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.

Recent Books — Hidden Valley Road, Children’s Bible, Snow

  • Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker. Quite the story of a family plagued by schizophrenia, their attempts to survive, and the slow growth in understanding schizophrenia.
  • A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet. A retelling of the apocalypse, or a forecast of how climate change will impact us and the generations after us.
  • Snow by John Banville. Solid English countryside mystery, tho in this case the Irish countryside. I won’t remember much of it but it was entertaining.

CapEx, Attention, Intention, Progressive Ohio, Pickleball, Ponzi, ENIAC — things I learned this week

CapEx

A meandering tour through capital expenditures.  First the semiconductor industry, where it is now estimated to cost almost $20B to create a state-of-the-art fab.  Fab is now primarily done in SK and Taiwan, which is geopolitically risky for the US.  And our politicians mutter about on-shoring and good manufacturing jobs — losing fab capability to offshore competitors seems like a horrible outcome both economically and geopolitically. Intel is facing this decision with a new CEO, I suspect the US government will find a way to help Intel keep fab capacity in the US.

Meanwhile, Amazon/Google/Microsoft spent $73.5B in CapEx in 2020.  Staggering numbers, particularly Amazon alone.  One has to be really brave to implement any on-prem computing in this market.  It is interesting that Google is falling off a little.

The auto industry knows they need to transform into software/chips/battery companies but they are facing a daunting task as CapEx and R&D from the tech world races past automotive CapEx and R&D.  

As software (and silicon) eats the world, the tech players have a distinct advantage.  I’m long Intel, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, NVidia, Tesla.

Attention and Intentionality

The attention economy is damaging us as producers and consumers.  We squander our time and attention across 1000s of sources, and we squander our productive energy seeking attention. It is the challenge of our time to find a way to fight through this. 

Hey John, why are you posting this, aren’t you guilty of fighting for attention like everyone else?  Hmm, you have a point.  To be clear, I mostly write these articles for myself — I find that I don’t really learn something unless I take the time to reflect and write about it.  But I could just as well stick this in a diary and not share it with the world. Hmm.

Bezos on high standards — powerful and simple.  And partly explains to me why I bother to publish these thoughts publicly.  If I am writing just for myself, I can be sloppy and imprecise.  Knowing that I am going to share these publicly forces me to be more thoughtful, more precise, more attentive, and I get some feedback on the quality of my thinking.

Charlie Kindel on how to be a change agent — this is a nice framework, I have often failed to segment and prioritize the stakeholders and have wasted time and energy on the opposed.  I have not been intentional enough about how to create change. Thank you Charlie.

The entire point of these postings may be — forcing myself to be more intentional about what I think on and what I learn.

Political Life

Ohio Governor DeWine wants $50M to market Ohio as a great progressive place to live.  And apparently the marketing spend is already happening. As many observers point out, this is not really a marketing problem.  If DeWine wants Ohio to be seen as a progressive destination for progressive industries and progressive people, DeWine and the Ohio government actually have to implement progressive policies — where does the state stand on healthcare access, on education funding, on minimum wage and income equality, on equal rights and voting rights?  And Ohio has to elect progressive leaders — Jim Jordan is the most visible political face in the state.  I have great affection for Ohio, and I know there are progressive people and progressive urban areas in the state, but overall the state has work to do.

Random

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. Don’t forget ENIAC day is coming up. There is a website dedicated to reporting on Ponzi scheme activities — criminality and gullibility are evergreen.

Good fortune, schizoprenia, compensation, sextuple star systems, being boring — things I learned this week

My last day at Xevo is tomorrow. I’ve been reflecting this week on how fortunate I have been to work with so many great people.  I met some great people on the path thru Surround.io to Xevo to Lear, and I hope I get to work with some of them again.   I will not remember the details of various technical and business decisions, but I will remember the people and the great interactions.

Early treatments for schizophrenia included ingestion of cocaine, manganese, and castor oil; injections of animal blood and oil of turpentine; gassed with CO2 or O2; insulin-induced comas.  And of course lobotomy. We look back at that and shake our heads. What medical treatments or other practices are we doing now that we will look back on negatively? At every point in our history we have looked back and judged our former selves, this point in time is no different.

The highest ranking generals/admirals in the US Armed Forces make about $200K a year.  Those are huge, important, stressful jobs.  Makes one wonder about executive salaries.  

Scientists have found a sextuply eclipsing sextuple star system.  I just love that sentence.

Make boring plans, choose boring technology.  Of course these ideas have been around, as I reflect on my most recent startup journey, I certainly learned that you have to be very thoughtful and selective about risk, and on many fronts you should choose the boring path.

Recent Books — Sharpe’s Rifles, Business Adventures, Aosawa Murders, Ministry for the Future

  • Sharpe’s Rifles by Bernard Cornwell. Enjoyable historical novel set during the Napoleonic Wars, a part of a series detailing Sharpe’s rise. Good character, good pacing.
  • Business Adventures by John Brooks. An insouciant (and I never get to use that word, so damn it, I am pulling it out of the vault when it fits) walk thru business stories of the 50s and 60s. Lyrical, notes of Faulkner, not your traditional business book. And the time machine back into business operations of 60 years ago is fascinating.
  • The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda. Eh, just couldn’t find a reason to continue.
  • The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. This is the worst good book I have ever read. Too long. A mishmash of wholly different stories which doesn’t work. Too much yelling at the reader instead of delivering a message through story and character. And yet, I read the whole thing, No book has really illustrated how horrible climate change can become as does this book in a few places. I can’t recommend this book, but it may be worth reading.

Visual Cortex, Lidar, Mealworms, Rivers Cuomo, Watermarks — things I learned this week

We have been moving houses this week so not as much time as I would like to dig into some things but still a few nuggets.

The information passed between the retina and visual cortex is sparse. Most of what we think we are seeing is a construct in the brain.  Fascinating. I am sure this is common knowledge to a lot of people.

Lidar is getting ever cheaper and smaller — Moore’s law is cranking away.  When Lidar is basically free, what all will we do with, what apps will it enable?  I love how our Roborock vacuum uses lidar to create its map.  How else will we use in the home?  How will it affect home security apps?  What games will we create?

Good news, the yellow mealworm is now approved for human consumption. Unless you have prawn or dust mite allergies. Purportedly clear economic and environmental benefits. What will we be commonly eating in 50 years that was previously unthinkable?

Rivers Cuomo is thinking about learning flutter/dart.  I wonder what programming environments the Beatles or Prince or other artists would have chosen.

Audio watermarks — I didn’t realize these existed in Zoom.  I expect there to be a tool in about 30 seconds to strip them or to modify them.  

Strategy, gaming economy, Videoscribe, eleemosynary, best practices — things I learned about this week

  • Your strategy is what you ship.  I didn’t learn this so much as I relearned it.  The story of the Edsel in Business Adventures is instructive. The Ford team dreamed of an innovative, breakthrough vehicle that would wow customers and capture a new market segment.  But what they delivered was an undifferentiated high-priced low-quality car, and we all know the results.  35 years ago in my first real job, the late Tom Jones told me “Your strategy is what you ship” and I have learned this a dozen times in my career.
  • I know nothing about the modern gaming economy.  I have not played video games actively for about 6 years as I’ve been busy with a day job, and I do not understand the modern gaming economy at all, but I am fascinated by — https://www.theverge.com/2021/1/11/22225416/thegrefg-record-fortnite-viewers-icon-skin-reveal-eu-heretics?scrolla=5eb6d68b7fedc32c19ef33b4
  • Videoscribe. We use powerpoint decks for live presentations and for leave-behind reading.  They kind of suck for leave-behind reading; I experimented with Videoscribe to make a more dynamic leave-behind that better captures the story, pacing, flow, etc.   I like it a lot and will keep exploring this.  
  • Eleemosynary is the word of the week, totally new to me.  And on first look, I couldn’t even make a reasonable guess about meaning.  
  • Best practices from around the world. Noah Smith makes a good point this week — “America needs to humble itself and start copying best practice from countries that have things figured out more than we do, instead of imagining that we can reinvent the wheel”. So true, and particularly so in healthcare, where we spend more money and achieve worse results than nearly every other modern democracy.

Things I learned this week — clams, color perception, tuned mass dampers, symmetry

I aspire to be a lifelong learner. I do read a lot — books and online — and I find increasingly that if I don’t take a few moments to write down and reflect on what I learned, then I don’t really learn it. So am starting a new attempt to document interesting things I learned each week. Inspired in part by Tom Whitwell, referred to by Mark Frauenfelder.

Oh, and how fragile our democracy is, and how inspiring it is to see a large cross section of our society rise and start to defend it.

Recent Books — End of Everything, 99% Invisible City, Born Standing Up

  • The End of Everything by Katie Mack. In the midst of all our current political and social turmoil, you can read this book and either a) have even more to worry about, because the Universe is going to end and it could be tomorrow, or b) have even less to worry about because the Universe is going to end and nothing we do now matters.
  • The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars, Kurt Kohlstedt. Shines a light on all those little design and structure features that most of us ignore every day. A good book to read a little bit out of every day.
  • Born Standing Up by Steve Martin. Very introspective look at his career and how it developed. Great insights about being intentional and thoughtful about your life.

My Best Books of 2020

This year I read or attempted to read 75 books.  There were some dogs but also some great ones.  I tried to come up with the “best book of the year” but that is pointless, they are all so different.  So I will highlight a number of different books that excelled in different ways. 

Best MysteryThe Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.  A solid hard-bitten detective tale, everything you want in a private eye.  

Best Adventure: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  If you like more fantastical adventures, this is a great tale and really ought to be a movie or TV series.

Best Historical NovelWashington Black by Esi Edugyan.  If you like your adventures a little more grounded in historical reality, this is for you.  Would also be fantastic on screen.

Best History: Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio by Derf Backderf.  If you like actual history, this is a great telling of the events at Kent State, and exposes the dangers of involving armed military in civil protests.  Almost chose this for best graphic novel, but for…

Best Graphic Novel: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh.  Irreverent, at times hilarious, at times moving.  Well done.  

Best Irreverent: Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christoper Moore. Irreverent, some may even view as offensive, but I found it respectful and uplifting in a humanist way.

Best Current Events:  Getting back to our current situation and lives, there are 3 books that I enjoyed and gave me some insight on myself or the world.  

Best Math/Science.  Digging a little deeper, these were the math/science books that I enjoyed the most this year.  

Would love to hear your thoughts on books you read this year.

Recent Books — The Adventure Zone, Agent Sonya

  • The Adventure Zone by the McElroy family, Carey Pietsch illustrator. Gets great reviews but pretty thin gruel for me. I probably would have thought it hilarious when I was young. From a well regarded podcast tho I never listen to podcasts.
  • Agent Sonya by Ben Macintyre. Good telling of the story of a female Soviet spy during WWII and the Cold War. Amazingly gutsy spy, hard to imagine living this kind of double life.

And those are the last of my 2020 reads.

Recent Books — Slow Horses, Intuition Pumps, Locke Lamora, Solutions and Other Problems

  • Slow Horses by Mick Herron. Great tale of intrigue inside MI5. Started a little choppy but then the story took off and the characters rose to the fore.
  • Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking by Daniel Dennett. I really thought I would like this, but too much “angels on the head of a pin” for me.
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. What an awesome tale of a gang of thieves ensnared in conspiracy on top of conspiracy. Really fun read.
  • Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. At times funny, at times deeply sad, always very human. Some of the insights into dogs and pet owners are hilarious.

Recent Books — Dragon Factory, Salvation of a Saint, North Water, Weapons of Math Destruction

  • The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry. Would have been a good graphic novel — evil albino twins, gene-engineered monsters (scorpion-dogs!), Nazis, a plot to end the world. Just a so-so book.
  • Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino. Agatha Christie style story, fun, I would happily read more of these.
  • The North Water by Ian McGuire. Baffin Island always sounded cool as a kid. This book puts the kibosh on that, it is a murderous place. Good tale.
  • Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. When the author sticks to anecdotes and data, and allows the reader to form their own opinions, this book works. But the author spends too much time telling the reader how to think, versus leading the reader.

Recent Books — Collapse of an Empire, Ten Thousand Doors, Obstacle Is the Way

  • Collapse of an Empire by Yegor Gaidar. Good look at the unraveling of the USSR, it’s inherent fragility, and the human costs of the unraveling. Recommended by my Russian friends.
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alex Harrow. Love stories wrapped up in a tale of many worlds. More touching than expected.
  • The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Might have been more meaningful earlier in life. At my advanced age, you’ve probably learned most of these lessons.

Recent Books — The Blizzard, White Supremacy, One Billion Americans

  • The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin. A book about a terrible storm written by a Russian author? I expected some serious gloom, but this story was trippy and strange. Memorable but weird.
  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. A challenging book, but I certainly need to be challenged on these issues. Very worth the time.
  • One Billion Americans by Matthew Yglesias. An interesting premise and some very good ideas. Needs a more thorough and detailed discussion and analysis but thought-provoking.

Recent Books — Kent State, Eternal Life, Native Star, The Snakehead

  • Kent State by Derf Backderf. The Kent State shootings stand tall in my memory, but I don’t think I ever knew all the details of the events. This is an excellent telling of the story. Calling out the National Guard is almost never a good idea.
  • Eternal Life by Dara Horn. Explores that the idea that a very long life renders meaningless most life events.
  • The Native Star by M. K. Hobson. Fun adventure thru an 1800s America where magic is a normal thing. Perhaps not very differentiated ground but a fun tale nevertheless. Makes me want to read more in the series.
  • The Snakehead by Patrick Radden Keefe. Inside the illegal immigration trade for a period of the 90s. A rough trade, amazing what people will go through for a chance to better their lives and their family’s lives.

Recents Books — American Sickness, Origin of Wealth

  • An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal. An anecdote-driven walk through the dysfunctional health care industry. Some enraging anecdotes, and some useful how-to’s at the end. Would have liked even more data but overall a very useful read.
  • The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker. An excellent book, re-establishing the basis of economics and wealth from first principles, overturning a lot of the traditional economics I learned once upon a time. Very satisfying to see economics built up as emergent behaviors from the actions of individuals, and to see the incorporation of uncertainty, imperfect information, and iteration. Not a complete story but excellent.

Recent Books — Three Body Problem, Dune, Escape Room

  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. This didn’t really float my boat, I suspect the difficulty of translating from Chinese is significant, it is not just the straight translation but all the cultural references that are hard to carry over.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert. Read ~45 years ago (BTW: I am old), upcoming movie motivated me to reread (Chalamet was born for this role). The book is still good but not perfect. Herbert’s imagined world is fascinating. He rushes thru the story — in today’s world, “Dune” alone would expand into 7 books à la Game of Thrones. Some very topical themes. The last scene is just goofy and off, let’s hope that gets a better treatment in the movie. But overall still a very interesting book.
  • The Escape Room by Megan Goldin. Eh. Too much deus ex machina.
  • The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis. Fun tale of alternate history with clockwork robots. Very different set of guiding principles than Asimov’s.

Recent Books — Caste, Pew, Team of Vipers

  • Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Pretty damning. If you still somehow believe that America is the perfect embodiment of the “shining city upon a hill”, this book will but that notion to bed. We have a lot of work to do.
  • Pew by Catherine Lacey. I really liked the tone of this book, and the ambiguity of the ending has a certain appeal, but I think I would have preferred a bit more resolution.
  • Team of Vipers by Cliff Sims. Ugh. Why did I buy this. Another Trump insider claiming “yes he is horrible, but I did my best to rein him in, and now I can tell you the truth in a salacious book that you can buy”. A venal coward. Sorry I gave him a dime.

Recent A/V recommendations — Euphoria, Folklore, Ted Lasso

Expanding beyond books!

  • Euphoria is an explosive series. High school like I never experienced, kids struggling with big issues, and I was rooting for them all and blown away by them all. I never expected to like a high school drama, but this is an intense and deep show.
  • Ted Lasso is funny and touching. Jason Sudeikis plays a lovable, optimistic, vulnerable role that is very endearing.
  • Folklore by Taylor Swift. I am not generally a huge Taylor fan but this has been the soundtrack of our summer. I love the stripped down presentation.