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Anil Dash



A Blog About Making Culture



Updated: 2016-09-23T13:05:40Z

 



It's more than just "teach kids to code"

2016-09-23T13:05:40Z

I’m skeptical about “teach the kids to code!” as a panacea for all of society’s ills. Yet today, I’m at the White House to participate... I’m skeptical about “teach the kids to code!” as a panacea for all of society’s ills. Yet today, I’m at the White House to participate in a summit on Computer Science for All. Why would a skeptic still think it’s important to make computer science part of everyone’s education? .embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; } src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/M9xy8muYC5Q' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen> It’s almost impossible to overstate the breadth of cultural enthusiasm for the idea of teaching kids about computer science and computing. No matter where they sit on the political spectrum, leaders will proudly tout America’s high tech companies as the future of innovation and high tech companies as the future of opportunity and employment. Tech has become something of a secular religion in America, and as a result there’s been a rush toward enthusiastically advocating for technology education, without as much substantive and nuanced critique as the idea deserves. The Myth of Perfect Tech Jobs As someone who’s been making software and Internet technologies for 20 years, I’m skeptical about the enthusiasm that so many in the policy-making world have for saying, “let’s teach kids to code!” To start with the obvious elephant in the room, many of the people advocating for these programs aren’t particularly knowledgeable about technology, or the economics of today’s tech startups, in the first place. (Most people making policy haven’t yet realized that there is no “technology industry”.) And most of the technologists advocating for these programs aren’t particularly literate in how today’s educational systems work, or what constraints they face. But my skepticism starts at a lot more fundamental level than the literacy gap between policy, tech and education. Even though I do know how to code and I do love technology, I am intimately aware of the weaknesses of many of the signature companies that define tech culture, and those are the biggest concerns we need to address. Many tech companies are still terrible at inclusion in their hiring, a weakness which is even more unacceptable given the diversity of the younger generations we’re educating today. Many of the biggest, most prominent companies in Silicon Valley—including giants like Apple and Google—have illegally colluded against their employees to depress wages, so even employees who do get past the exclusionary hiring processes won’t necessarily end up in an environment where they’ll be paid fairly or have equal opportunity to advance. If the effort to educate many more programmers succeeds, simple math tells us that a massive increase in the number of people qualified to work on technology would only drive down today’s high wages and outrageously generous benefits. (Say goodbye to the free massages!) And at a more philosophical level, a proper public education, paid for by taxpayers, shouldn’t be oriented toward simply providing workers for a group of some of the wealthiest, most powerful companies to have ever existed. That’s a pretty damning case against teaching kids to code? So why would somebody still favor the massive investment and cultural shift required to pull it off? Well, it’s the oldest excuse in the political realm, but we have to think about the children. Going beyond CS There’s a much more powerful vision of “computer science for all” that can address all of the concerns raised by the current state of technology and tech companies. Technology literacy, and a strong basis in computer scienc[...]



Fifteen is the past

2016-09-11T14:10:24Z

We’ve been saying “never forget” for so long that we don’t even know why we’re saying it. At JFK airport, panic over… nothing. On the... We’ve been saying “never forget” for so long that we don’t even know why we’re saying it. At JFK airport, panic over… nothing. On the other side of the country, at LAX, panic over… nothing. As it turns out, if you tell people to be afraid all the time for long enough, it will work. Meanwhile, as always, the greatest danger to Americans, by several orders of magnitude, is each other. I try to work as hard as I can at not getting cynical. Each year when I observe the anniversary of the attacks, I try to return to my mindset that day. More than anything else, I felt an overwhelming sadness. Not anger, not a desire for revenge, not some intellectual detachment or irony, just sadness. That’s not to say I haven’t moved on; I clearly have, as evidenced by my newfound ability to visit the new World Trade Center or the surrounding complex and have it be just an ordinary part of my day. But it still catches me off guard pretty easily. It’s hard to explain the perspective of that day in our culture now that everyone under the drinking age is too young to really remember what happened that day, and nearly everyone under the driving age wasn’t even alive at the time. Sometimes it feels like everything has been reduced to meaningless platitudes and reductionist catchphrases and ironic memes. I don’t know how to convey the fact that we could see the towers aflame, smell the smoke, and yet our sadness and grief was even more powerful than our sense of fear or disbelief. And of course, the ones who literally have forgotten, who publicly ignore the lessons of that day, are the most cynical “leaders” who most sought to profit from it. They ignore that the attacks happened as they did, and deny that we felt as we did when witnessing them, in favor of creating a narrative that only serves their agenda. “Never forget” is the rhetoric of “let me make up a story to suit my aims”. But I was there that day, and I haven’t forgotten. And the feeling of being in New York City on 9/11 was not about jumping at our own shadows, even though the fighter jets flying overhead did give us a good scare. It was not about being sold on endless cycles of violence and oppression, but of unbelievable, unimaginable kindness and humanity to complete strangers. 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. In culture it is a story we tell each other, not an event that we witnessed or a moment that we experienced. That was inevitable, I know. But the mythologizing of that day into a narrative that justifies more paranoia, fear, and violence is not an inevitability, and I still will not concede to those who work to do so. I still remember what it felt like. 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, 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 tha[...]



New York-Style Tech

2016-08-03T03:36:09Z

A technology community driven by values, not just profits. I’ve been part of the New York City tech scene for more than 15 years, from... A technology community driven by values, not just profits. I’ve been part of the New York City tech scene for more than 15 years, from back when it was “Silicon Alley” trying to be an imitation of the West Coast, to its more recent iteration as a world-class technology community unlike any other in the world. While I’ve been deeply critical of the things people working in technology have gotten wrong, I’ve recently often found myself trying to re-emphasize something that our community has gotten right. The other day, I was looking at Matt Turck’s analysis of the New York City tech ecosystem, a detailed look at tech in New York from a venture capitalist’s perspective. It offers a compelling and well-reasoned argument for a strong economic future for New York’s tech scene. But what most jumped out at me was what it missed about what’s special in New York City, something that has nothing to do with the rate of return for investors. Put simply: New York City is unique in that its tech community is grounded in principles of social and civic responsibility. It’s an important distinction, one that we’ve got to work hard to protect and nurture. And just like New York-style pizza, I’m hoping lots of people in other cities think that what we’re making here is good enough that they try to emulate it in their own communities. What do I mean by a civic-minded tech community? We see a few consistent traits that jump out: An actual community. Thanks to groups like the New York Tech Alliance and its signature monthly NY Tech Meetup event, we have the ability to gather and organize in centralized ways, a powerful and necessary infrastructure for organizing. As a NYTA board member, I’ve been able to see firsthand the convening power of having a prominent, unified group representing a tech community where “tech” doesn’t just mean employees at startups, but rather everyone who’s using tech to transform their work in various industries and across the public sector and academia as well. Engagement with policy and policymakers. On issues ranging from SOPA/PIPA to net neutrality, executives from New York tech companies were among the first, most persistent, and most effective voices engaging with policy makers to try to improve our laws. Their willingness to hop on an Amtrak and head down to Washington, D.C. to talk to lawmakers is matched by the more local efforts that so many in the NYC tech community do at the state, city, and neighborhood level. Community service. Whether it was after major events like Hurricane Sandy, when many in the tech community worked to volunteer around the city, or in more ordinary daily efforts like mentoring young students interested in technology, there’s a solid expectation of service that I see expressed between members of the community. It’s that kind of peer support that’s necessary to sustain a culture of service, and it’s been reassuring to see support extending from ordinary grassroots tech workers all the way up to the most prominent and influential investors and entrepreneurs in the city. Corporate commitment. While New York’s tech scene goes far beyond startup companies, we see meaningful, significant commitments to responsibility being made by some of the most prominent and influential companies in the community. From Kickstarter legally committing to being a Public Benefit Corporation to Warby Parker pursuing B Corp certification to Etsy working to uphold B Corp principles even as a publicly-traded corporation, there’s a visible and consistent tradition amongst our most successful companies to honoring their commitment to our city and to the world. Inclusion. No, the tech industry in New York City is not yet inclusive enough and does not yet provide o[...]



Launch

2016-08-03T05:27:30Z

Five years ago today I witnessed the most transcendent moment of my life. I don’t have a faith or a religion, so I’m often reluctant... Five years ago today I witnessed the most transcendent moment of my life. I don’t have a faith or a religion, so I’m often reluctant to describe things as “transcendent”; I don’t want to speak to an experience that’s not my own. But 5 years ago today, I witnessed one of the most amazing moments of my life, something that transcends anything but life milestones like my wedding or the birth of my child. I got to witness the final launch of the final space shuttle, Atlantis, right from Kennedy Space Center. Mission STS-135. Watching that space shuttle take off was, unquestionably, one of the most emotional and moving events of my life. I am not embarrassed at all to say that it brought me to tears. Some of that emotion was inspired by having simply grown up as a geek. While older folks had Apollo, the Space Shuttle was “our” space program, with the earliest tests and launches being among my earliest memories, just as I was discovering my love for space and science and nerding out. On the day before the launch, we got a chance to visit with staff from across NASA, including the opportunity to talk to a few astronauts. But while it was a thrill to meet people who’d actually been to space, what moved me most was the more anonymous staffers who had less visible jobs at NASA. Their pride in their work was palpable, with a passion undiminished even over the decades that some of them had worked there. A few told me they’d been around for the first shuttle launch, thirty years earlier. Whoa. A photo posted by Anil Dash (@anildash) on Jul 7, 2011 at 12:40pm PDT While we heard their stories, they took us on a grand tour of the facility, where we even got to approach incredibly close to the shuttle as it sat on the launch pad. We nervously waited to hear whether the weather would hold out for launch the next morning. I watched the launch from just a few feet away from the countdown clock at the start of this video. .embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; } src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/3deA3BXAnHs' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen> When it was finally time for the countdown, they brought us all to a grassy field that was as close as civilians could get to the launch tower. As the countdown commenced in earnest, the thought that kept returning to my head was, “This is what we can do together.” It took the love of so many people—thousands!— over so many years to create this, the most amazing machine that I’ve ever seen in my life. The most impressive and glorious display of scientific knowledge that I could imagine. And when that rocket takes off, you feel the launch in your chest. Your ears hear a sound like a distorted speaker that’s in overdrive. But it’s not the sound, really, so much as the physical sensation. What you feel is the force of countless people’s optimism. Go Atlantis! A photo posted by Anil Dash (@anildash) on Jul 8, 2011 at 9:00am PDT Malcolm's first time sitting at a drum set. Gotta work on his grip but his timing is not bad!Posted by Anil Dash on Saturday, December 5, 2015 Growing up as an Indian-American son, in a family-oriented culture, I considered it an inarguable truth that I would have kids when I grew up. So when I met my wife and she first introduced the idea that we should really think about whether we wanted to have kids—that we might decide to never have kids—it was as radical an idea as I’d heard. I loved the audacity of it, and the many logical, rational reasons to stay child-free. Forgoing parenthood would me[...]



A little less rocking with you...

2016-06-28T02:06:24Z

After talking to a friend about how Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" is so romantic if you just focus on the strings, bass and vocals,...

After talking to a friend about how Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" is so romantic if you just focus on the strings, bass and vocals, I was inspired to mix down the tracks to feature just those elements.

width="100%" height="600" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/227838425&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true">

Obviously the original is a perfect masterpiece, but there's a lot you can hear more clearly without the drums and (most of) the guitars. I also lowered the lead vocals so you can more clearly hear the harmonies. One of the biggest things that stands out is that Rod Temperton is kind of amazing and that Quincy Jones is a complete genius. Nothing else sounds like this.

These songs hold up because there's so much substance, and that's why I, and so many others, love this song so much.

(image)



Fourteen is Remembering

2015-09-11T14:41:30Z

Last week I went and visited the memorial reflecting pools for the first time. I had been to the top of the new One World... Last week I went and visited the memorial reflecting pools for the first time. I had been to the top of the new One World Trade Center, but had deliberately avoided ever visiting (or actually seeing in person) the space where the old towers had been. And then I went. I don't know what I was expecting to feel. Sad, maybe? And certainly that was there. The enormity of the overwhelming list of names weighed on me. But there were tourists around, smiling for selfies, checking off an item on their list of places to visit while in the city. And maybe that was okay. 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. But of course, this anniversary isn't about buildings. The horror of the lives lost on 9/11, of how they were lost… that's still my biggest impression of the day. I don't fault others who were further away, or too young to remember, for being less viscerally affected when they visit the site; their distance from that horror is entirely appropriate. And I suppose finally I can see putting the events if that day, and my most aggrieved responses to it, firmly in my collection of memories. I remember it, I always will, but it's now clearly the past and has loosened its grip on me. I hadn't even known I was waiting for that to happen. 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, 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. Two years ago, 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 weary. I'm tired from the effort to protect the fragile memory of something horrific and hopeful that taught me about people at their very best and at their very, very worst. In 2012, Eleven is What We Make: These are the gifts our children, or all children, give us every day in a million different ways. But they're also the gifts we give ourselves when we make something meaningful and beautiful. The new World Trade Center buildings are beautiful, in a way that the old ones never were, and in a way that'll make our fretting over their exorbitant cost seem short-sighted in the decades to come. More importantly, they exist. We made them, together.[...]



Let's Support The Girls Club

2015-09-09T03:04:57Z

Support the Girls Club In short: Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm asking you to help me support the Lower Eastside Girls Club, and I'll match whatever... Support the Girls Club In short: Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm asking you to help me support the Lower Eastside Girls Club, and I'll match whatever you donate through this secure form until midnight on September 5th. The Neighborhood src='https://player.vimeo.com/video/128501141' frameborder='0' webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen> Around the start of each new year, I try think of an issue that I want to learn more about and become an advocate for. In past years I've spent time learning about issues like criminal justice reform, or clean water and sanitation access. This year I realized that I wanted to do something that would have real impact right here in my own community. My whole adult life has been defined by my living in the East Village, and so many opportunities have been given to me as a result, and I want to give something back. That's especially true now that we're raising my son in this neighborhood. Over the last 2 decades that I've lived here, the Lower Eastside has reduced violent crime by about 90% while preserving a racial and economic breadth that makes us one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. But while I am so glad for that progress, those advances haven't yet translated into a broadening of opportunity for all the young people in our neighborhood, especially young women, particularly in our community where most are girls of color. We have an enormous number of families that are struggling to get by, even as they live in the same city as some of the wealthiest people in the world. So it felt like fate that earlier this year, I connected with the incredible community of the Lower Eastside Girls Club and was asked to serve on its board. A Freaking Planetarium When I first heard the name "Lower Eastside Girls Club" a few ears ago, I had imagined a small meeting room where some girls could do arts and crafts projects or something like that. While that's certainly possible at today's LESGC facility, most people don't know that the Club is innovative and indispensable 20,000 square foot facility that serves as a force for giving girls and their families access to an incredible range of resources: The 64-seat East Village Planetarium where scientists teach lessons about our latest space discoveries The Science and Environmental Education Center is a working green roof garden where girls can grow flowers and herbs A full commercial kitchen where the girls can use those herbs to learn not just how to cook, but how to be culinary professionals A super cool recording studio (complete with ProTools and Ableton!) located in a customized Airstream trailer that was hoisted onto the second floor of the facility La Tiendita, a full retail shop selling fair trade goods made by the girls and by the Club's sister coops in Chiapas, Sierra Leone and Nepal A Media Center that's not just "teaching girls to code", but teaching them how to create everything from digital media to understanding the way the web works And of course, countless social programs addressing everything from elder care to literacy to fitness to tax preparation—the Girls Club's Center for Community was where so many in our neighborhood went for a comforting meal in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy while power and other services were still knocked out There is so much more I can't even list it all. In short, the Girls Club is both a safety net and a launch pad for kids who might not otherwise get a shot. Getting to see this space, and all the services it enables, was one of the most affecting experiences I've had in the past year. And all of it is available to the girls in our community, to support them and their families, with most of these services free of cost. That's where we come[...]