though round-the-world sailors and daysailors are kinda apples & oranges. The hours-spent-having-a-blast to hours-of-maintenance ratio on something like a Hobie 16 beach catamaran is ridiculously high


Yep, it really depends. If you get something old and made of wood, you're probably signing up for a lot of maintenance or a heap. There are plenty of heaps at marinas if you go look. The alternative is to get a boat guy, which is also expensive. The other other alternative is to join a sailing club which collectively maintains the vessels. There are plenty in the Bay Area if you look :)


So what you're saying is, based on what he actually spends his time doing, "sailor" is basically a euphemism for "boat repairman"


More like being a boat mechanic is an integral part of the experience of owning a boat. Some people like working on cars, while most people take theirs to a mechanic. If you're the former kind of person then you're probably much more likely to have a satisfying boat ownership experience, especially if you buy a used/older boat.


Similar sentiment, but the old saying goes something like:

"The two best days of boat ownership are the day you buy it and the day you sell it."


You would need to bring out three thousands, per month, before you break even with rent in SF :).


Docking fees & maintenance are what get you.


A slip isn't much more than my association fees. Housing in SF is pretty high.


many major marinas in large cities prohibit 'liveaboard' type boats for exactly this reason.


Indeed! But there are workarounds...


saltwater is cancer for boats. basically a hole in the water you throw money into that will always be rapidly subject to accelerated entropy due to salt water.


There are a number of dock slip owners in San Francisco who have a boat parked there that they rent out as a living space. It's far from luxurious, but I've heard of rents as low as $100/month.


I paid more, but yeah...it can work out.


I couldn't get through the first paragraph of that review. I'll try a sample of the book, but that NYT piece was utterly unpleasant.


Well, we agree on that one! I think he just didn't like the voice, but couldn't admit it wasn't enlightening.


Audible has a sample from the audiobook http://www.audible.com/pd/Business/Chaos-Monkeys-Audiobook/B...


"Beyond the author’s personal story, what connects the two distinct halves of the book is his area of actual domain expertise: advertising. Mr. García was a Ph.D. student in physics at Berkeley before joining Goldman Sachs to model prices for credit derivatives."

That's so fucking depressing.


If you were building a company, would you recruit your colleagues from Berkeley, GS, or FB, and why?


Preferably all three. But I definitely think Berkeley grads are relatively underrated to Stanford ones.


I have access to a job market where the major employers are Investment Banks and that's where I have been employed for some part of my career. I am thinking of moving to technology-first employers... will it make any change to my life or is it a futile dream ?


Not sure if anyone else has noticed this pattern but I've seen it in a number of NYT articles that I would like to aggregate. There are seemingly offhanded paragraphs that ignore the issue at hand and insert something pro-NSA/pro-weak crypto.

From this article take the second to last paragraph.

At the least, readers of “Chaos Monkeys” will think twice before taking at face value tech leaders’ high-minded arguments for refusing to assist our national security apparatus in fighting terrorist threats. Even in the area of advertising, important social and public policy questions are implicated.

This comment hardly fits into the theme and flow of the rest of the review.


Yep, I noticed that. A completely biased view to a very important matter. Completely overlooking the dangers of weak crypto, government invasion of privacy and safe control of access to information.


I have question about the replicating portfolio analogy that the author makes with respect to getting Facebook to match Twitter's offer. Could he have (successfully) bargained for a replicating portfolio on an after-tax basis? In other words, since Twitter was paying with stock options, which are more tax-efficient than Facebook stock grants, he could have argued that Facebook's overall compensation package needed to be much more to really match Twitter's.


"Even where Mr. García completely mangles the facts – as he does for instance in describing the mechanics of the Facebook initial public offering – he manages to draw multiple fresh insights that somehow feel directionally correct."

I find it hard to read this other than as "It's bullshit, but but bullshit that reinforces my prejudices."




Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: