Good Tools

I’ve been thinking and reading about technical and non-technical leadership, productivity and leveraging, and this describes very well why you need good tools in your work:

Finally there’s a psychological aspect to providing good tools to engineers that I have to believe has a really impact on people’s overall effectiveness. On one hand, good tools are just a pleasure to work with. On that basis alone, we should provide good tools for the same reason so many companies provide awesome food to their employees: it just makes coming to work every day that much more of a pleasure. But good tools play another important role: because the tools we use are themselves software, and we all spend all day writing software, having to do so with bad tools has this corrosive psychological effect of suggesting that maybe we don’t actually know how to write good software. Intellectually we may know that there are different groups working on internal tools than the main features of the product but if the tools you use get in your way or are obviously poorly engineered, it’s hard not to doubt your company’s overall competence.

Peter Seibel, “Let 1,000 flowers bloom

I may come back to this.

Margaret Hamilton: Pioneer Software Engineer

Enjoyable, if brief, interview with Margaret Hamilton, who lead the software team for the Apollo moonshots. I can’t help but notice how few men are ever asked how their lives as parents ever collides with their work.

Q: Did your life as a software engineer and a mother ever collide?
A: Often in the evening or at weekends I would bring my young daughter, Lauren, into work with me. One day, she was with me when I was doing a simulation of a mission to the moon. She liked to imitate me – playing astronaut. She started hitting keys and all of a sudden, the simulation started. Then she pressed other keys and the simulation crashed. She had selected a program which was supposed to be run prior to launch – when she was already “on the way” to the moon. The computer had so little space, it had wiped the navigation data taking her to the moon. I thought: my God – this could inadvertently happen in a real mission. I suggested a program change to prevent a prelaunch program being selected during flight. But the higher-ups at MIT and Nasa said the astronauts were too well trained to make such a mistake. Midcourse on the very next mission – Apollo 8 – one of the astronauts on board accidentally did exactly what Lauren had done. The Lauren bug! It created much havoc and required the mission to be reconfigured. After that, they let me put the program change in, all right.

Children do make good testers – no fears about pressing the wrong buttons! Also, reassuring to know that even the ‘well trained’ make mistakes.

Letting your mind breathe

Modern life is making us anxious:

Keeping calm in modern life is difficult and even our sleep is under threat from a surprising source. “I love watching Netflix and streaming TV shows, but that’s having an impact on our sleep. Recently the head of Netflix said that his main competitor isn’t another TV company – it’s sleep,” says Matt.

“Sleep is where they can make their money. If people aren’t going to bed until 2am because they’re watching the latest show, that will boost their business model.”

The market driven world we live in has put vast amounts of time and effort into attracting and keeping your attention. I think it’s important to remember that there’s a vast array of dedicated, skilled people employed at thousands of companies, all working to take you attention and keep it. So don’t feel bad for losing yourself in your twitter stream or tumblr, but when you do, put it down. Make space for your mind to be free.

Legitimizing

Very good point here:

When I could get no really substantive on-the-record statements from the tech leaders, I pinged investor Chris Sacca, because I knew he would not let me down.

“It’s funny, in every tech deal I’ve ever done, the photo op comes after you’ve signed the papers,” he said. “If Trump publicly commits to embrace science, stops threatening censorship of the internet, rejects fake news and denounces hate against our diverse employees, only then it would make sense for tech leaders to visit Trump Tower.”

He added: “Short of that, they are being used to legitimize a fascist.”

The fascist line is vintage Sacca, who always likes to kick up a shitstorm. But thank god someone is willing to do it, because that is what I thought Silicon Valley was all about.

Source: As Trumplethinskin lets down his hair for tech, shame on Silicon Valley for climbing the Tower in silence – Recode

Time not well spent

Interesting:  Addicted to Your iPhone? You’re Not Alone – The Atlantic

Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. As the co‑founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, he is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices.

While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.

 

Beware the Internet of Things: Nest Thermostat Glitch Leaves Users in the Cold

So, a glitch in a software update to the Nest left users quite literally cold as their nest devices stopped working. Very irritating, and the nine-step, time consuming fix sounds quite awkward to say the least. But there’s more:

Making matters worse is the lack of recourse. Buried deep in Nest’s 8,000-word service agreement is a section called “Disputes and Arbitration,” which prohibits customers from suing the company or joining a class-action suit. Instead, disputes are settled through arbitration.As a 2015 investigative series in The New York Times illustrated, the use of arbitration clauses is becoming widespread.

Nest’s terms of service “are inherently unfair to consumers,” said Sonia K. Gill, a lawyer for civil justice and consumer protection at Public Citizen, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The terms, she said, limit damages and specify that customers need to travel to San Francisco for arbitration. “Who can afford that?” she said.
Moreover, Ms. Gill noted, you have to agree to keep the terms of the arbitration confidential, meaning you can’t warn other consumers about potential flaws.
So, if a pipe bursts in your home because the thermostat stopped working, or if your grandmother falls ill because the heat shuts off in the middle of the night and she doesn’t have a micro USB cable, you can’t sue.

After last week’s freeze, I’m thinking of ditching my Nest. I haven’t decided on a replacement yet, but I may take a cue from Kent Goldman, a San Francisco resident I follow on Twitter who had a similar issue with his Nest in November.

After being put on hold with Nest’s technical support for over an hour, Mr. Goldman went to his nearest Ace Hardware store (while still on hold) and picked up an old-fashioned mechanical thermostat for about $25.

Sure, it doesn’t let you change the temperature through your smartphone. And it won’t email you monthly usage reports. But it isn’t vulnerable to bad software, and it doesn’t require a Wi-Fi connection.

Just because it can’t send email, doesn’t mean it’s useless 🙂