A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

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

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.

Recent Books -- Citizen Outlaw, Martha Grimes, Next Great Migration, Art of Travel

15 August 2021

  • Citizen Outlaw by Charles Barber. An OK telling of the story of the redemption of a man, but I don’t really feel like it added much to the conversation. I would have enjoyed more analysis and criticism of the structures that worked for and against him.
  • The Old Success by Martha Grimes. Having not read the previous 24 books featuring this detective, I found it hard to jump into the story. A nice setting and nice writing, but assumes I know too much.
  • The Next Great Migration by Sonia Shah. This was interesting and makes the case that migrations and movements of humans/animals/plants is much more pervasive and widespread than we have traditionally thought. But there really wasn’t much about the “next great migration”, I kind of wonder if the author had this title forced on her.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. A fascinating discussion of travel, of art, of perception. The book ultimately is not really about travel, but is about perceiving deeply what is all around you. Worth the time.

Recent Books -- 41 False Starts, Hostage, Tangled Tree

03 August 2021

  • Forty-One False Starts by Janet Malcolm. Essays on creative people and their struggles, their failures, the criticism they endured, and observations about criticism itself. Very interesting to observe the immense amount of work and struggle that goes into creative works.
  • Hostage by Clare Mackintosh. A palate cleanser after the above. The first third was slow but then it got fun. A little too neat at the end but still enjoyable.
  • The Tangled Tree by David Quammen. A walk thru some of the developments in our understanding of evolution and genetics over the past ~50 years. I enjoyed it but I am not deep in the space.

Goals, Space, edge devices, Watson, and other things I've been thinking about this week

27 July 2021

Setting goals

I used to work with a guy who taught me a simple truth — “If you can’t say what your goal is, you are unlikely to achieve it.”  Simple and obvious and yet so often I forget it and find myself wandering in the weeds.  

I had this hammered home to me in my first real job as a strategy consultant.  We worked with clients who had complex multiyear plans but couldn’t say what their goal was.  Before you even create a strategy, you need to articulate your goal, and it needs to be a believable goal (although with some stretch).  Strategies and plans without clear goals are just exercises in moving papers around.

I had it hammered home to me at Microsoft — the Windows 95 project had clear goals repeated daily by Brad Silverberg and David Cole, and you could rely on everyone pulling the oars in the same way because everyone knew the goal.  The Internet Explorer project had very clear goals, and we were able to get help from all over the company because everyone understood the goal.  A clear simple statement of a goal solves so many issues, you can rely on people to all work towards the goal if they understand what it is and believe in it.  If you don’t have a shared goal across an organization, the organization is going to struggle.

The value of clear goals applies to business, career management, personal life, societal issues.  Noah talks here about urban development and the value of visualization of the goal.  I love this approach, and I love that Noah doesn’t just visualize the goal, but he breaks it down into its key components and talks about how to make progress against each.  I need to use this in the future on projects.

The Space Industry

In the past several weeks it has been very fashionable to bash the space billionaires – “the pinnacle of waste”, “a private playground for the ultra-wealthy, the commons hollowed out and impoverished to make room”, “symbols of the new gilded age”.

And billionaires putting themselves into space is bad PR, not sure why these guys feel the need.  It’s not like we are going to remember them for this — we will remember the firsts like Gagarin and Armstrong, we will sadly remember the tragedies like Columbia and Challenger.  We won’t remember the first rich dudes.

But consider — the entrepreneurship and intense competitiveness of these leaders and their teams has driven down launch prices, has made the US launch industry the best in the world, and the flywheel is just starting.  And give credit to the US Government for embracing private launches and sending business their way.  A privatized competitive launch industry yields benefits everywhere — lower cost NASA/science missions, lower cost defense missions, better GPS systems, new businesses like Starlink, and I am sure more to come.    

Our problem is not that these companies are climbing all over each other to become best in space.  Our problem is that there are insufficient market conditions in other domains to drive the same kind of flywheel.  In green tech, energy, infrastructure, healthcare, housing — we lack ready access to capital, the revenue streams, reward structures, etc.  And so entrepreneurs don’t enter these markets to the same degree.

Managing personal devices

Early in my career I spent an inordinate amount of time installing OSes and device drivers and apps on machines.  Migrating to a new machine was a nightmare, there was so much install state wedged into the machine.  And my personal machines had significant storage and connectivity limitations, and so I had to spent time carefully compressing music and photos, or worrying about what subset of them I carried with me, and where the real authoritative copies were kept.  Man that all sucked.  

High speed networks, high density storage, and the move towards app stores that manage app installs has made life a lot better.  My kids would be aghast at the crap I had to go through as an early personal computer user.  

But there is still a lot of state and config to manage, there is still a lot of room to simplify the world.  I don’t generally need a Windows machine, and am looking forward to trying out Windows 365 for those times I do need a Windows machine.   Warp.dev could be cool too, i would love to have a terminal environment that i can use on any machine with a consistent install of tools, repos, etc.   

Watson

What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson?  Everyone I knew who had any software experience at all always felt that Watson was overblown vapor.  Somehow IBM got a major pass from the press and from enterprise customers, and still does to a degree, Just as they do for their “cloud business”.  My first litmus test for technologies is always – how many thoughtful people have pointed me to some project using that technology?  If the answer is “none” then I am dubious about it.  I have never had anyone point me to a sample project hosted on the IBM cloud or on any Watson technology.  

Random

“Every mention of beavers is the prelude to a joke.”   Which is a pity because beavers are totally cool.

Giant Terawatt Laser to fight lightning. Hat tip to Bob.

Iron-Air batteries.

Denting or polishing, layoffs, talent, software -- things I've been thinking about this week

15 July 2021

Dents vs polish

The industry loves the Steve Jobs’ quote “We are here to make a little dent in the universe”.   It is kind of a strange quote, a little aggressive.  I wonder if the phrasing isn’t actually a little harmful.  It is a very high bar – and almost none of us will achieve it.  It encourages risk taking, it can encourage really bad behaviour, and it sets us all up for disappointment

Now that I am at a certain age and stage of my career, I have to be honest with myself that I am unlikely to make a dent in the universe.  But I keep beavering away — not to make a dent, but maybe just to polish out some of the rough spots I see, so that maybe life is easier and better for the next person coming this way.  It might be better for all of us to focus on small continuous improvements in the world around us — we are more likely to succeed and be content.

I worked on some great software with some great teams, and we had what seemed like audacious goals, and much of it will be forgotten in a small number of years.  Tho this screwdriver we shipped will probably be useful forever, I bet people will be using screwdrivers in the year 2791 long after Windows is forgotten.

Or maybe I am just engaged in rationalizing where my career has gone.  Even so, a focus on just continuous small improvements still seems like a good thing.

Xevo layoffs

My last employer did a bunch of layoffs last week.  Very sad and if I can help anyone find their next thing, feel free to give me a shout.  We had built a really great team at Xevo and were chasing some interesting problems.  One hurdle we faced was the unwillingness of auto OEMs to open up their platforms to apps and services.  The OEMs keep a tight grip on the compute and connectivity platforms in their cars, and as a result there is no real market for interesting apps and services.  Someday this will change — some OEM will open up their platform to innovation the way that AT&T finally opened up to the iPhone — but we are not there yet.

Talent

I love this direction from Biden on non-competes – the more we can do to free labor to flow to opportunities, the better off we are.  Non-competes are terrible.  I always felt that, if we couldn’t hang onto our best people, well shame on us for not challenging them or compensating them appropriately.  

Another interesting talent observation — this chart that shows the huge advantage the US has had with innovative immigrants.  Any policy that hampers this immigration is incredibly costly.

Software is awesome

I love the fact that someone has poured their life into decoding IR signals, and doing it with passion and structure.  Personal computing and open software tools have been so liberating for people.

Here’s another one — a complete stack for dealing with LoRaWAN devices.  With a great website.  Just awesome.  

Random

I learned during our heatwave that spraying down exterior heat exchangers is actually a reasonable idea.

Recent Books -- The Quiet Boy, Shadow of the Wind, The Disappearing Act, Next 500 Years, The Kingdom

09 July 2021

  • The Quiet Boy by Ben H. Winters. A legal thriller but with some supernatural twists, engaging and a little strange.
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. My great friend Tim has recommended this book heartily, and Tim is the most dedicated reader I know. This is a very good tale, at times it drags a little, but ties together very very nicely. Love, betrayal, jealousy, murder, atonement – it has it all.
  • The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman. Not my favorite thriller. The main character continually makes dumb choices, no one would really behave this way.
  • The Next 500 Years by Christoper E. Mason. An exploration of how humans can/should genetically modify themselves to improve our lives and to spread the race to the planets and stars. Interesting science, somewhat insane moral philosophy – the author makes the case that we must spread humanity as far as we can, and this imperative takes precedence over any personal choice. Taken to the extreme this is nuts and dangerous.
  • The Kingdom by Emmanuel Carrère. A detailed look at the 50 years after Jesus’s death and how the religion developed. A lot of conjecture but interesting to think about the fits and starts of the process. Also a lot of personal exploration by the author about how his own religiosity waxed and waned. Interesting intertwining of stories.