Two HN Announcements

The HN community feels like it owns HN, and we like it that way. HN has become an important institution in the tech community, and though it was initially developed for YC founders it’s clearly evolved into much more than that.

We’ve always felt that the best way for HN to benefit YC is simply for it to maximally benefit the community, which mostly means keeping the story and discussion quality as high as possible. We read it ourselves, so we want that as much as anyone.

In that spirit, we have a couple of announcements to make: an organizational one from Sam, and a moderation one from Dan.

Making HN autonomous within YC (Sam)

We’re going to factor out Hacker News into its own autonomous unit of YC. It has de facto been like that, but it feels like a good idea to make it official. Going forward, HN will no longer formally be part of the investment branch of YC, but will be its own separate thing.

Everyone at YC knows that it’s vital for HN to have full editorial independence, and we have absolute trust in Dan’s decision-making in product, engineering, and moderation. Dan will report directly to me, though I don’t plan to be very involved–other than as an enthusiastic user (who would, however, prefer that it be easier to read on a phone) and someone who’s always happy to bounce around ideas. We’re also setting it up so that Dan will have the option of reporting directly to the YC Board of Overseers instead if he ever decides to.

Dan is an incredibly talented person that really understands the art and science of HN; I’m excited to see what he has planned for the future.

Modnesty I: More Community Moderation (Dan)

HN’s approach to moderation has always been three-pronged: software automation where possible, human intervention where necessary, and as much community moderation as users can provide. Our long-term vision for HN is to have the site be as self-regulating as possible, and we’ve been working on a project code-named Modnesty (for ‘moderation amnesty’) to develop new ways to do that. Today we’re releasing the first experiment from this project. The idea is to let the community make the final call on decisions made by HN moderators and software.

Currently, when an account is banned, a software filter trips, or enough users flag a post, the post goes [dead], meaning only users with ‘showdead’ turned on in their profile can see it. The trouble is that some posts end up [dead] when they shouldn’t be. Banned accounts sometimes post good comments, software filters sometimes have false positives, and users sometimes flag things unfairly.

Today’s new feature lets users rescue [dead] posts on a case by case basis. Beside the ‘flag’ link, you’ll see a ‘vouch’ link to click when a post should not be [dead]. When enough users vouch for a post, the software will unkill it. Think of vouches as the inverse of flags: a flag says that a post shouldn’t be on HN; a vouch says it should.

We’ll review all vouched posts to make sure that they don’t violate the HN guidelines. If we notice abusive vouches, we’ll take away vouching rights (again, by analogy with flagging), so please vouch responsibly! Only rescue civil, substantive contributions to the site.

You need a little karma (currently 30) to see flag links, and the same threshold applies here. If you don’t have 30 karma but would like to participate, email and we’ll try to help.

I called this feature an experiment above. We’d like everyone to understand that when we say ‘experiment’, we really mean it. It’s important to us to be able to roll out new ideas and drop the ones that turn out lame. HN’s simplicity is its core design value, and we shudder at the thought of only adding features and never removing them. The freedom to retract bad experiments (like we did recently [1]) enables us to try more things, which benefits HN most in the long run. So if Modnesty turns out to have unintended bad consequences–which I hope won’t happen, especially since we’ve been testing it for a while–we’ll withdraw it. As always, whether it turns out bad or good is mostly a function of your feedback, so please be generous with it!

1. See my edit of

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Microsoft reshuffles into 3 businesses for financial reporting

Microsoft today changed how it will report its financial performance, reducing the number of operating divisions to three, in an effort to align with CEO Satya Nadella’s emphasis on the cloud and productivity platforms, and opportunities to reap revenue from customers after they’ve moved to Windows 10.

The three operating segments — Intelligent Cloud, Productivity and Business Processes and More Personal Computing — replace six earlier divisions, which were roughly organized on a consumer versus commercial basis.

Microsoft’s previous financial reporting had been in place for just two years. Then-CEO Steve Ballmer reconfigured both the company and its financial reporting.

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Raspbian, the Raspberry Pi OS, Updated with Interface and Performance Improvements

Raspbian, the de facto operating system on the Raspberry Pi, got a big update today. The update’s based on the most recent version of Debian, called “Jessie,” and brings along a bunch of minor interface tweaks and performance improvements.

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Academia Pushes A New Kind of Peer Review For Research With ‘Sessions’

richard-price For several years, Richard Price has had a quixotic dream to make cutting-edge academic research universally available to everyone. “I want a world where a 19-year-old kid in China can access a paper he’s interested in about lithium ion batteries on his phone on the subway and it’s validated by others and it’s in his own language,” Price said. It’s been a… Read More

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Why Kickstarter Became a Public Benefit Corporation (Video)

Meet Kickstarter co-founder and CEO Yancey Strickler. Timothy Lord asked Yancey about Kickstarter’s recent move to become a Public Benefit Corporation, which is, according to Wikipedia, “a specific type of corporation that allows for public benefit to be a charter purpose in addition to the traditional corporate goal of maximizing profit for shareholders.”

This corporate restructuring has no tax advantages, and creates a slight increase in paperwork, Yancey says. So why did they do it? Please view the video (or read the transcript, which has more info than the video) to find out.

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In an age of tablets and e-books, high school testing still relies on the TI-83 graphing calculator

ti-83We live in a world where Amazon is just about to release a $50 tablet which puts all the power of the Internet at anyone’s disposal. (Or all the power, at least as filtered through Amazon’s own native apps.) Many people, including high school students, already have that power at their disposal via smartphones.

But this is also a world where high school math students have to shell out $100 for the same TI-83 graphing calculator that their parents used twenty years ago (or one of its descendants, at least)—instead of using a free app that they could simply download to their phone. Why? Mic reports that the main reason is tradition. Texas Instruments has managed to get its calculators written into the standardized tests used by many schools. And inertia being what it is, it’s really hard to change something like that once it gets set down on paper.

It’s a profitable technological incumbency that is nearly monopolistic. In the 2013-2014 school year, Texas Instruments sold 93% of all graphing calculators in the U.S. The Washington Post estimates that TI is manufacturing the calculators for $15 to $20 and achieving a more than 50% profit margin, making calculators one of the company’s most profitable items.

There actually is an app that could be just as useful, called Desmos, available as a web, Android, or iOS app. The problem is, it has an uphill battle to get approved. Even leaving aside how tradition has enshrined the TI to the point where it’s still considered worthwhile to manufacture and sell an expensive, obsolete bit of technology, you have the problem that kids could get distracted by their devices’ other functions. (Of course, kids are fully capable of programming the TI-83 to play video games, so you could make a case that they’re going to find ways to distract themselves no matter what you give them.)

And, although the Mic article doesn’t bring this up, there’s also the question of kids using their Internet-connected devices to cheat on tests. They’re going to have to figure out some way around that if they want a computerized device to become an acceptable alternative.

(Though if you think kids couldn’t find some way to use a programmable, computerized calculator to cheat on tests, such as by programming their notes into it, perhaps you aren’t acquainted with the ingenuity that even an average high school student can develop when his grade is on the line.)

It remains to be seen if and how long it will take for Desmos or something like it to unseat the physical TI calculators. currently being used in standardized testing. But I think it’s a great illustration of just how much school isn’t like the real world anymore. It used to be that using TI calculators in high school made sense, since those were going to be the tools you had to work with in business and science. But now…who even uses those anymore except for high school classes? Everyone else is using smartphone and tablet apps by now.

(Found via BoingBoing.)

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Tech-Savvy Lawyers and Bad Baselines

I am more expert than most of the people in the world about The Wire, James Baldwin, Breaking Bad, David Foster Wallace, the films of Quentin Tarantino, and many, many other topics. This is not because I know much but because I know anything. The baseline used makes my claim to status meaningless. Only a minute percentage of the world’s population has any familiarity  with the aforementioned. Of course I know more than people who know nothing. Being more expert than they does not mean I am an expert (I’m not).

Often, when we judge something, including ourselves, we encounter a reference class problem. Last season, was Mike Miller of the Cleveland Cavaliers a good or bad basketball player? Of the already small percentage of the basketball playing population that makes their high school squad, only .03% make it to the NBA. So Miller is, inarguably, among the basketball playing elite. At the same time, in the 52 games his coach chose to play him, Miller only averaged 2.1 points on 32.5% shooting to rank dead last in player efficiency rating among all NBA players. Miller, a 15-year veteran nearing the end of a solid career, was so unproductive that you get 816 hits on Google for  “corpse of Mike Miller”. If you are putting together a pick-up basketball squad at your local rec center, probability suggests that Miller remains a phenomenal addition. If you are building an NBA rotation, you hope to have better options. Playground and NBA players are different reference classes.

When I became a lawyer, I was immediately ordained “tech savvy” because of the reference class. My reputation was sealed when the partner in the adjacent office (an otherwise brilliant lawyer) was screaming about the computer eating valuable documents. I superheroed in to press CTRL+Z (undo). When the files resurrected, he stared at me like I was some sort of wizard. From then on, I handled ediscovery on his cases despite the inconvenient fact that, in the beginning, I knew jack all about ediscovery (that’s changed). It required dangerously little knowledge of, and facility with, technology to be tech savvy among the reference class of lawyers.

It was, of course, one thing for technophobic partners to think I knew everything about technology because I demonstrably knew more than they did. It was yet another for me to believe I was tech savvy in any meaningful sense. Yet, I started to believe just that because, well, ego. After all, I spent my days knowing more about technology than almost everyone I encountered. And those who did know more (IT professionals, word processors, and our bad-ass librarian who switched her keyboard to Dvorak) were not lawyers. The word “lawyer” was doing most of the heavy lifting in the appellation “tech-savvy lawyer.”

I had my delusions of tech adequacy punctured by a client. He happened to be in my office and asked me to turn a document into a PDF. I obliged. I printed the document, walked to the printer, walked to the scanner, and returned to my desk where he was sitting mouth agape. For months, I had been the sole associate on a PDF-intensive arbitration. He was doing the math on how much time I must have already wasted. He was apoplectic. If I had not already proven my value as a lawyer, he would have had me thrown off the case. But I had. And he didn’t. Still, he had some words with the partner (the same partner who had designated me as a tech expert).

Let me be clear: I believed I was tech savvy despite the fact that I did not know how to convert a Word file into a PDF.

I was absolutely embarrassed. I changed my whole approach to technology based on the incident. But, at the time, how was I supposed to know? Everything is obvious once you know the answer. It obvious to me now that converting one filetype (e.g., a Word document) to another filetype (a PDF) is something that the machine should do. But, to that point, no one had ever taught me that. Without training, how was I supposed to know that which I did not know?

This is the problem of metacognition. In the book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performance from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin explains the role metacognition plays in superior performance (h/t Farnam Street):

The best performers observe themselves closely. They are in effect able to step outside themselves, monitor what is happening in their own minds, and ask how it’s going. Researchers call this metacognition – knowledge about your own knowledge, thinking about your own thinking. Top performers do this much more systematically than others do; it’s an established part of their routine.

Metacognition is important because situations change as they play out. Apart from its role in finding opportunities for practice, it plays a valuable part in helping top performers adapt to changing conditions…[A]n excellent businessperson can pause mentally and observe his or her own mental processes as if from the outside:…Am I being hijacked by my emotions? Do I need a different strategy here? What should it be?

…Excellent performers judge themselves differently from the way other people do. They’re more specific, just as they are when they set goals and strategies. Average performers are content to tell themselves that they did great or poorly or okay. The best performers judge themselves against a standard that’s relevant for what they’re trying to achieve. 

Not only do people not know what they don’t know, but their ignorance begets confidence. Metaignorance as the source of unfounded confidence is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Illusory superiority means that the people most in need of assistance (e.g., training, education, help) are the least likely to recognize their need.

And with confidence comes ego. Many people who have declared themselves tech savvy (or some other positive designation) are only interested in that which confirms their self image. Faced with the choice of changing their self conception and proving there is no need to do so, most get busy on the proof. For lawyers, this urge towards ego preservation combines with a psychological profile that sees any admission of fallibility as an admission of incompetence.

Thus, in administering my tech competence assessment, I often come across ‘tech-savvy lawyers’ who, like I was, are merely tech savvy for a lawyer. They do well on the assessment. But they do not do perfectly. They then go to great lengths–one penned a 1,500 word memo–to explain why the features they struggled with should not be tested. While I think there is a worthwhile discussion to be had about who should be training on which skills (a later post), it amazes how people are able to delude themselves that they already know everything worth knowing. Any assessment that fails to completely confirm that self image is flawed.

When I then explain to them where the disputed features fit into a rational legal workflow, as well as the important concepts of fluency and fluidity (another later post), they, more often than not, begrudgingly concede that I may have a point. Maybe, just maybe, they might have some worthwhile things left to learn. But…there is always a but…but, they inquire, how can I expect the majority of lawyers or staff to score perfectly on a first attempt when they themselves–the cream of the crop within the profession–did not do so? I, of course, have no such expectation.

There are lawyers and staff who have flown through my assessment modules because there are people who are both legal professionals and tech savvy. But not many. For most people, there are areas where they could use training. That’s the point. Competence-based assessments are designed to identify who needs training. on what, and then to verify the training has been effective. An assessment that everyone, trained and untrained, can pass on the first attempt is pointless.

Our problem is not the dearth of individuals who operates above the profession’s tech baseline. Our problem is that the baseline is so low. My goal is to raise the baseline.

ADDENDUM: All that said, I often feel like an impostor. As I detail above, I had my bubble burst with respect to my own tech savvy. It was the epiphany I needed to start taking tech and tech training seriously. Converts make the greatest zealots. But I’ve never really recovered. Indeed, the more I learn, the more I recognize how little I know. Lawyers are no longer my reference class for properly using technology. People who are genuinely expert at using technology are my reference class. And they make me realize that I still have so far to go. It makes my evangelism feel a tad hypocritical.

But this particular brand of humility is also helpful. I know enough to know how much low-hanging fruit is within our immediate grasp. But my lack of confidence in my own expertise also helps me empathize with those who are unaware of their own ignorance or who struggle with their ego. I’ve been there. Just because you can get better at using tech does not mean you are stupid, lazy, or bad at your job. It just means that you can get better at using tech, which you should do. Progress, not perfection, is the objective. And getting better is evidence of a commitment to excellence, not an indictment of past performance.


Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.

The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.

Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).


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Tenley Campus Construction Update, Sept. 21-25

What a difference can a few weeks make! Construction on the Tenley Campus is in high gear, and we are proud to announce that the project is entering its final phase. We are sharing some photos we took during August and September, so that you could
track our construction progress. MORE

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