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 -- 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.

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.


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.