Francis’s news feed

This combines together some blogs which I like to read. It’s updated once a week.

December 03, 2016

D*ck Pics Explained by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

One of the more puzzling questions in the modern world is why so many guys send pictures of their junk to innocent women who have asked for nothing of the sort. It’s rude, vulgar, and worst of all – it doesn’t work.

You would think that 100% of men would know that sending d*ck pictures to women – especially strangers – is a bad idea. I’ll untangle this ball of string for you using the Moist Robot Hypothesis.

The Moist Robot Hypothesis (from my book) says – among other things – that our bodies control our thoughts as much – or more – than our thoughts control our bodies. For example, science knows that being happy can make you smile, but we also know that forcing a smile can cause your brain to generate happiness chemistry. The body-mind connection is a two-way street. When you understand this idea, the world changes for you.

The Moist Robot Hypothesis also assumes that most, if not all, of our “decisions” are little more than rationalizations for our instinct to procreate in the most productive way. And by that I mean mating with people who have genetic advantages that would make the offspring successful. That’s why people are attracted to beauty, because it is a visual proxy for good health and good genes. For the same reason, women are naturally attracted to successful men that have talent, money, or some other sort of advantage. (Obviously these are generalizations and don’t apply to all.)

You see the reproductive instinct in just about everything we do. We pick cars that signal our success. We pick clothing and hairstyles that present us as suitable for mating. And so on.

But dick pics?

As you have learned by reading this blog for the past year, people can only be rational in limited situations in which there is no emotional content. Our sex drive is so strong that it largely eliminates the option for rational behavior. And as you know, the hornier you get, the stupider you are. Once a guy reaches a critical level of horniness, his rational brain shuts off and he becomes primal. And when he’s primal, he sometimes signals his availability for mating in the most basic way possible: He displays his junk in full preparedness. 

If you think the men doing this behavior are extra-dumb, or extra-rude, that might be true. But it is just as likely that such men are extra-horny. That gets you to the same decision no matter your IQ because the rational brain is shut down during maximum arousal.

It is also true – as far as I can tell from discussions with women over the years – that sometimes a dick pic actually results in dating and sex. I realize how hard that is to believe. But sometimes (maybe one time in 500) it actually works. You would think those odds would be enough to discourage even a man with a temporarily suspended intellect, but that view ignores the basic nature of men: We’re risk takers when it comes to reproduction.

Men are low value for reproduction because you only need one man to impregnate many. And so it seems that evolution has created men who will pursue super-longshot odds in the pursuit of sex. Dick pics fit that model.

If you’re a judgemental type of person, you see dick picks as the height of rudeness and inappropriate behavior. You think those men are pigs. From a legal and political perspective you might even see dick pics as a form of sexual assault. But if you start to see the world through the Moist Robot filter, what you see is normal men whose brains turned primal during arousal and they did the most primal thing that came naturally – they displayed their suitability for reproduction.

I’m not defending it. I’m just putting a different filter on it.


The New CEO’s First Moves (and Trump) by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

One of the things I will enjoy about the Trump presidency is watching non-business writers try to explain his methods. Case in point, the recent stories about Ford and Carrier keeping some parts of their manufacturing in the United States because Trump negotiated/bullied them into staying. If you tell that story through a political filter – which is all I have seen so far – you focus on the facts. In this case, the political story is that both the Ford and Carrier situations are exaggerated claims of success

The political filter misses the story completely. As usual.

Here’s the real story. You need a business filter to see it clearly. In my corporate life I watched lots of new leaders replace old leaders. And there is one trick the good leaders do that bad leaders don’t: They make some IMMEDIATE improvement that everyone can see. It has to be visible, relatively simple, and fast.

Why?

Because humans are not rational. Our first impressions rule our emotions forever. Trump has a second chance to make a first impression because his performance as President is fresh ground. Trump is attacking the job like a seasoned CEO, not like a politician. He knows that his entire four-year term will be judged by what happens before it even starts. What he does today will determine how much support and political capital he has for his entire term.

So what does a Master Persuader do when he needs to create a good first impression to last for years? He looks around for any opportunity that is visible, memorable, newsworthy, true to his brand, and easy to change.

Enter Ford.

Enter Carrier.

Trump and Pence recognized these openings and took them. Political writers will interpret this situation as routine credit-grabbing and exaggerated claims. But business writers will recognize Trump’s strategy as what I will call the “new CEO Move.” Smart CEOs try to create visible victories within days of taking the job, to set the tone. It’s all about the psychology.

If you are looking at Trump’s claims of success with Ford and Carrier in terms of technical accuracy and impact on the economy, you will be underwhelmed. But if you view it through a business filter and understand that psychology is the point of the exercise, you’re seeing one of the best new CEO moves you will ever see.

I’ll say this again because it’s important. We’re all watching closely to see if President Elect Trump has the skill to be president. And while you watch, Trump and Pence are pulling off one of the most skillfully executed new CEO plays you will ever see. Remember what I taught you in the past year: Facts don’t matter. What matters is how you feel. And when you watch Trump and Pence fight and scratch to keep jobs in this country, it changes how you will feel about them for their entire term. This is a big win for Trump/Pence disguised as a small win.

The political press will dismiss Ford and Carrier with fact-checking. But the stock market will be smarter. Experienced business people recognize the “new CEO” move and they know how powerful and important it is.

If you are worried about Trump’s talent for leadership, this should help set your mind at ease. He hasn’t even started the job and he’s already performing better than any past president in the same phase. 

In related news, my girlfriend Kristina Basham lost her blue verification badge on Instagram yesterday without explanation. She has 2.2 million followers and there are dozens of fake accounts using her name and photos, so she is exactly the type of user who needs the account verification badge. We’re left wondering if this sudden change is related to my writing about Trump. [Update: The blue verification badge was returned in one day and attributed to an error.]


You might like reading my book because the non-troll reviews of it are exceptional.

— WhenHub App —

Have you seen my startup’s new app for geostreaming your location to a friend as you approach your meeting spot? It’s like the Uber app without the Uber car. Here are links:

WhenHub app for Apple: http://apple.co/2eLL3Oh

WhenHub app for Android: http://bit.ly/2fIb6L7


The Idea You are Least Likely to Believe by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

When Trump started his historic run for the White House last year, I blogged that he would change more than politics. I said he would forever change how we view reality. And so he has. 

The mainstream media and the public now accept the idea that Trump ignored facts, science, and even common decency… and still got elected. I have been telling readers of this blog for a year that facts don’t matter. Policies don’t matter. The only thing that matters is persuasion. And Trump has plenty of persuasion.

To be perfectly clear, when I say facts don’t matter, I mean that in the limited sense of decision-making. If you make the wrong decision, the facts can kill you. That’s not in debate. I’m talking about the process or arriving at a decision – whether it is a good decision or not. The decision-making process is largely divorced from facts and reason. We live under a consistent illusion that facts and logic guide our decisions. They don’t.

The exception to this rule is when there is no emotional dimension to a decision. For example, if a mechanic says it will cost you $1,000 to fix your car, and you can see no other option that makes sense, one could say that facts and logic guided your decision to approve the repairs. But emotion-free decisions are unusual. You rarely see emotion-free decisions when it comes to politics, relationships, or even your career. 

And this brings us to the question of President Elect Trump’s seeming disregard for facts as he plowed through the competition to reach the presidency. The common view from his critics is that Trump is an idiot. The common view from his supporters is that his facts are not so wrong, or at least they are directionally accurate. I don’t subscribe to either interpretation. I find the Master Persuader filter is a better way to understand this strange situation.

A Master Persuader – and anyone trained in hypnosis or persuasion in general – knows that humans don’t use facts and reason to make important decisions. Most persuaders prefer sticking to the facts when possible, but that is mostly to avoid looking like idiots. They know that sticking to facts will not persuade.

Trump just takes things one step further. He doesn’t pretend the facts matter when they don’t. To put this in more practical terms, Trump does the things that matter and ignores the things that don’t. He just has a better idea than the public and the media about what matters. For example…

The public thinks facts matter for decisions. They don’t.

The public thinks being “presidential” matters for getting elected. It didn’t.

The public thinks Trump should have studied the issues more deeply. And he will, as needed. But he didn’t need detailed policy knowledge to get elected (evidently).

The experts said Trump needed more ground game. He didn’t.

I could go on, but I hope you see the pattern already. Trump ignores the things that don’t matter – even to the point of looking the fool – and pays deep attention to what DOES matter. That’s what made him our next president.

When Trump was running for election, facts and reasons and policy details didn’t matter to the outcome. He knew that. I knew that. Every trained persuader knew it. But the general public did not, and that is the realization that is beginning to dawn on the world. 

Once in office, facts and reason do matter more. Trump is moving from the job of talking about issues to the job of doing something about them. In his new role, he will pay attention to details and facts and reason as much as humanly possible, with the help of advisors. You already see this transformation happening as Trump moderates his positions on waterboarding, prosecuting Clinton, and even climate change. 

If you have not studied persuasion it makes perfect sense to be in a panic about a Trump presidency. You see a pattern of irrational-looking behavior from Trump during the election and you assume the trend will continue into the presidency. But if you understand the tools of persuasion you see a Master Persuader ignoring what doesn’t matter and paying close attention to what does, for the benefit of the country. That is literally the safest situation I can imagine.

As president, facts do matter. Reason matters. Logic matters. But persuasion does too – and it is still hugely important to the job of being president. Don’t expect Trump to embrace any facts that are not important to “making America great again.” But I do think you can expect facts to influence Trump when they do matter.

If you are worried how a President Trump will address climate change, here’s what to expect. You can expect him to dissect the topic in terms of the facts that matter and the ones that don’t. You can expect him to eventually agree with scientists who say human activity is contributing to climate change. But when it comes to the prediction models, and America’s ability to fix the problem at a reasonable cost, expect him to be more skeptical than the general public. 

That isn’t crazy. Complicated models that try to predict the future rarely succeed.

I realize that the stakes are high if I’m wrong. But keep in mind that a year ago I was giving Trump a 98% chance of winning the presidency when experts were at 2%. And my prediction was based on the persuasion filter.

I don’t believe human brains evolved to understand reality at an objective level. The best we can do is pick filters that do a good job of predicting what’s ahead. The Persuasion Filter predicted Trump’s win when most other models did not. Now I use the same filter to predict that Trump will turn from totally ignoring facts (because facts don’t matter to elections) to embracing the facts that do matter to the country. 

You can still expect Trump to ignore any facts that don’t matter, such as the exact number of non-citizens that voted for Clinton. In that case he was making the press think past the sale (that non-citizens voted) and forcing them to spend time talking about the exact number until our brains uncritically accept his central premise that lots of non-citizens voted for Clinton. That is pure persuasion. He won’t change the methods that work. Watch and learn.

You might like reading my book because I am persuasive.

— WhenHub App —

People tell me they  love my startup’s new app for geostreaming your location to a friend as you approach your meeting spot. Here are links:

WhenHub app for Apple: http://apple.co/2eLL3Oh

WhenHub app for Android: http://bit.ly/2fIb6L7


About #Pizzagate by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

If you aren’t following the dark corners of social media you might not know of something called Pizzagate. Snopes.com calls it a “detailed conspiracy theory.”

The basic idea is that a pizza parlor in Washington DC is alleged to be the center of a major child sex ring that involves top Democrats close to Hillary Clinton. I have labelled this story “not credible,” and that opinion is confusing people because there is a mountain of evidence supporting the allegations.

So let me tell you what a mountain of evidence is worth.

Mountain of Evidence Value = zero.

In the normal two-dimensional world in which we imagine we live, a mountain of evidence usually means something is true. So why am I looking at the same mountain of evidence as the believers in pizzagate and coming to an opposite conclusion?

The difference is that I understand what confirmation bias is and how powerful it can be. If you don’t have the same level of appreciation for the power of confirmation bias, a mountain of evidence looks like proof. 

Here’s what I know that most of you do not: Confirmation bias looks EXACTLY LIKE a mountain of real evidence. And let me be super-clear here. When I say it looks exactly the same, I am not exaggerating. I mean there is no way to tell the difference.

That sounds crazy, right?

Suppose dozens of children started coming forth and detailing sex crimes in this particular pizza parlor. Would that prove it happened, or would I call that more confirmation bias?

I would call that more confirmation bias. In fact, the situation would be identical to the famous McMartin Preschool case in the eighties in which lots of kids made similar and untrue claims of abuse. We don’t have to wonder if a “mountain of evidence” including dozens of first-hand accounts can be false because we know it already happened. Moreover, cognitive scientists can tell you that this sort of massive mistake is more normal than you can imagine.

I want to be totally clear here that I’m not saying Pizzagate is false. I see the mountain of evidence too. And collectively it feels totally persuasive to me. It might even be true. I’m not debating the underlying truth of it. That part I don’t know. My point is that what you see as a mountain of evidence that can’t be wrong, I see as something that is far more likely to be confirmation bias. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say perhaps a 20-1 odds the Pizzagate story is false.

Let me put this in a more familiar context. Most of the Pizzagate believers are also Trump supporters it seems. And Trump supporters have watched first-hand as half the residents of the United States concluded that Trump was the next Hitler. Why do tens-of-millions of people believe such a preposterous thing?

It’s because there is a mountain of evidence to support the allegation. Case in point, just yesterday Trump suggested that perhaps flag burners should be punished. That’s clearly dictator talk! (Except that Hillary Clinton proposed that actual law in 2005.)

The argument for Trump being the next Hitler is built on the same type of confirmation bias as Pizzagate. Both allegations are supported by a mountain of evidence. But if you look at each piece of evidence in isolation, none are individually persuasive.

Let me summarize my point by saying that if you were not aware of the McMartin Preschool case you were also not intellectually equipped to judge the credibility of either Pizzagate or the Trump-is-Hitler idea.

People have asked me whether or not an understanding of how persuasion works can protect against unwanted influence. The quick answer is no. Persuasion typically works just as well when you see it coming and you know how it works. But in some specific cases a superior knowledge of cognitive phenomenon can help. This is one of those cases. If you know about the McMartin Preschool case, and you understand the real power of confirmation bias, you might have the tools to avoid believing in either Pizzagate or the likelihood of Trump turning into the next Hitler.

And now you have those tools.

As I told you last year, when a Master Persuader becomes president it will change more than your view of politics. It will change how you view reality itself.

You might like reading my book because this blog has text.

— WhenHub App —

People tell me they  love my startup’s new app for geostreaming your location to a friend as you approach your meeting spot. Here are links:

WhenHub app for Apple: http://apple.co/2eLL3Oh

WhenHub app for Android: http://bit.ly/2fIb6L7


The Trump Talent Stack by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

As I explained in my book, there are two ways to make yourself valuable. The first way is to become the best at some specific skill, the way Tiger Woods dominated golf. But not many of us can be Tiger Woods. So that path is unavailable to 99% of the world.

I recommend a different approach. Most people can – with practice – develop a variety of skills that work well together. I call this idea the Talent Stack.

For example, I’m a famous syndicated cartoonist who doesn’t have much artistic talent, and I’ve never taken a college-level writing class. But few people are good at both drawing and writing. When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humor, I’m fairly unique. And in this case that uniqueness has commercial value. 

Now consider president-elect Trump. He doesn’t have one talent that is best-in-the-world, but he does have one of the best talent stacks I have ever seen. Consider all the ways in which Trump is better than average, but not best-in-the-world. I’ll list the obvious ones.

Public Speaking: Trump is an engaging speaker, and he knows how to entertain a crowd. But no one would say he’s one of the best speakers in the world. 

Humor: Trump is funny. But he isn’t Seinfeld funny. He’s just funnier than most people. That’s all he needs.

Intelligence: Trump is smart. He probably wouldn’t beat Hillary Clinton on a standardized IQ test, but he’s smarter than 90% of the world, and probably far more. That’s good enough for a talent stack.

Knowledge of Politics: Compared to career politicians and political pundits, Trump looks under-informed. But he probably knows more about politics than 95% of the public. And that seems to be enough. Advisors will fill in the knowledge gap. 

Branding: Trump is a world-class marketer and brander. He probably isn’t the best in the world at those things. But he’s very, very good.

Hiring and Firing: One of the most important skills a president needs is the ability to hire good advisors and – equally important – fire the mistakes. Trump has plenty of experience doing both. He probably isn’t the best in the world at hiring and firing, but I’ll bet he’s in the top 10% just from practice.

Strategy: Trump won the presidency in large part because his non-standard strategy worked great. He focused on free media, big rallies, and the key swing states. That was good enough to win. Trump probably isn’t the best strategist in the world, but he’s very good.

Social Media: Trump understands social media in a way that people of his generation usually don’t. Trump might not be the most Internet-savvy politician of all time, but he’s definitely in the top 10%. 

Persuasion: Trump might be the most persuasive person I have ever observed in the act of persuading. But keep in mind that persuasion requires a talent stack too. Trump is persuasive because he combines a bunch of minor skills into one big persuasive toolbox. For example, Trump is good at reading people, good at being provocative to attract energy, and good at sales technique. He probably isn’t the best in the world at any of those minor skills, but when you add them together, along with lots of other subsidiary persuasion skills, and now the Office of the President – Trump might be the most persuasive person on Earth.

Risk management: Trump understands risk. We see it in his business dealings as he isolates different lines of business in their own corporate structures so they can fail without bringing down the rest. We also know that Trump enters businesses that have an unlimited upside potential with limited risk. And he prefers gambling with other people’s money. Trump probably understands risk management better than 90% of the public. 

Trump’s critics have a hard time understanding Trump’s success because he lacks any best-in-the-world talents. They mock his simple speaking style, his lack of policy knowledge, his provocative Tweets and more. But as they criticize the trees they lose sight of the forest. Trump has no trees in his forest that are the best trees in the world. But his forest is one of the best forests in the world.

The takeaway here is that anyone can develop a more valuable talent stack. Just figure out which talents go well together. If in doubt, add public speaking to your stack first. Learn a second language if you can – but only a useful language. And persuasion makes you more effective at nearly everything you do. Those are just examples. You’re the best judge of which skills you need. 

President-elect Trump might not be a good role model in terms of his personal life. And you might not care for his policies. But when it comes to a role model for success, you will never see better. Trump’s talent stack is outstanding. 

On a related note, Kanye West is another good example of a talent stack. He isn’t the best in the world at singing, dancing, writing, or any other skill you would assume is necessary for his job. But you won’t see many people with Kanye’s combination of talents, including his business acumen, his drive, and his knack for self-promotion. Kanye has been building his talent stack for years. And now he’s adding politics. You probably think Kanye has no chance to be president because of his current mental/emotional health hospitalization. But you’d be wrong. Hillary Clinton proved that health concerns are not disqualifying.

I’m not going to predict a future Kanye West presidency. But if you think it is unlikely, you don’t understand the power of talent stacks. It is possible that Kanye is doing nothing in the hospital but recovering. But I like to think he is using that time to learn Spanish. That’s how Master Persuaders roll.

You can read more about talent stacks and the value of systems over goals in my book.

If you are meeting with family and friends for the holidays, you might find a lot of value in my start-up’s free app, WhenHub. It’s like the Uber app, but for any group of two or more people who want to geostream their locations on a map as they approach a meeting place. No more wondering where everyone is and how long you have to wait. The app is free, and works across iPhone and Android platforms:

WhenHub app for Apple: http://apple.co/2eLL3Oh

WhenHub app for Android: http://bit.ly/2fIb6L7


A Brief Critique of Ship-Bits-Not-Atoms by Indie Manufaturing

Prompted by a mixture of thinking about the wider research that the Indie Manufacturing project falls under, the recent Maker Assembly, and yesterday’s celebration of 40 years since the Lucas Plan, I’ve been pondering the idea that we should aim to “ship bits, not atoms”.

It’s a nice concept. Rather than transport physical goods round the world from centralised factories we should send the instructions on how to make the goods over our digital networks to the place (or a place much nearer to) where the good is needed, and only “convert” it into physical form close to where it will be used. That way we minimize the transport cost - usually the environmental cost reduction is more important than the monetary cost, but you would reduce both. There could also be savings in waste - because goods are only realised as tangible items when they’re wanted, and so there’s no oversupply; and you might also reduce warehousing costs as there’s no longer a need to keep stocks of product spread out geographically in order to keep delivery times short.

For certain classes of product it works. Opendesk is a good example. The furniture is constructed from commodity, well-understood materials and the assembly process is reasonably straightforward. The customer can easily see the quality of the wood their desk will be made from (and there are established industry grading systems) and most customers probably have the requisite skills to build one from years of experience assembling Ikea furniture.

For more complex products, such as consumer electronics, the advantages of just-in-time individual assembly are less clear. Electronic circuits are made from a much larger range of source components and although you can encourage designs to pick from a stock library of parts, there will always be one or two parts which are specifc to that one device. Plus electronic components get cheaper pretty quickly as the purchased quantity rises. And assembly is also more complex - both in the tools required and in documenting the steps involved in building the finished item.

In these cases, I can see three possible futures playing out:

  1. The master craftsperson. In this version there are networks of craftspeople who have the requisite skills to produce a well-polished finished product the first time that they make one. They’ll have the plans and instructions to assist them, naturally, but they’ll need the attention to detail and conceptual skills to realise how the instructions translate into actions in order for the item to come together in the way the designer intended.

  2. Lots of “good enough” or “not quite good enough but we can live with it” products being made. Where the workshops manufacturing these haven’t made enough of them to learn the tricks in putting them together properly, and so end up making things that work, but the fit-and-finish leaves a lot to be desired.

  3. The completely de-skilled assembler, who can’t fail to assemble the product successfully.

I assume anyone proposing the completely distributed factory of the future is aiming for either the first or the third of those.

The first is very appealing but will surely result in expensive products. It feels like an updated version of the Arts and Crafts movement. William Morris with a 3D printer…

My guess is that most people think that the third is the most likely (or the best compromise between achieveable and desirable). In the ideal world the assembler would own their own manufacturing equipment, so while it’s not necessarily taxing work, there’s more variety in what’s produced and they get to profit from the output of the machines.

I think this does a great disservice to the tacit knowledge accumulated by the workers as they go about their tasks. I remember a conversation with one of the members of DoES Liverpool, who worked in the Halewood plant of Ford (and then Jaguar Land Rover) his entire career (while desiging and building CNC mills in his shed in his spare time). We were discussing workers moving between different jobs in the workshop in order, I proposed, to make things more varied and so less boring.

While agreeing that was true, he countered that such an approach would noticeably slow down their work-rate and they’d much rather stick with the particular machine with which they had the greatest expertise. They all knew how to use the different tools, but would have particular aptitude or just a finely-tuned familiarity with that particular instance of the tool as to be much more productive on it than their colleagues.

I’ve experienced it myself. As you become more experienced with the tools in the workshop, even on such “hands off” items as a 3D printer, you’ll be able to tell just from the sound it makes when something isn’t right. Or you’ll spot that the filament isn’t quite extruding smoothly and tweak the temperature, or nudge the bed to minutely raise or lower it in order to get the first layer to properly adhere.

The tools will get better and better (particularly when the people operating them have the skills to modify and improve them), but it will remain the case that the hundredth item you make of any product will be better than the first.

The fully-automated replicator is an alluring dream, but it feels as though it comes from a naivete about working with materials and the real world. The pursuit of that dream has undoubtedly moved our technological capabilities on immensely, but does the aim of replacing the workers blind us to the greater possibilities of augmenting their abilities?


Snowflake Generator: Our 2016 Christmas Project by Adrian McEwen

Continuing our tradition of Internet-connected Christmas projects, we’ve hooked up the huge LED wall on the side of FACT to Twitter.

A photo of the LED facade at FACT showing one of the snowflakes in red

It’s a reworking of the PixelCheer project we did back in 2014.

This year it’s part of the wider Snowflake Trail across the city centre, run by Open Culture and the Liverpool BID

Anyone on Twitter can choose from one of six different snowflake designs by tweeting “#SnowflakeTrail” and the snowflake number - 1 to 6.

A picture of the six different snowflake designs

Including a colour in your tweet will also set the colour of that snowflake, and we’ve also connected it up to the tried-and-tested #Cheerlights API so it will react to tweets setting the colour of Internet-of-Things projects in unison around the globe.

You’ll be able to see it in and around Ropewalks Square at the top end of Bold Street and Wood Street in Liverpool until 3rd January, but if you can’t get along to see it in person you can watch it online at pixelcheer.mcqn.com.


Uncertainty Wednesday: Zoltar Example (Continued) by Albert Wenger

Last Uncertainty Wednesday, I set up the first example which I called Zoltar as a machine that

only prints out two different fortunes: it either prints “You will have a Good day tomorrow” or “You will have a Bad day tomorrow.” For brevity we will refer to these as G and B respectively.

And I asked how to use the Uncertainty Wednesday framework to think about uncertainty here. This requires us to do two things. We have to think about what our observations are (and how those have clear limits) and then do the same for our explanations.

So let’s get started with observations. We could just take a sequence of B and G as our observations. In doing so let’s understand that we are ignoring some things that might be quite important, such as the sounds the machine makes, or how long the machine takes between printing fortunes. These may or may not include information that could be used to better understand the machine and thus reduce uncertainty. What do I mean? For instance, it could turn out to be the case that the machine takes 1 minute to print a B fortune but 2 minutes to print a G fortune. If that were consistently the case, well, then as soon as more than 1 minute has passed after pressing the “start” button you would know with certainty that the next fortune would be G. Readers familiar with cryptography may recognize this as an example of a Timing Attack.

Now let’s for a moment assume that sound and time (and other potential observations) do not contain information so we can focus just on the series of B and G. What are the limitations on that sequence? The most important one is how many of these we have already collected and can collect going forward. For instance, if we happen upon the machine “at a fair or carnival”  (as described in the post introducing the example), we have no idea how long the machine has already been in operating. That is we do not know how many fortunes and what kind have been printed before our first observation. And going forward, observing each new fortune takes time and, let’s assume the machine is coin-operated, also money!

So what about explanations of the Zoltar machine? Well the first thing to recognize is that implicit in my description was in fact an explanation. I stated that the machine only prints two types of fortunes. But how do we know this? Well, we really don’t. I just said it. Even if there were a sign printed on the side of the machine saying that, clearly that sign could be wrong (by mistake or intentionally).

But we have to start somewhere and so we can take B and G as the only two possible fortunes (at least until we observe the machine printing something different, say a “You will have a meh day” fortune). Now when I defined explanation I said it had to be relational. What kind of relation can we state here?

If N is the total number of fortunes and B are Bad fortunes and G good ones, then the following relation *must* hold

B + G = N

Now you might object to this being called an “explanation.” After all, it doesn’t explain anything about *why* the machine selects or prints those fortunes. And while it is true that a “deeper” explanation would be better (in the sense that it would reduce uncertainty), there are many powerful “explanations” that don’t get to that. In an earlier post I mentioned Kepler’s formula for elliptical orbits of planets. It “explains” the orbits but doesn’t answer the *why* planets have that orbit.

So what justifies calling this an explanation? Well, the fact that it is possible to have observations that are consistent or inconsistent with the explanation. If we were to see a “Meh” fortune printed, for example, we would know that our explanation is incorrect. Conversely, the longer the machine runs and the more we see only B and G observations the more confident we will feel that our explanation is correct. Also, as we will see in upcoming posts, even the seemingly trivial equation B + G = N that so far captures our explanation, has power in letting us reason about observations.


Mobile: From Ads to Commerce by Albert Wenger

In 2011 I gave a talk at conference that The Media Kitchen had organized about the impact of mobile on marketing. While everyone else presenting was talking about how to make mobile ads work, I was openly critical of advertising on mobile platforms altogether arguing that ads were (a) mostly annoying given the small screen size and (b) likely to be replaced by direct commerce. I just tried to find my slides from that talk but unfortunately came up empty. 

I was reminded of the talk when I read a post on Venturebeat this weekend about the difference between Tencent’s model in China and Facebook’s and Google’s approach here. Tencent’s WeChat makes the bulk of its revenues from direct commerce, meaning in-app transactions. The post mentions that Facebook is pushing directly into transactions again. If Facebook pulls that off it will be a real threat to Google which does not have a successful messaging app itself (despite having launched several, most recently Allo).

Messaging apps are of course not the only way that direct commerce can happen on mobile. A few companies, such as Uber, will have their own apps that people install and use directly. Another way is for existing apps to integrate commerce functions, for instance using Button. Location intelligence as provided by Foursquare will also play a significant role here: for instance, if I can book a table at a nearby restaurant as I am walking through a part of town, that’s the kind of direct commerce experience that improves dramatically on ads.

So while this shift has been talked about for some time now, I believe we are reaching an important turning point. The big question though is still what this means for content consumed on mobile devices. And here too I think we will see a change with interesting subscription offerings being developed.


Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Opportunity Departs Spirit Mound, Embarks on Toughest Exit Ever by The Planetary Society

Opportunity worked along Endeavour Crater's western rim through November, taking pictures, hiking slopes, and finishing work in the depths of Cape Tribulation.


What's the matter with Russia's rockets? by The Planetary Society

Fifteen Russian rockets have failed in the past 6 years. Of those mishaps, all but two involved upper stages. So what's going on? The problem may actually lie far beyond the country's aerospace industry.


TeamIndus Announces Launch Contract with ISRO by The Planetary Society

TeamIndus, India’s only entry for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, just announced their launch contract with ISRO. If successful, TeamIndus would be the first private company from India to land a craft on an extraterrestrial body.


ISS-bound Progress spacecraft fails to reach orbit, breaks apart over southern Siberia by The Planetary Society

This morning's launch of an uncrewed Russian Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station went awry. Following a third-stage failure, the vehicle reentered Earth's atmosphere and broke apart over southern Siberia in Russia.


Review: Arrival’s surprising message of happiness and hope for humanity by The Planetary Society

In a review of the new sci-fi film Arrival, Jason Davis says there's a lot to like about the movie's surprising message of happiness and hope for humanity.


Dawn Journal: Maneuvering for Science by The Planetary Society

Dawn is completing another elegant spiral around dwarf planet Ceres, maneuvering to its sixth science orbit. Chief Engineer and Mission Manager Marc Rayman brings us his latest update.


Rocket Road Trip: Watch a new video series on NASA's human spaceflight program by The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society debuts a new, five-part video series on NASA's human spaceflight program. We went on a 10-day, 450-mile journey throughout the southern U.S. to see how the agency is preparing to send humans beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972.


Building a business from a great idea, some future Monday by Simon Wardley

[Rough draft - the more upto date version is on medium]

It's Monday, it's the year 2025 and I've woken up with a great new idea. [Actually, it's a pretty lousy idea but hey, I just spent five minutes on the scenario so let's just assume it's great.]

I'm going to create a recommendation engine for stock picking based upon the mood of the internet. I quickly scribble down the user needs "make profitable trades" and "know what to buy" and write a basic map whilst grabbing breakfast. I have my map, I know the basic components that I need - the recommendation engine, trade feed etc. I start work at 8.30 am.



I know Amazon provides one of the components as a service (the lambda platform) and several others can be found as AWS lambda services in the marketplace. The company I work for also provides a stock portfolio service. I mark up what I think we can use and what we need to build - the recommendation engine and the mood system.


It's 9.20 am, I send the map of to our spend control group. They act like an intelligence gathering organisation, collecting all the maps of everyone, comparing them and giving some feedback. They build profile diagram by finding common elements between the maps.

I get a reply by 10 am with some details. They send me the profile diagram below. It seems some other team in the company has built a recommendation product. I'm the only person thinking about a mood system. In general, I'm roughly where everyone else, However, 16 different teams are using trade feeds and everyone else is using some well developed lambda service and apparently everyone else is using some utility service for a trading engine. I check click the details, it's Amazon.


They've also sent my map back, slightly modified. Ok, well at least this is not the like the bad old days of 2015 where my company had thousands of duplicated systems and endless rebuilding of stuff that already existed.


It's 10.15 am. I start thinking about some metrics. The trade feed system is going to be providing trades to the recommendation system. Each one will need a call to the mood system, the risk system and so on. I start marking out where all the metrics are.


It's 10.45am. I flip a switch and the map is converted into a business model. The same components, the same links, the same metrics. I start running a few scenarios, checking that I've made a truly variable cost business model. It's 11.30 am, I send the map and the model to finance. They come back with some helpful comments [in this case, it would be ... and how do we make money? but then again the scenario took me five minutes].


It's 12.00 am. I send the maps and the improved model to the executive group. 15 minutes later I get the go ahead and a small budget of $20k.  I know from the spend control profile that some other cells are already building this stuff. I give them a call, tell them what I'm upto.  They already know, spend control told them.

I know from the spend control profile that there is a group building a recommendation engine. I send them the map and model and outline my idea of adding a mood system to recommendation. We have a quick call and they're up for it. We agree a metric of value for charging - everyone uses worth based development these days. Most of the stuff is already built and provided as services. I just need a cell of pioneers to build the mood system, whatever that will be.

I update my map with the organisation structure and load it with the build map and financial model to the company's job portal. I wait. 


Our company operates in cells, using pioneers, settlers and town planners. We live in a constantly changing environment. Watch the movie! I love it.


Because of this, we always have pools of people training and looking for their next cell to join. It's 1pm and no-one has responded. I'm getting worried. I'm looking at the other exciting projects on the jobs board. Out of the blue, by 1.30 pm I've nabbed two pioneers willing to give this a go. They sign up.

We're off to the races! Of course, HR is constantly monitoring the flow of components through the maps, the cells being formed, whether we need more pioneers, settlers and town planners. This goes on in the background. They're checking what we build vs what we buy and whether we have the balance of attitudes. Long gone are those old days where dullards would try to convince us that a company could have one culture. Long gone are those days we were weren't looking for the right skills (aptitudes) and the right attitudes. HR is on a bit of recruitment drive at the moment, we've been lacking enough settlers especially in finance and engineering.


We start cracking away with the project. We build the mood system, add it to the recommendation engine and start watching whether consumer use it. We start monitoring flow in the system, where's the money going, are there bottlenecks, how are we doing on those metrics?


Of course, we're not the only ones monitoring. Part of the spend control group looks after strategy and they are already looking at the maps for new opportunities. One of the things about our stock portfolio system and recommendation engine is other companies build on top of it. They can measure consumption of the service to identify future trends. But they're also watching how the mood system is going, maybe we should provide it as a service to others?


They notice the mood system is picking up. They decide we should push its evolution towards more of a utility. It'll need development and in this case, they decide an open approach is worthwhile. We've only got going with our system and I've noticed a new project on the company job board to turn the mood system into an open sourced project. 


It's 5pm. I'm in a good mood. The mood cell is up and running, it's even growing with an open source effort. The changes to the recommendation engine are working. I have a relaxing evening, get a good nights sleep.

It's Tuesday, it's the year 2025 and I've woken up with a great new idea.

---

The scenario was put together very quickly and is only an illustration designed to explain one thing. If you use a map then there is no reason why operations, build, strategy, finance, HR and other groups can't happily work together without miscommunication, misalignment, duplication and bias. All of the above diagrams I've used in one form or another across multiple groups in a business over the last decade.

There currently is not integrated tool for doing this but I strongly suspect that our future development, operation, HR and financial tools will be combined together as above through the use of mapping of some form.


The curious thing about Article 50 by Simon Wardley

I'm well aware that legal English is slightly different to common use but Article 50 has something very curious within it and I'd be very grateful if someone with solid international law experience could help clear this up.

The problem ...

Article 50


Under s1, we have the right to withdraw. That's all very dandy. The process of withdraw is set out in s2 to s5 assuming we "notify" of our intention to withdraw. But here's the rub. The articles says "shall notify" and "shall" can be interpreted in many ways e.g. must, will or may.

So in May 2017, what happens if we interpret it as "may". In which case we could just leave, on the day, stop any funding and that would be it. Now given UK is a huge contributor to the EU that's going to kick up a bit of a fuss but then it's our choice us if we wish to go through article s2 to s5 as under this interpretation they are optional. It's for us to decide what is in our best interest.

Of course, some will say that "shall" means "must". Ok, so let us assume we decide to interpret it as "may" and the EU decides to take us to court and the court conclude that "shall" means "must". 

Well, then we turn to s2. Under this section we now "must notify" and we have a legal obligation to do so. However, look a bit further along and using the same interpretation then you'll find "the Union must negotiate and conclude an agreement with that state". Hang on, the Union has a legal obligation to conclude an agreement? That's a bit one sided isn't it? We could just sit there say "non" to everything until they give the UK everything it wants (have your cake and eat it!)

It seems there's no obligation on the state, there's also no obligation for the state to agree to any extension but there's every obligation on the Union to conclude an agreement or be in breach. To which someone would say "well, you just let two years lapse". That still doesn't get rid of the obligation on the Union to conclude an agreement.

To which someone could point out there's no timeframe. There's no timeframe for notify either. We could leave and notify in say a thousand years time.  It feels to me like article 50 was written on the back of a bus in a bit of a rush.

However the problem is if the UK decides to interpret "shall" as "may" and leaves in March 17, cuts funding to the EU (and the UK is one of the largest contributors in terms of the delta between what is paid and what is received back) and seeks trade arrangements then in order to force an interpretation of "must" the EU has to accept a legal obligation to conclude an agreement. This seems like a sticky wicket for the EU whichever way it goes.

Maybe some kindly passing international lawyer can clear this up.


December 02, 2016

Christmas Links #3 by Feeling Listless



Will Liverpool get a white Christmas? Odds fall as forecasts predict cold snap:
"Winter has definitely arrived, with Liverpool enduring some of the coldest days of 2016 so far over the last few days."

'It shocks people that I refuse to lie': what parents tell their children about Santa:
"Christmas is just around the corner, and with it comes excitement about the arrival of Santa. But academics Christopher Boyle from the UK and Kathy McKay from Australia warned against going too far when it comes to the Father Christmas myth. They said the Santa story can lead children to distrust their parents."

St Andrews Church Corbridge Christmas Tree Festival:
"Including organ recital - Friday 12:30 to 1:30pm"

Christmas at the Medieval Court:
"Though Christmas was very different in the Middle Ages, many of the pastimes and activities that we associate with it would have been familiar to medieval people. Feasting, playing games, singing, drinking around a fire, decorating the house with evergreens, and giving gifts, are just some of the traditions enjoyed in the medieval festive season."

Domino's just gave up on its reindeer pizza delivery plans for Christmas in Japan:
"Those reindeer turned out to be a lot harder to train than Domino's had anticipated. The American pizza company announced on Thursday it was abandoning its plans to use reindeer to deliver pizzas in Japan for Christmas."



BBC Christmas 2016 - Trailer:
"BBC Television invites viewers to celebrate Christmas 2016 in all its glory across BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four, with a bountiful array of festive delights from the nation’s favourite shows, alongside all-star names in brand new content especially for the Christmas season including ..."

BBC VT Xmas 1996 - Digital Wonderland:
"And now on to the headline feature! John Birt fans look away now as he gets ripped a new arsehole! Featuring a decent Mission: Impossible and Scooby Doo pastiches amongst its parodies in this multichannel parody of Sky." (thanks Darren)

President Obama sings 'Jingle Bells':

"Obama sang the Christmas carol at the White House tree lighting ceremony."

Supermarket solves 'mince pie gap' problem:
"Supermarket chefs have solved a culinary conundrum which has baffled Christmas cooks for generations … how to remove the ‘air gap’ from a mince pie. The pie’s lid usually rises in the oven, creating a space between the fruity mixture and pastry, which can cause the pie to sink when it’s bitten in to and leave customers deflated. But now Asda’s Innovation Chef Mark Richmond and his team have come up with a solution – and taste-tested more than 750 pies in the process – to close the gap in time for Christmas."

Make your holidays less human with the new Daft Punk ornaments:
"If your Christmases have been missing that slick electronic sheen and awesome talkbox/vocoder tricks of a particularly bangin’ Daft Punk track, then your extremely specific wish may have just been granted thanks to a new batch of holiday-themed Daft Punk merchandise. The band has sold Christmas ornaments in the past, but now they have a new set of miniature helmets that should class up even the crummiest of Christmas trees."


December 01, 2016

Christmas Links #2 by Feeling Listless



Tinsel and Twitter: New Zealand's secret Santa matches social media strangers:
"The game was launched in 2010 by Hamilton man Sam Elton-Walters, who matched strangers on Twitter to send secret Santa gifts to each other in time for Christmas. Participants would drop hints of their interests and hobbies via tweets – or, more directly, write lists of gifts they would like to receive."

Netflix ‘Sense8’ Confirms Christmas Special Premiere Date:
"It seems so long ago that Sense8 offered any update on Season 2, or at least the Christmas special rumored to tide over fans until 2017. Now, Netflix has stealthily confirmed that new Sense8 content will arrive in late December, just in time for the holidays!"

25 Christmas-Not-Christmas movies for December:
"Everyone loves Christmas movies. Well, maybe not everyone, but certainly enough people to justify dedicating an entire channel to them and endlessly looping a few over and over around the holidays. This year though, maybe you'll want to watch something different, something illuminating a different side of the holiday. Not all of the 25 movies below are strictly Christmas Movies, but all of them have something very specific to say about Christmas."

BBC to broadcast behind-the-scenes Nutcracker documentary on Christmas Day 2016:
"BBC Two will broadcast a special 90-minute documentary following the process of staging The Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker on Christmas Day 2016 at 4pm."

Christmas isn’t being banned. But we should play along with those who think it is:
"Why aren’t we allowed to talk about Christmas any more? For that’s the question we’re all asking ourselves, surely, in between ordering the turkey and hanging the Advent calendar."



35 great alternative Christmas songs:
"Bored of ‘Jingle Bells’ and the same god awful Christmas songs every time you walk into a shop or turn on the radio? Find salvation with our pick of 30 Yuletide tracks to sooth ears. First up, it’s Cee-Lo Green and The Muppets."

Beaver walks into Md. store, finds only artificial Christmas trees, and proceeds to trash it:
"In St. Mary’s County, Md., at least one badly behaved beaver is ready for holiday shopping."

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree Elegantly:
"Anyone can throw some lights on a tree, but a beautifully decorated Christmas tree can light up the holiday spirit of everyone who sees it. Make sure your tree looks exquisite and classic by decorating with elegance. You'll need some planning time and a budget for ornaments, and then arrange all the decorations in order."

Five Plot Point Breakdowns: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
"1. INCITING INCIDENT -- In the little town of Whoville, the Whos joyously prepare for Christmas. The Grinch (Boris Karloff), who lives in a snowy mountain cave above Whoville, hates Christmas and wishes there was something he could do to make it stop. (00:03:33)"

Millard woman catches Christmas light thief on camera:
"A real-life Grinch is stealing holiday cheer from a woman's front yard, Millard resident Nicole Albers said."


November 30, 2016

Christmas Links #1 by Feeling Listless



Transport For London's festive guide:
"If you're travelling in London around Christmas and New Year 2016, service changes, planned works and events may affect your journey. This page provides you with travel advice during the festive period."

Ignore the foodie scrooges: I love ​a​ ​high-street ​​eggnog latte​:
"I love Christmas drinks. I’m not talking about swirling aged brandy around a big, old glass or having a champagne tipple on Christmas Day; I’m talking about the Starbucks red cups, the Costa range in their Christmassy cosies and the heavenly, lethally sickly McDonald’s spiced-cookie latte."

Hipster Nativity Set:
"It’s crazy to think that the Wisemen followed a star in the sky to find Jesus, rather than using Google Maps, but who are we to judge? These Wisemen arrive to the birth of Jesus in style, rocking their favorite hipster outfits, and tricked out segways." [via]

Grinch Christmas Cookie Recipe:
"It’s cookie season and this year delight your kids by serving Grinch Christmas Cookies with this ultra fun and adorable “3 sizes too small” green heart cookies. Easily made, this cookie brings the season alive with one of my very favorite icons, The Grinch! Even better, this cookie recipe that includes boxed cake mix and cream cheese, means for a delightfully delicious cookie that is excellent with a glass of milk or just on its own. The thing about some Christmas Cookies that you see out there is that the decorating itself can be hard and time-consuming. These are absolutely not. Just with a little food dye and a little heart to represent the Grinch and you are on your way!"

An Impassioned Defense of Extremely Bad Christmas Movies:
"Listen: The world is a desperately sad and dispiriting place at this particular moment, and we all need to make time for self-care. This year, three beers and and the new Frank Ocean simply will not do. You need more. You need the highest-possible dosage of cheese. You need the Christmas-themed TV movies you can only find way the hell up on your cable dial, between the home shopping channels and the religious stations."



Christmas pudding pricier after Brexit hits pound:
"Britons are facing a jump in prices for traditional pudding ingredients as the Brexit vote has sharply weakened the pound. However, the cost of Christmas dinners is almost unchanged from a year ago despite a rise in pork and vegetables."

This epic Christmas display won’t light up this year due to neighbour feud:
"A Minnesota family’s popular holiday display won’t be turning on the lights this year, because one neighbor didn’t like it."

6-Year-Old Sells Artwork to Buy Christmas Gifts for Kids in Need:
"Thanks to the kindness of one 6-year-old, almost 400 kids in need will be receiving Christmas gifts this year. Jedd Winebarger of Castlewood, Virginia, has raked in hundreds of dollars by selling his artwork and using the profits to buy presents. “I love to help children and see them happy like me,” Jedd said."

Hiking group plans to place new Christmas tree atop Camelback Mountain:
"Shortly after hikers and city officials solved the mystery of why a 15-foot Christmas tree was removed from the summit of Camelback Mountain less than 24 hours after it was placed there, the leader of the group responsible for the tree says they will put another tree on the mountain and believe they will be allowed to keep it there."

We review the weirdest Christmas crisps:

"This year the supermarkets have gone a bit crazy with their crisps. Rather than the usual festive bit of snow on the packets, Tesco, M&S Kettle's and Tyrell's have gone ten steps further and created some flavours you would not expect to see in a crisp. Or, in one case, popcorn."


Amazon is eating the software (which is eating the world) by Simon Wardley

Continuing from my post on the fuss about serverless, I thought I'd riff off Marc Andreessen's famous statement and explain one possible future scenario where all your software belongs to Amazon. There are counter plays to what I'm going to discuss but these would make the post too long and being honest, I'm quite content to watch the executives of software giants flap around like headless chickens whilst their industry disappears. It won't happen overnight, this process will take about 10-15 years but by the time people realise it's happening (if it does) then it's too late. It's a type of economic change known as punctuated equilibrium but ... that's getting too technical, let us keep it simple.

I'm going to use a map to explain what is going to happen. I've quickly cooked one up for a trading system, based upon nothing much at all. It's however a starting point. Now, I'm going to assume we're going to build this trading system in AWS Lambda which means all the software components of the map (trading engine, stock portfolio, risk system, recommendation engine and mood system) are built from functions (which may call many other functions) in Lambda. For why you might want to think about doing this, go read the post on the fuss about serverless.


Ok, our customer in the above map has a desire to make profitable trades (I told you I cooked it up in five minutes and of course, you can make a better map). Making profitable trades requires us to be able to trade and to know what trades are going to be profitable (you wish!)

Now, the secret to our success, the system which differentiates us from everyone else is our recommendation engine. It takes a feed of trades, and uses a magical mood system to determine what's worthwhile and profiles this with our risk system. Before you go "mood system, sounds like gibberish" then let me remind you - this is an example.

In any case, back in 2005 when we had Zimki (the earliest serverless, functional billing environment), I did actually build a mood system in a day or so. It scrapped information from flickr and other sources to generate a mood for the world. It was daft, part of an evil plan I had that involved an animatronic monkey and concept art  .... let's not go there.

So, we've got our hypothetical trading system to which I've also added some metrics. I'm now going to turn this map into a flow and add the metrics. From below, the trade feed creates the list of trades and is governed by the number (#) of trades. The trade feed is a Lambda function and so there is a cost to it.  Each trade is run through the risk, mood and finally recommendation system - each creating their own functional costs. The recommendation system provides a list of recommended trades (#recommended) which impacts the trading engine and the stock portfolio system.


Yes, this is a very basic setup. You can argue with the map / flow diagram as much as you wish. Certainly in most banks then almost every component is treated as something relatively novel as if no other bank manages risks, trading, makes recommendations etc. In fact, from experience they usually have huge numbers of custom built systems all doing the same thing i.e. a single bank can often have a few hundred custom built risk management systems. But let us pretend we're working for some relatively sane bank.

You can see from the above we have a cost for each of the systems such as trade feed = #trades x average cost of the trade feed lambda function. Most banks have no idea what individual functions within their organisation cost, they have no clear way to calculate this but let's ignore that (along with the duplication and bias i.e. custom building what's a commodity). We're sane remember!

Now let us suppose that AWS launch some form of Lambda market place i.e. you can create a lambda function, add it to the API gateway and sell it through the market place. PS I think you'll find they've just done that - Amazon API gateway integrates with API marketplace and Lambda integrates with API gateway.  I haven't had a chance to play but it'll become clear pretty soon.

So, you're thinking about building the above trading system and you notice that someone else is providing an API which provides a risk system (or maybe components of it). Hmmm, I could use that instead of writing it. Cue gnashing of teeth.

You'll probably get a memo from security about the dangers of using third party code they can't check and extolling the benefits of open source. The memo will probably come as a pdf sent via office 365 mail without a trace of irony. What they mean is they don't trust the source. Roll back to 2006 and the various "I wouldn't trust it with production" that applied to AWS EC2. The fact is, trusted sources will appear over time. For startups, you'll be more adventurous which is also why you'll probably end up owning those other companies.

The chances are that huge amounts of your trading system (if broken down and you spent more than five minutes on it) could end up being provided as lambda functions from third parties. I've drawn this in the map. Along with stitching it altogether you will probably build something that is genuinely different e.g. the mood system.


Of course, some of your development team won't be happy with building the mood system and combining component services from third parties (despite all the talk about micro services). They will argue they can do a better job of making a trading engine. The beauty of functional billing is you can say - "prove it!". You have the costs per function call. By the way, if they can do a better job then you probably want to be selling it on the marketplace and making sure you're paying them enough that they don't leave.

In practice people get away with the old line of we can do a better job because no-one can actually measure it. Most don't have cost per function or otherwise they think that their function is free because it's running on their own hardware (p.s. that hardware isn't really free, neither is the power, the building cost etc).

Any Amazon marketplace around such functions will be a two factor market (consumers and providers) and will have strong network effects. The more companies start consuming the function, the more providers will want to build functions and the more consumers this will attract. Pretty soon, rather than working for a company where you're writing your thirtieth consumer authentication service (to go along with the other 29 scattered throughout the place) and copying and pasting the same code or at least what you think is the same code then in this future you'll just be using a service off the marketplace. That marketplace is your service repository.

If you were under the impression that companies used to waste lots of hardware with servers sitting around doing almost nothing (loads of 10% etc) before cloud, just wait until you lift the lid of software development. Ask any software engineer and they'll find you examples of huge amounts of duplication in a single organisation. By huge, be prepared for 100+ duplication as being a "good" day in any company of decent size. Oh, and before anyone in business starts bashing up software engineers ... don't get me started on the utter lack of strategy, miserable understanding of the landscape, leadership based upon gut feel and meme copying the latest trend in the HBR (Harvard Business Review) that goes on.

The future of software development will be lots of lambda functions consumed from a marketplace, stitched together with some new capability. Waste will be reduced, bias (i.e. custom building something which is already well crafted) will start to disappear and we get all that other good "financial development" stuff the last post covered. Hurrah! 

We've barely started yet. This gets a whole lot more interesting.

To explain why, I have to introduce you an old favourite (a decade old ecosystem model) known as innovate - leverage - commoditise. The model is fairly simple, you start off with something novel and new (which is why you need pioneers), as it evolves then you leverage any pattern that is discovered to produce a useful product or library routine (for this you need a different culture, a group of settlers) and eventually the thing will evolve becoming more industrialised (which requires a focus on commoditisation and a different culture known as town planning).

However, genesis begets evolution and evolution begets genesis. Your more evolved components enable rapid development of new things on top of them. The more evolved the subsystem, the faster the speed of developing new things. I've shown this in the map below. 


This is one of about thirty common economic patterns, so if someone from business is taunting you as a software engineer just ask them to name more than five and politely remind them that IT and the business are not different things. Anyway, you can play this game within a company using three different cultures (known as attitudes) and mimic evolution. It's extremely useful for not only encouraging development of the new but encouraging efficiency whilst not creating two warring factions and a host of other problems. However, it has a serious limitation which is your company only has a limited number of people.

What you want to do, is to get everyone else in the world acting as your pioneers. This is actually very simple, you provide the industrialised components as public APIs.  This is best explained in a more circular form, using the trading system.


Your town planners provide a utility coding platform. A whole bunch of other people and companies outside your organisation (i.e. your ecosystem) start using this to build all sorts of things. You provide a marketplace that enables some of them to sell risk system / trading engines to others. Within this entire ecosystem, there will also be people building genuinely new and novel stuff.

Now, everything consumes your platform and so you also get realtime consumption information from every angle. As I've mentioned above, you've got a two factor market with all those nice network effects causing the ecosystem to grow rapidly. The bigger the ecosystem then the more economies of scale you get, the more new stuff being built (i.e. others pioneering) and the more consumption data you get from its use.

The trick is, you use the consumption data to find interesting patterns (i.e. your own settlers leverage all the consumption data to find what consumers really want) and you use this to build new industrialised components. These components make the entire system even more attractive.

By leveraging consumption data you're giving the ecosystem what it wants, you've got increasing efficiencies of scale and your entire ecosystem is also acting as your free research and development department. The more industrialised components you provide, the higher up the stack you go (EC2, S3, Lambda etc) and the more you people you attract. A double whammy of two factor market and ILC - it's a killer!

So when I look at my trading system, then as time goes on then not only will more and more of the components be provided by the AWS marketplace but if AWS is playing an ILC game then many will become industrialised components provided by AWS itself. The marketplace will just be future potential AWS components and on top of this, all the novel exciting stuff (which is directly giving early warning to AWS through consumption data) is just future market components. I've shown an example of this in the map below.


The benefits to consumers i.e. those trying to build stuff will be overwhelming. Amazon will continue to accelerate in efficiency, customer focus and apparent innovation despite the occasional gnashing of teeth as they chew up bits of the software industry. Have no doubt, you can use this model to chew up the entire software industry (or the duplicated mess of bias which calls itself a software industry) and push people to providing either components sold through the marketplace or building actually novel stuff.

Now most executives especially in the software industry will react just as they did with cloud in 2006/07 by trotting out the usual layers of inertia to this idea. It'll never happen! This is not how software works! It's a relationship business! Security! Prior investment! Our business model is successful!

There are ways to counter this play but ... oh, this is going too be such fun.


November 29, 2016

The Christmas Moment. by Feeling Listless

Christmas Most years at around this time I have a Christmas moment, a dislocated feeling, a bit warm but always with deep recognition, that Christmas is coming. It's either a snatch of music or seeing a decoration in the street or hearing two people talking about a present they're going to buy or a festive film on television (here's what happened in 2012). Sometimes it's simply a commercial which on the one hand leads to a sense of betrayal because the Christmas moment has been manufactured, but now and then it's just what I've needed. See if you can spot the moment during this Wes Anderson directed H&M advert when the Christmas moment happened:



On one level this feels like one of those YouTube "What if?" parodies (What if Wes Anderson Directed X-Men? etc). What if Wes Anderson directed a Christmas advert for a clothes company? But at this point Anderson seems entirely cognisant of his stylistic tropes to the point that he takes advantage of the viewer's understanding of them to intensify the effect, especially the camera pan which replaces a shot/reverse shot. But it works otherwise. I've shown this to someone who has never seen a Wes Anderson film before and she was enchanted.


November 27, 2016

If only this film existed. by Feeling Listless



About Having decided to rest the My Favourite Film posts for December, there was a gap where the logobar for this blog should go. After deliberating on a few film related choices, and don't think I didn't momentarily think about trolling you all with a shot from Love Actually, Hugh and Martine waving, I settled on this instead.

It's a shot of the nativity scene that was in my bedroom two years ago.  Here is the whole of the image:



Probably a few things to unpack here.  The embroidered "happiness" symbol was a present from Mum about fifteen years ago.  Yes, that is a Motion Picture Spock.  The three wise men, Mary, Joseph and lone Shepherd Mum and I made together when I was still at infants school which I've used every year since.  An old hand painted Christmas card.  A snowy scene featuring the Cantina Bar from Star Wars and just off to the edge the wing of an angel designed by Quentin Blake which was printed in The Guardian's G2 supplement.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.


A reminder by Charlie Stross

I'm distracted at present (sorting out the final edits to "The Delirium Brief", finishing the first draft of "Ghost Engine"), but I can't help thinking that it's about time we all re-read Umberto Eco's magisterial essay on Ur-Fascism, published in the New York Review of Books in 1995.

... The fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the game does not change. The notion of fascism is not unlike Wittgenstein's notion of a game. A game can be either competitive or not, it can require some special skill or none, it can or cannot involve money. Games are different activities that display only some "family resemblance," as Wittgenstein put it. ... Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

It's a long-ish essay, but absolutely essential reading. Remember, Eco wasn't just speculating—he grew up under a fascist dictatorship. And if you look around the world today and can't see the relevance of this essay, I suggest that you look again. Not just Trump: look at the BJP in India, the recent coup attempt in Montenegro, the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, Vladimir Putin's Kremlin, and so on.

PS: See also Dr Lawrence Britt on the common core features of fascism.

Update: I am seeing a number of commenters qualify their denunciations of fascism by taking ritual strokes on the dead horse of communism (or "extreme leftism") at the same time. Stop it. We do not currently have a systemic problem with a communist international seizing the reins on power in numberous developed nations; you appear to be twitchily recapitulating the doctrine of false equivalence that the news media in the US have fed you, and it's a distraction and a snare.


November 26, 2016

The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did. by Feeling Listless



TV Last night in an idle moment, I straw polled social media: "How many of you have watched the Doctor Who spin-off Class? It seems to have generated almost zero buzz." The answers were pretty much as expected. No one is watching it. It's not something that really interested them and because they've not heard amazing things about it have stuck to that decision.  Some of these people are long term Doctor Who fans who you'd think would watch anything televised set in the Whoniverse and yet, even though this thing is free and available on demand they simply can't be bothered.

No one is talking about it.  Granted my Twitter feed is currently top heavy with people fearing the upcoming apocalypse emanated from across the Atlantic or how there isn't a satisfactory political  opposition in the UK for various reasons. But despite me also following loads of Who fans etc about the only person who bothers to tweet about Class is Patrick Ness himself, excitedly dropping trivia about the making of an episode but despite having 47.5k followers his tweets rarely receive replies and often from people who've either never seen the thing or want to offer some disparaging remarks.

It'd be useless trying to explain why that is beyond the show itself not being good enough for people to want to recommend it and create some word of mouth.  It's rarely in the top ten on iPlayer and official figures haven't been released yet.  Perhaps this will change with a tv broadcast, we are in uncharted waters in terms of how the show's being released, albeit for a public broadcaster (Netflix and Amazon have weekly shows too).  But this has the stench of failure that really shouldn't be the case with something that has the Who brand.  People even watched Torchwood's Miracle Day.

The commentary I've managed to ferret out for The Metaphysical Engine is that it's the best of the series mostly because the annoying kids aren't in it and isn't that problem when they're supposed to be the focus of the series?  Well, yes it is.  I don't necessarily agree, the kids can be quite entertaining when they're not being quite so horrible to each other and crack a few jokes, but it's fair to say Quill has been the saving grace of the series thanks to Katherine Kelly's acidic delivery and Chaplineque body language.

If the episode works at all, it's because Ness effectively decides to write one of those questing Doctor Who stories with numerous locales ala The Keys of Marinus, The Key To Time or Seasons of Fear, with its own Time Lord figure in Headmistress Dorothea flying a dimensionally transcendental travelling machine through the kinds of metaphysical realities which used to be found in Eighth Doctor novels instead of the usual alien worlds.   Such stories have the added element of mystery or what this new locale is and what they'll find there.

Pitching up in other people's belief systems and afterlife is novel and the execution, especially of the Arn, atmospheric, helped immeasurably by Wayne Yip's cinematic direction taking advantage of the landscape (Yip's previous work includes Misfits which suggests why he might have got this gig).  He also really knows how to seek out and take advantage of the micro expressions in Kelly's face, the side eye, the upwards motions of the side of her mouth, her seemingly telekinetic ability to control her hair.  Every close up is compelling, especially when she's at rest.

Plus the idea of telling a side story which explains where a character who was otherwise absent in the previous episode is pretty novel even if it decided to simply re-use material from last week rather than reshoot those scenes from completely Quill's POV.  The old BBC Books novel The Face of the Enemy offered a similar idea, with the Master filling in while the Third Doctor and Jo were off experiencing The Curse of Peladon.  That also featured Ian and Barbara and Osgood's Dad.  If only Class embraced the Who mythology with that kind of abandon.

So why did I literally nod off in places other than not being able to drink caffeine for medical reasons and my anti-depressants making me drowsy at inopportune moments?  Bluntly, it's because there's not a lot to care about.  I didn't empathise at all with Quill's quest; hers and Charlie's backstory is c-grade generic Star Trek material at best lacking the necessary foothold in human reality (RTD's Zog problem writ large) and, I suspect, due to the slender running time of the series we simply haven't had time to really get to know her character to the point of wanting her to succeed.

The long conversations about the nature of being a warrior are fine, and well played, but in identification terms they're a step too far for most of us, I suspect.  The stakes are counter intuitive.  We're being asked to cheer on someone attempting to return to her default setting of killing machine which is subconsciously a bit of a no-no.  At least when Spike had his chip removed in Buffy, having already marked himself out as a beloved character, we pretty much went with him, right up to the point where he gained his soul.

It's just all so blah.  Not awful, pretty watchable.  It's competently written, so there's nothing to get angry about as I did through Torchwood.  I can barely build up the anger to shout about Quill being subjected to a cross between a mystical pregnancy and "bun in the oven" syndrome which is pretty objectionable not least because there's a whole raft of questions about how intercourse works between two unrelated species pretending to be human and what the results of that might be.  If the viewer's left asking such obstetrical questions at the end of an episode like that, something isn't right.


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Updated using Planet on 3 December 2016, 05:48 AM