Tag Archives: via-postie

Into the Woods

A few people recommended  this long talk by Van Jacobson, one of the many fathers of the Internet where in he argues for the need with a break with the past, something new in network architecture.  What he is saying here has some overlap with stuff I’ve been interested in, i.e. push.

He argues that we have settled into usage patterns that are at odds with what TCP/IP was designed for.  This is obvious, of course.  TCP/IP was designed for long lived connects between peers; but what we use it for today is very short connections were one side says “yeah?” and the other side replies with, say, the front page of the New York Times.  I.e. we use it to distribute content.

And so he argues for a new architecture.  Something like a glorious p2p proxy server system.  You might say “yeah?” unto your local area and then one or more agents in your local area would reply with, say, the front page of the New York Times.

The talk is a bit over an hour and fun to listen to.  There is much to chew on, and like he says, it’s a hard talk to give.  In a sense he’s trying to tempt his listeners into heading out into a wilderness.  I’m not sure on the one hand he appreciates how much activity is already out there, in that wilderness.  On the other hand switching to a system like this requires getting servers to sign a significant portion of their content to guard against untrusted intermediaries.  There are reasons why that hasn’t happened.  That he never mentions push bothers me.  He points to a few systems that he finds interesting in this space, but I don’t think the ones he mentions are particularly interesting systems.

These are provocative ideas.  Very analogous to the ideas found in the  ping hub discussions and the peer to peer discussions.  It would be fun to try and build a heuristic prefeching/pushing privacy respecting http proxy server swarm along these lines.  No doubt somebody already has.

The Bimodal Nature of Work

One of the things that puzzles me about the vast literature on organizational dynamics, self control, will power, etc. etc. is that it seems to ignore an important reality about actual work.  In my experience work comes in two flavors – everything is going just fine v.s. stuck.  In the first mode you think you to know what your doing, the tools are reasonably helpful, and the problem at hand is receding as you work on it.  That’s not to say the work is easy, it’s still work – unless your so lucky as to fallen into flow.  But in the other mode one or more of these has decided to leave the building.

Users of complex tools are familiar with this bimodal problem.  if you use any powerful desktop application (a Microsoft product, or an Adobe product for example) then you’ll have often experienced the second mode.  We have all lost a day or two trying to figure out how to make page numbers work, the bibliography to appear correctly, etc. etc.  These are examples where our skills and the tools conspire to push us into the second mode.  The no progress mode is being made mode.

The more you push the edge of your skills or adopt new tools, or work on fresher problems the higher the chance your going to fall into this second mode.  I suspect some trades spend large portions of their work lives in this second mode.

It is trivial for an outside observer to misdiagnosis the second mode and describe the situation as not working.  He’s happy to point out that no progress is being made.  Duh!  And he’s happy to dust off all the usual suspects; e.g. moral failings of various kinds.

You can see occasional hints that this or that an organizational scheme addresses this by the appearance of terms like “management reserve,” “friction.”  In Scrum the use the term velocity.  But none of these dare to admit that work falls into the second mode.  None of them speak to the puzzle of how to estimate the probability of entering the mode.  None of provide any advise for picking apart what is happening in the mode, which is a precondition for getting out of it.

The skills for thriving in this mode might be called persistence.  That’s really a distinct skill from skills that keep you on task in simpler times.  At least I think so.  The will power to maintain focus is somehow different than the willpower required to survive a long period this second mode where no measurable progress is being made.  And while persistence is one strategic approach an alternate one could be named agility, aka change course.  Again the moralistic outside observer might see that as quitting.  The complementary pair of persistence and agility reminds me of  Levy walks.

Nobody celebrates just simple businesses that work.

“Nobody celebrates just simple businesses that work.” –  Matt Haughey

Nice.  But.  There are reasons for that.  A bunch of the reasons are prosaic side effects of the conventions of story telling and the appetites of the audiences of reptilian brains.  Setting those aside, but near neighbors, are reasons arise from our perverse fascination with creative destruction.  And that has a tangle of threads, the most toxic of which is the confusion caused by a preference of robber barons to be called entrepreneurs.  A trick made possible almost entirely by virtue of our presumption that a hero must appear in any story since all the stories we tell have heros.

But once you get past all, well.  Simple businesses tend to be road kill waiting to happen.  Simple businesses tend to lack a solid competitive advantage.  For example a potent barrier to entry.  They also tend to fail to accumulate sufficient body fat to survive a vicious downturn or the arrival of a game changer in their midst.  When you step back, simple businesses are often just tragedies waiting to happen

MeFi is a delightful institution, a business that has worked for years.  Or has it?  It took six years to achieve lift off.  So it’s been a functional business for maybe five.  MeFi’s 10%/year growth is low for an durable internet business, but it’s not that exceptional. Just possibly what he means by simple is businesses with non-cancerous growth trajectories.  Reading  the interview where Matt says that you can see how other businesses have appeared around it.  Many of these didn’t survive and some of these are much larger.

I have opinions, but certainly no predictions, about MeFi’s trajectory going forward.  It would be tragic if it fails as a business, if only because of what Matt would suffer.  MeFi is a member of a class, i.e. places where questions are answered.  Yahoo has one. Google had one.  The puzzle in these is how to leverage crowd sourcing on the one hand and control quality on the other.  If MeFi succeeds in the long run it will because they found a course thru that space.  Doing that isn’t simple.

All this resonates with the blurb from a paper (pdf) in my to read stack:

Good word of mouth requires a simple, compelling argument.  Stock clubs and individuals select stocks from the same universe of choices, but members of clubs have to convince each other to buy a stock whereas individuals need only convince themselves.  This paper shows that stock clubs tend to choose stocks that have a compelling rationale that is easy to communicate.  Unfortunately, those compelling rationales don’t lead to better stock-picking performance.

I guess the good news is there is they don’t write “leads to worse performance.”  But all this, brings us to a curious detail.  That many businesses that are celebrated for their simple virtuous nature, well they usually aren’t that simple.  It’s more likely the story teller didn’t know what to ask.  Those stories are usually a fairy tale.  They may be virtuous though, but that’s hard to say.

Singing in Unison

I’ve not written about group forming for a while, but this paper about the power of synchronized behaviors in improving group cohesion is sweet.  One of the authors is Chip Health, the author of that nice little book about how to teach so the knowledge is sticky.   They show that marching, moving or singing in synch all lead to measurable increases group solidarity.  Sort of like one of those companies where everybody gets together in the morning to sing the company song and do some calisthenics.  I wonder what the online version of this might look like? …

Conversation Hacking

This long essay on Trolls (or Conversation Hacking) is quite fun.

“… people rarely refrain from biting on Steve’s baits. He relished every minute of the argument …There you may find the antique equivalent of Trolls : what people at the time called ‘sophists’ or ‘philosophers’ – two words that were used interchangeably by the man on the Forum. Many Sophists did not want to endorse the label – sophistry was frowned upon or downright illegal in many places – and insisted on being called Philosophers
To quote our informant again: “those who do not know about trolling troll unconsciously”. …”

Polarization in the state legislatures.

Maybe I don’t read the right blogs but I’m delighted to see  a blog post that actually looks at politics from the perspective of the  common space scores.  The chart below shows the distribution of the scores for various state legislatures (i’ve no idea what the order means):


This is a very instructive chart.  CA, UT, WI, FL, and WA have no common ground between the parties.  I’m surprised they let NJ, HI, NY, RI, and MA Republicans into the hall when national Republicans gather.

California is an object lesson in where we are headed if the nation doesn’t figure out how to back off from the polarization between the two parties.  I wonder, does a requirement for a super majority tends to help consensus when there is a large overlap and tends to create an incentive to polarize when the overlap weakens?

(HT:  Gelman)