October 27th, 2017 · 11 comments
Segment’s Focus Problem
Segment is a typical Silicon Valley success story. It’s a data analytics software company started by three MIT dropouts in 2011. Last year it raised $64 million in its Series C funding round.
Things at Segment, in other words, were going well — with one exception: their employees were having a hard time focusing. Concerned, the company ran an internal team survey and discovered that the “chatter and noise” in their industry-standard open office was the biggest cause of distraction (not surprisingly, “group slack channels” was the second biggest cause) .
So Segment decided to do something about it.
In a move that you could only expect from an advanced data analytics company, they programmed an iOS app to measure office noise levels and ran it on the iPads mounted outside the office’s conference rooms. They then crunched the resulting data and found that some parts of the office were more noisy than others, with the loudest areas around a factor of two louder than the quietest (see above image, in which red corresponds to loud and green to quiet).
Armed with this data, they rearranged the seating in their open office. As they described on their company blog:
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October 20th, 2017 · 23 comments
A Persistent Answer
Ben Orlin is a math teacher who publishes the clever essay blog, Math with Bad Drawings. Last year, Orlin had the opportunity, during a press conference at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, to ask a question of Andrew Wiles, the Princeton Professor (now at Oxford) who in 1994 finally solved Fermat’s Last Theorem.
As Orlin reports on his blog, he asked the following:
“You’ve been able to speak to an unusually wide audience for a research mathematician. What are some of the themes you’ve tried to emphasize when talking to a broader public?”
Wiles’s answer, according to Orlin, can be summarized in six words: “Accepting the state of being stuck.”
As Wiles elaborated, research mathematics unfolds as follows:
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October 7th, 2017 · 22 comments
At last week’s New Yorker TechFest conference, superstar Apple designer Jony Ive took the stage.
At some point during the presentation, Ive was offered a softball question about the ways the iPhone has changed the world. Ive’s response was surprising: “Like any tool, you can see there’s wonderful use and then there’s misuse.”
Asked what he meant by “misuse,” Ive responded: “perhaps, constant use.”
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October 2nd, 2017 · 45 comments
A Social Experiment
If you, like many people, use social media and generally agree that it’s an important technology, try the following experiment.
Take out a piece of paper and list your most important uses for these services — the activities that social media is well-suited to provide and that unambiguously enrich your life. This list, for example, might include items like:
- The ability to see new photos of your nephews, nieces, or grandchildren.
- The Facebook Group used to run a local organization you belong to.
- The hashtag that keeps you up to date with the latest news from an activist movement that you support.
The social media industrial complex* likes to point to lists like these to justify its importance. “It would be crazy to dismiss our technology,” they cry, “look at all these useful things people do with it!”
But here’s the second part of the experiment: estimate honestly how much time it would take per week to satisfy these important uses. In my experience, for most people, the answer is around 15 – 30 minutes.
And yet, the average American adult social media user spends two hours per day on these services, with almost half this time dedicated to Facebook products alone.
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