Some good overall thoughts on testing from RJ Zaworski.

Testing verifies that the software in question does what it claims to do. It’s a powerful tool for eliminating defects, building confidence, encouraging good design, and likely all three, but the golden rule of software testing—the most fundamental reason to bother—is to secure the value the software creates.

Programs do useful things. Test suites make sure they continue to do them.

Tremendous perspective from Dahlia Lithwick on the effect of having Brett Kavanaugh appointed to the Supreme Court.

It’s been just over a year since I sat in the hearing room and watched the final act of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. I listened from the back as Christine Blasey Ford and then-Judge Kavanaugh each faced the Senate Judiciary Committee to tell irreconcilable versions of what happened in the summer of 1982. The morning was spent as I’d anticipated: all of us—the press corps, the country—listening, some clearly in agony, to Ford’s account. And then Kavanaugh came in and started screaming. The reporters at the tables around me took him in with blank shock, mindlessly typing the words he was yelling.

The enduring memory, a year later, is that my 15-year-old son texted—he was watching it in school—to ask if I was “perfectly safe” in the Senate chamber. He was afraid for the judge’s mental health and my physical health. I had to patiently explain that I was in no physical danger of any kind, that there were dozens of people in the room, and that I was at the very back, with the phalanx of reporters. My son’s visceral fears don’t really matter in one sense, beyond the fact that I was forced to explain to him that the man shouting about conspiracies and pledging revenge on his detractors would sit on the court for many decades; and in that one sense, none of us, as women, were ever going to be perfectly safe again.

This is how Dahlia opens her essay. Read the rest.

A very nice tweet thread by Christopher McQuarrie. It’s well worth reading the whole thread.

…After twenty five years in the craft, I’ve learned the secret to making movies is making movies - starting with little movies no one will ever see.

The secret to knowledge is doing and failing - often and painfully - and letting everyone see.

The secret to success is doing what you love, whether or not you’re being paid. The secret to a rewarding career in film (and many other fields) is focusing entirely on execution and not on result.

No ETAs →

Brent Simmons · inessential · ·

People often ask me about ETAs. When will the feature they’re waiting for ship? If you’re a software developer, they probably ask you too.

I totally get it! Though I write an app, I’m mostly a user of apps, and I too want to know when the features I’m waiting for will ship.

But here’s the thing: ETAs are very hard to estimate with any amount of accuracy. Even if you plan well.

And from his follow up:

…If your boss, project manager, or person you’re contracting with asks for an estimate, do your best to come up with something accurate. If you’re writing enterprise software, you may even be contractually bound to provide estimates for when features will ship.

There are ways to get pretty good at this. Pay attention to history and avoid wishful thinking. Don’t assume perfect productivity. Allow for the unexpected, because there’s always something.

A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.

…Then there are the sewers and the wastewater plants. Stormwater drains. Levees. And just regular old drinking water. Per capita federal funding for water infrastructure has fallen precipitously since the 1970s. Cities are forced to make impossible decisions between funding different services. And even when they do have the money they need, officials make bad or corrupt decisions. So, water systems in the United States have built up a $1 trillion technical debt, which must be paid over the next 25 years. The problem is particularly acute in the Great Lakes states. One investigation, by American Public Media, found that from 2007 to 2018 Chicago residents’ water bills tripled, and Cleveland residents’ doubled. In Detroit, a city with a median income of less than $27,000, the average family paid $1,151 for water. At these rates, poor residents are far more likely to have their water shut off, and the systems still aren’t keeping up with the maintenance they need. Runaway technical debt makes it nearly impossible to pay the “interest,” which is just keeping the system running, let alone to start paying down the principal or start new capital projects.

All told, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will cost $3.6 trillion to get Americans back to an acceptable level of technical debt in our [water and wastewater] infrastructure.

But, beneath the outward sense of hope and duty that I witnessed at these two events [last week], there was an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear that echoed across the sidelines. The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.

These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield…

It is easy to destroy an organization if you have no appreciation for what makes that organization great. We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate…

President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong. These are the virtues that have sustained this nation for the past 243 years. If we hope to continue to lead the world and inspire a new generation of young men and women to our cause, then we must embrace these values now more than ever.

And if this president doesn’t understand their importance, if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.

I find articles and conversations around ethical usage of machine learning and artificial intelligence fascinating. Here’s another one by Benedict Evans. Here are his outline bullets — the whole article is well worth the read.

  • We worry about face recognition just as we worried about databases - we worry what happens if they contain bad data and we worry what bad people might do with them
  • It’s easy to point at China, but there are large grey areas where we don’t yet have a clear consensus of what ‘bad’ would actually mean, and how far we worry because this is different rather than just because it’s just new and unfamiliar
  • Like much of machine learning, face recognition is quickly becoming a commodity tech that many people can and will use to build all sorts of things. ‘AI Ethics’ boards can go a certain way but can’t be a complete solution, and regulation (which will take many forms) will go further. But Chinese companies have their own ethics boards and are already exporting their products.

Benedict Evans, continuing to expound on Machine Learning:

One of the recurring conversations in Silicon Valley is to wonder what the next ’S Curve’ is - we had PCs, then the internet, and then smartphones, but smartphones are boring and well-understood now, so what’s the next rocket ship? We often talk about machine learning and crypto here. But, I’d suggest we should actually look at another time series - over the past few decades we moved through databases, ‘productivity’, client-server, open-source, SaaS and Cloud. In parallel with new client platforms, we had new waves of architecture or development model, and that’s really a better way to look at machine learning - ML is the new SQL (and maybe crypto is in part the new open source). And so if you want to know ‘what’s our AI strategy?’ or ‘how do we choose an AI vendor?’, the answer is, well, how did you choose a cloud vendor or a SaaS Vendor, and how did you identify opportunities for databases?

What do executives do, anyway? →

Avery Pennarun · apenwarr · ·

Avery Pennarun with his thoughts and book review on Andy Grove’s High Output Management:

An executive with 8,000 indirect reports and 2000 hours of work in a year can afford to spend, at most, 15 minutes per year per person in their reporting hierarchy… even if they work on nothing else. That job seems impossible. How can anyone make any important decision in a company that large? They will always be the least informed person in the room, no matter what the topic.

If you know me, you know I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time.

Luckily, someone sent me a link to a really great book, High Output Management, by Andy Grove (of Intel fame). Among many other things, it answers this key question! And insultingly, just to rub it in, it answered this question back in the 1980s.

To paraphrase the book, the job of an executive is: to define and enforce culture and values for their whole organization, and to ratify good decisions.

That’s all.

Not to decide. Not to break ties. Not to set strategy. Not to be the expert on every, or any topic. Just to sit in the room while the right people make good decisions in alignment with their values. And if they do, to endorse it. And if they don’t, to send them back to try again.

Thanks for the reminder Avery! I’ve added it to my list of books to pickup at the library.

Margaret Bourke-White was born in New York City in 1904, and grew up in rural New Jersey. She went on to study science and art at multiple universities in the United States from 1921 to 1927, then began a successful run as an industrial photographer, making notable images of factories and skyscrapers in the late 1920s. By 1929, she began working for magazine publishers, joining both Fortune and, later, LIFE. She spent years traveling the world, covering major events from World War II to the partition of India and Pakistan, the Korean War, and much more. Bourke-White held numerous “firsts” in her professional life—she was the first foreign photographer allowed to take pictures of Soviet industry, she was the first female staff photographer for LIFE magazine and made its first cover photo, and she was the first woman allowed to work in combat zones in World War II. Gathered here, a small collection of the thousands of remarkable images she made over a lifetime—Margaret Bourke-White passed away in 1971, at age 67, from Parkinson’s disease.

An incredible photographer.

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