A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

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

How important is your job to your company?

17 January 2022

Dare Obasanjo has a nice post with a simple framework for evaluating job alternatives.

It led me to reflect on my own job selection logic. When I started my career back in the 80s, I was working in the Midwest, and it was a time of industrial restructuring and downsizing. Layoffs were unfortunately common. A very smart colleague at Booz-Allen, Bert Jones (who I have lost contact with), shared these simple ideas with me.

If you want to avoid layoffs, you should

  • work in the most important business (or businesses) to the company. This means learning to read company financials and really understanding where revenues, margins, and growth comes from.
  • and in that business, have a job either making things or selling things. Every other job is subject to downsizing. But if you are making or selling the most important things to the company, you are pretty safe.

These points were useful more generally throughout my career. Even when I was at Microsoft during a period of heady growth, and layoffs were not a threat, these factors impacted directly how much support I received – the closer I was to the core Windows (or Office) businesses, the more support I received, and the more opportunities I had to have an impact.

Of course, this also put me closer to the maelstrom, with greater focus on my performance, and that is not always the right fit, but I enjoyed it at the time.

Recent Books -- Biggest Bluff, Rosewater, Lincoln Highway, Mexican Gothic

08 January 2022

  • The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova. Great insight into high-level poker and the thinking skills it teaches. Very good.
  • Rosewater by Tade Thompson. A fun story set in a future Nigeria on a world in which a alien organism has invaded the Earth. Some good characters, I do wish the author would focus on smaller stories of characters coping in this world, rather than focusing on the big story about the future of the human race and the universe.
  • The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Amazing adventure of misjudgement, errors, atonement, and resolution for a set of interrelated characters. Great characters and great construction. Would be a fantastic mini-series.
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I wanted to like it, the setting could have been interesting, but I felt very little of Mexico in the book, and it was just kind of going nowhere. I gave up.

Playing with Quantum Computing

07 January 2022

As an antidote to the web3 nonsense, I’ve been trying to play around with some more interesting and more fundamental innovations. Microsoft has a really nice quantum computing tutorial that I have been working my way thru. I have enough math, quantum, electonic, and cs background to wade through. You probably want to be reasonably comfortable with vectors and imaginary numbers or it might be frustrating.

I have a general impression, which is that it is very very very early in the development of quantum computing. And that there is probably not much interesting software work to do right now.

Looking at the history of digital computing, we had to invent a lot of layers of technology to get to the point where it was a mass market useful thing. We had to invent the transistor (and triode before that). We had to combine resistors into circuits to make logic gates, coming up with some conventions that a certain voltage/current value was a “1” and another value was a “0”. We had to invent Boolean algrebra. We had to combine gates into higher order components like adders. We had to move from discrete transistors to integrated circuits. We had to develop Von Neumann machines. We had to get to a standard system architecture of clocked cpus with memory. We had to develop assembly language and then higher order languages like Fortran. And we had to develop a lot of tools and process technology all along the way. All this work overlapped and moved in fits and starts, but took decades to wrangle all this together. By the time we got to Fortran, we could write code that many humans could understand and which you could express real world problems in.

Without all this, writing “software” for transistors would have been terribly hard.

With quantum computing, we are throwing out the transistor and starting back up the stack. We are establishing conventions for what the equivalent of a “1” and “0” is. But the stack above that is still early or nonexistent. We are nowhere close to a development platform that lets a lot of humans write code that is understandable and relates to a large body of real world problems.

Sam pointed me to this article that says useful quantum computers may require a few million qubits, and we are toying around today with systems of ~10-100 qubits. Feels about right.

I am optimistic about quantum computing – today’s transistors require us to fling around a huge amount of electrons to do anything useful. If we can get to circuit elements that can work with discrete quanta, man that will be a lot of computing performance. But it is going to take us a while.

Best Books of 2021

26 December 2021

I read a lot of books this year. There were some really good ones, and I couldn’t get down to a list of just 5 ala Bill Gates. I have 10 I would recommend. I was mostly drawn to nonfiction about macroeconomics this year, trying to get smarter about what is really happening in the world as we seem to enter a new era of money management. I was also drawn to some great escapist adventure stories, because well the real world has been challenging.

Economics and Society

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes was excellent, a great telling of the factors that influenced Keynes. I was ignorant about him and never realized how committed he was to social reform and delivering economic benefits to everyone. Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity argues that the collapse of Rome gave rise to the diverse competitive structure of the West that made it so successful, and seems relevant today. Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919 is an interesting look at a time period when American democracy was under great stress from pandemics and factionalism, certainly lessons for today. Secrecy: The American Experience is something I should have read long ago, the rise of government secrecy over the last century is not good for us. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) is a hilarious tale illustrating the failures of extreme libertarianism.

Adventure and Mystery

Iron Lake is a great mystery set in Northern Minnesota. It was easy to imagine being there and the characters were excellent, I am very late to this book and author. The Blacktongue Thief is the start of a great new series, reminded me of Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” books that I read as a kid. Sharpe’s Rifles is a book from the midpoint of this character’s series, a fun romp in the Napoleonic era. Project Hail Mary is a great space exploration and first contact tale.

And then one more

Everything: A Book of Aphorisms is a very nice compendium of wisdom.

Recent Books -- Quantum Computing, Paint Houses, Promise

23 December 2021

  • Quantum Computing since Democritus by Scott Aaronson. I broke my pick on this one a little, you need to be very comfortable with advanced CS and quantum theory and my brain is rusty on both.
  • I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. Interesting background on the Jimmy Hoffa murder, such a big story earlier in my life.
  • The Promise by Damon Galgut. A white South African dissolves as a group and individually after the end of apartheid.

I kind of love Wombo Dream

07 December 2021

I am kind of loving Wombo Dream. Endlessly fascinating. I asked it to create some Windows 95 inspired images, using the various styles, and the results just get trippier and trippier:

Win95 thru a blurry lens
Windows 95 imagined thru a blurry lens.
Win95 with an edible
...after an edible...
Win95 now with peyote
...now try peyote...
Win95 now with absinthe
...or maybe absinthe...
Win95 in the concussion protocol
...while in the concussion protocol...
Win95 at the club
...or while at the club...
Timothy Leary style
...as Timothy Leary might see...
Win95 after a lot of eggnog
...after the 9th eggnog.

Scattered readings from November

30 November 2021

Holidays, birthdays, family activities. Omicron! In the midst of moving houses. I am just scattered all over the place right now. Hence a total grab bag of things.

Covid simulation. Fascinating

An accelerator for fine art. Super interesting idea.

I’m only 20 years behind, time to jump into Processing.

Penpot — open source design and proto platform

Decentralized woo hoo. Yep.

22 emerging technologies to watch in 2022 – too bad all the web3 brains are not working on these problems

Some super smart software people have gone to work at Stoke. Wishing them the best, I hope to get out for a visit in December.

“Don’t worry so much about someone stealing your ideas. In fact, it’s probably worth working harder to get people imagining that they might.” – totally agree.

Boy, howdy. I was once a consultant to F500 companies and it felt like being a carrion bird.

Great counsel — replace pitch decks with teaching decks.

From Debt: The First 5000 Years — “The one thing we can be confident of is that history is not over, and that wherever the most exciting new ideas of the next century come from, it will almost certainly be from someplace we don’t expect.”

Eradicate medical debt for pennies on the dollar — RIP Medical Debt. Need to read more about, but I like that the debtholders take a haircut – there is no way all this pain should accrue to consumers.

ResearchRabbit looks awesome

I don’t know why, but I feel like I need an electric scooter.

Are you playing to play, or playing to win?

How to play Paperback. Count me in!

Recent Books -- Multiverse, Zorrie, Iron Lake, Blacktongue, School of Life

29 November 2021

  • The Simulated Multiverse by Rizwan Virk. A mishmash of ideas and abstractions. A little bit of quantum woo. It is an easy read but doesn’t really go deep enough to teach much.
  • Zorrie by Laird Hunt. A gentle tale about life, love, and loss. Everyone will find something to relate to in here.
  • Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger. Fantastic tale of love, loss, betrayal, greed, and murder in a small town in northern Minnesota.
  • The BlackTongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman. Tremendously fun adventure of a young thief and friends. Intrigue, betrayal, swashbuckling, magic, humor. Fun characters, well written.
  • What They Forgot to Teach You at School by The School of Life. Short read, discusses all the emotional and communications skills that school never really teaches, but that are critical to an adult.

Recent Books -- Hell Of A Book, Escape from Rome, Wilkes Insurrection, Debt, Incal, Van Zandt

15 November 2021

  • Hell of a Book by Jason Mott. Great story of a writer struggling with the terrible events in his life, and the terrible toll racism has on all.
  • Escape from Rome by Walter Scheidel. Quite the slog but a compelling argument that the fall of Rome was essential for the creation of the competitve and progressive West. One wonders how this dynamic will play out over the coming century. One also wonders if this is an argument for devolving more rights and programs to the state and local level.
  • The Wilkes Insurrection by Robbie Bach. Really well paced and a couple of great characters. Very good first outing from Robbie.
  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber. The evolution of debt, markets, and money as seen by an anthropologist. Vlad and John turned me onto this, it is a bit wordy, but super interesting, a very different view from the conventional wisdom. I am still processing, it is very relevant to current discussions about student debt forgiveness and debt ceiling.
  • The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mœbius. Highly rated graphic novel, not really my cup of tea. A bajillion creative concepts jammed willy nilly into one story, leaving little room for character or coherent plot.
  • Unrequited Infatuations by Stevie Van Zandt. What a life and what a character. Greatly appreciate his passion and commitment to art. Inspiring.

On Web3 and Mission

09 November 2021

I came of age and started my career in the early stages of the PC revolution. And my gosh was this exciting — the wresting of computer power away from controlled impersonal computer centers and delivery into the hands of free individuals. An explosion of creativity followed. It was thrilling. I went to work at Microsoft not because of the financial potential — I didn’t even know what a stock option was. I went to Microsoft because I had to be part of this revolution.

I felt this excitment again during the web revolution — letting anyone create a website and making it dramatically easier to reach audiences. The web was empowering and freeing. And then the mobile revolution — pushing computing off the desk and into the hands and pockets of people, freeing and empowering again.

The greatest technology revolutions all share this sense of freedom and empowerment. And during these times, mission-driven orgs pop into existence, and people commit to missions, creating career highlights.

There are smarter people than me who have articulated the problems with web3/crypto. Complexity, unnecessary technology, scams, criminality, etc.

But ignore all the problems for a moment. The web3 folks are articulating a vision of freedom and empowerment — freedom from giant corporate walled gardens of identity and content, freedom, to take your data anywhere. These are good things. I get why people are excited about freedom.

Is anyone else articulating a vision of freedom, empowerment, opportunity?

Meta is at least talking about the metaverse, but it is all locked up in Meta’s hands. But there might be something there.

What bright future are Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple talking about? They are are incrementalling their current tech, but what breakthrough are they driving in freedom and opportunity? No one gets excited about the 723rd AWS service, or Windows/Office/Teams version 27, or iOS version 19. Drudgery.

What are web3/crypto critics presenting as an alternative? It is not sufficient to say “web3/crypto sucks”.

Some of the smartest people I know are moving towards space startups, which has a great mission, but it doesn’t have the freedom and opportunity vibe.

We have to articulate an alternative vision that leads to more freedom and opportunity. Or people will continue to go down the web3 rabbithole.

Exploration, Web3 Skepticism, and other things

07 November 2021

Notes on Exploration

I keep trying to learn about web3 and crypto, some days I wonder why, and then I am reminded “…be careful about being too quick to filter out topics because you quickly judge them as boring. Don’t have a fixed mindset about it. There’s interesting stuff everywhere…

First explore, then exploit. I am definitely in exploration mode these days.

A good reminder to not limit exploration to current media, much of which will be forgotten, but to dive deep into writing from the past and material off the beaten path.

I am not sure what the Internet of Bio-Inspired Things or the Internet of Biological Things are, but I am intrigued.

Write more often, and write more succinctly. Good advice, writing is an integral part of exploring and learning.

I still haven’t found the best tool to document my explorations for myself and for sharing. I am using a rube goldberg arrangement of markdown editors, cloud storage, and github pages for publishing. Some more good ideas here about capturing hunches.

Web3 Skepticism

Delian Asparouh, a VC at Founder Fund, says it well: “a tragic misallocation of talent”. That is my general feel at the moment, web3 is to tech as the CDO spree of the 2000s was to finance.

Anil Dash makes the point that much of the existing web started out with a very open sharing model, but commercial entities drove it in a different direction for commercial reasons, and a bunch of new protocols and technologies won’t change the commercial motivations and behaviors. Web3, if it succeeds, will end up with a bunch of new dominant players (who may just be the old dominant players).

Seth Godin is pushing a DAO for voting in the broadest sense. There does seem to be something in the web3 idea of open and programmatic governance, tho the web3 adherents need to dramatically simplify the stack of concepts.

Random

So Microsoft is a metaverse company. I recall in the mid-90s when Microsoft started talking about the IAYF vision. In about 42 nanoseconds the word was coopted by everyone, the Microsoft corporate library announced an IAYF app internally which was just a vb frontend on some db. The grand vision became meaningless. If you are going to invest a lot of corporate energy into a word, you should probably make sure the word is distinctive and can be owned by your corporation.

Let the Market Worry for You — espouses the view that there are a ton of people thinking about risks, and that this is therefore all priced into equities, and therefore you shouldn’t let risk concerns keep you from participating in the market. An interesting view, tho largely formed during an era of sustained market growth.

I did not know that the Wizard of Oz may have been a comment on monetary policy.

Quitters get raises. Long known in the tech industry, interesting to see the broader data.

McDonald’s Theory. Great brainstorming hack.

Voting, Interactive Art, Web3, and other things this week

01 November 2021

Voting

November already! It’s voting season again, and a big thanks to the Washington State vote by mail system this week, it is really wonderful. Hard to understand why every state doesn’t learn from, it has certainly driven up my participation and engagement level. It’s no surprise Washington is in the top 5 states by participation rate — and I hope we learn from the top 4 and improve.

Interactive Art Installations

I took a spin thru software for interactive art installs this week. I used to do some large scale halloween decorating and used DMX control software at that time, software has improved a lot sicne then. I am particularly interested in video projection mapping, gosh there are a lof of nice choices. I could just roll something by hand but using one of these seems smart, they all seem to handle multiple projectors mapping onto arbitrary geometries:

  • madmapper. Lots of features, lots of guides, nice UI, seems to be reasonably active.
  • qlab. Looks very on point, nice iOS companion app
  • millumin. UI maybe not as slick, but still looks pretty complete
  • isadora. A little more techie maybe.
  • Touchdesigner. Seems to have a very strong pro community around it
  • resolume. Really nice VJ features
  • visution: UI not so polished but still looks complete

I intend to try a small experiment with one of these.

These additional projects may have promise but they seem limited in some substantial way

  • heavym. only supports 1 output at the moment.
  • mapmap. open source but abandoned.
  • lightform creator. cool but limited to their out of stock hardware.

Web3 this week

I largely stayed away from web3 this week, but I did read a few things. Haseeb is a bit more rational than some of the adherents — for example Why decentralization is a bit of a red herring. And then Packy McCormick on sc3nius, worth reading.

And then there is this primer on DAOs. I want to like DAOs, there is something interesting about software for new organizational models. But when you have to understand 87 new concepts and 123 projects to wrap your head around the simplest DAO – well, radical transparency loses its meaning when it is wrapped up in obtuse complexity.

Random

I’d like to build out an astrophotography pc and setup. tho living amidst the light pollution and mirk of seattle is not really conducive to great astrophotography.

And a macrophotography setup — adaptalux.

Tough tech investing landscape 2021 – kind of the antidote to web3.

Pixar rules for story telling.

May December collaboration – nice to see new artists embracing great work of the past, and older artists embracing the art of today. Enriching for all.

Leadership lessons, startup financing, and more Web3 thoughts this week

22 October 2021

Leadership Lessons

Every job has a signficant sales and marketing component. Engineering is no exception. You have to communicate what you are doing regularly and emphatically (and also listen to the response you get, and adapt accordingly).

Ryan Petersen of Flexport on the container issue – I love this guy. Not focused on blame or grand policy. Just digs in, identifies issues, and proposes an array of common sense and direct solutions. We need more of this kind of leadership.

Startup Financing

A standard approach to startup cap tables – seems useful and overdue. I spent so much time in excel as both an investor and then as a startup founder. Would be good to regularize this.

Great thread and data on startup exits. I’m surprised at the number of earnouts and I wonder if these are all really earnouts (certain business goals must be hit to get the comp) vs time vesting (employees must stay a certain length of time).

Web3 Gaming

I’ve been mostly looking at using web3 as a developer. I decided to try from a different direction and use web3 as a user. The top game seems to be the Axie Infinity game.

You need to jump quite a few hurdles to try out Axie Infinity.

  • First to the Axie Infinity site
  • Then download something called Mavis Hub. Why is this a different name? Anyway, downloaded.
  • Then log in with a Ronin Wallet (there are some other choices but this is recommended). Who or what makes Ronin Wallet? Don’t know.
  • Then led to the SkyMavis site, another organization. Starting to feel like this is part of the game.
  • Ronin wallet only runs in Chrome or Firefox, so get Chrome installed (thought all this web3 stuff was going to free us from the Man). Ronin wallet plug in installed.
  • Now get ETH in the ronin wallet. Off to the roninchain site (yet another organization) with several choices to buy assets with the Ramp Network, yet another branded service. 3 choices — WETH, AXS, or SLP. AXS seems right.
  • And whoa whoa whoa. Just to start playing, need 3 AXS and that is like $380 at today’s prices. $380 to play this game? For a pokemon like-game? Are they naked or something?

First observation — such a jumble of brands and organizations. The general web3 approach of “we will replace monolithic commerical offerings with a mishmash of micro offerings from orgs you have never heard of” doesn’t really fly.

Second, the cost to play is ridiculous. No thanks, I am not putting $380 into this. A smart observer compared it to a pyramid scheme, and later arrivers like me have to dump a lot of cash in to support the earlier adopters.

There are easier and cheaper ways to have fun or to speculate.

I get that new platforms might be cruftier and clumsier than the mature solutions of the preceding generation but there has to be something positive about web3.

Web3, Crypto, and other random things this week

20 October 2021

web3, crypto this week

Kept on trying to learn about web3 this week,taking a random walk thru services. dfinity.org is complicated to grok, the “hello world” app for a hosted app is a little byzantine. fleek.co was a little easier to use tho i seem to have lost my app. I am still trying to understand what ipfs is good for. polkadot and substrate seem like ingredients, not solutions. Everyone introduces a bunch of new unique terminology, I am awash in concepts.

I am bullish on the idea that there is some application use for web3 infrastructure, tho nothing I am finding is really compelling yet, and the complexity of using them is orders of magnitude too high. The cost to use any of these services is a complicated mystery; there is a lot of value in a publicly maintained, clear price list for services as is provided by AWS or Azure or GCS — I can have a “hello world” lambda up and running in minutes with a very clear cost expectation and a lot of cost and scale controls.

It would be great if someone made it trivially easy to move s3 storage to ipfs, and demonstrated exactly how that would be substantially cheaper. Cloudflare is attempting to move s3 usage to r2 — full s3 compatibility at a much lower cost – they are making it trivial to understand – I get that. If some IPFS offering would do the same, I would get that.

One thing I am quite sure about — the “Goodbye AWS!” sentiment on various web3 sites — how running an app on the blockchain will free apps from the tyranny of AWS (and Azure and Google…) — this is false. The blockchain operates on hardware that some organization is hosting and operating. There will be organizations that are better at operating hardware at scale, and they will aggregate up a bunch of blockchain processing traffic and then they will have the new Amazon (which might be the same as the old Amazon). This is just the nature of industries, every industry since the beginning of time has behaved this way – “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. I suspect a lot of vendors and investors understand this dynamic very well and are being disingenuous.

I also keep reading “crypto currency is different, we need a different regulatory regime.” Regulatory structures are in place, in part, to moderate the behaviour of the powerful and to protect the individual investors (and yes are abused by established players to achieve regulatory capture, but that is not a reason to drop them). When I hear a new entrant claiming we need a whole new regulatory regime, they are either naive about how this will play out — or they are disingenuous, they want to be a dominant player in the new regime and capture outsize rewards. THey are not acting on the behalf of the individual investor.

A variant of this is “The SEC’s posture towards crypto in the US is definitely hurting innovation”. Well yes it may be slowing innovation and this seems like a feature, not a bug. Maintaining a market that protects small investors and encourages them to participate in the market is a very good thing. Financial “innovators” often do not protect small investors.

The burden is on the crytpocurrency innovators to fully embrace the protections provided by the SEC and demonstrate how they can operate within those strictures.

Random

I’m a sucker for shaders.

I need a Mini hologram portal.

Dave Winer continues to innovate and build. Inspiring.

Nature conservancy 2021 photo winners – the cenote one is awesome.

Kintsugi is beautiful.

Noah smith explains the risks of subsidies for expensive services

Mortgage debt service at all time low. Stunning.

Recent Books -- The Weak Spot, Dance of Molecules, Cloud Cuckoo Land, Dirty Work

17 October 2021

  • The Weak Spot by Lucie Elven. Strange characters acting in strange ways. Hard for me to care about any of these people.
  • The Dance of Molecules by Ted Sargent. A little dated, but still good. Very nice language, better than most science books. I think Reardon recommended this one to me years ago, I should have read it then.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. Sprawls over a huge swath fo history but ties it all together nicely. I was captivated. Deserving of the accolades it has been receiving.
  • Dirty Work by Eyal Press. Examines the unpleasant jobs we ask people to do in society, and how we ignore and turn our eyes away from these jobs and their consequences. Sobering.