A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

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

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.

Recent Books -- G-Man, Gender Queer, She, Blood and Oil, Blood of the Lamb

03 March 2023

  • G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage. Wow this is a lot of J. Edgar Hoover info. He was certainly a central figure in the 20th century. A sobering story about the accumulation of power, and the abuse of power, by him and by politicians around him. We are not well served by elected or appointed officials with long terms.
  • Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe. An easy to read memoir, a good introduction to one person’s story about gender. Much I don’t know about these issues.
  • She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard. Been on my shelves for years, finally cracked it. A rip roaring tale tho obviously hasn’t aged well.
  • Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power by Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck. Another blood boiler. Very difficult to be positive about alliance with Saudi Arabia after reading this. Also makes me even more pro-renewables so that we can stop dealing with these turds.
  • The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries. Oof, what a gut punch. A man struggles for meaning and faith over the course of a life in which he loses his brother, first love, his wife, his parents, his daughter. And somehow de Vries injects levity in the story. Great admiration for the writing.

Idea roundups

23 February 2023

Some useful roundups of ideas from around the web.

  • 40 useful concepts, hattip to Recomendo. So many pithy insights – “People just aren’t thinking about you that much.”, “By celebrating people for their intelligence, we make them stupid”, “Action creates traction, so each step you take will facilitate the next.”
  • 12 questions to ask dad before he’s gone.
  • The Conquest of Happiness – seems like a book I should read. “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
  • The Law of 100. Practice and repetition with feedback is the way.

Recent Books -- The Mountain In The Sea, Breakheart Pass, Nophek Gloss, Bad Mexicans

11 February 2023

  • The Mountain In The Sea by Ray Nayler. Good introspective tale about discovery and creation of different kinds of intelligences. Octopi are fascinating.
  • Breakheart Pass by Alistair MacLean. As a kid I read all MacLean’s books and loved them. As a lark I reread one. OK it is overwritten, under-edited, a little trite – but there is a great story in the bones of this book, I understand why I ate them up.
  • Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen. I am not sure why I gave this book so much of a chance, it is a fairly typical hero saga with really dumb sci fi elements. Not worth it.
  • Bad Mexicans by Kelly Lytle Hernandez. Chock full of history that I never learned, and I really should know, but the book is just boring. Kept falling asleep.

Recent Books -- Trust, The Future is History, China RX

15 January 2023

  • Trust by Hernan Diaz. Worthy of all the accolades. The truth is slowly unravelled as different characters relate their experience, stripping away facade after facade.
  • The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen. The story of the end of the Soviet Union and the rise of the current Russian goverment/society told thru the stories of people who endured it. Very sobering assessment of Russian society and government, the enthusiasm for and commitment to totalitarianism runs deep. Even more a supporter of a free Ukraine after reading this.
  • China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine by Rosemary Gibson. A little histrionic at times, and overly long and repetitive, but raises good issues. There is a glaring hole in the recommendations, there is no way we can depend on inspections of manufacturing facilities in the US or overseas to ensure quality, we have to perform random sample testing of product in the field and take fast action based on problems identified.

I'm off twitter for now

18 December 2022

Elon has every right to have whatever editorial policy he wants and to support whatever membership he wants. It is his company. And Twitter is not some special place, some sacred commons — it is just another media site, and like every media site, it is going to have a slant and a certain audience goal.

Increasingly, the site doesn’t match with my interests. It is becoming an outrage fest and Elon is encouraging that. Elon posts provocative stuff, people express outrage, and other people express outrage about the outrage. Elon isn’t the only driver of course.

The good news is we are awash in tools to express ourselves, it has never been easier to get your voice out and connect with people. I read and post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Mastodon, Post, Goodreads, Discord, Wordpress, Github, and more. I’ve considered and discarded so many alternatives, I can’t remember them all. Social networks, microblogging platforms, short message platforms, video clip sharing services, photo sharing services, blogging tools, newsletter tools, website hosting, discussion forums, video hosting services — there are so many tools available and more every day. I can’t keep up with them all, I have probably missed entire categories of tools. And in every category there are multiple choices, with multiple different content policies. There is a place for everyone.

Twitter and its adherents don’t owe me anything and I don’t owe twitter or anyone on it a listen.

Recent Books -- Sea of Tranquility, The Year of Peril, Overstory, Boys and Men, Sandworm, Fortune Favors the Dead

17 December 2022

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.