Process Shock

I’m very interested in questions of scale, so Ben Adida‘s “Important read” click bait had an easy time getting me to click through to  “Orders of Magnitude“. But, let me save you a click.

FYI – HR is very different at Google with 8! orders of magnitude more employees than it is at a startup.

He actually wrote “Important read! For bigco engineers who join startups, eng processes also are very different at diff scales.”   So he had me twice hooked, I’m thinking a lot about process these days, as one does.

From the employee/HR point of view: moving from one firm to another, like any move, is all about encountering, digesting, introducing new conventions.   The resulting culture shock is always part of the work.  For both sides.  This emotional work is huge.

Management, on the other hand?   Well, their brief includes moving the immovable culture.  The real work of HR is keeping the collective culture shock in some sort of Goldilocks zone.

Estimating is hard.

Guesstimate is a delightful first draft of a tool to help clarify why we don’t know the answer to your question.  Here for example the user has tried to get a handle on how: “Taking down the tree, how long?”

taking down the christmas tree

I was a bit taken aback that my immediate reaction to this. A flashback to Simula.  What a lovely language.  I used back in the late 1960s, and then once more in the mid 70s.  It had things that didn’t become common in other languages for a long long time, like threads and classes.  It was very good at this kind of computation.  Simulation accounted for a big slice of all computing, back in the day.

I didn’t see any loops.

Be grateful for what blessings your betters have bestowed upon you.

We owe Barbara Enrenrich a debt, for two things: her autobiographical work on the cultures cult like insistence on over the top enthusiastic cheerfulness at all times (see her book Bright-sided).   And for her books about what it’s like to live poor.

Her recent op-ed on the currently popular meme that gratitude it the key to happiness (in the New York Times) brings those together.   I’m embarrassed not to have presumed something I’m reveals:

Perhaps it’s no surprise that gratitude’s rise to self-help celebrity status owes a lot to the conservative-leaning John Templeton Foundation. At the start of this decade, the foundation, which promotes free-market capitalism, gave $5.6 million to Dr. Emmons, the gratitude researcher. It also funded a $3 million initiative called Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude through the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, which co-produced the special that aired on NPR. The foundation does not fund projects to directly improve the lives of poor individuals, but it has spent a great deal, through efforts like these, to improve their attitudes.

One of my joke startup ideas: A chain of bookstores that offer to provide literature in service of any point you wish to make.  These stores would also let you select how you want your point made.   “Ah yes sir, you would like to show that the poor should be more grateful to their betters.  Would you like that in the form of a novel?  Or possibly a anthropological treatise?”  “…”  “Ah yes sir, we can arrange a bespoke social scientist, no problem at all.

Ideology of the politically active rich.

Interesting chart.

poole donor distributions

It give a glimpse at how and which of the mega rich spend a on our elections.  It would be interesting to see a similar chart about the lobbying of their agents.  I’m surprised how sorted this is by the age of the Lord’s empire.

That’s the last slide in this deck (pdf) from a year ago.  The entire deck is a nice summary of the state of our frighteningly polarized politics.

43 Dollars

Sometimes when I’m feeling a bit too cheerful I listen to the “New Books In Political Science” podcast.   I guess that’s because many years ago a book about political science changed my world view, a lot.

This week end I listened to a chat with the author of  “The Business of America is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate“.   I’m to lazy to go back and find the quote that shocked me, but let’s pretend it was: “For every dollar spent by lobbyist for various liberal goals (consumer protection for example) industry spends 43 dollars.”  Chew on that!

The Amazon review with just three stars dislikes the author suggested solution.   The reviewer amusingly characterises that as “I guess the only way to stop a bad man with a Lobbyist, is with a good man with a Lobbyist.”

Amazon Prime not a luxury good.

One of my favorite insights about pricing came from thinking about why bespoke tailors never discount.    The fun bit was the realization that sales (discounting, coupons, etc. etc.) are about impulse control.   Both players, Betty the buyer and Sam the seller, are tempted by discounting.

Sam discounts because it helps to close the deal, since it helps Betty to overcome her impulse control.  So Sam is very tempted; and that temptation means he’s got an impulse control problem too.  At it’s core the discounting acts to expedite the sale, it’s an accelerant.

But yeah, if Betty knows that Sam is given to discounting that knowledge dampens sales!  For example there is a men’s clothing store near my office, but I know that everything in can be had for 40-60% less than the usual asking price.  But only if I play the pricing games this vendor uses.  I “just” need to puzzle out what those are and then: wait for the sale, get the coupon, and buy the gift card in the secondary market, order online with delivery to store, and finally exchange what I bought for the item I really wanted in the store.

When the bespoke tailor clarifies that he never discounts he’s signalling that his goods are a luxury item with a lot of bundled benefits.   Betty should not be making the purchase decision based on price!  Price should never be the deciding factor in the purchase of a luxury good.

Presumable Brilliant Bob can skillfully compute the cost of the dampening v.s. the benefit of the accelerant.  The drug store knows that a lot of their buyers need it now, and hence has less fear of the dampening.   The big department store knows that most of their Betty’s are skilled shoppers and enjoy the game.   The combinations are numerous.

But one place this leads is the realization one of the many inputs to price setting is the how much discounting head room the seller wants.  So when Amazon raises the price of Amazon Prime to $99 they may hope that Betty thinks this is because it’s become so much better.  More features, valuable, and expensive to deliver.  But I suspect it’s that they decided to play more pricing games with that offering.

So today you can buy Amazon Prime for $67 v.s. $99.  (You’ll need to go read some of the threads in the forums where pricing game player’s hang out to see various schemes for playing that deal well.)

Which means Amazon Prime is now another product about which Betty may mutter “I never pay retail.”

JMESPath is sweet

Back in 60s card images were the canonical format for data.  Unix inherited that and tools like, sed, awk, and even perl all have carry forward that legacy, though they call ’em lines.

There have been many attempts to get something more meaty to pump thru our pipe fittings. For example: Erlang’s got something, Lisp’s got something,  XML, Protocol buffers, JSON, and many many others.  JSON is quite popular this morning.

JMESPath is analogous to XML’s XPaths, but for JSON.  I first encountered JMESPath in the AWS CLI tool’s –query arguments.  But it is totally a stand alone thing.  There are implementations in many popular languages and the licenses are quite generous.   I like using it to pluck data out of API end-points.

One aspect of network effects is that when you capture one your rewards (or possibly your curse) is an immovable installed base.   JSON (and XML) have succeeded where better schemes designed in the past have failed is because they both now have an installed base, i.e. the vast number of HTTP based API end-points.  Getting those to switch to something better would be a PIA.  Worse is better and all that.

While JMESPath is targeted at JSON, you can often use it to dig data out of the native data structures in what ever language you’re using today.

It was a nerd prank when I was a freshman in college to blow large quantities punch card chad under another’s dorm room door.

Like any good DSL JMESPath take a bit of getting used to.  The interactive tutorial is sweet.

Google’s Cloud Source Repository … WTF :)

So Google has released a beta for  “Cloud Source Repositories” as part of their Cloud Platform.    At first blush it looks analogous to github, bitkeeper, sourceforge, etc. etc.   My reaction to this amuses me.

  • Does Google’s left hand know what it’s right hand is doing?
  • Is this more proof of how a modern high tech company balances trust v.s. velocity?
  • Is this a sign that all the cloud OS vendors will discover that source control is just a feature?


It’s painfully ironic that this new thing comes out only shortly after Google murdered Google Code.  It’s really hard to trust a vendor that kills product offerings (i.e. Google Reader, Google Code, etc.).  I suspect most developers are bewildered that they didn’t “just” migrate the Google code users to this new thing.   It really suggests that the team that shut down Google code was entirely independent from the one that build this thing.

There is a B-School narrative about how firms need to balance providing backward compatibility against the need to force their installed base to adopt new technology.  The first is necessary because customers need to trust that their investment in your offerings won’t suddenly depreciate as you create new versions.   The second is because old tech can quickly become a legacy tarpit that enables upstart competitors to leave you in the dust.

Microsoft was good at the first and very slow about the second.  And this dialectic is the primary cause of angst at Microsoft – and has been for about a decade plus.  When you are a monopoly you can spend a very long time resolving these tensions.    The unbelievably long road they took to get to an OS with a reasonable GUI is an example of that, though most people have forgotten that era.

So the B-School narrative around this suggests that a monopoly, i.e. a firm how’s customers are locked in (aka very loyal) can be extremely slow to offer the cool new thing.  That story is changing though.  If the velocity of high tech change increases firms are forced to be more aggressive about chasing it’s tail lights.

Google is willing  to abandon customers more casually than I’d expect.    Well until I recall the last paragraph.  Maybe.

In Google’s case I tend to think it’s more about the culture.  They cough up these products like Google Reader and Google Plus and Google Code and then the team and management loses interest or switch jobs.  The shiny new thing catches their eye.  Maybe they reward new to excess.

Anyhow what ever.

My third take on this is more interesting to me.  I remain fascinated by this new species of operating systems.

The set of things that make up an OS is much larger than they teach you in school.  It’s not just device drivers, and resource management.  These days it’s package management, app stores, developer tools and networks, evangelism, partner management, etc. etc.

Back in the 80s VC would sometimes utter the damning phrase “Oh that’s just a feature.”  For example somebody would author an amazingly complex package that would check grammar in documents.  “Just a feature.”   What that meant was that some other product Microsoft Word for example would swallow that feature.  And sure enough that is exactly what would happen.  Painfully – because each and every time the feature implementation inside the product that swallowed it would suck compared to the stand alone product’s.

So one thing I’m thinking is that cloud based source control (bug tracking, wiki, build tools, etc. etc.) is just a feature.  That it will be swallowed by the cloud platforms.  This morning that seems pretty damn inevitable.

The term platform has always been intended to suggest a stable surface you can build on.  But really these folks come from California.  Earthquakes!

The Poor? The pathologist report: it’s chronic, hopeless, and their own damn fault. Might be genetic too.

Steve Randy Waldman has another awesome post, and this case he tackles the mystery of how you can have a reasonably well functioning wealthy liberal democracy at the same time as a huge segment of the population is shockingly poor.  Wealth inequality is a simple answer, but then why doesn’t the democratic process work to fix that?  So you get a “trilema.”  I love triangles.

His names for the three sides of this triangle are: Liberal, Equality, and Nonpathology.  Clearly this idea is going to have trouble getting traction if only because that last one is so odd.  And that’s the key idea.  You can have a functioning liberal democracy along with extreme inequality if you can get everybody to flesh out the bible’s “For you always have the poor with you” sufficiently.  If the majority of the population accepts that the root cause of both is that the poor are afflicted with some pathological flaw – genetic say, or bad maybe bad fashion sense.  This is amusingly covered in the in Westside Story’s “Officer Krupke.”

This technique for suppressing the natural feedback loop you’d expect in a democracy is.  This isn’t just the usual technique of reactionaries to say that it would be futile to try and fix a problem they don’t care much about.

Once you decide that the problem is that the poor are suffering from the disease state – which is only true to the extent that they are poor – you can call in various quacks to prescribe their favorite prescription.  Interview training say.  Or better impulse control.  Or more entrepreneurship risk taking.  Or scolding that they should study harder.  You know: the things that the well off struggle to improve in their own lives.  This is totally a win for the elites because the prescriptions just happen to server their goals.  Tax cuts!

It’s a very good essay, particularly the tail end where he addresses some of the stories elites tell, and the poor often accept, about the pathological behaviors of the poor.


Is Bitcoin an Affinity Fraud?

Somebody must have written something about the pedestrian idea that Bitcoin is entirely a case of affinity fraud targeted at Libertarians.

In fact I’d enjoy reading something about the data on affinity frauds.  For example what attributes of a group make it more or less likely to to attract these kinds of frauds.  Where wealthy Jewish people likely to attract Bernie Madoff?

I enjoy reading PonziTracker, and I don’t know that I can see any obvious patterns there.

The above was triggered by the comment overheard that the Republican party appears to be an affinity fraud targeted at it’s elderly white voters.