A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

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

My Top 6 Books

25 November 2022

Bill Gates recently posted some of his favorite books. And it has inspired me to think about my all time favorites. I have 1200+ books listed on Goodreads and I am sure there are another 500-1000 I’ve read that I have never put on Goodreads (for instance, I read every Allen Drury political drama back in my teens, loved them, but I’ve never bothered to put on Goodreads).

I narrowed my list down to 6 with some alternates as well. (Sorry I couldn’t get to 5, Bill is better at this than I am)

Recent Books -- Knight Series, Pyramid of Lies, Spin, The Secret History

18 November 2022

  • Her Name Is Knight, They Come At Knight by Yasmin Angoe. The first book is a good start to a thriller series featuring a young African assassin who has been thru a hellacious early life, and is now starting to avenge herself. The tale continues int he second book, which loses its way for a little while, although ends well.
  • The Pyramid of Lies: Lex Greensill and the Billion-Dollar Scandal by Duncan Mavin. More detail than I really wanted on this scandal. I am excited to read the equivalent about Sam Bankman-Fried some day.
  • Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Great tale of three close friends who deal with the transformation of Earth by alien technologies. Great characters dealing with stress.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This book seems well written, but the characters are unpleasant and the situation is unpleasant and I just didn’t enjoy putting this into my head. Moving on.

Recent Books -- American and Iran, Toaster Project, Foundryside, Freezing Order, Nazi Billionaires

25 October 2022

3 features I'd like in streaming media

17 October 2022

1, I really wish the AppleTV device had features for serious sports viewers. PIP so I can keep up with multiple games. Fast 1-button switching between two or three different games. I used to have these features on my old cable boxes, we have really lost something. And sports enthusiasts would pay for these features, if there was a special sports version of the appletv box I would buy it in seconds.

2, I’d love to see my viewing history for any service as I can with Netflix (although even on Netflix, it is buried in a stupid place in the UX). I’d like to be able to quickly rate shows, filter my history, share it or a filtered subset of it, etc. Every week my kids ask me “what did you watch good this week?” and I have to scramble to answer.

3, I wish all streaming services would integrate with either/both AppleTV and Amazon aggregation features - easy account activation/deactivation, viewing within the app, participation in favorites list, etc. I want to use an aggregator and I don’t care which one particularly. I don’t want to have 17 logins with 17 different apps with 17 different UXes – and boy are the UXes on some of the lesser streaming services bad, Showtime I’m looking at you.

Optimism

02 October 2022

It is easy to be concerned about the nation and the world. So much bad news and misbehavior.

But wow, do I feel optimistic this week. Like so many people I’ve been playing around with Stable Diffusion, and to a lesser extent Midjourney and Dall-E 2. Tons of fun, the open nature of Stable Diffusion makes it easy to play with, I’m reminded of how much fun it was the first time I got a PC. And the rate of innovation around it is incredible – a KerasCV port which seems super fast, alternative web UIs like the Automatic1111, animation aupport, video applications, tools to do incremental training for new objects and styles, prompt generation tools, landscape generation tools, inpainting, outpainting, masking, mosaicing, audio equivalents – it is hard to keep up with everything. Incredibly exciting time, great energy. Lots of issues around copyright and IP protection to be figured out, but still super exciting. I like this phrasing – the creative multiverse is way more exciting than some corporate metaverse. Stable Diffusion and its kin are going to be major accelerants for every creative task.

And I see reasons for great optimism outside software. I am relatively stupid about things biologic, but I get pretty excited when I read articles like Biomanufactured Materials Are Coming. Imagine if we can create Moore’s Law equivalents for biologic materials – ever cheaper, ever higher volume, ever more function biologics – the applications are pretty endless.

And then look at the space industry – Launch volumes are going way up, costs are going way down. And there are a ton of companies working hard to make this happen faster – for instance Stoke Space. Getting the free market to work on this challenge has been brilliant.

I could probably get just as excited about the declining cost of renewable energy and the implications of much cheaper energy.

It seems like we are on the cusp of an explosion of creativity fed by all these advances. A great time to be alive.

Recent Books -- Hard Cash Valley, Lessons In Chemistry, History of the Bible, Rapid Skill Acquisition

26 September 2022

Recent Books -- The Space Between Worlds, Blood and Daring, Civil Wars, Shantaram

31 August 2022

  • The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. Good story of parallel universes. A traveller betweens worlds deal with conspiracies and politics across multiple similar worlds with similar characters.
  • Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation by John Boyko. I know pathetically little about Canadian history, this was interesting and easy to get into as it related to history I already knew well, the American Civil War. I did not realize the impact the Civil War had across the border.
  • How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F. Walter. Very good data on history of civil wars, and pinpointing the common factor – loss of power by a historically controlling group. When it got to remedies, the book was a little less on target – a lot of theoretically good but impractical ideas, and too many of them. We are only going to be able to pull a few levers, I am not sure this book helped me understand which.
  • Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Wow, this is a long book, but that is because it has so much story packed into it. War, organized crime, prison, prison escapes, murder, betrayal, love, humour, this has it all. Not sure why I waited so long to read.

What shall we choose next?

21 August 2022

I’ve been reflecting on JFK’s “We choose to go to the Moon” speech:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win... -- John F. Kennedy

The most interesting part is how this will bring out the best of our energies and skills. An aspirational goal can really pull people together – the challenge displaces the petty everyday tussles we stumble into.

To achieve the moon goal, the US government made significant investments in science and technology. DARPA was founded in 1958, motivated by Sputnik, and was instrumental in the race to the moon, and has continued to generate incredible impact:

The Economist has called DARPA the agency "that shaped the modern world," and pointed out that "Moderna’s covid-19 vaccine sits alongside weather satellites, GPS, drones, stealth technology, voice interfaces, the personal computer and the internet on the list of innovations for which DARPA can claim at least partial credit." Its track record of success has inspired governments around the world to launch similar research and development agencies.

Viewed as a venture investor, DARPA and other government investments have been the best investments we’ve ever made, far outpacing the impact of private venture capital:

One investor funded the computer, the internet, speech recognition, last-mile distribution, mapping the human genome, the core technologies of fracking, and the first horizontal shale drill, and today it’s driving down the cost of solar and wind power below that of coal. -- Scott Galloway

We now face new sputnik-like challenges – innovation that is critical to future economic development, but where the US is failing to keep pace with other nations, now China. Consider our (potential) science gap with China:

Well, the point should be obvious now. When China has quantum computers a million times faster than Google’s, satellites that can talk securely with the Earth via quantum entanglement, quantum magnetometers that can (possibly) find our most secret submarines, and autonomous drone swarms that can fly through dense forests, Congress would have to be insane to worry about pinching a few pennies. -- Noah Smith

Responding to this challenge will generate new industries and new jobs for our children, just as DARPA did. Failing to respond will result in high value industries shifting to other nations, dragging down the ability of US citizens to enjoy a high standard of living.

I am glad to see the US has recently passed laws supporting semiconductor investment and renewables investment. Those are probably key industries going forward. But we haven’t articulated a moonshot goal. And we need one to help us all rise above the daily squabbles and focus on a positive future.

I am not sure what the right moonshot goal is, but it is not the Inflation Reduction Act – too prosaic, doesn’t lift us up. And it is not a Green New Deal – too abstract, too diffuse.

Recent Books -- Fooled by the Winners, Polarized, Vanishing Asia, Broken Glass, Will to Kill

20 August 2022

  • Fooled by the Winners by David Lockwood. The parts of this book that went into survivor bias were decent, but marred by the midbook tangent off into climate change and our potential responses to it. I don’t necessarily disagree with much (but not all) of the author’s view on climate change, but it just derailed the whole book, and the pages could have been better spent digging into survivor bias examples and implications.
  • Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein. Good assessment of the state and causes of polarization. Highest recommendation, I learned a lot. One insight about our changing demographics for instance – political power shifts lag 10 years behind demographic shifts, while cultural shifts lead by 10 years. This alone creates a lot of stress in our society. Also interesting is how the parties both basically abdicated control of candidate selection to the popular vote, and the implications of that change. A ton of good stuff.
  • Vanishing Asia by Kevin Kelly. Photos of an incredible broad swath of human society. Entrancing.
  • Broken Glass: Mies Van Der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight Over a Modernist Masterpiece by Alex Beam. An architecture project gone awry, triumph of ego and design over utility.
  • A Will to Kill by R.V. Raman. Clumsily authored, and really clumsily formatted for the Kimdle, very hard to read, obviously automatically converted into Kindle format with very little care – choppy paragraph breaks, missing quotation marks around speech, just painful to look at. Ugh.

Recent Books -- How Lucky, City of Orange, Dream and the Tomb, Falling, Addie LaRue

21 July 2022

  • How Lucky by Will Leitch. A moderately entertaining detective tale with a twist, the main character is beset by a crippling disease (spinal muscular atrophy) and is fighting to make something of their own life. An easy read.
  • City of Orange by David Yoon. Seemed like the kind of post-apocalyptic tale I would like, but could never connect with the character or the situation. The last(?) man alive fighting for existence on a deserted earth. I gave up before I could find out what happened.
  • The Dream and The Tomb by Robert Payne. A history of the Crusades, largely from the European side. What a morass of ego and ill-planning and wishful thinking. Good lessons for any nation considering an overseas misadventure.
  • Falling by T.J. Newman. Formulaic and unexciting from the start. Gave up fast. Inspired me to remove a bunch of other crappy books from my library, so that is good.
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. A young woman makes a deal with the devil and then spends centuries fighting against the deal. Started out slowly but built nicely and couldn’t put it down by the end.

We deserve better Senate candidates

17 July 2022

I’ve been reading my offical voter’s pamphlet which is a great resource. Big hat tip to everyone involved and to the State of Washington for making vote-by-mail so easy and effective.

We have 18 choices in the Senate primary. I’ve read about them all. I’ve gone to all their websites if provided. And it is a sorry set of choices in front of us. How is it that we have such lame choices?

We first have a bunch of non-serious choices. These candidates haven’t bothered to create websites, they have hotmail.com and yahoo.com and gmail.com addresses, there is often no way to give them money, and they have fringe or even nutty views.

  • Henry Clay Dennison. Socialist Worker’s Party. Some great working class background, and wants to stand up for the common man. But then he veers off into support for Cuba’s socialist revolution, which I doubt is a big issue for most Washington voters, and he declares that he wants a “revolutionary government of workers and farmers”. I’m feeling Cultural Revolution vibes here.
  • Mohammad Hassan Said. Democrat. A yahoo.com email address so he couldn’t be bothered to try very hard. Oh and his medical license was suspended and apparently “a member of LGBT” was involved.
  • Dan Phan Doan. Independent. No website. No stand on issues. Feels like some friends entered his name to surprise him.
  • Dr. Pano Churchill. Democrat. He’s the elected leader of the environmental parliament and the independent Lincoln Party! He says some nice things in his campaign statement. His website is a deep mishmash of stuff, I am sure there is something that would terrify me in here.
  • Sam Cusmir. Democrat. No history of office. His website doesn’t work.
  • Jon Butler. Independent. He points you to his facebook page which is filled with pretty random and suspect links. And he has a hotmail email address.
  • Bryan Solstin. Democrat. A Bitcoin enthusiast! “Central Bank Digital Coin is slave money. Dystopian”
  • Martin D. Hash. Independent. “the only-ever simultaneously licensed doctor, lawyer, accountant & Professional Engineer in the world.”
  • Thor Amundson. Independent “Professional Experience: Watching C-Span for 30 years”. No website.
  • Charlie (Chuck) Jackson. Independent. His campaign website is a long screed at insanityrules.org.

We have two Republicans who don’t seem to be Trumpy but who basically have no chance.

  • Bill Hirt. Republican. Website solely focused on stopping mass transit expansion and on climate change denial. I am not sure he understands what Senators do.
  • John Guenther. Republican. No history of office, refuses all donations. I admire his spirit but this isn’t serious.

We have three Trumpy Republican candidates with various degrees of Trumpiness. All unelectable in this state. I can live with some conservative positions but the embrace of the Trump camp and the election integrity nonsense is unacceptable.

  • Leon Lawson, Trump Republican Party, an entity that doesn’t exist? Big MAGA energy on his website.
  • Dave Saulibio. JFK Republican Party? An entity that doesn’t exist. A big fan of giving teachers guns and hardening schools. Admires Trump.
  • Tiffany Smiley, Republican. Endorsed by a bunch of people in the Trumpublican circles, happy about the RoeVWade decision, some blather about election integrity.

Two Democrats or Independents who seem to have their hearts mostly in the right place but have no experience, little organization, and some policy flaws:

  • Naz Paul. Independent. No history of office. An attempt at a good campaign website tho a little silent on some of the most fractious issues of the day like abortion, hard to know what she really stands for.
  • Ravin Pierre. Democrat. A history of service, strong educational background, he seems to have his heart in the right place, tho he is a little out of control on his language sometime. And has some pretty radical positions on church taxation, crypto.

And finally Patty Murray, the incumbent Democrat. I am disappointed in how invisible our incumbent Senators have been over the last 6 years. We have faced incredible challenges and I see no leadership from them.

It is a pretty disappointing slate. I’m left with little choice but to support the largely invisible and ineffective incumbent.

Recent Books -- How The World Really Works, Border Hacker, The Recruit, Unstoppable, Shifty's Boys

04 July 2022

  • How The World Really Works by Vaclav Smil. Recommended to me by a lot of smart people. The early chapters are great, really explains the centrality of energy costs in the bulk of the world around us, and how hard it is going to be to move away from fossil fuels. The later chapters seemed to meander and the book lost its edge, but the core point of “you have to understand the world before you can start changing it” is extremely valid.
  • Border Hacker by Levi Vonk. The story of a migrants and a particular migrant attempting to get to the US through Mexico. A terrible experience made worse by US policies. I would have enjoyed more stories of more individuals, and less focus on the one individual.
  • The Recruit by Alan Drew. A solid thriller about racism in the 80s, themes that sadly remain relevant today.
  • Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig’s Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend by Joshua M. Greene. Pretty amazing story of survival and fortitude. Very inspiring.
  • Shifty’s Boys byt Chris Offutt. Good thriller set in appalachia, seems to nail the atmosphere.

Recent Books -- Pixel, This Tender Land, Karachi Vice, Land of Big Numbers

12 June 2022

  • A Biography of the Pixel by Alvy Ray Smith. Expansive and deep exploration of the evolution of digital media and its fundamental element. Great depth and insight. A little overwhelming in depth at times.
  • This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. Great mashup of the Odyssey and Huck Finn. Great characters, very enjoyable.
  • Karachi Vice by Samira Shackle. True tales of life on the streets of Karachi. Tough lives.
  • Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen. Not usually a short story fan but this was fascinating. The combination of unrestrained market development and intrusive authoritarian presence is a strange mix.

Recent Books -- Exit Strategy, Build

19 May 2022

  • Exit Strategy by Charlton Pettus. Solid thriller, one innovative use of DNA encoding, tho rest of book dragged at times.
  • Build by Tony Fadell. Really really nice gift of advice about building products and companies. Hat tip to @tfadell, a great leader and sharer. Quite a contrast to some other tech luminaries who are pushing neolibertarian slop and crypto/web3 fraud, @tfadell is sharing great leadership and innovation guidance.

Whither Twitter, Buyer's Guide, and other random stuff

14 May 2022

Well it has been a while since I have posted any observations. I have improved my pickleball game tho.

Twitter

Several years ago, I reconsidered my use of Facebook, and made the decision to largely exit Facebook, and I haven’t really regretted it. I’ve been doing the same recently for Twitter.

I do get value out of Twitter. College football smack talk and news, a little bit of community news, some technology info, the occasional news about friends. But there is a lot of noise on Twitter, a lot of snark, a lot of “performative nonsense”, and maybe it is getting worse.

What should I expect out of Twitter? Twitter is not some mystical thing. It’s not our global conciousness, not our townsquare, not some magic public good. It’s just a company trying to turn a buck by attracting eyeballs. Viewing it as some special thing just leads to disappointment.

Twitter has every right to publish/promote whatever content using whatever criteria it wants. The choice may attract or drive away some users, may attract advertisers or not, may have other business implications. Whatever, that is the Twitter’s first amendment right.

Twitter also doesn’t owe me or anyone a bullhorn. It may or may not let me say what I want to say, Twitter may or may not amplify it. That is Twitter’s right. And I have the right to use or not use Twitter.

Any new owner of Twitter will have the right to publish and promote whatever content they want, using whatever criteria they want. It may be different than what the former owners did. It may have different appeal to different users, advertisers, partners.

If I don’t like any of that, I can walk away at anytime. No one is forcing me to use Twitter. I can live without it — most of my family doesn’t regularly use Twitter, most of them don’t even have accounts. Twitter doesn’t have particularly significant impacts on my work performance or on my relationships. If and when it loses the entertainment, social, and educational value it has, I will just walk away. There are plenty of places to read, to learn, to share, to connect.

This week, Instead of cruising Twitter every morning and worrying about what it might become, I’ve been spending time on Duolingo, trying to relearn my high school Spanish. I feel better after doing this than I have ever felt after spending time on Twitter. I will probably continue to drift away from Twitter towards more learning, thinking, and positive communication venues.

Progressive Buyer’s Guide

I like the Progressive Voter’s Guide (https://progressivevotersguide.com). It is not my sole source of voting info, but it is a very helpful and concise guide.

I also like the sustainable seafood guide (https://oceana.org/living-blue-sustainable-seafood-guide/). When I have useful info on products and their impact, I like to make the most beneficial choice.

I wish I had a Progressive Buyer’s Guide. When I go to buy a car, or book a trip, or buy an appliance, or subscribe to a service, or whatever — where is that money going? What political efforts are supported by that company or by its principals? What states are benefiting most from my expenditure? Do I have alternatives available that would direct money towards more progressive states or more progressive political efforts?

For instance, I found out this year that, not only had ATT and ATT executives donated to Republican candidates, but ATT helped to fund the establishment of the right wing OAN news network. I don’t need to fund that. I happily made the switch to T-Mobile.

Some elements I would want as part of an effort to build a progressive buyer’s guide:

  • A system to track a product’s source by state, company. What % of this car is produced in what state (or finer grained region) by what company? I’d want to support community involvement, ultimately will want to tap a network of people providing this info.
  • A system to track a company’s donations and the donations of executives. Most of this is already public at the FEC website or Opensecrets.
  • A progressive weighting of states, politicians, PACs, etc, and an algorithm to sum those into a total weighting for a product. It is likely that one would want to support multiple ratings — IE a total progressive rating, a climate change rating, an income inequality rating, etc.
  • A front end to display a weighting for a product. And for a given product, show the more progressive alternatives. You want a certain suv? This alternative has more content produced in more progressive states, and the execs give less to retrogressive candidates.

Random

Steampipe.io – a sql interface on top of all kinds of cloud resources. Kind of cool. As Sam says, software engineers love grand unification schemes.

In this era of heightened political conflict, why are the US Senators from the state of Washington so nearly invisbile?

I do not like pickles. But I have great admiration for the pickle lobby who have somehow convinced everyone to put pickles with every sandwich ever.

One of the cryptocurrency luminaries — “Bitcoin is a swarm of cyber hornets serving the goddess of wisdom”. I have sometimes handwaved in some presentations, but I am a handwaving amateur.