happy hump day

07 Nov 2012

first: congrats to President Obama on his second term! what a nerve-wracking and exciting election it was. in general i do not enjoy very much politics as it is, in my opinion, far too political and rarely efficient nor rational. the best thing about election years, in my opinion, is the discussion and debate it causes people to have with each other. although i generally vote democratic I have had a number of really great conversations with my peers: liberal, conservative, and independent. however, here’s to hoping we do indeed move Forward with an open mind and real change.

no rant today, just a few things that have been on my radar lately and will hopefully get your brain a little extra food for thought on this rainy and frigid wednesday. and yes, i feel like writing in all lowercase today. interesting how the way words look on a page can have so much of an effect on one’s voice. in general, i have a thing for ALL CAPS (certain works, in my ideal world, should always be written in CAPS, such as the words of KANT), however it’s the first day back to school after a strange hurricane week, 4 days off from school, an exhilarating election, and i have a midterm tomorrow. so, undercaps (is that a thing?) it is.

recently read this article written by an MIT student whose experience mirrors my own conflicted feelings about attending a high-pressure high-cost university. no matter what college you may be studying at or not even in school at all, it is a very well-written, touching piece and a good thought-provoker.

second, and more nerdy-fun thing: say what you may about Facebook’s privacy policies/business interactions/Mark Zuckerberg, etc. etc. (I actually am not a huge fan but i am, as always, biased) but it is for sure one hell of an addicting product. and, being scientifically minded, i’ve always been fascinated by guessing the algorithms it uses to queue up one’s friend list and other auto-complete actions. i spend a good deal of time guessing why it choses to show the friends it does on a certain profile, etc. etc. but maybe i’m just a nerd.

ANYWAY, i found this very interesting JS bookmarklet and a great explanation of how it works on this blog post. in short, the bookmarklet will pop up a list of rankings based on how FB guesses what your order of searches will be. aka who does it think you stalk the most? potentially embarrassing, but certainly fun. the algorithm FB uses is called EdgeRank. google it for more fun distracting research!

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This weekend I spent a crazy, sleepless 24 hours at Facebook NYC HQ’s inaugural hackathon.

For those not in the field, hackathons are basically really condennsed, usually 24-hour tech competitions in which a big group of programmers (and sometimes designers) get together, form teams and try to make a usable, cool project. For anyone who’s ever coded before, it’s easy to see how insane of a deadline that is, hence lots of caffeine, little sleep, and really tired eyes. For everyone else, this concept sounds basically like insane torture. I used to think that too (you can read a little about it here in this post I wrote for hackNY), but they are actually fun! Really.

Anyway, the hackathon kicked off as usual with a little self-promo blurb from Facebook, then a little brainstorming pep talk (since, ideally, you are supposed to come up with the concept during the competition, too, like Iron Chef (basically the best cooking show ever but only the original Japanese version with voice dubbing)). To lead off the ideas, the emcee posed a typical hackathon prompt: what problems in your life are there that you’d like to solve?

I never realized until yesterday, when my crazy genius/totally awesome rooomate brought it to my attention, what a problematic question that is, not only for hackathons, but with respect to Silicon Valley/web 2.0 startups in general. Most of the participants in web 2.0 startups are fairly privileged: there may be some self-made men and women, high school dropouts and the like, but the majority do tend to stem from elite private schools, because, let’s face it: when a small company needs to hire good developers fast without the luxury for deliberation, brand matters.

There’s nothing wrong with solving “first world problems”, building social networking sites, or making mobile games. I believe that all of the above are great excercises of human creativity and can lead to good, just on a different plane. However, it’s important for all these talented and hardworking developers to realize that perhaps it’s time to shift the focus away from introspection. Startups are filled with brilliant, bold employees who are out to change the world. Perhaps it’s time to look beyond the first world.

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