# (1) 01 Nov 2006, 11:30AM: Decision Theories:
Avoiding Projects Pursued By Morons 101:
There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of "argumentum ad hominem". There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of "giving known liars the benefit of the doubt", but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.
Avoiding hiring morons:
If the basic concepts aren't so easy that you don't even have to think about them, you're not going to get the big concepts....
You see, if you can't whiz through the easy stuff at 100 m.p.h., you're never gonna get the advanced stuff.
# 02 Nov 2006, 07:30AM: Best Juror Ever:
Seth Schoen's been placed on a jury. Man, Seth would be the best juror ever. I worry a tiny bit that he'll have a Matthew Baldwin experience ("reading an entire book on the scientific method just prior to this trial was not one of my better decisions"), but only because Seth is one of the fairest, smartest, most thoughtful people I know.
# 02 Nov 2006, 01:59PM: Preparation:
Since the family finds it useful: my wishlist.
Sometime I'll update the music portion of that list. Beirut and Belle & Sebastian should be on there. And I may end up buying everything Jonathan Coulton does. I just discovered "Dance, Soterios Johnson, Dance", which bookends my meditations on Bob Edwards.
# (3) 03 Nov 2006, 10:21AM: Geek Visit:
My acquaintance Aaron Swartz is visiting NYC this weekend and staying with me & Leonard. We'd never quite gotten around to seeing each other after Leonard and I moved to the East Coast, so now he's visiting New York for the first time, before moving to San Francisco. His Cambridge-based startup company just got acquired by Conde Nast -- hence the move.
Aaron's a shy hacker. What in New York and environs should he see this weekend? Open for comments.
# 03 Nov 2006, 11:48AM: Autumn:
"Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They
turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work -- and life."
# 04 Nov 2006, 04:17PM: Quote of the Day:
"I was trying to determine your role. Are you a baby or a dinosaur? Those are the only two options."
# 05 Nov 2006, 01:24PM: MC Masala on Election Experiences:
I used to work for a state senator. I watched the election returns come in live several times. And I used to be more avid about day-to-day horse races than I am now. This week's column includes the "creaminess" incident.
# 05 Nov 2006, 11:16PM: In Response To Reddit Speculation:
I wrote something on the Business of Software forum that bears reposting here:
I'm not about to try to sell or buy a startup, so there's no point in me speculating about Reddit's sale price, and I have basically zero information about the sale, so I wouldn't even be able to speculate beyond hand-waving conjecture.
But the original question: what did Reddit do right? It cost little to develop. Reddit got a bare-bones service up and running quickly and improved it in quick iterations based on user feedback. That's straight Grahamism/best 21st-century practices, isn't it?
A person above noted that sites that get eyeballs get acquired, even if they're not "products." Microsoft bought Hotmail.com (then HoTMaiL, remember?) nine years ago. So products blending with services blending with sites is not new. It doesn't seem that useful to ask, "should I build a product or a service?" Rather: "what architecture will best help fill this particular user desire?"
Hey, NewsGator bought NetNewsWire (Ranchero), too. It's not like desktop apps are dead.
In other news, Aaron left yesterday evening, having visited Fog Creek, Central Park, the Brooklyn Transit Museum, the Brooklyn Bridge, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, various acquaintances of his, Columbia University, and probably other places. We were able to introduce him to Sac's Pizza on Broadway in Astoria, which we could easily eat four times a week. How much could I get on eBay for a toothbrush he's used? People at Digg could buy it for voodoo purposes.
# 07 Nov 2006, 12:42PM: On Voting, From The Joel On Software Forum:
"It's like a potluck, man. Do I like making cheesy potatoes? No. It takes me an hour. I dislike cooking. But if I'm going to eat everyone elses dishes, it's only right that I participate in the team and bring my own."
# 07 Nov 2006, 03:22PM: Quote Of The Day:
"He has, y'know, integrity."
"Yeah, see where that'll get him."
"I'll tell you what it's not gonna get him: LEGO Mindstorms."
# 08 Nov 2006, 12:15AM: An Election Night Thought:
Let me just say, Leonard and I agree that what happened this election cycle (most obviously, the Democrats retaking the House of Representatives) would not have happened without the leadership of Howard Dean at the DNC. He made sure that every state had a functional Democratic Party. For reference: Matt Bai's "The Inside Agitator." Dean had the patience, the will, and the stubbornness to nurture his 50-state strategy, looking beyond the urgent to the important, and that's reaping its rewards right now.
# 08 Nov 2006, 01:56PM: Media Artifacts:
The new candidate for US Secretary of Defense gave an interview to Frontline about the White House's planning behind the first Gulf War. The scene with the fireplace seems so sitcom. In any case, I'm looking forward to learning more about Robert Gates. Please, please, please let him be reality-based.
And for fun today: when Miss Piggy had a weird interview.
# (2) 10 Nov 2006, 08:43AM: The Hoodie And The Hijab:
So the new attitude in the United Kingdom is that if you want to shield your face from view, by wearing a hooded sweater or a veil, burqa, niqab, etc, this could ONLY BE because you want to make trouble. Haven't the British already had ample opportunities to learn that when you irrationally oppress people, you radicalize them?
# 10 Nov 2006, 12:33PM: Bookworm & Sandworm:
Man, Diana Abu-Jaber's next book won't be out for another year. To tide me over, I reread my interview with her from last year.
Do you watch television at all?
I kind of watch vicariously through Mr. Scott. He sits in the living room, I sit in my office, supposedly working, but usually playing computer solitaire, and I hear him in the other room laughing. And then, when something's really good, he'll go, "Honey, you gotta see this!" So I'll go running in there, and usually it's South Park or it's Survivor, or -- oh, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I watch that a lot. Yeah. Yeah, I love that show. But I don't like it as much - Queer Eye for the Straight Girl, do not like as much.
Really? What makes it not as good? The team that's making them over?
I don't feel like that particular cadre has quite got it down the way the Fab Five does. I feel like -- I'm sorry, I'm getting a little esoteric here.
That's quite all right! No, this is exactly the sort of hip, edgy, high-culture/low-culture combination that Saucy is built to create.
Other stuff in the interview -- cooking, writing habits, and what it's like living in Portland vs. Miami. Saucy seems defunct, but Bookslut has a Brian K. Vaughan interview this month.
Upon rereading the Abu-Jaber interview, I missed working in a bookstore, where we talked about books and authors all the time, engaging in the discourse of literature. Sometimes at Fog Creek we talk about books, fiction and non, but as with so many conversations I've had over the past year, I have to swim upstream against binary dichotomies and dismissiveness. Even at Cody's Books in Berkeley, California, the snobbish side of indieness never came out this much.
Benjamin has commented on my habit of assuming my colleagues have read certain books, ones I consider classics (Ender's Game, The Left Hand of Darkness, Jane Eyre). Often they haven't. And I've never seen Zoolander or played Halo. But I read more contemporary comic books than any of the nerds here. Just last night I bought an Action Philosophers, a mashup MST3K-y book called "What Were They Thinking?!", and an issue of "Bit Torment," whose title is the best part of it.
I'd like to believe I'm the Russian Lit Major but I need to bone up way more on tech. In the meantime I can talk about books and Star Trek with Leonard. Currently reading Diane Duane's I'm-told-it's-a-classic Spock's World, which he recommends. Pretty good.
# 10 Nov 2006, 05:09PM: Quote Of The Day:
Right after the sysadmin solves a five-hour problem with an obscure SQL Server command (sp_updatestats):
Me: Is that something you have to do manually, or something that it automatically updates every once in a while?
System Administrator: I'm not sure. I'd have to do some research on that. I wish I could give you a real, scientific answer on that right now --
Me: We don't hire you for science. We hire you for Black Art.
# 10 Nov 2006, 10:41PM: I Haven't Read Any Scott McCloud Yet:
You may have noticed that my column runs on Sundays, while it used to run on Thursdays. This means that it's no longer in the same section as the comics. Not that I read newspaper comics much anymore, but I'd probably pony up for a "Zits" or "Get Fuzzy" collection.
When I was a kid, reading the comics as I ate breakfast before heading to the bus stop, I was fond of "Zits" and "Foxtrot." I saved them for last. I eventually developed a theory of comic strips: the more punch lines in the last panel, the better they were. The likes of "Shoe" or "B.C." has maybe one punchline per strip. "Dilbert," "Zits," and "Foxtrot" have two. "Get Fuzzy" will have three or more punchlines per strip. "Luann" or "The Born Loser" has about zero. Like "The Family Circus," "The Lockhorns" and "Born Loser" often start off disadvantaged in this metric, with their single-panel nature. At least "They'll Do It Every Time" and "The Family Circus" try innovations in divvying up that one panel.
Nowadays, I get comics off the web and in graphic novels and comic books. I'll probably write a recommendation list for a column soon. The Comics Curmudgeon provides me with funny-paper snark.
And have I mentioned that "Bit Torment" is a terrible comic book?
: Comedy Reading
# (1) 12 Nov 2006, 10:34PM: MC Masala on Sketch And Standup:
Zed, I paraphrase you in this one.
My guess: It takes so much effort to write and hone a skit that too many writers and actors are reluctant to give up on a subpar one.
# (1) 16 Nov 2006, 04:37PM: Fictional Wikipedia Categories:
Fictional eggplants | Famous complaints | Excel spreadsheets | Times of day | This animal can talk
# (1) 17 Nov 2006, 12:19PM: Flippant Snippets:
The best of Overheard in the Office includes
employee recognition, and
delighting your customers. I have submitted a couple but they aren't headsmack enough.
# 22 Nov 2006, 03:12PM: Media Consumption:
I've seen a spate of movies recently. Casino Royale I saw with my sister as part of our ongoing Bond movie tradition, started a decade ago during a bored week in India. Man, there are a lot of Bond movies. It's a good brand. And I liked Casino Royale, as much as or more than a lot of folks have. I even thought the opening title sequence was elegant and rhetorically effective.
Also loved Stranger Than Fiction, which has some stuff in common with Adaptation, although evidently if you say that to someone who's taken one screenwriting class he'll talk your ear off about how different they are and how you can't even begin to comprehend all the in-jokes and meta-jokes and subtleties of Adaptation unless you've read McKee's Story, etc. I liked Adaptation -- little did I know I wasn't qualified to like it! Stranger Than Fiction has some stuff in common with it, just as eXistenz and The 13th Floor and the Matrix flicks have something in common, and The Truman Show and EdTV did.
Stranger is a kinder film than Adaptation. I can't remember whether it's a funnier one. I might be turning into a Will Ferrell fan, since I adored Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Borat is basically exactly what you expect if you read the hype. It is cruel, it is funny, it has ethics implications, etc.
Sacha Baron-Cohen, who plays Borat, is one of the folks in the Salon sexy men list, and one of the items that doesn't strike a chord with me. Evidently Stephen Colbert has quite the following and I can understand that.
Currently listening to Bunnie Huang's lecture on reverse engineering, and wishing I could be there to see Seth's talk next week.
# 24 Nov 2006, 08:56AM: Yay Thanksgiving:
Susie and John are visiting us for the week of Thanksgiving. Also visiting: Susie's unborn child, "Beet." Yesterday Susie and Leonard put together a nice spread. Folks chose from a whole chicken, gravy, dressing (a.k.a. stuffing cooked outside the bird), fresh cranberry sauce, string beans, carrots, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and several pies/tarts (pear, apple, chocolate pecan).
I haven't been feeling much gratitude lately, so it is a good thing to perform a gratitude overview. I am grateful for the loving and functional family. I am thankful for my new job and the painful and challenging lessons I'm learning because of it. I am thankful for the recent election results. I am grateful that I enjoy the abundance that weighed down our table. And I am thankful that, when the bad moods come, they do go away, even if in their midst I feel as though they will never pass.
# 24 Nov 2006, 11:56AM: How To Get Off Mailing Lists:
It's always a good time to link to Seth's list of ways to stop getting junk mail, credit offers, and junk telemarketing calls. For free or for the price of a stamp you can substantially reduce the physical and aural spam in your life.
# 24 Nov 2006, 12:07PM: Charity Navigator:
As it turns out, a frequent-user points system that gives me points to use towards gift cards, cheap appliances, etc. has added charitable contributions to its stable. I just used it and Charity Navigator to decide to give some "free" money to Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Charity Navigator provides tips for holiday giving as well as a top ten list of big ol' charities. Obvious-in-retrospect: it is better to concentrate giving on a few trusted charities that align with your big goals, so that you don't get on a bunch of lists and waste charities' money on sending you junk mail, and so that your money makes a bigger difference. The head of Charity Navigator has a fun and cranky blog that'll give you more of the charity-world skinny.
# 24 Nov 2006, 03:45PM: Music:
Note to self: investigate Rilo Kiley. Also Goldfinger.
# 25 Nov 2006, 03:03PM: Conflations:
Six-year-old me: Jimmy Carter and Johnny Carson. Current me: Victor Davis Hanson and Victor Garber ("Alias" actor).
# 26 Nov 2006, 10:25AM: MC Masala on Trust & Dating:
"I do not want to tell you this."
I iterated through guys, always turning to the next fellow and understanding why Mr. X-1 could never have been right for me, always fighting the last war. The Dave Barry fan, the libertarian, the Seinfeld fan, the role-playing gamer.
# 28 Nov 2006, 12:28AM: TiVo = 48-Pack of Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups:
My hometown paper, the Stockton Record, is now "The Record: First In San Joaquin!" Like many papers, they had lots of forgettable strips, and a few likeable ones. The neat trick is that this formulation works no matter who you are, because you might like "Mary Worth" and "Gil Thorp" while I'm a fan of "Beetle Bailey." (I'm not.) TV has hundreds of channels and 48 half-hour slots in the day, while the ordinary newspaper funnies page has to satisfy just as diverse a demographic with twenty syndicated strips. Pop quiz: would you rather buy the variety pack, or just the flavor you like best? I think the chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast, like "Zits," was better because it was next to the vanilla (or "Garfield").
# 28 Nov 2006, 05:04PM: Tech Concerns Great And Small:
David Stutz's essay on commoditization, software platforms, and the law of "the conservation of attractive profits" reminds me: software is profitable when it is flawed. This is because flawed software allows you to charge for bugfixes and new features, and because flawed software is an indication that the state of the art does not yet solve customers' needs, so they are hungry and it's a seller's market.
Today I've been working with Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio Express for the first time. This is actually my first time getting my hands dirty with any of the Microsoft database management applications; I've used phpMyAdmin to talk to a MySQL database, but that's all. Microsoft has a reputation for doing exactly what Stutz is talking about. Create a barely adequate product and get people using it, charge them for upgrades, and create a strong network effect barring market entry. Turn your technology into the platform that other people build on, by default. Collect rent.
But my recent experiences with IIS, SQL Server, and other grown-up-ish Microsoft technologies are cooling my old Slashdottian zealotry. I'm like Randy Waterhouse reluctantly recommending Windows NT to his oral surgeon. Troubleshooting in Windows involves undocumented API changes, wizards that improperly wiz, and unchecked-by-default checkboxes nested four deep in configuration dialogs. But Unix troubleshooting involves poorly documented application changes, path and permission trip-ups, and dependency hell spanning kernel, utilities, and the million micro-layer tools that connect it all. I don't know which I prefer, and that's weird to me.
I haven't gathered enough data yet to tell whether I prefer phpMyAdmin to SQL Server Management Studio, although a few inherent advantages of desktop-based apps over web apps might prevail here (see the last few paragraphs of my boss's lament).
Pop quiz: does the CREATE TABLE query that makes a table with a composite primary key (a tuple in this case) include the crucial word COMPOSITE in it anywhere? The answer is no! In case you're flipping through Ben Forta's SAMS book Teach Yourself SQL in 10 Minutes, Second Edition, you might find this useful:
CREATE TABLE OrderItems
order_num INTEGER NOT NULL References Orders(order_num),
order_item INTEGER NOT NULL,
prod_id CHAR(10) NOT NULL References Products(prod_id),
quantity INTEGER NOT NULL,
item_price MONEY NOT NULL
PRIMARY KEY (order_num, order_item)
That might only work in SQL Server Management Studio, though.
I use various applications that call themselves "managers." SQL Server Management Studio, Adobe Download Manager, Mozilla's Profile Manager, what have you. They aggregate and maintain functionality and they're useful. But their names make it sound as though "managing" software is just a matter of checkboxes in the here and now, and not messy strategizing towards an unseeable horizon.
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