Since 2003, More American Kids have been Shot than US Soldiers During the Iraq War

March 14, 2018

Today is the march by empowered kids against the violence they receive because of guns in the US (or because of crazy people with guns.  Regardless, bullets keep hitting kids).

During the 7 years of Iraqi Freedom, there were 36,377 US casualties.  That’s over 5,000 per year.

These military deaths are better reported than US gun violence, because US gun violence is not well researched.  The CDC is prohibited by Congress from looking at gun violence after their 1993 finding that a gun in the house increases the chance of injury rather than reduces it.

So, we have to use non-government data like The Gun Violence Archive, which shows about 3,000 to 4,000 kid casualties per year due to guns.  Over 7 years, that’s 21,000 to 28,000 kids gunned down in the US. Since the Iraq War started in 2003, it’s closer to 45,000 kids.  It’s an average of at least 250 bullet riddled kids per month.

But that’s just kids.  Include adults and there are more domestic American casualties due to guns EVERY YEAR than during all 7 years of Iraqi Freedom. (same sources)

Some countries where kids (and you) are safer from guns on a per capita basis? Philippines (who just pulled out of the International Criminal Court), India, Belarus, Serbia, Cyprus (now run by the Russians), Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine.

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Ode to a Friend

February 13, 2018

Andreas and I have, I think, a strange relationship.  Or perhaps to clarify, a male relationship.  Same thing, really.  We don’t speak with lots of words, but we say a lot.  We talk a lot while exercising, which means oxygen-efficient conversations.  There just isn’t a lot of room for positioning and nuance and bullshit when you can only spare 3 words every breath.

These types of conversations tend to become very penetrating.  We talk about work, and dreams, and frustrations, and wives.  Those last two are not necessarily related.  I know the intimacy of Andreas’ heart rate, and how it compares to mine.  I know if he’s feeling ill, or I’m in a good way, based on relative differences in the beatings of our hearts.

Nearly 20 years of exercise means that essentially every runnable or ride-able trail and road near us has Andreas’ footprints, and tire treads, alongside mine.  When I’m in the woods, the trees and the wind are as much a reminder of Andreas as they are of God’s creation.

This morning I was riding my indoor trainer, alone.  And I realized that even when I’m doing things by myself, there is a background process running, which is “will this make a good story for Andreas?” combined with “will this allow me to put the hurt on Andreas?”

It’s not all exercise, of course.  I’ve had the joy of vacationing with the LInkwitz’s at the ski house, Thanksgiving-ing together.  Eating.  A lot.  Andreas isn’t an adventurous eater.  He hates bananas.  Even the smell of them makes him queasy.  Yet he’ll eat the nastiest flavor Gu that has been in the cabinet for years because he doesn’t want to let it go to waste.

Our memories together are immense.  The time we were driving up to run Bay to Breakers in the pre-dawn pitch black.  When we got there, Andreas dumped one of his contacts in the car and couldn’t find it.  He ran the whole thing with one contact, and said “I got used to it.”  He is no-nonsense that way.

A few things that make me smile.  We raced Escape from Alcatraz together.  In a triathlon, one typically doesn’t see one’s friends on the course.  At Escape from Alcatraz, there is a run turnaround on Baker Beach.  As I made the turn and started running back, I saw Andreas a few hundred yards behind me.  I was so excited.  I waved and said “Hi!” or “Yo!” or some such and smiled.  And he responded with, “I can catch you from here.”  Game on!  One of my favorite photos is of us sprinting side-by-side down the finish chute, smiling in pain, trying to beat each other while passing another competitor whose look says “what are those idiots doing?”

We pushed the girls in jog strollers up the trails of Huddart Park.  On the way down, they screamed “wheeeeeee!” almost all the way.  We took those strollers to Run to the Far Side.  The strollers were intended to keep us (mainly me) from getting caught up in the race and killing ourselves.  When someone on the out-and-back yelled “You’re 3rd stroller!” I took off, weaving through joggers while feeding Danielle orange slices.

Andreas makes me a better man.  He calls me on my bullshit, and he’s my first call when I need someone to work through a problem.  He’s clear-headed, he’s direct, and he’s the type of friend every person needs.  I don’t deserve him, but I try to deserve him.  I’ve always said to my wife that he is the one person that I could call any time day or night to say “I need you to do this thing for me.  I don’t have time to explain why, but I need you” and he would be there.  Solid.

On Thursday, before his horrific accident, Andreas and I drove to see astronaut Scott Kelly speak.  We planned to build LX Mini stereo speakers together on Sunday afternoon, a speaker design of his father.  I look forward to him getting better so we can do that.  Primarily because I like using his drill press and his table saw.

And I look forward to adding some side-by-side tracks to whatever trail or road is next.  I think it’s his turn to pick the route.

Get better, buddy.

https://my.lotsahelpinghands.com/community/support-for-linkwitz-family/home

Let’s reduce gun violence in 333 words

November 6, 2017

Americans like their guns, with about 300 million guns in circulation.  But they have risks. They kill 33,000 people a year and gun violence cost $229 billion. Per year.

Americans like their cars, with nearly 300 million of them on the road. But they have risks. They kill 37,000 people a year and deadly accidents cost $435 billion.  Per year.  Including property costs for those crashed cars.

These are strikingly similar numbers.  The biggest difference between these two examples?  Mandatory insurance.

To manage the risk of automobiles, we are each required to purchase insurance for our cars which covers the cost of accidental (or intentional) death.  Median car insurance is $1,250 per year.

Gun owners are not required to purchase insurance for the risks of gun ownership.  Gun risk costs $0.00 for owners.  The cost is paid instead by victims.

Actuaries at insurance companies are very good at calculating the costs of risk.  What type of vehicle do you have?  Are you young or old?  How is your driving record?  Where do you live?

Actuaries could become very good at calculating the odds of a gun, or an owner, doing something bad accidentally (or intentionally).  Do you have a history of violence? Is it a .22 rifle or an AR-15?  Kids in the house?  Then insurers pay up if violence occurs.

Governments are incredibly bad at calculating the costs of risk.  Gun registries, waiting periods, prohibitions on gun types and limits on crazy people’s gun ownership are political compromises and poorly implemented.

Imagine what happens after mandatory gun insurance engages the insurers’  profit motives.  Costs will be high for more dangerous guns, reducing their use.  A $1,200 per year, per gun insurance bill, with detailed checks prior to ownership, will reduce ownership.  If personal liability continues even if the gun is stolen or resold, then theft and resales decline, too.

This is not “gun rights” vs. “gun control”.  Keep your guns, if you want.  This is letting the free market price the risk and neatly align the American capitalist way with a Constitutional right.

 

Today we hacked a Tesla … it was easy.

October 25, 2017

This is a story about technologist training and responsibility, but it starts with an interview with a potential tech developer, which included this exchange:

Me: “I’ve been thinking of some practical tests I can give you for skills assessment, and –”

Developer: “If you want, I can hack your Tesla.  It only takes about 5 minutes.”

Me: “Umm, OK?”

And sure enough, 5 minutes later, after getting me to download an “SSL certificate” to my phone (the sort of stuff that could be buried in an app download), my car was unlocked and the windows were down.  When he started trying to use the “Summon” function to pull the car out the parking space, I’d had enough.

Now, about my “training and responsibility” opening line.  The developers at Tesla, when coding the API between their phone app and their cloud connection to the car, send completely unencrypted messages.  My developer interviewee was able to see signals exchanged like “door_unlock”.   Hmm, I wonder what that does….

Developers are trained, and companies are built, around fast development cycles.  Consumers want the latest features.  Facebook advertisers want a way to target and place advertising.  Drivers don’t want to think about their self-driving cars deciding between a killing 5 children in a crosswalk or the old dude behind the useless steering wheel.

But in the rush to get new tech out the door, human fallibility along with systems geared toward fast features with limited bugs, means we’re shortcutting security (my Tesla today), legality (Russians placing campaign ads on Facebook), and morality (self-driving car accident avoidance algorithms).

We don’t teach development organizations these things.  We don’t reward them for their sophistication in these areas.  And we really, really need to start that dialogue, and that education.  I’m a tech investor, a trained techie, and I love tech.  But we need to build these new perspectives and systems right now.  Because humans are fallible, and the failure modes around increasingly sophisticated technology are increasingly impactful and dangerous.

 

PS. We hired the dev.  In fact, we’re acquiring his company.

The Mistake of Missing the Meta

August 25, 2017

In our second week of dating, the girl that would become my wife tried to end our budding relationship.  It started when I was making an important point, which went like this:

I said, “All adults are screwed up somehow, right?”  She nodded, so I continued,  “That means all children grow up to be screwed up adults.”  She looked at me enraptured, or so I thought at the time.  Now I’m pretty sure it was disdain.  I concluded, “Thus, as a parent, the best one can do is screw up one’s children intentionally instead of unintentionally.”  My face no doubt showed a mixture of smugness and triumph at my cleverness and cuteness.

And she said, “Get out of my house.”

I made a mistake, and thankfully she forgave me for it (and plenty of others since).  The mistake is a mistake we all make, constantly, and we need to work on it.  I made the mistake of missing the meta:  the meta-language, the meta-conversation, the meta-context.  Meta is what’s beyond what’s going on right in front of us.  It’s the “third eye” described by mystics that gives extra perception of the situation.  And in this conversation, the missed meta was “I’m speaking with a mother that might take offense”.  And she rightly did take offense.  Another missed meta was “you’re trying too hard to be clever”.

With a healthy dose of meta, we can understand ourselves better, understand the positions of others, and build bridges that are missing.  It makes disagreements more human, solutions more inclusive, and builds context for our situations.

Unfortunately, either as humans or in this particular era, we are struggling with meta.  We have a President with no meta.  We have self-obsessed reality TV stars that miss the meta.  We have Justin Beeber.  Losing ourselves in electronics is a great way to avoid the higher order thinking and observation that meta requires.  Dehumanizing the opposition is lost meta.  Feeling clever rather than kind is lost meta.

This is an easy thing to fix.  In fact, you have the skills today.  You have a voice in your head (or one of many) which is a detached observer.  It’s an ongoing commentary on “what is this person really saying” or “why am I truly behaving this way at this moment.”  Or even “why am I reading this article about Taylor Swift’s new album when I don’t listen to Taylor Swift and I was originally shopping for contact lens solution?”  Seek out that voice, turn up the volume, and create change for the better.

 

I Moved One Inch, and Found This.

June 20, 2017

I was having a horrible time on my last bike ride. The same hills I typically ride seemed particularly steep. I even hated the bike, a new one, and it apparently didn’t like to climb. Every pedal stroke was “this sucks”.

Then I moved my seat 2cm, less than an inch. And suddenly the bike was wonderful. Turns out the new bike position was wrong, putting too much strain on certain muscles and not enough on others. I moved my perspective one inch, and it gave me a new context — from “sucky” to “joy”. It’s the same emotional transformation that occurs when changing the station after Justin Bieber comes on.

It reminded me that plenty of life’s challenges come not from the situation, but from my context.

“Context” is what we are bringing to the situation, as opposed to what the situation is bringing to us.

If there is a disagreement with colleagues in a conference room, my context can be “my colleagues are out to get me” or “working together to get the best answer”. If I’m listening to my wife, my context can be “I’m bored” or “demonstrate love through listening”. These are things that are entirely in my control, in the moment, and relatively easy to change. Easier to change than my personality, my skill set, or the other people.  As easy as moving one inch.  My negative emotions come from my wrong perspective.

What’s your context when things suck? Do you question it in the moment? Do you change it? How?

The biggest risk to democracy isn’t Trump. It’s this.

May 31, 2017

Trump is not a sickness. Trump is a symptom.  While Trump could be a symptom of many things, I’ll focus on this one big risk to democracy: we’ve become a class society with little chance for change.  And we’re risking the nation because of it.

Like many of you, I grew up being told a few things by my parents:

  1. I’m middle class
  2. In America, you can move up with hard work
  3. If you don’t like the government, you can vote to change it. Your vote matters.

These are social stress “pressure relief valves”.  Sadly, they aren’t true anymore.  You’re stuck.  Not only are you stuck you got where you are not on your own but more because of your situation (e.g. seemingly all Nascar drivers are sons of Nascar drivers).  And you are powerless to change your lot.  This is the recipe for rebellion.

Point 1.  The middle class isn’t as well off as it used to be. The middle 33% of the US has household incomes of $30,000 to $62,500. The poverty line is $24,250 in household income. A single shock, like a health problem or a layoff, can push most middle class families into poverty.  I suspect if you are reading this, your household is in the upper third of incomes.  You and I don’t really understand the challenges of the bottom 2/3rds.  We need to start.

Point 2.  You can’t move up, your parents were just kidding when they said that.  The US is more like the UK in terms of upward mobility, and the UK is well known for it’s class system.   The US has as much upward mobility as Pakistan, and worse than Denmark, Sweden, and Japan.  These are not the first countries we think of when we think of dynamic entrepreneurs rising from poverty to success.

According to journalist Jason DeParle:

At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations. A project led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent)—a country famous for its class constraints.[27] Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth. That compares with 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danes. Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.

The reasons for immobility, and it’s associated inequality, are policies like real estate zoning, which keep people segregated.  Zoning policies were exclusionary, and often racist, up through the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  Once segregated, all one’s friends, connections, summer internships, and schools are similarly segregated.  Legacy college admissions, where children of alumni are given preferential treatment, is an American only system to prevent changes to the cultural makeup of universities.

How can we possibly be a united nation when we don’t mingle?

Point 3.  If you don’t like it, vote for change.  Except, the voting process is a mess.  Congress has an 11% approval rating but a 96% reelection rate.   In a presidential election, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Nevada have more than 40 times the voting power of Arkansas, Alabama, and Kentucky.  Gerrymandering makes the will of the voters matter less:

Does my vote really matter?

What we are left with is class stress that we don’t even admit.  It’s the reason that voters can ignore experts, ignore media, insult and harm people that are Americans but classified as “other”.  These voters can rationally claim “those experts/media/minorities/Americans don’t know me.  I don’t see them in my neighborhood, and if I do they are taking my job or scaring me!”

Solutions to these class problem are unattractive for people like me living above that middle 33%.  Inheritance taxes were designed to reduce class stress by reducing inter-generational wealth.  They are at their lowest levels in decades.  They could be increased.  School budgets are tied to segregated real estate values.  They could be untied, leveling educational access.

These are politically unpopular ideas.  But the alternative may be a more explosive pressure release — starting with a Trump presidency, who harnessed the anger to win election but is inept at governing — and ending with a more talented demagogue that harnesses anger and tears the system down, Constitution and all.

Corporate VCs Should be Killing It Versus Private VCs

March 28, 2017

Corporate venture capital is one of the fastest growing areas of venture capital investment. Too many of these efforts are going to suck and fail. As The Donald would tweet: Bad!

They really shouldn’t fail, though. Corporations have fantastic relationships, expert employees to leverage, and internal demand for start-up companies to exploit.

To personally have those advantages as an investor, I would quite possibly listen to an entire Justin Bieber album. Well, maybe most of one. Private VCs have to work hard to build relationships, understand sectors, and seek out customers for their startups. Private VCs are disadvantaged in this regard.

Corporations, though, fail at one big thing. They treat VC like a corporate activity. Corporate hierarchical decision-making is slow and doesn’t adapt to the pattern matching and imperfect data that is present in startup investment decisions. Corporate pay scales virtually prohibit hiring investors with 10 years experience, successful track records, and networks of relationships, all required in the fragmented venture business. Corporations get confused on their goals, leading to short term commitments to investments that are long term illiquid. I could go on.

Private VCs have just one thing in their favor. They are more egalitarian in their decision-making and they are singularly focused on making money. Yes, I’m aware that is two things, but that destroys the symmetry of the language. Stay focused, reader!

Corporate VC doesn’t have to fail, though. The very best corporate VC functions are incorporating private VC approaches into their efforts. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

And it’s not just worth it for the economic returns of VC, or for being able to see the latest technologies before the competition. Those are great things, sure. Instead, corporate VC is worth it because once or twice every 5 or 10 years, the Corporate VCs and the companies they work with will have an insight that changes the direction of the mothership. Then, instead of that $100m fund returning $300m in profit, it will alter the course of billions of dollars of mainline business.

It’s happened to others, and if you are a corporate VC group or thinking of starting one, it could happen to you — if you build it the right way.

Things Americans believe in more than Donald Trump

March 24, 2017

A recent Gallup poll put Donald Trump’s approval rating at just 37%, one of the lowest approval ratings ever recorded by Gallup at this point in a presidency.  Here are some things that people believe in more than Donald Trump.

Switching from beliefs to approval ratings, here are a few of the many bad things with higher approval ratings than Trump:

One bright spot, Donald Trumps’ approval rating (37%) is higher than Justin Bieber’s (20%).  But, he’s bigly trailing Vin Diesel (60% approval) and Ben Affleck (62% approval), one of which is just out of rehab.  Bad!

 

Trump’s immigration ban just lost at least 180,000 US tech jobs

January 31, 2017

After months working with a European company to set up their Silicon Valley venture arm, the company told me this morning they are suspending their plans after Trump’s immigration order. The situation is too chaotic, they said.

That’s $200 million that will not enter the US economy, that will not be invested in US startups and technologies that drive the US economy.

Venture backed startups, both public and private, account for 11% of US jobs and 21% of GDP according to the NVCA and Thomson/Reuters.

$200m is about 1% of annual venture dollars. One could argue that this single decision could remove as much as 0.2% of GDP and 0.11% of US jobs over time. That’s 180,000 jobs depending on your source for jobs data and how quickly funds are invested.

This isn’t politics, this is economic duncery.

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UPDATE:  I made one important assumption in my calculation of lost jobs, which was encapsulated by my short addition of “over time”.  I assumed this isn’t just a single fund, but something that the corporation would do for multiple funds.

The impact of a single fund has to be calculated differently.  Based on about $700B invested over all of venture’s history (data is sketchy between sources for this), a $200m fund is .03% of total capital invested, including recent investments that haven’t yet impacted jobs or GDP data (30% of that $700B has been in the last 5 years, not enough time for the full outcome to be known) .  That’s around 50,000 jobs for just this single fund.