There is a running joke on the internet that the business community that inhabits San Francisco and its surrounding area has the memory of a goldfish. I won't bother cluttering this space with examples; you can just look up Silicon Valley invents or something. I did not make up this joke, but I find it both funny and a little lamentable. More funny than lamentable though, because I can't resist taking a swipe every once in a while.

sad trombone
Anyway I hope I didn't offend anybody.

When I was 23 I tried to move to Paris. I found it fascinating that in Paris there is often a designated neighbourhood which is the place to go for X, where X is nice clothing, baked goods, electronics, and so on. The town I come from is neither big nor old enough to exhibit this phenomenon in any palpable sense.

I went to see a movie last night. We went to a really late showing because my girlfriend was concerned it was her only chance to get to see it in the theatre, as it's only getting a limited run. Ostensibly this the studio punishing the director for not letting them tinker with it.

I read an analysis a couple years ago that suggested that the entirety of Hollywood, averaged out, earns just shy of 5% in gross profit. Most projects either net or lose a fraction of their budget, with monstrous gains and monstrous disasters in the tails. The median film barely breaks even.

Film, like venture-backed tech startups, is a fat-tailed enterprise. The individual plays are big and chunky and heterogeneous, and the outcomes are nowhere near evenly distributed. Ipso facto, they have a pretty good idea of things not to do that will lose money, but only really what amounts to sketchy heuristics and superstitions about positive interventions that are certain to earn more of it. Nevertheless as a producer, your play is your play, so there is always pressure to intervene.

Of course, there are so many variables to consider, you don't really know if your tinkering is going to turn a dud into a hit, or turn a hit into a dud.

I had this job when I was 18. The boss was not terribly impressed with my production strategy but was overall sympathetic. He told me If you do things your way, and they don't work out, it's your fault. If you do things my way, and they don't work out, it's my fault. At least he was pragmatic enough not to deliberately ruin what I did because I didn't do it his way. We parted ways not long after.

You can make a movie anywhere on the planet, but movies financed out of Hollywood reflect an easily recognizable pattern. You can likewise write software anywhere on the planet, in orbit, or on any other planet. The software financed out of the San Francisco Bay Area is equally distinctive.

The other symbol-generating neighbourhood in North America has a phrase smart money, which they use to refer to themselves, and dumb money, which refers to the flabby, plodding, unimaginative investment categories, that make up the bulk of all assets.

There seems to be another money though, flowing within the arteries of these smart-money centres, a sort of acutely risk-averse money, fractally embedded within what everybody acknowledges is unambiguously risky activity. Maybe we can call it derp money.

Derp money is the Baghdad Green Zone: an island of relative safety within unsafe territory. The targets of derp money are extremely legible to the investor, and the outcomes are relatively predictable: mortgage-backed securities are derp money; comic book screen adaptations are derp money; a commodity-repackaged-as-a-service app is derp money.

With derp money you're still swimming in your lane, but you don't have to concentrate as hard as you otherwise would.

I recall not long ago overhearing some broadcast or other featuring some commentator or other sounding off about disruption like it was unequivocally a good thing. This was not remarkable. What was remarkable was that the commentator was some kind of government official. In Canada.

I am not naïve about creative destruction. I think it's a very dated-sounding term for a very real and inexorable phenomenon. Innovation, by and large, is not Pareto-optimal. There is almost always a loser. The question is who.

Collective amnesia is a symptom of a failure on the part of the collective's individual constituents to learn a thing in the first place. It is entirely possible that this, as we say, is not a bug, but a feature.

There are bakeries all over Paris, but there is one street that has a ridiculous number of them. Apparently the derp-money bet if you want to start a business on that street is to start a bakery.

It is entirely possible that Silicon Valley invents… is just an epiphenomenon, part and parcel of a larger process of mutual selection toward derp-money compatibility.

This still doesn't explain why I find it irritating enough to comment.

McLuhan wrote that the movie is the greatest of all forms of advertisement. Underneath it, I submit, is a meta-advertisement that draws a steady stream of fresh bodies to Los Angeles. One can perceive an analogous meta-advertisement that draws fresh bodies to San Francisco.

In order to do that, though, you have to export a lot of messaging. And you garrison in the provinces, who roll out the red carpet for you, while pathetically aping your values and methods with an order of magntitude fewer people and three orders of magnitude fewer dollars.

So while I think it's silly that the Valley reinvents the pup tent, or the city bus or whatever else on a weekly basis, I am willing to concede that somewhere in there is a strategy. I'm just not interested in participating in a derp-money play, and doubly not interested in mopping up after it.