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Anil Dash



A Blog About Making Culture



Updated: 2018-02-14T06:44:10Z

 



Have the Hip Hop BBQ

2018-02-14T06:44:10Z

I keep having to explain a principle I arrived at a few years ago when I realized the modern conservative movement is grounded almost entirely...

I keep having to explain a principle I arrived at a few years ago when I realized the modern conservative movement is grounded almost entirely in a contrived sense of grievance, predicated on a false victimhood of its supporters. (That’s not to say some haven’t genuinely suffered some wrongs, but they consistently focus on imaginary ones instead.)

The clarifying moment for me in realizing how to deal with this was the stupidity of when right-wig media claimed Barack Obama was having a “hip hop barbecue” at the White House. Obviously, this met all of the signature tropes of such efforts: it was a lie, was a transparently racist dogwhistle, and featured absurdities demonstrating a profound cultural illiteracy — in this case, asserting that Common is a gangster rapper. Forsooth.

My conclusion then was simple: give them what they want. They’re going to accuse you of it anyway, at least do the right thing and give them a reason to pretend they’re victims. Eventually, Obama did have a Hip Hop BBQ of sorts, and it was glorious. What could the right wing media outlets do, except say “he’s at it again!” Who’s gonna pretend to get outraged twice?

Now, of course, there are limits. No matter how desperately the right may have craved Death Panels back then, we can’t give them the true version of that lie they created. But for the most part, if the fact-free media and its credulous supporters want to pretend they’re being wronged, we should follow improv rules and say, “Yes, and…” and be sure to double down.

If they said you had a Hip Hop BBQ, then you damn well ought to have one.

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Masters in Business

2018-01-10T07:02:25Z

A few months ago, I got the wonderful opportunity to talk to Barry Ritholtz, who's best known as a Bloomberg View columnist and for his...

A few months ago, I got the wonderful opportunity to talk to Barry Ritholtz, who's best known as a Bloomberg View columnist and for his excellent "Masters in Business" podcast, but whom I've known online for many years.

We talked about a topic that's incredibly important to me, the ethical challenges facing all of us who create technology. It's a wide-ranging conversation that's over an hour long, but I hope you'll take the time to listen, as this is a discussion we all need to be engaging in.

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There's also a longer story in the BloombergView site covering a bit of what we discussed.

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Every Last Jedi

2017-12-16T12:45:00Z

This is a spoiler-filled first set of reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The ultimate courage of what Rian Johnson has done here, is...

This is a spoiler-filled first set of reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The ultimate courage of what Rian Johnson has done here, is that he fully embraced what it is to be a director who obviously grew up as true fan of Star Wars, and retconned the whole universe into a new understanding of The Force. It’s the kind of revolutionary rethinking of the most successful pop culture franchise of all time that I would have thought would not be possible by anyone but George Lucas, and certainly not under the auspices of Disney. But here we are.

Though it’s well-grounded in the first definitions of The Force that we were introduced to in the original trilogy, The Last Jedi presents a radically inclusive new view of the Force that is bigger and broader than the Jedi religion which has thus-far colored our view of the entire Star Wars universe. (This is also why lost-cause diehards will likely always hate this film.)

On a personal level, it really makes me smile to know that in Carrie Fisher’s last film, in her most famous role, she’d get to know that the vision of what the franchise was about would be broadened to include everyone. Now, every kid who ever picked up a broomstick and pretended to be Luke Skywalker with a lightsaber is canonically one with the Force. It’s a wonderful summation of what Star Wars, at its best, represents in culture.

It’s also a brave film for its willingness to subvert the expectations of the most hardcore fans. In many ways, The Last Jedi is anti-fan service. Tonally, it’s totally different than the other films in the series. Flashbacks and editing sequences like when Rey first sees the Force feature a wildly different direction style than Lucas ever would have tried. Jokes like the initial Poe-Hux call are completely out of character for the voice of the other films (especially the prequels). And the Jedi are no longer an infallible inherited priesthood, but a religion of self-absorbed, usually short-sighted monks who neglect the beauty of the Force in favor of exploiting it for their own power. Any one of these would antagonize those who were overly invested in the old order; all of them together is rank heresy.

But for an open-minded viewer, there are wonderful touches throughout. Rey gets to be a whole person, who grounds the film and is brave and grows, without ever being reduced to a love interest or damsel in distress. Similarly, Rose gets to be not just the first Asian American woman to be featured in Star Wars, but the avatar of the theme of the entire film. The porgs porg it up. Lots of stuff is red. The sound design uses silence more effectively than any blockbuster film since Attack of the Clones. There’s not much Threepio. It’s all pretty great.

Most of all, it sets us up for a third film where, for the first time in 37 years, we don’t know what’s going to happen next with Star Wars. Restoring our sense of wonder or mystery or surprise about the most culturally dominant franchise of all time is one of the toughest challenges any mainstream director could pull off. Succeeding in that challenge makes The Last Jedi a wonderful gift to every kid who ever swung a broomstick lightsaber.

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Star Wars Minute!

2018-01-10T05:24:38Z

In advance of the upcoming release of The Last Jedi, excitement is building for all things Star Wars, so I'm thrilled to share that I...

In advance of the upcoming release of The Last Jedi, excitement is building for all things Star Wars, so I'm thrilled to share that I got to be a guest on the inestimable Star Wars Minute podcast. The show tackles the world's most popular franchise one movie at a time, one minute at a time, and I was lucky enough to get to comment on everybody's second-to-least-favorite Star Wars movie, Attack of the Clones.

It was really a joy to be on Star Wars Minute, and every one of these short conversations was amusing the whole way through — please do give them a listen!

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4th Day of November...

2018-01-10T04:06:18Z

I struggled for a long time when the nice folks at the Heat Rocks podcast asked me which Prince album I'd want to talk about...

I struggled for a long time when the nice folks at the Heat Rocks podcast asked me which Prince album I'd want to talk about on their show. Oliver Wang and Morgan Rhodes run an amazing podcast, where every episode is a deep-dive into a classic album.

Ultimately, because of its significance and relative lack of prominence amongst casual fans, I settled on Prince's 1982 classic, 1999. In the finished show, we talk about everything from how Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson were influenced by the sound of 1999 to my own personal revelations about faith, as inspired by discovering that Prince didn't actually write the Lord's Prayer.

If you ain't busy for the next 45 minutes, please do check out this wonderful conversation!

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Speaking at the Obama Foundation Summit

2018-01-10T06:58:55Z

I've been fortunate enough to get to speak at a lot of events over the years, in front of an amazing variety of audiences around...

I've been fortunate enough to get to speak at a lot of events over the years, in front of an amazing variety of audiences around the world. But I can honestly say I've never been more impressed by the reaction of an audience member than in the panel I hosted earlier today.

We had an amazing discussion about the tactics and impacts of misinformation in social media, with Joan Donovan of Data & Society and Nabiha Syed of BuzzFeed speaking to the social responsibility of the major platforms.

But the standout moment was when Barack Obama quietly joined our room, and sat in for half an hour, even taking notes on the discussion. Most of the room didn't even notice he was there until he had to leave a bit before the end, and paused to share a few thoughts with us.

I encouraged him to look into the work published by experts like Joan and Nabiha, and to truly get a deep understanding of the dynamics in play, since so much of the political conversation around these serious issues devolves into glib and trite discussions of "fake news". Just knowing that a voice of such influence and power is willing to hear what these experts has to say gives me a little bit of hope that we might be able to make things a bit better.

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Sixteen is Letting Go Again

2017-09-11T13:23:26Z

A couple of times a week, I end up walking by the World Trade Center, either the new train station at the site, or one... A couple of times a week, I end up walking by the World Trade Center, either the new train station at the site, or one of the new malls that's sprung up flanking the memorial. It's a normal part of my day now, not a tentative and fraught moment that forces me to catch my breath. It's just part of my day. And people are just suspicious of me in public places, like the airport or any place that's got a metal detector. Even if I still resent it, I've stopped wishing it would stop. It's just a normal part of my day, even when it angers me. So, like ten years ago, I'm letting go. Trying not to project my feelings onto this anniversary, just quietly remembering that morning and how it felt. My son asked me a couple of months ago, "I heard there waa another World Trade Center before this one?" and I had to find a version of the story that I could share with him. In this telling, losing those towers was unimaginably sad and showed that there are incredibly hurtful people in the world, but there are still so many good people, and they can make wonderful things together. It's an oversimplification, of course, but not a false one. I'm trying to let go and accept that that only stories we'll ever have of that day will be our flawed, incomplete perspectives. But at least we can push back against the myth-making by people who never saw the character of New York City firsthand on that day. In Past Years Each year I write about the attacks on this anniversary, as a means of recording for myself where I am compared to that day. I don't think I'm saying much that's profound or original, but it's a ritual that's helped me fit those events into my life. Last year, Fifteen is the Past: I don’t dismiss or deny that so much has gone so wrong in the response and the reaction that our culture has had since the attacks, but I will not forget or diminish the pure openheartedness I witnessed that day. And I will not let the cynicism or paranoia of others draw me in to join them. What I’ve realized, simply, is that 9/11 is in the past now. Two years ago, Fourteen is Remembering: For the first time, I clearly felt like I had put the attacks firmly in the past. They have loosened their grip on me. I don't avoid going downtown, or take circuitous routes to avoid seeing where the towers once stood. I can even imagine deliberately visiting the area to see the new train station. In 2014, Thirteen is Understanding: There's no part of that day that one should ever have to explain to a child, but I realized for the first time this year that, when the time comes, I'll be ready. Enough time has passed that I could recite the facts, without simply dissolving into a puddle of my own unresolved questions. I look back at past years, at my own observances of this anniversary, and see how I veered from crushingly sad to fiercely angry to tentatively optimistic, and in each of those moments I was living in one part of what I felt. Maybe I'm ready to see this thing in a bigger picture, or at least from a perspective outside of just myself. From 2013, Twelve is Trying: I thought in 2001 that some beautiful things could come out of that worst of days, and sure enough, that optimism has often been rewarded. There are boundless examples of kindness and generosity in the worst of circumstances that justify the hope I had for people's basic decency back then, even if initially my hope was based only on faith and not fact. But there is also fatigue. The inevitable fading of outrage and emotional devastation into an overworked rhetorical reference point leaves me exhausted. The decay of a brief, profound moment of unity and reflection into a cheap device to be used to prop up arguments about the ordinary, the everyday and the mundane makes me wear[...]



Apple is about to do something their programmers definitely don’t want.

2018-02-02T18:46:47Z

Apple spent $5 billion on a beautiful new office, Apple Park. So it’s amazing they’re about to make an extremely costly, avoidable mistake: putting their... Apple spent $5 billion on a beautiful new office, Apple Park. So it’s amazing they’re about to make an extremely costly, avoidable mistake: putting their coders in an open-plan layout. I work at Fog Creek Software, where our cofounder and former CEO Joel Spolsky has been blogging for at least 17 years about how open-plan offices are terribly bad for programmer productivity. His insights on the topic are based on Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister’s classic book Peopleware, which has been around for literally thirty years. So this isn’t a particularly new insight. And of course, in the decades since, there have been countless academic studies confirming the same result: Workers in open plan offices are frustrated, distracted and generally unhappy. That’s not to say there’s no place for open plan in an office — there can be great opportunities to collaborate and connect. For teams like marketing or communications or sales, sharing a space might make a lot of sense. But for tasks that require being in a state of flow? The science is settled. The answer is clear. The door is closed on the subject. Or, well, it would be. If workers had a door to close. Staying In The Flow Now, when it comes to jobs or roles that need to be in a state of flow, programming may be the single best example of a task that benefits from not being interrupted. And Apple has some of the best coders in the world, so it’s just common sense that they should be given a great environment. That’s why it was particularly jarring to see this side note in the WSJ’s glowing article about Apple’s new headquarters: Usually, companies justify putting programmers into an open office plan for budget reasons. It does cost more to make enough room for every coder to have an office with a door that closes. But given that Apple’s already invested $5 billion into this new campus, complete with iPhone-influenced custom-built toilets for the space, it’s hard to believe this decision was about penny-pinching. The other possible argument for skipping private offices would be if a company didn’t know that’s what its workers would prefer. But we can test this theory— let’s see what it looks like when we ask people what they want in an office, without any prompts or suggestions to guide their responses. What’s the best feature you’ve had at an office, either past or present?— Anil Dash (@anildash) July 18, 2017 What you’ll find in the hundreds of responses to that tweet is dozens and dozens of people talking about how much they loved having a private office with a door that closed, or how much they wish they had one. There’s no doubt that Apple would get the same responses if they talked to their own team. So the only possibility that’s left is that there just aren’t enough people in the industry who really, truly believe the benefits of having private offices for coders. So we’ll keep banging the drum on this subject. A look inside src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!4v1517239653865!6m8!1m7!1sCAoSLEFGMVFpcE5PZi1wYmlzOXB6VWRkX2M5T2JLN2xYZUtibmxfdEttQ3lMR25D!2m2!1d40.70703737894996!2d-74.01322508844311!3f261.51!4f0!5f0.4000000000000002" width="800" height="600" frameborder="0" style="border:0" allowfullscreen> Almost a decade ago, I remember reading about the construction of the new Fog Creek office on Joel’s blog, and when it was finally complete, I remember seeing the New York Times breathlessly cover its innovations. At the time, I would never have imagined that I’d get to work from that office someday. And I’ve been thinking a lot abo[...]



The bar is so damn low.

2017-08-23T04:24:26Z

It's always great to reconnect with old friends, and that especially holds true for old Internet friends. That must be why it was such a...

It's always great to reconnect with old friends, and that especially holds true for old Internet friends. That must be why it was such a delight to spend some time chatting with Ana Marie Cox, as a guest on "With Friends Like These".

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(And, as we reference in this show, this is my 2014 piece on why I stopped retweeting men.)

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The Importance Of Interaction

2017-08-23T04:09:19Z

Developer relations and tech evangelism is one of those fields that just doesn't get enough respect. Having done the work for years myself, I think...

Developer relations and tech evangelism is one of those fields that just doesn't get enough respect. Having done the work for years myself, I think it's a wildly under-examined field and very few businesses do enough to properly invest in this critical part of the tech ecosystem.

That's why it was a real thrill to get to guest on the Community Pulse show, discussing exactly these topics. I hope you'll give it a look.

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We're just trying to be non-terrible!

2017-08-23T03:39:21Z

This was so fun! I got another chance to host the Stack Overflow podcast, and this time did it in fine style with Jess Lee...

This was so fun! I got another chance to host the Stack Overflow podcast, and this time did it in fine style with Jess Lee and Ben Halpern of the Practical Dev joining in for the festivities. Do give it a listen!

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Dig, If U Will...

2017-08-23T03:27:20Z

I was delighted to get to talk to Ben Greenman for an episode of "Dig If You Will The Podcast," his series in honor of...

I was delighted to get to talk to Ben Greenman for an episode of "Dig If You Will The Podcast," his series in honor of his book "Dig If You Will The Picture". We go deep into Prince's influence on transforming the music industry, and if you like it, you should check out Ben's book, too.

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Oh, and of course, we talk about my favorite floppy of all time — the disc Prince sent out with a custom font when he changed his name to his famous unpronounceable symbol.

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Tech and the Fake Market tactic

2018-01-10T06:50:22Z

In one generation, the Internet went from opening up new free markets to creating a series of Fake Markets that exploit society, without most media... In one generation, the Internet went from opening up new free markets to creating a series of Fake Markets that exploit society, without most media or politicians even noticing. 1. The open internet markets American culture loves to use the ideal of competitive free markets as the solution to all kinds of social problems. Though the vaunted Free Market has no incentives to, say, take care of babies with cancer, a well-functioning market can definitely be a great way to see which provider offers the cheapest price for a roll of toilet paper or a bushel of apples. Given that cultural predilection, some of the first things people made in the early days of the web were new markets. Perhaps the canonical example was eBay; anybody (well, almost anybody) could list their ceramic figurines for sale on eBay and participate in a relatively fair market. On one side, a gaggle of figurine aficionados, enthusiastically searching for the best deals. On the other, a bunch of figurine vendors, competing on price, quality and service. In the middle, a neutral market that just helps connect buyers and sellers through instantly updated information. Everybody’s happy! Later, a seller could buy preferred positioning for their products in eBay’s search results, and some product categories started to be dominated by wholesale suppliers, but it still remained a relatively open system. Everybody’s mostly happy! Not long after eBay started, Google launched, as a sort of market of content, with its PageRank system choosing which pages show up in our search results, ranked by the number of inbound links. On one side were readers, and on the other side we had publishers, and in between was Google using a mysterious but still kind of comprehensible algorithm to create a market where almost everybody felt like they could participate. But before long, those rankings started to be tainted by spammers, due to the fact that higher ranking in those listings suddenly had monetary value, and making spam links was cheaper than paying for Google’s advertising products. What was an open market to do? 2. The rise of rigged markets The inevitable automated gaming of the early open digital markets inadvertently catalyzed the start of the next era: rigged markets. Google got concerned about nefarious search engine optimization tricks, and kept changing their algorithm, meaning that pretty soon the only web publishers that could thrive were those who could afford to keep tweaking their technology to keep up in this new arms race. After just a few years, this became a rich-get-richer economy, and incentivized every smaller publisher to standardize on one of a few publishing tools in order to keep up with Google’s demands. Only the biggest content providers could afford to build their own tools while simultaneously following the demands of Google’s ever-changing algorithm. The problem inevitably became most pronounced in the most valuable markets. Eventually, in lucrative vertical markets like travel, Google started showing its own flight booking tools ahead of the third-party results from travel booking sites, based on the idea that their experience was better for consumers than the confusing and inconsistent results from third parties. This was true, but it was also pretty damn convenient for Google, which now started to make more money on those links. This was the start of a subtle but critically important pattern on the web: A short-term improvement in user experience helped a single dominant tech company to take over a legacy market in t[...]



It's time to discover Prince

2018-01-10T06:45:04Z

With the return of Prince’s classic 80s and 90s catalog to the most popular streaming services, now’s a great time to (re?)discover the breadth of... With the return of Prince’s classic 80s and 90s catalog to the most popular streaming services, now’s a great time to (re?)discover the breadth of Prince’s incredible body of work. The full scale of Prince’s music is probably too much for any unfamiliar listener to just dive into; he released nearly 40 albums under his own name(s), regularly enhanced his single releases with extended versions, remixes that could sometimes comprise an entire EP on their own, and legendary B-sides that were often as strong as the single being released to radio. That’s not even counting the literally hundreds of songs he wrote (and often performed on) for others. So, here’s an easier way to dive into his catalog, broken down by the type of listener you are, and what genres of music you prefer. I’m assuming little to no familiarity with Prince’s catalog here, beyond staples like the song Purple Rain. The nice thing about Prince’s work is that there are no bad starting points; if you don’t like what you hear at first, he almost certainly made a song in the complete opposite style as well. The basics If you’ve never really listened to Prince’s work, there’s a reason his 80s albums are revered. They hold up favorably against the very best albums in pop music. Purple Rain (1984) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal It really is that good. Half the songs on the album became hit singles, and the other half would have except they were too sexy. 1999 (1982) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal This one will surprise you. Though Purple Rain has more, bigger hits, this is the album that shaped the sound of 80s radio. And, well, a lot of the Top 40 to this day. The songs really stretch out, and this is the album that turned a lot of casual Prince fans into diehards. Sign O’ The Times (1987) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal If you want to hear Prince at his experimental best, this is almost every hardcore Prince fan’s favorite album. width="300" height="380" src="https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify%3Auser%3Aanildash%3Aplaylist%3A3XvSGxgkq6eurtTma7rYAO" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true"> The greatest hits There are a number of Greatest Hits collections for Prince’s work. None of them are terrible, but all of them ignore the second half of his career which, while uneven, still had dozens of truly great songs. Ultimate (2006) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal The best overall collection of Prince’s work, this includes a number of his best b-sides and extended versions, amply demonstrating why those non-album tracks were essential to understanding his range. And if you like big hits like Little Red Corvette, it shows up here in the full 8-and-a-half-minute glory of its 12" Dance Mix. The Hits/The B-Sides (1993) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal The first compilation of Prince’s work is still the only one to collect a large number of his b-side recordings. Even if you’ve heard most of his 80s albums, there are almost certainly songs here that you missed. Specially-crafted starting points I made a number of playlists that are specifically aimed at people who feel like they’ve never really gotten Prince. I often hear people say, “I know he’s supposed to be super talented, but I never saw him live, and I don’t know what song of his I would love.” This is especially poignant for those of us who were fans because his live shows were amazing, often radically recast[...]



It's me, Bike Dad!

2017-02-02T20:53:52Z

Until the Citibike bikeshare program launched here in New York City, I'd ridden a bike perhaps once in the prior twenty years. Since it launched,...

Until the Citibike bikeshare program launched here in New York City, I'd ridden a bike perhaps once in the prior twenty years. Since it launched, I ride almost daily.

Because of the massive improvements in quality of life in the city as walkability and cycling affordances were improved, I've become a strong advocate for commuting by bike, and I was excited to talk about my experiences with NY1.

While the Full NY1 series on new commuting trends is unfortunately still a little slanted toward favoring privately-owned, under-utilized automobiles, I think the tide is turning overall because, as I've noted before, our investment in making New York City accessible and safe for pedestrians and bikers has made this the golden era for public space in the entire 400-year history of the city.

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