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 -- The Overnight Guest, Only the Rich Can Play, Ring Shout, Death of Expertise

13 May 2022

  • The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf. A solid but not remarkable mystery.
  • Only The Rich Can Play by David Wessel. I expected to be more outraged. There have been successes and abuses in the Opportunity Zone program. It is unfortunate that congress is so dysfunctional that it is not possible to tune the program up a little.
  • Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark. A unique fantastic tale, a little “Lovecraft Country”, curious which influenced which.
  • The Death Of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Thomas Nichols. Some excellent description of the problem, tho a little bit too much “wah wah wah, why won’t people listen to us”. I think the burden is on experts to figure out how to persuade and be relevant.

Recent Books -- Dead Companies Walking, Allow Me to Retort, Piranesi

25 April 2022

  • Dead Companies Walking: How A Hedge Fund Manager Finds Opportunity in Unexpected Places by Scott Fearon and Jesse Powell. Some parts of this were great. The central idea that company failure is a lot more common than success, and that you should have an investment strategy which embraces that, is a good idea, though I don’t have the appetite for risk required (tho maybe I should invest in a short fund). His portrayal of short sellers as the true heroes of our economy is a bit of a stretch.
  • Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal. Fantastic. Parts of this may antagonize you, and he may go further on some points than I accept, but a well argued and passionate examination. You have to appreciate his voice and vigor.
  • The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes. Meh. Billed as the Expanse meets Game of Thrones, it is neither. A vague attempt to set the Game of Thrones Wall in space but uncompelling characters and uncompelling story.
  • Hush Hush by Mel Sherrat. Formulaic, one dimensional characters. Not worth finishing.
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Now this is more like it. Evocative, strange, fantastic. Incredibly strange and highly relatable.

Recent Books -- Deacon King Kong, Don't Believe It, One Step Too Far, Velocity Weapon, True Believer, Red Sparrow

14 April 2022

  • Deacon King Kong by James McBride. Ugh, can’t read. The central character is so eccentric it is a little cloying. I moved on. I am sure based on the good reviews I am missing something, but it was just repellent.
  • Don’t Believe It by Charlie Donlea. Attempted to cleanse my palate with this, but couldn’t stick with it either. Just seemed formulaic.
  • One Step Too Far by Lisa Gardner. Another palate cleansing attempt, more successful. Imagine if Jack Reacher had no physical skills and was a small woman, but still travelled aimlessly around the country trying to right injustices. Adventure ensues.
  • Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe. Eh, just average science fiction. No really new concepts. Passes the time but that is all. Didn’t finish.
  • The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer. An oldie but a goodie. 71 years old, most of the observations are relevant today. We may be even more susceptible to populist mass movements today.
  • Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. A little long but a great espionage tale. Betrayals all over the place.

Recent Books -- Seveneves, War On Cops, To Be Taught, Dark Horse, Code Breaker

07 April 2022

  • Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. A ton of interesting ideas. A long book. Maybe spend more of this length really digging into some characters and society and the impact of the ideas on both?
  • The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe by Heather MacDonald. The premise of this book is that our police are under attack by largely black activists which makes us all less safe as it leads to more crime. The book explores both police activity and the limits activists seek, as well as incarceration and the limits activists seek. The book fails completely for multiple reasons:
    • It is not a serious attempt to inform or influence. No citations, no raw data. False strawmen, ad hominem arguments. Inflamatory language. The book is designed to trigger emotional responses, not rational discussion.
    • The causes of crime are way upstream from policing or incarceration and the author doesn’t dig into any of that.
    • The author conflates race and culture and economics and muddies the waters.
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers. A compact story about the promise and challenges of space exploration. A quiet story.
  • Dark Horse by Gregg Andrew Hurwitz. OK Reacher-esque tale, tho I would probably just read a Reacher.
  • The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson. Kind of interesting to read the background on the people involved in the developemnt of CRISPR but I would have liked more technical explanation of how CRISPR actually works.

Recent Books -- Empire of Pain, This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends, We Are Legion, Factory Girls

14 March 2022

A thread across both these books – it is a great strength of our free market economy that we allow new companies to easily create new offerings and enter the market – but we don’t have great mechanisms for assigning responsibility for the societal problems they may create. The innovators get rich and move on, society is left with the huge costs of opioid addictions or the huge costs of easily hackable software systems. The innovators should bear more responsibility, but this is a hard problem to fix.

After these two books, I needed some lighter fare:

  • We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor. A lighthearted tale of galaxy exploration by an idiosyncratic post-human AI and its clones. There are many more books in the series and I enjoyed, but probably won’t continue as I have too many other books on the pile:

And then a transition back to more serious fare:

Recent Books -- Salvation Sequence, Righteous Mind, Crooked Tree

07 March 2022

  • Salvation, Salvation Lost, The Saints of Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton. Far reaching space opera, tons of far-fetched ideas. Solid and fun.
  • The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Interesting argument about the evolutionary basis of morality and religion, and the implications for political arguments. Makes the strong argument that the mainstream Democratic party has a substantial problem in appealing to large parts of the population. Certainly thought provoking.
  • A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion. A tired mother acts rashly and events ensue that destroy lives. Really grew on me.

Roundup of ideas

09 February 2022

I am continually disappointed by the number of “secure email portals” i am asked to sign into. Every medical provider, every financial institution. And each of these seem to use a different underlying implementation. Some of the smaller medical providers seem to use some SAAS solutiuons, tho these seem like very obscure SAAS solutions.

The most recent one is from a very large insurance provider who should probably know better. Their “security questions” are particularly humorous — “What is the longest book you have ever read”, “What’s your dream job”, “What’s your least favorite city”, etc. A) I will never remember what I entered for these, B) the answers are not stable over any reasonable amount of time. There are a lot of crappy cities I haven’t been to, a lot of books I haven’t read.

It is too bad we can’t have secure end-to-end email like we do messaging.

The Year in Biology – a great overview of biology advances, especially for biology ignoramuses like me.

I need to do a deep trial of Obsidian and/or Dendron. They seem right up my alley.

The great CharlesF on preparing for lower valuations.

Scott Galloway on the importance of choosing your sector: key quotes: “Sector dynamics will trump your talent…someone of average talent at Google has done better over the past decade than someone great at General Motors…Look for the best wave to ride”

Listening through by Kevin Smokler. Great way to understand an artist. I have of course done this for the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, but starting to use it with other lesser known artistis.

Noah Smith on progressive industrialism. A necessary and compelling part of a progressive view.

Nice thread on modest purchases that have had a big impact on people.

Learning how to do timelapse photography on the Canon EOS R or 5R. Thankfully there are a number of cookbooks — the simple way, the harder way.

Recent Books -- Words Like Loaded Pistols, Ideas Have Consequences, New Wilderness, Nuclear Express

27 January 2022

  • Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leith. Gosh I wish I had read this earlier in my life, or studied rhetoric. So much I don’t know about effective communication.
  • Ideas Have Consequences by Richard M. Weaver. So, there are some seriously dated and bad cultural takes in here, but the core ideas are provocative – the Western world has slowly lost its sense of shared mission and values, which has resulted in our current political morass. Published in 1948, but just as relevant today, as long as you can get past some of the objectionable content.
  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook. I like speculative fiction when it shows real people adapting to a new situation. These kind of thought experiments can teach us something. But when the characters don’t seem like real people at all, and behave in weird-ass ways, I lose interest.
  • The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation by Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman. Interesting details on how proliferation has happened. The political conjecturing is weak and spy thriller-ish.

How important is your job to your company?

17 January 2022

Dare Obasanjo has a nice post with a simple framework for evaluating job alternatives.

It led me to reflect on my own job selection logic. When I started my career back in the 80s, I was working in the Midwest, and it was a time of industrial restructuring and downsizing. Layoffs were unfortunately common. A very smart colleague at Booz-Allen, Bert Jones (who I have lost contact with), shared these simple ideas with me.

If you want to avoid layoffs, you should

  • work in the most important business (or businesses) to the company. This means learning to read company financials and really understanding where revenues, margins, and growth comes from.
  • and in that business, have a job either making things or selling things. Every other job is subject to downsizing. But if you are making or selling the most important things to the company, you are pretty safe.

These points were useful more generally throughout my career. Even when I was at Microsoft during a period of heady growth, and layoffs were not a threat, these factors impacted directly how much support I received – the closer I was to the core Windows (or Office) businesses, the more support I received, and the more opportunities I had to have an impact.

Of course, this also put me closer to the maelstrom, with greater focus on my performance, and that is not always the right fit, but I enjoyed it at the time.

Recent Books -- Biggest Bluff, Rosewater, Lincoln Highway, Mexican Gothic

08 January 2022

  • The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova. Great insight into high-level poker and the thinking skills it teaches. Very good.
  • Rosewater by Tade Thompson. A fun story set in a future Nigeria on a world in which a alien organism has invaded the Earth. Some good characters, I do wish the author would focus on smaller stories of characters coping in this world, rather than focusing on the big story about the future of the human race and the universe.
  • The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Amazing adventure of misjudgement, errors, atonement, and resolution for a set of interrelated characters. Great characters and great construction. Would be a fantastic mini-series.
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I wanted to like it, the setting could have been interesting, but I felt very little of Mexico in the book, and it was just kind of going nowhere. I gave up.

Playing with Quantum Computing

07 January 2022

As an antidote to the web3 nonsense, I’ve been trying to play around with some more interesting and more fundamental innovations. Microsoft has a really nice quantum computing tutorial that I have been working my way thru. I have enough math, quantum, electonic, and cs background to wade through. You probably want to be reasonably comfortable with vectors and imaginary numbers or it might be frustrating.

I have a general impression, which is that it is very very very early in the development of quantum computing. And that there is probably not much interesting software work to do right now.

Looking at the history of digital computing, we had to invent a lot of layers of technology to get to the point where it was a mass market useful thing. We had to invent the transistor (and triode before that). We had to combine resistors into circuits to make logic gates, coming up with some conventions that a certain voltage/current value was a “1” and another value was a “0”. We had to invent Boolean algrebra. We had to combine gates into higher order components like adders. We had to move from discrete transistors to integrated circuits. We had to develop Von Neumann machines. We had to get to a standard system architecture of clocked cpus with memory. We had to develop assembly language and then higher order languages like Fortran. And we had to develop a lot of tools and process technology all along the way. All this work overlapped and moved in fits and starts, but took decades to wrangle all this together. By the time we got to Fortran, we could write code that many humans could understand and which you could express real world problems in.

Without all this, writing “software” for transistors would have been terribly hard.

With quantum computing, we are throwing out the transistor and starting back up the stack. We are establishing conventions for what the equivalent of a “1” and “0” is. But the stack above that is still early or nonexistent. We are nowhere close to a development platform that lets a lot of humans write code that is understandable and relates to a large body of real world problems.

Sam pointed me to this article that says useful quantum computers may require a few million qubits, and we are toying around today with systems of ~10-100 qubits. Feels about right.

I am optimistic about quantum computing – today’s transistors require us to fling around a huge amount of electrons to do anything useful. If we can get to circuit elements that can work with discrete quanta, man that will be a lot of computing performance. But it is going to take us a while.

Best Books of 2021

26 December 2021

I read a lot of books this year. There were some really good ones, and I couldn’t get down to a list of just 5 ala Bill Gates. I have 10 I would recommend. I was mostly drawn to nonfiction about macroeconomics this year, trying to get smarter about what is really happening in the world as we seem to enter a new era of money management. I was also drawn to some great escapist adventure stories, because well the real world has been challenging.

Economics and Society

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes was excellent, a great telling of the factors that influenced Keynes. I was ignorant about him and never realized how committed he was to social reform and delivering economic benefits to everyone. Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity argues that the collapse of Rome gave rise to the diverse competitive structure of the West that made it so successful, and seems relevant today. Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919 is an interesting look at a time period when American democracy was under great stress from pandemics and factionalism, certainly lessons for today. Secrecy: The American Experience is something I should have read long ago, the rise of government secrecy over the last century is not good for us. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) is a hilarious tale illustrating the failures of extreme libertarianism.

Adventure and Mystery

Iron Lake is a great mystery set in Northern Minnesota. It was easy to imagine being there and the characters were excellent, I am very late to this book and author. The Blacktongue Thief is the start of a great new series, reminded me of Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” books that I read as a kid. Sharpe’s Rifles is a book from the midpoint of this character’s series, a fun romp in the Napoleonic era. Project Hail Mary is a great space exploration and first contact tale.

And then one more

Everything: A Book of Aphorisms is a very nice compendium of wisdom.

Recent Books -- Quantum Computing, Paint Houses, Promise

23 December 2021

  • Quantum Computing since Democritus by Scott Aaronson. I broke my pick on this one a little, you need to be very comfortable with advanced CS and quantum theory and my brain is rusty on both.
  • I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. Interesting background on the Jimmy Hoffa murder, such a big story earlier in my life.
  • The Promise by Damon Galgut. A white South African dissolves as a group and individually after the end of apartheid.

I kind of love Wombo Dream

07 December 2021

I am kind of loving Wombo Dream. Endlessly fascinating. I asked it to create some Windows 95 inspired images, using the various styles, and the results just get trippier and trippier:

Win95 thru a blurry lens
Windows 95 imagined thru a blurry lens.
Win95 with an edible
...after an edible...
Win95 now with peyote
...now try peyote...
Win95 now with absinthe
...or maybe absinthe...
Win95 in the concussion protocol
...while in the concussion protocol...
Win95 at the club
...or while at the club...
Timothy Leary style
...as Timothy Leary might see...
Win95 after a lot of eggnog
...after the 9th eggnog.