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 -- 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.

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

26 September 2022

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

31 August 2022

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

What shall we choose next?

21 August 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 August 2022

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