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Somehow I have a hard time believing that if you have a math major, the only difference between you waiting tables and living on the brink of poverty or making bank as a software engineer is a 3 months Ruby course (I have a double math/CS major); I feel like there may be something more going on here. I'm happy for the gentleman's success, but it seems like a poor example to use in any case.

I don't have trouble believing that a short course to learn to use tools that put his previously-acquired math knowledge to good use drastically increases his productivity.

Shouldn't a math degree already have at least a little programming? Matlab? Python? Something?

Probably some mathlab, but it really depends on the course/ university.

For example in Europe many courses focus on pure theory.


Should? Maybe. But plenty of math graduates have little to no programming experience, even from top schools.

Interesting. I did not know that. So do math majors do any numerical analysis?

Feynman, on working on the bomb:

"With regard to moral questions, I do have something I would like to say about it. The original reason to start the project, which was that the Germans were a danger, started me off on a process of action which was to try to develop this first system at Princeton and then at Los Alamos, to try to make the bomb work. All kinds of attempts were made to redesign it to make it a worse bomb and so on. It was a project on which we all worked very, very hard, all co-operating together. And with any project like that you continue to work trying to get success, having decided to do it. But what I did—immorally I would say—was to not remember the reason that I said I was doing it, so that when the reason changed, because Germany was defeated, not the singlest thought came to my mind at all about that, that that meant now that I have to reconsider why I am continuing to do this. I simply didn't think, okay?"

(from "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out", transcript here: http://www.worldcat.org/wcpa/servlet/DCARead?standardNo=0738...)

This is extremely idealistic, but we need a way for engineers and scientists to feel accountable for the outcomes of their work, and to straight out refuse working on such projects. And the people who do work on such systems should be held accountable in some deep way. We have reached a developmental stage where building tools and techniques in the active goal of harming human lives has become morally unacceptable. Engaging in civil disobedience if you are working on such projects is the only acceptable outcome; Snowden should be remembered as the first of many, not as an exception.

(yes, there are many counterpoints to my argument, but starting debates is more interesting than spewing out platitudes. I'm interested in reading the replies)


I once worked in a German field engineering department of a large US semiconductor company as a student. In the department there was a noticeable barrier between one manager and the engineers. The following had happened there a few years ago: a client required a DSP to calculate the weight on a landmine switch. The departments engineers refused to work for the client bar one manager. They were threatened to be fired and they stayed on course and ended up keeping their jobs.

The way it worked was by one guy rallying, taking apart the specifications and explaining the actual moral implications to the engineers.


They were probably legally in the right too, considering that Germany is a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottawa_Treaty


Thank you.

A million trillion times this. If people developing software, hardware and support systems for use in war - stand up and leave your job including by telling everyone who listens why you did. Telling you have a morale is never wrong. And it greatly empowers others to follow.

I used to work for a supplier to an aerospace/defense company and did it.

It makes you sleep better at night, I promise.


> "straight out refuse working on such projects"

One of my family members turned down an offer of double his salary because it would entail working on military systems, and he's a conscientious objector.

> "the people who do work on such systems should be held accountable in some deep way"

... another of my family members has worked on autonomous military systems, and believes herself to be a viable military target because of it.

> "building tools and techniques in the active goal of harming human lives has become morally unacceptable. Engaging in civil disobedience if you are working on such projects is the only acceptable outcome"

The two people I referenced above have a deep, thoughtful, respectful disagreement. Your version is incredibly oversimplified. (For a taste, see the responses to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1823802 .)


>One of my family members turned down an offer of double his salary because it would entail working on military systems, and he's a conscientious objector.

This happens a lot in my field (cognitive neuroscience). The Army Research Lab is a huge recruiter at cognitive neuroscience conventions, but there are many who refuse to work with them on principle, citing gitmo/drones/abu grahib/mk ultra/extraordinary rendition/etc...

At the end of the day, Army research tends to be shittier than public research, and I attribute this to two equally-weighted factors:

1. Army research is done in relative isolation. Collaboration of ideas is difficult because of OPSEC rules.

2. The best researchers, by and large, tend to be wary of Army laboratories, in no small part because the majority of them are foreign.


> straight out refuse working on such projects

People do. Then they quit their jobs and are replaced by other smart people willing to do the work (and needing the job).

> people who do work on such systems should be held accountable in some deep way

Never going to happen. The political and military leaders are the ones who choose to develop and deploy such weapons. They should be held accountable, and sometimes they are. Should we go out and prosecute all the engineers and scientists who worked on nuclear bombs that have been sitting in bunkers and silos for the past 60 years?

> We have reached a developmental stage where building tools and techniques in the active goal of harming human lives has become morally unacceptable.

Who is "we"? A gun is specifically designed to kill things, but the wielder of the gun decides whether it will be used for good or for evil. Likewise, there are plenty of other objects not designed to kill people that are used for that purpose (stones, rope, buckets of water, etc).

Would you consider working on AI countermeasures? Would you want to have a strong defense that can fend off AI invaders, even if it means that defensive force could be re-purposed for offense?

> This is extremely idealistic...

Ideally, you want to rid the world of conflict and war. But this is impossible while there remain limited resources and different ideas. You would need to find an infinite source of food/water/land as well as force everyone to conform to one ideology to avoid war. So aside from being impossible (as far as resources go), you would need a totalitarian world government imposing thought control on all of humanity to bring about such a "peace."


Einstein and many nuclear scientists and engineers that participated in the project felt betrayed by the U.S. dropping the bomb in Japan, they worked on the making of the bomb, expecting that it would serve as a deterrent, not as a weapon. Because of this, some fled to the USSR and China. But even if the scientist/engineers wanted to stop the use of the bomb after working on it, they couldn't have, because it's a political decision. That's why this has to be stopped even before the weapons race starts, IMO.

> we need a way for engineers and scientists to feel accountable for the outcomes of their work, and to straight out refuse working on such projects.

One difficulty, not just here but with pacifism in general, is the asymmetry of violence. For your scheme to work, we would need close to 100% cooperation from engineers. For war hawk politicians to get their weapons, they need just a handful of engineers.

"Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always." — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brighton_hotel_bombing


Two things.

1. Not all engineers are equal. The level of engineering talent you need for this type of work is relatively high. Let's keep it that way.

2. This isn't directed at you in particular, but this line of thinking pisses me off. People should act based on their principals, even if you aren't guaranteed success. If it's something you believe in, you can resist, and resist peacefully. Education and awareness is key to this resistance. Culture is ours to shape together, and even if the prevailing culture makes derailing autonomous weaponry hard, let's not give up just yet.


Take a look at the history of the Manhattan project.

It's a fascinating case study of how the most brilliant minds on the planet, can end up on opposite sides of a moral question.

For every Robert Oppenheimer who has a doubt and raises the moral question, there is an Edward Teller who is charging ahead doubt free.

At the end of the story the strength of the personalities mattered much more than the soundness of their arguments.


Not simply charging ahead scientifically, but actively hawkish.

"If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say today at five o' clock, I say why not one o' clock?" - John von Neumann


> we need a way for engineers and scientists to feel accountable for the outcomes of their work, and to straight out refuse working on such projects

This is one of the major reasons why I'm in favor of an unconditional basic income. We can't hold people responsible for doing their job if they're not realistically allowed to refuse it. Only by allowing them to say no, by providing an alternative, in this case an unconditional income to cover their basic needs, can we allow ourselves to hold them responsible for not saying no.


I had never even thought of this argument before. Ensuring Hobson's choice is an actual choice.

(Though I take issue with the term "income". That implies it can be used for luxury goods. I'll pay for people's toilet paper. I won't pay for double-ply.)


Have we reached that point? Most would disagree. It is also dishonest to attribute the blame to scientists, the real burden is always with the ones giving the orders. Scientists working in military projects create a threat at best. Is threat morally unacceptable? The answer is again no, or else diplomacy could not work. Humans are not an angel society. The key is to keep the threats on the hands of responsible leaders/societies.

Well, that's why you either have a team of competent people making sure all your stuff is up to date, routinely performing pentests, etc., or you delegate as much as possible of those responsibilities to 3rd parties (e.g. Heroku).

Doesn't matter. Eventually, there is a 0-day, that no one knows about, that is used on you.

Why did you buy 2 glasses for your household? I sympathize with your situation, but it seemed always clear to me since the beginning that this was a device that Google was putting on sale mostly as a PR statement ("hey look, we don't do just ads, we can do innovative hardware too!"), with no future beyond the 6 months hype cycle.

I'm curious to hear what you saw in it. Don't get me wrong, I also own early devices that turned out to be useless pieces of plastic (cough cough leap motion), but the price of Google Glass was just completely insane.


Apparently John Lennon used a floatation tank in 1979: http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1988/Bio-Lennon-Kicked-Heroin-H...

The Eagles did lose the 81 Super Bowl, but maybe it's a typo for "made it to the Super Bowl", which is considered an achievement in itself in sports? (particularly if the team had a poor track record the years prior)


If you have posters of Adele Goldberg and Alan Kay in your bedroom, your bedsheets have the Smalltalk spec printed on them, you make an offering to the church of OOP every morning, and you want to push things to the max, you can do that by modeling all your functions as objects and implementing the doing/undoing in the constructor/destructor :3

(I do not advise actually doing this for anything besides being silly on HN)


This is actually a very well known best practice in C++, so common that it has an acronynm RAII: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resource_Acquisition_Is_Initia...

Sure, but you probably shouldn't model the power function as an object (and philosophically, the point of RAII is resource management, not getting function inverses).

The main takeaway from "The Four Hour Workweek" is that if you manage to sell enough copies of a book outlining how to live off a 4 hour work week, then you can live off a 4 hour work week.

Much like tech hiring, investors prefer to optimize for false negative over false positives. Especially because the power dynamic is still skewed in their way, which allows them to say things like "call us back when you get to a series A" - none of the risk, all of the upside. Kind of like that girl who rejected me in high school but said "if in 10 years we both haven't found someone, maybe we can get together".

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How does "call us back when you get to series A" entail "none of the risk, all of the upside"? The risk is that the fund has to pay a higher valuation for the same company, they might not callback, etc. and the upside is that you're...not taking on the risk right now?

Secondly, for tech hiring, a few bad hires can ruin a company. But, angel investors and small funds generally invest in a wide range of startups knowing full-well that most of them won't succeed. But, one success is all that's needed to 10x the value of the fund. Given the payout probability and payout value of startups, it's a pretty different game from tech hiring.

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Extremely inefficient markets. Traditionally, VCs have been able to collude together to prevent startups from increasing in valuation "too fast". Unlike more efficient and less manipulated markets, which tend move in fast discontinuous jumps, VCs have been able to slow the top-performing companies to a slower exponential curve.

Because they've typically been able to slow this curve, waiting until the next round usually hasn't caused them to lose nearly as much upside loss as it would, were the market more efficient.

With IPOs being pushed back, and more sophisticated IB investors moving into much earlier rounds now though, this is finally starting to change.

Keep this in mind whenever you hear VCs shouting "bubble", just because some top startups aren't following the smooth exponential curve in valuations, that any competent trader or economist could tell you should never exist in an efficient market.

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Yeah that one really irked me. Hey, call us when you are a billionaire and we'll talk about investing. Yeah I'll marry you when it's in the prenup.

I'd immediately pull out my funds as an investor out if I found out the names of the people writing these rejection letters. It would also be bad for street cred. "hey these guys missed out on the deal of the century, who else did they reject?"

150k is like peanuts to these firms with millions of dollars to throw. Hell, I'd bought out of the money put options near expiry if it meant there was a slight chance it would have potentially unlimited returns.

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> hey these guys missed out on the deal of the century

When you figure out how to determine that before the fact I'm sure there are plenty of VC firms who would love to hire you.

> who else did they reject?

They rejected countless startups that have since failed (and surely some other that have succeeded). VCs are human, you can't expect them to have the clairvoyance required to only invest in eventually successful companies and only turn down eventual failures.

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>When you figure out how to determine that before the fact I'm sure there are plenty of VC firms who would love to hire you.

My email is in my profile (if anyone wants to hire me). I've described a strategy that involves making small bets across large number of startups and not focusing on making judgements or even attempting to figure out how much this startup is going to be worth (as you say VC are human, why introduce that inherent bias to a numbers game?) because like we witnessed with the guys who rejected Airbnb, their own bias towards safety incurred a huge opportunity cost.

> They rejected countless startups that have since failed (and surely some other that have succeeded). VCs are human, you can't expect them to have the clairvoyance required to only invest in eventually successful companies and only turn down eventual failures.

Exactly, which is why I feel like they should ignore their own instincts and thought processes. Even if they were able to land a few successful ones, how can we be certain that it was not the work of dice rolling? Studies show that most money managers perform no better than buying the index or throwing darts, what makes you think VC's suddenly have improved odds?

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Wait -- so you'll invest in a startup blind, regardless of fundamentals, without trying to ballpark its valuation?

Give me an hour to come up with a business plan, and I'll shoot you an e-mail :P

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If that's what you got then no, I think you should check with your local donation institutions because I'm not running a charity. Another red flag actually, because I checked my email and I didn't find a business plan in my inbox and 2 hours has passed. If you were serious I would've read it and rejected you because the first thing I would do is not read the business plan but talk about your experience and see if you have a history of being non punctual or any thing that would suggest dishonesty.

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I think you are reading too much into it. Different investment funds, angels, syndicates have vastly differing strategies, goals, and funds available.

A smaller fund might invest across a series of funds, but not have deep enough pockets to follow the money even if they have pro rata rights. In comes the larger investment firm with lower risk tolerance (potentially) for the series A. Win win win.

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No you are right about that. I was a bit overdramatic but I'm skeptical when a vc can say oh we don't do travels or hey just not really our specialty be cause there's no way that all 7 of them would have the exact same policy. Some hedge funds,or pension fund has one clear strategy they are legally bound to but all 7 vc in this case displayed the same response or none at all. Clearly there was someone that did end up investing in them and to be fair if they didn't respond it doesn't mean anything. They could've been just very busy or slow at typing emails, just follow up until they reply with a yes or no.

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Sure, except there are thousands of companies out there asking for that firm's 150k, each year. They can't spray and pray, they have to at least find a reason to believe their decision is based on sound logic, otherwise they might as well make themselves self-service.

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If there's an airbnb in there then I think it's worth betting more. 15 million spread across 100 startups, is that too much? I expect most to fail but the point is I have limited downside risk for unlimited return. the overdiversification argument is moot here because you are not optimizing for total portfolio return but maximizing your exposure to upside. Who says you have to do it all in one go? Keep moving and make bite sized bets but not being married to your ideas. Also how can you be sure that your sound logic isn't going to hurt you in the end like those guys writing rejection letters? I'm sure they have done,some introspection.

And like that guy who said he's going to see nd me a business plan in an hour, I've yet to hear from. One clear distinction is that I am also investing in the person, and if they can't hold up their end or if they think it's an easy way to swindle a years salary they are fucked in the head. I'm here to make bets not run a fucking charity, excuse ma francais.

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Were you buying AAPL in 2001?

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It's the Bay Area. Everyone is always talking in superlatives.

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Processing is based on Java, not JavaScript.

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