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Jean-Baptiste “JBQ” Quéru
44,076 followers -
Traveler, Skier, Cyclist, Photographer, Eater, Drinker, Driver, Commuter, Board Game Player, Video Gamer, Astronomer, Painter, Knitter.
Traveler, Skier, Cyclist, Photographer, Eater, Drinker, Driver, Commuter, Board Game Player, Video Gamer, Astronomer, Painter, Knitter.

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Help in Hong Kong? (Update: all good)

I have family who moved to Hong Kong recently, life is being tricky for them right now (sick kid), and they'd appreciate some help in the next few days. Please email me jbqueru@gmail.com in case you might be able to help for a few hours or offer advice. Thanks!

Update: the kid is fine, and they found help to go through the day-to-day life of the next few days. Life can be overwhelming. Thanks to everyone who stepped in, you've made a difference :)
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A matter of geometry

In http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Feinstein-Traffic-is-terrible-Build-a-new-bridge-12410794.php, I have to disagree with Feinstein.

San Francisco can't accomodate more cars. There's literally no space left of the streets of San Francisco to be able to absorb more inbound traffic. There are already 18 lanes of freeways funneling cars into San Francisco, and that's more than enough.

What San Francisco needs is a way for people not to need a car there, both as they get into the city and as they move within the city.

Let's start by building dedicated bus lanes on the Bay Bridge and on the city's main streets.

Let's update BART with modern technology, which can easily double the capacity of the transbay tunnel.

Let's open a second transbay tunnel, for additional BART capacity as well as for through Caltrain and Amtrak trains.

Let's loop the bay with BART: let's build along El Camino Real, let's have stops in San Mateo, Belmont, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale.

Any of those will add far more capacity into San Francisco than a car bridge will.
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4 years!

4 years ago today was my first day working at Yahoo. Yes, 4 years at Yahoo. It was a brave new world for me, as I was walking into a company that builds applications, after 15 years of working on frameworks and operating systems.

4 years later, I'm still there, Yahoo has become Oath after merging with AOL, and my role has grown a lot. I started 4 years ago by helping an app here and there, then designing some well-focused mechanisms, then architecting a whole application. Over time I took care of performance and stability for all of Yahoo's apps, I became the architect for all the common libraries, and I eventually took ownership of the approval process to ship all Yahoo apps. With the merger and the associated shuffling of roles, I'm now the Lead Mobile Architect for Oath.

I still have final authority over performance and stability, over the approval process, though on a day-by-day basis I've delegated those tasks. I'm also involved in architecting the common libraries, but that task is similarly delegated to another architect. I now represent mobile engineering at the top technical level of the company, and I examine all company-wide technical decisions with an eye toward mobile. I also interact deeply with many other groups in the company, e.g. security, accessibility, marketing, globalization, privacy, legal, compliance...

Looking back over the last 4 years, I think I've been pretty successful in moving to the world of applications. I now oversee the technical aspects for more than 60 applications each on Android and iOS. Every day, something ships, from emergency bug fixes all the to brand new apps.

I'm still a bit dizzy about the big portfolio of brands that work with me and trust me. There's obvious the whole set of Yahoo apps, including Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Weather, Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Fantasy, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo News, Yahoo Messenger, and quite some more, especially in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia. There are also AOL, HuffPost, Alto, MAKERS, TechCrunch, Polyvore, Engadget, Moviefone, Autoblog. Tumblr and Flickr host creative communities, while Flurry serves app developers. That list isn't even exhaustive.

What I love about working at Oath is the way we operate at scale, both in number of users and in breadth of applications. We're at a level where it makes far more sense for all mobile engineers to collaborate, where we have plenty of opportunities to learn from one another's experiences, where we can build very deep and very solid foundations, where we know how to be much better than merely competitive.

Obviously, we're hiring. If you'd like to work on the base technologies that support those dozens of apps in a diverse, talented, and motivated company, email me your resume at jbq@oath.com.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a mobile engineering community to strenghten.
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Merged

The company I had worked at for almost 4 years (Yahoo) just got bought and is getting merged into a bigger company. I've never been directly through such a merger (at least not on the acquired side) and I'm not sure how to navigate it.

Specifically, I feel conflicts in my mind. On one side, I have the notion that this is a continuation of my previous job. On the other side, this is all brand new. I've got to reconcile the facts that that I've been doing this job for both 4 years and 4 days.

Also, my entire management chain has changed. 3 managers out, 4 managers in (or 6, depending on how you count). That's another big discontinuity to navigate, many people i need to learn to work with. Luckily I'm in the same building and on the same floor as my first 3 levels of management, so that will facilitate discussions.

On top of that, headquarters is now on the East coast, as is the center of gravity of the company we're merging into. I've never worked in a remote office, I've never worked for an East coast company.

In all that, I need to continue working on the Yahoo apps and related technologies, which is a full-time job in itself (and then some), while getting involved in everything that's going on in the rest of the company.

There's one thing I know that won't change: I'll continue putting users first.

I'd love to hear hints about how to best handle such a merger.
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A series of tubes

Before retiring, my father worked his whole career in the cast iron industry, in a way that was always somewhat related to water pipes. He knew the pipes inside and out, literally, because the hardest thing about water pipes is that the inside coatings need to be compatible with the kind of water being transported, while the outside coatings need to be compatible with the soil surrounding the pipes. The story of the water of Flint, Michigan, shows why managing drinking water is harder than it seems.

Over the years, standards for water pipes around the world tightened, while in the USA standards didn't change as much. I don't know what the exact reasons were for the US staying behind, but it's possible that at each step someone thought that keeping looser standards would protect the US industry, either as a goal or as a positive consequence.

Bit by bit, though, US manufacturers of water pipes found themselves unable to sell on non-US markets. This became a major issue when US-manufactured pipes couldn't be made to meet Chinese standards.

Eventually, US manufacturers found themselves so far behind that they couldn't even export unfinished iron shells to be finished overseas to non-US standards, since those US manufacturers had never developed the expertise to cast shells that could be used with the newest coatings.

By not keeping up with worldwide progress, the US severely weakened its own cast iron industry.

I fear that the same thing might happen with environment-related concerns, with Trump pulling the US out of the Paris Agreements. Should the Paris Agreement evolve in a direction that forces signatories to only source their supplies from other signatories, the US will end up in a position that hurts its whole economy. That's why we're seeing states, cities, companies, individuals, all scrambling to continue honoring past US commitments without the federal government: they don't want to be labeled as non-compliant. Imagine if US oil companies can't operate outside the US any longer, of if US-based airlines can't fly to non-US airports any longer, or if US agricultural products can't be exported any longer.
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Cautious / Curious

For a variety of reasons, I've been recently looking at US politics much more than I had had in the past.

So far, US politics hadn't made much sense to me. While I understand the mechanics, I had been struggling to understand people's motivations to vote for one side or the other, as those didn't seem to make sense. The confusion went as far as my own position, where I didn't actually understand why I would tend to align with one specific side (disclaimer: I can't vote in the US, I'm not a US citizen).

After reading a lot on the subject, and after simplifying the matter down to a level where I could grasp it, I've reached a tiny bit of clarity. The underlying observation is that people fall into two main categories, which I call the cautious and the curious.

On the cautious side, people focus primarily on the potential risks that come with any situation, which is a form of pessimism.

On the curious side however, people focus on the potential benefits that come with any situation, which is a form of optimism.

I'm going to assume that many of my followers here are interested in technology, so I'm going to use an XKCD example: https://xkcd.com/627/ ("Tech Support Cheat Sheet"). This XKCD flowchart shows the way of thinking in the curious side of the world, especially the part that amounts to "Pick a menu item or button at random, click it. Repeat until you've tried them all." The cautious side of the world, by contrast, is afraid of breaking things, and has a much harder time trying new things.

I can think of my own family here. I can look at my mother and her siblings, where my mother is curious, while the other siblings are on the cautious side, especially the older sister. I can think of my paternal grandmother, who has a computer but is very much afraid of breaking it. I can think of my late maternal grandmother, who wouldn't let us connect a computer to her TV for fear of damaging it.

On the cautious side, it is natural to try to do things they way they've always been done, since doing things differently introduces potential risks. On the curious side, it is natural to try new things, since that introduces potential benefits. Inherently, cautious people are conservative, and curious people are progressive.

From there, we can make a number of guesses. As an example, when faced with an unexplained situation, the curious are more likely to explore, to look for an explanation, to understand what gains can be achieved and whether those gains are repeatable. In a similar situation, the cautious are likely to retreat, in order to avoid triggering any bad results, and to find an explanation that doesn't require to interact with the situation. In other words, in order to fit the unexplained into their world view, the cautious are more likely to resort to religion, whereas the curious are more likely to resort to science.

On the cautious side, which prefers to do things they way they've always been done, there's a natural inclination to respect the authority of leaders. That includes respecting parents and older family members: after all, the simple fact that they're still alive shows that they've been able to avoid risks. In general, the role of leaders is to protect people from risk, including by preventing behaviors that leaders believe might be risky.

Also on the cautious side, there's a logical trust that binds small groups together, which creates strong loyalty within those groups: under the instinct that interactions with strangers might carry risks, people bind in groups within which the interactions have proven not to trigger risks. Once a group is established, it creates a notion of insiders and outsiders, where the outsiders are assumed to be sources of risks.

Still on the cautious side, respect and loyalty somewhat combine and evolve into a notion of sanctity: sanctity is a line that defines some common traits and common symbols that represent or symbolize the authority and the group. The fear of risks prevents from exploring the other side of that line, which is then assumed to be a slippery slope of risks, and the line itself must be protected in order to keep risks away.

On the curious side, the natural inclination is to explore, to research new things, to improve lives, to look for new possibilities. Inherently, the process of trying new thing is a solitary endeavor, an individual process, since that process can't directly rely on accumulated experience. In order for a curious person to be able to drive their individual progress, they need a fair society around them that will support their explorations. That notion of universal fairness is far broader than the one that naturally emerges within loyalty groups on the cautious side.

Finally, on the curious side, while the instinct goes toward trying new things, there's also an understanding that there are inherent risks in such endeavors, and as a result there's an imperative to always consider the possibility of harm to others any time something new is attempted, since society obviously can't accept reckless behaviors. Society can only accept new behaviors is those new behaviors are built within a framework of care and avoidance of harm to others. That notion of universal care and avoidance of harm is far broader than the one that naturally emerges within loyalty groups on the cautious side.

Those traits, taken together, paint a deeper picture. The cautious side, which is the conservative side as we've discussed earlier, expects authority, loyalty, and sanctity, as means to stay away from risks. The curious side, on the other hand, relies instinctively on fairness and care in order to facilitate new things. Those values that are important to the curious side are the inherent values of liberals, and at that level of abstraction the other side is authoritarian.

In my mind, that's the basic foundation of US politics, which crosses a progression of pairs of contrasting concepts: cautious - curious, optimistic - pessimistic, conservative - progressive, liberal - authoritarian. It certainly helps me frame my own vision of US politics, since in my mind the words "conservative" and "liberal" themselves aren't inherently antonyms, and we've just established that they're different levels of social and political abstraction. In a context of trying to find a balance, maybe a middle ground, it's probably worth it to frame the discussions as conservative / progressive or as liberal / authoritarian.

From here, we can look at a number of dimensions that arise in politics and other domains under the lens of the curious - cautious divide and the various related aspects discussed above.

On the curious side, because of both the natural inclination toward science and the need to consider humankind a collection of individuals, it's fairly natural to rely on statistics to guide decisions. On the cautious side, the focus on negative outcomes and the higher trust placed in a small group means that it's more intuitive to focus on anecdotes. We saw that divide a few decades ago when seat belts appeared in cars: statistically, seat belts save lives, whereas anecdotally, there are some cases where seat belts cause injuries. We see that even more when looking at people's behaviors toward flying: optimists point out that, statistically, flying is far safer than driving, but pessimists' minds can't detach from the massive but rare news reports of catastrophic airplane crashes; cautious people's inclination toward respect within the group doesn't help here, since elders remember a time when airplane crashes were more frequent; on top of that, the more uncommon airplane crashes become, the more prominently they get covered in the news. Vaccines is another similar domain: statistically, they're far better than the alternative, but there's a non-zero risk of adverse reactions; we've stopped vaccinating people against smallpox, since the statistical risk of not vaccinating has fallen to zero, whereas the risk of a vaccine is never quite strictly zero. One last similar domain is health care: proponents of recent health care reforms point out that the number of insured people has increased, while adversaries single out that some people have seen their premiums increase.

Feminism can be looked at under the lens of that divide. The cautious side looks under a perspective of hierarchical authority, where increasing women's role threatens the established hierarchies. The curious side tries to increase fairness between men and women. The cautious side fears the risks that women could be exposed to as they leave the group. The curious side worries about the harm that women can suffer if they can't speak for themselves. The cautious side sees women's role in having children as sacred. It's no wonder that it's a contentious subject in politics.

Attitudes toward guns fit within some of those patterns. Risk-averse cautious people see guns as an effective method of protection, which can be entrusted to authority figures who will protect both the group and its sacred values, and which are only intended to be used against outsiders, whereas the other side gets fixated on the harm that guns can cause, as a statistically significant cause of preventable deaths in the country.

The Black Lives Matter movement is also interesting to look at. The liberal side sees clear issues of fairness and care. The authoritarian side sees an attack on the respect that is owed to law enforcement agencies, which compounds in white conservative circles with a lack of loyalty toward blacks and with a treatment of whiteness as sanctity.

It's revealing to look at the way people's political views change with age: over time, more and more of people's curiosity ends up with no tangible benefits, while more and more unsuspected risks end up causing harm, such that the sense of caution grows and people's political views tend to shift toward the conservative side. That's why younger voters and consistently more progressive.

Since I work in the domain of computer technology, it's insightful to think of my own industry along those dimensions. Computing is very much on the curious side of the divide, where survival requires to constantly do new things. In fact, the primary source of initial funding is called venture capital for a reason, as a warning to risk-averse investors that hey should stay far far away. As such, it's no surprise that technology companies tend to lean toward the liberal side. The industry is filled with the moribund shells of companies that didn't see progress as a key to survival. IBM said there was only a worldwide market for 5 computers, and eventually DEC happened. DEC couldn't imagine the notion of a home computer, and ultimately Microsoft happened. Microsoft claimed that Apple was dead, and the iPhone happened. I won't be surprised if Apple's ultimately failed assumption ends up being that smartphones are a luxury. Within the tech world, the bias toward curiosity is harmful, since the industry keeps underestimating the difficulties that some users will have to adapt to any change.

Fragments of sentences that are said by conservatives and in turn trigger sharp reactions in liberals, such as "I'm not racist, I have black friends" or "As a father, as a husband," take a new meaning with the dimensions we've established above. One side puts a high value on fairness, and gets offended at the notion that the care for a vulnerable population gets trivialized as an anecdotal relationship. The other side puts a high value on group loyalty and therefore cares much more for people within the group, and gets offended at the notion that outsiders need to be treated with the same consideration as insiders.

Finally, there's a grab bag of notions that the right advances and that the left rejects, such as the homosexual agenda, the coastal elites, or other similar theories. The difference in opinion about those comes from the different perspectives around groups and hierarchies. The cautious side grows notions of belonging to groups and of conflicts between groups that the naturally individualist views of the curious side don't take into account. At the same time, the cautious side is accustomed to a hierarchical notion of authority, where the most likely relationship between two people or groups has one dominating the other; in that perspective, it's easy to picture oneself as the dominated side when you're clearly not the dominant side, even if the intended nature of the relationship is simply coexistence.

Personally, framing the partisan gap in US politics as an issue of curious vs cautious helped me. It also shows me that the path to repair the cracks in our society will require that everyone think about authority, fairness, loyalty, care and sanctity, even though only a few of those are dominant for most people.
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Inverted price curve

This is a scary article: http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-electricity-capacity/

One implication of this article is that the utilities are guaranteed that they can recover certain fixed costs from consumer bills. In other words, a part of the electricity price goes up when demand goes down.

On the other hand, there's still some market logic where lower demand lowers the cost of production, by allowing utilities to shut down the most expensive sources.

This feels very risky to me: with more and more houses using rooftop solar, there's mathematically a possibility that the price curve could become inverted, i.e. that electricity could become more and more expensive as there's less demand for it.

That would end up being very regressive, since people who can afford the upfront cost of solar panels would have such panels, while people who can't afford panels would end up having to pay the increasing utility rates. I don't actually expect that CPUC will let California get into such a death spiral, and sadly I have to expect instead that California taxpayers will eventually have to step in and bail the utilities out.
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Oroville evacuation

If you live in the region downstream from the Oroville Dam that is affected by the evacuation order, if you're currently in the Bay Area or in the San Joaquin Valley, if you can't find a place to stay, please leave a comment. I have a guest bedroom available, with the possibility of turning an office into a second guest bedroom.

Update, 2/12 8:30pm: The lake has come back down below the level of the auxiliary spillway, such that there doesn't seem to be any immediate risk of flooding.

Update, 2/12 10:10:30pm: The evacuation order remains in place for the foreseeable future. My offer still stands.

(Reshares intentionally disabled so that I can update the post if/when I run out of room).
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US Manufacturing vs Trade

This chart (h/t +Riff Zifnab) tells me a lot about the last 25 years of US manufacturing. Caveat: the scale for the blue curve doesn't start at zero.

Here's what I read in it, at a high level:

-The US didn't lose manufacturing to trade, since manufacturing went up after trade agreements were signed in 1994 and 2001.

-US workers didn't lose jobs to immigrants, since that would typically result in an increase in the workforce (more workers, paid less, individually less productive). Instead, the jobs truly disappeared.

At a slightly more detailed level, here's the timeline I can reconstruct from that chart:

-1994, NAFTA. Within 2-3 years, US manufacturing output increases as a result of the newly opened markets. The extra profit is invested into robots, which makes more economic sense when the output is expected to be durably higher. 5 to 7 years after the increase in output, the investments cause workers to get laid off as their jobs are replaced by robots.

-2001, China in WTO. I can copy-paste the exact same timeline as above: increased output within 2-3 years, followed by a sharp drop in manufacturing employment 5-7 years later.

Because the output rises before employment plummets, I'm dismissing the theory that trade causes extra competition and that automation is the only way to remain competitive: in that theory, output should fall after 2-3 years and recover after another 5-7 years, and that's not what we're seeing here.

Looking ahead, we can predict what could happen after trying to tighten existing trade links. Output would drop as a result of losing those extra markets. The result of that drop in output would be a new wave of job losses, as the investments in automation wouldn't be undone. That's encouraged by accounting rules, where the amortization of the automation capex would have to be accelerated, possibly as a writeoff, which would be reported as a massive loss.

My gut feeling: if we close US trade borders, we will end up losing manufacturing jobs, not gaining them. At the same time, the price of manufactured items for which we have no significant production capacity left in the US would go up, which would hurt US consumers, and that would especially hit consumer electronics.
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Powerwall 2 vs Whole House?

I've ordered a solar system from +SolarCity a few days ago. My wife and I had wanted to wait until the +Tesla Powerwall 2 was available, so that we could implement our own load shifting.

I was surprised to hear from my SolarCity salesperson that the Powerwall 2 can only power a single circuit in the house. Our electricity usage that would benefit from load shifting is split between HVAC, kitchen, car charging, TV, and we can't reduce that to a single circuit.

Needless to say, this was disappointing. Is the single-circuit restriction accurate, given that Powerwall 1 looked like it was able to connect on the DC side of the solar system and from there power the whole house? Does any of my followers already have a Powerwall 2? What's your experience with it?
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