Auto software, Xevo, NFTs, Space, and a grab bag of other things I’ve been reading about this week

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

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

  • 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

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

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

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

  • 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

  • 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

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

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

  • 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.

Automotive software, Parallels, Explaining, Carbon, and other things I’ve been thinking on recently

Software is eating the car

In the late 80s, PC software complexity was growing dramatically as Moore’s Law delivered more and more compute power to the desktop, and network connectivity began expanding dramatically. Microsoft hired Dave Cutler and a team from DECwest to build the next version of Windows.  Much has been written about this.  Several stars aligned to allow this to happen:

  • Microsoft management (Billg) realized that a dramatic step up in technology would be necessary to realize Microsoft’s ambitions
  • The Microsoft culture at that time was welcoming of great technical talent.
  • Microsoft had the equity to attract and reward world class technical talent

I am reminded of this as I read How Software is Eating the Car.  150M lines of code, software from hundreds of suppliers, massive amount of growing compute power.  The traditional OEMs with their traditional supplier networks are headed for a wall.  It is going to take a complete restart of the automotive software and hardware stack to compete.  But I am not sure that the stars have aligned for tradiitonal OEMs.

  • Do they realize that they need a dramatic investment in software and system architecture?  This will require a complete reboot of systems architecture and tearing apart of their Tier1 relationships.
  • Are they welcoming of great technical talent?  Will they allow software teams to come in from the outside and drive radical transformation of system design?
  • Do they have the equity to attract world-class technical talent?  Can they offer dramatic equity compensation packages that pull in the architects, principals, senior engineers?  With separate entities like Cruise and Argo they might be able to address this, but I am not sure these separate entities can drive the radical transformation of system design that is needed.  

I suspect that the auto OEMs need to make a DECwest-style hire to really shake themselves up — the insertion of a world-class software team right into the middle of their automotive design effort, a team with the chops and mandate to change everything about compute and networking in a car.  

Tools

I am not sure why I stuck with vmware so long, parallels is great.  Way more polished than VMWare Fusion, way easier to use.  Sam points out that their GPU virtualization may not be as good yet.

Learning

David Perell mentioned this pearl in one of his newsletters recently:

…you learn best when you explain something in a new medium.

So if you read something, you should explain it in a video or a drawing instead of writing about it. When you translate ideas from one medium to another, you can no longer rely on a lot of the handicaps that help you work faster but ultimately inhibit learning.

This quote from Piaget doubles as a core principle of the company: “The essential thing is that in order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it.”

Carbon

A bunch of charts on “who are the worst emitters of carbon”.  It is also interesting though to look at “who are the most efficient emitters of carbon” — I.E. which economies generate the greatest amount of GDP per ton of carbon emitted.  This gives you a very different ranking.  If you want to maintain world living standards while emitting less carbon, you might focus on different countries.  The Western industrialized nations may emit a lot of carbon but they also generate a lot of GDP per ton of emission in contrast with, say, Russia or India.

Random

Bismuth is cool.

Statins (may) increase risk of dementia.  Ugh.  I don’t take a statin.  I am pretty conservative on regular use meds — I like aspirin because humans have been using it for a century or more and we pretty much understand the longterm effects of its use.  

Learning, Plenty of Room at the Bottom, Auto Software, Software Tools, and other things I’ve been reflecting on this week

Lifelong Learning

From 42 Joseph Campbell Quotes:

“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.”

Powerful advice.  You can’t control the rate of change and innovation in the world.  You can only decide to accept it and enjoy the ride for your time here.

Plenty of Room at the Bottom

Vlad pointed some of us to this great article on using metamaterials to dramatically reduce the overall size of lenses, very cool.  I am fascinated by metamaterials and our increasing abilities to fabricate things at the nanometer scale — in silicon as well as in bio fields.

One paper I have reread at various points in my education is Feynman’s “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”.  We are still working at relatively crude levels relative to Feynman’s articulation.   We still assemble computers using huge chunks of silicon crudely arranged, moving stupid amounts of electrons around.  But we are making great progress.  

Now I will abuse the metaphor. We have seen so much energy and innovation at the cloud and enterprise level.  There are innumerable IAAS/PAAS/SAAS offerings, the AWS product line all by itself is now huge.  You can sign up at AWS and spin up 10,000 machines to work on vision processing in a few minutes, it is ridiculously easy.  (Tho it is also complex as there are now a kajillion choices for storage, compute, database, stream processing, ML in the cloud).  If you want to apply a massive amount of compute to a problem, it has never been easier.

But at the “bottom” of the compute marketplace, it is a bit of a desert.  At the edge — iot devices, embedded computing, ambient computing — the tools and solutions are not robust, the number of players on the ground is small, it is still very hard to create and deploy software out in the world.  Getting even 5 cameras to work in sync in an edge computing environment is ridiculously hard.  Getting 100 installs of this in different places is very hard.  And we’ve had a fraction the brainpower and innovation applied to the edge that we have had applied to the cloud.  

Sam recently reintroduced me to the hubitat, they are doing a great work in the edge space.

Auto Software

How software is eating the car.  A useful read.  The incumbents are not really prepared for this.  I wonder when we will see the same article for buildings, the home.

Software Tools

Teach yourself programming in 10 years — I love the advice in here on how to become a progammer — take the initiative to program, talk to other programmers, work with other programmers, read the code of other programmers.  Excellent advice for any field.

Javascript and the next decade of data programming — at least 10 interesting ideas in here about data programming, javascript, webasm, webgpu.  It is not a time to cling to the tools you are comfortable with.

Do Execs Use Their Own Products, Episode 426

I’ve installed the Liftmaster iPhone app so i can open my garage door from outside the house. Not something I do every day, but super useful at times.  But because I don’t use it every day, I forget the name of it.  No problem, I will search for it on my phone — certainly if I search for Garage or Lift or Door I will find it.  Nope.  OK certainly if I quickly scan all my icons, I will see something that looks like a garage door.  Nope.  Finally Google tells me the app is called MyQ .   Why would you throw away a recognizable brand name for MyQ with an icon that is super generic?  No one will find or remember your app.  If they see it they will assume it is for QFC or Qdoba or Qantas or Quaker Oats.   

Random

I didn’t really know what a fog-trap was and here they are getting better, thanks to some clever materials science.

Some day I aspire to host a salon.

gravity park seems like a lot of fun or a great way to break bones.

I love tube amps.

Recent Books — Lapham Rising, Later, Book of Eels, Gunter Grass

  • Lapham Rising by Roger Rosenblatt. Kind of in the A Man Called Ove genre, with a little farce thrown in, a crotchety aging man comes to terms with his life.
  • Later by Stephen King. Less horror and more detective. King is pretty darn good at making you empathize with a character very quickly, I was very motivated to find out what happens.
  • The Book of Eels by Patrik Svennson, Agnes Broomé (translator). Interesting look at eels and how they figured in the author’s life. I had no idea eels were such a strange creature. And while it didn’t always click for me, the writer’s entwining of his own personal journey was a good effort to make the book connect on a more emotional level.
  • Too Far Afield by Günter Grass. This book was too far afield for me. Written by a German for Germans, I could just never climb the hill of references and break into the story.

Simple Web Apps, Digital Gardens, IE stories — things I’ve been reflecting on

Building simple web apps

I have the need to start building some simple websites and web apps.  This is probably the 3rd or 4th time in my career I’ve jumped into building simple sites.  

React is awesome but is a very large pile of technology.  If you just want to hack together a website for a limited purpose, React is daunting.  I want to get back to that world of 1995 when you could hack together a website in notepad.  

Tom MacWright’s essay on the return of fancy tools speaks to me — fancy frameworks and tools are great, and really necessary for some tasks, but they add a large amount of complexity to doing a simple task.  

I am drawn to simpler frameworks.  Lit.dev seems worth learning more about, Vlad has been playing with a little and has had good experience.  Svelte.dev has appealed to me and i have written my “hello world” app in it, and now sveltekit might be the ticket.  Shawn Wang who is way smarter than me about this writes the case for svelte better than I can.

Personal Information Tools

I saw a nice aphorism recently — “If you write for any other reason than to discover what you think, you are just wasting everybody’s time” — Aaron Haspel.  That is totally why I labor on these posts, I am trying to figure out how to think about certain things in the world.

Blogs are great tools — they have made it easy to capture and post a lot of content — but they are not great for really understanding a topic or a space.  Shawn Wang wrote about Maggie Appleton’s summary of Digital Gardens which really resonates.  I struggle weekly with the right way to organize, summarize, and structure my reading and learning.  These posts are an attempt to pull things together, but are themselves another part of the stream and thus part of the problem.  I really want to figure out how to shift to more of a garden view, while maintaining the east of posting.

Industry

Ben wrote a nice history of Internet Explorer, which is finally being retired.  Some of the most fun, intense times I had at Microsoft.  Steven is also writing a nice history of the times.  I will add a couple little anecdotes to Ben’s and Steven’s stories.

One of my jobs at this time was to redeploy teams from existing Windows-centric commitments to Internet commitments.  I was spending time daily working with Ben,  Chris JonesThomas Reardon, and others identifying our shortfalls, and finding teams to take them on.  In early ’95 we had a smallish team working on internet client-side technology, within a year we had 700 people and climbing.  A key key lever in this effort was Andreessen’s perhaps apochryphal quote that Netscape would reduce Windows to “a poorly debugged set of device drivers.”  This was an incrediby motivating quote inside the Windows team, who were all very competitive people.  They had just killed themselves getting Windows 95 out the door, and yet were volunteering to immediately jump on internet tasks, thanks to this quote.  Made my job much easier.  Lesson — don’t give your competitors bulletin board fodder.

In early ’96 and we convened a set of web developers to get an early look at our web platform.   A lot of good developers came and we had a lot of great back and forth.  Chris Jones and I led one talk on ActiveX controls, these were going to be great, allowing developers to use great Windows features on webpages.  Wow did we get killed.  We were working at cross purposes to every web developer and they let us know it.  That is when I finally realized that Windows, at its height of power, was fading into irrelevance for a huge class of app developers, and that we had better get cracking if we wanted to remain relevant to these developers.  Not everyone at Microsoft felt this way and it was a source of tension for my remaining time at Microsoft.  Lesson — build things that are good for your customers, not good for you.

Switching to a more modern topic, a nice point/counterpoint on the costs of cloud computing.  Is cloud computing expensive at scale?  Sure.  But I fall on the side of — it is even more expensive to spend your team building a bunch of infrastructure, and losing feature leadership in your market.

Sundry

We have built houses and we have remodelled.  The costs and schedule have always bloated out of control.  And “we have met the enemy, and he is us” — invariably we can’t stop ourselves from asking for more features.  Really drawn to prefabs as a way to control the process, and some of these look great.

“We have seen a disturbing amount of overconfidence paired with inexperience in the Alaska Range.” — National Park Service.

Daniel Kahneman on ‘noise’ in human judgement.  I may have to read, I am curious how and if he incorporates the understanding of noise from communications theory.

Always a sucker for visualization tools, Observable Plot.

Recent Books — Malevolent Republic, Exo, Perdido Street Station, Madi, Everything

  • Malevolent Republic by K. S. Komireddi. A virulent criticism of current Indian politics. I don’t know enough about India to really know how to think about this topic. I need to read and learn more.
  • Exo by Fonda Lee. YA novel about a young soldier caught between the sides warring over the future of Earth. Entertaining but not enough to stick with the series.
  • Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. I didn’t read this when it first came out because it was so trendy. But quite a good read, impressive ability to visualize and describe a very alien far future/fantasy world. A little long but good.
  • Madi by Duncan Jones and Alex Di Campi. My quarterly dip into graphic novels, this was just eh. I appreciate the attempt to include a lot of different artists, but it made it hard for me to connect to characters and story.
  • Everything: A Book of Aphorisms by Aaron Haspel. A gem on every page, the perfect bathroom book.

What to read, creating, strategy, account security — things I’ve been thinking about this week

What to read

As Charlie Kindel points out, you can’t trust Amazon reviews anymore (if you ever could).  The entire system has been gamed and broken, in every product category.  I am constantly on the prowl for better ways to find accurate product ratings.

How does one find good books to read?  First and foremost, I rely on friends and family — and am thankful for those that use Goodreads so I get a notice of their recent reading activity.  I also sift thru the book reviews in the NYTimesLA Times, the EconomistNPR.  I sift thru various lists on Goodreads and FiveBooks.  I look at book lists that smart people publish.  New Books Network was just recommended to me as source of book reviews and recommendations.   

I look for consistently good ratings, and I also look for widely divergent views on a book, as that is often an indicator that the book has something interesting to say. 

I am not satisfied tho, I need to do some more thinking on the topic of “how to find great books to read”.  I am a product of what I feed my brain, and being structured and intentional about what material I spend time with is important. 

Writing and creating

Writing is hard, and I would like to get better at it.  I need all the tips I can get, and I need to write more frequently.

Noah Smith offers his best tips.  A couple of these really resonate with me:

“I write because I need to organize my own thoughts.”

“Reading responses to what you write — both positive and negative — will help you understand the issue better”

Also some great guidance on how Apple writes copy.  Pretty good guidance on how to write anything really — you have to really bear down and focus on your message in a fine grained way..  

I want to be creating more — more writing, more software, more craft. It has become so hard to write software — I remember fondly the days of using Notepad to write a web app.  Now you need package managers and bundlers and components and frameworks and templating and all kinds of crap to write web apps.   And writing cloud apps has become crazy confusing with Amazon, Azure, Google spitting out new services weekly, in addition to all the lesser vendors.  

Suppose you want to develop some AI software, look at this amazing AI landscape chart.  What is an aspiring developer supposed to do?  This is daunting.  It is a career to just understand all these pieces.

For web apps, hugo is interesting, a framework to get back to simple authoring of websites.  Recommended by Rich.  Embraces markdown which seems nice.   

Strategy

Some good thoughts here from the ceo of Twilio on building businesses and strategy.  I like his views on strategy — 

“…strategy is a dirty word because it is this idea that the people at the top of the company have developed a strategy and everyone in the company is supposed to blindly follow this strategy, whether or not your customers want you to follow that strategy.”

“There is only one true strategy, build products and services for which your customers will pay you.”

Strategy is too often viewed as a top-down thing.  The best strategies are deeply bottoms-up, rooted in what customers are doing and what you can actually build.

Security

I am cranking up security yet again on financial accounts.  About every 6 months I relook at my practices, talk to smart people, and amp up our protection.  We have been victims of SSN theft tho thankfully it has never become more than a supreme annoyance.

I have moved away from easily guessable account IDs, phone numbers, and email addresses.  I’ve seen attacks on our accounts based on guessing some of these (or harvesting phone numbers and email addresses from the web).  This is unlikely to happen on our accounts now.  I’ve also added in hardware security keys.  Some of our financial institutions don’t support keys yet, and we may have to look at shifting away from some of them in the next wave of changes.  

I’m also starting to invest in processes for transitioning account ownership as I age.  This is uncomfortable to think about, and all this security makes it harder.

I welcome any other great ideas!

History

final goodbye to Internet Explorer.  Gosh did some great people work on the early versions of IE.  Sending great thoughts out to everyone.

Recent Books — Fundamentals, City in the Middle of the Night, Iron King, Savage Peace

  • Fundamentals by Frank Wilczek. An easy read about the fundamental particles, forces, fields that make up the universe. All very simple at one level, though allows obviously for a massive amount of emergent complexity.
  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. Eh, a little bit inventive situation, but characters all seemed a little thin. Ultimately I didn’t care enough to finish.
  • Suspicion by Joseph Finder. A formulaic thriller but fast paced enough to be entertaining.
  • The Iron King by Maurice Druon. Described by George R. R. Martin as the inspiration for A Game of Thrones, it certainly has intrigue and gamesmanship and betrayal, tho lacks the modern style and pacing of A Game of Thrones. But still fun.
  • Savage Peace by Ann Hagedorn. I had just the barest understanding of the events of 1919. Man was that year an eventful sh$tshow. Labor unrest, racial injustice, xenophobia, political drama. Oh and the first experimental proof of relativitistic behavior of gravity.

Basecamp, stupidity, automotive software, and other things I learned (or relearned) this week

Leadership

Basecamp announced a policy change this week, limiting internal political discussion.  It has not been received uniformly well on Twitter.  I totally get it though.  When I first joined Xevo, people were using internal tools for divisive and contentious discussions. Xevo provided software to some of the largest companies in the world, and we often had guests from our enterprise customers or from partners on our Slack channels, on our email system, in our git repos.  I didn’t think our enterprise customers who were paying us millions of dollars would appreciate highly political rants on our systems, and so we shut down the use of internal systems for political discussions.  At the same time though, we were clear that we encouraged people to be politically active, that we didn’t care what people did on their own social media accounts or in non-work settings, and we gave people whatever time off they wanted to participate in political activities.  Basecamp seems like it is threading the needle well here.

This article on the different kinds of stupid is awesome.  I have exhibited all of these.  60 years in, hopefully I stuck my fingers in the grinder often enough that I don’t exhibit these as frequently.

Automotive Software

Even though I am out of the automotive software business now, I still end up reading a lot about it.  And every week I read auto insiders or $TSLA shorts talking about how Tesla is going to crash and burn, how the traditional auto makers are going to surpass Tesla.  One common theme is how crap the Tesla build quality is.

I remember when PCs were viewed as toys, and that they would never replace “real” computers like mainframes, minis, and workstations.   And PCs were terrible — they were unreliable, they were cheaply made, I remember a capacitor bursting into flames on my Apple ][.  But PC technology was dramatically ahead of other computer platforms on one critical dimension — personal use — and the industry iteration speed was way faster than that of the traditional computer industry.

I remember when web apps were primitive toys and would never replace “real” apps.  And early web apps were crap — html layout was limited, scripting support was crap. But web apps had this magic attribute — install-free wide reach — and the industry iterated like crazy.  And here we are.

I’m on my second Tesla and physical build quality is crap.  Poor fit between elements, dust and moisture incursion, cheap feeling parts.  But this is just a part of my car experience.  Software build quality, charging experience quality, presale and sale experience, service experience — Tesla is well ahead of competitors and is iterating fast (and by the way, these experiences all have a huge software component).  

Meanwhile the auto incumbents are lauding themselves for getting their first electric cars out and granting themselves awards for doing a great job.  While Tesla just keeps hitting sales records.

Random

Sixty week lead time for chips — ugh.  And I hear that it is really worse, you can’t even get dates for some parts at all.  

A tweet by Dave Winer reminded me of Byte Magazine.  Man that was a great magazine, I miss it.  And I miss the wild and wooly days of the early PC market.   

Songwriting is a tough business, you better have sharp elbows.

Injection molded glass — very cool.  Limited for now to decorative objects due to shrinkage, but still cool.

Outdoor art by PEJAC — I love how he plays with perception, and bravely does it out in the open world.

The latest DJI drone is awesome but I will probably pass.  All my drones end up unused because the batteries suck, the firmware always needs an update, the controls suck.  I need a couple generations of evolution of the tech before I will dive in again.

Recent books — Mr. Whicher, A Memory Called Empire, Blacktop Wasteland, Ohio

  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It was ok but i had hoped for more info about the development of the detective job and the societal changes.
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. A solid start to a series, and appreciate the development of the main character, but not enough action and wonder to keep me involved.
  • Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby. Great tale of a man trying to live a clean life, but slipping back into what he does best, and fighting the consequences.
  • Ohio by Stephen Marley. Follows a set of high school friends as their paths merge, diverge, and then remerge years after. I thought at first this was social criticism (and it is) but then the tale went some very different ways. Very engaging.