Woody Allen on hypochondria

Differentiating himself from a common hypochondriac, Woody Allen writes:

What I am is an alarmist, which is in the same ballpark as the hypochondriac or, should I say, the same emergency room. Still there is a fundamental difference. I don’t experience imaginary maladies — my maladies are real.

You can’t help but hear his voice in your head as your read the essay. It’s old schtick but it’s classic schtick. Good to see him writing something besides screenplays these days. More, please.

Via Mark Evanier.

A record hang gliding ride on the Texas wind

A neat mixed media presentation by The New York Times to clearly explain what Jonny Durand and Dustin Martin did and how they did it. 1 Of course, that was 475 miles and they still didn’t make it out of Texas.

Made me wonder how long it’s been since I took my first flight — a powered one — in the aborted pursuit of a private pilot license. Had to consult my log book. Turns out it was six years ago — yesterday. D’oh! Didn’t even celebrate.

What I should really do is haul my ass back to the airport and into that little Citabria again to finish getting my ticket.

Notes:

  1. Another reason print is dead. Or dying. You know what I mean.

Suicide reporting on the Internet

Charlie Lloyd on the response to the news of Aaron Swartz’s suicide:

You can tell people who’ve been near suicide before from those who haven’t. The ones for whom this is new are fitting it to a narrative. It’s the compassionate genius who was a little too good, or the activist hounded down by the government, or why would such a promising and beloved young person do something like this, or gosh there seems to be a link between creativity and mental illness, or some other well-meaning script.

Those of us for whom this brings back memories are, I think, a little less eager to see it as something that can be usefully explained, at least not by us.

There’s a collective sadness and anger on the Internet today. I have no idea if Aaron’s treatment by our government here in the United States provoked his action. Others can sort that out.

I did not know the man, but I did know his work — not just the breadth and depth of technologies he created and influenced, but his writing and activism.

Until I read Charlie’s article, I didn’t understand my own melancholy today. Years ago, one of my co-workers and friends took his own life. At that time, I wanted to punish myself for not seeing that act coming, and then for not understanding it after the fact. The thing is, neither reaction helps. Our responsibility is to help make sure it never happens to anyone else again.

Via too many folks on Twitter and App.net for me to remember where I saw this first.

Older dogs and newer tricks

Gary Marcus on the widespread view called the “critical-period effect”:

The critical-period effect is the idea that you can’t do certain things — like learn a language, or learn an instrument — unless you start early in life. It’s a discouraging thought for anyone past adolescence. But, recently, the evidence for this idea had started to unwind.

He goes to detail some of the new evidence against that idea and his own adventures in learning guitar at the age of forty.

I’ve always believed — not just hoped — that you can continue learning new things when you’re an adult. Not just information and facts, but real skills — behaviors that are normally envied as talents.

I know this is true because I’ve been doing it my whole adult life. And I plan on learning new things until I run out of air to breathe. I’m not saying it’s easy when you’re my age. But don’t tell me it’s impossible.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Job applicants’ cultural fit can trump qualifications

I saw this earlier today on The Loop and had a brief exchange about it with Jim Dalrymple on App.net. I’ll indulge myself expanding on that here.

I’m no lawyer, but screening for cultural fit is a legal slippery slope. If you’re a hiring manager, be very, very careful about which questions you pose to a candidate. For example, you shouldn’t ask someone if they’re married. Or if they have kids. If that candidate doesn’t get the job, someone might claim they were a victim of discrimination. You should already know this.

Now, neither of those questions are examples in the linked article, but this is: “Where do you vacation in the summer?” And that’s a bit borderline to me. That could be interpreted wrong later. So, be subtle.

More importantly, screening for cultural fit is a tricky goal since your organization could wind up with a monoculture. Making sure your new employees embrace your company culture, e.g. innovation, is a good thing. Making sure all those employees are similar culturally can play havoc with diversity and limit perspectives. And that’s bad.

New year, new dish, new media

Andrew Sullivan on taking his website rogue supported by subscription only, without advertising:

No bigger media companies will be subsidizing us; no venture capital will be sought to cushion our transition (unless my savings count as venture capital); and, most critically, no advertising will be getting in the way.

Many other sites offer subscriptions these days but very few eschew advertising. Props to Andrew and his team for trying it. I hope they succeed. And if they don’t, I suspect many of those big media companies will be willing to hire them.

As a reformed conservative, I’ve always found his blog engaging — even when it’s not focused on politics. Of course, with so many posts per day, subscribing to the RSS feed there is rather like drinking from a firehose.

Some thoughts on organizational complexity

Dalton Caldwell on digesting complexity:

Whenever I deal with what feels like an overwhelming problem, or get spun out trying to make sense of the myriad potential things I could be doing better, or hear about a company having a tough time because of things like a founder falling out, lack of focus, employee infighting, bad hires, can’t hire fast enough, hired too fast, etc, I can’t help but think of this quote:

More companies die of indigestion than from starvation

David Packard

Years ago, when I first heard this quote, I dismissed it a useless platitude. However, the older I get, the more I have come to appreciate the wisdom contained within that short and simple statement.

It’s worth your time to read the whole essay.

Earlier in the piece, Dalton discusses large companies and uses Apple as an example. Clearly, he understands some of the tradeoffs we had there.

I would also mention that at Apple, we defied business orthodoxy by being a functional rather than divisional organization. Meaning we were organized by product focus like a much smaller company, rather than in discrete business units like some the size of IBM or General Motors. It certainly staved off the complexity of duplication that continues to plague other companies.

Dangling by a trivial feature

James Hague lamenting his dismissal of a whole piece of software, and the labor-intensive work that goes into producing it, for lack of a single, minor feature:

Yet here I am dismissing it in a casual, offhand way because of how the coordinates of the selection rectangle are displayed. … but it makes no difference, because I’ve moved on.

Hague is more thoughtful and considerate than most users. I’ll give him that.

When you make software for a living, you get used to this. No, it’s not pleasant. Eventually you realize that you can’t always anticipate what people want. That’s why you listen to feedback, iterate and give them another release.

But you never try to make your software be all things to all people.

I saw this on Hague’s blog before I noticed it made the front page of Hacker News. 1 Looking at the comment thread there, it’s clear some folks don’t get this aspect of it — you can’t solve the problem of which behaviors to include in your software just by making that software more configurable.

We used to tell this painfully self-deprecating joke while I was at Netscape:

Question: How many preferences does Navigator have?

Answer: All of them.

If you ever used Netscape Navigator, you know what I mean. Even its preferences had preferences. And we still couldn’t make enough people happy.

Software design is about making choices on behalf of your users. Constraints on how your software behaves will focus people on understanding how to use it.

If you make the right choices you’ll wind up pleasing enough people anyway. How do you know which are the right choices?

When you can’t decide which behavior a feature should include, consider if the possible behaviors were available as an option. Decide which behavior would be the default for that option. Implement that default behavior. Now you’re done.

Notes:

  1. And the front page of Hacker News is where most of Hague’s posts wind up. If you’re a programmer, you really should be subscribing to his RSS feed. I’d recommend it even if you don’t write code. Whether you agree with him or not, his site is always an interesting read.

Sometimes too much is just too much

Jim Dalrymple on his love/hate relationship with WordPress:

I run The Loop on WordPress. It’s a great platform with a ton of features. But that’s part of the problem — there’s so much that I don’t need and never use that it just feels like a waste.

And:

Much like software that becomes bloated over time, blogging platforms are becoming very bloated with new fancy features. In my opinion, that’s driving many of the power bloggers away.

Jim really nails it.

I think WordPress is powerful. It’s very well supported and maintained too. As I mention here, I prototyped this entire site with it, investing a significant amount of time writing a theme and plugins.

But I didn’t deploy WordPress here because I realized all the hacks in my theme and most of those plugins I wrote were to work around features in the platform I would never use.

That’s why I wrote Magneto. I just wanted something simple that wouldn’t get in my way. Now I’m within the comfort zone of my favorite editor and within reach of my powerful command line. And all the features available are what I’ve created. It’s sparse and limited, but it’s also distraction free.

Here it is: think very carefully about your tools before you apply them to your passion.

Via The Loop.