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.

A personal health journey, software industry observations, and network tools – things I learned this week

Health

Well my normal reading and learning cycle has been turned sideways over the last two weeks as I have had the chance to learn about Eisenhower Healthseptic arthritisstaphylococcus aureusvancomycinrocephinarthroscopyPICC lines vs midlines, the travel nurse industry.  And I got to meet some very nice health care providers — nurses, NAs, physicians, PAs, emergency medical personnel, orthopedic speciailists, infectious disease specialists.  And accumulated another story about the stupidity of our insurance industry — thank goodness my physicisans fought thru the idiotic insurance rules. I will vote for nearly anything that puts an end to the current health insurance system.  I am on the mend and hopefully past this learning

Software Industry

Benedict Evans has a nice article on software eating the world — and how, once the transformation of an industry is complete and IP has moved to software, the key issues for the business become industry specific issues and not software issues.  Food for thought — I’ve seen companies think that they need to become software companies to thrive and survive, but actually maybe they just need to become aggressive users of software.

One entrepreneur’s journey and the painful lessons he learned.  Not unrelated to above point.  More of us need to write up our failures and what we learned — I will ruminate on this.

Scott Galloway is optimistic about a coming boom in entrepreneurship.  It does seem like capital is going to remain loose for all kinds of businesses — not just software, but bio, green tech, etc.  Exciting times.  

Scott is refreshingly honest in his piece that he struggles to understand the current crypto tech opportunities.  I am there too.  I did find this piece on DAOs to be challenging and interesting.

Ben Thompson in his Stratechery newsletter writes about Clubhouse and he mentioned one thing that really resonated with me — “it’s only a matter of time before a secondary market of play-by-play announcers develops, and not only for sports: anything that is happening can be narrated and discussed.”   This seems quite interesting.  In the sports arena, there is a tricky technical problem to sync a play by play with the streaming video given that the many video distribution platforms have variant lags, and this will be triply hard if random users can call in from the internet.  But super interesting idea, as a sports enthusiast I might very well be interesting in higher quality play by plays and alternative views.

Network Tools

LAN software was where I started my software career and I still have a soft spot for network software.  (I had a choice when I joined Microsoft — join what would become the VB group, or join the LAN Manager group.  Joining Microsoft was a bit of a career restart for me, and I chose the technology that I knew the least about, where I would learn the most).

Tailscale seems awesome, and as soon as I am back at full speed, I am going to try it out.   Wi-fi Sweetspots is a helpful iOS tool for measuring network strength.  And iAnalyze WiFi on OSX is very nice looking.

Random

There are a huge number of decorative and creative book shelf inserts like these.  I might tire of them but would be super fun at holiday time.

Recent Books — Entangled Life, Ammonite, Hammett, Woman Upstairs

  • Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. Gosh I wanted to love this book, and there are some fascinating snippets in it about the amazing role of fungi in our world and lives. But a little too much telling me what I should learn, and not enough examples and stories, which are the memorable and instructive elements.
  • Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. Been sitting on my shelf for years, not sure why I never got to it. Great tale of settlement of an alien world, and how the world changes us. Great characters.
  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Just felt like I should read it given its classic status. Didn’t love it, but fun to experience.
  • The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. A woman going thru the full throes of a midlife crisis, lurching around as she more deeply examines and questions her life and relationships. I loved the ending, powerful.

Ludwig, Digital Twins, Domains, CP, Notes, and more — things I learned this week

Ego Surfing

You can pip install ludwig .  No relation.  sammck noted: “jesus it sucks in a lot of packages”.

Various and sundry cloud technologies

Azure has a notion of “digital twins” as part of its IoT solution, there are similar ideas around the AWS IoT platform.  I have never found this abstraction to help me.  Ian Mercer has some excellent observations about the issues around digital twins.  I wonder if the “digital twin” terminology is actually doing us a great disservice — in no way are the cloud and physical representations the same thing.  In the cloud you a desired state, a history of communications with the device, and the mapping of the logical to physical device, and on the edge the physical device rests in its actual state.  Calling this assemblage “twins” just doesn’t seem helpful.

I’ve been getting ads from Unstoppable Domains in my twitter feed.  Confusion.  A completely separate namespace than DNS domains, so they aren’t really domains, and aren’t useful anywhere except in apps that have wired in support for Unstoppables namespace.  I have no idea why anyone would want this or would part with money for it. 

Continuous profiling — a smart and natural idea.   

Knowledge Tools

I continue to be very interesting in personal tools to collect ideas, order and relate ideas, and do my own writing about ideas.  I could certainly use more help and discipline in note taking, here are some excellent ideas.

Random

Dazzle camouflage.  Which sent me down a rathole about the history of paint and the history of house painting.  Humans have been painting for a long time.

The “clo” unit for measuring clothing insulation value.  I had no idea this existed.

In 1930, Indiana Bell rotated an office building 90° while it remained in use.  

Recent Books — Roy G. Biv, Secrecy, Make the World Add Up

  • Roy G. Biv by Jude Stewart. A collection of anecdotes and facts about color, not as deep as I would like, but interesting and amusing.
  • Secrecy by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Relevant when he wrote it, relevant in the Iraq WMD era, relevant now. Secrecy supports a lot of bad behaviors, whether in a government or an organization.
  • How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford. Very good coverage of how to think about statistics, how to debug them, how to understand them. The closing summary chapter was particularly valuable — much of our current polarization is very emotion driven, and no amount of statistics and facts will change anyone’s mind. But sometimes, asking people to really explain their own view in detail, and asking a lot of genuine questions about it, may cause them to reflect and reconsider, and you may learn something yourself. Genuine curiosity about details is a powerful force.

Cloud Computing, Replit, Writing, OODA, 50 Year Newspaper, and more — things I learned about this week

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing turns 15 today — 15 years ago AWS S3 was launched.  I certainly didn’t realize the full impact of this launch at the time. In my last few years at Microsoft (1998, 1999), we were talking about related ideas internally (often under the name “megaserver”), and I admit I wasn’t the most enthusiastic about.  A learning for me.

Development Tools, IoT

I’ve been messing around with development tools and toolchains, partly for IoT experiments.  Adam pushed me to look at repl.it, which is a very compelling proposition.  It is such a PITA to install and maintain dev environments for the various toolchains and target environments, and if you are working in multiple problem domains, you risk creating a real hash on your dev machine.  In the past, teams I’ve been part of have mostly used VMs or containers to manage this complexity and to make it easy for new team members to spin up a standard environment.  repl.it is a very interesting alternative, just spin up the environment instances in the cloud.  I don’t really understand yet how you create fully customized environments.  

The IoT world needs a revolution in development tools and toolchains.  I’ve been breaking my pick (again) working with RPIs and Arduinos, the tools are so flakey, libraries are bad, getting the entire chain of hardware and software working to debug a SFF device is just awful.  I have wasted a week doing stupid shit.  I am rethinking whether I want to screw around with IoT devices.  There is so much of the world that is not digital yet, I keep getting drawn back to IoT, but then the tools wear me out.  Contrast with mobile development — XCode is excellent, well maintained, has a great emulator available, development just goes so much faster.  Not suprisingly, there are billions of mobile apps and very few IoT apps.

Writing

I write for myself — to clarify my thinking and cement my learning.  David Perell offers some excellent guidance on writing, a couple of these points really stick with me:

1. Improving your writing is as simple as packing more useful information into fewer words.

2. Writing is the best way to realize that half the ideas you’re 100% certain about actually make no sense once you put them on paper.

This second point is much the same as rubber duck debugging — if you can’t explain clearly your thinking in verbal or written form, you probably aren’t thinking clearly about.  

Strategic Thinking

I am drawn to thinking about what is important and valuable to work on, and how should one apply oneself to these tasks.

I saw this note early in the week about building an audience — the guidance that it takes years of development and creation for something to take off.  This goes beyond just building an audience — anything I have worked on of note took years to come to fruition (and usually took many people pitching in).  Strategies are built one brick at a time.

This interview with Patrick Collison of Stripe is all over the web and for good reason.  A broad and foundational thinker.  A very inspiring read, there is a ton to follow up on here. 

One of these starting points led me to OODA loops, which I had never been formally introduced to, but which have certainly been crucial tools throughout my career.  And resonates well with my electrical engineering background, where I had years of control theory and feedback loops hammered into me.

An unrelated investigation took me to the idea of a 50 year newspaper.  So much of what counts as “news” is just noise.  I am trying to disconnect from the noise and focus back on the long term trends.

Finally, I appreciate Rand’s point of view on venture capital.  I am a reformed venture capitalist and a former investment in Rand’s companies.  Much of what he observes is true — VC money is expensive, sometimes too expensive, and founders would do well to decide if it is really needed.

Random

I took a course in comparative religion a million years ago, but largely i remain ignorant of the structure of the world religions.  I didn’t realize/remember there are 3+ schools of Buddhism.

The Cochrane Library seems like a valuable resource for sifting thru all the myriad of medical info out there.

Recent Books — Price of Peace, Sunken Land, Short Serpent

  • The Price of Peace by Zachary Carter. I never realized what a fascinating, rich life Keynes led. And I never understand the moral basis for Keynes’ views (at least as expressed in this book), and how far the US strayed from Keynes’ views. Makes me want to read more.
  • The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison. I gave up on this one, it was vague to start and heading towards more vagueness.
  • The Voyage of the Short Serpent by Bernard du Boucheron. Humans are terrible to each other and self-righteous humans can be some of the worst.

Edge Software, Developers, Consumer goods, Auto Chips, AI Imagery — Things I Learned This Week

OK this is maybe 2 weeks of things, I am a little behind.

Edge hardware and software

I installed EEROs this week after a horrible install experience with Netgear ORBIs. The EEROs just work. EEROs had a great experience before acquisition by Amazon and it still seems to be great — and it is all about the software. Amazon is a software-first org and it shows, Netgear is not.

Another very intriguing network product — https://blues.io. A super simple iot network solution, from Ray Ozzie. It solves a real problem and has a great simple developer experience — I love this. I ordered my first device and received yesterday — looking forward to tinkering with.

Developer Experience

The Blues Wireless team clearly has focused on the developer experience — their documentation is great. I bet they have a great developer experience internally as well — which is critical to unlocking innovation as Nick Tune details. I wish I could have been as articulate about this in my past jobs as Nick is. A great developer experience makes everyone more productive, helps with retention, and unlocks innovation. And really it is not just about developers, everyone in the company should be treated the same way — we want everyone to be more productive and more innovative, and that means making their jobs easier and more satisfying.

Refactoring of restaurants, other consumer goods

This is an interesting article about ghost franchises — the restaurant delivery industry continues to evolve and mutate, driven in part by COVID.

This creates a consumer problem — an explosion of choices, ratings that are frequently gamed, no retail sites to sample at, and marketplaces that are complicit in the creation and gaming of the system. How do you reliably choose from the 14 places that say they will deliver the best burger to you?

This is not limited to restaurants. I’ve been looking for a toaster, here are some of the brands that Amazon and the web pitch to me as having a great compact toaster — IKICH, Dear Morning, BonsenKitchen, iSiLER, Cuisinart, iFedio, Hamilton Beach, BLACK+DECKER, Amazon Basics, Barsetto, Oster, LOFTer, Twinzee, Dash, KEEMO, SACVON, Keenstone, whall, KitchenBro, HadinEEon, KitchenAid, REDMOND, Elite Gourmet, Breville, Zwilling, Smeg, Krups, Revolution Coooking, Schloß. All of these have great ratings, many claim to be award winning (tho I suspect some of the rewards were created just for this brand), all have professional looking brand landing pages. I can’t really trust ratings, Amazon placement, Google placement.

There is a missing layer of authentic customer recommendations from trusted sources. Which is a difficult layer to create and maintain — many many startups have tried, and most end up getting sucked into the morass. I have no answer, but I have renewed my membership to Consumer Reports which is a great resource, but very limited in its category coverage.

Auto chip shortage

Automotive grade chips different than the high volume mobile phone and consumer electronics chips. Automotive use cases require automotive grade electronics, which can operate over a much greater temperature range than consumer electronics. My limited understanding of the technical issues: all chips suffer from thermal degradation, and I have read it is due largely to metal migration at the connectors. Automotive grade chips have some special designs at connection points to accommodate this. Another difference is that automotive electronics are expected to last a long time in the field — 10 years or so. No one has this expectation of phones.

These are reasonable requirements for the automobiles, but they keep the auto industry off in a sequestered submarket for chips, which are generally several generations behind consumer electronics chips, and are subject to unique supply constraints. This situation is not going to get better, as the shift to EVs/autonomy drives more chip content into the car. Chip dependence is going to grow for automakers, but their relative volumes and buying power versus the mobile industry or other consumer electronics players is much less and not going to improve.

What is an automaker to do? They are going to have to manage their chip commitments more directly. They may have to step in and more directly invest in chip or fab capacity and chip supply chain management. They may have to overcommit early to chip volumes. These seem to be the strategies that have worked so far for Hyundai and Toyota. These all mean money and time. And managing the chip supply chain is not really a strength of automakers — they are great at supply management and manufacturing in their historical domains, but they are sub scale in the chip industry.

I wonder if there is an alternative. I will hand wave about design issues here, and with the caveat that the last time I designed and populated a board was 1983 while in grad school. So take it for what it is worth.

Cloud Services have learned to deal with unreliable electronics — not by fighting failure, but by engineering for it. Data centers tolerate constant failure of underlying electronics, using replication and hot swap designs. While there is cost to have replicated hardware, it is dramatically cheaper than trying to harden individual hardware instances.

Could automotive ECUs be redesigned to support low cost replacement? Could some degree of replication be built in, allowing ECUs to be built on much cheaper (and more available) consumer electronics grade chips? Could ECUs be designed to have easy replaceability and a much shorter expected life, permitting low cost refreshes on a regular basis? Do ECUs even need “auto grade” chips — there are many stories about some new automakers simply using non-auto grade chips with some success. Can EVs use some of their battery power to maintain temps in the car to allow use of non-auto-grade chips?

There are certainly some challenging design issues here. But consider the cost and problems to secure chip capacity for future cars — it is worth exploring the use of commodity chips, and then innovating in the packaging and environmental support for them.

Random

The market for Icelandic horses is booming.

We may all be wearing wood some day — greener than cotton.

Vlad introduced me to beautiful AI generated dynamic patterns and beautiful AI generated imagery. I could look at these all day long.

Keynes, Research, IoT, Rust, Nix, Tools, Snow/Liquid — Things I Learned This Week

Or maybe this should be titled “Rabbitholes I Went Down This Week.”

Basic Research

I’m reading the The Price of Peace right now — the life and legacy of Keynes.  He led a far richer more fascinating life than I had realized, and the story is very topical as we spend our way thru COVID and reconsider what is an appropriate amount of national debt.  It is hard to not be enthusiastic about even more debt after reading this.

We should probably be funding a lot more basic research.  Ashoka Rajendra provides a nice explanation of how the biopharma industry developed COVID vaccines so quickly, how vital the whole chain of basic research and development was, and how vital the public/private partnership was.  Public-supported basic research is a hard thing to sell, but it is probably one of the most leveraged things we can do.  

Our space programs are amazing, inspiring.  Huge thanks to everyone involved for lifting us above our every day existences.  The scope at which space programs operate is hard to fathom — a signal to the New Horizons craft has to travel 50.25 AU and is 7.5M km wide by the time it arrives, and NASA is pushing software updates over that link!  I can’t even get the Netgear ORBI router next to me to upgrade firmware correctly.  

IoT

The Netgear ORBI install has been beyond frustrating. I would have preferred to get EEROs but they were backordered on Amazon (update: getting from BestBuy this week).  The ORBIs require a multistep pairing process with phone and router and satellites, and then they did a firmware upgrade, and then everything was broken.  iOS said it was on the ORBI wifi, but the ORBI iOS app claimed it was not.  No amount of reboots of modems or ORBIs or phones could fix this.  I also tried to factory reset the ORBIs but that solved nothing.  My ISP is Spectrum, I am wondering if Spectrum does some mac-address validation as I was replacing a Spectrum-supplied wifi router.  But Netgear should handle this or at least point me in the right direction.  The ORBIs are in the garage in their box now, I am going to gift them to someone I hate.  

IoT device software is hard — routers, consumer devices, cars, factory devices, all of these are hard devices to provision, to manage, to access.  The industry has made some progress — it is way easier to install and provision a new device now than it was 3 years ago! — but many problems seem still largely in front of us:

  • Secure registration of devices.  The ORBI experience is not atypical sadly.  I did recently install some Logitech cameras just using Apple’s Homekit app and that seemed to go much better.
  • Dynamically pushing software to the edge.  Updates are too clumsy, too heavyweight, too error prone.  There is no simple way to do app upgrades on edge devices.
  • Privacy of user data.  Many solutions just throw data up to the cloud, and thus the horse is out of the barn.  We need to figure out how to push code easily to the edge so that data stays in place. 
  • Reasoning across incomplete, inconsistent, sampled data.  IoT devices are not always connected, do not provide uniform data sets, have continually varying schemas.  Most analytic solutions want a much cleaner data set that is never going to exist.

Development and Thinking Tools

I am getting my feet wet as a developer again.  Python, and learning a little bit of Rust and Cargo — wow I love and hate modern package management.  I wanted to read a CSV file, so I imported the Rust CSV library, and ~15 libraries came whizzing in with it.  It is awesome that I can tap into the ecosystem this easily.  But where did all these come from, who wrote them, who maintains them?

On a somewhat related front, Vlad has introduced me to Nix which seems like an interesting way to manage development environments. It didn’t take me even a couple hours to be completely tangled up in Homebrew, Python, and VSCode. As Sam points out, Homebrew just leaks too much globally (and vice versa).

In response to my whining about how to manage my own IP and research, CharlesF suggested Roam research, and Prady pointed me towards NENO. Roam might be more my thing right now, tho neither does quite what I want.

Random

I did not know that snow-to-liquid ratios were a thing. Probably because I am not a skier these days.

The Windows turning point, metamaterial lenses, personal organization, imagery, inefficiencies — things I learned about this week

Technology strategy

Steven Sinofsky is writing a great memoir of his Microsoft years, I’m avidly reading.  Chapter 3 links to the story of David Weiss and Murray Sargent figuring out how to get Windows to protect mode, which ended up being one of the pivotal points in the history of the PC industry.  I just love this story and it has informed every project I have ever worked on — innovation and strategy come from the front line of a company, not from some ivory tower staff off moving chess pieces around.  As a manager, you have to foster the environment and culture to allow this innovation to happen.  I have not always succeeded at doing this but it is an aspiration.

Metalenz is building lenses using a metamaterial design and standard silicon fabs.  Another technology falls to the grinding advance of semiconductors.

Software Tools

I am struggling with how to organize my thinking, my documents, sharing, etc.  When I had a real job, I had all kinds of tools for documenting and sharing — not all of them good! Now I am trying to figure out what the right tools are for personal use.  This blog is wholly inadequate — it really only has one view (timeline), it is not good for selective sharing, it doesn’t easily admit other kinds of content besides the written word.  I am not sure what I want.  Notion is nice looking.  Basecamp is probably overkill and too expensive for what I want.  Maybe I just want to use GitHub. I am all over the place, I need to take time to really outline what my needs are.

https://same.energy is a nice tool for finding imagery — I tried with a couple images this am and it was dead-on.

Society and Economics

The meme economy is making people rich. Meanwhile, “Society has conspired for decades, through low interest rates, tax policy, and most recently the stimulus, to transfer wealth from the young to the old — the opposite of a healthy society, in which the ballast is a thriving middle class and optimistic youth.”  And we put tremendous hurdles in the way of women, a powerful story here of the experience of a widow. And we make poor use of the human capital in large parts of our country — charities in Appalachia are dramatically underfunded. I’m not really sure what to think about all this, other than to observe that we are not getting the best out of ourselves, and we perhaps too focused on the ephemeral and not enough on fundamentals.