October 2011 Archives

Juicy links; Sad news

Born blog-ranter Steve Yegge, a Googler for the last 6 years, recently laid into his employer in a lengthy, fascinating post which was apparently not intended for public consumption. It's in the wild, though, so everyone can see it now.

Fascinating reading if you work on software. Quoth Medley after reading it, "Now I need a cigarette..."

Found this linked a few places today, and if you care about interfaces and communicating complexity (like I do), then it's a fascinating read.

The toy example itself isn't important at all, but the approach is.

In sad news, Dennis Ritchie, inventor of C, has died. His death coming close to Steve Jobs' means that some people are already straining to weigh the contributions of the two against each other, as though it is a contest.

Really people, they can both be titans in their own way. It's OK.

Netflix backs out of the dead end road


The plan to split Netflix into Netflix (streaming) and Qwikster (DVD) never made sense to me. Now Netflix is turning back the clock and keeping them together. The text string 'Qwikster' will be returning to deserved obscurity.

This at least shows that Netflix can understand whacks on the nose.

But what has struck me throughout this odd episode is their misunderstanding of what their own customers like about the service.

Making customers split their queue management into two separate websites which don't integrate with each other was a really really bad plan (with -- notice -- no actual reason given for it), and I can imagine lots of heated arguments in-house from the people who could tell it was a deeply stupid move. Tip for the head office: keep a list of those people and consult them the next time you get a really 'bright' idea.

The most foreboding aspect (for anyone wishing Netflix any success, that is) is the continued dimness and/or pridefulness of the executives. The juicy quotes in the New York Times report on the policy reversal do not inspire confidence:

"We underestimated the appeal of the single Web site and a single service," Steve Swasey, a Netflix spokesman, said in an interview, before quickly adding: "We greatly underestimated it."

Ok, so far so good. They have understood their basic error. But wait.. Reed Hastings doesn't agree with his own spokesman:

"there is a difference between moving quickly -- which Netflix has done very well for years -- and moving too fast, which is what we did in this case."

Replace 'moving too fast' with 'moving in the wrong direction' and you've sold me.

'Moving too fast' just tells me you really want to try this again in a year or two. And that means you do not understand your basic error.

We are still customers for now (and switching to streaming-only), but we'll be keeping an eye out for further drug trips and policy freakouts from the Netflix head office.

Where My Interests Lie, 2011 edition

These are the sort of topics which catch my eye these days, and about which I'd like to learn & say more:


  • Where it comes from
  • Tools to make it both more comprehensible and easier to manage
  • How to communicate effectively with outside parties about how complex a thing actually is

    That's a compact way of saying: it really ticks me off when people who clearly understand many nuances and tradeoffs involved in some things (say, their job, or a sport or two) then consider everything they are not that familiar with to be very straightforward and obvious.

    This happens among otherwise-elite, brainy people too; this XKCD is a great example.


  • Humanity is constantly having to make big bets based on limited information.

    (I think this has always been true; while you could argue that people throughout history have been solving much simpler problems than we have today, they also lacked most of the modern tools we have to tell us about the world - accurate maps, for instance. We're always bumping against the limits of our understanding.)

  • How we (as a society) handle decision-making under great uncertainty could be improved.
  • How we (as a society) view past decisions made under great uncertainty could be improved.

Music - studying, performing, appreciating, describing

Software - design, construction practices

Apple stuff - Mac OS X, iOS devices (yes, still a big Apple fan)

Parenting - I have a 3-year old. 'Nuff said.

Business - Management; "Organizational Behavior"; Emergent properties of systems of people

Checklists (a la Atul Gawande) and any other ways to improve the performance of groups of people doing complex tasks.

Politics & Media - the various intractable problems we face and the channels through which we all learn about them.

There's plenty more, but those are the headline grabbers for me at the moment.

10/6/11: Starting slow & easy

Declaration: I intend to get back to this (blogging, writing in public, producing visible output, etc.) in a fairly serious way, starting now.


  • What good is it to learn a whole lot of things if you never share what you've learned with anyone? I haven't been idle for the last several years; I know about many more things now than I ever used to before. I've just been quieter.
  • I'll never be 'ready' to come back in full force if I keep waiting for it. The only way to do it is to practice it and get better at it again. The only way to practice it is to get started even when I'm rusty. So, here I am.
  • I've learned (from a lot of observation) that you shouldn't expect to think-think-think in isolation and then produce a finished perfect thing. The people I most enjoy reading are willing to think out loud and share unpolished ideas in order to gain the benefit of getting good input from other smart people about the same topics; it's a better outcome all around.
  • "Real Artists Ship" - Steve Jobs

Proximate cause/kick in the pants which led to actually posting something:

  • There have been lots of things which should have triggered posts. But yesterday's boot to the behind was the news that Steve Jobs died. If that won't get your ass in some kind of gear to try and make a bigger dent of your own in the universe, then not much will.

P.S. In case there is anyone reading this who doesn't know, I have at least been active on Twitter for the last few years.

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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