Posts tagged with management

[F]or leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability. If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.

[Employees should be saying that] the manager treats me with respect, the manager gives me clear goals, the manager shares information, the manager treats the entire team fairly.

You can’t pay people enough to carefully debug boring boilerplate code. I’ve tried.
Yaron Minsky


Scepticism trades on [1] a focus on the worst case, and [2] a demand that any method of forming belief find the truth in all logically possible circumstances.

When action must be taken, scepticism is in league with obscurantism, with know-nothingism, and in opposition to forces that are more optimistic about the information that inquiry can provide to judgement.
Clark Grymour


risk, however measured, is not positively related to (rational) expected returns. It goes up a bit as you go from Treasuries, or overnight loans, to the slightly less safe BBB bonds, or 3 year maturities. But that’s it, that’s all you get for merely taking the psychic pain of risk.

Just as septic tank cleaners do not make more than average, or teachers of unruly students do not make more than average, merely investing in something highly volatile does not generate automatic compensation. Getting rich has never been merely an ability to withstand some obvious discomfort.

I don’t think so, for the following reasons:

  • Companies are still run imperfectly.
  • Costs are still not as efficiently optimised as possible.
  • Workers don’t produce output at the highest conceivable rate in their current occupation.
  • Plenty of potential engaged in low-productivity work, unemployed, or otherwise not producing (e.g., in school).
  • People do wrong, imperfect things all the time. So there’s room for improvement.

I realise this argument is incomplete. Just because there’s room to grow doesn’t mean we’ll get there. However I think this line of reasoning may prove productive even if my version of it doesn’t get quite there. So let’s press on.

Half a century after Solow, many economists and rest-of-us still think of economic growth as an exogenous “magical” process driven by abstract words such as “technology” or “skill” or “trade” or “innovation”—rather than as the macro sum of correct micro decisions taken by individuals at the company two towns over.

Solow growth model

Some of that surely is to blame on things like Y=C+I+G+NX. Everything “the government” spends is G—regardless of whether it’s spent on a really good idea, implemented well, or on a pie-in-the-sky promise of a half-price incinerator with huge cost overrun. This is like "economists’ K working to constrain our thinking". Or like the Mpemba effect where one first assumes temperature is one-dimensional (false) and then infers that “you have to go through here to get to there”.


I prefer to think about a time-varying graph


  • Most of the people (nodes) in the graph I do not trade with directly.
  • The stores I shop at are “popular” nodes. Everyone in my neighbourhood hops 1 to our grocery store. And the grocery store hops 1 or 2 to many many suppliers all over the country (and outside our country).
  • Salaried people have one very-very thick edge connecting to their sole employer.
  • And so on.

With this model it’s less tempting to use abstract words like “technology” without getting more specific. Clearly this new highway will reduce transit times for many of the transaction-edges. And therefore reduce costs broadly, ergo growth. But its effects are (a) localised to those who touch that edge (or an edge that touches that edge) (b) helping some more than others (even hurting a few on net) and [c] rather than being inevitable, come from the good work of individuals, who could have screwed it up. Now it’s tempting to, rather than wish for some magical entrepreneurs or inventors, look at ordinary decisions; not divide the world into “government vs private enterprise”; consider the individuals in particular places who are helped or hurt rather than an average … basically I find this much more grounded and less prone to theoretical histrionics.

Instead of focussing on growth as a 1-D number (Mpemba), trying to correlate it with size of government or regress it against “trust index” or “ethnofract index” or other abstract highfalutins, the GDP number can only be gotten by integrating all the micro elements—which is, I think, as it should be. Then instead of counting on the magical 2% number to stay around 2% year after year, it’s nicely surprising if the total value of transactions this year was again at its record historical high. And when people can squeeze even a higher total of value throughput through the year (out of what? out of natural resources? out of ingenuity? out of Saudi muppets?) you have to wonder where that growth came from—if it was from a sequence of very old “industrial revolutions” or from many companies doing things a little better this year than they did last year. (¬∀, but on net.)


Will smart machines make low-wage jobs redundant?

P Krugman asserts in his blog post about Robert Gordon’s paper

machines may soon be ready to perform many tasks that currently require large amounts of human labor. …[I]t’s all too easy to make the case that most Americans will be left behind, because smart machines will end up devaluing the contribution of workers, including highly skilled workers whose skills suddenly become redundant.

So: yes, armies of back-office pencil-pushers have been replaced in the IT revolution by computers. Thank goodness: what a boring, repetitive worklife. But besides record-keeping and verification and copying and automated checking of things, what is it that humans do that’s been replaced by machines? Travel agents? Brick-and-mortar stores with poor selection and high prices? A lot of things computers are good at, like spidering the web, is not something that we previously paid humans to do.

For example, a billion-dollar company created within the last decade, uses electronic computation, networks, and O(100) software engineers to usefully index job search results from disparate sources across the Web. Who lost that job? This is basically a billion-dollar free lunch vis-à-vis unemployment.

Another example that comes to mind is the auto-scan machines at the grocery store. These machines actually make a single clerk more productive. Not that her wages went up necessarily, but the efficiency of the economy did.

So why do peole think automation will replace low-wage jobs? If it’s based on evidence rather than me sitting on my couch and spitballing I’m willing to listen. But from my armchair I see people computing electronic tasks that no human used to do, Siri computing what the iPhone users said, Toyota and NewBalance augmenting humans with machines, machine learning/AI/statistical forecasting making digital things better but again not disemploying anyone.

Despite the appeal of using widespread unemployment as a basis for dystopian fiction, I don’t see anyone scrambling at the profit opportunity to make window-washing droids, janitorial droids, pizza-delivery droids, anything that requires operating in a broad ambiente. The machines seem to be great for repeating the same task in a well-defined scenario, same as factory robots at the Toyota since decades ago.

  1. This was the first time I felt I actually did anythingin life. All the writing papers in school or doing problem sets was like performing rites to the rain gods: going through some motions that are supposed to be important and very held up by society, but actually are not. And even similarly with jobs I had had within organisations, entering with a CV (another cultural rite or ritual with perhaps little objective significance), acting within such a large bureaucracy that I was sheltered from the “rubber meeting the road” at the bottom line, once again felt like more of a rain dance than “no tree no shade” where
    • if you don’t insulate your house it gets cold in the winter;
    • if you don’t cover up your bike it rusts in the rain;
    • if you don’t cook then ∄ dinner;
    • if you get tired of packing up your things moving from flat to flat and take a nap, then when you wake up the stuff still hasn’t moved itself.
  2. So that changed my perspective very much on “They should have this”. I heard a customer say one time “I’ve been saying they should have this for so long!” I kept my composure outwardly but inside I was venomous. Oh, really? You've been saying that “they” should “have” that? How amazing of you to conceive of the concept that somebody should do something! I’ve got a lot of f***ing news for you: the only reason this exists is because of ME. If I stop rowing this boat at any time it’s going to sink. The rant went on but now "They should have that" has become my little personal keyword for ignorant people who think that the built world comes to them through some exogenous force rather than from people taking action. The positive flip side to hating that kind of behaviour is that I felt less distance between me and anybody who makes anything happen. (Although in reality there’s a lot of distance between someone running a micro cap business and the CEO of a billion dollar chemical company. But at least the distance was no longer magical or incomprehensible.)
  3. I wish I had known more about the law (just the different ways to incorporate, basically) and about accounting (tax accounting; a little QuickBooks).
  4. Spreadsheets and economic theory were mostly not-useful. They were a little bit useful but not on direct things I had to do. Also I got a lot of stupid ideas from economic theory and things didn’t work out like I thought they would based on what I thought were reasonable assumptions. I’m sure the spreadsheet would be more useful for people who have to communicate more, and accounting more useful in an org where someone has to keep track of more things. No maths to speak of. (For the business, that is. I did some OCW courses in my free time.)
  5. It does not take a genius to understand that £200 is better than £100. And on the cost side I’m not sure any formulas can tell you whether the £80 discount product is better for you than the £100 regular product. I think I was distracted by various “higher learning” ideas and it probably would have been worse if I had more degrees.
  6. One of my enduring difficulties was how to figure out what to do based on various people who knew more than me, but were giving me conflicting information, told me. There’s no way I could have known or learned (certainly not fast enough) all the stuff I needed to know. So I would just ask other people. But I always got different answers and I felt like this must be a central problem/necessary skill of management in general. You’re never going to know, so how do you combine these differing reports given what you know about the bias and the incentives and the knowledge exposure of the various people who know more than you but mutually disagree.
  7. For me, my management style was basically an extension of my personality. Flaws and all. There was no “second layer” of here’s what I’m going to say to get you to do something, versus here is what I mean. It was just: “Look, if you do this, I’m going to be f***ed. So please don’t do that.” No fake getting angry either, I would fume at home and kick stuff when an employee was not around if they did something that screwed me over (i.e., cost me money or time). I did, though, always keep my second layer around customers or journalists or people who basically had no clue what was up.
  8. Politicians’ work consists of spending all their time with f***ing idiots (the other side) and having to compromise over to their stupid and detestable views. Or just going over their inane and stupid opinion and listen to their egotistical blather night after night. I had to work with branches of various municipal governments, including putting forward new legislation in some local councils. Some of the people were legit. And watching politics in person was instructive. (Again, “it’s just people”. That’s a meaningless phrase but I’ll go into it some other time.) But there were some atrocious people (both elected officials and bureaucrats) that I couldn’t stand to work with on a daily basis. I would fly across the room and choke someone. Or at least yell. Definitely not respectfully and politely trim the sails and subtly guide them into my way of thinking whilst letting them think they came up with it themselves. So now I disrespect the view that “all politicians are bad” or whatever. No, politicians have to work with intolerable borderline-evil nincompoops = the people who disagree with me.
  9. A lot of other small businesspeople helped me a lot. Like they would just do free things for me. Or would always be nice if I called to ask for advice. Or they would tell me personal details about their past or what they really thought about things—as if by putting in all the effort I was doing, I had joined a club where people who live in the land where if the money stops flowing then everything sinks (as opposed to the way salary people think), where everything needs to be perfect because it’s your baby, and all the other associated things—I had gotten onto a same level with people who were much older.
  10. Speaking to those other people’s businesses, by the way, I had a lot of fun learning how they did their do, but there’s no freaking way I could have run or even worked for them in their lines of operation. So when various self-styled Entrepreneurs on the Web (probably just trying to get pageviews or “think aloud” through their own stuff) start saying “it’s like this”, and “you have to do that” or “business is this or that” or whatever, I’m like, you’re either fake or I have no clue how you could be so arrogant. Maybe I’m more credulous if it’s Pleased But Not Satisfied, but if it’s some 20- or 30-something trying to say how the world works … yeah…emphatically: shut up. (NB: This doesn’t apply to people who talk about their own line of business. Just those trying to generalise with no right to.)
  11. People gave me way too much authority or respect. (Converse of thinking that those who work in minimum wage jobs must be stupid or irresponsible.) Sort of like my first time standing at the front of a class and all of a sudden I (same me as always) am the teacher. Some would ask me for advice or questions on matters I had no clue about. But just because I was labelled a “boss” or “entrepreneur” when in fact I can’t tell them whether their idea is a good one or not. Maybe it was reasonable in that certain things did start to sound really stupid to me and that may have been based on being closer to “reality” if they were floating in their bureaucratic job.
  12. I wouldn’t say I was particularly happy. I felt respected, I felt like a fountainhead, and I was busy. But if people asked “Are you happy?” I would honestly say I didn’t consider happiness as an objective. My objectives were to accomplish A, B, C.
  13. You don’t merely need to be offering something that other people want. You also need to be able to extract dinero from them. People who view capitalism as the only necessary beneficent social force forget this. If my business generates a larger consumer surplus than yours, nobody cares. Very profitable businesses do not necessarily generate more total surplus than sort of profitable businesses, because the very profitable businesses might just be better at keeping more of the trade surplus for themselves. Then there’s an incentive for someone running the high-consumer-surplus business to get out of it and spend their life doing something that will reward them more for their work. A soup kitchen for the homeless seems like it could be an example. An almost infinite consumer surplus to give food to someone who is starving but they don’t have any money to give you, so it’s a bad business.
  14. It was completely not mysterious where wealth comes from. Economists debate about supply side versus demand side and it seemed very ethereal before I did this business. Value is created at every one of my transactions when one of my consumers paid me and experienced the utility bump from doing so. All of the people who supplied me contributed but did not create wealth per se. In this sense the “sure thing” businesses that one would want to lend to / invest in (selling pickaxes to miners) are not the value creating ones because they do not take the frontline of risk of will consumers actually want this. And most of my customers did not have a latent desire for what I was selling, I just thrust it in their face and they said yes/no to the deal.
  15. Related to that: the paint people mix together something like 25 kinds of paint. They make my specific colour of paint. This is more valuable to me than the price I pay (that’s my “consumer surplus”). But how do I notate it on my balance sheet? To me it’s worth much more than £100 because it’s exactly what I need to touch up my stuff and I can keep everything perfect (convex returns to approaching perfection—that’s a theme; notice the stores that mark up a lot always have everything else impeccable). But its resale value is nil because who wants my paint colours? Kind of interesting mathematically and maybe that observation is important to understanding where value comes from and how it flows through the economy?

It was a very micro cap business I started with a credit card and £1000 borrowed from a friend. I had just a few recurring expenses and one big initial investment. Ended up with about 8 part-time employees by the peak. A lot of people think I shut it down because of problems with the government. But actually it was because I took an unrelated outside risk—investing time in an Internet startup—which didn’t pay off and took too much time away from my main business, so I had to shut it down.

My three motivations or main reasons I started it were:

  • It seemed better than doing an MBA. I thought I would probably hire someone who had actually managed a company rather than someone who blew $150k on some classes about how to manage a company.
  • I was and still am into development economics. This is essentially trying to solve the problems of the world’s poor. After realising that there is less need for economic theorists than just for people who Actually Do Stuff (ag scientists, road builders) and for Money, I decided my best way to fight poverty would be to create well-paying jobs—even if it’s just a few.
  • The “piano lessons” theory of doing stuff. When I took piano lessons I was taught to practise songs slow at first or slow and isolating just one hand at a time. Then as my skill increased I could increase the speed. More or less the same idea: start in an insulated market, doing a small market cap, copying almost exactly a business I had worked at before, very low costs, very modest goals, and just make sure I could accomplish the small thing before dreaming big.

So I did not make a lot of money doing this business, which by definition makes it not a great business. But I did support myself, I did accomplish my goals (to learn, to not lose money, and to employ at least some people at a notably higher wage than they could make elsewhere), and I did make my community a more vibrant place, during the time I was working at it.

During the period I was doing that I definitely felt “Anybody could do something like this. Not necessarily make a lot of money but add something new to their community. Sure, it’s a lot of butt busting work, but at least I’m giving an effort." Maybe what I missed in that "lecture" was that most people in fact do not want to work their butts off for not so much money. It’s in fact much more attractive to have a guarantee that no matter how bad things get you will still get this much money traded for also fixed hours. And maybe that is amplified in rationality because mainly the companies offering variable pay are usually some startup that will fail and therefore they offer "sweat equity" i.e. unquantified ownership of a worthless company. Or maybe I was actually just quite lucky to have experience working at a company that I guessed I might be able to replicate without a lot of up-front capital. That was an assumption I was aware was flawing my "lecture" even at the time.

The other reason it’s probably not smart to encourage others to “Just do something” is that planning, thinking things through beforehand, and developing expertise that can shut down competitors must have more value in a more difficult market or a higher market cap.

It’s not universally agreed that mathematics is the worst subject everyone has to study in school, but I would say the agreement is close to universal. Why is it so boring?

Aesthetically, I prefer non-miraculous explanations that don’t invoke unique, incomparable properties of the thing considered. So for example I wouldn’t like the explanation that $AAPL is a $10^8 company because of “the magic of Apple”. I would prefer an explanation that involves definite choices they made that others didn’t—like that the Walkman was quite old when the iPod came out and they correctly assessed what the average consumer wanted and spent the right amount on an ad budget, and so on.

Even if it’s about company culture, there are probably some mundane, tangible, doable actions or corporate structures that cause culture—Greg Wilson pointed out, for example, that code is less tangled when multiple programmers are less separated in the organisational chart.


So here’s a theory of that aesthetic kind, about why mathematics is different from other subjects and ends up being taught worse.

  • The model of one teacher with a chalk and a blackboard, is more insufficient to explain mathematics than it’s insufficient in other subjects.
Here are some differences between mathematics and other subjects—not incomparable differences like “Well mathematics has group theory" or "Mathematics is for logical minds"—but comparable differences.
  1. One doesn’t become conversant in mathematics—like knowing the basic grammar and syntax—until after 3 years of upper-level courses. Typically linear algebra, analysis, modern algebra, measure theory, and a couple applied topics are required before one could be said to “speak the language”—not to be like Salman Rushdie with English, but to be like an 8th grader with English. So whereas an English teacher who went to university was working on honing skills and developing to a level of excellence, a maths teacher who went to university was becoming functionally literate.
  2. Visuals are necessary to teach mathematics. An ideal lecture in geometry would have heaps of images, videos, and interactive virtual worlds. Virtual worlds and videos take a long, long, long time to create compared to for example a lecture in history. History can be told in a story, whereas talking about for example hyperbolic geometry is not really showing hyperbolic geometry. Sure, a history lecture is nicer with some photos of faces or paintings of historical scenes—but I can get the point just by listening to the story. See my notes on a lecture by Bill Thurston to see how ineffective words are at describing the geometries he’s talking about.

So it takes longer to program a virtual world or a video than it does to write a story, and it takes longer to become functionally literate in mathematics than it does to become functionally literate in history.

Suddenly we’re not telling a story about mathematics being a special subject area with unique problems that can never be overcome. We’re not talking about heroes or villains or “Mathematics just is boring”. (Which is a ridiculous thing to say. That’s saying the way things currently are, is the only way things could ever be. “Mathematics by some intrinsic, unique, incomparable property is more boring than, say, history.” In reality, either can be taught in a boring way and yet both topics have interested people for thousands of years.) Now we’re telling a story about a subject in which it takes a lot of resources to produce a talk, compared to a subject in which it takes fewer resources to produce a talk.

After talking to a number of PhD students, I’ve come to conclude two things. First, that many (especially in “genius disciplines” like maths or physics) are motivated by the goal of being the smartest human who ever lived—“the next Einstein”, or Feynman, or Grothendieck—not like the humans themselves, but rather like the symbols: revolutionary rarities who personally transformed some small corner of the world.

Second, I’m tentatively concluding that base hits are “actually the way forward”—that is, that home-run projects become magnum opi that never get finished because they’re not perfect, or the passionate ego-drive weakens, or the idea of expressing the ultimate moral worth of one’s psyche through academic paper-writing does not lead to successful ideas. Maybe the cure to cancer doesn’t come from a flash of insight but from a more mundane process of trying this, then that, then another thing. The dissertation that gets done comes from a concrete plan, consisting of steps, which lead to a sequence of words on a page.

The revolution, if it happens, is more likely to come from a sequence of papers which actually get written, than from an unhatched geniusling that doesn’t get written. And let’s face it: most of us aren’t geniuses, nor would we want to be, but we’re still interested in being productive.


In business one can think about base hits as well. My first business was a base hit. I didn’t sell for a jillion dollars, I just gave myself and some other people jobs for a number of years and didn’t fail. Which was my goal at the outset: not to be unprofitable. My plan was to copy an idea I had seen work somewhere else, make a few tweaks, and do it.

OK, so maybe it turned out to be more of a bunt and I should go for a double next time. But at least I wasn’t trying to dream up a revolutionary mobile app that will change the world, justifying paying $250k to various programmers as justified on a massively outsized conception of the “genius” of my “idea”, and ending up with something looking suspiciously like a mashup of Foursquare, Linkedin, OKCupid, and airplane reservations.

I definitely keep my left eye on acquisition prices as a way to gauge interesting spaces to enter—but I’m also thinking about what are the things I can accomplish, with the team I could reasonably assemble, the skills & knowledge I actually have, and the hours I’m actually going to want to work. What are the high-probability base hits I could string together to get from here to there?

(Just to give an example, I will not be founding the next Heroku. That got a nice bid, but the founders were engineers who knew a lot about hardware. That’s not me.)

Maybe Citadel wasn’t built from a “genius” signal using all the latest machine-learning hoopla, but from a smart (and obsessive) kid making trades he thought he could win on, and not making the other trades. And then building from there. Learning what’s a good opportunity, how long it takes to scope out a trade, how much research can reasonably be done in a month, and so on.

In short, maybe all of the “homeruns” I can think of, are actually just a sequence of small steps definitively forward.


In writing I find myself looking more and more for base hits as well. When I first started, I had very, very high hopes for how awesome the material would be. (I won’t admit how high.) But now after posting 250 short bits of mathematics, I’m much more focussed on

  • write everything down somewhere, perhaps for later;
  • publish 2-3 things a week;
  • try to make them not suck.

I still think that after some unspecified amount of time, I may be able to string together a more magnum-opusy kind of work—once the pieces (short blog posts) are mostly there on the cutting-room floor. But that’s much more like stringing together a series of base hits than genius-ing out the heartbreaking work I would like to imagine I’ll create.

But what’s my rush? I’m accumulating tumblr followers every day, I’m plugging away at the craft, I’m putting out material. Looking back over a year of following that formula, I’ve put out a surprising amount of text and have a surprising number of subscribers. It’s kind of like the short-term/long-term fallacy working in reverse (working in my favour). ∫short term adds up to more than I thought it would.

Maybe Elliott Smith or Conor Oberst didn’t succeed because they were inspired geniuses who one night invented one of the best songs ever. But instead, first they learned to play the guitar, then they wrote one song when it occurred to them, then they wrote another. That’s the way Phillip Glass describes his own journey in the biopic about him.


Elon Musk and Larry Summers take a contrary perspective. @elonmusk says “I don’t know why all these entrepreneurs are trying to solve small problems”. Larry Summers says “It’s just as hard for an economist to think about important problems as about unimportant problems. The intellectual effort is the same, it’s just the output that’s better.”

Well, maybe they know better than I do. I still suspect in the day to day it’s about “What is the paper I can write, rather than the paper I’d like to be able to write” or “What are the practical steps I can take today to get closer to my business goal?” rather than “What do I wish for?”.

I can’t prove I’m right, this is just where my thoughts are at the moment. I think there’s a cult around genius and a cult around business superstars. Both of which do harm by increasing people’s appetites for success—feeding ambition, feeding vanity, feeding swagger, feeding overexuberance, feeding bad investments—above what’s reasonably achievable in a succession of 3,500 days.

Why the scientists aren’t combining data from two experiments to get 5-sigma evidence (= “proof”) for the Higgs boson

The Higgs field was postulated nearly 50 years ago, the LHC was proposed about 30 years ago, the experiments have been in design and development for about 20 years, and we’ve been taking data for about 18 months. Rushing to get a result a few weeks early [would be dumb].

The reason we have two experiments at the LHC looking for the Higgs boson is because if one experiment makes a discovery then the other experiment can confirm or refute the discovery. This is why we have both D0 and CDF, both Belle and BaBar, both ATLAS and CMS, both UA2 and UA1

Why the scientists aren’t combining data from two experiments to get 5-sigma evidence (= “proof”) for the Higgs boson

The Higgs field was postulated nearly 50 years ago, the LHC was proposed about 30 years ago, the experiments have been in design and development for about 20 years, and we’ve been taking data for about 18 months. Rushing to get a result a few weeks early [would be dumb].

The reason we have two experiments at the LHC looking for the Higgs boson is because if one experiment makes a discovery then the other experiment can confirm or refute the discovery. This is why we have both D0 and CDF, both Belle and BaBar, both ATLAS and CMS, both UA2 and UA1


Why is it that the standard of proof in software development theory is “Some famous person said it’s cool and I can think of an analogy to a Malcolm Gladwell book so therefore i’m right”?

  • Standards of proof in medicine—scurvy, limeys
  • Control groups and test groups.
  • Yes, all studies are flawed.
  • My Comment: The difference between nitpicking and valid criticism of a study is this. Any study is going to miss some data points (patchy, piecemeal coverage of the space we’re interested in) and the measurements are going to be wrong ε. ε may even be piped through a function (automorphism) such that the whole study is ruined. (for example you measured the wrong people or you measured the wrong way or you introduced bias or you measured a special proper subset but wrongly generalised the special property to the general case)

    We know this going in. The challenge is to distinguish ε’s that are deadly to the conclusion from epsilon;’s that are inconvenient and imperfect but don’t phase-change the conclusion. (think bounded perturbation versus sign change)

    This is why it’s nice to be able to make arguments using order-of-magnitude or sign. If you observe multiple orders of magnitude difference in beta; between the control group and the test group, then as long as your sample wasn’t horrifically terrible, the conclusion that A>B is still going to hold up.
  • Rank speculation versus data.
  • Look at the data yourself. Do you see a connexion between vaccination and autism?
  • "It’s almost impossible to get a paper published in a top journal without having actually tried it in the real world."
  • "All the work that’s been done to date on [estimating software development time] is pretty much worthless. … The engineers are just going to tell us what they think we want to hear." (or their answer will be driven by anchoring effects)
  • Garbage in, garbage out. (He gives an example where some garbage estimates of how long a software project would take are used as the base data, before being thrown through a gleaming shimmering algorithm that makes them look meaningful.)
  • "If [developers are more accurate estimating how long a project will take on an hours-scale than a months-scale,] then that’s a powerful argument for using agile methods. I’ve heard many people make that argument, but we don’t have any data to back it up.
  • You’ve all heard “Great programmers are 28 times more productive than OK programmers. Or 40, 50, 100. I just pick a number that’s big enough to be impressive but not so large that you’re going to doubt me.”
  • My question: I would love to see a #BigData person scrape the web for all such claims.
  • "All of the claims you’re reading about the relative productivity of programmers can be traced back to: 12 people in 1968 [batch programming] for an afternoon, or 54 people [in the 1980’s] for an hour. How confident are you in those claims now?
  • "The best programmer I ever met — his only higher education was two years at a rabbinical college."
  • Claims he could take $150M in research money and make 5% of $1,000B. (A classic appeal to the “No number can be less than 1%” theorem. Textbook VC-pitch logic.)
  • Klaus _____; “Regardless of language” (scheme, assembly, java, python, …) “programmers produce the same number of lines-of-code per hour.”
  • Boehm 1975: “Most bugs are introduced in the design & analysis phase.”
  • "The sooner a bug is caught in the development process, the less it costs to fix" (he seems to indicate the cost growth is exponential with time)
  • "Adding a feature doubles production time. (Conversely, if the developers can say "no" to a few features, development time goes down convexly.)"
  • "If you have to rewrite more than 25% of the code, you’re better off starting from scratch."
  • Minute 33: “Hour for hour, the fastest way to fix code is to read it. Not to run it. Not to write unit tests. Sitting down and having someone else go through your code. 60%-90% of bugs can be removed before the code is even run.”
  • "But it turns out that most of the value comes from the first reader in the first hour of looking at the code." That’s a couple hundred lines.
  • Conway’s Law is true.
  • A big-data statistical analysis of how Windows Vista was built, trying to find regressors that predict the fault rate.
  1. Physical co-location of programmers did not matter.
  2. Distance in organisational chart does matter.
  • Stereotypical anti-religious view of scientific progress. (“The difference between science and religion is…”). Blah. Not very evidence-based in an evidence-based lecture.
  • "Ask a successful start-up what’s the reason for their success and they’re going to get it wrong." Up to academics to figure out what makes for success across various cases. (I agree; this is the point of management science. And he mentions the Harvard Business Review as a touchstone.)
  • Rob Pike: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen beautiful code.”
  • Typical self-perception of a rich programmer / white collar / professor. Whatev.
  • Some words about becoming an adult. Someday there will be no higher authority you can appeal to other than the people who were 18 when you were.
  • Making decisions when nobody knows the necessary information. (Seems out of place in a talk where he acts like his views are all backed-up by data. Whatever, though. I think we can all agree that being right is better than being wrong and that one should change one’s opinion whenever “objective evidence says you’re wrong” (whatever that means). And, obviously, as a leader you usually don’t get as much information as you would like—but you have to decide something anyway.)
  • The difference between the Bolsheviks and the Trotskyists is that whilst Bolsheiks believe the masses have to take to the streets to effect change, Trotskyists believe a handful of focussed people who get on the right committees can change the world. Examples: the teaching of evolution; abortion. Don’t write a blog (oops) or start a Facebook group to effect political change, go to the pressure point. Put on a suit, try to sound like an adult, and make your case calmly and rationally to the people in charge.

Hat tip to @gnycl.