Blog posts tagged "culture"

Novels, Yes And Improv Comedy

May 25th, 2013

So, here’s the insight I’m currently tossing around in my head: The problem is that software isn’t built; it’s written. The final product is not like the Bay Bridge. It’s like a novel. – Don’t build. Compose. – Kurt Leafstrand

No, that’s not right.

As appealing as it is. You see novels, modern novels, are a particularly peculiar form of creativity primarily characterized by being the point of view and output of a single individual. Most software, and most bridges, aren’t like that.

Maybe you’re writing novels, but most of us are doing improv theater.

Try Coding Dear Boy

September 29th, 2009

Several times a week I get an emails like, “Can you explain how Flickr does XYZ? I’m hoping there is a nice packaged solution for this.”

XYZ can be anything from “draw tag maps”, to “click in place editing”, to “scale MySQL”.

And I’m always a little baffled as to what to respond.

Until I realized what was going on.

Laziness Impatience Hubris

This is the dark side of the geek virtue of laziness.

The belief that if one just thinks hard enough, or cleverly enough, that problems will have an “elegant solution”. And by “elegant” we mean a solution that doesn’t involve much code. (elegant, such a tricky word, it can also mean writing tons of code for problems that will likely never manifest) And by “think hard and clever”, a good short cut is probably just be to ask someone.

So I’ve come up with a response that looks something like:

“We generally try do the dumbest thing that will work first. And that’s usually as far as we get. Almost everything we do is pretty straightforward, and as such is well documented around the Web, sometimes by us, generally by others. And when we do get fiendishly clever, as we do now and again, it’s usually a highly tuned (read idiosyncratic) solution for the problems we’re trying to solve.”

Method Acting

But what I want to say, in the spirit of the great Laurence Olivier on giving advice to Dustin Hoffman, “My dear boy, why don’t you try coding?”.

Duct Tape

Which is not to say I mind getting these questions, I love talking about this stuff, it’s why I do it. And it’s often amusing to give the, “This is how we do it at Flickr, no really” talk.

But at the end of the day its 0.1% compsci, 0.9% clever ideas, and 99% duct tape. (btw Joel’s The Duct Tape Programmer is a meditation in similar vein)

Random Notes on Twitter Culture

December 4th, 2008

I tried to fit this all into 140 characters. I really did. I couldn’t do it, not even with disemvoweling.


Chatting with a friend who does information architecture for pharmaceutical advertising she was shocked I hadn’t heard about the “Motrin Mom” twitter-in-a-teapot. I had no idea what she was talking about.

Apparently “Twittering Critics Brought Down [the] Motrin Mom Campaign”. And the entire advertising industry, at least here in New York, is having a fear-of-a-twitter planet moment. Complete with righteous anger about the “irrationality of Twitter”. (um, hello folks, but didn’t you build one of the largest global business by cynically manipulating people’s “irrationality”?)

But the part that really caught me off is this didn’t blip my radar at all. Maybe I was just offline for it, but as far as I can tell the twittering classes I follow didn’t peep about this. I thought Twitter was all about us? (Also, Summize you are already awesome and everything, but if you add “search within people you’re following” and “search within people who follow you” I promise to love you forever)


Only tangentially related, I’m sure Tyler Hawkins aka @flickr has a very busy @replies tab.

What I can’t figure out is if all these folks responding to @flickr are really confused about whether Hawkins is a Flickr representative (he isn’t and doesn’t in anyway suggest he might be) or just believe so strongly that “@flickr” address twits will arrive in Flickr’s inbox that reality is irrelevant.

I’m torn on whether the assumption that when you speak you will be heard is the ultimate arrogance (and one particularly prevalent on Twitter), or if rather this proves that we’ve historically worried too much about URIs and that culture has no problem evolving them ad-hoc.

Now if only I had a thesis, rather then a rambling collection of half thoughts. Which is why I wanted to fit this all into 140 characters. Alas.

Notes on Notes

January 3rd, 2008

Twitter tells my story tonight, “Online for the first time in 8 days with anything ‘richer; then a mobile phone.” Followed shortly by, “Feeling like a junkie who fell off the band wagon. Sleep pushed aside to catch up on the Web.”

And part of catching up on the Web, is reading Webb’s wrapping up 2007. These are my notes towards imaginary blog posts that I felt compelled to scrawl down reading his notes toward imaginary essays. Most of them are contrary, even though I’m a known Matt Webb fan.


Physical metaphors are problematic in a hyper-linked space. Pages don’t act like molecules in a protein, they acts more like waves whose super positions haven’t collapsed.

The possible range of pages may be finite. But the finite number of creations speaks more to the limited number of participants in our study, and the power of a cultural hegemony to which all but a statistically insignificant few are part of.

When Matt says “micro/macro structures” I hear “decentralized pattern discovery” but thats my own filters/hopes/desires.

2, 3

Ultrastability and collapse are good lenses to talk about the “desire to survive” which complex organization seem to manifest. Fits better conceptually for me when applied to corporations then states, the state monopoly on violence brings its own drive to maintain centralization. Additionally I wonder if ultrastables aren’t really as stable as they seem, but rather better at hiding whatever tradeoffs/sacrifice are being made to pump energy into their orbit to keep the wobbles from showing up.


Refactoring isn’t about removing code, its about providing coherency to your metaphors. The story you were telling has changed, and while many of the symbols will remain the same (wicked step mother, dark woods, prince) others will change (dwarves, and bramble bracket, ditched for updated concepts of self determinism and midnight balls). Code is symbol manipulation, programming is narrative construction, and refactoring is editing for sense, clarity, and pronoun agreement now that you’ve changed your protagonists gender.

I think Matt is actually talking about specialization which is orthogonal. Also not sure you can compare evolution’s refactoring to the refactoring us code monkeys are doing. Evolution has got the unit, regression, and integration tests to prove its case.

Additionally we’re in no danger of attempting to write programs which are comprehensible to the human mind. Our work already exists in a culture, without that culture our narratives are useless, the culture provides a framework that allow us to work at vast scopes, providing useful narratives to build upon like operating systems, formal logic, and Turing/von Neumann machines.

I had dinner with a Google engineer working on the Google intranet, and her claim was that her job of cataloging, and making sense of the Google grid was essentially undoable as the grid had already evolved to the point where it was its own self reinforcing culture that grows without further input, and growing exponentially with input. The job of documenting it was a Zeno’s paradox.


Flocking cars have been refactored to extract driving decisions we make over and over again, and to address the bad smells of grid lock.


My response vs. Matt’s could all be the anarcho-syndicalist vs communist interpretation of trends. I’d confess to that.


Making ideas a thing is an idea I think I’m going spend a chunk of 2008 thinking about.


Social software is getting better at groups already. Love Matt’s ideas of common knowledge/shared culture as credentials for accessing capabilities. Already playing with a bit of this in casual privacy hacking side project, going to look at it harder now for Web2Expo casual privacy talk.

That said group forming is already a irreducible part of what makes social software successful, when it is successful. (are Andy’s slides on the importance of out of band spaces and groups available anywhere?)

Lately been thinking about groups online in the context of “trim tabbing”. They only work for a subset of people for any given topic/activity/context but those people are the owns who lends a bit of their own humanity to imbue your non-existent place with meaningfulness, gravity, and inevitability. (online spaces are either inevitable, or non-existent)

One approach, try it for couples first, move on to families. Tight bonds are going to be easier to model then weak ones.


I’ve got more to say on Flickr’s playfulness, real soon, but am waiting for right moment.


Can’t websites be operators, gates, sub-components in the program?


Tend to blame our lack of drugs to make us superheroes on the puritans, but living in San Francisco is likely to color this perception.

And a medical industry cancerous with an outdated reductionism understanding of the human body. Free market failure is side effect of larger information failure. (which is clearly a failure on the part of some programmer to write the superior wiki)

Side note: living in SF has also made me want to discuss sports with random strangers. A desire I’ve largely resisted to date.

“Why”, I keep resisting interrupting strangers to ask, “should we care if he used steroids. Professional sports is already entirely rigged, the competitors are already transhuman in a number of meaningful ways. Sports would be so much more interesting if everyone playing was a steroid popping cyborg. That would be an interesting meaningful contest, anything else other then teams of randomly conscripted just in time civilians is an unstable and silly balancing act half way down the slippery slope.”


See “Solace” by Jeff Noon.

Bi-Lingual Weddings

June 12th, 2006

The last 4 weddings I’ve attended have all been bi-lingual, and they’ve all featured a different language (with English being a common thread in all of them).

The modern condition I guess.

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Tag Stalking

December 26th, 2005

Some tags I check when trying to figure out who someone is/what their story is: me, friends, work, home, weather, craigslist. Also a quick visual scan for place names.

Even folks who’ve managed to stay fairly anonymous leak a lot of info in their tags.

Brand and Culture: Jasmine got a blog!

October 26th, 2005

So much happened in the last 3 weeks while you’ve been deprived of my piercing insights, its hard to know where to begin catching up.

To me the most exciting news is that Jasmine now has a blog, brandxculture (pronounced ‘brand and culture’). Truth be told she has had it for a while, but only recently officially launched it.

My favorite posts so far are

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Displaced in Coffee Shops

September 15th, 2005

One of the more interesting facets of working out of coffee shops these last few weeks, has been the influx, even up here in Massachusetts, of displaced folks with laptops and cell phones, anxiously checking satellite imagery of their homes in New Orleans, while trying to juggle a semblance of normal life and work.

To the extent that they’ve been successful, it points to an interesting next stage for our techno-nomadic tribe.

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Another Take on Wireless Weekends

May 30th, 2005

Earlier I linked to Tonx‘s report on success of Victrola’s wifi free weekends. Dru points to an interesting alternative

go wired on weekends. It would be sort of retro, you know, in keeping with Victrola’s theme. Put an eight port hub in the middle of the coffee table in the back, and make all of those antisocial net junkies (like me) sit next to each other on the couch…

During my sparse visits to UZ I noticed that an unofficial “laptop table” existed, with the Monster kids as its core. It had the interesting effect of setting up a second social scene. No one who has brought their laptop to a coffee shop to work will be a quality participant in the discursive, casual cafe scene, but that doesn’t mean one can’t create another equally vibrant scene built around our shared work. (Useful in particular as most of us are working in fundamentally alienating profession anyway)

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TDD and Blame Management

May 18th, 2005

One of the undiscussed (or at least I haven’t seen it discussed) benefits of test driven development is “blame management.”

“My changes didn’t cause any tests to fail” somehow slips past the filters that would reject, “Not my fault, not fixing it” as unprofessional, and so a certain Darwinian pressure is exerted to provide the best test suite for your most fragile code in the hopes of fending off sweeping, and devastating changes from other developers.

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