Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: May 2010 (page 2 of 3)

Vic Gundrota’s revisionist history

Someone flagged this quote from Google VP Vic Gundrota at the Google I/O Keynote keynote today, explaining why Google created Android:

If we did not act, we faced a draconian future. Where one man, one company, one carrier was the future.

That seemed wrong to me, and it turns out my instincts were correct. Matt Drance points out that Google acquired Android in 2005, 18 months before the announcement of the iPhone.

Another line diet success story

Sam Ruby has had success losing weight and keeping it off on the line diet, which I wrote about earlier this year. I’ve lost about 35 pounds on the line diet since the end of August last year. I’ve also been working out at the gym religiously since October.

Interviewing over Skype

This week I did a phone screen interview over Skype, with video. I was so pleased with how it went that I never want to do a regular phone screen again. I am not a big fan of interviewing people over the phone or being interviewed over the phone.

The biggest problem with doing technical interviews over the phone is that when you ask hard questions, the subject of the interview has to think about their answer, and may even need to write things down to get their answer together. When you’re talking on the phone, nothing is conveyed. There’s an awkward silence punctuated by the interviewer letting the interviewee know that it’s OK that they’re not talking while they think about it. People get more nervous, and I think it hurts the quality of their answers.

When you have video up and running during the interview, the visual contact makes pauses seem less awkward. That’s a plus.

The other problem that Skype solves is that it provides text chat as well. Some questions are a lot easier to ask when you can paste some code into the chat window and ask the person you’re interviewing to look at it. On phone screens, I’ve been known to email things to the other person during the interview, but having the text chat running alongside the Skype call is really useful.

And finally, when you have video you can get a sense of the other person’s body language. I find I really miss that in regular phone screens.

The Skype interview went so well that I’m going to suggest it for all of my phone screens in the future. Using the phone for phone screens seems archaic.

The new American Jacobins

The basic philosophy at the center of the tea party movement, explained:

The new Jacobins have two classic American traits that have grown much more pronounced in recent decades: blanket distrust of institutions and an astonishing—and unwarranted—confidence in the self. They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers.

Yes, I had to look up what a Jacobin is.

Treme episode 6 essential reference

Old school blogger and New Orleans native Chuck Taggart wrote up his perspective on Treme last week. It’s a must-read post. He also points to the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Treme site, upon which they explain every episode in detail, perhaps rendering this ongoing series by me superfluous.

Here’s the Time’s Picayune Treme Explained post on episode 6.

By this episode, I felt like we were settling into things and I would up taking a lot fewer notes for the essential reference. The big concepts seem to be well-flushed out at this point. I was a bit excited to see one of the characters take a field trip to my old stomping grounds, Port Arthur, Texas and Lake Charles, Louisiana. I was born in Sulphur, Louisiana and grew up between Lake Charles and Port Arthur. They’re all between Houston and New Orleans on or near Interstate 10, a highway that would be featured heavily in my biography.

One of New Orleans’ most famous landmarks, Cafe Du Monde, finally made an appearance this week. There’s a reason why it’s so famous as to have almost become a cliche — the coffee and beignets are that good. There are many great things in New Orleans, but the scene at Cafe Du Monde made me want to drive to the airport and catch the next plane to MSY.

Also check out NPR’s weekly Treme feature, which has tons of good information about last night’s show.

Turning novices into experts through game mechanics

Danc has posted the notes to a presentation he gave, Why we turned Microsoft Office into a Game. It’s a great piece on the complexity of applications and how to manage it for users. In it, he gets down to the core problem that faces companies trying to build growing businesses around software — dealing with the fact that different users take advantage of different features, and that applications tend to grow more complex as their user bases grow. It seems to me that the fashionable answer to this problem is to claim to be an auteur of application development, and to only build the features that are appealing to you. But that’s not the way big software companies work, and it’s really not the way they should work. If you’re in the software business, this presentation is a must-read.

Should we have a college version of the GED?

Matthew Yglesias asks whether we should have a college version of the GED? There could be a test or series of tests you could take that gives you the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, or even an associates degree to start out. It seems like a logical idea to me — it would give the self-taught an opportunity to obtain needed credentials and provide real competition to regular universities and alternative schools like the University of Phoenix. I really think that everyone who wants a college education should have the opportunity to have one. That said, given all the lectures and course materials available online, the makings of a college education already exist if you have Internet access. What’s lacking is the granting of credentials once you’ve learned the material. It seems logical for someone to grant those credentials. On the other hand, if that happened, I suspect that many universities would pull down the courseware they currently post due to the new competition.

What I learned from the Tyler Cowen profile

The Washington Post ran a profile of blogger Tyler Cowen today. As regular readers know, he’s one of my favorites. What I learned from the profile is to always travel with reading material:

This is one of Cowen’s favorite rules, as it relates to consumption of information. “People should be more willing to walk out of movies,” he tells anyone who will listen. “Most movies — they grab you or they don’t, and if they don’t, just leave. Just go. You have already lost money. Why lose the time?”

If a movie doesn’t hook Cowen, he reads a book outside while his wife remains in her seat. Most recent movie they both left: “Greenberg,” starring Ben Stiller.

Be suspicious of the worst-case

Bruce Schneier cautions people to be wary of worst-case scenarios:

There’s a certain blindness that comes from worst-case thinking. An extension of the precautionary principle, it involves imagining the worst possible outcome and then acting as if it were a certainty. It substitutes imagination for thinking, speculation for risk analysis, and fear for reason. It fosters powerlessness and vulnerability and magnifies social paralysis. And it makes us more vulnerable to the effects of terrorism.

Worst-case thinking means generally bad decision making for several reasons. First, it’s only half of the cost-benefit equation. Every decision has costs and benefits, risks and rewards. By speculating about what can possibly go wrong, and then acting as if that is likely to happen, worst-case thinking focuses only on the extreme but improbable risks and does a poor job at assessing outcomes.

I never really thought about the fundamental laziness involved in obsessing over the worst-case before.

Ideal immigration policy

How many people agree with the following statement?

In an ideal world, people would be free to reside in any country that they choose.

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