Thursday, March 16, 2017

get me out of here

For 26-year-old Guillaume, the trade-off is all too easy to understand. In May 2016 he finished his graduate-school training in business law. A few months later, he decided he didn’t want to work in law after all; he wanted to play video games. Guillaume likes adventure games, which allow players to immerse themselves in fantastic and foreign worlds. During his studies, he could only spare a couple of hours each day for his habit. Now he can slip into his video-game worlds for five or six hours at a time. A law career would have meant more money. Yet it would also have meant much more time spent at law.

(Mutatis mutandis, this is the world-view of many writers. Except, did they but know it, they could probably drastically diminish their real-world exposure if they ditched writing and focused on video games.)

Terrific piece in the Economist's 1843 magazine, the whole thing here.

HT @TimHarford

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tim Harford on facts, damned facts

Terrific piece by Tim Harford in the FT on The problem with facts. (So terrific it is terrifyingly tempting to purloin the whole text from the FT.)  Harford talks about the lessons learnt from the response of the tobacco industry to evidence connecting cigarettes with lung cancer, how frequent attempts to discredit a claim unsupported by facts only make it lodge more firmly in the minds of casual onlookers, how the current obsession with bubbles ignores the fact that very few people read serious news (of any ideological tendency) at all. 

A couple of quotes:

OK, an attempt to copy and paste a brief quote has, not unfairly, elicited this response from the FT:

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our T&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights.

It's possible that if I checked out the T&Cs I would find a brief quote was acceptable, but sloth prevails.  The whole thing here.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Truer words

If you want to attract and keep developers, don’t emphasize ping-pong tables, lounges, fire pits and chocolate fountains. Give them private offices or let them work from home, because uninterrupted time to concentrate is the most important and scarcest commodity.

Joel Spolsky on Geekwire.  (Mutatis mutandis...)

on not being hated

"Most tech company execs will do anything to keep their engineers happy."

Anil Dash is talking about what SF techies could do to stop being hated.

I came to AD via Joel Spolsky (whom I have been following for years); Dash is the new CEO of Fog Creek.  The idea that companies want to attract and keep good software engineers is a familiar theme in the annals of Spolsky.  It's bad and good for me to look over the fence.

Not to be unkind, I'd like you to imagine translating this sentence to a different sphere.

"Most publishers will do anything to keep their writers happy."

This is not that world.

Writers sometimes get asked whether someone who wants to be a writer should persevere, and they tend to sound rather curmudgeonly in their replies.  It sounds churlish to say something like "If you have to do it, you'll do it. Don't do it if it's not impossible to do anything else."  It sounds like the lucky few depressing the aspirations of the young and hopeful.

It's not really like that.  Writers know they don't live in a world where company execs, or, indeed, the lowliest intern, will do anything to keep writers happy.  They don't even live in a world where agents, or, indeed, the lowliest intern, will do anything to keep writers happy.  So they live in a world where the odds are heavily stacked against doing their best work, and actually, if you have a choice, you're probably better off being a dev.

It's not that devs don't live in a world where people drive them crazy.  Recruiters drive them crazy.  Management drives them crazy.  Open plan offices drive them crazy.  People calling them on the PHONE drive them crazy.  They may be required to write code in PHP when every fiber of their being revolts. (There are many languages which may prompt every fiber of their being to revolt.) But -- well, for example, they are not asked to wait months for a program to be debugged by someone who is not a programmer.

I was probably going to say more, but I think I'll stop now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Trying to reach Bernardo Morães

I owe Bernardo a big apology for reasons that he will instantly understand.  After waiting for not months but years to come trailing back, tail between legs, I finally wrote the dreaded email to apologise and explain - only to find that the only email address I have does not work.

If you see this, Bernardo, and we are still on speaking terms, please do drop me a line...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Falsehoods programmers believe

I hope you don't think this is for your benefit, cats and kittens.  I just want to be able to find it again.

I'm in love with these lists of "Falsehoods Programmers Believe About X." In case you haven't had pleasure, I've collected all the ones I know of here. If I missed any, let me know!

Falsehoods programmers believe about names

  • People's names do not change
  • People’s names have an order to them
  • My system will never have to deal with names from China
  • I can safely assume that this dictionary of bad words contains no people’s names in it
  • People have names

Falsehoods programmers believe about time

  • The time zone in which a program has to run will never change
  • The system clock will never be set to a time that is in the distant past or the far future
  • One minute on the system clock has exactly the same duration as one minute on any other clock
  • A time stamp of sufficient precision can safely be considered unique
  • The duration of one minute on the system clock would never be more than an hour

More falsehoods programmers believe about time

  • The local time offset (from UTC) will not change during office hours.
  • My software is only used internally/locally, so I don’t have to worry about timezones
  • I can easily maintain a timezone list myself
  • Time passes at the same speed on top of a mountain and at the bottom of a valley
And there's more, future self. The whole thing here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

War has not broken out

You may disagree with me: you may see some thread of sensible presidential policy presentation in Trump's speeches. I'll leave that up to you in the privacy of the voting booth (this is Language Log, not Presidential Election Voting Advice Log). But don't imagine that my horror at the incoherent political ranting of this coarse, repellent, insulting, xenophobic, muskrat-coiffed, narcissistic property developer has to entail disagreement with my friend Mark Liberman about the characteristic features of spontaneous, unplanned monologue, because it doesn't.

Geoff Pullum on the incomparable Language Log, which is, needless to say, still bringing joy into our humdrum little lives after all these years. (No, Geoff, no, Mark, your hard work ain't been in vain for nothing.)