A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

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

Learnings -- WiFi, Tokens, Hype, Change

13 October 2021

The fallacy of mid-market network gear

We have always used “consumer grade” networking gear in our house. Cable modems off of Amazon, Eero wifi access points (and apple wifi access points before that). The Eeros have a great mobile app and have generally been easy to setup and largely bulletproof.

But I don’t love being the IT guy for the house. So against my better judgement, in our current house I was talked into mid-market “var friendly” devices — Araknis routers and Ruckus access points with professional install. It has not been very clean. These vendors have crap mobile apps and the gear isn’t designed for users to manage. Our installer is not able to debug as he is busy doing installs. There is no consumer support path.

Our WiFi networks kept dropping a couple times a day. We complained about and got no answers besides “have you tried rebooting”. So I wrote a python script to monitor our connection every 10 seconds, and discovered that our connections were dropping every 12 hours exactly. I put my macbook on the wired network and ran the same script, no drops. So it seemed access point specific.

After weeks of badgering my installer, I finally got login admin access to both the Araknis routers and the Ruckus access points. The Araknis system logs show no problems. The Ruckus access points all reported connectivity problems every 12 hours. Ding ding. Back to the Araknis UI, and guess what the DHCP lease length is set to? 12 hours. Ding ding ding. I set it to 72 hours and all has been relatively good since then.

There are so many problems here.

  • Our installer doesn’t have the time or depth to solve these problems.
  • The Ruckus and Araknis products don’t expose config tools to users.
  • The Araknis has a stupid 12 hour default for DHCP.
  • The Ruckus devices are stupidly on dynamic IPs by default, and all 3 of them try to do lease renewal at the exact same time.
  • Neither Araknis nor Ruckus have effective consumer support services.
  • The Ruckus issues with DHCP are clearly known in user forums, for some time, and Ruckus does nothing about.
  • All of this just creates pain for consumers and for our installer. If I was an installer I would dump all this crap and install consumer grade devices.

Almost all these problems go away with Eeros. I hear very good things about Unifi too tho their website reads like they are creeping into the mid-market which scares me.

I am probably never going to get to step out of the role of home IT guy. All I can do is buy products that automate a lot of the problems away or give me easy self service solutions.

What are tokens exactly?

When I am not in the router weeds, I am trying to keep up with the new hotness. This is a good explanation of cap tables for crypto companies.

Historically when an entity issues a financial instrument, it is backed by some guarantee of financial value. The government issues currency, backed by the taxing power of the government. Municipalities issue bonds, backed by their taxing power. Corporations issue bonds, backed by their ability to generate cash to cover the bonds. Companies issue equity, which is a claim on the cash flow and earnings of the company. Etc.

What exactly are tokens backed by? They aren’t a claim on the issuing company’s cash flow or equity. (And why not?) The company could create an arbitrary number of new distinct token offerings. A token is just a claim on the part of the token pool it is in, and there is no economic value associated with that, except for whatever the token holders decide, or what the tokens can be traded for. They seem pretty vacuous.

Maybe I am done with the tech industry for now

The tech industry has always had an affinity for hucksterism. FUD and vaporware were big deals when I started in the industry. (And it is not like the tech industry originated these practices – go read the history of Edison, or the various trading companies during the mercantile era. I am sure these practices span all of human commercial activity and will continue to do so.)

But you tire of it. And as I try to keep up with crypto and NFTs, I find myself more and more aligned with some of the harsh critics – NFT criticism by Dan Olson, more NFT criticism, crypto critic Stephen Diehl.

I could just sit back and be a critic. But maybe I should just be done with the tech industry for a while. I will always be an enthusiastic user of tech. But the industry machinations and hype cycle is just not fun or interesting right now.

But I don’t really want to quit understanding change

The day you quit embracing change and quit learning is the day you die, or at least that is what my grandfather said. Seth Godin on embracing change – “We can choose to live behind the curve or ahead of it.”

I have a slightly different formulation of this. Technology change, and change of any sort, is constantly sweeping through our society, largely uncontrolled by any of us, crashing like waves.

And the wave metaphor is good — you can deal with these waves in a couple ways. You can twist your feet into the sand, anchoring yourself, and try to fight off the waves. Or — you can grab a board and surf them.

Something big is changing in our society about employment. I don’t really understand it yet. I am listening and learning. When the generation before ours went to work, they dedicated themselves to a company for a lifetime, and the company dedicated itself to them. My generation still had a lot of that, tho 5-10 years at a job was considered an ok amount of time, and company pensions started to disappear. The commitment level on both sides has continued to drift down. It is going to be interesting to see how this evolves.

Random things bubbling up to the surface

I do love interactive art. I might play around with Isadora

Interactive fiction db and twinery tool. Interactive fiction games were part of my early intro to personal computing.

I was playing around the neopixel LED strips and posted a little code i wrote to control one via MQTT. Might be helpful to someone playing around with.

The yayagram — a physical device for interacting via Telegram.

National Book Award Finalists – always good choices

When I was a kid, we visited the cereal factories in Kellogg, Michigan. I love a good factory tour, but the smell of millions of pounds of grain cooking was enough to turn me off cereal for a long time. I can’t imagine working there.

I used to make my own tombstones for Halloween.

The time I met Steve Jobs

10 October 2021

Many people have told their Steve Jobs stories this year on the 10th anniversary of his passing. Mine is just a small story.

In about 1981, when I was a junior at The Ohio State University, I was trying to figure out what was next for me – job, graduate school, what kind of graduate school (business, EE). I was fortunate to have a good family friend, Jim Dutton, who was CEO of a startup, Caere Corporation, out in Los Gatos. He offered to host me on a tour of Silicon Valley to help me make up my mind. Just the opportunity to fly to California and to visit Silicon Valley seemed like an amazing adventure to me.

I flew out and stayed with Jim, Joan, and his family. I didn’t understand exactly how connected Jim was. Over the next 3 days I was able to visit a lot of companies, and I got the chance to talk personally with Gene Amdahl at Amdahl Corp, Bob Noyce at Intel, and Steve Jobs at Apple. They were all a little intimidating, but Steve especially so, he was intense and excited about his work. He was in his full beard days. He pressed me hard on why I was considering various paths.

I only realized later in life what a great gift this trip had been. I thanked Jim a lot at the time but probably didn’t thank him enough. And I never really appreciated the time that these people gave me until later. They took time out of their busy days to meet some nobody kid from Ohio, that was incredibly nice. I probably could have fought my way into a job at one of their companies at that time if I had been savvy enough, I might have missed a great adventure and a great financial windfall, but my career turned out ok.

Steve and these other leaders taught me that we always have the time to reach out and help people entering their careers, we always have the time to be helpful and gracious to young people. I try to live up to that.

Automakers and Semiconductors, Culture and Strategy, Web3, and other things I've been learning about this week

09 October 2021

Auto Makers Don’t Drive the Semiconductor Industry

Jalopnik has the automaker-sympathetic view of the chip shortage; contrast with Gelsinger’s advice to get moving to new chip technologies. As noted in Stratechery, “In the long run it is the car companies that will have to give in: there simply is no good economic reason for TSMC or anyone else to build new “old” fabs”. There is no fighting this wave.

In the early days of Hotmail (and other web properties), the team addressed scale and reliability by buying ever more expensive Sun servers that were “enterprise grade”, hardened, reliable. This approach to web scale reliability finally gave way to new system architectures built on replicated and distributed designs running on commodity hardware.

Some equivalent transformation is going to need to take place in auto systems design. It is inevitable that during the production and operating life of a car, the chips available at reasonable price and volume will change. How might this affect system design? Chips will have to be encapsulated in pluggable modules that are easily testable, easily changeable. It probably argues for consolidating chips into fewer places in the car, and increases the importance of software and hardware design for these systems.

Some automaker will figure this out (perhaps Tesla, Rivian, and others already have), and it will deliver them large economic and flexibility benefits.

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Good article in The Atlantic about how Boeing destroyed its engineering culture. Sam says this may be a maxim – “Every successful creative culture is eventually absorbed by bureaucrats” – call it McKelvie’s law.

I was fortunate to spend a lot of my career at Microsoft during a time when the management chain had developer background and fully supported developers. Not that this meant the company was some tech-mad customer-aloof circus – everyone was pretty focused on market success, and were able to think clearly and creatively about technology.

I Don’t Get Web3, But I Keep Trying

I spend a bit of every week trying to wrap my head around NFTs, Crypto, Web3. I totally get the desire to break content and services free from large corporate ownership. Services like Radicle and Gitcoin seem interesting maybe (although I can’t find anyone using radicle).

But then I read this twitter thread and this article by some very vocal proponents of web3. These are not stupid people, so I am trying to understand their views, but I struggle with their language.

For instance: “NFTs give users the ability to own objects, which can be art, photos, code, music, text, game objects, credentials, governance rights, access passes, and whatever else people dream up next.”

The NFT concept of ownership seems closest to the notion of owning a meal you purchased. No one else can own that instance, tho the restauranteur retains the right to create and sell infinitely more instances. My own purchased meal has utility to me, but over a long time I can’t really resell it or expect it to grow in value.

Or owning an NFT is like owning a copy of a music track. I get value out if owning the track copy, but no one is ever going to pay me much for my specific copy of “Custard Pie” by Led Zeppelin, and Led Zeppelin retains the rights to sell as many copies of this track as they can, or create new and different versions.

This is very different than owning a unique piece of art or owning all the rights to some piece of code or to some piece of music. Certainly someone could contractually commit to sell some deeper piece of ownership along with an NFT, but a token itself doesn’t magically solve this ownership issue, nor are tokens required to sell these rights.

Another instance: “Ethereum is a decentralized global computer that is owned and operated by its users. Blockchains are special computers that anyone can access but no one owns.”

The industry has a pretty good definition of what a “computer” is, and there is a giant economy of Intel instruction set and ARM instruction set computers and tools — chips, SOCs, cloud instances, vms, dev toolchains, management tools, virtualization tools, etc etc etc.

My puny brain has a hard time understanding how blockchain compares to what we normally call computers. If I want to write some program that does some arbitrary task, how do I host that on a blockchain? If a blockchain is just a special computer that can only do one special kind of task, how is that useful?

Or: “Ethereum is powered by a fungible token, ETH, which is used to incentivize the physical computers that underlie the system.”

How does a token power anything? Or incentivize physical computers? You can’t incentivize code or semiconductors.

Words and definitions matter. This breezy use of well understood terms does not help to build understanding. It damages the arguments of the web3 proponents as it seems like they are trying to purposefully obfuscate.

IOT and WIFI

Interesting that low cost wifi chipsets are emerging, putting wifi at/near zigbee/zwave power budgets, if I understand the specs. Suspect zigbee and zwave don’t survive this assault.

Random

Brandi Carlile’s cover of Madman Across the Water is awesome. Of course Brandi’s cover of almost anything would be awesome.

An argument agains the notion of general intelligence. Hear, hear. I’ve met a ton of smart people and they are all uniquely smart in different ways.

Recent Books -- Nagata, Four Lost Cities, Metamaterials, World Gives Way

03 October 2021

  • Edges and Silver by Linda Nagata. Edges was a ton of fun, nice work blurring software and biology and physics, and a fun “Alien” kind of plot. Silver got a little too metaphysical for me and lost the plot and characters a little.
  • Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz. A lot of details about city life in early cities. I had trouble really getting the thesis of the book tho, I was lost in minutiae.
  • Waves in Metamaterials by Baszlo Solymar and Ekaterina Shamonina. Didn’t read thoroughly, didn’t really “resonate” with me (sorry).
  • The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien. Sometimes space adventures don’t end well, and humans have to cope with it.

Smart Home and IOT software development, automotive tech, and other random things I've been noodling on

01 October 2021

Building a smart home app

I’ve spent some time over the last 3 months trying to build a smart home app. I wanted to yoke together all the embedded technology in my home — lights, sensors, cameras, various controllers, etc — and do something entertaining and fun with them. Most smart home apps are booooring — no one really wants to be the operations manager for their house. I wanted to create something a lot more fun, using all the smart home gear, maybe something like an Escape Room kind of game. or Hide the Thimble.

I largely failed.

The smart home space is a confusing welter of devices, oses, physical networks, protocols, apis, apps, services, very few of which work together. Getting devices to talk to services, even from the same vendor, is arcane — don’t take only my word for it — Mat Velloso tried to do some simple home automation work and realized what a can of worms smart homes are. I have Google, Apple, Amazon, Lutron, Zigbee, Zwave, Philips, Samsung, and every other kind of device you can imagine. I have tried many ways to hook them all together, having the most success with Hubitat. I really wanted to create a programmable substrate that I could use for apps in the home.

I got to a limping instance of a game with some invaluable help from Sam and Vlad. But it all fell apart repeatedly. The devices are unreliable, sometimes responding, sometimes not. Networks and protocols are unreliable. The object models for devices are wildly inconsistent, even within a single brand. Heterogeneous networks are a mess of differing transaction models, discovery mechanisms, etc. The various packages and libraries to program against smart home devices are not well supported, many have been abandoned or are stale. Naming and discovery of devices is, well, not even primitive.

At this point, it is not worthwhile to keep on tinkering. I’ve dumped most my gear into a box and into storage. There is no viable targetable smart home market. The PC software market and the mobile software market exploded because a high volume of homogenous (interconnected) targetable devices existed. No such state exists in the smart home market.

Tools for IOT Development

I have also tried to move upstream a little and dig into the tools for IOT development. I haven’t really found what I want there either. I’d like to write an app that I can easily move across different IOT devices.

Platformio has some promise and they have a big VSCode plugin, they have certainly aggregated a lot of devices in their tools. But they don’t really solve my problems. Their tool early binds you to a specific hardware platform and libraries, this isn’t what I want. And I had hoped that a great VSCode plugin would be appealing, but the plugin feels pretty heavy – a bunch of decorations added to VSCode, a whole new hierarchy. And if you want to target RPIs, you have to run the whole dev environment on an RPI – yuck.

There are almost no RPI plugins for vscode which I find surprising. Raspberry Pi Sync is just some lipstick on rsync (tho the developer’s name is KingWampy, have to like that). There is no plugin for Balena tho Balena separately has a pretty nice onboarding experience in the browser which I will be digging into further.

Microsoft has a suite of extensions for AWS IOT but they don’t seem to be actively maintained.

Overall the tool situation is not great — which is another comment on the market; with no volume targettable hardware, there just is not much point to great tools.

Auto Software

I’ve previously written about the problems in auto software. Not shocked to see the chip industry is frustrated with the auto industry as well – “It just makes no economic or strategic sense,” said Gelsinger, who came to the auto show to convince carmakers they need to let go of the distant past. “Rather than spending billions on new ‘old’ fabs, let’s spend millions to help migrate designs to modern ones.”

Random

2021 Audobon Photography Awards

A nice examination of housing affordability. As nutballs as the housing market is, this analysis suggests it is sustainable.

Seth Godin on change and the status quo. I really like his thought exercise around milk or solar power – imagine that the new idea is the status quo, how would that change your view of the change?

A perfume truck. If trucks work great for food, why not other retail categories?

The future of big cities as predicted in 1922 — very prescient

The best software for every need — a good list to start from.

Making the workplace work for moms (and all parents and kids, which pretty much covers everyone)

World tour of mustards – I do like a good mustard.

Another bull$&!t medical bill

30 September 2021

Yet another bull$&!t medical bill. Encapsulates how screwed up our health insurance system is, why the whole thing should be thrown in the trash.

  • Labcorp charges almost $3K for some blood work, and Premera “negotiates away” $2.3K of this. What nonsense. Everyone is inflating costs for their own reasons and it is all abusive garbage. I don’t believe for a second that these labs cost anywhere close to $3K and I don’t think Premera did any work at all to negotiate this down.
  • Premera pays almost $500 for the labs (and who knows if they really did, all I have is their claim they did)
  • We are stuck with $119.50 which is probably not far from the true cost of the labs, but why didn’t Premera “negotiate away” this when they were negotiating away $2.3K?
  • Amount you saved – another total fiction. Based on the nonsense total charge and Premera’s claims of what they paid.

In all this, I have no power as consumer to do anything. The insurers and providers are motivated to jack numbers up. The system results in a lot of profits being diverted to insurance companies and administrative overhead that does nothing to benefit patients.

My 4th major iteration of blog tech

28 September 2021

I started blogging 20+ years ago. I used Blogger to start, used the Radio Userland stack for a while, toyed with Drupal, jumped to MovableType for quite a while, then to Wordpress. I started out with a simple static site and then got pulled slowly to dynamic sites. I’ve felt for a while that Wordpress had become a giant complicated thing but inertia left me there.

Last week tho my wordpress install had some corruption and for a day or two I couldn’t edit it. So I finally got off my butt and have moved to a static site on github pages – kind of back where this whole journey began, and I am happy to be back to a static site. The static site tools are a lot better than Blogger ~20 years ago!

Recent Books -- The Authoritarian Moment

28 September 2021

I read The Authoritarian Moment: How the Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent by Ben Shapiro because one of the smartest readers I know recommended that I take a chance on it. It is not my cup of tea but I tried to keep an open mind and be thoughtful about.

The question that I will pose to my friend is “what exactly did you find compelling in here” – I am very curious to know what resonated with him.

The book is not a serious book. The author throws out anecdotes to fit his desired narrative, and uses bombast in place of data to sell his story. He purposefully ignores anecdotes or data that don’t fit his story. I don’t think the author is stupid, this is all intentional, he seeks to enflame and enrage people who already agree with him, not advance the dialog about issues.

He makes much of the term “ultracrepidarianism” — criticising left-leaning “experts” who opine outside their domain, while he opines outside his domain. Consider the chapter on corporate behavior – Shapiro has not spent his career inside of corporations at the executive level – his analysis of how corporations operate is so off it is “not even wrong”. There is certainly criticism to be leveled at corporations, but being agents of the authoritarian left is not one of them! CEOs and boards are focused on the profits and quarterlies, execs are focused on their own careers and their own comp. The revolving door between gov and industry to drive regulatory capture is a real thing and it is driven by $s, not by any authoritarian left motivation. I am sure there are examples ocassionally of corporations acting in different ways, but it is not the norm or a significant theme. I suspect the other chapters on media and entertainment are just as off, but I have less experience there.

Throughout the book Shapiro repeatedly comingles the behaviour of the progressive left and the behaviour of anti-Trumpists. They are completely different motivations. He claims that anti-Trumpists “hated Trump because they hated his supporters” and this is utter rubbish. I know a lot of anti-Trumpists and they are pretty clearly focused on Trump and his coterie.

Shapiro repeatedly claims that conservative views are being stifled in society. Given the ratings of Foxnews, and given his own status as a bestselling author and a media presence with a lot of reach (which he brags about), this just isn’t supported. He and other conservatives seem to have plenty of ways to reach their audiences. He just doesn’t like the fact that not everyone wants his message.

And that is the core point – much of the book seems like whining. People are judging him, people aren’t listening to him, boo hoo hoo. In the last chapter, he quits being a whiney bucket, and talks about taking matters into his own hands, and creating media content and media platforms that are aligned with his politics. And I say bravo, this is what he should do, and is free to do. He and his allies should get their stories and views out in as compelling fashion as they can and find an audience. May the best ideas carry the day. He should work on more compelling ideas to bring forward, and spend less time on whining.

Recent Books -- Last Flight, Shape, Project Hail Mary, Mount Char

27 September 2021

  • The Last Flight by Julie Clark. A great tale of women trying to escape from abusive situations. On the edge of my seat. Well crafted.
  • Shape by Jordan Ellenberg. I should love this book but it was just ok. A tricky book to write as the audience is bimodal at least. I found it tedious at times.
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Admittedly this is a very similar story to The Martian but with two main characters, but still a lot of fun.
  • The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. One strange-ass story, really pulled me in. I am not sure I want a heavy diet of this kind of story but one was good.

Auto software, Xevo, NFTs, Space, and a grab bag of other things I've been reading about this week

21 September 2021

Auto Software

Tesla beats Mustang thanks to charging network — the traditional car OEMs really don’t seem to understand how big a software hole they are in.  It is not just autonomy or entertainment systems, but the entire end-to-end lifecycle of the car – presales website, configurator, post-sale site and services, charging network software, mobile app, in-car software, etc.   It is all driven by software and Tesla is ahead on all of it.

I am glad to see Xevo alum end up in so many great places — Amperity, Docusign, Curbside, Axon, Afresh, Clearscale, Discovery, Dignifi, Indeed, Amazon, News Break, Crowdstrike, Stoke Space Tech, Slalom, Google, Oracle, and more I probably missed.   Good luck to you all!

NFT Redux

Some of this art is beautiful and entrancingFoundation seems like a good exchange to find NFT art.  A lot of it is generative content, created by neural nets, using a lot of shaders.  It can create very engaging content.  I love dorking around with shaders and neural nets as much as anyone, and i have no skill/practice in creating art, so I really admire this work, but I can’t wrap my head around paying $5k-30K for a rendered video capture of one of these.  Maybe I would pay that much for source code access.  

Who is paying these prices (and more) for generative content (much of which has much less artistic content than the ones I prefer)?  Yet another argument that this is all just unfounded speculation.

It is easy to discount all this NFT and crypto stuff as speculation.  But the quality of talent diving into it is significant.  

Space

What could go wrong?  NASA is going to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid.

Interesting thread from Tren Griffin on size of the space economy.  If I was young and starting my career again, this would be very exciting.

Random

“We are basically a country of contrarian assholes, and when our leaders tell us to do one thing we tend to respond by doing the exact opposite.”

Booker Prize shortlist.  I find a lot of Booker nominees to be unreadable but probably some gold in here somewhere

Hand drawn illustration library, free for commercial and personal use.

How to open google docs in different google accounts – i had no idea docs.new/1 or docs.new/2 would work

The three minute song may not be the best.

No links, gosh there is a lot of contrary advice on the web about how to smoke brisket.  My first attempt earned a “C” at best.

QED venture investment lessons.  I love most of these.

NFTs, Contacts, Clay.Earth, UnTools, Platform.IO, Risk tolerance, and other things I am learning about this week

07 September 2021

NFTs

I went down the NFT rabbit hole this week a little.  The whole NFT thing seems nutty to me, but there is a good chance that I am just old and my brain is inflexible.  So I decided to force myself to dip in.  I tried to buy an NFT.

TLDR: A confusing welter of accounts and companies I had to deal with, a blizzard of expensive fees, my ETH ended up getting fractured across multiple wallets and intermediate locations, and i lost all my auctions to people who were willing to spend large amounts of ETH for ephemeral goods.  I am not much smarter about NFTs.

The first challenge: decide what NFT to buy.  NFTs cover nearly the entire gamut of human expression.  Opensea.io at the moment has 19M+ listed and that is only one marketplace.  Much of the activity is collectibles with designed scarcity.  I declined to chase these, I went after NFTs for more traditional art.  My thinking is that NFTs don’t really change human behaviour and human interests, and the same kind of things that have been deemed valuable and collectible for the past 1000 years will continue to be the things we value and collect.  All the regenerative collectibles seem a little risky to me, I can’t imagine that anyone will care about these in 15 years, just like no one really cares about beanie babies any more.  There are some categories of collectibles that have retained value — baseball cards, comics — I would imagine that NFT-based sports and comic collectables may also have some value, collectables that appeal to a large interest community existing outside the crypto space may be a smart play.  But I will stick to the more traditional arts for the moment.  I could be way off.

I also wanted a bit of a personal connection to the item.  We moved to Seattle at the beginning of the grunge wave, so I settled on this photo sheet from the early days of Nirvana. It was being offered on Opensea which seems to be the largest and most established market. I had never heard of Opensea before this adventure, but they are backed by big names so presumably someone has done some due diligence.

Now to make a bid, I needed to have a crypto wallet, I don’t have one.  I do have some ETH held up at Coinbase, but that is not a wallet.  Opensea suggests a bunch of wallets from unknown organizations, I went with their recommended default of Fortmatic, a second company.  Fortmatic is backed by lesser names and with lesser dollars so no idea if I should really trust them, but damn it, I am going down this rabbit hole.

Now in possession of a wallet, I need to get some crypto currency in it.  A bunch of new terms and organizations — I can provide WETHDAI, or USDC.  DAI and USDC hold out the promise of just using a credit card to add some dollars, so I tried those to start.  I am handed off to Moonpay for payment processing, a company that I have never heard of, that there is little info about, and is based outside the US.  I have one sketchy LinkedIn connection to someone at Moonpay, I am not feeling great about this.  And I am blocked because they demand a residential billing address and not a PO Box, and all my credit cards go to a PO box.  

I work around this, and then Moonpay wants me to send them an image of my driver’s license so they can verify my identity.  I just want to buy a picture, guys.  I can buy real physical art with far less trouble.  I declined to go any further down the Moonpay path.

So I went back to the WETH option.  I don’t have any WETH, I have ETH at Coinbase. WETH is some wrapping of ETH because ETH isn’t compatible with some standard.  So I decide i will transfer some ETH over to my Fortmatic wallet to be converted to WETH.  Except my Coinbase account isn’t enabled for transfers yet, and now Coinbase wants my driver’s license.  I crossed that bridge a long time ago, Coinbase needed my driver’s license at account opening time.  Why they need it again I don’t know, but what the hell.  

OK so now that my Coinbase account is working, i transfer some ETH to my Fortmatic wallet.  A blizzard of confirmations and fees and charges to move the ETH and to convert to WETH.  No idea what all this is, but it is not cheap.  Along the way i get introduced to Uniswap and Etherscan, there sure are a lot of organizations riding on my transaction, grabbing their piece of the flow.  Each of these has slimmer backing in turn, and seems more risky – apparently I am now trusting part of my transaction to a company in Kuala Lumpur.  Nothing against Kuala Lumpur, it just seems like an incredibly convoluted chain.   

Finally I complete my bid.  And now I wait.  The original creator minted 10, 9 have sold already, I have the high outstanding bid, I have no idea what happens now.  In the time it took me to set up all the above accounts and linkages, several of the items were sold, so I may have missed out.   In the meantime I downloaded the JPG of the image.

Update: I got outbid on that first piece, and so I have moved onto another piece.  and somehow i have two identical bids on this new piece, super strange, the Opensea/Fortmatic experience seems buggy.  Oh and every bid or cancelled bid requires a crazy expensive fee.  What a twisty mess.

Update II.  Outbid again.  For a crazy price on a simple photo.  There are people who are far freer with their money than I am.  I could buy a nice large format physical print for less than these prices.  

Update III. And Opensea now reports that the 2nd item I bid on, actually sold two days earlier for a price below my bid and a number of other bids greater than mine. WTF, this sale transaction did not appear when I was bidding. This whole process seems mysterious and arbitrary.

The entire process has been very unsatisfying.  I don’t have the thing I want.  I am not even sure what I get if I win.  A lot of people took a bite of my transaction, and I bet that I get none of that back if I don’t win.  I am not even sure how I get my ETH back if I don’t win, it is now WETH in a fortmatic wallet.  I have had to trust a basket full of unknown organizations.  I have a whole bag of numbers now — wallets, transaction IDs, etc — that I feel like I need to hang onto.  

NFTs, Part II

Maybe I should focus on generating some NFT-able content instead.  Great list of generative art and assistive art tools here.  In case you want to start making NFTs, or just dabble in creative arts.  Some of these are dead already but lots to explore.

Visionist is a fun app for monkeying with photos.  Silk 2 is fun for creating generative art.  Humbeatz seems like it might have been fun but I am wary of an app that has not been updated in 3 years.

Real World Art

For far less money than an ephemeral NFT, we purchased a great porcelain piece from Marianna Haniger and a stone piece from Bruce Richardson at the Lopez Island Artist’s Studio Tour this weekend.  Beautiful pieces, we supported local artists, some of their proceeds they are donating to local charities.  So much more satisfying than an NFT.  The Studio Tour is a great annual event.

Re NFTs, this tweet captures how I currently feel.

Contacts

The contacts app is my least used and least favorite of the standard iOS apps.  It solves very few problems i have with people.  Out of my thousands of contacts, there are at most a couple hundred that are super important, and contacts does nothing to help me nurture and build those relationships. 

When I was last managing a team, the contacts app wasn’t relevant at all.  It did nothing to keep me in touch with people on the team.

All my communications tools are message- or thread- or folder-or channel-centric, none of them are really people-centric, but that is what I want.  ios Messages does the best job, but only for message content — i can’t see the last 7 emails i sent to a contact, or add notes, or schedule a meeting, or see the last 3 times we met, …

clay.earth seems interesting.  I really love the idea of a contact-centric app, where i can actively think about and monitor my engagement with people.  

Tools

Untools is a repository of frameworks for helping you think about problems.  Super handy.  I kind of wish this was embodied in a “problem” app or “decision” app that would let you keep track of all the problems you are wrestling with, and let you easily try different frameworks out.  You can buy templates that you stick into Notion, a step towards an app.

I am not sure how I missed Platform.io.  I have largely given up on arduino-class devices because the toolchain is terrible.  This seems to address most of the terribleness, and expand to other devices.  I have thrown away most of my arduino-class hardware but maybe I need to retry.

Random

Apparently our tolerance for risk changes in a very predictable way during the week.  Decisions on mondays and fridays may be more fraught.  If you know this, how do you change your week’s schedule and pace?  Are there a class of decisions for which you want to encourage greater risk taking, and a class for which you want to discourage risk taking?  Almost certainly so.

good list of history books.  Many of these are quite broad in scale, I also like histories that bear down on a development — The Strange Death of Liberal England and Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power are two of my favorites.

Recent Books — Olondria, Radiance, Libertarian Walks Into a Bear, Midnight Library, Culture Map

05 September 2021

  • A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar. I wanted to stick with this book, it had some nice language, but it just was tiring. The story progressed at such a slow rate, and the characters just weren’t appealing.
  • Radiance by Catherynne Valente. A “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery”. My first in this category. Certainly unique. And wouldn’t we all like to live in a universe where all the planets in the solar system were perfectly habitable. I think there is a perfectly good noir story hidden in here, but the space opera and funky structuring kind of get in the way of the story.
  • A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling. Pretty funny true tale of remote New Hampshire. Libertarians crack me up.
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Nice inspirational tale about a woman in crisis. Afterlife, many worlds theory, fun stuff going on, and yet very introspective.
  • The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. I’ve read bits and pieces of these ideas in the past, I probably should have read the whole book sometime when I was still managing people spread around the world. A nice framework to help you understand and frame communications.

Optionality, Getting Started, Car Connectivity, NFTs, mentoring, and other recent thoughts

30 August 2021

Management

“Understanding is a poor substitute for convexity (antifragility)” — Taleb explains the strategy behind cultivating optionality in business and in life, and how that can lead to outsized rewards.  I first encountered his explanation of this in his book The Black Swan and it has always resonated.  It is why software VC has been so successful – a portfolio of low capital cost trials can lead to great outcomes (and wow the trend is not slowing down – look at unicorn births this year).  It is why well-run software companies can be so successful – again a portfolio of low capital cost bets, with active pruning and management, can lead to great outcomes.  I struggled and was unable to explain this dynamic to my last employer, they could not appreciate the value of creating and encouraging optionality in the business.  

“You don’t have to fix it all now. Just start by starting” — a great thread from Nate Howe on digging into problems.  I especially love a couple of his conclusions:

  • “An imperfect solution now is better than a perfect solution that will never happen.” — I have learned this over and over in my life.  I have seen a lot of time wasted trying to find the perfect solution when we could have very well implemented an OK solution and moved on. 
  • “Doing the thing is often less painful than thinking about doing the thing.” — Yes yes!   I almost always feel better just digging in and working on a problem, rather than letting it sit and fester on a todo list somewhere.  

“Code is easy.  People are hard.” — I also enjoyed this article from the Credit Karma Chief People Officer on how she does her job, approaching it as if she is the PM for the tools and systems in the company.  I wouldn’t follow all her practices (for instance, gamifying recognition, ugh), but I love the thoughtfulness and intentionality she brings to the role.

Technology

GM/ATT announce that select cars will have 5G in 2024.  Only 3-5 years after you had it on your phone!  Car connectivity is completely f&*ked up.  OEMs sign long term contracts that are uneconomic and don’t allow for the explosion of connectivity that people and apps want.  Personal phone data plans runs rings around car connectivity plans and will continue to do so.  OEMs need to open the car up and allow carriers to compete for connectivity, allow people to bring their own data plans, etc.  The current model just kneecaps the automotive software space.

I feel like such a dinosaur when I read about Bored Ape Yacht Club.  I may just buy a few NFTs on Opensea.io to learn how it all works.  This article digging into the definition and quantification of “legitimacy” seems interesting.  And here is a good high level walk thru some of the current trends.

Tissue-culture meat seems like an important development.  

Nice overview at Not Boring about emerging technologies, I love the Gartner Hype Cycle chart. Ooh, NFTs may be at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”.

Mentoring

I recently had a young college student (entering junior year) ask me for some career and schooling advice.  He is a CS major and interested in AI, tho he hasn’t done much in his classwork yet.  He really wants an internship in the space.  I am not sure I had the best advice but i gave him some counsel:

  • Get familiar with the AI frameworks getting a ton of investment from Microsoft, AWS, Google.  It is easy to spin up little experiments with these, and they are investing a ton of time in them.
  • Get familiar with the data input and data management side of these frameworks.  That is where so many of the problems lie in actual use of AI
  • Get comfortable with production software tool chains.  Source control, test frameworks, build systems, test flights, monitoring, etc.  You will need to be familiar with these in your career.
  • Go to the websites of your top 5 internship candidates and read the info they have about interns, about past candidates.  Go to your career office at your college and see what interns they have hired and see what background those interns had.  Identify the gaps in your background, and make yourself into a compelling candidate.

If anyone has better counsel I would love to hear it.  I’d like to help this young person and others like him find success.

Tools

Finally installed textsniper.  Should have done this long ago.  

github.dev is nice.  just press the . key while looking at a github.com repo.

Trying out wikilens.  Always looking for a better way to manage and edit my content.

Random

These best of the month pics from Nature are just awesome.  Many of them come from Schmidt Ocean Institute, where there are many more pics.

Dyson spheres around black holes could be powering alien civilizations.

Gravitational lensing photo thanks to Hubble.

A great source of potential reads — 50 favorite SF/Fantasy books of the past decade – I’ve read a lot of these but there are some new gems in there.  There are also some stinkers.

This event sounds strangely intriguing — Helena Bonham Carter and Tobias Menzes reading Keynes love letter correspondence.

Recent Books -- Pragmatic Programmer, Refactoring, Patterns of Software, Code Complete, River Rats, Echo Wife

23 August 2021

I’m cleaning some older books off the shelf, and peeking at them as I do:

  • The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas. 20+ years old, and a little dated in its examples (CORBA?) and quotes (a Bill Cosby quote?), but still a solid source of guidance on very basic software craftsmanship.
  • Refactoring by Martin Fowler. Hasn’t aged as well. In a world of cloud services, asynch programming, containers, this just doesn’t seem to line up with the fault lines in modern software.
  • Patterns of Software by Richard P. Gabriel. I wanted to like this, and I suspect there is some great stuff in here, but too abstract and meta for me
  • Code Complete by Steve McConnell. Back before Stack Overflow, Github, online notebooks, great doc sites, this may have been a great guide to software development. Still great topics, but doesn’t seem like the best way to learn.

And then some new ones

  • They Called Us River Rats by Macon Fry. A look at the settlements along the batture in the New Orleans area. What a way to live.
  • The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey. Nicely paced although the purportedly super smart protagonist didn’t seem to think that far ahead sometimes – if you are super good at cloning people and you need to cover up a death, I don’t think it would take you more than a nanosecond to consider cloning the dead person.

Financial Literacy, Work and Purpose, Church, Astrophotography, and more things I've been reflecting on this week

16 August 2021

Financial Literacy

From Scott Galloway on Robinhood: “…we need to arm ourselves, and particularly our young people, with financial literacy. Everyone should be fluent in the basics of markets and how to build financial security.”

It is unfortunate that we don’t really teach the basics of free markets and personal finance and capitalism.  I was fortunate to have parents and grandparents who shared some wisdom with me, and was fortunate to have stumbled into the right learning opportunities at college and in my early career.  We leave most people ill-equipped to deal with the caveat emptor markets we live in.  

I admire Hadi Partovi and what he has done with code.org to make computer science education available universally.  I wonder if financial literacy needs a similar push, who the champion could be, what set of organizations would have to be involved. 

Work and Purpose

I met Hadi back during the IE3 days at Microsoft, he was part of the best team any of us had ever worked on.  He recently posted a thread about the 25th anniversary of the IE3 project and what it meant to him.  And then he promptly got a raft of sh$t from the twitterverse about work-life balance, death marches, etc.   None of this feedback came from people who were on the ground as near as I can tell.

I can’t speak for everyone but here is my story.  At that time at Microsoft, I felt a great sense of purpose — “A PC on every desk and in every home” was empowering and exciting, it was relevant to the personal systems and nt and apps and consumer teams, everyone was pulling hard on the oar to make the PC a more useful device, and that included a great internet experience.  I was incredibly fortunate to be working during the PC wave, I was thrilled to be working on PC challenges.  

And I was thrilled to be worked with a set of like-minded great people — I learned so much from the chance to work with people at Microsoft in the late 80s and 90s, too many people to list here, but the IE team was chock full of great people and the management chain above me was great.  I worked hard and was happy to work hard.  I never had anyone tell me what hours I had to work, and I never told anyone what hours they had to work.

I am also a nerd.  And Microsoft bought me all the toys I wanted.  I had 3 computers on my desk, i rotated a new one in every 2-3 months, I was able to buy any software I wanted, I had a direct internet tap at my desk, I mean it was kind of nerd heaven.  

I didn’t work as hard as some people — I had two young kids at home, I tried to be home at dinner every night, I refused most travel.  That probably all limited my career but it was the tradeoff that worked for me.  No one ever gave me any negative feedback and all things considered, my career progressed just fine.  

The chance to work on a great mission, with great people, with all the toys I could imagine — I would have worked 48 hours a day if I could have.  I learned more, had more fun, and made lifelong friendships.  I suspect a lot of other people felt the same way.

Purpose and Church Membership

The US continues the trend away from participation in organized religion, with less than half of us now belonging to a church/synagoge/temple/mosque.  I am doubtful that human nature has changed dramatically, I suspect people are still seeking for meaning and purpose.  For some reason, church affiliation is no longer meeting that need.

I can’t say why this is happening as a trend, but I can share my story.  I grew up in a Presbyterian household and went to church and Sunday school a lot.  And Reverend Urquhart, our minister, was a thoughtful and compassionate leader — I enjoyed listening to him and I enjoyed the limited opportunities to talk directly with him.  I’ve met other senior leaders at churches since then, and some of them are the most thoughtful and interesting people I’ve ever met.

But … the rest of the church experience was not great.  Sunday school had all the cliques and bad behaviour of regular school, maybe worse, and I was not in the “cool” group.  Church services and rules were rigid.  The church community could be petty — you didn’t dare sit in the wrong pew, you had to wear the right clothes, etc.  The church had all the distasteful power dynamics of any human organization.  The church was insular — my hometown was racially and economically diverse, and I am sure had lots of problems, but you wouldn’t know it from my church community.  By the time I got to college age, I wanted nothing to do with the organized church.  

This is all relatively benign, but served to push me away from the church, and look for purpose elsewhere in life.

Random

From The Atlantic, Germany has reduced polarization over decades with a healthy investment in public media.  In the US we have largely handed over all media to private entities, and well, we all know how that has been working out.  Maybe rather than trying to regulate private media or media/tech companies, we should reinvest in the public alternative.  We don’t need to shutter or control the private entities, let them flower and prosper. 

Speaking of public media, this BBC library of sound effects is pretty awesome, free for non-commercial use.

Astronomy Photographer of the Year shortlist – wow.  I aspire to do astrophotography some day.

I didn’t understand all the features of airtags, this thread was interesting.  Now I know why my daughter complained about the airtag beeping in the van she borrowed from us.