Happy New Year! It’s been a transformational year in tech. The golden era of startups ended. Sorry about that. The tech industry finally rolled over a big rock it had ignored and/or leaned on for years, and exposed the squirming morass of sexual harassment beneath. We witnessed major AI breakthroughs, a cryptocurrency megaboom, really truly self-driving cars, and 18 SpaceX launches.
But the Jons are not about those kind of accomplishments. The Jons, an annual award named (in an awe-inspiring fit of humility) after myself, celebrate tech’s more dubious achievers — and hoo boy oh boy were there a lot of those this year. So let’s get to it! With very little further ado, I give you: the third annual Jon Awards for Dubious Technical Achievement!
(The Jons 2015) (The Jons 2016)
THE WHOLE WORLD OWES THIS GUY AN APOLOGY BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN HE ISN’T A LUNATIC AWARD FOR REVEALING THE TRUTH WHICH IS ACTUALLY OUT THERE, WELL KINDA, BUT STILL I MEAN HOLY SHIT
To Tom DeLonge of Blink-182, whose apparently delusional disquisitions about a secret Deep State government organization dedicated to tracking UFOs and harboring mysterious and possibly otherworldly alloys in warehouses, etc. etc. etc., turned out to be, incredibly, at least half true, per the New York Times’s revelation that such a program did exist until 2012. But wait, there’s more! That program’s principals are now employed by — that’s right — DeLonge himself. WTF. Does this mean UFOs are real? Probably not. Was this program pure pork? Very possibly. Is this nonetheless the most excellent story of 2017? You betcha.
THE IF YOU DISRESPECT THE SACRAMENT OF LINEAR REGRESSION ONE MORE TIME I WILL GET OLD TESTAMENT ON YOU AWARD FOR TRULY GODLIKE SELF-REGARD
To Anthony Levandowski, former “Alphabet self-driving car impresario” turned “Otto CEO” turned “Uber self-driving car impresario” turned “man in the dock staring down a whole heap of legal trouble which in turn unearthed even more jaw-droppingly bad Uber behavior,” but believe it or not that’s what this award is even about:
Two years ago, ‘Levandowski founded a religious organization, Way of the Future, to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.” And people say tech is secular! I for one look forward to a novel legal defense arguing that the secular authorities should recuse themselves entirely from his case because of their long problematic history of misunderstanding and suppressing God’s prophets.
THE IF WE COULD PUT DRM ON AIR WE WOULD AND DON’T THINK WE AREN’T THINKING ABOUT IT AWARD FOR COMMODIFYING THE UNCOMMODIFIABLE
It was bad enough when Juicero applied DRM to juice before flaming out spectacularly. Worse yet when DRM was responsible for the virtual genocide of Second Life’s puffins and rabbits. But Reefill really took the cake, or, as Marie Antoinette might put it, ate the brioche: they want people to pay for the right to unlock tap water stations. I sure look forward to our air filters that must be fed quarters/satoshis every few hours so that we don’t have to breathe the raw polluted mutagenic biohazard air of our brave new DRMed dystopian future.
THE WE’RE VERY EXCITED THAT OUR TERRIBLE ARTICLE HAS STARTED SUCH AN INTENSE CONVERSATION THOUGH ADMITTEDLY ON CLOSER INSPECTION IT DOES SEEM TO CONSIST OF EVERY EXPERT IN THE ENTIRE WORLD TELLING US WE DONE FUCKED UP AWARD FOR OVERSTANDING YOUR JOURNALISTIC GROUND
To The Guardian — for decades, one of my favorite, most-trusted, most-read news organizations, for whom I’ve written myself — for their colossal WhatsApp screwup, which, inexplicably and indefensibly, took them five months to accept and semi-sorta-kinda-retract, despite an ongoing chorus of fury and horror from basically every security expert alive throughout that period. For shame.
THE THROW THEM UNDER THE BUS AWARD FOR THE BUCK STOPPING, UH, OVER THERE SOMEWHERE
To Equifax’s former CEO, Richard Smith, who blamed the massive security breach that exposed 143 million Social Security numbers etc. on one engineer not doing their job, rather than on, oh, say, the person responsible for a corporate structure so pathological that the security of the company’s data — and data management is this multibillion-dollar company’s one job — wound up being delegated to a single person with no oversight or backup.
THE IF YOU LIKED IT YOU SHOULD HAVE PUT A BLOCKCHAIN ON IT AWARD FOR BEST CORPORATE REBRAND
To the Long Island Iced Tea comnpany, an unprofitable micro-cap soft-drink manufacturer which eleven days ago abruptly rebranded itself Long Blockchain Corp and promptly saw its stock soar 500%. Now that’s a pivot!
THE DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK AWARD FOR MOST TONE-DEAF ATTEMPT TO TURN DISGRACE INTO A BUSINESS MODEL
To former VC Justin Caldbeck, who retired in disgrace after an array of accusations of sexual harassment, and then, not five months later, tried to reinvent himself as a motivational speaker warning students about the dangers of “bro culture” while also sending more-or-less form emails to people “who have expressed public interest and a passion for this space,” asking for advice regarding “the website that I am making which is intended to be a [information about sexual harassment] resource.”
THE IT SEEMS PRETTY WIFTY AT FIRST BUT ON CONSIDERATION MAYBE WE SHOULD HAVE THESE AROUND EVERY CORNER AWARD FOR MOST INNOVATIVE CONFERENCE FEATURE
To the MAPS Psychedelic Science conference I covered earlier this year, and specifically its Healing Oasis zone for those for whom, uhhhh, the stresses of, uhhhh, the subject matter might have become a little too much. But you know what, the Ethereal blockchain conference a few months later had a yoga and chill-out zone too. Is this a trend? Will future tech conferences include sessions that consist largely of chanting in Haskell and new asanas named “The Drone,” “The Blockchain,” and “The Internet Of Things”? We can but hope.
THE YOU DO HAVE A HISTORY OF BEING A LITTLE UNCLEAR ON BASIC ECONOMIC CONCEPTS AWARD FOR SILLIEST MAJOR CRYPTOCURRENCY PROPOSAL
Note that weasel world major in there, but, I mean, c’mon, otherwise we’d be here all day: the government of Venezuela wants to issue a Proof-of-Work cryptocurrency backed by 5 billion barrels of oil. This is apparently not a joke. It is, however, very silly. I’ll let “Marmot Man” Preston J. Byrne explain exactly why:
This is absurd. Where an issuer can be identified (say, a sovereign) and the thing being bought and sold comes with legal rights (say, dividends from oil production), you obviate the need for mining. If you’re a country, the kind of system you want to run is a permissioned system where you control the validators, not an open system that can be hijacked by a bunch of anonymous electricity thieves in China.”
THE MATH IS BAD AND MUST BE BANNED MMMKAY AWARD FOR FAILING TO UNDERSTAND THE LIMITS OF DEMOCRATIC POWER
To all the clueless morons who keep hoping to ban end-to-end encryption, most notably the current UK government. Repeat after me: encryption is math. What’s more, many implementations of that math are open-source. You cannot ban math. If you force some companies to remove math from their software, people who want to use math will just use different software which does have math. All you will do is strip the benefits of math from the people for whom math is an ancillary rather than primary benefit. Everyone will lose. Please stop being idiots.
(UK government readers: please replace “math” with “maths” in the above paragraph to aid comprehension. I would assume this goes without saying but, well, this does not appear to be the case if you are part of the UK government.)
THE HOKEY INTELLIGENCE AND TECHNICAL COMPETENCE ARE NO MATCH FOR IGNORANT BIGOTRY, KID AWARD FOR CONFUSING WANTING SOMETHING WITH BEING ABLE TO DO IT
To the alt-right’s “parallel Internet,” which has become a land of: “ghost towns, with few active users and no obvious supervision. As technology products, many are second- or third-rate, with long load times, broken links and frequent error messages.” I’m shocked, shocked, that furious bigotry is inversely correlated with intelligence and technical competence.
THE PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN, THE FINE PRINT IN THE CONTRACT, OR THE CURIOUS BEHAVIOR OF THE WEREWOLF IN THE NIGHT-TIME AWARD FOR MYSTERIOUS FINANCIAL SHENANIGANS
To the … one or more entities … some of whom seem to be related in some way to the Bitfinex exchange, and the Tether cryptocurrency, who have apparently been engaged in a whole galaxy of shady, sketchy, manipulative, and/or market-warping cryptofinancial behavior over the last year or so, as doggedly and faithfully documented by yet another anonymous entity known as Bitfinexed, via the latter’s Medium posts and Twitter feed. Got a bunch of free time and an interest in financial skulduggery? Then I encourage you to dive down that rabbit hole and marvel at what you find.
THE FEET, LEGS, TORSO, ARMS, AND HEAD OF CLAY AWARD FOR THE FARTHEST FALL FROM GRACE TO FARCE
To Julian Assange, who over the last seven years has gone from a radical “we open governments” cipherpunk hero to a more-or-less Putin apologist and apparent misogynist obsessed with Hillary Clinton who is now fundraising by selling CryptoKitties. The line between whimsical and pathetic is, I’m afraid, somewhere back thataway.
THE CALLING ME A CONSPIRACY THEORIST MEANS YOU’RE PART OF THE CONSPIRACY AWARD FOR MOST SELF-AGGRANDIZINGLY DELUSIONAL WORLDVIEW
Jointly awarded to Eric Garland, Seth Abramson, and Louise Mensch, whose breathless, incoherent, interminable, and consistently wrong Twitter tweetstorms, which basically try to remix reality with badly written Hollywood legal/political thrillers, exemplify a whole new kind of train-wreck political performance art informed by spectacular lack of self-awareness.
Mensch is perhaps the most unhinged of the three, but Garland is first among equals, because a) he apparently believes there is a million-dollar conspiracy to label him a conspiracy theorist and b) in the months and months and countless, endless tweets since he first rose to prominence with his “Guys, it’s time for some game theory” tweet, he has still, so far as I can tell, never actually discussed any game theory. As such his award shall come with a bonus shaggy-dog bobblehead.
THE REALLY IT DIDN’T EVEN SEEM LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME TO BE HONEST AWARD FOR THE MOST ILL-CHOSEN TATTOO
“Welcome to the future: Your tattoo has a EULA…”
THE THAT’LL SHOW THEM AWARD FOR THE MOST INEFFECTIVE ACT OF TECHNO-POLITICAL DEFIANCE
To the entire parliament of the Republic of Chechnya, who quit Instagram en masse in solidarity with their leader, notoriously brutal thug Ramzan Kadyrov, after he was kicked off the platform. As a consequence of this bold move … no, hang on, turns out there were no consequences whatsoever, unless you count widespread mockery such as this.
THE WORM HAS TURNED AWARD FOR THE MOST INEFFECTIVE ACT OF TECHNO-POLITICAL ADVOCACY
To PotCoin, a cryptocurrency that focuses on marijuana transactions, who sponsored former NBA great Dennis Rodman’s January trip to North Korea in the hope of, and I quote, ‘something that’s pretty positive’ happening. I mean, in fairness, nothing disastrous happened, but it seems to me that peace has not yet returned to the Korean peninsula despite Rodman’s GOAT rebounding skills. Maybe next time?
Congratulations, of a sort, to the winners of the Jons! All recipients shall receive a bobblehead of myself made up as a Blue Man, as per the image on this post, which will doubtless become coveted and increasingly valuable collectibles. (And needless to say sometime next year they will become redeemable for JonCoin.) And, of course, all winners shall be remembered by posterity forevermore.
1Bobbleheads shall only be distributed if and when available and convenient. The eventual existence of said bobbleheads is not guaranteed or indeed even particularly likely. Not valid on days named after Norse or Roman gods.