Psychological Disorders as Success Criteria in the Computing Industry

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”
       Ayn Rand. 1905-1982.

“Only the paranoid survive.”
       Andy Grove. 1936-2016.
“There was something very slightly odd about him, but it was hard to say what it was.”

       Douglas Adams. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
.. Over the past thirty five years, I’ve worked with thousands of smart and successful people in the computing industry. Now that I look back on it, I am amazed by what a large percentage of them exhsibited symptoms from one or other so-called psychological “disorders”, myself being the poster boy. When I talk about psychological disorders here, I’m referring to those listed in DSM 5: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the authoritative book on the topic according to the American Psychiatric Association. I’m intentionally using quotes for the word “disorder” because I plan to argue that these once abnormal tendencies are now commonplace, at least in certain professions, and should no longer be viewed as abnormal nor should they be stigmatized. The question is not whether many of us suffer from such traits but whether we are able to function as normal and successful members of society despite them.

One obvious example of such behavior is an addiction to and an obsession for extreme sports. I claim, based mostly on anecdotal data, that a statistically aberrant percentage of successful people in the computer industry obsess over sports of one kind or another. I don’t mean running a 5K or going for a weekend hike with the dog. I mean ultra-marathoners who routinely run a hundred miles or more, IronMan triathletes, bikers who do century rides every weekend, mountain climbers who train to climb Mt. Rainier, you name it. Several articles have recently been written on this topic, highlighting surges in kiteboarding, skydiving, sports car racing, mountaineering, and other similar extreme endeavours among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. These are all extremely busy people – most of them working sixty, eighty, a hundred hours a week. Yet, they also somehow find the time to spend 24 hours running non-stop up a mountain or to bike two hundred miles from Seattle to Portland “for fun” in a single day!
This is not normal. You cannot compete in an IronMan triathlon unless you obsess over your training. You cannot run a hundred miles in a single day unless you run the equivalent of a marathon (and more) every weekend. That takes time, it takes commitment, and it takes obsession
.. Studies have also shown that autism is linked to mathematical talent and that college students opting for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degrees have a higher than normal incidence of autism in their families. And one of the symptoms of autism is an “intense interest in a limited number of things” – in other words, obsessive behavior. The prevalence of mild autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) has been documented widely in the industry with well known examples such as Bill Gates. He is one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met, but, according to the book, he “suffers” from a psychological disorder.

Trump Shows Us the Way

Donald Trump slipped into the Oval Office through a wormhole of confusion about the American identity.

.. We were moving from a white-majority, male-dominated country and manufacturing base to a multicultural, multilateral, globalized, P.C., new energy, new technology world, without taking account of the confusion and anger of older Americans who felt like strangers in a strange land.

.. And we certainly don’t want men like Rob Porter who have punched, kicked, choked and terrorized their wives to be in the president’s inner circle, helping decide which policies, including those that affect women, get emphasized.

.. We don’t want the White House chief of staff to be the sort of person who shields and defends abusers — and then dissembles about it — simply because the abuser is a rare competent staffer. Or a man who labels Dreamers “too lazy to get off their asses” simply because they didn’t apply for legal protections in time.

.. John Kelly served as a character witness not only for Porter, after he didn’t receive security clearance because F.B.I. agents had heard the harrowing tales from his battered ex-wives. Kelly also testified as a character witness for Gen. Robert E. Lee and a former Marine who pleaded guilty to sending inappropriate sexual messages to female subordinates; who drove drunk to an arraignment; and who got charged in Virginia with sex crimes against children.

.. As a more lucid Trump tweeted in 2012 about Rihanna getting back together with Chris Brown, “A beater is always a beater.”

.. We don’t want a president who bends over backward to give the benefit of the doubt to neo-Nazis, wife beaters, pedophiles and sexual predators — or who is a sexual predator himself.

.. We don’t want a president who flips the ordinary equation, out of some puerile sense of grievance, to honor Russia and dishonor the F.B.I.

.. We don’t want a president who is too shallow to read his daily intelligence report and too obsessed with the deep state to deal fairly with our intelligence agencies.

.. We don’t want a president who suggests that Democrats who don’t clap for him are treasonous and who seems more enthralled by authoritarian ways than democratic ones.

.. who loves generals but trashes Gold Star parents

.. who wants the sort of chesty military parade that we mock Kim Jong-un for, a phallic demonstration of overcompensation that would only put more potholes in the D.C. boulevards.

.. one who could be so easily trapped in lies that he can’t even be allowed to talk to an investigator.

.. And, finally, we surely don’t want a president who seeks advice on foreign affairs from Henry Kissinger. Ever. Again.

Canadian Tech Sector Thrives, but Struggles to Keep Its Talent

Government seek to attract investment from big foreign players while stopping the brain drain

Mr. Trudeau has lamented a “brain drain” of Canada’s best tech minds, saying at a recent Google event in Toronto, “Quite frankly, we’re tired of Google poaching our best graduates from the University of Waterloo and sucking them down to California.”

.. Trudeau wrote to Mr. Bezos, asking him to consider Canada because of its inclusiveness, single-payer health-care system, and an immigration system designed to attract high-skilled talent.

.. Canada is widely considered to be at the nucleus of some world-leading research in areas such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

.. Seminal work published by University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, University of Montreal’s Yoshua Bengio and others has spawned advancements in voice recognition and automated driving. Mr. Hinton published breakthrough research on “deep learning” in 2007 and 2012 that ushered in a new wave of AI and the potential it could have for smartphones, self-driving cars and other devices.

.. Canada’s AI talent pool is also the third biggest in the world behind the U.S. and the U.K., with about 1,100 researchers in the country

.. An Amazon move to Toronto might also end up being a “Trojan horse” that would draw Canadian workers to the company’s Seattle base rather than improve Canada’s economy

.. “The best and brightest Canadian engineers or marketers that operate under Amazon Canada will see their career path head down to Seattle, not in Canada,”

.. He says companies like Facebook have different needs than startups, noting that staff at Facebook’s AI lab in Montreal are focused on more advanced research.

.. Cole Clifford, a 23-year-old machine-learning engineer at Toronto-based startup , said he received about 50 recruiter emails in his LinkedIn account last month, most of them from Silicon Valley firms

.. the Canadian government spent C$125 million last March to set up new AI “superclusters” in Toronto

.. The goal is to keep researchers in Canada and create 1,000 AI graduates in the next five years

.. “We aren’t realizing that the intellectual property developed by these individuals and all of those economic benefits are rarely in Canada and not taxed in Canada,” Mr. Ruffalo said. “That’s the problem.”

.. One potential avenue for keeping foreign companies in check is for Canada to withhold R&D tax incentives

.. Another option is to create a government-backed sovereign patent fund, similar to what South Korea, Japan and France have launched in recent years, which would protect smaller startups from patent claims by foreign companies

Thomas Friedman: Everyone Is Going All the Way

It is hard to spend a week in Israel and not come away feeling that Israelis have the wind at their backs.

  • They’ve built an awesome high-tech industry
  • Regionally, the Arabs and Palestinians have never been weaker
  • Israel has never had a more unquestioningly friendly United States.
  • Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, asking Israel for nothing in return. The Arab states barely made a peep.

this wind has whetted the appetite of Israel’s settlers and ruling Likud Party to go to extremes

.. the “Likud Party unanimously urged legislators in a nonbinding resolution … to effectively annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, land that Palestinians want for a future state.”

.. Sure, the world would scream “apartheid,” but Israeli rightists shrug that the world will get used to it.

  • Nikki Haley will cover for Israel at the U.N.
  • Sheldon Adelson will keep Trump and the G.O.P. in line.
  • And the Arab regimes, which need Israel to counter Iran, will look the other away.

They think they can annex the West Bank without giving Palestinians citizenship; they’ll just let the Palestinians vote in their own elections.

.. May 17, 1983  .. Israel (backed by the U.S.) imposed virtually all its security demands on a weak Lebanese government, including a framework for normalizing trade and diplomacy.

.. “Going All The Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon.”

I always loved that title — going all the way. It’s a recurring theme out here, and it almost always ends with a “Thelma and Louise” moment — partners driving over a cliff — and so it did with Israel in 1983.

.. everywhere I look today I see people going all the way.

  • I see Republicans trashing two of our most sacred institutions — the F.B.I. and the Justice Department — because these agencies won’t bend to Trump’s will.
  • I see Iran controlling four Arab capitals: Damascus, Sana, Baghdad and Beirut.
  • I see Hamas still more interested in building tunnels in Gaza to kill Israelis than schools to strengthen Palestinian society.
  • I see the crown prince of Saudi Arabia with one hand undertaking hugely important steps —
    • moderating Saudi Islam,
    • letting women drive and
    • opening Saudi society culturally to the world
  • and, with the other hand,
    • abducting the prime minister of Lebanon,
    • buying ridiculously expensive paintings and
    • seizing businesses in the name of combating corruption
  • I see the Taliban killing 103 people in Kabul by packing an ambulancewith explosives and driving it into a crowd.
  • I see Houthis, Yemeni warlords, Iranians, Saudis and the U.A.E. all tearing Yemen apart in the name of God knows what.

  • I see Turkey’s president silencing every critical journalist in his country.

  • I see the Egyptian and Russian presidents eliminating all serious rivals in their upcoming elections.

  • I see Bibi Netanyahu trying to derail a corruption investigation by weakening Israel’s justice system, free media and civil society — just like Trump and for the same purposes: to weaken constraints on his arbitrary use of political power.

  • I see an American president threatening to tear up, or actually tearing up, global agreements he doesn’t like —

    • the Iran nuclear deal,

    • Nafta,

    • the Trans-Pacific Partnership,

    • the Paris climate accord and

    • aid to Palestinians and Pakistanis —

  • but without any clear plan or alternative for the morning after that will improve on the status quo.

  • Worst of all, I see an America — the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms — now led by a serial liar and norms destroyer, giving license to everyone else to ask, why can’t I?

Can anything stop this epidemic of going all the way? Yes: Mother Nature, human nature and markets. They’ll all push back when no one else will.

.. How so?

Gaza has limited hours of electricity each day.

Result: Gaza’s already inadequate sewage plants are often offline, and waste goes untreated straight into the Mediterranean.

Then the prevailing current washes Gaza’s poop north, where it clogs Israel’s big desalination plant in Ashkelon — which provides 15 percent of Israel’s drinking water

.. In both 2016 and 2017, the Ashkelon plant had to close to clean Gaza’s crud out of its filters. It’s Mother Nature’s way of reminding both that if they try to go all the way, if they shun a healthy interdependence, she’ll poison them both.

.. then out of nowhere Iranians back home start protesting against Suleimani’s overreach; they’re tired of seeing their money spent on Gaza and Syria — not on Iranians. And, just as suddenly, the biggest internet meme in Iran becomes an Iranian woman ripping off her veil and holding it upon the end of a stick.

.. And if you don’t think markets have a way of curing excesses, you didn’t read the top story in The Times.

.. Watch out for

  1. the market,
  2. Mother Nature and
  3. human nature.

.. One is the relentless product of chemistry, biology and physics; one is the balance between greed and fear; and the third is the eternal human quest for freedom and dignity. In the end, they’ll shape the future more than any leader or party who tries going all the way.