Older blog entries for apenwarr (starting at number 118)

Precious Instability

In my Control Theory class in university, the prof gave an example in passing about fighter jets. A modern fighter is so completely controlled by the computer that if the computer fails, the jet would fall out of the sky pretty much instantly. Why? Because the mechanical design of the jet keeps it aerodynamically unstable. You can certainly build a plane that, if you stop steering it, will mostly continue to go in the direction it was going before. But with fighters, they intentionally do the opposite. That way, if you control it properly, you can make it go straight if you want, but you can also make it turn very fast, because turning fast is what the mechanical design does all by itself.

That story resonates with me because it agrees with how I try to run my life: very in control, very fast, and very manoeuverable. But it's hard to achieve that kind of speed: it works because I don't tie myself down into any one course. I'm constantly being pulled in a million directions, and which direction I go is constantly a new choice, every minute of every day. The fact that I happen to choose fairly consistently is my own doing, not a side-effect of the environment.

If you understand that, then you understand that it's not surprising at all - not even difficult - for me to be leading a development team one day and doing pure marketing the next. Like a fighter jet, the amazing accomplishment is that it ever goes in a straight line, not that it sometimes turns in surprising directions.

But there's a second part to the story from my Controls class. Most airplanes aren't designed that way at all: most of them are designed for stability and safety, and slow turning speed is taken as an acceptable tradeoff. In an airliner with hundreds of people on board, you can't take the chance that a simple miscalculation or malfunction will send everyone flying straight into the ground. And the more people you bring along with you on your flight, the more critical it is that your airplane be designed for stability.

It's not fair to risk the fate of everyone just because you refuse to commit to something.

2 Apr 2006 (updated 2 Apr 2006 at 21:29 UTC) »
From the Peanut Gallery

I realize this is Advogato, so you're expecting me to say something about coding. But as I am quickly realizing, poetry is much more relevant to a programmer's life than you might normally assume. So I'm going to just pass along the cheesy poetry people send me; it's really the least I can do. The least. Really.

    -- Easter Dinner --

    Will poetry cause Nitix sales to grow?
    Quite likely, not worth a damn,
    But what your mother wants to know,
    Is do you want turkey or ham.

Just so you know, the above shows a slight misunderstanding of my overall marketing strategy. Come on, poetry doesn't make people buy stuff; that would be ridiculous! Poetry just gets their attention. It's the photos of cute fluffy bunnies that will make them buy stuff.

Uh, ham, please.

Fear Me

    Save more time, make more money!
    Only Nitix sells with bunnies!

Yeah, you'd better hope I'm only kidding because it's April 1st. I certainly do.

People are funny

You try to tell people what your product does, and they tune you out. But you pay good money to send people nonsense, and they like you. And they respond with things like this:

    Credits are black
    Debits are red
    I can't write poetry
    Thats what I said.

Art is a powerful thing. Mind you, some super powers are more useful than others.

21 Mar 2006 (updated 21 Mar 2006 at 03:21 UTC) »
Envelope Stuffing Day

My poem... they... they didn't... and now... hundreds of people... oh dear.

I promise I will never joke about marketing ever again. Um, unless I forget. Again.

Leadership and Motivation

Why would two software developers risk annoying their respective supervisors by skipping their normal daily (civilized) work and volunteer instead to spend hours stuffing envelopes for my advertising campaign? And after getting caught and dragged back to programming, why did they come back, unbidden, after hours to finish the job?

Some days, I actually like human nature.

(Thanks also to dwiseman, who volunteered for the same reasons, but has a cover-up excuse: she works for me.)

Happiness Compromises

pphaneuf talks about being happy and how it's more important for him to make himself happy than to dilute all his energy trying to make everyone else happy... and yet, how he just wouldn't be happy if everyone else was unhappy, and other people being happy leads back to him being happy.

This is a classic compromise situation. The correct solution is not simply to sacrifice your own happiness for others' happiness, or vice versa, or to alternate randomly between them, but to find a way for one to lead to the other.

That's not actually very hard to do, in concept, at least. You have to find the root cause of the unhappiness and then fix it. Looking at it from such a high level automatically handles confusing issues like "Should I have some temporary unhappiness now for greater happiness later?" or "Should I be a little less unhappy now so that this person can be happy now so I can be happy later?" The underlying strategy - solving the root cause - can guide all your specific actions.

15 Mar 2006 (updated 18 Mar 2006 at 21:04 UTC) »
Marketing vs. My Sanity

Dear Mr./Ms. Personsname, [...]

Nitix is a serious product.

That's why I wrote this poem:

    Nitix for Sage Accpac ERP
    Is not only a novelty.
    It never loses any data;
    Our newest disks can now do SATA.

    And idb is patent pending.
    Your database will need no mending.
    Make more money, save more time!
    Only Nitix sells with rhyme!



Final score: Marketing:1, My sanity:0

Split Brain Compromises

I've written several posts now about non-compromise solutions to problems. A non-compromise solution is definitely the best one. But suppose you can't find a non-compromise solution, or you have found one, but it's too hard or will take too long to implement?

Here's one example that's very hard to solve in a fully non-compromise way.


People who are introverted find social interaction tiring. People who are extroverted find social interaction energizing. And for sitting by yourself, the situation is exactly reversed. That's the simplest, most informative way of explaining the two personality types that I've ever heard. It avoids the faulty assumption that, say, introverts can't deal well with people. Not true. They can, they just quickly get tired of it. Conversely, some people are extroverted and annoying.

Here's the problem: it seems that introversion/extroversion is hardwired into your personality, and introverts are better at some things while extroverts are better at other things, and virtually nobody is energized both by being alone and by socializing.

Some problems require sitting and thinking. Some problems require socializing. If you're trying to improve yourself to be the very best at solving any particular kind of problem, you will have to choose at some point: are you an introvert or an extrovert? From there, you can choose the things you will and will not be great at.

But the hardest problems require a little bit of each. A compromise solution like this might entirely prevent you from being able to solve such problems.

What can you do about it? I see two possibilities: first, if you're an introvert, you can find one or more extroverts to work with. The compromise here: now you have to trust people before they've earned it, because you don't have the skills yourself. I've recently become intimately familiar with the results of this compromise.

Second, you can develop a split personality and switch between the two. Hey, humans are flexible. This compromise can have fairly obvious sanity-related consequences, but might be plausible in the short term to prepare for a switch (safely, this time) to solution 1.

Texas = Meat

And how!

Fry's = Crack

Once upon a time, noise cancelling headphones were prohibitively expensive. Now you can get cheap ones with decent noise cancellation. Unfortunately, the reason they're cheap is that the non-noise sound quality is crap.

They were fun to buy, though. And because of Fry's's (??) liberal return policy, they should also be fun to return.

4 Mar 2006 (updated 6 Mar 2006 at 03:15 UTC) »
I don't like to requote quotes, but...

You'll never see all the places, or read all the books, but fortunately, they're not all recommended.
-- The Unix Fortune Program

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