NBA Playoffs

April 19, 2019 • #

This post is a bit late since the playoffs started last Sunday. This is the best time of year for sports where you’ve got the NBA in the postseason, MLB in full swing, Stanley Cup, PGA majors, and the final stretches of the Premier League and Champions League. So much to watch.

The NBA is especially dense for me, as a fan with no team allegiance. I try to watch as much as I can. But in these first couple rounds there are far too many games to catch all of. Must-watch series for me in round 1:

  • OKC / Blazers
  • Rockets / Jazz
  • Sixers / Nets
  • Bucks / Pistons

If it goes the way it looks like it will, there’ll be a 2018 Western Conference Final rematch in round 2.

Round 2 is shaping up to have some great matchups. As I type this I’m watching Portland and OKC in game three in Oklahoma. Competitive in the third quarter with Damian Lillard (possibly my favorite NBA player) heating up.

Petco Park

April 18, 2019 • #

We had the chance on Monday night to go to the Padres game with a small group. Whenever the home team of a baseball city is in town, it’s a must-do for me to try and catch a game and check out the scene and the stadium.

Petco Park

Petco Park is an amazing facility. We had seats halfway up on the third base side. The stadium is an entire entertainment complex with a ton of activities, shops, food options, and of course beer (a San Diego specialty). Right outside we did a pregame stop at the Stone Brewing tap room, as well.

The weather was fantastic, even though the game result wasn’t so much for the home team. The Rockies took the win, but we had a good time anyway.

Notre Dame

April 17, 2019 • #

The news of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris was devastating to follow along with as the blaze continued to spread throughout the day on Monday of this week. Many people from the office and on Twitter were reminiscing about their own visits there in the past, which got me looking back at old photos of mine.

The Flying Buttresses of Notre Dame

We visited Paris twice, once together on a tour in 2014 and again when Elyse was little in 2016. Both times we took walks down the Seine to Ile de la Cite. When the weather’s good in Parisian summer, the walk along the river and the site itself on the island are incredible.

The iconic towers on the front are enormous and ornate for an old structure, but my favorite pieces of architecture are the flying buttresses visible from the courtyard area, and the eroded gargoyles studding the sides.

Gargoyles & Spire

I’m fortunate to have seen it multiple times. It’s a truly amazing structure in a beautiful city. Disasters like this week’s fire are an eye-opener to how fragile many of our historic sites and artifacts are. A run-of-the-mill electrical fire can undo so much history. The silver lining is that the firefighters on the scene were able to save it from total destruction.

Elyse with the Towers

San Diego April 2019

April 15, 2019 • #

I’m here in San Diego for the week for the FOSS4G North America conference. Today there was a “B2B / Government” focus day, hosted at the Mission Bay Marina Conference Center, a gorgeous spot right on the waterfront.

We’re staying at the Hyatt in Mission Bay. I got in a nice run out to Mission Beach, which is easy to fit in with the weather and views available along the route.

Over the Bay Over the Bay

Mission Beach Mission Beach

Process Not Products

April 14, 2019 • #

In his new book Loonshots, author Safi Bahcall uses the concept of phase transitions to analyze how companies work. When a substance changes phase, like water going from solid to liquid, the same exact substance is forced to take on a new structural form when the surrounding environment changes.

As Bahcall points out in the book, companies exhibit a similar behavior in their inventions and strategy. He contrasts two different types of innovations that companies tend to be built to produce: “P” type innovations, where a company is great at producing new products, and “S” type innovations, where they can stay ahead of the pack by developing new business strategies for the same products. There are many examples presented in the book of both types of innovation done right — Juan Trippe and Pan Am, Steve Jobs, Edwin Land and Polaroid, Bob Crandall and American Airlines — each of them was (or has been) a pillar innovator with a specialty in P or S types.

Being great at a single type works great for a time, until the environment changes too much around you.

In the history of business, there are few examples of organizations able to straddle both phases simultaneously. Early on in the book there’s the example of Vannevar Bush, the engineer that led the historic Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. The OSRD was legendary for the systems and inventions developed during the war, many of which helped to tip the war in favor of the Allies. From the OSRD wiki page:

The research was widely varied, and included projects devoted to new and more accurate bombs, reliable detonators, work on the proximity fuze, guided missiles, radar and early-warning systems, lighter and more accurate hand weapons, more effective medical treatments, more versatile vehicles, and, most secret of all, the S-1 Section, which later became the Manhattan Project and developed the first atomic weapons.

What makes companies so focused on short term innovation, either in product or strategy? Humans (and organizations) are certainly known to be bad at having a long view of planning and decision making.

It’s a fascinating idea — that a successful, hard-to-kill organization becomes one by having a particular structure, one that can be water and ice at the same time. What Bush figured out 70 years ago was that the organization is what’s important. He focused on making organizations that could make great things, a focus on the process rather than its products:

This bit from a 1990 piece after his death sums it up:

He was an academic entrepreneur who co-founded Raytheon and was a vice president at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who consolidated the school’s reputation as having the nation’s finest engineering program. It’s not just that Bush was a brilliant engineer; it’s that Bush knew how to map, build and manage the relationships and organizations necessary to get things done. He knew how to craft the human networks that could build the technological networks.

Weekend Reading: Brains and Language, Hillshading in Blender, and Antifragility

April 13, 2019 • #

🧠 Your Brain Needs 1.5 MB of Storage to Master Your Native Language

“It may seem surprising but, in terms of digital media storage, our knowledge of language almost fits compactly on a floppy disk,” the authors wrote in the study. In this case, that would be a floppy disk that holds about 1.5 megabytes of information, or the equivalent of about a minute-long song as an Mp3 file. [3D Images: Exploring the Human Brain] The researchers estimate that in the best-case scenario, in a single day, an adult remembers 1,000 to 2,000 bits of their native language. In the worst-case scenario, we remember around 120 bits per day.

🗺 Yet Another Blender Hillshade Tutorial

My friend and co-worker Joe Larson has been doing some cool experiments with Blender for generating hillshades, jumping off of work from Andy Woodruff, Daniel Huffman, and Scott Reinhard. I’ve seen a few different hillshade / topo composites that look super cool.

📜 10 Principles to Live an Antifragile Life

Nassim Taleb’s concept of “antifragility is a fascinating philosophical framework; one which I’ve linked to and mentioned here before. This Farnam Street post summarizes 10 thinking concepts to help orient your own life and decision making toward antifragility:

In short, stop optimizing for today or tomorrow and start playing the long game. That means being less efficient in the short term but more effective in the long term. It’s easy to optimize for today, simply spend more money than you make or eat food that’s food designed in a lab to make you eat more and more. But if you play the long game you stop optimizing and start thinking ahead to the second order consequences of your decisions.

2,650' Rappel off El Capitan

April 12, 2019 • #

If you need your daily dose of palm sweating, check out this clip of a climber rappeling down nearly the entire height of El Capital in one motion. Free dangling by 1500’ of rope 50 feet from the wall is just terrifying. But man is that view of Yosemite Valley from that vantage point a thing of beauty.

FOSS4G North America 2019

April 11, 2019 • #

Next week Joe and I will be out in San Diego for FOSS4G-NA 2019. This’ll be my first one since I think 2012. There’s always an excellent turnout and strong base of good folks to catch up with. This year they’ve put together a B2B and Government Theme day to kick it off, which to my knowledge is a new thing for an event typically focused on the eponymous free, open source, and community-driven projects.

FOSS4G-NA 2019

I thumbed through the agenda to pick out some topics I’m interested in catching this year:

  • Open source for utilities and telecom
  • OpenStreetMap and WikiData
  • Open source in higher education
  • PDAL
  • OpenDroneMap
  • Digital twin” technology for infrastructure

The End of Friction

April 10, 2019 • #

One of my favorite topics on Ben Thompson’s Stratechery, and one that underpins much of his Aggregation Theory, is the role friction plays in economies and cultural forces. Most of the pros (and cons) of internet companies can be tied back to the fact that they took existing businesses or customer demands and removed the friction. Whether it was shipping goods to your door, streaming movies, or communicating with friends, the internet stripped the friction from these interactions for good, but with some downsides that are only recently being realized and understood.

In 2013 he published one of my favorite pieces of his on this subject. One of the reasons the internet stacks up next to the industrial revolution in terms of economic enablement was that it removed friction of many stripes:

With the loss of friction, there is necessarily the loss of everything built on friction, including value, privacy, and livelihoods. And that’s only three examples! The Internet is pulling out the foundations of nearly every institution and social more that our society is built upon.

Count me with those who believe the Internet is on par with the industrial revolution, the full impact of which stretched over centuries. And it wasn’t all good. Like today, the industrial revolution included a period of time that saw many lose their jobs and a massive surge in inequality. It also lifted millions of others out of sustenance farming. Then again, it also propagated slavery, particularly in North America. The industrial revolution led to new monetary systems, and it created robber barons. Modern democracies sprouted from the industrial revolution, and so did fascism and communism. The quality of life of millions and millions was unimaginably improved, and millions and millions died in two unimaginably terrible wars.

On the latest episode of Exponent, Ben and James dive in on this topic as it relates to the recent news of YouTube and its issues with toxic content on its platform, and their response (or lack thereof). We’re all well aware of the benefits of infinite information, reduction in cost, and increase in scale made possible by the internet (and YouTube, specifically), but this is a perfect example of the downsides when you remove friction.

Listen to the episode. It’s an excellent conversation that digs into the costs and benefits both of platforms like YouTube, and kicks around some ideas on how the negatives can be controlled.