A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

A smattering of opinions on technology, books, business, and culture. Now in its 4th technology iteration.

Recent Books -- North Woods, The Demon of Unrest, Team of Rivals, Titanium Noir, Translation State, Money, Uncommon Stars, How to Know a Person, Dark Wire

15 June 2024

  • North Woods by Daniel Mason. I love a carefully constructed novel. This is great, the tale over the centuries of all the people who have inhabitated a single house, with nicely interwoven stories.
  • The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War by Erik Larson. What a train wreck of hubris. Ego-driven rush into conflict without any consideration of the consequences.
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. What a tragic national and personal story. Lincoln was unique and the country was fortunate to have him, during a time of incredible tragedy and personal tragedy.
  • Titanium Noir by Nick Harkaway. A pretty classic noir tale, rendered by a good author.
  • Translation State by Ann Leckie. Fun exploration of a very messy political situation.
  • Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin. An OK walk thru the history of money. If you haven’t thought about what money is, this is a fine start. His prescriptions are a little thin.
  • Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. Quite a romp, aliens and demons and gender/sexuality issues. Fun read.
  • How to Know a Person by David Brooks. Very provoking for me. I have not always been good at understanding people, there are skills in here I have not begun to understand and master.
  • Dark Wire by Joseph Cox. True story of how the FBI and other agencies duped the criminal world into using a phone system operated by the FBI. A little light but still engaging.


15 June 2024

I’ve been reading a bit about the notion of “illiberal liberalism” that people talk about. For instance this article – https://themissingdatadepot.substack.com/p/higher-educations-illiberal-liberalism.

I appreciate the effort the author went through, it is a useful article. I don’t really know what is going on on campuses, so I can’t really speak to some of the concerns of the article. But to me, the article has a large blindspot, which I can best illustrate by talking about my own political progression.

I grew up in a staunch conservative household, in a conservative part of Ohio. Voting for Republicans was just assumed. As a kid I lived through Kent State, Watergate, Vietnam protests, all of which planted some seeds of skepticism about Republicans and the government more generally. I watched coverage of Kent State on the news and remember asking my parents why the government was shooting at students. The CSNY song “Ohio” still haunts me. I watched Nixon step down. I watched coverage of running tear gas battles on the OSU campus. None of that gave me trust in our government, but I still leaned Republican. The traditional Republican conservative ideals of small government, fiscal responsibility, business friendly, strong defense – those all seemed good to me.

As I aged, my skepticism of authority and government grew. And the Republican party changed. It is certainly not the party of fiscal responsibility any more. But more importantly, the Republicans increasingly embraced intrusive and intolerant social policies. They sided with the anti-same-sex marriage forces. They sided with the abortion prohibition groups. Both these policies are the government intruding into personal business, and into some of the most important personal business of people’s lives. I don’t care what marriages other people have. I am fine with some churches saying that they don’t want to perform same-sex marriages, but if other churches want to perform those marriages, A-OK by me, and the government should respect all marriages. On abortion – no one wants to see more abortions, but it is not anyone’s business besides the parents and their doctors. Now the Republicans are embracing anti-Trans positions. I don’t care what adults decide to do about gender identity and their body, it doesn’t affect me.

I have some other beefs about Republican policies but these above are what broke me. I cannot even consider a Republican candidate until they walk away from these intolerant positions. I am certainly not a Democrat, the Democrats have some of the stupidest policy ideas ever, but I cannot support the Republican party today.

So back to the article about illiberal liberalism. There may well be some really intolerant liberals – and I am not surprised I guess, given the intolerant social positions embraced by the mainstream conservatives. I can understand the anger towards conservatives. I personally wouldn’t bother trying to silence these conservatives, I’d let them broadcast their desired social policies and let the electorate vote with their feet.

Recent Books -- For Profit, PriestDaddy, Spies, Women, Smoke and Ashes, Red Plenty, First Lie Wins, Cahokia Jazz, Outlive, Third Millenium Thinking

15 April 2024

  • For Profit: A History of Corporations by William Magnuson. I thought this was going to be a much more detailed book. The long anecdotes about some major corporate structure innovations throughout history were interesting, but ultimately I felt a little unsatisfied. The last chapter admonitions were just pablum – “corporations shouldn’t do the bad things that some did in the past”. I was hoping for more meat – a look at some bleeding edge corp structures, a deeper look at the law and regulation, etc. It is an OK book but left me wanting more.
  • PriestDaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood. Enjoyable at first but kidn of went nowhere and started to feel repetitive. The window into life with a priest father was interesting for a while.
  • Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West by Calder Walton. A walk through the history of British, US, Soviet, Russian, and Chinese spying. The main theme is the asymmetry between the approaches of the democratic west and the autocratic nations, and the dangers for the west.
  • The Women by Kristin Hannah. An odd meld of a romance novel and a gritty tale of vietnam service and its after effects. I loved the vietnam part.
  • Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories by Amitav Ghosh. The story of the opium trade and its impact primarily on India and China, but also Britain and the US. A lot of great detail on just how pervasive and impactful the trade was.
  • Red Plenty by Francis Spufford. A fictionalized account of the Soviet Union’s attempts to create a planned economy that would outperform the west, he book is a mix of real history and fictionalized accounts of the people involved. Interesting and humanizing.
  • First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston. Super fun thriller jaunt, where everyone is morally gray. Supposedly coming to Hulu.
  • Cahokia Jazz by Francis Spufford. Finest novel I have read in some time, the reimagining of America is fascinating and vivid.
  • Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia. I am glad I dabbled in this book. There are some interesting concepts and ideas in here. But gosh a terrible and boring book. Really this should not be a book but should be an app that injests your DNA sequence and medical tests, and gives you a plan on how to live longer and healthier.
  • Third Millenium Thinking: Creating Sense in a World of Nonsense by Saul Perlmutter, Robert MacCoun, John Campbell. A nice toolset for thinking about problems in a structured way. Would be a great 30 page article, the book is stuffed with extra words to get to book length.

Recent Books -- Upgrade, Infinity Gate, Dust, Tailspin, Barbarian Days, Money, System Collapse

22 January 2024

  • Upgrade by Blake Crouch. Fun bio hackign adventure, not really much new in here tho.
  • Infinity Gate by M. R. Carey. Fun multiple universe romp, a lot of interesting ideas. I do wish the author had written a smaller story, not every book needs to be part of a universe-ending trilogy.
  • Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles by Jay Owens. Interesting, infuriating, disagreeable, insightful. I learned a lot about some ecological disasters – the Aral Sea, the Dust Bowl, etc. I was intrigued by some of the recovery projects underway. I was annoyed by some of the degrowth talk, an unrealistic approach. I was confused about the tie to climate change, as the author points out that dust loads were much higher at times in prehistory, and that climate change may be largely a function of sun cycles and orbital oscillations. Overall, intriguing.
  • Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall–and Those Fighting to Reverse It by Steven Brill. A sometimes-too-long exploration of how the middle class has declined, how the rich have gotten richer, how our political systems have failed us. A lot of data and anecdotes. The author is ultimately optimistic but gosh it is a rough and sad tale.
  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. What a great book. More detail about surfing than I ever wanted (I don’t surf), but all shared in a way that was compelling. And man, the author’s life choices, a set of choices that I could never have imagined making, chasing after his surfing compulsion.
  • Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein. A breezy and brief history of money. Not the deepest story but does a nice job of intuitively explaining how money is a social construct.
  • System Collapse by Martha Wells. I loved the prior murderbot books, but this one didn’t cut the mustard. Strays away from the unique murderbot characteristics and is a generic space adventure.

Recent Books -- Erasure, Gideon the Ninth, The Cloud Revolution, We Shall Be Masters, Eighteen Days, Right Kind of Wrong

12 January 2024

Recent Books -- How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement, Do Interesting, The Tyranny of Merit, Legends & Lattes, Nettle & Bone, The Cutting Edge, The Lords of Easy Money

23 December 2023

I’ve read a bit about society and economics recently. A little longer discussion about some of these.

How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement by Fredrik DeBoer. I thought I would hate this book. But half of it is very good and very insightful, he does a great job skewering the left – all the performative nonsense, all the identity divisions, a failure to focus on real improvements for people. And some of his basic instincts on how progressives can better work together are dead on – unite, don’t divide; focus on actually improving outcomes; drop all the bs language nonsense; and above all else, engage and perservere.

Some of what he says drives me nuts though – for instance: “…as progressives, we should want a vibrant and expansive public sector.” I’m progressive, I want better outcomes and opportunities for everyone, I want a stronger safety net. But I certainly don’t have as a goal “a vibrant and expansive public sector”, that is not the end goal, it is as misdirected at best – show me a successful example in human history of “a vibrant and expansive public sector.” We need to embrace market mechanisms to improve our society, not discard them. We need to unlock and embrace human ingenuity, not prevent it.

The Tyranny of Merit: Can We Find the Common Good? by Michael J. Sandel. This book is more right than wrong. The discussion of the politics of hubris vs embarrassment is very relevant. And the data on upward mobility in the US is sad. His criticism of the Ivys and the Public Ivys is good, they are not agents of upward mobility, nor have they ever been. So there is a lot to learn here. The book is not without shortcomings tho.

  • The political and social mobility problems here are very hard to fix – and he offers no realistic solutions. There is zero chance that we will implement a national lottery for access to the best schools. A more useful discussion would be around how we build up non-elite institutions that may be doing a better job creating opportunity.
  • He is an Ivy professor and he is very focused on the Ivys. I don’t think reforming the Ivys is all that material to the problems at large. They’ve always been elitist, they always will be, just move on.
  • I would love to see data on just engineering education and social mobility. My impression is that most of my classmates did not come from upper income families and that engineering was a great path, but I’d like to see the data.
  • In my professional experience material, wealth has flowed to those that are most adaptable, that have observed the waves crashing through the world and have decided to “get in front of the parade”. I’ve lived thru the PC revolution, the internet revolution, the mobile revolution, the cloud revolution, and now we are seeing the AI revolution, the CRISPR revolution, etc. These waves crash over us, none of us can stop them, the people that do well are the ones that don’t fight the waves, but get out in front of them and ride them. Some of my colleagues came from elite institutions, but many did not. He doesn’t really take on entrepreneurship, the tech industry, innovative waves, creative destruction, etc. This is all super material to economic mobility and opportunity.

The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy by Christopher Leonard. This book is an attempt at a couple of serious topics – how monetary policy has further exacerbated the inequality in our society, how our legislative dysfunction has pushed more power towards the Fed – but the book is so flawed. The economics in the book are secondary to his attempt to dramatize events. Each chapter tries to turn some events into a dramatic crisis, but the characters and events just aren’t that interesting, and he sensationalizes it all.

He also overlooks so many factors and simplifies the economics so much that it is hard to give his arguments any credence. Go read the 2-star reviews on Goodreads, they do a pretty good job of summarizing the problems with the book.

Another peeve, any discussion of the issues needs to start talking about relative percentage growth instead of absolute numbers, even inflation-corrected absolute numbers. Throwing around a bunch of absolute numbers means nothing and is just designed to scare, not to inform. When he does use percentages, he finds the most egregious examples to use to scare, not inform. “76,000 percent more excess bank reserves” – a quote designed to scare, not inform. I mean, there are like 13984098% more smart phones sold this year than in 2001, should that terrify us?

Overall he is trying to damn the Fed, but I actually think he does the opposite and shows how the Fed is resiliant and responsive.

And some lighter reads:

  • Do Interesting: Notice. Collect. Share. by Russell Davies. Really nice short book emphasizing the importance of doing, working at your craft and knowledge every single day.
  • Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree. A fun tale of friendship and adventure. A nice piece of palate cleansing brain candy.
  • Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher. Continuing my streak of books with ampersands in their titles, another nice tale of friendship and adventure. Either of these books is a lot of fun.
  • The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver. I dip into Deaver every once in a while, a very engaging mystery.

Recent Books -- End Times, Unsettled, Elon Musk, Rigor of Angels, One Song, The Wager

02 December 2023

A real mix of books over the last 6 weeks or so. Some themes that I draw out:

  • Human ambition is a great driver of human advancement, and it will take you right off a cliff into the abyss. Musk has had incredible impact, but perhaps his ambitions have outstripped his competencies. Seafarers in the 1700s had huge impact on the development of the modern world (good and bad), but at huge personal cost. Turchin is trying to create an industry around his invented filed of “cliodynamics” and is overreaching.
  • Resiliency. Tweedy tells a great story of not letting ambition get in the way of creative work, how daily effort can create kind of resiliency for you. Koonin doesn’t really dig into it enough, but raises the idea that we need to be resilient to a warming world, and that we should be investing in technology to help us adapt to it.

The books:

  • End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration by Peter Turchin. What a stupid book. This will damage your brain reading it. A view of the economy as some zero-sum hierarchy with some small number of valuable jobs available at the top of corporations and politics. Ignores completely enterpreneurism, small businesses, etc. It reads like the author is trying to drum up attention and business for his invented field of “cliodynamics”.
  • Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters by Steven E. Koonin. I expected to hate this book but I did not. I found it incomplete. The author raises some good questions about the state of reporting on climate science, and tees up a discussion about how to adapt to a warming world or how to use technology to proactively cool the climate, but doesn’t follow up those discussions at all. And without digging into those, it is difficult to weigh them against the costs of reducing carbon emissions. A useful read tho.
  • Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson. There is a lot to admire about Elon’s outputs. He has certainly pushed progress in industries, and the massive reduction in cost of space launches is a notably a tremendously good thing. Society wants and needs entrepreneurial energy like his. He may be one of the most effective engineered product leader of our times. He is also pretty terrible at human relationships, and his engineering entrepreneurial skills don’t translate well to social policy, to media, to politics. The book is a retelling of events in and around Elon, and doesn’t really dig into issues. An OK read.
  • The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality by William Egginton. A deep dive into philosophy and a little bit of physics. I would have enjoyed more physics content but the philosphy side is a hole in my learning so probably good for me. Not a light read.
  • How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy. Brilliant book. Simple, pithy, direct. It is about songwriting, but it is also about life. His advice for how to work at your craft is something everyone should read.
  • The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder by David Grann. Man, sea travel was tough in the 1700s. The loss of life due to weather, nutrition, misadventure was incredibly high. Brutal times.

Recent Books -- The Body Keeps the Score, Unbearable Lightness, Fingerpost, Random Acts of Medicine, Imagine a City

15 September 2023

  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Fascinating book on the effects of trauma and how to work with trauma. I did not realize how ineffective talk therapy and pharmaceuticals were, and how important other types of therapy involving movement, acting, etc could be.
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I wanted to like this, a number of friends like it, and with the author’s passing, it seemed like the time to try it. I am sure it is my failing that I couldn’t get into it. Characters are weird and unrelatable.
  • An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. I should love this book? I mean I like mysteries and I like clever structures and I like unreliable narrators. But I just couldn’t ever care about the story or the characters.
  • Random Acts of Medicine by Anupam B. Jena, Christopher Worsham. The authors want to write the “Freakonomics” of medicine but too much exposition and not enough data.
  • Imagine a City: A Pilot’s Journey Across the Urban World by Mark Vanhoenacker. Interesting wander through many of the major cities of the globe, and through the author’s life as he traversed them. I have this image of airplane pilots as being very engineerish, but this author is very poetic and thoughtful.

Recent Learnings about leadership, management, NVidia, home information

01 September 2023

Management and Leadership.

Mr. and Mrs. Psmith have a great review of a recent management book which you should read – the review, not the book. They systematically destroy the idea of professional management as a discipline, and management education as well. And they suggest that the entire notion of professional management as a distinct discipline is just another way to gatekeep. I loved this entire article.

It meshes very well with my own experience in business school and in business. There were some technical topics I learned in b-school that were of value — how to read accounting statements, basic financial theory, some macro and micro economics — but a lot of the softer topics were just filler. I didn’t really learn how to lead and manage until I did it.

I was also lucky to work at Microsoft at a time when nearly the entire senior leadership team were PC enthusiasts. They used PCs, they loved PCs, they loved software, everyone was a programmer in some way whether doing system development in ASM/C/C++ or doing application programming in higher level languages or macros. Handwaving MBA bullshit was not tolerated. To this day, Microsoft still seems to have a pretty strong enthusiast management team, which has served the company well.


I went to my first NVIDIA developer conference almost 10 years ago. I was amazed by the passion of the audience and the quality of the audience. The sessions were all massively oversubscribed. I came away a big believer in the opportunity for the company and immediately bought a bunch of NVIDIA stock.

Which was a fortunate move as the company has been on a multyear tear and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. I continue to be impressed with the company’s execution.

I do wonder about the depth of the management team. I’ve spoken with people who describe the company as a 1-man show, who think there is no depth. I doubt the company would be executing this well with just a single leader, NVIDIA must have a whole stable of great people. But who are they, why are they kept under wraps? And how dependent is the company on one guy?


We purchased a home to use for vacations in the San Juan Islands about 20 years ago. Since then we have rebuilt the house, drilled a new well, changed the septic system, repaired everything 9 times, etc. Our adult children use the house a lot and we can see the day some day when we may want to pass over management to the house to them. I’d like to get all my documents in order so it is easy for someone else to get up to speed on the house.

I looked at Homer.co which seemed like a nice solution. And I started dutifully populating it with my documents. About an hour in I came to a crashing halt. I have 20 years of emails with attachments, I have generations of design documents, I have digitized receipts, I have contacts, etc etc etc. It would take me years to get this all sorted and organized, and along the way I would fight with myself about the right way to tag and folder everything. Barf.

New plan — I’m going to try to use LlamaIndex and just have it ingest all the docs. LLamaIndex has great readers for mail content, for pdfs, for word documents, for images. After some fits and starts, I ended up downloading my 1.2G gmail folder, filtering out some crud, and then reading it all into LLamaIndex using a little python app. It is limping and is able to answer questions like “Who has worked on our septic system” and “where is the generator and how do i use it”. There is a lot of fine tuning to do. But promising.

Right Kind of Wrong

I love the title and premise of this upcoming book — Right Kind of Wrong.

Recent Books -- Collapse, Fantastic Four, Rothfuss, Bottoms Up, The League, Bullshit Jobs, Divide

18 July 2023

  • How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for our Times by Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, Andrew Brown (Translator). Couldn’t finish, just annoying and broken from the start. Opens with a bunch of breathless collapse handwaving, and then tries to shift to data-based reasoning but is very linear and in-the-box in its analysis.
  • Fantastic Four: Full Circle by Alex Ross. I regularly dip into graphic novels, this one is pretty trite. Pass.
  • The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Engaging, tho there is a little bit of “one damn thing after another” in these books. And then of course it is frustrating that the next book in the trilogy is apparently never coming out.
  • Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs by Kerry Howley. Whew, a peak inside the mechanisms we put in place for the War on Terror is pretty ugly.
  • The League by John Eisenberg. A good history of the first 20-30 years of the NFL, and the leaders who scrapped to make it happen. As a kid I read great stories of Sammy Baugh, Y. A. Tittle, Otto Graham, and other early NFL stars, this book was a great complement to those stories.
  • Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. What a load of crap. Couldn’t finish. Are there jobs that are meaningless? Sure I don’t doubt that. But he consigns entire catagories of jobs to the dustbin – management, finance, law, etc. And I don’t buy it, there are meaningful jobs in all those areas, and people can do these jobs with good intent and with meaning. I may not want to be a corporate lawyer, but there is a ton of meaningful work to do there – risk, IP, partnering, structure, etc etc etc. Ditto for finance. I don’t think the author has any experience or understanding of building large signifcant products, and the complexity involved. His casual disregard for entire occupations and industries was very offputting, I declined to finish.
  • The Divide by Jason Hickel. Another anthropologist from the London School of Economics, and another underwhelming effort. The LSE must be a depressing place. Global poverty is a real issue, and it is clear that there are systemic causes that we have not wrapped our heads around, but the first two thirds of the book is just hectoring, and then the solutions all seem like untenable degrowth proposals. None of this is going to inspire any change.

Recent Books -- Undertow, Price of Time, Destiny Disrupted, Going Zero, The Soulmate, Born in Blackness, Flawless, Tomorrow

18 June 2023

  • The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War by Jeff Sharlet. A dark essay tour through the divisions and delusions in the US. I can only hope that some of this just burns itself out.
  • The Price of Time: The Real Story of Interest by Edward Chancellor. A strong argument that low interest rates are destabilizing and deeply inequitable. Kind of an anti-MMT book. He really hammers home the point through analysis of several hundred years of financial history. I’ve personally been a huge beneficiary of the slowly declining interest rates over most of the course of my working life, another way in which I was incredibly lucky.
  • Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary. A history of the world from the perspective of the Islamic world. I hace often wished I could read history textbooks from other cultures, as we are all programmed with a worldview that is unique to our culture. This is a great book, I learned a great deal about Islamic culture and how they may see the world. The Islamic focus on community vs the Christian focus on the individual was a great learning for me.
  • Going Zero by Anthony McCarten. Fun thriller about invasive surveillence and a race to avoid and expose it.
  • The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth. A young couple witnesses a suicide, and then their life unravels as secrets come out. Fun and fast read, but won’t stick with me.
  • Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War by Howard W. French. It is sad that this material is not taught to us all. I come away from this feeling that the US has not really accepted responsibility for this stain on our history, and that we need to do more to remedy the impacts in both the US and outside the US.
  • Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture from the K-Beauty Capital by Elise Hu. A critical look at the beauty products industry and culture from the front line of beauty products, Korea. A topic I knpw little about and a perspective I don’t understand well, so this was very educational.
  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Entertaining and well written. I am not sure it will age super well as it has so many topical references but it was fun.

Recent Books -- Rabbi I, Darkness Outside Us, Cronin, Time, Big Things, Owls of the Eastern Ice

15 May 2023

  • Friday The Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman. Decided to try this classic series. Interesting peek into the community, but the story wasn’t compelling.
  • The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer. Should like it but didn’t like main character and didn’t want to learn any more about him.
  • The Twelve and THe City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin. OK I didn’t think I would finish this series but the story was compelling, and the third book really elevated the series.
  • The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli. The first third was great, knocking down our perception of time. Then he lost me with his “blurring” analogy which just didn’t resonate.
  • How Big Things Get Done by Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner. Initially I reacted poorly to this book, the author is a fan of extensive planning ala “waterfall” software projects, and I have seen too much of that. But he is a little more nuanced, he embraces the iterative model of software development, his notion of “planning” embraces a lot of the early iteration and trial in software development, he would even include early product releases as planning. He also discusses the idea that an exhaustive plan can be an impediment to getting great projects done – if we all realized the true costs and time requirements of some projects, we would never start them, they would never get done. Overall a mostly balanced discussion and he has a lot of data to back his views.
  • Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan C. Slaght. Quite the tale of a naturalist’s adventures in the far east of Russia. I didn’t realize how undeveloped this part of Russia is. Makes the Olympic Peninsula seem cosmopolitan.

Recent Books -- Biology Book, Fluent Forever, The Passage, Pathogenesis, Think Again

25 April 2023

  • The Biology Book by Michael C. Gerald and Gloria E. Gerald. A very approachable walk thru the 250 biggest milestones in biology.
  • Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner. This is a great plainly written guide on learning languages, but has been a little overtaken by the explosion of learning tools and apps.
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin. A post-apocalyptic vampire-zombie story. Quite long but I was driven to read it through. I’d like to read the rest but gosh they are long books.
  • Pathogenesis by Jonathan Kennedy. How history has been affected by pathogens – I knew some of this story, and books like Guns, Germs, and Steel have covered some of this territory, but there were some new things for me in here – I didn’t understand how malaria and yellow fever resistence helped drive the slave trade.
  • Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. I want to like this book. There is a powerful message in here. But the author’s continued use of misdirection and reveals is just kind of annoying, almost feels disrespectful to the reader. I don’t think he had ill intent but it was offputting for me.

We just finished a home remodel, and the state of the smart home is not good

23 April 2023

(An aside – I have let my writing lapse due to other projects in the last 6 months. And that is a shame, because writing is the best way to cement your learning, to tease out your thinking, and to kickstart engagement with others. I see people that set goals to write 1000 words a day. A high bar but a good one.)

We just are wrapping up a remodelling project. Top of mind this week is all the smart tech in the home and the attention they demand. Every appliance and device maker has the central idea that their device is the most important device ever, and that you should dedicate your day to admiring it and servicing it.

  • Washers and dryers with their loud “cycle finished” alarms, because of course nothing is more important in my day that knowing when a cycle finishes, especially at 10 PM in the middle of a movie, or at 1 AM when you are in bed. And the UX to turn off the alarm is goooooofy.
  • Dishwashers with “cycle finished” alarm to rival the smoke alarm in persistence, they just go on and on and on. THe manufacturer did so much work to make the dishwasher itself quiet, only to blare an alarm saying “I’m Done!!! Come Celebrate!! NOW NOW NOW!!”. And again the UX to turn off is terrible
  • Smart thermostats that want to be the star of the room – big black obelisks with garish color displays. Most homeowners want their thermostats to disappear.
  • The smart vacuum with the speaker and voice that yells at me at 1AM to “plug me in now” because it wasn’t seated right on the charger. I just about wet my pants that night. I have a smart vacuum because I don’t want to think about vacuuming, not because I want to be yelled at by a vacuum.
  • OK the “you left the fridge door open” alarm is sensible and I am glad for that one. But it is the exception.
  • The smart doorbell that by default sends you an alert for every motion at your door – so god forbid your doorbell camera faces the street or trees or something.

Almost all the manufacturers recognize that the phone is a key part of everyone’s life, so they all build their own apps for their devices. They don’t embrace Homekit or other standards, because they want to own the relationship with the consumer. So you get a flotilla of apps, each with their own UX and object model and interaction style and notification control. Some are beyond goofy. I have a whole page of them on my phone now.

I don’t think any of us really want a refrigerator app and a stovetop app and a icemaker app and a thermostat app (three in my house because we have Trane and Honeywell thermostats and a minisplit!) We really want a home app and everything to click into it, and a common way to control notifications, to group things, to automate, etc. I’m a nerd so I of course install all the apps, but the regular humans in my household want nothing to do with this.

All these separate apps do not build the brand loyalty that the manufacturers want – every time I have to run the Honeywell app, it is time lost, and it just reminds me what jerks the Honeywell product managers are and how little they think of me.

A lot of this mess is because there is no established practice of system architecture in the home. We have great architects who think thru the physical design of the house and the mechanical systems. But I am not seeing the same leadership in digital and electrical infrastructure in the home. We have a jumble of security, audio, cat6, low voltage, and other wiring. A jumble of wireless protocols for data, for proprietary security and control systems. A jumble of apps, jumble of logins and accounts and cloud services There is no design here. The architects and contractors leave it up to subcontractors who just jam stuff in. It is all a little embarrassing.

Recent Books -- Monk and Robot, Terminal Alliance, How Asia Works, Data Detective, Delta-V, Critical Mass

05 April 2023

  • A Psalm for the Wild-built and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers. Brilliant little stories about what it really is to be human and how to accept others. Can’t recommend highly enough.
  • Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines. Engaging space opera. No new ground covered but likable characters and good plotting.
  • How Asia Works by Joe Studwell. A bit dense but a very good analysis of country development in Asia – what has worked, what has failed. A lot of excellent analysis of the policies that led to success in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. I loved this line – “At the industrial policy-making level, what stands out with the benefit of hindsight is that there was almost no role played in Japan, Korea, or Taiwan by economists.” Most of the advice by big-brained western consultants and agencies has been dead wrong.
  • The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics by Tim Harford. An ok look at how to better understand and validate statistics. Tho probably won’t stick with me the way The Black Swan or Superforecasting have stuck with me.
  • Delta-V adn Critical Mass by Daniel Suarez. The story of the bootstrapping of the first space-resident society off Earth. A lot of fun technology forecasting, but characters and plot were kind of secondary.