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Ignorance is bliss?

What connects the dots between American tobacco companies, Donald Trump, Brexit, Facebook and Hans Rosling?

Recently I read an article by Tim Harford titled The Problem With Facts.

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Tim Harford (Senior Columnist at Financial Times; Author of The Undercover Economist) Image: Wikipedia

Tim’s article made me realise the apocalyptic possibility of a world where the facts won’t matter. Tim’s starts with the story of how a PR firm helped America’s Big Tobacco beat the scientific evidence (of connection between lung cancer and cigarette smoke):

“Just before Christmas 1953, the bosses of America’s leading tobacco companies met John Hill, the founder and chief executive of one of America’s leading public relations firms, Hill & Knowlton. …

I watched Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (2015 movie directed by Brad Bird) in Oct 2015 and even though it is yet another science fiction movie (plus it performed below expectations at box office), I found hidden insights related to startups, funding, hiring, education, innovation etc. in the movie.

Scene: At 3:23 minutes in the movie, a kid, Francis Walker, opening his bag containing a jet pack at New York’s World Fair in 1964 in front of another kid Athena.

Francis Walker: My name is John Francis Walker. I am here to win the $50… I took it [i.e. jetpack] apart because of the nitrogen compartment. Seeing as how the bus ride was kind of bumpy and you know nitro. I could’ve used a hydrogen peroxide-powered engine. Bell Labs tested that with their Rocket Belt and I guess there were some issues with maneuverability, flight duration, and stuff. …

Earlier today, Kevin Gallo (the Director of Program Management for the Windows Developer Platform team for Windows 10 #LongestJobTitleEver) announced in BUILD 2016 keynote:

“The Bash shell is coming to Windows. Yes, the real Bash is coming to Windows”

This reminded me about this funny anecdote that dates back to 1998. The protagonist of this real life story, David Korn (the creator of KornShell aka ksh), told the story in a SlashDot interview:

“It was at a USENIX Windows NT conference and Microsoft was presenting their future directions for NT. One of their speakers [Greg Sullivan, a Product Manager at Microsoft] said that they would release a UNIX integration package for NT that would contain the Korn Shell. I knew that Microsoft had licensed a number of tools from MKS [Mortice Kern Systems] so I came to the microphone to tell the speaker that this was not the “real” Korn Shell and that MKS was not even compatible with ksh88. I had no intention of embarrassing him and thought that he would explain the compromises that Microsoft had to make in choosing MKS Korn Shell. Instead, he insisted that I was wrong and that Microsoft had indeed chosen a “real” Korn Shell. After a couple of exchanges, I shut up and let him dig himself in deeper. Finally someone in the audience stood up and told him what almost everyone in the audience knew, that I had written the ‘real’ Korn Shell. …


Amber Jain

CEO @HashGrowth (Y Combinator SUS17) | Growth Enginner, Backend/DevOps | ex-GSoC (Google Summer of Code 2012), ex-Tinyowl, ex-Taskbob

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