#66

My attitude is like Edison’s, who found a solvent for rubber by putting bits of rubber in every solution he could think of, and beat all those scientists who were approaching the problem theoretically.
— Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

The Speed Dial - An abbreviated set of articles for the reader who has limited time.

Manual Work is a Bug
[queue.acm]

A.B.A: always be automating

 

Why your brain never runs out of problems to find
[theconversation]

Why do many problems in life seem to stubbornly stick around, no matter how hard people work to fix them? It turns out that a quirk in the way human brains process information means that when something becomes rare, we sometimes see it in more places than ever.

 

Saving Lives With Tech Amid Syria’s Endless Civil War
[wired]

The Bashar al-Assad regime’s indiscriminate air strikes have terrorized civilians for years. Now a small band of activist-entrepreneurs is building a sensor network that listens for warplanes and warns people when and where the bombs will fall.

 

The Dangers of Distracted Parenting
[theatlantic]

When it comes to children’s development, parents should worry less about kids’ screen time—and more about their own.

 

Management/Culture

The Peacock in Menlo Park: On Open Offices and Signaling Theory
[calnewport]

The goal of an open office in this context is not to make employees more efficient, or to spark more brilliant cross-discipline breakthroughs, but instead to signal to new hires and investors that your organization is innovative.

 

Too Much Team Harmony Can Kill Creativity
[hbr]

William Wrigley Jr., the American chewing gum tycoon, once noted that business is built by men who disagree, and that “When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” Indeed, not just in business but also in politics, sports, and the arts, there is no shortage of real-world examples of successful partnerships that were fueled as much by the alignment of ideas as by creative tension or discord.

 

Autonomy: The Right to be Wrong
[medium]

I recently picked up an older (1987, revised in 2013) management book called Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister; and man where have you been all my life! I haven’t finished reading it yet, but so far, I am highlighting whole pages at a time. It is getting ridiculous. A couple days ago, I came to one of the greatest passages I have ever read on management and autonomy. I couldn’t help but write a few words about it.

 

Strong Opinions weakly held
[saffo]

The point of forecasting is not to attempt illusory certainty, but to identify the full range of possible outcomes. Try as one might, when one looks into the future, there is no such thing as “complete” information, much less a “complete” forecast. As a consequence, I have found that the fastest way to an effective forecast is often through a sequence of lousy forecasts.

 

Development/Releases

Why Software Development Requires Servant Leaders
[adl]

Ever wonder why software people invent all kinds of alternative labels for “project” (e.g. “Scrum”, “Sprint”, “engagement”, “iteration”, “MVP”, etc) and “project manager” (“Scrum Master”, “Product Owner”, “Product Manager”, “engagement manager”, etc), and everyone else just uses the regular names? It’s not because we’re narcissists who need special labels. It’s because people keep running into difficulty trying to square the very definition of a project (something with “defined scope, schedule and resources”) with our real world experiences. In software it’s common to have something estimated at a day take a week instead. Sure, you can call your work a project; you can write down a scope and make a schedule, but it’ll probably be wrong.

 

Context Switching
[artsy.github]

Somehow, during this period I managed to end up in the top of "most active" GitHub members, I feel like a lot of this is due to doing Open Source by Default at Artsy and second to being good at context switching. I want to try and talk though some of my techniques for handling context switching, as well as a bit of philosophy around adopting and owning your tools.

 

Not all bugs are worth fixing and that's okay
[blog.bugsnag]

As a software developer, you want nothing more than to build and deliver great products and features to your customers. But you also know software development isn’t always easy since making changes is a guarantee that bugs will be introduced. After all, “If debugging is the process of removing software bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in,” as said by Edsger Dijkstra.

 

Better Docs
[tech.buzzfeed]

How We’re Building a Culture of Documentation

 

Technical

Enhancing the Quality of Uber’s Maps with Metrics Computation
[eng.uber]

At Uber, the quality of our map data and map services is invaluable to delivering a great user experience. To accomplish this, maps must reflect geographic reality as closely as possible. The geospatial data generated by each of the millions of trips taken daily makes this possible, helping us refine and update our maps to achieve the highest quality. In this article, we define our map regions and show how we compute map quality metrics.

 

Goodbye Microservices: From 100s of problem children to 1 superstar
[segment]

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably already know that microservices is the architecture du jour. Coming of age alongside this trend, Segment adopted this as a best practice early-on, which served us well in some cases, and, as you’ll soon learn, not so well in others.

 

News/Other

Botched CIA Communications System Helped Blow Cover of Chinese Agents
[foreignpolicy]

It was considered one of the CIA’s worst failures in decades: Over a two-year period starting in late 2010, Chinese authorities systematically dismantled the agency’s network of agents across the country, executing dozens of suspected U.S. spies. But since then, a question has loomed over the entire debacle. How were the Chinese able to roll up the network?

 

How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions
[thedailybeast]

Jerome Jacobson and his network of mobsters, psychics, strip-club owners, and drug traffickers won almost every prize for 12 years, until the FBI launched Operation ‘Final Answer.’

 

The Iraqi Spy Who Infiltrated ISIS
[nytimes]

With every jolt and turn, his pulse quickened. Hidden in the truck’s chassis was 1,100 pounds of military-grade explosives that the Islamic State planned to use in an audacious attack on New Year’s Eve shoppers in the Iraqi capital.

 

As Google Maps Renames Neighborhoods, Residents Fume
[nytimes]

For decades, the district south of downtown and alongside San Francisco Bay here was known as either Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market. This spring, it was suddenly rebranded on Google Maps to a name few had heard: the East Cut.

 

Where even Walmart won't go: how Dollar General took over rural America
[theguardian]

As the chain opens stores at the rate of three a day across the US, often in the heart of ‘food deserts’, some see Dollar General as an admission that a town is failing

 

The World Economic Forum warns that AI may destabilize the financial system
[technologyreview]

Increased use of machine learning and cloud services could make the financial world more vulnerable.

 

How people interpret probability through words
[flowingdata]

In the early 1990s, the CIA published internal survey results for how people within the organization interpreted probabilistic words such as “probable” and “little chance”.

 

The Scientists Who Starved to Death Surrounded By Food
[amusingplanet]

This collection, containing seeds from nearly 200,000 varieties of plants of which about a quarter was edible, constituted one of the world’s largest repositories of the genetic diversity of food crops. Among them were plenty of rice, wheat, corn, beans and potatoes, enough to sustain the botanists and see them through the worst days of the siege. But the scientists hadn’t barricaded themselves in the vault with food grains to save their lives, but rather to protect these seeds from the Nazis as well as from the starving people plundering through the streets in search for anything to eat.

 

Here's How America Uses Its Land
[bloomberg]

What can be harder to decipher is how Americans use their land to create wealth. The 48 contiguous states alone are a 1.9 billion-acre jigsaw puzzle of cities, farms, forests and pastures that Americans use to feed themselves, power their economy and extract value for business and pleasure.

 

Books/Podcasts/Videos

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence
[goodreads]

In an astonishing account ranging from Washington, D.C., to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea in the years since 9/11, acclaimed journalist and former diplomat Ronan Farrow illuminates one of the most consequential and poorly understood changes in American history. His firsthand experience in the State Department affords a personal look at some of the last standard-bearers of traditional statecraft, including Richard Holbrooke, who made peace in Bosnia and died while trying to do so in Afghanistan. Farrow’s narrative is richly informed by interviews with whistleblowers, policymakers, and a warlord, from Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton. Diplomacy, Farrow argues, has declined after decades of political cowardice, short-sightedness, and outright malice—but it may just offer America a way out of a world at war.

 

How Chase Sapphire Made Credit Cool for Millennials
[hbswk.hbs]

The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card was one of the hottest product launches in 2016, enthusiastically received by millennial consumers, a group that had previously eluded JPMorgan Chase and its competitors. Shelle Santana discusses how protagonists Pam Codispoti and Eileen Serra shifted their focus to retaining customers attracted by the one-time signup bonus of 100,000 reward points and on acquiring new customers now that the bonus had been reduced.

 

Testing The Sound Mirrors That Protected Britain
[youtube]

The Sound Mirrors, on Romney Marsh, were built in the late 1920s as a way to amplify the sound from aircraft engines over the English Channel. We're flying a bit closer than that, with a drone.

 

How New York City Got Its Skyline
[youtube]

The answer can be traced back to a monumental 1916 zoning law, which established “setback” requirements for buildings above a certain height. In the heart of the Financial District, the Equitable Building, a historic skyscraper that predates the law, remains a symbol of the excesses of the pre-zoning era.