Monday Links 29

Chelsea Troy: How do we get a tech team to make a big technical change?

…when individual contributors understand how a system currently works, changes make some part of that understanding obsolete. And the obsolescence of that understanding means an initial investment in rebuilding the understanding to restore one’s ability to maintain the system. To restore one’s power on the team.

I went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole recently and found the profile of Sophie Wilson, who somebody should make a movie about. This section on the development of the Acorn Proton is a great story of smart, competent people getting stuff done:

Hauser employed a deception, telling both Wilson and colleague Steve Furber that the other had agreed a prototype could be built within a week. Taking up the challenge, she designed the system including the circuit board and components from Monday to Wednesday, which required fast new DRAM integrated circuits to be sourced directly from Hitachi. By Thursday evening, a prototype had been built, but the software had bugs, requiring her to stay up all night and into Friday debugging. Wilson recalled watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on a small portable television while attempting to debug and re-solder the prototype. It was a success with the BBC, who awarded Acorn the contract. Along with Furber, Wilson was present backstage at the machine’s first airing on television, in case any software fixes were required. She later described the event as “a unique moment in time when the public wanted to know how this stuff works and could be shown and taught how to programme.”

Cal Newport on Overload and Jerry Seinfeld on Doing Nothing

My work break is going gangbusters. I’m firmly embedded in the pro-leisure circuit, the aim of which is to be like Jerry Seinfeld and do nothing. Seinfeld is right though, doing nothing isn’t as easy as it looks. I’ve filled my time with plenty of stuff: family activities, running and gym, gardening, meeting folks, and even doing stuff with computers. There hasn’t actually been a lot of actual nothing. Seinfeld puts it like this:

The idea of doing anything which could easily lead to doing something that would cut into your nothing and that would force me to have to drop everything.

I’ve been repeating that quote to a few folks recently and I was reminded of it again while listening to the latest Deep Questions podcast from Cal Newport.

In the deep dive section Cal talks about workplace overload and the causes of it. He cites the overheads of modern work - handoffs, coordination, context switching, etc as the major cause of overload and burnout. It’s not the writing of the strategy document, it’s the meetings and emails and IMs to discuss it that wear you down. Like Seinfeld with doing nothing, people find it hard to do their actual jobs because the idea of taking about doing the work could easily lead to having a meeting to discuss doing the work that would cut into actually doing the work and that would force you to just do more stuff.

Yeah, ok, I need to workshop that.

As you might imagine, I don’t miss coordination convos, nor do I miss planning meetings for the upcoming quarterly planning and I especially do not miss those Slack messages that just start with “Hello…”

Here’s the Seinfeld bit:

And here’s Cal Newport on overload:

Robots learn to play football

You might have seen this video of robots running around after a football, getting up after falling, and kicking goals. I found it fascinating for a few reasons:

  1. The AI was trained in simulation with the skills being developed in isolation. The skills were combined in a self-play setting. Like Neo in the Matrix they learned skills and combined them in real life.
  2. The robots used external “vision” sources - i.e. they couldn’t actually see
  3. Strategic gameplay was one of the emergent behaviours - e.g. anticipating where the ball will be

It also made me wonder if a sign of an artificial general intelligence is a strong opinion as to whether one should call it soccer or football.

(via Import AI)

Monday Links 27

Damon Krukowski’s essay Against Innovation is a sobering story for folks who make software. As a musician Krukowski relies on his software to keep working and to stay relatively constant. Every time it changes or breaks he has to learn something new. A few months ago, after going down a rabbit hole of dependencies following a supposedly standard upgrade, he had enough and took his studio offline. Krukowski values stability over everything else and the software can’t break if it doesn’t update, right? And of course, he was by no means the first to do this.

It seemed a clever solution to my small-scale, personal studio problem. But I was taken aback when some of the professionals who offered this advice said it is what they do, too. Even with their very extensive skillsets. Could it be that some of the most sophisticated audio technicians I know - mastering engineers in particular, those tasked in our industry with maintaining and constantly improving audio standards - choose to ignore innovation for the sake of stability?