November 11, 2017

What Made Maddy Run

Posted in Behaviour, Society at 22:58 by graham

What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan, is a book about the importance of doing what you love, of really listening to the people close to you. It is a case study of both the valedictorians from Lives of Promise and the dead from Why People Die by Suicide. It could have been a book about Overtraining Syndrome.

It is the factual account of the suicide of Madison Holleran, reconstructed from digital media (email, text, Instagram, etc) with help from her family.

In our safe and well-fed developed world the single biggest killer of teens and adults is suicide. Case studies matter.

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July 30, 2015

We are Equality

Posted in Society at 05:33 by graham

When the President of the United States of America wants to send an email, we don’t close email-space, and delay your email so his very important one can go through. A homeless person in a public library has exactly the same email service as the richest, most powerful person you can imagine. They both use services such as gmail or yahoo, and beneath that are the same SMTP servers. There is no combination of money, power, or personal connections that can secure you a “better” email service. In email, we are equal.

Pregnant Nigerian teenagers and the ruling family of Saudi Arabia use Facebook or Twitter at the exact same service level, with the same user interface. If you want to write a document, you can use Google Docs, which is what Google’s internal teams use during a crisis. Whoever you are, you can use the same tools, for free, as the people who build the tools.

You can raise money on the same platforms as celebrity musicians or basketball players (Kickstarter, Indiegogo). The Encyclopedia Britannica used to cost upwards of $1,500. Today, Wikipedia provides far more knowledge, for free, for everyone, everywhere. You can rent as many powerful computers as you want, for $1/hour (Linode, Digital Ocean). As the joke goes, on the Internet, no-ones knows you’re a dog.

Technology, and particularly software, have been an incredible equalizing force.

If you have $200 for a computer (or much less for a used model), and occasional access to both the Internet and electricity, you can use, for free, the same tools that a 20-year computer industry veteran such as myself uses (Ubuntu Linux, Go). You have access to all the same learning materials as I do. You can participate in the same forums, communicate with the same people, on the same terms. In the words of the Hacker Manifesto: “If it makes a mistake, it’s because I screwed it up. Not because it doesn’t like me…”.

When you stop to think about it, this is unprecedented. Powerful, affluent, in-group people have always had better homes, transport, and food, breathed better air, and lived longer lives, than the less powerful. There is almost no other facet of human existence where we are all treated exactly equally. It is debatable whether humans, in the physical world, are even capable of this.

All this is possible, maybe inevitable, because of the tools that we in the software industry have built, because of the Internet, and the Open Source model. It makes me incredibly proud to call myself your equal.

May 13, 2015

Science fiction: Ancillary Sword

Posted in Society at 04:56 by graham

It was a gesture meant to comfort. Even if they hadn’t already known the reason for our coming, they could not have failed to notice my shaved head and the mourning stripe across my face, and Captain Hetny’s. These people didn’t know us, quite possibly didn’t know who had died. We represented the forces that had conquered them, torn them away from their home world to labor here. They had no reason to care for our feelings. They had no reason to think that either of us knew enough Delsig to understand the words. And no expectation that we would understand the import of their song even if we did. Such things are fraught with symbolic and historic significance, carry great emotional weight – but only for someone aware of that significance to begin with.

They sang it anyway.

From Ancillary Sword, by Ann Lecke.

If you’re going to read it, start with Hugo and Nebula away winner Ancillary Justice.

November 4, 2014

What a visit from Reddit looks like

Posted in Society at 05:58 by graham

My credit card generator was recently on the front page of reddit. Here’s what that looks like.

Here’s htop during peak traffic (click for larger view):

100% htop

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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 ( 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?


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?

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