By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Irish immigrants have been in California since the gold rush days. On assignment for the BBC World Service, I went looking for the Irish in Silicon Valley and found that you can take the people out of Ireland – you can even take their pubs – but you can’t take Ireland out of the people….
Nevertheless, a new generation of Irish tech immigrants are less nostalgic for the past, and are redefining what being Irish means. They bond over mindset, not heritage; big dreams and an openness to new ideas and cultures. I started my quest at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose where a celebration of St Patrick’s Day and the San Jose-Dublin Sister City program was in full swing….
Here’s my report for the BBC’s Business Matters:
Listen to the podcast at BBC World Service or to the program excerpt below:
Here’s a transcript of my report (edited for length and clarity):
The report opens with traditional Irish singing by the Black Brothers Band “Green Among the Gold: “They played their jigs and reels beneath the skies of their new homeland, For Irish hands have woven strands of green among the gold.”
33 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry, that’s over four times the population of Ireland. With 2.5 Million, California has the highest Irish population of any state. It’s not surprising then that the Irish are making their mark on Silicon Valley…Is it the luck of the Irish, or something else?
Meet Eoghan (Owen) McCabe, CEO of Intercom, a fast-growing startup for business messaging. He and his three Irish cofounders have found a sense of belonging among the software and silicon of the valley.
Eoghan McCabe: One of the most magic things about this place is it does allow you to think big. We’re social beings, we’re all looking for the appreciation, respect, if not love of the people around us…
As well as working on something you’re passionate about, McCabe has this advice:
Eoghan McCabe: Work with people you love and know and respect…don’t try to rush the relationship.
He admits to a chip on his shoulder, an urgency to prove himself. How has being Irish helped him recruit, attract capital, and grow the business?
Eoghan McCabe: The humility goes a long way in the valley…there’s a lot of hubris, people are damn good at selling themselves. So it’s a breath of fresh air when people admit they’re flawed and they can’t predict the future and they might not succeed. That natural humility, that vulnerability, that honest approach goes a long long way…They want to be successful on the basis of their merits. What you don’t find often is people trying to play that Irish card.
Dave Burke, a Dubliner who’s now a VP at Google says his formula for success is seeking out challenges that are “uncomfortably exciting.” But does he seek out Irish techies for his 1000-strong team?
Dave Burke: We’re looking for not really the country culture, but the outlook and perspective culture: the energy, interest in making an impact, being smart. In tech… we want the best and brightest from all round the world, we want diversity…that’s antagonistic to the nationalist perspective. Nationalism looks backward, it looks unsustainable, it’s frightening… It doesn’t readily compute with people. Why wouldn’t you be open to new ideas and people?
But Burke acknowledges that some old traditions endure, especially on St Patrick’s Day.
Dave Burke: A meal of Guinness? Yes! [laughter]
Talking of drinks…Some immigrants were so determined to bring a wee bit of old Ireland to California, that’s literally what they did.
[Audio: Irish pub…] I’ve come to the O’Flaherty Irish Pub in San Jose to meet the owner, Marie O Flaherty.
[Audio: Guinness pouring….Barman: Guinness… 8 dollars ….]
That looks good….
Marie O’Flaherty: This is an authentic Irish pub – it came on a boat from Ireland everything you see – the signs, pictures, the bar, the stools, everything….
Over 15 years ago, her late husband Ray O’Flaherty bought the pub in Dublin on a birthday whim. Today, it’s a landmark in Silicon Valley, and ground central for St Patrick’s Day festivities in the South Bay.
Alison van Diggelen: Is fearlessness part of the recipe for success?
Marie O’Flaherty: You have to have a lot of guts to take it on, self confidence to know whatever it is, you can do it…
Being open to new ideas, like embracing craft beers, keeps the pub popular with the “young uns” she says. The family business nurtures connections with Ireland and the world, through tourism, close links to the Silicon Valley Innovation Center & sporting ties…
Marie O’Flaherty: All the rugby teams…New Zealand did the haka up on the bar here…they drank 11 kegs of beer that night.
Having a heart of gold is also part of the Irish success story…
Marie O’Flaherty: See this poor soul here…He’s a homeless…they give him a drink and send him on his way…You have to just look out for everybody…
Marie O’Flaherty and Mark Finn singing:
Oh Dublin can be heaven, with coffee at eleven, and a stroll down Stephen’s Green
No need to worry, no need to hurry…
If you don’t believe me:
Come and meet me there
In Dublin on a sunny summer’s morning…[laughter]
END of Report
Listen to the BBC Podcast or the audio above for a lively discussion with the BBC’s Roger Hearing and Bloomberg’s Nisid Hajari about the tech community in Silicon Valley; and how the President’s proposed travel ban is already having an impact on business and academia in the United States.
Check out the Fresh Dialogues Silicon Valley “World Series”
Mexicans in Silicon Valley
Africans in Silicon Valley
China in Silicon Valley
Elon Musk continues to make ambitious plans for Tesla Motors, some even call them “ludicrous.” Not content to make a niche product for electric vehicle enthusiasts, he now wants to conquer the mass market, competing in the major leagues against GM, BMW, Ford et al. Musk is promising an annual production of 1 million cars by 2020, a staggering increase from last year’s paltry: 76,000. Is he insane?
On a conference call with Musk and media colleagues this week, Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues learned that Musk is still calm and laser-focused on executing his “Tesla Master plan.” This year is crunch time for Tesla. The future of the company rests on the timely and efficient production of the Model 3, Tesla’s smaller, mass market car. Will demand stay strong, despite intense competition and reservation holders threatening to cancel due to his position on Trump’s economic advisory team? Musk seemed to flounder a bit on this question and refused to disclose the latest reservation numbers, for fear of analysts “reading too much into them.”
During the discussion of Tesla’s 2016 financial results, some anomalies arose. Despite continuing to make massive losses (due to capital investment in the Tesla Factory and the Gigafactories), its share price is still in the stratosphere. Tesla might produce a small fraction of GM and Ford’s output, but the company is valued on par with them. What gives?
“The recent run-up in Tesla stock has less to do, in our view, with anything around the near-term financials, and more to do with the nearly superhero status of Elon Musk,” Barclays analyst, Brian Johnson.
Superhero status? More ludicrousness…The superheroes Tesla is focused on are the mighty robots on the factory floor. Musk has named them after X-men superheroes, like Cyclops and Thunderbird (see photo above); and they’re the ones that’ll have to earn their superhero status as manufacturing goes into top gear in the next few month.
“Tesla is going to be hell-bent on becoming the best manufacturer on earth.” Elon Musk
The BBC’s Fergus Nicoll invited me on Business Matters to help explain more.
Listen to the full podcast on BBC World Service (starts at 37:30) or the 5 minute clip below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
BBC Host, Fergus Nicoll: Tesla stock has hit record highs, soaring 50% since December. With investor confidence growing that Tesla will deliver its Model 3 on time. Let’s explore this with Alison in Silicon Valley. Before we get into the nitty gritty of Model 3, and the other numbers, I know you watched Elon Musk do the webcast that go with the Q4 figures. What kind of presentation did he come up with?
Alison van Diggelen: I listened to the (live conference call) podcast. Elon Musk was on the podcast with his (retiring) CFO, answering questions from the media. They were generally upbeat. Elon Musk always over-promises how soon his vehicles will be delivered, but he is confident that they’re going to start deliveries of their Model 3 in July of this year, for employees first…beta testing for employees. He’s hoping for the mass rollout starting in September of this year. They’re pretty bullish about that.
Fergus Nicoll: Here’s the thing: Tesla has a valuation pretty close to Ford. But compared to Ford it makes about five cars! So what are we seeing? A massive future priced into that?
Alison van Diggelen: That’s right. Last year, Tesla delivered 76,000 vehicles (compared to Ford’s 2.5 million), but Elon Musk is very bullish. He’s aiming for the factory to produce 500,000 cars by the end of 2018, and one million a year by 2020. He’s ludicrously ambitious. Brian Johnson, who’s an analyst with Barclays, called this run up in the Tesla stock more “Elon Musk superhero status” than short term financials. What Elon Musk says, he often delivers….eventually.
Tesla merged with SolarCity, the rooftop solar provider, so that is also giving an upside. They’ll be able to cut costs: Tesla showrooms will also become showrooms for the SolarCity solar panels. They’re also doing the other side of the equation: energy storage….
Fergus Nicoll: The household and business batteries.
Alison van Diggelen: Exactly.
Fergus Nicoll: The thing is, Americans drive insane distances. Electric cars have to go a long way….the infrastructure has to catch up with the company?
Continue listening to the podcast clip above, or at BBC Business Matters for more about:
The ambitious supercharger network expansion
The fact that all cars will be equipped to be fully self-driving
Why the market continues to bet on Elon Musk
For Tesla to succeed in becoming “the best manufacturer on earth,” three big questions remain:
- Will the Tesla Model 3 be delivered on time and on budget this year?
- Will demand stay strong for Tesla, despite stiff competition from GM, Ford, BMW, Nissan, etc?
- Can Tesla make the huge capital investment required (for the Tesla Factory and Gigafactories expansion), without running out of money?
Read more about Tesla and Elon Musk from Fresh Dialogues archives
It’s beginning to feel a lot like 1984. Today, some politicians routinely use the term “fake news” to discredit any news they don’t like, or any news organization that asks hard questions. The term “alternative facts” is even being pushed by certain White House advisors. Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues investigates for the BBC World Service.
Online, how big is the actual fake news epidemic? No one knows for sure, but the the scale of the problem is potentially huge. Facebook has almost 2 billion users, Twitter has over 300 million; and according to Pew Research, about 60% of Americans get some news from social media. Assuming even a small percentage of users have nefarious intent, eliminating fake news and online abuse is a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. But after accusations of Facebook turning a blind eye on its rampant fake news and potentially impacting the U.S. election; the pressure to effectively and transparently root out fake news and online abuse is likely to intensify, especially with upcoming national elections in Europe.
“I think fake news impacted the election, just by the sheer volume… It can change your perception of the world…Even people who understand news and research can be tricked by fake news.” Adam Schrader, one of 25 former editors in Facebook’s fact-checking team. The entire team was fired by Facebook last summer, just before the election.
At the recent Watermark Women’s conference in Silicon Valley, I spoke with Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, CEO of Cell-Ed, an online education startup. Here’s the report I filed with the BBC’s Click Radio. It aired today on the BBC World Service.
Listen to the BBC’s “Fake it or Leave it” podcast here (first story in the program lineup) or listen to the 8 minute clip below:
Here’s a transcript of my report, edited for length and clarity.
Click Host, Gareth Mitchell: Misinformation is nothing new, as we heard last week from classics professor, Mary Beard. Today fake news has become a news story in itself. It’s becoming political, it’s undermining social media organizations, and mainstream media. Twitter and Facebook are taking action, but with so much being posted, isn’t it a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the tide, trying to monitor and correct fake news? Our Silicon Valley reporter Alison van Diggelen has been seeking some answers from the big social networking companies and catching up with CEOs of startups, people like this:
Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: Technology has always been a source of incredible opportunity, unlimited potential pathway and it’s always been destructive.
Alison van Diggelen: Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami is just one of many critics who argue that social network platforms are not doing enough to curb the dark side of the internet.
Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: I work in community technology access centers…Everybody tells me worldwide, if you have 100 countries…with all these community access centers, isn’t that wonderful? You can bring digital media, books to that village. I say: it’s always double sided – by day maybe it’ll be used for education, and health access, and how to get a better job. But by night it becomes a digital brothel…
Alison van Diggelen: What should be done about that?
Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: Own it! Twitter not taking a stand around the blatant misogyny and hate language… strange politeness in the face of atrocity is very frustrating.
Alison van Diggelen: What do you feel people like Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, the Twitter board should do?
Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: There’s a responsibility to – at the very least – do one or two steps. Untruth is seen as truth because it’s relayed over a screen with a picture. You believe somebody’s story…If that story is a blatant lie, have a way to say “untrue.” Hashtag untrue.
Kara Swisher interviewed Sheryl Sandberg about why she didn’t attend, or even post, about The Women’s March. Sadly, Swisher didn’t ask Sandberg what she’s doing about fake news on Facebook. Next time, let’s hope!
Alison van Diggelen: I took Rothenberg-Aalami’s complaints to Twitter who gave an off-the-record account of their completely new approach to abuse online. Twitter’s VP, Ed Ho, is leading the online safety efforts (via @TwitterSafety) and last week demonstrated his “test-fast, fail-fast, adjust-fast” mantra by rolling out a new feature – eliminating user list notifications – and then promptly reversing it within hours, after an avalanche of user complaints. Last year, Twitter formed a Safety and Trust Council, partnering with over a dozen organizations to tackle online abuse. One of the members, Emma Llanso, a director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, cautions against a one-size fits all solution.
Emma Llanso: The same tools that can be helpful in protecting against harassment by blocking abusive content and taking down accounts can be weaponized themselves if you don’t have the right safeguards in place.
Alison van Diggelen: Without careful protections, trolls can use blocking tools to silence their victims. Although Twitter has promised an open dialogue, Emma Llanso is concerned about lack of transparency.
Emma Llanso: If I had my druthers, we’d be getting a whole lot more reporting from Twitter about the numbers…what is the scope and scale of the content moderation? What is the level of content that gets removed, what are biggest issues? It would help people pin down: harassment, terrorists content, hate speech…How are these moderation processes affecting public discourse?
Alison van Diggelen: As for fake news, why can’t Twitter and Facebook simply flag or censor what they deem fake? Llanso has this advice:
Emma Llanso: That puts way too much power in the company’s hands…Having one centralized decider is a really risky dynamic to set up…
Alison van Diggelen: I asked Facebook to comment and was directed to Mark Zuckerberg’s first post on fake news: We do not want to be arbiters of truth, he wrote.
Last week Zuckerberg wrote this update:
“Our approach will focus less on banning misinformation, and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information, including that fact checkers dispute an item’s accuracy.” Mark Zuckerberg
(To me, this sounds like an endorsement of the Orwellian concept “alternative facts.” – AV)
But Facebook fired its entire fact-checking editorial team after criticism last summer that it had a liberal bias and targeted right-wing fake news.
Adam Schrader was one of those 25 editors.
Adam Schrader: I think fake news impacted the election, just by the sheer volume of it that appears… Facebook has a bubble problem. It can change your perception of the world…Even people who understand news and research can be tricked by fake news.
Alison van Diggelen: Schrader told me he routinely flagged between 50 and 80 fake stories a day. He questions Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that fake news on Facebook is less than 1%.
Adam Schrader: I would question that statistic. I think it would be much higher…in the 5-10% range.
Alison van Diggelen: Since December, Facebook has begun partnerships with five media outlets, including the Associated Press and Snopes, that flag “suspect” stories…. But the AP’s Lauren Easton, told me that it’s only fact checked 36 stories since the project began. Facebook recently announced fact checking collaborations with German and French media. With national elections there this year, the pressure for Facebook and Twitter to tackle the deluge of fake news and abuse will only intensify.
Gareth Mitchell: So Bill Thompson, misinformation is nothing new is it?
Bill Thompson: I have a problem with the term “fake news” but the issue’s been around for a long time. In 2010, my Wikipedia entry was hacked to declare that I’d had a heart attack and died. I corrected it. (Today) it seems to me that there are actually four different things going on:
- There’s the thing that was fake news, which is overt lying by people who want to get clicks on their website and make money.
2. There’s fake news which is propaganda, designed to promote a particular ideology.
3. There’s just out and out lying, like Bill Thompson is dead…May be a joke? For whatever reason.
4. And then there’s stuff you don’t want people to read, which they* call fake news to distract you from what they’re really saying.
(*Donald Trump routinely calls unfavorable news stories “fake news” – AV)
The problem that Facebook, Twitter, and everyone have is that no single tool, or approach or set of practices can possibly deal with all of those, so there will always be some material that fails to get stopped or fails to get flagged. We do need to be a better educated and more aware population to look out for these sorts of things, and not instantly believe everything we read on a screen, just because it’s on a screen.
Gareth Mitchell: I absolutely agree and that extends to things that people listen to on this radio program, any information you receive. Check it out for yourself.
Bill Thompson: Learn how to check it.
Gareth Mitchell: It’s always been an important skill…all the more pertinent given what’s going on in these times.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
It’s day four of the Donald Trump presidency and he’s already infuriated women’s rights campaigners, the environmental movement and free trade advocates by signing controversial executive orders. Tech mastermind, Steven Levy put it best in his latest tech report: God help us all.
Millions around the world took to the streets within hours of Trump’s inauguration, in anticipation of these actions and more to come. The San Jose Women’s March took place here in Silicon Valley on Saturday, and in my twenty years in the South Bay, I’ve never witnessed such an outpouring of alarm, dismay and rage. One 70-year old educator I interviewed said that this was the first time in her life, she’s ever felt the need to stand up and take to the streets: not for women’s rights, not for civil rights, but to protest Trump’s presidency. And she was fired up. Today, my report aired on the BBC World Service.
One protester had this message for Silicon Valley tech leaders:
“Lead with faith, lead with truth, and lead with a kind of human dignity that is absent in a lot of our daily conversations…They gotta get rid of the fake news, people are being led down a kind of primrose path, thinking that by being angry and violent they’re going to create a better world for the future…that’s not the path, the truth, the reality that everyone can see here today,” Patrick Adams, science teacher at Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose
Listen to my report and the discussion at the BBC World Service (from 2:40 in the podcast)
Gareth Mitchell: The President Elect became President on Friday….the crowds were back on the streets on Saturday, this time in protest at the new administration. The marches around the world were led by women, but in Silicon Valley, the tech people, male and female were venting their concerns too, along with scientists, and entrepreneurs, all of them worried by Trump’s stance on trade, innovation, science and the climate. It comes in an era of disquiet about Facebook and fake news, of post truth and cyber threats. To gauge the sentiment, our reporter in Silicon Valley, Alison van Diggelen, was at one of the marches.
Alison van Diggelen: I’m here at the San Jose Women’s March in the center of Silicon Valley and the women are out in force…
Yogacharya O’Brian (reading her poem, “Forward Women”): Not to the back of the line, because Delores walked in front; not to be held down, not even by gravity because Sally soared in space.
Alison: That was Yogacharya O’Brian, founder of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment and one of the rally’s powerful speakers.
Alison van Diggelen: Silicon Valley took to the streets in record numbers on Saturday to protest the country’s new president. Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts and infrastructure investment could benefit the tech community; the U.S. economy and many of those marching in Silicon Valley. As could his plans to repatriate millions of dollars of tech companies’ overseas profits. Last month Trump even hosted a cordial summit with some top tech leaders. Despite all this, many in this community are fearful of what his presidency might mean for innovation, transparency, multiculturalism, and social progress.
Nick Shackleford: I’m here because of Trump’s election…he is bringing America back in time instead of leading us forward. As a nation we need to go forward and not backwards.
Alison van Diggelen: Here in the world tech center of innovation, what do you expect from this community of innovators?
Nick Shackleford: Like you said, we are innovators and I think we’re going to continue to innovate and lead the country – and sometimes the world – in the innovations that are being developed here in the Silicon Valley. And we have a lot of millionaires and billionaires who are liberal, believe in the cause and are true Californians and they will continue their fight, be it with their money, and their power or just lending their voice to causes that are important to our nation.
Alison van Diggelen: What would you say to Mark Zuckerberg and people like him with power?
Nick Shackleford: I think Mark Zuckerberg did not to enough to stop the fake news. I think he cared more about (getting it re-shared and) his personal stake in his company…and he can’t convince me otherwise. He’s to blame for a lot of the fake media.
Alison van Diggelen: What would you have him do?
Nick Shackleford: I’ve reported about 100 things in the last six months and nothing has been in violation of their policy, but I’ve seen other people get the same picture and be sent to Facebook jail for it. So he’s not consistent, there needs to be more transparency on this fake news fight.
Patrick Adams: They gotta get rid of the fake news, people are being led down a kind of primrose path thinking that by being angry and violent they’re going to create a better world for the future…that’s not the path, the truth, the reality that everyone can see here today.
Alison van Diggelen: Patrick Adams was one of many men who came out to support the women’s march. Like many protesters who couldn’t keep quiet, he was energized by the proliferation of fake news, and Trump’s use of “alternative facts” which continues this week in the heated dispute over his inauguration numbers. Adams had a message for Silicon Valley’s tech leaders….
Patrick Adams: Lead with faith, lead with truth, and lead with a kind of human dignity that is absent in a lot of our daily conversations …Everywhere I go I see wonderful, amazing, beautiful people working together to make this future happen and I also see people who’re giving up…either to escape into an alternate world of the Internet or they want to pretend that this doesn’t affect them. But if affects everyone. Everyone is involved.
Yogacharya O’Brian: We do not wait for you to lead with sons and with daughters in hand, with husbands and with wives, lovers and friends by our side…we march!
Crowd chanting, cheering
[End of report]
Gareth Mitchell: What do you make of the comments you heard there, Bill Thomson?
Bill Thomson: It was fascinating to hear via Alison’s excellent report just how confused people are, and how uncertain they are; and how many different perspectives there are. For me, as a member of the press, what we need to be doing is reporting effectively on what’s actually happening, not just reporting on an agenda set by politicians…So the limitations on women’s reproductive rights, the Keystone XL pipeline, the Dakota Access pipeline, the Transpacific Trade Partnership, the nomination of the Supreme Court justice, are all far more important than the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.
There’s a real sense from Alison’s report that many people are confused because they don’t know what’s actually going on and are trying to project on that. It’s the role of us in the press to cut through that and be much clearer about what’s actually happening and not get dragged into debates or agendas set by other people.
Read more stories about Donald Trump on Fresh Dialogues
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
On this historic inauguration day – that most of us thought we’d never see – I was invited by the BBC to opine on Trump’s likely impact on the economy, Silicon Valley tech in particular. My remit: to balance some of the pro-Trump hoopla from other guests, businessmen from the U.K. and U.S. who seem to believe that he will “make America (and the UK) great again” overnight. You can listen to the BBC podcast here. Our conversation starts at 20:50.
Here’s a transcript of my conversation with the BBC’s Colletta Smith and Mickey Clark on the program “Wake Up To Money” (edited for length and clarity):
BBC’s Colletta Smith: Also joining us is Alison van Diggelen, a Silicon Valley journalist. Good morning Alison.
Alison van Diggelen: Good morning. Good to join you.
Colletta Smith: You’re in Silicon Valley where businesses have voiced quite a lot of concern about the incoming president. What are your feelings this morning, waking up in Silicon Valley ahead of what’s going to be such a momentous day?
Alison van Diggelen: It’s going to be a very historic day…But the fact is, over 140 tech leaders signed a letter saying Donald Trump is a danger to innovation* and as you know Silicon Valley is an innovation hub, it’s one of the engines of growth for the United States. So there’s a deep feeling of malaise and fear…but at the same time business leaders are pragmatic, they’ve accepted that he will be our president and there’s a “business as usual” mentality amidst that underlying feeling of fear and uncertainty.
*The exact words of the letter were: “Trump would be a disaster for innovation. His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy — and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth.”
Continue listening to the podcast
We also discuss Trump’s protectionist, anti-science, anti-environment stance, the fears of a trade war; his cabinet picks and his potential negative impact on jobs, especially clean tech jobs.