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Comment plans and term sheets (Score 3, Interesting) 129

There are a lot of reasons to criticize Silicon Valley, but being positive about a plan and having to deal with difficult term sheets are hollow complaints.

When you start ANY new project, there is a period of time when the project is not funded and does not have the necessary people to get it done. Startups are no different in selling a dream than any university professor, large company project lead, or government program manager.

The main point of TFA is that startup employees are starting to get more sophisticated in evaluating stock options coming from the common pool compared to investors' preferred shares. Preferred shares and liquidation preferences are tools investors use to reduce risk, and they are detrimental to employees (and founders) of a startup... except that without those investors, nothing could happen. Investors are going to get leverage somehow, and if you're smart, these clauses are not a problem.

Inflated valuations compound these issues. It should be obvious that early high valuations are bad for employees. Potential startup employees SHOULD understand that going to work for a company that is highly valued and has large investments offers much less financial growth opportunity than working for a company with a low valuation and small investment.

If you're a founder, keeping your valuation low during early stages of a startup company is much, MUCH smarter than arguing for a high valuation. This push for early high valuations is driven by lots of money sloshing around looking for a place to sit. That is a legitimate problem in Silicon Valley. As a founder, it may sound great to take in an extra $10 million, but if you don't need that money and can't actually justify that valuation, you've limited your company's future options (no IPO for you) and made it much harder to hire smart employees.

Comment not buying it... (Score 1) 106

This project (Armstrong suit conservation) is a no-brainer for good PR. Some congressman, grant manager, or corporate donor should jump to sponsor this. Congress has been a mess the last few years, but no one at NASA, NSF, or on their donor list was willing to step up? They get $1.1 billion in federal set asides and grants and $200 million in big donations, but no one in those funding streams was interested in being linked to preserving Armstrong's space suit? Really?

My problem is the implication they're making that they can't do the project without crowdsourcing it. I just don't believe that at all, and I think it's terrible to mislead the public like this.

I would rather they had just said they were working on a multi million dollar display of artifacts for the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, that they wanted to give everyone a chance to contribute, and that this suit restoration kickstarter is how they've chosen to do that. I think they'd raise the same money, but it would be a much more honest engagement with the public. The Smithsonian isn't a startup or a struggling artist, they don't need urgency and hyperbole to get people's attention.

Comment Re:except the IAEA is still a thing. (Score 4, Insightful) 79

I agree that a new gadget doesn't actually change anything about nuclear monitoring in Iran. Also, you may want to see what IAEA actually said about Iran before making such a strong statement. You're flat out wrong about the IAEA and Iran. The IAEA repeatedly complained about Iran's lack of cooperation and militarization of nuclear sites. I also think you're underestimating the leverage the Iran had here. The US didn't have a choice, we HAD to make a deal because we lost this fight.

You can't argue that Iran enriched to bombmaking levels and simultaneously claim they didn't pursue a weapon. Uranium for energy is 4% enriched. Uranium for a bomb practically starts at 20% enriched. Iran took material up to between 19% and 20%. Cute, because research reactors use that grade, but Iran was producing much more 19.75% LEU per month than their research reactors could use in a year. Using this material in an electricity generating reactor is needlessly expensive and wasteful. In sufficient quantities, this material can be made into a bomb, and Iran passed this "sufficient quantity" line a while ago. The purpose of IAEA inspections (and UN resolutions, sabotage, assassinations, sanctions, etc.) was to prevent this from happening. Crossing this line didn't send a message that they're just doing research or working on power systems. The message they sent to the international community is that they effectively had a bomb, and we couldn't stop them. That they then came to the negotiating table willing to throw that material out speaks to their willingness to be a civilized member of global society. Doubters will expect to see some of that material end up in the hands of terrorists, but whether that happens or not is a real test of Iranian intentions. If Iran simply wanted to nuke Israel, they could have done that already.

It's not likely that they simply want a civilian power industry. If that's so, they're going about this very differently than other countries have. The "normal" way to do power industry uranium enrichment is to run enrichment using a multinational corporate entity "owned" by multiple governments. In this way, regional and worldwide rivals can keep eachother in check while ensuring a domestic, cost-effective supply of uranium. Brazil, Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan all have civilian power industries without weapons programs and without nationalized uranium enrichment. Each of those countries went through this transition to regional nuclear (electricity) power without the drama and dangerous actions Iran has taken (kicking out the IAEA inspectors).

Now, it's completely absurd to argue that Iran will make money off of enriching uranium, the market is not there, and will not develop in the foreseeable future. The worldwide capacity for uranium enrichment is far in excess of what the power industry needs. After Fukushima, there is a huge surplus of power-grade uranium out there. Russia, in particular, runs it's enrichment factories well below capacity. Russia would love to supply uranium all over central Asia.

It is also absurd to argue that that Iran would be unable to create a domestic source of uranium for electricity using the international standard structures. Several other regional power level countries have done this. Early in negotiations, when everyone thought Iran simply wanted a power industry, Russia offered to partner with them in the normal way. It would make sense for Iran to partner with other regional powers getting into nuclear energy (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan) as well. That we don't see the typical partnership out of this strongly implies that Iran wants more than a power industry. They want to be treated like part of the "nuclear weapon club" without triggering immediate war with Israel by actually testing a bomb.

None of this means that the deal with Iran is bad, but everyone needs to be realistic about what's really going on. Iran has effectively had a bomb for many months. The west "lost" the fight of sabotage and sanctions versus Iranian nuclear development, and we weren't willing to escalate to direct armed conflict. This was about the global community negotiating from a very weak position, needing to provide sufficient "respect" to Iran, IN ADDITION to removing sanctions to convince them that further nuclear development is unnecessary. They have already demonstrated that the UN and IAEA can't stop them from making a bomb, we can hope these organization are more effective in the future, but why would we expect that? So, they get more leeway or "rights" than any other non-weaponized nuclear country.

Given the situation, it's understandable for Israel to be flipping their shit. If we misjudged Iran, they will suffer for it. It's also understandable for people to call this a "bad deal." Those people don't understand that we lost.

Comment widespread (Score 1) 165

The federal government and universities do the same. For all the talk about fair employment, I don't know that many leaders of large bureaucratic organizations have the ability to enforce fair employment practices on their people.

The bottom line is that offices that do this are not going to be good places to work, whether you're a contractor or an employee. I've worked in government for really great managers who were required by law to do stupid things to their employees. Government managers are often balancing contradictory requirements, and you end up with situations like this all the time.

Comment Re:Actor's agent is also an employer? (Score 2) 88

This is a silly analogy, actors are unionized and the actor-agent relationship is mediated by the union, just as the actor-employer relationship is. Working through the union is such a big part of acting culture that Ronald Reagan ran it for a while. ... if you are going to make an acting analogy, Uber is more like SAG, than a super-agent. Sure, there are other unions an actor could join, but most actors are going to make the most money working under SAG rules. The difference here is that the actors get a vote in how SAG is run.

Comment just ask any postdoc... (Score 1) 503

We have a reputation based economy in academic scientific research. Like in StarTrek, this works well when there is growth. As long as there is no external limit on advancing good people into desired positions (professor), developing a good reputation leads to professional success. In a stagnant economy (i.e. the past 7 years), people who have developed enough reputation to justify independent projects have no opportunity to do so as resources for additional positions aren't available.

Comment Re:good for her (Score 2) 467

I did leave that off. Because of the money they raised, they needed to boost revenue significantly. This is where people get the idea that she did the "dirty work" of trying to institute advertiser friendly policies (including firing people who were internal advocates of community over profit).

People didn't give Reddit millions of dollars to be nice to the community, they invested that money to squeeze profit out of the community (and to trigger a higher performance based buyout clause from the initial Conde Nast deal). That was a problem she inherited. Obviously those efforts have been a debacle. I think she (and the board) honestly thought that being PC police and having a hands off approach to the community was the better business decision. It's not like they picked her at random to lead the company, they knew what they were getting. It wasn't until the community shut down the site that they all realized this approach is bad. Both she and the board are now paying for those mistakes.

Huffman has made his money off of Reddit, he doesn't need another big payday, and the board will have very little effective control, they can't lose another CEO. I don't think he goes back to Reddit if the board is still strong. Good news for the community, probably bad news for the investors and advertisers.

Comment part of a broader effort (Score 3, Interesting) 74

This is part of a broader DARPA driven effort to expand what biology is capable of.

The end goal is to be able to create new materials (better fuels, medicines, building materials, etc) using biology. This requires expanding the "toolkit" biology uses to incorporate biologically incompatible elements, chemicals and processes.

So, starting from the end: We want a better biofuel. To do that, we want proteins that can better incorporate inorganic catalysts and work at higher energies than existing biology. To do that, we need different amino acids and protein construction machinery. To do that, we want to expand DNA to code for these new amino acids.

This is a "good" DARPA project in that we're not able to do all of this yet. What this means is that technology is pushed forward significantly, and we're able to clearly identify the real challenges.

Comment good for her (Score 4, Informative) 467

Whatever you think about Pao, she was in a very tough position. Reddit was in full on shit hitting the fan mode when she took over.

The company had just raised $50M they didn't actually need, with no real plan of what to do next. The new board was micromanaging and not looking out for the good of the company. The corporate culture was self serving and tone deaf. The prior CEO couldn't get a simple office location change through the board and quit. Pao is promoted to interim CEO. The title of "interim" CEO should NEVER have been used publicly. That it was shows the stance of the board towards management. She got some control of the company back from the board, was able to institute some changes and show that the position of Reddit CEO was still meaningful in the company. Think about that transition from when she started and the CEO couldn't change the office space without board approval (that he couldn't get!) to today when everyone can agree that the CEO runs Reddit. She realized when it was time (ish) to go and (presumably) helped get a very good replacement that the board actually likes.

I don't think I would actually like working with her, but I do think she did a good job there.

Comment everything old is new again (Score 2) 35

We're working our way back to the 2D electron gas work done in the decades before graphene.

Phosphorene is not a true 2D material (this is a "few layer" material, it's not a perfect analog of graphene), yet electrons in phosphorene can be made to behave as if they're in perfect 2D confinement. This is not the only material you can do this with. There are many ways of creating a 2D electron gas, with a wide range of applications and properties. There are some old hands at making these structures in the nano community, don't be surprised if in the next couple of years much is made in the academic literature of GaAs and GaN (again).

Comment Re:California (Score 1) 285

My comment wasn't actually serious. It was intended to make fun of the cultural differences between California and Iowa.

You're describing the "tragedy of the commons," a concept we understand very well in California right now because of the drought. Hamburgers work too, but we do have a giant blind spot when it comes to roads.

Comment fundraising (Score 1) 217

Just being an "idea" person is useless. Ideas are a dime a dozen. What most people are missing in this exchange is the part about "getting other people to build it for you." That's very non-trivial, and requires it's own skill set. Anyone who has actually tried to start a company knows that getting investment and creating a team is difficult. Most people in the "investor class" don't know or don't remember what it's like to not hang out with other wealthy people looking for investments.

You really need three roles to get something going: vision, execution, and fundraising. It's VERY rare that one person can do all three efficiently.

Comment Re:Pao Wants "Safe Spaces" for Shills and Ideologu (Score 1) 385

Of course a company should try to be profitable, but it's the job of the CEO and the board to make sure your business plan is reasonable and fits with the money you're raising. Many companies in Silicon Valley choke on oversized valuations and unreasonable expectations.

Reddit had revenues of $8.3M. That's not insignificant. Their initial fundraising round was $100k, they'd been bought out by a big company for $20M, and then spun back out with a target value of $240M. It's not like they had old investors calling them at midnight to complain, they were well set up to get off the startup (constant growth) treadmill and simply run the company.

Instead, they decided to raise money. Traditional online advertising efforts weren't effective for them, and they wanted to try some new expensive approaches. That's a decision by the board to more aggressively monetize the community rather than trim operating costs. It's a lot less expensive to run a company in Las Vegas, Austin, Seattle, Boston... evidently it was more important to stay in San Francisco.

They agree to take money on a $500M valuation. Ugh. If you're the CEO, that's just asking for an ulcer. After raising the money, the CEO tries to move the office to a city 10 miles south, in part for his own sanity, and the board shoots him down. Evidently, it is really important that Reddit officially be in the city of San Francisco. After that combination of extreme pressure to succeed and thorough emasculation, he quits.

Now, this would be reasonable if the board was simply setting the company up for their hand-picked Series B CEO, but the board has been unable to get a replacement in over 6 months, relying on a controversial "interim" CEO. (Why the "interim" title at all? At least pretend you like her.) What a mess. If Pao can turn this around, it will be a miracle, even if that means selling out to "shills and ideologues." It didn't have to be this way.

The lessons here are that sometimes cutting cost is a better thing than raising funds, and that just because an investor offers you money doesn't mean you have to take it.

Comment Re:Burried the lead (Score 1) 80

Yeah, this is really the amazing thing in science. There are a few high paying private sector jobs, but the best early-to-mid career positions are in the government.

When I worked in government, there was no understanding that while it was necessary to pay early career engineers well, there was no need to offer high salaries to scientists to recruit good people. The lab I worked at paid engineers and scientists on the same scale, which was great (for me, a physicist).

Retaining scientists is a different matter. Particularly if someone is good, it is extraordinarily difficult for the government to hold on to a scientist. Generally, simply trying to pay more isn't going to help there either.

"In the face of entropy and nothingness, you kind of have to pretend it's not there if you want to keep writing good code." -- Karl Lehenbauer