June 14, 2013

Quote of the day: Bruce Schneier

Posted in Society at 04:02 by graham

The lesson here is that it is insufficient to protect ourselves with laws; we need to protect ourselves with mathematics

He’s talking about lessons from the Clipper Chip (bet you’d forgotten that one!), but he could just as easily be talking about current events.

February 23, 2013

Google World

Posted in Society at 05:54 by graham

First thing in the morning, I check my gmail on my Google Nexus 7 tablet, or my Nexus 4 phone, whichever is nearest. I have a conference call so I fire up my Chromebook. Google’s browser, Chrome, uses Google’s public DNS servers (8.8.8.8) and Google network’s protocol (SPDY), to connect to gmail.

In the Google Calendar invite, I click the Google Hangouts link and video conference. I’m lucky to live in Kansas City, with it’s super-fast Google Fiber internet connection. We update a Google Doc, stored on Google Drive, with notes during the meeting.

I tell the team that the next version of our web app, written in Go (Google’s server language) was just uploaded onto Google App Engine (their app hosting platform). The client side is in Javascript, but we might update it to use Dart (Google’s client-side language), when that’s ready.

We’ve already got Google Checkout payment integrated, which makes measuring our Google Ads conversions with Google Analytics easy. We’re hoping to rank highly in Google Search, or no-one will find us. We’ve just started promoting it on our G+ page (we migrated from Blogger), and our Youtube demo video seemed popular.

Who knows, if the product goes really well, Google might acquire us.


It’s just a silly story. Move along. :-)

December 31, 2012

How will you measure your life? – book notes

Posted in Society at 19:37 by graham

How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton M. Christensen is life advice for M.B.A. graduates. It dispenses valuable career, relationship, and ethics advice in business-school language.

High-achieving individuals (he’s a Harvard business-school professor) often over-invest themselves in their career and under-invest themselves in their family, and regret this later in life. This book is his attempt to correct that.

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September 8, 2012

John Cleese – Take micro creativity retreats

Posted in Ideas, Society at 23:43 by graham

John Cleese gives a great talk on creativity (embedded below). Here’s the summary:

Creativity is a practice, not an ability. It is not correlated to IQ, but is strongly correlated to playfulness.

We have two modes of operation:

  • Closed mode: “get stuff done”.
  • Open mode: curious, exploratory, playful, open-ended.

We switch between the two modes during the day, both are essential. Creativity however only happens in open mode.

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September 4, 2012

Does success at high school predict success in life?

Posted in Society at 06:39 by graham

Lives of Promise, by Karen Arnold, is a 14 year study of achievement and life choices. It is based on the finding of the Illinois Valedictorian Project, which follows 81 high-school valedictorians who graduated in 1981. A valedictorian is the person with the highest average grade in their high-school year.

The study answers some interesting questions.

High school success predicts life success very well. Valedictorians continue succeeding at most everything they do, as long as they know the rules of the game. High school success is at best orthogonal and at worst opposed to becoming someone who changes the rules.

Does high school success predict college success?

Yes.

95% of the project members graduated college, most of them doing extremely well. Of the four who didn’t, none of them left school for academic reasons.

A history of academic success, in sum, is an extrordinary powerful predictor of further educational attainment. What high school teachers measure by top grades apparently mirrors what college professors reward. High school valedictorians and salutatorians are as close as it gets to rock-solid bets for superb undergraduate grades and college graduation.

Does high school success predict life success?

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August 31, 2012

Democracy at work

Posted in Society at 09:35 by graham

Most people reading this will be lucky enough to live in a democratic society. You may even consider democracy to be the only ethically legitimate form of government. It is a fair form of government. Nine out of the ten most powerful countries in the world (all except China) have some form of representative democracy, so we can assume it is a very effective way to run a country.

For all the good that we purport to think of democratic systems, most of us spend most of our lives not in a democratic system, but in a power hierarchy. Our businesses and organisations are run as social hierarchies, each person nearer the top of the pyramid having power over those lower down.

When your new manager was hired, did you and your fellow employees get a vote? If you are some way up the pyramid, were you elected there? Most likely, you were appointed by someone who remains above you in the hierarchy.

Most managerial roles combine an administrative function with a supervisory one. Administrative duties do need to be carried out. Motivated employees do not need to be supervised; they naturally supervise themselves.

Our organisations and businesses look like they are modeled on a form of meritocratic feudalism.

Why this difference between the structure of our societies and our organisations? At least one of the two is being run in a less than perfect manner. Should we re-create our national government as a feudal meritocracy? Or should we run our organisations as representative democracies?

April 9, 2012

Ward Cunningham quotes

Posted in Society, Software at 01:14 by graham

There’s an excellent interview of Ward Cunningham at InfoQ (Nov 2011). He talks about agile, wiki’s (including smallest-federated-wiki), meta-programming, CoffeeScript, but mainly about living as a developer. He is fascinating and motivating. Here are some of my favorite quotes :

On pair programming / social coding

I don’t think any developer really wanted to work alone, but they got a reputation as being loners that was unjustified because they did so much in their head.

On agile’s pace of development

I feel that the formulation of most Agile methods are a little plodding, you are coming in, you do the same amount of work every day, but you don’t have days go by where nothing gets done. Like the tortoise and the hair, and the tortoise wins the race, because the tortoise doesn’t get stuck.

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February 6, 2012

Who we are. Why we do it.

Posted in Society, Software at 01:37 by graham

A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void… The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through.

But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.

From Neuromancer, p4-5

November 3, 2011

On why hackers don't work on large teams

Posted in Society, Software at 01:05 by graham

We’ve know for over 35 years that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”. Amazon has it’s two-pizza team heuristic: “If a project team can eat more than two pizzas, it’s too large”. The excellent Code Complete has a detailed explanation of how communication costs increase with team size. Yet we still need reminding.

Dhanji R. Prasanna has an excellent retrospective on his time on the Google Wave team. He sums up the problem with big teams very well:

And this is the essential broader point–as a programmer you must have a series of wins, every single day. It is the Deus Ex Machina of hacker success. It is what makes you eager for the next feature, and the next after that. And a large team is poison to small wins. The nature of large teams is such that even when you do have wins, they come after long, tiresome and disproportionately many hurdles. And this takes all the wind out of them.

For me, that’s really the crux of it. As a programmer, it kills you to not get stuff done. Large teams necessarily involve more communication, more complexity, and less getting stuff done. Large teams are a programmers equivalent of retirement.

November 2, 2011

Machiavelli on Occupy Wall Street

Posted in Society at 23:25 by graham

Reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, his advice seems just as relevant today. In On the civil principate he writes:

In every city there are two different humours, one rising from the people’s desire not to be ordered and commanded by the nobles, and the other from the desire of the nobles to command and oppress the people.

You cannot satisfy the nobles honestly and without harming others, but you certainly can satisfy the people. In fact, the aim of the common people is more honest that that of the nobles, since the nobles want to oppress others, while the people simply want not to be oppressed.

The Prince must always live among the same people, but he can do very well without a particular set of noblemen.

Substitute nobles with the 1%, and substitute Prince with President, and you get the advice he would probably give today.

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