logic or biology

leslie lamport:

The fundamental problem with approaching computer systems as biological systems is that it means giving up on the idea of actually understanding the systems we build. We can't make our software dependable if we don’t understand it. And as our society becomes ever more dependent on computer software, that software must be dependable.

When people who can't think logically design large systems, those systems become incomprehensible. And we start thinking of them as biological systems. And since biological systems are too complex to understand, it seems perfectly natural that computer programs should be too complex to understand.

We should not accept this. That means all of us, computer professionals as well as those of us who just use computers. If we don't, then the future of computing will belong to biology, not logic. We will continue having to use computer programs that we don't understand, and trying to coax them to do what we want. Instead of a sensible world of computing, we will live in a world of homeopathy and faith healing.

on advice

i recently found this superb analogy by mike booth which i want to quote in full:

This guy has gone to the zoo and interviewed all the animals. The tiger says that the secret to success is to live alone, be well disguised, have sharp claws and know how to stalk. The snail says that the secret is to live inside a solid shell, stay small, hide under dead trees and move slowly around at night. The parrot says that success lies in eating fruit, being alert, packing light, moving fast by air when necessary, and always sticking by your friends.

His conclusion: These animals are giving contradictory advice! And that's because they're all "outliers".

But both of these points are subtly misleading. Yes, the advice is contradictory, but that's only a problem if you imagine that the animal kingdom is like a giant arena in which all the world's animals battle for the Animal Best Practices championship, after which all the losing animals will go extinct and the entire world will adopt the winning ways of the One True Best Animal. But, in fact, there are a hell of a lot of different ways to be a successful animal, and they coexist nicely. Indeed, they form an ecosystem in which all animals require other, much different animals to exist.

And it's insane to regard the tiger and the parrot and the snail as "outliers". Sure, they're unique, just as snowflakes are unique. But, in fact, there are a lot of different kinds of cats and birds and mollusks, not just these three. Indeed, there are creatures that employ some cat strategies and some bird strategies (lions: be a sharp-eyed predator with claws, but live in communal packs). The only way to argue that tigers and parrots and snails are "outliers" is to ignore the existence of all the other creatures in the world, the ones that bridge the gaps in animal-design space and that ultimately relate every known animal to every other known animal.

So, yes, it's insane to try to follow all the advice on the Internet simultaneously. But that doesn't mean it's insane to listen to 37signals advice, or Godin's advice, or some other company's advice. You just have to figure out which part of the animal kingdom you're in, and seek out the best practices which apply to creatures like you. If you want to be a stalker, you could do worse than to ask the tiger for some advice.

next to the story of the blind men and the elephant i think i just found my new favourite analogy when giving advice.

the gervais principle

Venkatesh Rao:

Hugh MacLeod's cartoon is a pitch-perfect symbol of an unorthodox school of management based on the axiom that organizations don't suffer pathologies; they are intrinsically pathological constructs. Idealized organizations are not perfect. They are perfectly pathological. So while most most management literature is about striving relentlessly towards an ideal by executing organization theories completely, this school would recommend that you do the bare minimum organizing to prevent chaos, and then stop. Let a natural, if declawed, individualist Darwinism operate beyond that point. The result is the MacLeod hierarchy. It may be horrible, but like democracy, it is the best you can do.

the gervais principle is furthermore defined as:

Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves.

if you have ever worked in or with a big company, this is a must read.

change of affiliation

after close to two and a half years in a whopping big consultancy, focusing mostly on emerging web technologies and human computer interaction, i kinda felt it was time for a change. and so i slowly faded out and started running a small consulting business earlier this year. now, i largely help companies make more money by delighting their users. almost always this boils down to solving business problems and includes topics such as human computer interaction, user experience and information architecture.

oh, and if you are a potential consulting client, i'd love to talk with you.

empowering kids to create

raul gutierrez:

The best toys - Tinkertoys, Lego, Play-Doh, Lincoln Logs - allowed us to build and rebuild almost endlessly. With my kids, I noticed that these kinds of toys have become increasingly rare. Lego bricks are sold primarily as branded kits. Instead of a pile of blocks that could become anything, they are now essentially disassembled toys. Instead of starting with a child’s imagination of what could be, play is now fixed on a single endpoint, predetermined by Lego’s designers.

more and more often i feel the same way about computers. compare this to alec resnick's article how children what?:

And so in the twenty-three years since the creation of the World Wide Web, "a bicycle for the mind" became "a treadmill for the brain." One helps you get where you want under your own power. Another’s used to simulate the natural world and is typically about self-discipline, self-regulation, and self-improvement. One is empowering; one is slimming. One you use with friends because it's fun; the other you use with friends because it isn't. One does things to you; one does things for you. And they certainly aren't about helping us to do things with them.

the web we lost

Anil Dash (original post):

We've increasingly coupled our content and our expression to devices that get obsolete more and more quickly. And when you get to this sense of these new devices, formats get harder and harder to preserve and this is especially true when they're these proprietary or underdocumented formats. Because we've given up on formats. The reality is: those of us that cared about the stuff have lost. Overall we've lost. Very very few the consumer experiences that people use or the default apps that come with their devices work around open formats. There's some slight exceptions around photos, obviously JPEG is doing pretty well, HTML is doing okay, but the core interactions of a small short status update or the ability to tell somebody you like something, those things aren't formats or protocols at all. They're completely undocumented, they can be changed at any time. And just even the expectation that they would be interoperable, that is perhaps the most dramatic shift from the early days of the social web.

the problem with the web we have today isn't that it is worse than the web we had. it's actually better in most regards - except it's harder and more closed up. the opposite is what need, otherwise people will keep on stumbling into seemingly open ad-supported spaces, not realizing what they are doing. until the day they decide they want to leave and can't. kinda like the hotel california:

You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!

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