Proxy Servers

In reaction to the Trump Administration selling us all out to the big telcos, I am dedicating this blog post to proxy services, which we should all start using.

A proxy server is a computer (in the cloud) that redirects your Internet browsing and other traffic away from your ISP to a specialized service that can do a lot of things for you.

Here is how you configure Chrome to proxy your traffic to something other than your ISP.

Here is how you configure OSX to proxy your traffic.

And you will need to select a proxy service. There are plenty of free ones out there. But you get what you pay for. If you want to have a proxy that is reliable and won’t sell your data, you should consider paying for a proxy service.

Here is a good roundup of some popular proxy services.

I am sure that many AVC regulars are using one or more proxy services and I encourage all of you to share with us your favorites.

The Machine Will See You Now

Siddhartha Mukherjee has a good long read in The New Yorker about machine learning and medical diagnosis this week.

In it, he explores whether machines are going to replace radiologists, dermatologists, etc or help them do their jobs better.

He concludes with this observation:

The word “diagnosis,” he reminded me, comes from the Greek for “knowing apart.” Machine-learning algorithms will only become better at such knowing apart—at partitioning, at distinguishing moles from melanomas. But knowing, in all its dimensions, transcends those task-focussed algorithms. In the realm of medicine, perhaps the ultimate rewards come from knowing together. 

We are very excited about the possibilities of using machine learning to help diagnose medical conditions early when they can be treated successfully. We have made a number of investments in this area and I expect we will make many more.

I believe that this is the future of medicine and the sooner we get to it the better off everyone, including the practitioners, will be.

Earthjustice

We are doing a $40k match offer this weekend for Earthjustice. It was $30k as of yesterday morning, but this tweet changed that number yesterday afternoon:

So we are now matching up to $40k in donations to Earthjustice this weekend. If we fill up the entire match, we will raise $80k for Earthjustice this weekend.

So what is Earthjustice?

It is an organization that pursues legal cases against those who are doing things against the interest of our planet.

Here are some examples:

  1. Earthjustice recently won cases in New Mexico and Nevada in which utility companies were trying to reduce the amount of money they pay consumers for their solar power.
  2. Earthjustice litigation led to the shutdown of the Big Sandy coal plant in Kentucky.
  3. In 2014, Earthjustice helped to secure a landmark Supreme Court ruling that upholds the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution.
  4. Earthjustice is currently litigating to halt illegal dumping of oil waste into California’s water supplies.

These are just a small sampling of the legal work that Earthjustice does. You can read more here.

If not Earthjustice, who would file and work on these cases? The interested parties, the polluters, utilities, carbon industry, etc have massive balance sheets that allow them to work the system in their favor. Society needs well funded organizations to fight back for all of us. And that is what Earthjustice does.

Our match offer is good all weekend. If you want to participate, please do so today.

Here is how you can do that:

  1. Go to our EarthMatch page on Crowdrise and give any amount (minimum is $10).
  2. After you complete the donation, tweet your donation out using the blue Tweet button on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
  3. If you don’t use Twitter, you can forward your email receipt by following the instructions on the post donation page. Tweeting is much better though as it will amplify the campaign.

And please post this match offer [https://www.crowdrise.com/EJMatch] on social media and wherever else you might find people who want to support Earthjustice.

EarthMatch

It’s time again for our monthly match, our once a month team match offer for a cause that is helping to protect the country and the world from the current administration.

It was hard to pick a cause this month because the administration has done so many awful things recently (executive order rolling back climate change efforts, working to defund Planned Parenthood and Meals On Wheels, etc, etc). But we’ve landed on climate change because our team this month, Susan, Albert, Amy, Brad, Joanne, and me, feel that our planet needs our help right now and we are going to do something for it today. Plus its going to be Earth Day soon. It is April. And this is no April Fools except for the fool in the White House.

Our cause this month is Earth Justice, an organization whose tag line is “the earth needs a good lawyer” and god knows it does now with these carbon lovers running things in the US.

We are putting up a combined $30,000 match ($5k from each of us) to raise money for Earth Justice this weekend.

Here is how it will work:

  1. Go to our EarthMatch page on Crowdrise and give any amount (minimum is $10).
  2. After you complete the donation, tweet your donation out using the blue Tweet button on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
  3. If you don’t use Twitter, you can forward your email receipt by following the instructions on the post donation page. Tweeting is much better though as it will amplify the campaign.

All of us will be posting and tweeting about this campaign today. Please join us in doing that to get the word out. And please donate to EarthJustice. We will match your donation up to $30k of total donations this weekend.

Let’s go.

Scratch’s 10th Anniversary

The Scratch programming language and community is ten years old and we celebrated that last night at a gala in NYC where the Scratch Foundation raised funds to support their work and they chose to honor me for our K12 CS Ed work in NYC.

Here’s what I said to those who were there, I thought it would be nice to share it with the world.


If you want to be filled with joy, take off the morning, head off to one of hundreds of middle school or high school buildings in NYC, and check out an introduction to software engineering class. Or go visit an elementary school home room where the teacher is doing a computing module in a history or science lesson.

Here is what you will see. Roughly thirty young students, slightly more than half girls, and a rainbow of race, religion, and means. You will see girls in hijabs, boys with afros, kids who speak Spanish or some other language at home, all sitting together working on some sort of creative project, often in teams, solving problems, getting excited, and doing something that challenges them and interests them.

And there’s a good chance that the software they are running on their computers will be Scratch, a visual programming language that makes building software as easy as building a Lego project. But Scratch is way more than a programming language. It is a community, free for everyone to use, now more than 70mm large, where the software creators share what they made with others and let others reuse and remake what they made. It is remix culture for making stuff on a computer.

Scratch is also a gateway drug to serious software engineering. I know many young adults who started on Scratch and now work on some of the most serious programming challenges in computer science at big tech companies, startups, and the top research labs and universities.

Scratch is a gift to the world from Mitch Resnick and his team of colleagues at the MIT Media Lab. You all know the saying, “don’t give someone a fish, teach them to fish”? Well that is what Mitch and his colleagues are doing with Scratch and they are doing it for tens of millions of people all around the world. I suspect the magnitude of this gift they have given the world is on the order of things like the personal computer, the smartphone, and the web. It’s that big.

When I got interested in making sure every young person in the NYC public school system could learn to instruct a machine about seven or eight years ago, I didn’t really know how we were going to make that happen. Like most things I do, our organization, called CSNYC, just threw ourselves at the problem, listened and learned from those, like Mitch, who had been working on the problem for a long time, and we tried lots of things.

One of the things we tried early on at The Academy For Software Engineering was Scratch. AFSE is a new public high school we started five years ago where students learn computer science and which has a few students in attendance tonight. And it has become an essential tool in our CS4All curriculum all over NYC. I see it in elementary school classrooms, I see it in middle schools, and I see it in high schools. I don’t know of a better way to get a student programming a computer than firing up the browser and pointing it to scratch.mit.edu.

There are certainly other tools that are used to teach programming in K12 classrooms across NYC and across the country and the world. Scratch can’t teach everything. But it can get the student going, excited, productive, and hooked. And that is the biggest step.

So while I am honored to be recognized this evening for the work we are doing in NYC and around the country, I want to make sure that everyone knows that our work would be impossible without the fundamental building blocks that have been put in place over the last 15-20 years, and Scratch is right up there at the top of that list.

So thank you to the Scratch Foundation for this honor but mostly thank you for doing what you do and let us all help them keep doing that.

PS – Michael Preston, who runs CSNYC, sent me this photo of the students who sat with us at our table last night and Sean Stern who left a good paying job writing software for Amazon to teach them. A picture tells the entire story.

Climate Change

Yesterday brought us an executive order rolling back much of the (meager) progress we’ve made reducing the US’ reliance on carbon energy and the resulting impact on climate change.

The New York Times has a good editorial piece today on this and other moves this administration has made in its short tenure to protect the carbon energy industry.

I am of two minds on this. On one hand, I am pissed off, annoyed, irritated, upset, and dismayed that we have such a luddite in the White House that he can’t see what carbon energy has done, is doing, and will do to our planet. But on the other hand, I am well aware of the progress that wind and solar and other clean energy technologies have made in the last couple decades and I believe that market forces are on the side of our planet and against the carbon fuel industry and that these market forces are getting stronger every day.

Among other things, we will be doing our monthly match this weekend for a climate change focused non-profit and I hope you all will join us to raise money for climate change and stand up against these outrageous acts.

We are considering the following organizations:

350.org

Natural Resource Defense Counsel 

Earth Justice

Sierra Club

Nature Conservancy

Environmental Defense Fund

We may add others to this list. If you have any thoughts on these organizations or want to propose others, please do that in the comments.

Brain Computer Interface

The WSJ reported yesterday that Elon Musk is developing yet another company, this one based on neural lace technology, to create a brain computer interface.

Neural lace technology, as I understand it, involves implanting electrodes into the brain so that the brain can control machines directly without the need for an IO device like a mouse, keyboard, or voice interface.

I have no idea how advanced this technology is and whether it is ready for commercialization or if this is basically a research project masquerading as a startup.

But in some ways that doesn’t matter if you believe that at some point someone or some group of scientists and medical professionals will figure out how to directly connect our brain to machines without the need of an IO device.

There are so many times that I have thoughts that I don’t do anything with. They sit idle and maybe go nowhere. But if my brain passively passed those thoughts onto a machine for storage or some other action that could lead to a more productive train of thought that could be incredibly valuable. Or it could drive me insane.

I generally subscribe to the theory that all progress is good as long as we understand the negatives of the technology and we (society) engineer controls and the proper repoanes to it (nuclear weapons being​ an example).

But every time something as mind bending as the idea of connecting our brain to external processing, storage, and communication infrastructure comes before me I do have to pause and ask where this is all going.

At times like this it helps to have a belief system (progress is good). I am all for pushing the envelope of progress as long as we spend an equal amount of time and energy thinking through what might go wrong with things like this.

Hat tip to Niv Dror who read yesterday that I wasn’t sure how I was going to post today and encouraged me to write about this topic.

A Return To Eastern Time

For the past few months, I’ve been living and posting from the west coast, as has become our routine during the winter months. Regular readers have likely noticed that new posts show up around 9am/10am ET instead of 6am/7am ET. This will be the last post from the west coast this winter as we are returning home to NYC this afternoon.

I am not entirely sure how I’m going to get a blog post in tomorrow morning as we arrive late and I’ve got an early breakfast, but I always seem to find a way. It certainly will have to be posted by 7:30am ET before I start my day. Maybe I will write it on the plane home this evening.

The winter out west routine works really well for me. It gets me away from the hustle and bustle of NYC and in a bit more reflective and relaxed mood. It’s not a vacation. I work ten hour days, but I start them at 5am and end them mid/late afternoon, in time for a bike ride or a late afternoon yoga class.

I am going to miss all of our friends and family in LA and the incredible weather, vegetation, sights, and smells. Here’s a photo I took from a sunset walk on the bluff with my friend Mark last week.

I will miss this place, but I’m also eager to get back to the big apple.

Board Feedback

One of the most frustrating things about Board meetings is that it is difficult for founders and CEOs to get feedback on them.

I’ve seen some interesting approaches to addressing this problem lately.

Some companies are sending around post meeting feedback forms and asking all attendees to fill them out.

Some CEOs have asked their Board members to send emails to them summarizing their thoughts and take aways after the meeting.

I am a fan of anything that produces meaningful feedback for management from Board meetings.

My preference is to build the feedback function right into the meeting with a post meeting executive session between the CEO and directors where the feedback is delivered face to face in real time.

The big challenge with the post meeting executive session is that all Board meetings seem to run over on time and the end of the meeting is a time crunch.

So making time for the executive session is often challenging. But it is worth it in my view.

Regardless of what technique you are using, if you are running Board meetings and not getting feedback on them, you are doing it wrong.