The BOAC Fallacy
May 13, 2013

An article about why virtual worlds died reminded me of a pet theory, by virtue of not mentioning it as one of the possibilities. I call it the BOAC Fallacy, which stands for "... but on a computer!"

Yes, complete with the ellipses and italics. There's a recurring pattern I've seen in technology prognostication best shown by example.

Read the rest...

I surrender.

Many years ago, I set myself a simple task. I would create a blog layout for myself, and it would have some sort of color in it. It would not simply be a white background.

After all, the best way to learn something is to force yourself to do it, right?

Unfortunately, I failed. The resulting design could be charitably described as "quirky" and accurately described as "ugly". What's more, the design you may have seen was the best of at least a dozen or so attempts! It turns out I can take a very sensible and aesthetic design from a standard template site, and in three small changes, utterly destroy it.

I think what finally tipped me into giving up was a recent experience at work. After implementing a serviceable-but-utilitarian interface for a particular project, my boss told me and a designer at work that it really needs to look a lot nicer, and I've got about 24 hours to do it. To be clear, this was acknowledged to be a bit of a short-notice request and it wasn't a "job on the line" request or anything, but still, it was important.

In 24 hours, all I could have done would be to iterate through the equivalent of perhaps 2 or 3 of the aforementioned dozen designs I tried on this blog.

In three hours flat, the designer completely reworked the interface into something that looked great. Perhaps not "amazing",but you looked at it and just got that good feeling, like, this is something put together by a professional. It got scattered oohs and ahhs from the ~75 people in attendance when it was unveiled, and there's certainly nothing I could have done to get that effect.

It's time to face up to the fact that I'm just not going to ever have that level of skill, nor anything approximating it. It's time to write off color design.

What remaining traces of color there are on this site are now just holdovers from the old design that happened to work in this context, so hey, they can come along. But welcome aboard, off-white background and plain text.

The Definition Disclaimer
Apr 28, 2012

Human words are a great deal fuzzier than the concepts they hope to cover. For instance, consider the word "love"; it means anything from stalker-level obsession to a moderate preferance ("I love pizza!"). In order to talk about anything precisely it is often necessary to specify what a given word refers to in some specific context.

Every writer has the right to choose what definitions they are using in a particular bit of text. If they say that they have chosen a particular definition of "love", that is not a point that can be usefully debated. Definitions are neither right nor wrong. They are only useful or not useful. What can be debated is statement the word is used to make.

In principle, one could have two people debating with each other, each choosing a very different definition of love. There is nothing wrong or illogical about this, except that it may be confusing.

This is my generic disclaimer I offer when choosing a definition:

On Leadership
Jul 03, 2011

When I was younger, I thought leadership was oversold, and what really mattered were the people on the team.

I have recanted this belief.

I still don't entirely understand why leadership is so important, but the experience I've collected over the years is pretty clear on the matter. My best guesses are that it is some combination of the following:

  1. It is true that the performance of a team is bounded on top by both the quality of the team and the quality of the leadership, but people tend to badly underestimate how much quality and talent there is in the world. The average person is above average in some significant way. I would agree world-class results require a world-class team, but for a given team, it's a rare time when the biggest problem the team has is a true lack of talent. I'm sure it happens, but I've never witnessed it in 15 years, whereas I've witnessed many teams failing to live up to their obvious potential because of bad leadership. So, in a sense it is true that neither leadership nor team talent is more important, but in practice, since team talent is generally a given the leadership will be the most important determining factor between failure and success.
  2. It is true the team is who provides the day-to-day progress on a problem, but it's generally the leadership making a lot of little decisions that add up over time; little words that affect morale, small key decisions that affect efficiency by a few percent, that little bit of vision-from-experience that avoids blowing a few days on a bad path, the careful selection of problems to personally take on. It adds up to a lot, and especially when the leadership is blowing these little calls consistently, no team is good enough to undo the damage... especially when the leadership actively prevents the repairs!

I do agree that it's important not to fetishize leadership and never to forget the team gets credit too, but over the years my estimation of the importance of true leadership has been going consistently up, not down.

A fixed up version of this post of mine.

Apr 29, 2011

It's time for gas stations to drop that nine tenths of a cent off their signs.

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