The Predictors by Thomas A. Bass, A Retrospective

Two Years Later

Like a number of my colleagues at Prediction Company in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I read about the Prediction Company in Thomas Bass' book The Predictors. The Predictors prompted me to apply for an opening as a software engineer at the Prediction Company. At that time I wrote this review of Bass' book.

How accurately did Bass portray the Prediction Company, its founders and the people who work there? I can't give a complete answer to this question. I worked at Prediction Company for two years, from 2000 to 2002, after the events related in the book. I am also prohibited from a complete discussion of this topic. But some comments on the quality of Bass' journalism seem like they should be allowed.

I think that it is accurate to write that more than one person who has been closely involved with Prediction Company views Bass' book as something akin to a work of fiction, based on real people and events. Or perhaps it is like Rashomon, different people experiencing the same events relating wildly differing accounts of the shared experience. The Prediction Company and some of the people I came to know from my experience working there were only tangentially related to what I read about in The Predictors.

While I find that Thomas Bass is a good storyteller, I don't respect him much as a journalist. In The Predictors the final result is more like John Reed's account of the Russian Bolshevik revolution in Ten Days that Shook the World:

Adventure it was, and one of the most marvellous mankind ever embarked upon, sweeping into history at the head of the toiling masses, and staking everything on their vast and simple desires. Already the machinery had been set up by which the land of the great estates could be distributed among the peasants. The Factory-Shop Committees and the Trade Unions were there to put into operation worker's control of industry. In every village, town, city, district and province there were Soviets of Workers., Soldiers. and Peasants. Deputies, prepared to assume the task of local administration

From the preface of Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed, 1919, in the Project Bartleby archives.

Viewed through a retrospective glass, neither the works of John Reed or Thomas Bass seem to tell complete histories. The characters and events are there. When these characters and events are woven into an account, the final result is closer to propaganda than truth. Perhaps some of the characters in Rashomon would have had similar complaints about the stories told by others.

The Amazon reviews of The Predictors make interesting reading. A number of readers picked up on the fluffy nature of Bass' book. Several readers commented that The Predictors provided few details on what Prediction Company actually traded and what profit and loss numbers resulted. This is no accident. The Predictors was reviewed before publication by Prediction Company to assure that no such detail would escape (I was told this when I interviewed at Prediction Company).

The Demise of the "Silicon Mesa"

About the time I was talking to Prediction Company about their software engineering opening, Ed Regis published an article in WIRED Magazine (June, 2000), titled Greetings from Info Mesa. The theme of this article was that Santa Fe and Los Alamos would be a new technology center. The fact that a number of chiefly bio-technology companies were located in Santa Fe was one of the factors that encouraged me to accept a job at Prediction Company. I thought that if the job at Prediction company did not work out, there would be other local companies that hired computer scientists.

Two years later, I'm sad to report that the "Silicon Mesa" is pretty much dead and not likely to return in the near future. The profits of the companies mentioned in Ed Regis' article have evaporated. Like the telecommunications industry, many of the technology companies in Santa Fe have had huge layoffs, in some cases of well over 50% of their staff. Some companies have disappeared entirely, going out of business or being purchased by other companies.

I have found Northern New Mexico a wonderful place to live. In theory the Santa Fe area should be a promising location for a technology industry to bloom. But the reality is somewhat different.

One of the primary technology employers is Los Alamos National Labs. The hiring process as Los Alamos resembles something out of Kafka in its convoluted nature and glacial slowness. This is tragic, since Los Alamos should be a reservor and magnet for technology talent that can feed local start-up companies.

Also missing from Northern New Mexico are quality schools. While the Department of Energy subsidizes the Los Alamos elementary and high schools, the rest of the elementary and high schools in New Mexico are notorious for their poor quality. The New Mexico university system does not have a much better reputation. The New Mexico universities are balkanized, without a central governing body, like the Regents of the University of California. The weak university system leaves New Mexico without a pool of highly trained students to draw high technology companies.

September, 2002
Revised: November, 2002

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