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RIP, Sheri Tepper

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This is genuinely upsetting news for me: Locus is reporting the death of Sheri S. Tepper, who wrote the Hugo-nominated novel Grass among many others, and who was given a lifetime achievement award by the World Fantasy Convention just last year. Tepper was in her late 80s, and had an accomplished life outside of her considerable writing career, including being an executive director of the Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood in Colorado, so one can’t precisely say this is an unexpected development. But she was one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy writers, and an influence on my thinking about SF/F writing, so to have her gone on is still a deeply depressing thing.

Also a bit depressing: That Tepper, while well-regarded, is as far as I can tell generally not considered in the top rank of SF/F writers, which is a fact I find completely flummoxing. Her novel Grass has the sort of epic worldbuilding and moral drive that ranks it, in my opinion, with works like Dune and Perdido Street Station and the Earthsea series; the (very) loose sequel to Grass, Raising the Stones, is in many ways even better, and the fact that Stones is currently out of print is a thing I find all sorts of appalling.

If you haven’t read Grass, I really suggest you find it and put it near the top of your SF/F reading queue. You won’t be disappointed (and if you are, then, well, I don’t know what to tell you). It’s a stone classic. Not everything that Tepper wrote worked for me, which makes her like literally every single writer I admire; but the things of hers that did (these two novels, The Fresco, Beauty, The Visitor and others) have stayed with me year in and year out.

Aside from her considerable talents as an author, Tepper stands as a reminder that it’s never too late to write. Tepper didn’t publish her first novel until 1983, when she was in her 54th year of life; she wrote something like 40 total, the most recent published in 2014. It’s never too late to write; it’s never too late to write a classic novel; it’s never too late to be a great writer, whether or not the genre has entirely caught up with you yet.

Farewell, Ms. Tepper. Your voice will be missed. I’ll keep reading what you have left us.

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1 day ago
"Tepper stands as a reminder that it’s never too late to write. Tepper didn’t publish her first novel until 1983, when she was in her 54th year of life; she wrote something like 40 total, the most recent published in 2014. It’s never too late to write; it’s never too late to write a classic novel; it’s never too late to be a great writer, whether or not the genre has entirely caught up with you yet."
Waterloo, Canada
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2 public comments
1 day ago
RIP. "Grass" is an excellent read.
1 day ago
Oh, that's sad. I'll have to re-read her books soon then.
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

HN comments are underrated


HN comments are terrible. On any topic I’m informed about, the vast majority of comments are pretty clearly wrong. Most of the time, there are zero comments from people who know anything about the topic and the top comment is reasonable sounding but totally incorrect. Additionally, many comments are gratuitously mean. You’ll often hear mean comments backed up with something like “this is better than the other possibility, where everyone just pats each other on the back with comments like ‘this is great’”, as if being an asshole is some sort of talisman against empty platitudes. I’ve seen people push back against that; when pressed, people often say that it’s either impossible or inefficient to teach someone without being mean, as if telling someone that they’re stupid somehow helps them learn. It’s as if people learned how to explain things by watching Simon Cowell and can’t comprehend the concept of an explanation that isn’t littered with personal insults. Paul Graham has said, “Oh, you should never read Hacker News comments about anything you write”. Most of the negative things you hear about HN comments are true.

And yet, I haven’t found a public internet forum with better technical commentary. On topics I’m familiar with, while it’s rare that a thread will have even a single comment that’s well-informed, when those comments appear, they usually float to the top. On other forums, well-informed comments are either non-existent, or get buried by reasonable sounding but totally wrong comments when they appear, and they appear even more rarely than on HN.

By volume, there are probably more interesting technical “posts” in comments than in links. Well, that depends on what you find interesting, but that’s true for my interests. If I see a low-level optimization comment from nkurz, a comment on business from patio11, a comment on how companies operate by nostrademons, I almost certainly know that I’m going to read an interesting comment. There are maybe 20 to 30 people I can think of who don’t blog much, but write great comments on HN and I doubt I even know of half the people who are writing great comments on HN1.

I compiled a very abbreviated list of comments I like because comments seem to get lost. If you write a blog post, people will refer it years later, but comments mostly disappear. I think that’s sad – there’s a lot of great material on HN (and yes, even more not-so-great material).

What’s the deal with MS Word’s file format?

Basically, the Word file format is a binary dump of memory. I kid you not. They just took whatever was in memory and wrote it out to disk. We can try to reason why (maybe it was faster, maybe it made the code smaller), but I think the overriding reason is that the original developers didn’t know any better.

Later as they tried to add features they had to try to make it backward compatible. This is where a lot of the complexity lies. There are lots of crazy workarounds for things that would be simple if you allowed yourself to redesign the file format. It’s pretty clear that this was mandated by management, because no software developer would put themselves through that hell for no reason.

Later they added a fast-save feature (I forget what it is actually called). This appends changes to the file without changing the original file. The way they implemented this was really ingenious, but complicates the file structure a lot.

One thing I feel I must point out (I remember posting a huge thing on slashdot when this article was originally posted) is that 2 way file conversion is next to impossible for word processors. That’s because the file formats do not contain enough information to format the document. The most obvious place to see this is pagination. The file format does not say where to paginate a text flow (unless it is explicitly entered by the user). It relies of the formatter to do it. Each word processor formats text completely differently. Word, for example famously paginates footnotes incorrectly. They can’t change it, though, because it will break backwards compatibility. This is one of the only reasons that Word Perfect survives today – it is the only word processor that paginates legal documents the way the US Department of Justice requires.

Just considering the pagination issue, you can see what the problem is. When reading a Word document, you have to paginate it like Word – only the file format doesn’t tell you what that is. Then if someone modifies the document and you need to resave it, you need to somehow mark that it should be paginated like Word (even though it might now have features that are not in Word). If it was only pagination, you might be able to do it, but practically everything is like that.

I recommend reading (a bit of) the XML Word file format for those who are interested. You will see large numbers of flags for things like “Format like Word 95”. The format doesn’t say what that is – because it’s pretty obvious that the authors of the file format don’t know. It’s lost in a hopeless mess of legacy code and nobody can figure out what it does now.

Fun with NULL

Here’s another example of this fine feature:

  #include <stdio.h>
  #include <string.h>
  #include <stdlib.h>
  #define LENGTH 128

  int main(int argc, char **argv) {
      char *string = NULL;
      int length = 0;
      if (argc > 1) {
          string = argv[1];
          length = strlen(string);
          if (length >= LENGTH) exit(1);

      char buffer[LENGTH];
      memcpy(buffer, string, length);
      buffer[length] = 0;

      if (string == NULL) {
          printf("String is null, so cancel the launch.\n");
      } else {
          printf("String is not null, so launch the missiles!\n");

      printf("string: %s\n", string);  // undefined for null but works in practice

      printf("%s\n", string);          // segfaults on null when bare "%s\n"

      return 0;

  nate@skylake:~/src$ clang-3.8 -Wall -O3 null_check.c -o null_check
  nate@skylake:~/src$ null_check
  String is null, so cancel the launch.
  string: (null)

  nate@skylake:~/src$ icc-17 -Wall -O3 null_check.c -o null_check
  nate@skylake:~/src$ null_check
  String is null, so cancel the launch.
  string: (null)

  nate@skylake:~/src$ gcc-5 -Wall -O3 null_check.c -o null_check
  nate@skylake:~/src$ null_check
  String is not null, so launch the missiles!
  string: (null)

It appear that Intel’s ICC and Clang still haven’t caught up with GCC’s optimizations. Ouch if you were depending on that optimization to get the performance you need! But before picking on GCC too much, consider that all three of those compilers segfault on printf(“string: “); printf(”%s\n”, string) when string is NULL, despite having no problem with printf(“string: %s\n”, string) as a single statement. Can you see why using two separate statements would cause a segfault? If not, see here for a hint: https://gcc.gnu.org/bugzilla/show_bug.cgi?id=25609

How do you make sure the autopilot backup is paying attention?

Good engineering eliminates users being able to do the wrong thing as much as possible… . You don’t design a feature that invites misuse and then use instructions to try to prevent that misuse.

There was a derailment in Australia called the Waterfall derailment [1]. It occurred because the driver had a heart attack and was responsible for 7 deaths (a miracle it was so low, honestly). The root cause was the failure of the dead-man’s switch.

In the case of Waterfall, the driver had 2 dead-man switches he could use - 1) the throttle handle had to be held against a spring at a small rotation, or 2) a bar on the floor could be depressed. You had to do 1 of these things, the idea being that you prevent wrist or foot cramping by allowing the driver to alternate between the two. Failure to do either triggers an emergency brake.

It turns out that this driver was fat enough that when he had a heart attack, his leg was able to depress the pedal enough to hold the emergency system off. Thus, the dead-man’s system never triggered with a whole lot of dead man in the driver’s seat.

I can’t quite remember the specifics of the system at Waterfall, but one method to combat this is to require the pedal to be held halfway between released and fully depressed. The idea being that a dead leg would fully depress the pedal so that would trigger a brake, and a fully released pedal would also trigger a brake. I don’t know if they had that system but certainly that’s one approach used in rail.

Either way, the problem is equally possible in cars. If you lose consciousness and your foot goes limp, a heavy enough leg will be able to hold the pedal down a bit depending on where it’s positioned relative to the pedal and the leverage it has on the floor.

The other major system I’m familiar with for ensuring drivers are alive at the helm is called ‘vigilance’. The way it works is that periodically, a light starts flashing on the dash and the driver has to acknowledge that. If they do not, a buzzer alarm starts sounding. If they still don’t acknowledge it, the train brakes apply and the driver is assumed incapacitated. Let me tell you some stories of my involvement in it.

When we first started, we had a simple vigi system. Every 30 seconds or so (for example), the driver would press a button. Ok cool. Except that then drivers became so hard-wired to pressing the button every 30 seconds that we were having instances of drivers falling asleep/dozing off and still pressing the button right on every 30 seconds because it was so ingrained into them that it was literally a subconscious action.

So we introduced random-timing vigilance, where the time varies 30-60 seconds (for example) and you could only acknowledge it within a small period of time once the light started flashing. Again, drivers started falling asleep/semi asleep and would hit it as soon as the alarm buzzed, each and every time.

So we introduced random-timing, task-linked vigilance and that finally broke the back of the problem. Now, the driver has to press a button, or turn a knob, or do a number of different activities and they must do that randomly-chosen activity, at a randomly-chosen time, for them to acknowledge their consciousness. It was only at that point that we finally nailed out driver alertness.

See also.


Curious why he would need to move to a more prestigious position? Most people realize by their 30s that prestige is a sucker’s game; it’s a way of inducing people to do things that aren’t much fun and they wouldn’t really want to do on their own, by lauding them with accolades from people they don’t really care about.

Why is FedEx based in Mephis?

… we noticed that we also needed:
(1) A suitable, existing airport at the hub location.
(2) Good weather at the hub location, e.g., relatively little snow, fog, or rain.
(3) Access to good ramp space, that is, where to park and service the airplanes and sort the packages.
(4) Good labor supply, e.g., for the sort center.
(5) Relatively low cost of living to keep down prices.
(6) Friendly regulatory environment.
(7) Candidate airport not too busy, e.g., don’t want arriving planes to have to circle a long time before being able to land.
(8) Airport with relatively little in cross winds and with more than one runway to pick from in case of winds.
(9) Runway altitude not too high, e.g., not high enough to restrict maximum total gross take off weight, e.g., rule out Denver.
(10) No tall obstacles, e.g., mountains, near the ends of the runways.
(11) Good supplies of jet fuel.
(12) Good access to roads for 18 wheel trucks for exchange of packages between trucks and planes, e.g., so that some parts could be trucked to the hub and stored there and shipped directly via the planes to customers that place orders, say, as late as 11 PM for delivery before 10 AM.
So, there were about three candidate locations, Memphis and, as I recall, Cincinnati and Kansas City.
The Memphis airport had some old WWII hangers next to the runway that FedEx could use for the sort center, aircraft maintenance, and HQ office space. Deal done – it was Memphis.

Why etherpad joined Wave, and why it didn’t work out as expected

The decision to sell to Google was one of the toughest decisions I and my cofounders ever had to wrestle with in our lives. We were excited by the Wave vision though we saw the flaws in the product. The Wave team told us about how they wanted our help making wave simpler and more like etherpad, and we thought we could help with that, though in the end we were unsuccessful at making wave simpler. We were scared of Google as a competitor: they had more engineers and more money behind this project, yet they were running it much more like an independent startup than a normal big-company department. The Wave office was in Australia and had almost total autonomy. And finally, after 1.5 years of being on the brink of failure with AppJet, it was tempting to be able to declare our endeavor a success and provide a decent return to all our investors who had risked their money on us.

In the end, our decision to join Wave did not work out as we had hoped. The biggest lessons learned were that having more engineers and money behind a project can actually be more harmful than helpful, so we were wrong to be scared of Wave as a competitor for this reason. It seems obvious in hindsight, but at the time it wasn’t. Second, I totally underestimated how hard it would be to iterate on the Wave codebase. I was used to rewriting major portions of software in a single all-nighter. Because of the software development process Wave was using, it was practically impossible to iterate on the product. I should have done more diligence on their specific software engineering processes, but instead I assumed because they seemed to be operating like a startup, that they would be able to iterate like a startup. A lot of the product problems were known to the whole Wave team, but we were crippled by a large complex codebase built on poor technical choices and a cumbersome engineering process that prevented fast iteration.

The accuracy of tech news

When I’ve had inside information about a story that later breaks in the tech press, I’m always shocked at how differently it’s perceived by readers of the article vs. how I experienced it. Among startups & major feature launches I’ve been party to, I’ve seen: executives that flat-out say that they’re not working on a product category when there’s been a whole department devoted to it for a year; startups that were founded 1.5 years before the dates listed in Crunchbase/Wikipedia; reporters that count the number of people they meet in a visit and report that as a the “team size”, because the company refuses to release that info; funding rounds that never make it to the press; acquisitions that are reported as “for an undisclosed sum” but actually are less than the founders would’ve made if they’d taken a salaried job at the company; project start dates that are actually when the project was staffed up to its current size and ignore the year or so that a small team spent working on the problem (or the 3-4 years that other small teams spent working on the problem); and algorithms or other technologies that are widely reported as being the core of the company’s success, but actually aren’t even used by the company.

Self-destructing speakers from Dell

As the main developer of VLC, we know about this story since a long time, and this is just Dell putting crap components on their machine and blaming others. Any discussion was impossible with them. So let me explain a bit…

In this case, VLC just uses the Windows APIs (DirectSound), and sends signed integers of 16bits (s16) to the Windows Kernel.

VLC allows amplification of the INPUT above the sound that was decoded. This is just like replay gain, broken codecs, badly recorded files or post-amplification and can lead to saturation.

But this is exactly the same if you put your mp3 file through Audacity and increase it and play with WMP, or if you put a DirectShow filter that amplifies the volume after your codec output. For example, for a long time, VLC ac3 and mp3 codecs were too low (-6dB) compared to the reference output.

At worse, this will reduce the dynamics and saturate a lot, but this is not going to break your hardware.

VLC does not (and cannot) modify the OUTPUT volume to destroy the speakers. VLC is a Software using the OFFICIAL platforms APIs.

The issue here is that Dell sound cards output power (that can be approached by a factor of the quadratic of the amplitude) that Dell speakers cannot handle. Simply said, the sound card outputs at max 10W, and the speakers only can take 6W in, and neither their BIOS or drivers block this.

And as VLC is present on a lot of machines, it’s simple to blame VLC. “Correlation does not mean causation” is something that seems too complex for cheap Dell support…

Learning on the job, startups vs. big companies

Working for someone else’s startup, I learned how to quickly cobble solutions together. I learned about uncertainty and picking a direction regardless of whether you’re sure it’ll work. I learned that most startups fail, and that when they fail, the people who end up doing well are the ones who were looking out for their own interests all along. I learned a lot of basic technical skills, how to write code quickly and learn new APIs quickly and deploy software to multiple machines. I learned how quickly problems of scaling a development team crop up, and how early you should start investing in automation.

Working for Google, I learned how to fix problems once and for all and build that culture into the organization. I learned that even in successful companies, everything is temporary, and that great products are usually built through a lot of hard work by many people rather than great ah-ha insights. I learned how to architect systems for scale, and a lot of practices used for robust, high-availability, frequently-deployed systems. I learned the value of research and of spending a lot of time on a single important problem: many startups take a scattershot approach, trying one weekend hackathon after another and finding nobody wants any of them, while oftentimes there are opportunities that nobody has solved because nobody wants to put in the work. I learned how to work in teams and try to understand what other people want. I learned what problems are really painful for big organizations. I learned how to rigorously research the market and use data to make product decisions, rather than making decisions based on what seems best to one person.

We failed this person, what are we going to do differently?

Having been in on the company’s leadership meetings where departures were noted with a simple ‘regret yes/no’ flag it was my experience that no single departure had any effect. Mass departures did, trends did, but one person never did, even when that person was a founder.

The rationalizations always put the issue back on the departing employee, “They were burned out”, “They had lost their ability to be effective”, “They have moved on”, “They just haven’t grown with the company” never was it “We failed this person, what are we going to do differently?”

AWS’s origin story

Anyway, the SOA effort was in full swing when I was there. It was a pain, and it was a mess because every team did things differently and every API was different and based on different assumptions and written in a different language.

But I want to correct the misperception that this lead to AWS. It didn’t. S3 was written by its own team, from scratch. At the time I was at Amazon, working on the retail site, none of Amazon.com was running on AWS. I know, when AWS was announced, with great fanfare, they said “the services that power Amazon.com can now power your business!” or words to that effect. This was a flat out lie. The only thing they shared was data centers and a standard hardware configuration. Even by the time I left, when AWS was running full steam ahead (and probably running Reddit already), none of Amazon.com was running on AWS, except for a few, small, experimental and relatively new projects. I’m sure more of it has been adopted now, but AWS was always a separate team (and a better managed one, from what I could see.)

Why is Windows so slow?

I (and others) have put a lot of effort into making the Linux Chrome build fast. Some examples are multiple new implementations of the build system (http://neugierig.org/software/chromium/notes/2011/02/ninja.h... ), experimentation with the gold linker (e.g. measuring and adjusting the still off-by-default thread flags https://groups.google.com/a/chromium.org/group/chromium-dev/... ) as well as digging into bugs in it, and other underdocumented things like ‘thin’ ar archives.

But it’s also true that people who are more of Windows wizards than I am a Linux apprentice have worked on Chrome’s Windows build. If you asked me the original question, I’d say the underlying problem is that on Windows all you have is what Microsoft gives you and you can’t typically do better than that. For example, migrating the Chrome build off of Visual Studio would be a large undertaking, large enough that it’s rarely considered. (Another way of phrasing this is it’s the IDE problem: you get all of the IDE or you get nothing.)

When addressing the poor Windows performance people first bought SSDs, something that never even occurred to me (“your system has enough RAM that the kernel cache of the file system should be in memory anyway!”). But for whatever reason on the Linux side some Googlers saw it fit to rewrite the Linux linker to make it twice as fast (this effort predated Chrome), and all Linux developers now get to benefit from that. Perhaps the difference is that when people write awesome tools for Windows or Mac they try to sell them rather than give them away.

Why is Windows so slow, an insider view

I’m a developer in Windows and contribute to the NT kernel. (Proof: the SHA1 hash of revision #102 of [Edit: filename redacted] is [Edit: hash redacted].) I’m posting through Tor for obvious reasons.

Windows is indeed slower than other operating systems in many scenarios, and the gap is worsening. The cause of the problem is social. There’s almost none of the improvement for its own sake, for the sake of glory, that you see in the Linux world.

Granted, occasionally one sees naive people try to make things better. These people almost always fail. We can and do improve performance for specific scenarios that people with the ability to allocate resources believe impact business goals, but this work is Sisyphean. There’s no formal or informal program of systemic performance improvement. We started caring about security because pre-SP3 Windows XP was an existential threat to the business. Our low performance is not an existential threat to the business.

See, component owners are generally openly hostile to outside patches: if you’re a dev, accepting an outside patch makes your lead angry (due to the need to maintain this patch and to justify in in shiproom the unplanned design change), makes test angry (because test is on the hook for making sure the change doesn’t break anything, and you just made work for them), and PM is angry (due to the schedule implications of code churn). There’s just no incentive to accept changes from outside your own team. You can always find a reason to say “no”, and you have very little incentive to say “yes”.

What’s the probability of a successful exit by city?

See link for giant table :-).

The hiring crunch

Broken record: startups are also probably rejecting a lot of engineering candidates that would perform as well or better than anyone on their existing team, because tech industry hiring processes are folkloric and irrational.

Too long to excerpt. See the link!

Should you leave a bad job?

I am 42-year-old very successful programmer who has been through a lot of situations in my career so far, many of them highly demotivating. And the best advice I have for you is to get out of what you are doing. Really. Even though you state that you are not in a position to do that, you really are. It is okay. You are free. Okay, you are helping your boyfriend’s startup but what is the appropriate cost for this? Would he have you do it if he knew it was crushing your soul?

I don’t use the phrase “crushing your soul” lightly. When it happens slowly, as it does in these cases, it is hard to see the scale of what is happening. But this is a very serious situation and if left unchecked it may damage the potential for you to do good work for the rest of your life.

The commenters who are warning about burnout are right. Burnout is a very serious situation. If you burn yourself out hard, it will be difficult to be effective at any future job you go to, even if it is ostensibly a wonderful job. Treat burnout like a physical injury. I burned myself out once and it took at least 12 years to regain full productivity. Don’t do it.

  • More broadly, the best and most creative work comes from a root of joy and excitement. If you lose your ability to feel joy and excitement about programming-related things, you’ll be unable to do the best work. That this issue is separate from and parallel to burnout! If you are burned out, you might still be able to feel the joy and excitement briefly at the start of a project/idea, but they will fade quickly as the reality of day-to-day work sets in. Alternatively, if you are not burned out but also do not have a sense of wonder, it is likely you will never get yourself started on the good work.

  • The earlier in your career it is now, the more important this time is for your development. Programmers learn by doing. If you put yourself into an environment where you are constantly challenged and are working at the top threshold of your ability, then after a few years have gone by, your skills will have increased tremendously. It is like going to intensively learn kung fu for a few years, or going into Navy SEAL training or something. But this isn’t just a one-time constant increase. The faster you get things done, and the more thorough and error-free they are, the more ideas you can execute on, which means you will learn faster in the future too. Over the long term, programming skill is like compound interest. More now means a LOT more later. Less now means a LOT less later.

So if you are putting yourself into a position that is not really challenging, that is a bummer day in and day out, and you get things done slowly, you aren’t just having a slow time now. You are bringing down that compound interest curve for the rest of your career. It is a serious problem. If I could go back to my early career I would mercilessly cut out all the shitty jobs I did (and there were many of them).

Creating change when politically unpopular

A small anecdote. An acquaintance related a story of fixing the ‘drainage’ in their back yard. They were trying to grow some plants that were sensitive to excessive moisture, and the plants were dying. Not watering them, watering them a little, didn’t seem to change. They died. A professional gardner suggested that their problem was drainage. So they dug down about 3’ (where the soil was very very wet) and tried to build in better drainage. As they were on the side of a hill, water table issues were not considered. It turned out their “problem” was that the water main that fed their house and the houses up the hill, was so pressurized at their property (because it had maintain pressure at the top of the hill too) that the pipe seams were leaking and it was pumping gallons of water into the ground underneath their property. The problem wasn’t their garden, the problem was that the city water supply was poorly designed.

While I have never been asked if I was an engineer on the phone, I have experienced similar things to Rachel in meetings and with regard to suggestions. Co-workers will create an internal assessment of your value and then respond based on that assessment. If they have written you off they will ignore you, if you prove their assessment wrong in a public forum they will attack you. These are management issues, and something which was sorely lacking in the stories.

If you are the “owner” of a meeting, and someone is trying to be heard and isn’t. It is incumbent on you to let them be heard. By your position power as “the boss” you can naturally interrupt a discussion to collect more data from other members. Its also important to ask questions like “does anyone have any concerns?” to draw out people who have valid input but are too timid to share it.

In a highly political environment there are two ways to create change, one is through overt manipulation, which is to collect political power to yourself and then exert it to enact change, and the other is covert manipulation, which is to enact change subtly enough that the political organism doesn’t react. (sometimes called “triggering the antibodies”).

The problem with the latter is that if you help make positive change while keeping everyone not pissed off, no one attributes it to you (which is good for the change agent because if they knew the anti-bodies would react, but bad if your manager doesn’t recognize it). I asked my manager what change he wanted to be ‘true’ yet he (or others) had been unsuccessful making true, he gave me one, and 18 months later that change was in place. He didn’t believe that I was the one who had made the change. I suggested he pick a change he wanted to happen and not tell me, then in 18 months we could see if that one happened :-). But he also didn’t understand enough about organizational dynamics to know that making change without having the source of that change point back at you was even possible.

How to get tech support from Google

Heavily relying on Google product? ✓
Hitting a dead-end with Google’s customer service? ✓
Have an existing audience you can leverage to get some random Google employee’s attention? ✓
Reach front page of Hacker News? ✓
Good news! You should have your problem fixed in 2-5 business days. The rest of us suckers relying on google services get to stare at our inboxes helplessly, waiting for a response to our support ticket (which will never come). I feel like it’s almost a [rite] of passage these days to rely heavily on a Google service, only to have something go wrong and be left out in the cold.

Taking funding

IIRC PayPal was very similar - it was sold for $1.5B, but Max Levchin’s share was only about $30M, and Elon Musk’s was only about $100M. By comparison, many early Web 2.0 darlings (Del.icio.us, Blogger, Flickr) sold for only $20-40M, but their founders had only taken small seed rounds, and so the vast majority of the purchase price went to the founders. 75% of a $40M acquisition = 3% of a $1B acquisition.

Something for founders to think about when they’re taking funding. If you look at the gigantic tech fortunes - Gates, Page/Brin, Omidyar, Bezos, Zuckerburg, Hewlett/Packard - they usually came from having a company that was already profitable or was already well down the hockey-stick user growth curve and had a clear path to monetization by the time they sought investment. Companies that fight tooth & nail for customers and need lots of outside capital to do it usually have much worse financial outcomes.

StackOverflow vs. Experts-Exchange

A lot of the people who were involved in some way in Experts-Exchange don’t understand Stack Overflow.

The basic value flow of EE is that “experts” provide valuable “answers” for novices with questions. In that equation there’s one person asking a question and one person writing an answer.

Stack Overflow recognizes that for every person who asks a question, 100 - 10,000 people will type that same question into Google and find an answer that has already been written. In our equation, we are a community of people writing answers that will be read by hundreds or thousands of people. Ours is a project more like wikipedia – collaboratively creating a resource for the Internet at large.

Because that resource is provided by the community, it belongs to the community. That’s why our data is freely available and licensed under creative commons. We did this specifically because of the negative experience we had with EE taking a community-generated resource and deciding to slap a paywall around it.

The attitude of many EE contributors, like Greg Young who calculates that he “worked” for half a year for free, is not shared by the 60,000 people who write answers on SO every month. When you talk to them you realize that on Stack Overflow, answering questions is about learning. It’s about creating a permanent artifact to make the Internet better. It’s about helping someone solve a problem in five minutes that would have taken them hours to solve on their own. It’s not about working for free.

As soon as EE introduced the concept of money they forced everybody to think of their work on EE as just that – work.

Making money from amazon bots

I saw that one of my old textbooks was selling for a nice price, so I listed it along with two other used copies. I priced it $1 cheaper than the lowest price offered, but within an hour both sellers had changed their prices to $.01 and $.02 cheaper than mine. I reduced it two times more by $1, and each time they beat my price by a cent or two. So what I did was reduce my price by a few dollars every hour for one day until everybody was priced under $5. Then I bought their books and changed my price back.

What running a business is like

While I like the sentiment here, I think the danger is that engineers might come to the mistaken conclusion that making pizzas is the primary limiting reagent to running a successful pizzeria. Running a successful pizzeria is more about schlepping to local hotels and leaving them 50 copies of your menu to put at the front desk, hiring drivers who will both deliver pizzas in a timely fashion and not embezzle your (razor-thin) profits while also costing next-to-nothing to employ, maintaining a kitchen in sufficient order to pass your local health inspector’s annual visit (and dealing with 47 different pieces of paper related to that), being able to juggle priorities like “Do I take out a bank loan to build a new brick-oven, which will make the pizza taste better, in the knowledge that this will commit $3,000 of my cash flow every month for the next 3 years, or do I hire an extra cook?”, sourcing ingredients such that they’re available in quantity and quality every day for a fairly consistent price, setting prices such that they’re locally competitive for your chosen clientele but generate a healthy gross margin for the business, understanding why a healthy gross margin really doesn’t imply a healthy net margin and that the rent still needs to get paid, keeping good-enough records such that you know whether your business is dying before you can’t make payroll and such that you can provide a reasonably accurate picture of accounts for the taxation authorities every year, balancing 50% off medium pizza promotions with the desire to not cannibalize the business of your regulars, etc etc, and by the way tomato sauce should be tangy but not sour and cheese should melt with just the faintest whisp of a crust on it.

Do you want to write software for a living? Google is hiring. Do you want to run a software business? Godspeed. Software is now 10% of your working life.

How to handle mismanagement?

The way I prefer to think of it is: it is not your job to protect people (particularly senior management) from the consequences of their decisions. Make your decisions in your own best interest; it is up to the organization to make sure that your interest aligns with theirs.

Google used to have a severe problem where code refactoring & maintenance was not rewarded in performance reviews while launches were highly regarded, which led to the effect of everybody trying to launch things as fast as possible and nobody cleaning up the messes left behind. Eventually launches started getting slowed down, Larry started asking “Why can’t we have nice things?”, and everybody responded “Because you’ve been paying us to rack up technical debt.” As a result, teams were formed with the express purpose of code health & maintenance, those teams that were already working on those goals got more visibility, and refactoring contributions started counting for something in perf. Moreover, many ex-Googlers who were fed up with the situation went to Facebook and, I’ve heard, instituted a culture there where grungy engineering maintenance is valued by your peers.

None of this would’ve happened if people had just heroically fallen on their own sword and burnt out doing work nobody cared about. Sometimes it takes highly visible consequences before people with decision-making power realize there’s a problem and start correcting it. If those consequences never happen, they’ll keep believing it’s not a problem and won’t pay much attention to it.

Some downsides of immutability

People who aren’t exactly lying

It took me too long to figure this out. There are some people to truly, and passionately, believe something they say to you, and realistically they personally can’t make it happen so you can’t really bank on that ‘promise.’

I used to think those people were lying to take advantage, but as I’ve gotten older I have come to recognize that these ‘yes’ people get promoted a lot. And for some of them, they really do believe what they are saying.

As an engineer I’ve found that once I can ‘calibrate’ someone’s ‘yes-ness’ I can then work with them, understanding that they only make ‘wishful’ commitments rather than ‘reasoned’ commitments.

So when someone, like Steve Jobs, says “we’re going to make it an open standard!”, my first question then is “Great, I’ve got your support in making this an open standard so I can count on you to wield your position influence to aid me when folks line up against that effort, right?” If the answer that that question is no, then they were lying.

The difference is subtle of course but important. Steve clearly doesn’t go to standards meetings and vote etc, but if Manager Bob gets push back from accounting that he’s going to exceed his travel budget by sending 5 guys to the Open Video Chat Working Group which is championing the Facetime protocol as an open standard, then Manager Bob goes to Steve and says “I need your help here, these 5 guys are needed to argue this standard and keep it from being turned into a turd by the 5 guys from Google who are going to attend.” and then Steve whips off a one liner to accounting that says “Get off this guy’s back we need this.” Then its all good. If on the other hand he says “We gotta save money, send one guy.” well in that case I’m more sympathetic to the accusation of prevarication.

What makes engineers productive?

For those who work inside Google, it’s well worth it to look at Jeff & Sanjay’s commit history and code review dashboard. They aren’t actually all that much more productive in terms of code written than a decent SWE3 who knows his codebase.

The reason they have a reputation as rockstars is that they can apply this productivity to things that really matter; they’re able to pick out the really important parts of the problem and then focus their efforts there, so that the end result ends up being much more impactful than what the SWE3 wrote. The SWE3 may spend his time writing a bunch of unit tests that catch bugs that wouldn’t really have happened anyway, or migrating from one system to another that isn’t really a large improvement, or going down an architectural dead end that’ll just have to be rewritten later. Jeff or Sanjay (or any of the other folks operating at that level) will spend their time running a proposed API by clients to ensure it meets their needs, or measuring the performance of subsystems so they fully understand their building blocks, or mentally simulating the operation of the system before building it so they rapidly test out alternatives. They don’t actually write more code than a junior developer (oftentimes, they write less), but the code they do write gives them more information, which makes them ensure that they write the rightcode.

I feel like this point needs to be stressed a whole lot more than it is, as there’s a whole mythology that’s grown up around 10x developers that’s not all that helpful. In particular, people need to realize that these developers rapidly become 1x developers (or worse) if you don’t let them make their own architectural choices - the reason they’re excellent in the first place is because they know how to determine if certain work is going to be useless and avoid doing it in the first place. If you dictate that they do it anyway, they’re going to be just as slow as any other developer

Do the work, be a hero

I got the hero speech too, once. If anyone ever mentions the word “heroic” again and there isn’t a burning building involved, I will start looking for new employment immediately. It seems that in our industry it is universally a code word for “We’re about to exploit you because the project is understaffed and under budgeted for time and that is exactly as we planned it so you’d better cowboy up.”

Maybe it is different if you’re writing Quake, but I guarantee you the 43rd best selling game that year also had programmers “encouraged onwards” by tales of the glory that awaited after the death march.

Learning English from watching movies

I was once speaking to a good friend of mine here, in English.
“Do you want to go out for yakitori?”
“Go fuck yourself!”
“… switches to Japanese Have I recently done anything very major to offend you?”
“No, of course not.”
“Oh, OK, I was worried. So that phrase, that’s something you would only say under extreme distress when you had maximal desire to offend me, or I suppose you could use it jokingly between friends, but neither you nor I generally talk that way.”
“I learned it from a movie. I thought it meant ‘No.’”

Being smart and getting things done

True story: I went to a talk given by one of the ‘engineering elders’ (these were low Emp# engineers who were considered quite successful and were to be emulated by the workers :-) This person stated when they came to work at Google they were given the XYZ system to work on (sadly I’m prevented from disclosing the actual system). They remarked how they spent a couple of days looking over the system which was complicated and creaky, they couldn’t figure it out so they wrote a new system. Yup, and they committed that. This person is a coding God are they not? (sarcasm) I asked what happened to the old system (I knew but was interested on their perspective) and they said it was still around because a few things still used it, but (quite proudly) nearly everything else had moved to their new system.

So if you were reading carefully, this person created a new system to ‘replace’ an existing system which they didn’t understand and got nearly everyone to move to the new system. That made them uber because they got something big to put on their internal resume, and a whole crapload of folks had to write new code to adapt from the old system to this new system, which imperfectly recreated the old system (remember they didn’t understand the original), such that those parts of the system that relied on the more obscure bits had yet to be converted (because nobody undersood either the dependent code or the old system apparently).

Was this person smart? Blindingly brilliant according to some of their peers. Did they get things done? Hell yes, they wrote the replacement for the XYZ system from scratch! One person? Can you imagine? Would I hire them? Not unless they were the last qualified person in my pool and I was out of time.

That anecdote encapsulates the dangerous side of smart people who get things done.

Public speaking tips

Some kids grow up on football. I grew up on public speaking (as behavioral therapy for a speech impediment, actually). If you want to get radically better in a hurry:

Too long to excerpt. See the link.

A reason a company can be a bad fit

I can relate to this, but I can also relate to the other side of the question. Sometimes it isn’t me, its you. Take someone who gets things done and suddenly in your organization they aren’t delivering. Could be them, but it could also be you.

I had this experience working at Google. I had a horrible time getting anything done there. Now I spent a bit of time evaluating that since it had never been the case in my career, up to that point, where I was unable to move the ball forward and I really wanted to understand that. The short answer was that Google had developed a number of people who spent much, if not all, of their time preventing change. It took me a while to figure out what motivated someone to be anti-change.

The fear was risk and safety. Folks moved around a lot and so you had people in charge of systems they didn’t build, didn’t understand all the moving parts of, and were apt to get a poor rating if they broke. When dealing with people in that situation one could either educate them and bring them along, or steam roll over them. Education takes time, and during that time the ‘teacher’ doesn’t get anything done. This favors steamrolling evolutionarily :-)

So you can hire someone who gets stuff done, but if getting stuff done in your organization requires them to be an asshole, and they aren’t up for that, well they aren’t going to be nearly as successful as you would like them to be.

What working at Google is like

I can tell that this was written by an outsider, because it focuses on the perks and rehashes several cliches that have made their way into the popular media but aren’t all that accurate.

Most Googlers will tell you that the best thing about working there is having the ability to work on really hard problems, with really smart coworkers, and lots of resources at your disposal. I remember asking my interviewer whether I could use things like Google’s index if I had a cool 20% idea, and he was like “Sure. That’s encouraged. Oftentimes I’ll just grab 4000 or so machines and run a MapReduce to test out some hypothesis.” My phone screener, when I asked him what it was like to work there, said “It’s a place where really smart people go to be average,” which has turned out to be both true and honestly one of the best things that I’ve gained from working there.

NSA vs. Black Hat

This entire event was a staged press op. Keith Alexander is a ~30 year veteran of SIGINT, electronic warfare, and intelligence, and a Four-Star US Army General — which is a bigger deal than you probably think it is. He’s a spy chief in the truest sense and a master politician. Anyone who thinks he walked into that conference hall in Caesars without a near perfect forecast of the outcome of the speech is kidding themselves.

Heckling Alexander played right into the strategy. It gave him an opportunity to look reasonable compared to his detractors, and, more generally (and alarmingly), to have the NSA look more reasonable compared to opponents of NSA surveillance. It allowed him to “split the vote” with audience reactions, getting people who probably have serious misgivings about NSA programs to applaud his calm and graceful handling of shouted insults; many of those people probably applauded simply to protest the hecklers, who after all were making it harder for them to follow what Alexander was trying to say.

There was no serious Q&A on offer at the keynote. The questions were pre-screened; all attendees could do was vote on them. There was no possibility that anything would come of this speech other than an effectively unchallenged full-throated defense of the NSA’s programs.

Are deadlines necessary?

Interestingly one of the things that I found most amazing when I was working for Google was a nearly total inability to grasp the concept of ‘deadline.’ For so many years the company just shipped it by committing it to the release branch and having the code deploy over the course of a small number of weeks to the ‘fleet’.

Sure there were ‘processes’, like “Canary it in some cluster and watch the results for a few weeks before turning it loose on the world.” but being completely vertically integrated is a unique sort of situation.

Debugging on Windows vs. Linux

Being a very experienced game developer who tried to switch to Linux, I have posted about this before (and gotten flamed heavily by reactionary Linux people).

The main reason is that debugging is terrible on Linux. gdb is just bad to use, and all these IDEs that try to interface with gdb to “improve” it do it badly (mainly because gdb itself is not good at being interfaced with). Someone needs to nuke this site from orbit and build a new debugger from scratch, and provide a library-style API that IDEs can use to inspect executables in rich and subtle ways.

Productivity is crucial. If the lack of a reasonable debugging environment costs me even 5% of my productivity, that is too much, because games take so much work to make. At the end of a project, I just don’t have 5% effort left any more. It requires everything. (But the current Linux situation is way more than a 5% productivity drain. I don’t know exactly what it is, but if I were to guess, I would say it is something like 20%.)

What happens when you become rich?

What is interesting is that people don’t even know they have a complex about money until they get “rich.” I’ve watched many people, perhaps a hundred, go from “working to pay the bills” to “holy crap I can pay all my current and possibly my future bills with the money I now have.” That doesn’t include the guy who lived in our neighborhood and won the CA lottery one year.

It affects people in ways they don’t expect. If its sudden (like lottery winning or sudden IPO surge) it can be difficult to process. But it is an important thing to realize that one is processing an exceptional event. Like having a loved one die or a spouse suddenly divorcing you.

Not everyone feels “guilty”, not everyone feels “smug.” A lot of millionaires and billionaires in the Bay Area are outwardly unchanged. But the bottom line is that the emotion comes from the cognitive dissonance between values and reality. What do you value? What is reality?

One woman I knew at Google was massively conflicted when she started work at Google. She always felt that she would help the homeless folks she saw, if she had more money than she needed. Upon becoming rich (on Google stock value), now she found that she wanted to save the money she had for her future kids education and needs. Was she a bad person? Before? After? Do your kids hate you if you give away their college education to the local foodbank? Do your peers hate you because you could close the current food gap at the foodbank and you don’t?

Microsoft’s Skype acquisition

This is Microsoft’s ICQ moment. Overpaying for a company at the moment when its core competency is becoming a commodity. Does anyone have the slightest bit of loyalty to Skype? Of course not. They’re going to use whichever video chat comes built into their SmartPhone, tablet, computer, etc. They’re going to use FaceBook’s eventual video chat service or something Google offers. No one is going to actively seek out Skype when so many alternatives exist and are deeply integrated into the products/services they already use. Certainly no one is going to buy a Microsoft product simply because it has Skype integration. Who cares if it’s FaceTime, FaceBook Video Chat, Google Video Chat? It’s all the same to the user.

With $7B they should have just given away about 15 million Windows Mobile phones in the form of an epic PR stunt. It’s not a bad product – they just need to make people realize it exists. If they want to flush money down the toilet they might as well engage users in the process right?


How did HN get get the commenter base that it has? If you read HN, on any given week, there are at least as many good, substantial, comments as there are posts. This is different from every other modern public news aggregator I can find out there, and I don’t really know what the ingredients are that make HN successful.

For the last couple years (ish?), the moderation regime has been really active in trying to get a good mix of stories on the front page and in tamping down on gratuitously mean comments. But there was a period of years where the moderation could be described as sparse, arbitrary, and capricious, and while there are fewer “bad” comments now, it doesn’t seem like good moderation actually generates more “good” comments.

The ranking scheme seems to penalize posts that have a lot of comments on the theory that flamebait topics will draw a lot of comments. That sometimes prematurely buries stories with good discussion, but much more often, it buries stories that draw pointless flamewars. If you just read HN, it’s hard to see the effect, but if you look at forums that use comments as a positive factor in ranking, the difference is dramatic – those other forums that boost topics with many comments (presumably on theory that vigorous discussion should be highlighted) often have content-free flame wars pinned at the top for long periods of time.

Something else that HN does that’s different from most forums is that user flags are weighted very heavily. On reddit, a downvote only cancels out an upvote, which means that flamebait topics that draw a lot of upvotes like “platform X is cancer” “Y is doing some horrible thing” often get pinned to the top of r/programming for a an entire day, since the number of people who don’t want to see that is drowned out by the number of people who upvote outrageous stories. If you read the comments for one of the “X is cancer” posts on r/programming, the top comment will almost inevitably that the post has no content, that the author of the post is a troll who never posts anything with content, and that we’d be better off with less flamebait by the author at the top of r/programming. But the people who will upvote outrage porn outnumber the people who will downvote it, so that kind of stuff dominates aggregators that use raw votes for ranking. Having flamebait drop off the front page quickly is significant, but it doesn’t seem sufficient to explain why there are so many more well-informed comments on HN than on other forums with roughly similar traffic.

Maybe the answer is that people come to HN for the same reason people come to Silicon Valley – despite all the downsides, there’s a relatively large concentration of experts there across a wide variety of CS-related disciplines. If that’s true, and it’s a combination of path dependence on network effects, that’s pretty depressing since that’s not replicable.

If you liked this curated list of comments, you’ll probably also like this list of books and this list of blogs.

This is part of an experiment where I write up thoughts quickly, without proofing or editing. Apologies if this is less clear than a normal post. This is probably going to be the last post like this, for now, since, by quickly writing up a post whenever I have something that can be written up quickly, I’m building up a backlog of post ideas that require re-reading the literature in an area or running experiments.

P.S. Please suggest other good comments! By their nature, HN comments are much less discoverable than stories, so there are a lot of great coments that I haven’t seen.

  1. if you’re one of those people, you’ve probably already thought of this, but maybe consider, at the margin, blogging more and commenting on HN less? As a result of writing this post, I looked through my old HN comments and noticed that I wrote this comment three years ago, which is another way of stating the second half of this post I wrote recently. Comparing the two, I think the HN comment is substantially better written. But, like most HN comments, it got some traffic while the story was still current and is now buried, and AFAICT, nothing really happened as a result of the comment. The blog post, despite being “worse”, has gotten some people to contact me personally, and I’ve had some good discussions about that and other topics as a result. Additionally, people occasionally contact me about older posts I’ve written; I continue to get interesting stuff in my inbox as a result of having written posts years ago. Writing your comment up as a blog post will almost certainly provide more value to you, and if it gets posted to HN, it will probably provide no less value to HN.

    Steve Yegge has a pretty list of reasons why you should blog that I won’t recapitulate here. And if you’re writing substantial comments on HN, you’re already doing basically everything you’d need to do to write a blog except that you’re putting the text into a little box on HN instead of into a static site generator or some hosted blogging service. BTW, I’m not just saying this for your benefit: my selfish reason for writing this appeal is that I really want to read the Nathan Kurz blog on low-level optimizations, the Jonathan Tang blog on what it’s like to work at startups vs. big companies, etc.

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1 day ago
HN comments are probably the most useful on the internet, but as the author notes you really do have to be able to pick the correct ones.

If you go in knowing nothing about a topic, you will probably be led astray. If you know a little bit and can give a comment the sniff-test, you'll do much better.
Bend, Oregon
1 day ago
So many good stories and insights in here
Waterloo, Canada
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Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 makes the no-fly list

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Enlarge / The Galaxy Note 7 (left, recalled) and Galaxy S7 Edge (right, not recalled). (credit: Ron Amadeo)

The Galaxy Note 7's short, explosive life was cut short earlier this week, when Samsung issued a second recall for all devices and permanently shut down production.

But plenty of the phones are still out there in the wild, and Samsung and government regulators are trying to limit the potential risks associated with using the phone. To that end, the United Federal Aviation Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are expected to completely ban all Galaxy Note 7s from all US flights starting today, according to a report in Bloomberg

Update:It's official. The ban will be implemented October 15 at noon Eastern time. Passengers who attempt to bring Galaxy Note 7s onto planes may have them confiscated and may be fined, and anyone who is caught with the phone in their checked baggage "may be subject to criminal prosecution in addition to fines."

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Previously, the FAA strongly recommended that the devices not be turned on, charged, or placed in checked baggage while on a plane. The administration didn't entirely ban them and made an allowance for the replacement phones that were expected to "fix" the problem. The new ban applies to both original and replacement models, regardless of whether they're turned off. If you travel and you've made the ill-advised decision to keep your phone, this is another reason you should take advantage of the credit Samsung is offering all Galaxy Note owners who exchange their defective phone for another model.

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10 days ago
Passengers who attempt to bring Galaxy Note 7s onto planes may have them confiscated and may be fined, and anyone who is caught with the phone in their checked baggage "may be subject to criminal prosecution in addition to fines."
Waterloo, Canada
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TRANSCRIPT: Michelle Obama's Speech On Donald Trump's Alleged Treatment Of Women

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My goodness! You guys are fired up! Well, let me just say hello everyone. I am so thrilled to be here with you all today in New Hampshire. This is like home to…
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11 days ago
Bill Clinton is going to have a hard time living up to Michelle Obama's record as first spouse…
Washington, DC
11 days ago
Waterloo, Canada
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1 public comment
11 days ago
I LOVED how she never once said Trump's name - masterstroke. Wish HRC would follow suit

Tattoo You

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Tattoo You

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12 days ago
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President Obama Talks Importance of Star Trek with Wired

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Star Trek fan and U.S. President Barack Obama, serving as guest editor for Wired’s November issue, discussed with Wired editor in chief Scott Dadich and MIT media lab Director Joi Ito how he grew up on Star Trek, the importance of the series, and how the Enterprise and her crew are like the United States: diverse, cooperative, and up for any challenge.

Obama, in a sweeping interview about technology and the future, mentioned that he was a “sucker” for Star Trek as a kid. He used to watch the same twenty episodes over and over again.

“I was a sucker for Star Trek when I was a kid. They were always fun to watch. What made the show lasting was it wasn’t actu­ally about technology. It was about values and relationships. Which is why it didn’t matter that the special effects were kind of cheesy and bad, right? They’d land on a planet and there are all these papier-mâché boulders. [Laughs.] But it didn’t matter because it was really talking about a notion of a common humanity and a confidence in our ability to solve problems.”

The President lauded Star Trek’s depiction of a diverse crew working across boundaries, either real or perceived, to solve problems.

“Star Trek, like any good story, says that we’re all complicated, and we’ve all got a little bit of Spock and a little bit of Kirk [laughs] and a little bit of Scotty, maybe some Klingon in us, right? But that is what I mean about figuring it out. Part of figuring it out is being able to work across barriers and differences. There’s a certain faith in rationality, tempered by some humility. Which is true of the best art and true of the best science. The sense that we possess these incredible minds that we should use, and we’re still just scratching the surface, but we shouldn’t get too cocky. We should remind ourselves that there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know.”

Obama felt that a more recent piece of art, 2015’s The Martian, also demonstrated Star Trek’s spirit of coming together to overcome difficulties and solve problems.

A recent movie captured the same spirit—The Martian. Not because it had a hugely complicated plot, but because it showed a bunch of different people trying to solve a problem. And employing creativity and grit and hard work, and having confidence that if it’s out there, we can figure it out. That is what I love most about America and why it continues to attract people from all around the world for all of the challenges that we face, that spirit of “Oh, we can figure this out.” And what I value most about science is this notion that we can figure this out. Well, we’re gonna try this—if it doesn’t work, we’re gonna figure out why it didn’t work and then we’re gonna try something else. And we will revel in our mistakes, because that is gonna teach us how to ultimately crack the code on the thing that we’re trying to solve. And if we ever lose that spirit, then we’re gonna lose what is essential about America and what I think is essential about being human.

Take a look at Wired’s short summaryof the President’s remarks dealing with Star Trek, or check out the full interview.

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12 days ago
Modern SciFi fails to capture the hopefulness of Star Trek: The Next Generation's overall tone.
Space City, USA
12 days ago
Going to miss this guy -- "Part of figuring it out is being able to work across barriers and differences. There’s a certain faith in rationality, tempered by some humility. Which is true of the best art and true of the best science. The sense that we possess these incredible minds that we should use, and we’re still just scratching the surface, but we shouldn’t get too cocky. We should remind ourselves that there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know.”
Waterloo, Canada
12 days ago
Sussex, UK
12 days ago
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