An exhaustive reverse glossary of the 65+ oblique references in Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley

Rilka Li
9 min readJan 24, 2020


Like roughly half of the tech industry, I read Uncanny Valley this week, and loved the hell out of it. If you haven’t, but would describe yourself as a person in computing, a person around computing, or a person with a computer—go, read it!

Others have already commented on Wiener’s distinctive, no-naming-names style in the memoir when referring to people, places, organizations, and events. I found it at times infuriating, and occasionally beautiful. And to satisfy my own curious completionist soul, I documented all of the references I could find, even the comically obvious ones, and researched the ones I didn’t know. Please enjoy.

Some guesses are still uncertain or altogether unknown — help me out if you have an idea! Kindle locations are in brackets, if you want to glean more context to compose increasingly incoherent but extremely specific Google queries.

  1. Facebook, Twitter
    “A social network everyone said they hated but no one could stop logging in to […] Two hundred million people signed on to a microblogging platform that helped them feel close to celebrities and other strangers they’d loath in real life.” [27]
  2. SpotHero (?)
    “A website that allowed people to rent out their unused driveways raised four million dollars from elite firms on Sand Hill Road.” [36]
  3. Groupon
    “An app for coupon-clipping enabled an untold number of bored and curioous urbanites to pay for services they never knew they needed” [38]
  4. Marc Andreessen
    “A prominent venture capitalist had declared in the op-ed pages of an international business newspaper that software was eating the world” [41]
  5. Amazon, Jeff Bezos
    “An online superstore that had gotten its start in the ninetiess by selling books on the World Wide Web […] Within a few years, the founder, a chelonian ex-hedge funder, would become the wealthiest person in the world and undergo a montage-worthy makeover” [74]
  6. Merger of Random House and Penguin Group
    “That fall, publishing was reeling from the proposed merger of the two largest houses” [91]
  7. Oyster, photo of the Oyster cofounders, Oyster logo
    “The story led with a photo of the three cofounders, men who smiled widely against a pastoral background, like fraternity brothers posing for a graduation shot. All three wore button-down shirts; they looked like they had just shared a good chuckle.” [104]

    On my start date, I arrived at the table to find a welcome gift: a stack of hardcover books about technology, inscribed by the founders and stamped with a wax seal of the company logo: an oyster, unavoidably yonic, with a perfect pearl.” [187]
  8. Artsy
    “The office was not so much an office as a spare table in the loftlike headquarters of a more established startup, one that enabled people to buy and sell art on the internet, at auction” [181]
  9. Zero Dark Thirty
    “The movie opened with an audio montage of telephone calls made by people trapped in the World Trade Center on September 11.” [196]
  10. The Morgan Library & Museum
    I organized team outings, including one to a gilded private library that had belonged to a famed financier, a goliath of nineteenth-century banking.” [231]
  11. Mixpanel
    “When I traveled to San Francisco in the spring, to interview for a customer-support position at a data analytics startup, I didn’t mention it to my ex-Bay Area friends.” [323]
  12. Google
    “A search-engine giant down in Mountain View was famous for its interview brainteasers” [402]
  13. IKEA
    “Decorated with the same lightweight, self-assembly furntiure as my friends’ bedrooms back in Brooklyn.” [470]
  14. Airbnb, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia’s Rausch Street apartment
    “I […] realized that the apartment was owned by one of the founders of the home-sharing platform.” [472]
  15. Peter Shih, Justin Keller, Greg Gopman, Medium (hello!)
    Every three months a different engineer or aspiring entrepreneur, new to the city, would post a screed on a blogging platform with no revenue model. He would excoriate the poor for clinging to rent control and driving up condo prices, or excoriate the tent cities by the freeway for being an eyesore.” [626]
  16. Yoga to the People, Aspiration Tech (?)
    A pay-as-you-wish yoga studio shared a creaky walk-up with the headquarters of an encrypted-communications platform.” [648]
  17. Instagram
    “The previous year, a thirteen-person startup, the maker of a photo-sharing app, had been acquired for a billion dollars by the social network everyone hated.” [716]
  18. Avery Fay (former CTO of Mixpanel)
    “The CTO was in his early thirties, with untended facial stubble and beautiful, wide-set eyes.” [729]
  19. Euro Truck Simulator 2
    “Sometimes he just passed the time between midnight and noon playing a long-haul trucking simulator.” [746]
  20. Local Edition
    “After the event, we traveled in a group to a bar around the corner. The bar was subterranean and meant to look like a speakeasy, with heavy velvet curtains, a live jazz band, and bartenders who referred to themselves as mixologists.” [781]
  21. Suhail Doshi (former CEO of Mixpanel)
    “He was not a formidable physical presence—he had gelled, spiky hair; he was slight; he often wore a green jacket indoors, presumably to fight the chill—but he could scare the hell out of us.” [811]
  22. South Park (?)
    “We ambled through a small park well suited to short corporate lunch dates and low-stakes breakups.” [917]
  23. Gold Club
    “We passed a strip club, a popular spot for parties during developer conferences, that my coworkers claimed had a superlative lunch buffet.” [918]
  24. (Unknown, possibly the Red Vic?)
    “Some slouched outside an old movie theater around the block, recently reincarnated as a modern commune catering to the digital-nomad set, petting their dogs and panhandling.” [935]
  25. Jane Warner Plaza
    “The Castro, a landing strip of innuendo-laden retail descending from a plaza where nudists drank coffee at bistro tables, their genitals stuffed into athletic socks” [943]
  26. Slavoj Žižek
    “I uploaded a collage of a Slovenian philosopher responsible for reintroducing Marxism to a certain subset of my generation” [969]
  27. Big (cocktail bar)
    “[…] the engineer suggested we repair to a tiny cocktail bar int he Tenderloin.” “You tell the bartender three adjectives, and he’ll customize a drink for you.” [985]
  28. Pixar
    “All I knew about his girlfriend was that she was also a software engineer, at a computer animation studio famous for its high-end children’s entertainment.” [1003]
  29. (Unknown)
    “We met at a wine bar around the corner from the analytics startup and settled onto white leather ottomans near the door.” [1006]
  30. Tough Mudder
    “A fear-based endurance event near Tahoe, a massive obstacle course where they swam through dumpsters of ice water and plowed across muddy fieldss while being administered electric shocks” [1136]
  31. HelloFresh (?), Box, Twilio
    “The ads transcended all context and grammatical structure. WE FIXED DINNER (meal delivery). HOW TOMORROW WORKS (file storage). ASK YOUR DEVELOPER (cloud-based communications).” [1149]
  32. Bot & Dolly
    “Ian worked at a small robotics studio that operated out of a large warehouse in Potrero Hill.” [1250]
  33. Google Replicant, Blade Runner
    “The acquisition was part of a multibillion-dollar shopping spree, in service of a new robotics division named after an android from an eighties sci-fi film.” [1255]
  34. (Unknown)
    “In late fall, Ian brought me to a party at the offices of a clandestine hardware startup operating out of an ivy-clad brick warehouse in Berkeley.” [1262]
  35. Devin Balkcom (?)
    “They discussed their graduate research. One had spent seven years trying to teach robots to tie different kinds of knots, like Boy Scouts.” [1275]
  36. The Matrix
    “One evening, a group of us stayed late to watch a science fiction movie about hackers who discover that society is a simulated reality.” [1295]
  37. Stuyvesant High School
    “He reminded me of my high school classmates from a math-and-science magnet in Manhattan” [1339]
  38. Yerba Buena Gardens MLK Jr. Memorial
    “We turned into a corporate park with a brutalist fountain.” [1463]
  39. Zynga
    “[…] rumored to have had a windfall after being an early employee at a gaming company that made a viral farming simulator.” [1521]
  40. The Hard Thing About Hard Things
    “The book offered guidance on how to navigate the choppy waters of entrepreneurship […] Every chapter opened with an epigraph from a rap song.” [1548]
  41. Paul Graham
    “An English computer scientist who was the startup ecosystem’s closest thing to an intellectual.” [1551]
  42. Eddie Rickenbacker’s Bar
    “The bar smelled like a deep fryer, and a fleet of motorcycles hung from the ceiling.” [1565]
  43. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
    “A nonprofit focused on digital civil liberties—privacy, free expression, fair use—that had been founded in the nineties by utopian technologists with a cyberlibertarian bent.” [1597]
  44. Ev Williams
    “I met the team, including a billionaire who had made his fortune from the microblogging platform.” [1837]
  45. GitHub, GitHub’s office, Octocat statue
    “The waiting room was a meticulous replica of the Oval Office, down to the wallpaper. […] A six-foot statue in the lobby of the octopus-cat, cast in bronze and styled as The Thinker.” [1965]
  46. Pavlok
    “[…] and purchased haptic-feedback wristbands to self-administer 150-volt electric shocks.” [2059]
  47. Nooflux
    “I ordered capsules of nootropics from a startup claiming to be manufacturing Human 2.0” [2063]
  48. Hacker News
    “The engineers all read a heavily moderated message board, a news aggregator and discussion site run by the seed accelerator in Mountain View.” [2133]
  49. Grace Hopper Celebration
    “I flew to Phoenix for an annual conference of women in computing.” [2162]
  50. Microsoft, Satya Nadella’s keynote speech at GHC 2014
    “The CEO of a highly litigious Seattle-based software conglomerate encouraged women to refrain from asking for raises.” [2222]
  51. Alan Eustace (former SVP of Knowledge at Google)
    “The best you can do is excel, said a VP at the search-engine giant whose well-publicized hobby was stratosphere jumping.” [2234]
  52. Stanford
    “A renowned private university in Palo Alto that was largely considered a feeder for the tech industry.” [2247]
  53. Cupid’s Span
    ‘The train emerged aboveground and onto the Embarcadero, curving past a gigantic pop-art sculpture of a bow and arrow.” [2289]
  54. The New Republic, Chris Hughes
    “A magazine my mother once described fondly as ‘the ideological left takling to itself but that was now being driven into the ground by its new owner, a billionaire cofounder of the social network everyone hated.” [2453]
  55. Everlane, Warby Parker
    “Half the knowledge workers I encountered had the same thin cashmere sweaters I did, and the same lightweight eyeglasses.” [2462]
  56. Allbirds
    “I ordered a pair of unembellished, monochrome merino-wool sneakers.” [2474]
  57. Patrick Collison
    “I clicked through to othe founder’s profile page. Optimist, fallibilist, read the account bio. CEO.[2489]
  58. Dave McClure, his HN comment
    “A venture capitalist who would later be the subject of sexual harassment allegations chimed in to say that fuck-you money went much further in Thailand.” [2548]
  59. Foreign Cinema
    “I left my apartment to meet Patrick for dinner at a restaurant with a cinema theme.” [2735]
  60. The Mission, César Chávez Street, (José) Castro Street
    “On the side of San Francisco where streets were named after union organizers and Mexican anti-imperialists, speculators snapped up vinyl-sided homes and flipped them.” [2886]
  61. SPIN
    “A Ping-Pong club with truffle fries.” [2943]
  62. Y Combinator New Cities, Ben Huh / Cheezburger, Adora Cheung / Homejoy
    “The accelerator was looking to build a new metropolis, entire from scratch. […] The head of the initiative was the former CEO of a website that served as a repository of […] mostly cats doing improbably things, like riding robotic vacuum cleaners and getting stuck in hamburger buns. […] He would be working alongside another entrepreneur, a woman who had founded an on-demand housekeeping platform” [2972]
  63. Rationally Speaking, Diana Fleischman
    “When the podcast did an episode with an evolutionary psychologist who identified as a transhumanist, bivalvegan classical liberal, she and the host discussed designer babies optimized for attractiveness without once bringing up race or the history of eugenics.” [3034]
  64. Tyler Cowen, Mercatus Center, the Koch brothers
    “Talk turned to a libertarian economist, an academic and director at a conservative research center. The center was bankrolled by fraternal oil magnates, two right-wing billionaires who had wielded unchecked political influence for decades” [3041]
  65. Bret Victor (?)
    “An engineer he admired, a designer of conceptual, experimental user interfaces” [3192]
  66. Souvla
    “A fast-casual Greek restaurant on Valencia Street” [3443]

Thank you to Chris Varenhorst and Jacob Hurwitz for corrections!