Deep Valley Thoughts & GIF Battle Updates

Postlight Newsletter for Thursday, February 11, 2016 — Subscribe here

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Journalist Chris Perkins reported on GIF Battle, a Postlight Experiment, for Mashable. He wrote:

GIF Battle is the perfect game to play with your Internet friends when you’re procrastinating at work, thanks to its relatively short length. Different battles naturally take on different themes; one memorable battle included a quasi-debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fans. Another involved Postlight posting Wolf of Wall Street GIFs to poke fun at Goldman Sachs employees who attended GIF Battle’s launch party.

The article goes a little into GIF history, too. It’s very cool.

I’m going to add good GIF Battles to this newsletter, starting today. Here are two great battles:

  1. @john_shepherd v. @prouters
  2. @frank_chimero v. @beep

Valley Thoughts

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Tonight Jon Lax is going to come to Postlight to talk about his year in Silicon Valley, telling us what he learned after leaving a well-established existence Toronto for a (big!) job at Facebook.

If you work in technology, and love technology, you may very well have some sort of emotional relationship with Silicon Valley, or the concept of Silicon Valley. Once, during a trip to California, I convinced my wife to drive me around the bay. She works in construction, not technology, and as we drove around I realized that, when compared to New York City, none of the architecture in the Valley was dramatic. The campuses of Google, Apple, and Yahoo don’t compare to the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, or Flatiron Building. But at the same time to see the real, physical manifestation of these organizations that had held such sway over my life was surprisingly affecting. Even if everyone appeared to work in an overgrown mall. (This was years ago, before everything went quite so crazycakes bananas. Tech giants have built prodigiously since then.)

I became less interested in the buildings and more interested in the relatively short distances between the companies — impossible to walk, often joined by giant highways, but quick trips by car. An awful lot of billion-dollar enterprises were, and are, in proximity to one another out there.

We made one particular trip, after tacos, starting at Apple’s campus and driving over to Xerox PARC.

If you know your Silicon Valley history you know that there was a day in 1979 when Apple people drove over to PARC to look at the work that Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg’s team was doing in building the Smalltalk system on Xerox computers. While other people had created interactive software, the work at PARC is completely recognizable today as a modern graphical user interface, or GUI, down to the desktop metaphor.

There’s a lot of mythologizing about this moment (Stanford hosts a helpful myth-debunking web page). The trip is now part of the Steve Jobs mythos; his fame, the excitement about the Mac, and the eventual success of iOS, has impregnated that visit with the aura of destiny.

But Apple people weren’t the only visitors. I particularly like the letter from 1981, about a visit to PARC from computer-maker Tektronix. What the team saw was clearly mind-blowing, and the note concludes, sweetly: “The purpose of traveling to Xerox PARC was to see demonstrations of Smalltalk, and to share our experiences with Xerox. The trip was unquestionably worthwhile, and we accomplished our objectives. In addition we had the opportunity to experience true personal computers interconnected via Ethernet.” That typed-up memo (it comes from Allen Wirfs-Brock’s Smalltalk Document Archive) is what it actually looks like when people see the future, before the press, in partnership with PR, starts to abbreviate the story.

What blew my mind about that drive between Apple’s homely campus and PARC’s beautifully submerged 70s earthworks was how truly short a trip it was. I’d imagined this trip as an epic journey, all the way to Mordor to drop off a ring (or pick one up), but you could have also been going out to lunch. Hop in a car, and in a quarter-hour or so you were there. We saw horses on the way. Geography really is destiny.

It occurred to me then that the GUI would have felt very comfortable to people who drive everywhere, i.e. Californians. People were waking up, staring through their windscreen, going to work, staring at their screens, and heading back home (windscreen again), and going to sleep with the TV screen tuned to Carson. It’s hard, as citizen of a transit-centric city where everything is, ultimately, time-shared, to imagine the GUI happening among people who travelled only by train. And it’s no surprise that Palo Alto and Mountain View are where the self-driving car is being thrust into existence.

Sometimes, Silicon Valley seems like the most fantastic place that has ever existed and I kick myself for not moving out there when I was younger. What is better than going out to the Bay, buying sunglasses at the airport, walking past the ads for enterprise whatevers, then past the airport yoga room? (Has anyone ever entered the SFO yoga room? I wonder if it’s filled with alligators.) The sun is so bright and some days the only clouds are sequestered away in server farms; the air smells of microservices. Plus the freshness of the avocados — the way the pit pops right out with a tap instead of needing to be pulled from the goop with a knife — for me, it’s impossible to walk out of SFO without thinking, “this would be nice. I could do this.”

Other times (for example when I’m reading Hacker News comments for the second hour or I’ve fallen too far down the Medium entrepreneurship hole), the Valley feels like one of those vast farms where all the pigs are bred in such proximity, and to such exacting genetic tolerances, that the barns must be kept at a constant temperature and a steady drip of antibiotics must be fed into the pigs by the industrial farmers because otherwise they’ll all get viruses and die in days. Are the farmers venture capital investors? Are the pigs in this metaphor the programmers or the product? The answer is yes! Also you need more microservices.

As a New Yorker it’s a little unsettling that SV exists. We like to be the best and biggest at everything. We would love to make this city into a technology monster. We’ve allowed technology to take over a third of a whole damn island in the East River, for example. Real estate change at that scale never happens here any more. Yielding a tract of land that large to technology is the ultimate statement of intent. We’re coming for you, Silicon Valley. If you would just stay still long enough for us to catch up.

I’m sending this out at 5:06, so you don’t have long. But if you want, please come by Postlight tonight see Jon Lax talk about his year in the Valley. It might be a little crowded but we’ll always try to make room, and the Q&A should be cool.

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Bonus Links

(This is embarrassing, because I wrote both of them, but here’s a piece from the New Yorker’s Elements blog about how Bing Crosby and the Nazis helped create Silicon Valley (ancient history) and another from Vice Media’s Motherboard about the future of the Valley and our smarthorse future.

The Letters Section

Regarding “Technology Internships Considered”:

I work with a lot of Berkeley students every day helping them figure out their internship search. It’s almost comical, the adulation they have for the big names.

We don’t really know where it comes from. It’s scary to see how much the consumer brands still have so much value. Since they use Facebook and Google every day, they won’t even consider other things in front of it.

— Sid Puri, via Medium

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CEO,, a digital product studio in NYC. Also writer, Medium advisor, programmer. Any port in a storm, especially ports 80 and 443.

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