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 -- How The World Really Works, Border Hacker, The Recruit, Unstoppable, Shifty's Boys

04 July 2022

  • How The World Really Works by Vaclav Smil. Recommended to me by a lot of smart people. The early chapters are great, really explains the centrality of energy costs in the bulk of the world around us, and how hard it is going to be to move away from fossil fuels. The later chapters seemed to meander and the book lost its edge, but the core point of “you have to understand the world before you can start changing it” is extremely valid.
  • Border Hacker by Levi Vonk. The story of a migrants and a particular migrant attempting to get to the US through Mexico. A terrible experience made worse by US policies. I would have enjoyed more stories of more individuals, and less focus on the one individual.
  • The Recruit by Alan Drew. A solid thriller about racism in the 80s, themes that sadly remain relevant today.
  • Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig’s Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend by Joshua M. Greene. Pretty amazing story of survival and fortitude. Very inspiring.
  • Shifty’s Boys byt Chris Offutt. Good thriller set in appalachia, seems to nail the atmosphere.

Recent Books -- Pixel, This Tender Land, Karachi Vice, Land of Big Numbers

12 June 2022

  • A Biography of the Pixel by Alvy Ray Smith. Expansive and deep exploration of the evolution of digital media and its fundamental element. Great depth and insight. A little overwhelming in depth at times.
  • This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. Great mashup of the Odyssey and Huck Finn. Great characters, very enjoyable.
  • Karachi Vice by Samira Shackle. True tales of life on the streets of Karachi. Tough lives.
  • Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen. Not usually a short story fan but this was fascinating. The combination of unrestrained market development and intrusive authoritarian presence is a strange mix.

Recent Books -- Exit Strategy, Build

19 May 2022

  • Exit Strategy by Charlton Pettus. Solid thriller, one innovative use of DNA encoding, tho rest of book dragged at times.
  • Build by Tony Fadell. Really really nice gift of advice about building products and companies. Hat tip to @tfadell, a great leader and sharer. Quite a contrast to some other tech luminaries who are pushing neolibertarian slop and crypto/web3 fraud, @tfadell is sharing great leadership and innovation guidance.

Whither Twitter, Buyer's Guide, and other random stuff

14 May 2022

Well it has been a while since I have posted any observations. I have improved my pickleball game tho.


Several years ago, I reconsidered my use of Facebook, and made the decision to largely exit Facebook, and I haven’t really regretted it. I’ve been doing the same recently for Twitter.

I do get value out of Twitter. College football smack talk and news, a little bit of community news, some technology info, the occasional news about friends. But there is a lot of noise on Twitter, a lot of snark, a lot of “performative nonsense”, and maybe it is getting worse.

What should I expect out of Twitter? Twitter is not some mystical thing. It’s not our global conciousness, not our townsquare, not some magic public good. It’s just a company trying to turn a buck by attracting eyeballs. Viewing it as some special thing just leads to disappointment.

Twitter has every right to publish/promote whatever content using whatever criteria it wants. The choice may attract or drive away some users, may attract advertisers or not, may have other business implications. Whatever, that is the Twitter’s first amendment right.

Twitter also doesn’t owe me or anyone a bullhorn. It may or may not let me say what I want to say, Twitter may or may not amplify it. That is Twitter’s right. And I have the right to use or not use Twitter.

Any new owner of Twitter will have the right to publish and promote whatever content they want, using whatever criteria they want. It may be different than what the former owners did. It may have different appeal to different users, advertisers, partners.

If I don’t like any of that, I can walk away at anytime. No one is forcing me to use Twitter. I can live without it — most of my family doesn’t regularly use Twitter, most of them don’t even have accounts. Twitter doesn’t have particularly significant impacts on my work performance or on my relationships. If and when it loses the entertainment, social, and educational value it has, I will just walk away. There are plenty of places to read, to learn, to share, to connect.

This week, Instead of cruising Twitter every morning and worrying about what it might become, I’ve been spending time on Duolingo, trying to relearn my high school Spanish. I feel better after doing this than I have ever felt after spending time on Twitter. I will probably continue to drift away from Twitter towards more learning, thinking, and positive communication venues.

Progressive Buyer’s Guide

I like the Progressive Voter’s Guide (https://progressivevotersguide.com). It is not my sole source of voting info, but it is a very helpful and concise guide.

I also like the sustainable seafood guide (https://oceana.org/living-blue-sustainable-seafood-guide/). When I have useful info on products and their impact, I like to make the most beneficial choice.

I wish I had a Progressive Buyer’s Guide. When I go to buy a car, or book a trip, or buy an appliance, or subscribe to a service, or whatever — where is that money going? What political efforts are supported by that company or by its principals? What states are benefiting most from my expenditure? Do I have alternatives available that would direct money towards more progressive states or more progressive political efforts?

For instance, I found out this year that, not only had ATT and ATT executives donated to Republican candidates, but ATT helped to fund the establishment of the right wing OAN news network. I don’t need to fund that. I happily made the switch to T-Mobile.

Some elements I would want as part of an effort to build a progressive buyer’s guide:

  • A system to track a product’s source by state, company. What % of this car is produced in what state (or finer grained region) by what company? I’d want to support community involvement, ultimately will want to tap a network of people providing this info.
  • A system to track a company’s donations and the donations of executives. Most of this is already public at the FEC website or Opensecrets.
  • A progressive weighting of states, politicians, PACs, etc, and an algorithm to sum those into a total weighting for a product. It is likely that one would want to support multiple ratings — IE a total progressive rating, a climate change rating, an income inequality rating, etc.
  • A front end to display a weighting for a product. And for a given product, show the more progressive alternatives. You want a certain suv? This alternative has more content produced in more progressive states, and the execs give less to retrogressive candidates.


Steampipe.io – a sql interface on top of all kinds of cloud resources. Kind of cool. As Sam says, software engineers love grand unification schemes.

In this era of heightened political conflict, why are the US Senators from the state of Washington so nearly invisbile?

I do not like pickles. But I have great admiration for the pickle lobby who have somehow convinced everyone to put pickles with every sandwich ever.

One of the cryptocurrency luminaries — “Bitcoin is a swarm of cyber hornets serving the goddess of wisdom”. I have sometimes handwaved in some presentations, but I am a handwaving amateur.

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.