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Business Insider has a story about entrepreneur Nikki Durbin, 22-year old founder of 99dresses.com. The story reports that as a woman she felt she wasn't always taken seriously in the start-up world. The story gives two examples to back that point.

Durkin said an investor at a fundraising event asked her if she knew what an angel was. Durkin said to Business Insider, "I just remember thinking, I'm at this event of course I know what an angel is. I just found it really odd, and I don't know if he would say the same thing if a guy was talking to him."

That DOES sound condescending, if not downright sexist.

But of course it is out of context.

Here's some context.

I have a degree in economics, an MBA from Berkeley, and over 30 years of business experience. Do you know what question I hear in Silicon Valley nearly every time I meet with potential investors for CalendarTree?

"Do you know what an angel investor is?"

The first time I heard the question I thought That is terribly condescending. This person knows my background. OF COURSE I know what an angel investor is.

Then I found out I didn't know what an angel is. The definition has evolved.

The old definition of an angel was an investor who made high-risk investments in start-ups that had not yet demonstrated organic, viral growth. That sort of investor no longer exists, as far as I can tell. Maybe it never did.

Today an angel investor is, for all practical purposes, a bank that looks at virality instead of cash flow. If your start-up is already growing quickly, at least in terms of users and clicks, an angel will be happy to fund you to even faster growth. But if all you have is a great idea and beta product, no angel is interested. Nor should they be, because it is well-accepted that no one can pick an early stage winner in the start-up space.

The investors who do put money into unproven start-ups are typically friends and family. Silicon Valley lore says there are such things as seed investors that invest in the unproven start-ups of strangers, but I have not yet met such a person. Nor have I heard the name of such a person. It is a bit of a Bigfoot situation.

Today, an angel investor is similar to a venture capitalist, with the only distinction being that the latter invest higher dollar amounts. Otherwise they are the same thing. Angels and VCs prefer to invest exclusively in businesses that are already growing quickly. In the world of the Internet, fast growth is assumed to be something that can be monetized in the future.

Business Insider gives another example of the patronizing attitude that Nikki Durbin experienced. At a networking event - where math skills are high and social skills are low - a man asked if she had modeled. The article is accompanied by a photo of Durbin in a stylish outfit, posing like a model.

I don't doubt that Silicon Valley's male-oriented culture is hard for women to penetrate. But I do question whether it is worse than any other business environment. If I had to guess, I'd say Silicon Valley would be among the easiest for women to penetrate because the average age for start-ups is younger, and most start-ups would strongly prefer hiring additional women. Or even one woman. The problem from their perspective is supply.

  _________________________________________________________
Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 


 
Today I learned that ex-BBC presenter Jimmy Savile allegedly had sex with corpses while he was a young man working in a hospital mortuary.

This raises many questions.

For starters, is this an isolated situation or a widespread problem? To be on the safe side, I called my lawyer and revised my estate plan. Now it says that within an hour of my death I want my mouth and my ass sewed shut. But I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the needs of mortuary workers, so I requested that my left hand be positioned in a semi-clasped position before rigor mortis kicks in.

There's a chance that this is more of a British problem than a United States thing. I think we'd all agree that it's a slippery slope from warm beer and soccer hooliganism to skull-fucking the dead. Once you get some inertia going on the bad behavior it's hard to put the brakes on. I get that.

There's no mention of whether the corpses were the attractive type, but I'm guessing most were not. So I think you have to give Jimmy some credit for not buying into society's Photoshopped sense of beauty.

You also have to consider the celebrity angle. Jimmy wasn't famous when the events allegedly happened, but if you take the long view of things, any kind of sex with a TV celebrity is sort of special. If you were to tell me in the afterlife that a total nobody defiled my corpse, I'd be pissed. But if you said that my lifeless shell had rough sex with a mortuary worker who later became Alex Trebek, I'd feel some pride in that. I might even brag to the other angels "I still got it." (I'm assuming God doesn't read my blog so I still have a chance to get into Heaven with a well-timed deathbed conversion.)

I also have to wonder if the ghosts of the corpses Jimmy rejected for sex are angrier than the ones who saw some action. I mean, it already sucks to be dead, but to get rejected by an alleged bisexual, pedophile, corpse-banger has to sting. This guy was probably corn-holing feral cats - including the dead ones. I'd hate to think my cadaver wasn't good enough to make the cut. That would make me a sad ghost, and no one wants that.

This situation makes me wonder where the phrase "Not over my dead body" originated. Now I think it might have started as a sentence fragment on an employee sign in an English mortuary, three lines down from "All employees must wash their hands after using the restroom."

There are lots more questions but I have to do some work. Maybe you can think of a few to add.

  __________________________________________________________

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book

 


 

 
The number of people with allergies is on the rise in developed countries and no one knows why.

I've seen and heard speculation that the causes might involve too much modern hygiene, or our processed modern diet, or the types of things we are exposed to when very young, and so on. But no one has the answer yet.

I'd like to add a hypothesis to the mix: Humans in modern economies no longer eat much locally-grown food.

You've probably heard it said that eating local honey is good for allergies. I can't confirm that to be true, but it got me wondering if locally-grown food in general carries any protective properties.

I just ended a month of horrendous allergies and asthma attacks. Both symptoms stopped abruptly - as if someone turned a switch - after eating the first meal-sized batch of vegetables from my own mini-garden this season. I woke up fine the next morning.

That's probably a coincidence, and this is about the time of year that springtime allergies typically subside. But the abruptness was a surprise. I went from a ten to a zero in one day.

So now I have two totally undependable data points. 1) The unproven and probably untrue idea that local honey helps allergies, and 2) The highly anecdotal observation that my symptoms ended at about the same time I ate locally-grown veggies.

What we need is a third totally-undependable data source, so I put the question to you. If you have bad allergies at the moment, eat a meal-sized amount of locally-grown produce today and let me know if you feel any better the next day.

Alternately, tell me your allergy level at this moment along with an estimate of how much locally-grown food you consumed this week.

The odds of this hypothesis panning out are roughly zero. But if testing it only requires eating delicious local food, why not?
____________________________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 

Scientists discover a possible cause for the irrational belief in free will.

 


 

 
This is a step in the right direction even if the wind is moving in the wrong direction.


 
Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.


Reparative Therapy


In the future nation of Texas, Republicans have adopted a platform that includes support of "reparative therapy" for gays who voluntarily choose that path. Many Republicans in Texas believe gayness is a lifestyle choice that can be "fixed" with voluntary therapy.

CNN reports that the biggest scientific and professional organization in psychology says, "To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation ... is safe or effective."

This is a tough issue for science-loving libertarians. On one hand, science doesn't support the safety and effectiveness of so-called reparative therapy. And allowing it to exist sends a toxic message to society about what is "normal."

On the other hand, psychological therapy is ineffective for a variety of other topics and we don't ban people from trying those. So there's a freedom question.

My opinion on topics of this type is show me the data. If the data doesn't exist, I am biased toward individual freedom even if it carries some risk. So I favor banning therapists from claiming "cures" of gayness because there is no data to support such claims, but I wouldn't stop an informed adult from giving it a try.

This brings me to a more interesting question: Would therapy of this sort work?

As regular readers know, I'm a certified hypnotist and a student of the practice for decades. The topic of hypnosis isn't terribly deep, and mastering it isn't much harder than becoming a Starbucks barista. But if you haven't had the training it can all seem mysterious. So what follows is my self-assessed expert opinion (barista level) on the question of whether "therapy" can rewire an individual's sexual preferences.

Answer: yes

There are lots of qualifiers to that answer.

For starters, sexuality is not binary. Sure, some folks are probably born with deeply embedded gay or straight wiring and it will never change. But there's a big grey area in the middle where people are attracted to humans of either gender.

Human brains are born with tendencies and preferences but experience can rewire us. You might be born with a natural attraction to cute animals, but if a dog attacks you when you are a child, that preference gets rewired in a minute. And if you want a new favorite color, a hypnotist can probably make that happen for you too.

Sexual preferences are presumably among the deepest and hardest to change. But my semi-expert opinion is that perhaps 20% of the public could be trained to rewire their sexual preferences. And a 20% success rate would be competitive with psychological therapy for other topics.

And by the way, the effectiveness would work both ways. You can probably make 20% of straight people cheerily turn gay or bisexual if for some reason they were motivated to do so.

Would it be ethical to rewire someone who volunteers for it? I'd say yes, assuming we are talking about an informed adult and no one else is getting hurt. 

Would it be safe? That's probably a mixed bag. I can imagine some people being psychologically worsened by the process and others being glad they did it. But I think society would be worse off for allowing reparative therapy to exist because of the message it sends about what is "normal" for humans. Emotionally, the idea of changing someone's sexuality to conform to society's expectations seems evil to me, and it reminds me of the Nazis. But that's just a feeling. Should my feelings become your law?

My best guess is that reparative therapy would work for some people while damaging others. In other words, it would be similar to how psychological therapy in general works.

Should so-called reparative therapy be legal?

__________________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 
Lately my allergies have been so bad that they trigger asthma attacks. So I started taking some asthma meds and discovered an amazing phenomenon: It doubled my IQ. That's just an estimate, but it feels about right.

The increase doesn't happen right away, and it isn't a direct thing. One of the alleged side-effects of the medicine is that it kills libido in some people. That was my experience. The sex drive that had defined me for a lifetime just went away.

The first thing you need to understand is that when your sex drive disappears you don't miss it. You can't miss what you don't want. Rather than feeling irritable about losing the core organizing principle of my life, I felt relieved. It was like crossing off half of my to-do list with no effort whatsoever. My mind was clear. I was focused. I could go deep.

Losing my sex drive felt like a superpower. I had some of the best ideas of my life that week. (That is literally true.) Now I see why Captain Kirk sometimes moved power from life-support to weapons. When you have the option of putting all of your energy into one function - in my case my brain - it makes a huge difference.

My IQ as a eunuch was sizzling. In fact, if a eunuch applied for a job with me I wouldn't even ask any other questions. I would hire him on the spot. It would be like hiring Superman to move your furniture. I would know that guy was focused.

I should pause here to explain a few things to the women reading this blog. The typical male brain is a computer that has to reboot every 30 seconds. Men can think about non-sexual topics for half-a-minute, tops. But we know we'll die if we don't sometimes think about food and shelter and whatnot, so we're continuously bouncing between sex and non-sex thoughts. It never ends.

Sometimes we game the system by merging our sexual and non-sexual thoughts. During the workday it looks like this: If I get this new job, I'll make a lot of money, and that will increase my odds of sex. On our own time, it looks like this: If I exercise hard enough, my body will look attractive and that will increase my odds of sex.
 
And if you're married it looks like this: The news says there will be a meteor shower tonight. I hope my wife doesn't get hit by a meteor, but if she does it will increase my odds of sex.

Some days it's like a machine gun coming at you. You have to assemble packets as they cross your brain:....sex....boring stuff....sex...boring stuff....etc. You're multiplexing because you need to. You're wired that way. And it effectively lowers your IQ.

The founders of our country understood this problem. That's why a man can't be president until he reaches an age where the risk of civil war is more compelling than his next orgasm. Personally, I hadn't yet reached that point. But after a few hits of my asthma meds I was ready to negotiate some trade policy.

Unfortunately, this superpower doesn't last. Apparently my body is getting used to the meds. I'm feeling a return to normalcy and that means I'm having trouble focusing on finishing this . . . um. . . screw it. I'm going to the gym.

 _______________________________________
Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

A dozen ideas that could change your life

 



 
I've been spending a lot of time in Silicon Valley for my day job at CalendarTree.  I feel like an embedded journalist. You might be interested in some of the things I've discovered.

The most fascinating phenomenon in the start-up world is called the pivot. That word has been used in every meeting I've attended. There's more to it than you think.

A pivot is when a start-up quickly changes from one product to another or from one business model to another. The valley is full of stories about companies that started with a lame idea and hit it big after a pivot. Most start-ups in the valley are software-based, so pivots are both practical and economical.

The pivot used to be the exception. For example, a company starts out selling PEZ dispensers online and later pivots to become eBay. You didn't hear about all of the companies that failed so the pivot stories probably sounded more prevalent than they were. It's similar to how a story of one shark attack makes you think there's a Great White under every surfboard. The human brain assumes that whatever it hears most frequently must be the best reflection of reality.

The valley attracts some of the smartest humans on Earth, and each of those humans, being otherwise normal, probably assumed they could use their talent, brains, and hard work to achieve specific business goals, such as building product X and selling the company to Google for a billion dollars.

And then they find out that success in the start-up realm is mostly luck. They discover this by trying great ideas coupled with great execution and failing. And they further discover it by observing unexpected successes at other start-ups. Success simply can't be predicted to any level of statistical comfort.

Smart observers in the valley look for the "tell" that an early stage start-up will be a winner, but none can be found. Oh, sure, the team needs to be smart, talented, and willing to work long hours. But nearly every start-up has that going for it. Most have great ideas as well. None of it predicts success.

So imagine if you will, some of the smartest, most rational humans the world has ever created, wallowing around in the absurdity of Silicon Valley, where success is mostly based on luck. How does one feel good about that? And what is the solution?

Answer: You institutionalize the pivot.

In other words, you move from a goal-oriented approach to a systems-oriented approach. The system involves assembling a team around a starting idea and then pivoting until something lucky happens. No one pretends to know where it will all end up.

Here's the system:

1.      Form a team
2.      Slap together an idea and put it on the Internet.
3.      Collect data on user behavior.
4.      Adjust, pivot, and try again.

Thanks to Google Analytics, Optimizely, Bitly, and other tools for measuring customer behavior in real time, a smart team can try different approaches and different products until something works out. A start-up in 2014 is a guess- testing machine.

Meanwhile, technology is increasingly becoming a commodity. A smart start-up can build nearly anything. If they need extra talent, connections, or money, the valley has plenty to offer. There isn't much of a resource constraint among the talented. That's the positive side of the "boy's network" in the valley. Everyone knows everyone. (The downside is not enough women.)

Another fascinating phenomenon in the valley is that every entrepreneur and investor seems genuinely interested in helping strangers succeed. I would go so far as to call it the defining feature of the start-up culture. Some of it has to do with the nature of entrepreneurs as serial problem-solvers. If you tell me what problem your start-up is experiencing, my reflex is to offer a suggestion or to connect you to someone who can help. And creating social capital makes a lot of sense when teams are fluid and who-you-know always matters. But beyond the practical and selfish benefits of being helpful, the dominant worldview in Silicon Valley is that if you aren't trying to make the world better, you're in the wrong line of work. The net effect is that the start-up culture is shockingly generous. If you need something for your start-up, folks will happily help you find it. I would have predicted the opposite.

But here comes the interesting part.

In an environment in which start-up resources are not limited, and no one can predict the next winner, and it is easy to measure customer behavior in great detail, the Internet is no longer a technology.

The Internet is a psychology experiment.

Building a product for the Internet is now the easy part. Getting people to understand the product and use it is the hard part. And the only way to make the hard part work is by testing one psychological hypothesis after another.

Every entrepreneur is now a psychologist by trade. The ONLY thing that matters to success in our anything-is-buildable Internet world is psychology. How does the customer perceive this product? What causes someone to share? What makes virality happen? What makes something sticky?

Experience and history give start-ups their ideas on what to test first. But the thing that worked for the last business often doesn't work for the next because no two situations are identical. So psychology on the Internet is an endless series of educated guesses and quantitative testing. Every entrepreneur is a behavioral psychologist with the tools to pull it off.

In this environment, quality is less important than speed. So the most prized technical people are the ones who can work quickly and produce one buggy prototype after another. And that brings me to the next observation.

Psychology has evolved to be a function of speed plus measurement. We're nearing the point at which the best psychologist in the world is any computer with access to Big Data, and any start-up that is rapidly testing one idea after another.

That's a system that makes sense to me. In a complicated environment, systems work better than goals.

Please excuse me while I go pivot.

--------------------------------------------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Read more about the advantage of systems over goals

 



 
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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

----------------------------

School Shootings

Is the rise of school shootings in America a case of too many guns or a simple failure to keep guns away from kids? Gun locks and gun safes exist.

That's not a rhetorical question. I actually wonder about the answer.

I assume 90% of the kids who become school shooters get their weapons from adults who left them unguarded. Correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.

I know you're furiously trying to determine if I am pro-gun or anti-gun so you can decide how much extra to hate me. So let me state my position as clearly as possible:

I am pro-data.

And the data is incomplete.

Obviously there's a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. But how much of that is causation as opposed to correlation? One can never know if Americans own guns because we're violent people or we're violent because we own guns. Isn't it likely to be some of both?

Common sense says that having guns lying around the house makes gun violence more likely. But we don't know if the accessibility factor is 10% of the story or 90%. Maybe the rate of stabbings would skyrocket if guns disappeared and that would close some of the violence gap. My point is that it's hard to size the problem of gun risk, and that matters because the goal is low risk not zero risk. If we wanted zero risk in all things at the expense of personal freedom we would fill every swimming pool with bubble wrap.

We also can't know if gun ownership will ever protect future citizens from the tyranny of the government. One argument says that the army has the biggest guns and so citizens are effectively defenseless if the government becomes a dictatorship. Therefore, owning a gun doesn't protect you from the government.

The counterargument is that if an American becomes a dictator, every one of his friends and extended family members would be bullet-riddled by the end of the week courtesy of the gun owners. What would be the point of becoming a dictator in a country where you can't leave your enclave and you just killed most of the people you care about with your actions? I think gun ownership does add a thin layer of protection against a risk of a dictatorship by rational leaders, but that risk is of unknown size. How do you value the thing that might happen but doesn't?

We also don't know what would happen if we went hog-wild with gun control. Would we suddenly become Great Britain and prefer slapping each other with open palms instead of shooting? Or would it turn into another Prohibition fiasco? Nothing sells more guns than the threat of gun control in the future.

In the long run, all violent criminals will be caught every time. That's the payoff from our creeping lack of privacy. When that day comes, rational adults such as criminals will be doing less shooting because there is no hope of getting away with it. And if we keep guns away from kids, with mandatory gun locks for example, that helps with the school shooting problem.

Once the rational criminals and the kids are neutered, that leaves only the irrational adults with guns as our remaining problem. And probably the best defense against that bunch of nuts involves owning your own gun. But I can't back that assumption with data.

Anecdotally, I have one friend who gunned down a would-be rapist who broke into her house. And I have another friend who would have been raped by an intruder if her boyfriend hadn't coincidentally spent the night and taken out the intruder by hand. A gun would have worked if he hadn't been there. But those are anecdotes not data.

The only thing I know for sure is that the "It is in the constitution" argument is misplaced. No matter what the founders had in mind at the time, we have the option to change it. So the question is what makes sense today, not what a bunch of hemp-smoking slave-owners thought hundreds of years ago.

I'm curious if you think you have enough data to form an opinion on the topic of American gun control. Gun control qualifies as common sense, but in my experience common sense in the context of insufficient data is irrationality in disguise.

To be fair, both sides of the debate have insufficient data and so they must default to using what they feel is common sense but isn't. (If it were common, both sides would agree.). So I don't think irrationality is limited to one side of the debate.

Scott

 
You might have heard about this VW ad.

The funniest line in the linked article  is "It's unclear whether the whole thing was staged."

I don't think that will be unclear to any of you.

 
 
 
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