My diet

People are starting to notice that I’m losing weight. I’ve been dieting since early February, so I guess that makes it approximately ten weeks. In that time I’ve lost almost 12 kilos.

If you want to know, in soundbite terms, how my diet works, here’s Dr Rudi:

Dr Rudi addressed his remarks to women, but through one of those freak coincidences of biology, the basic principle works for men too.

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Drift into Failure

April 9, 2012

Drift into Failure, by Sidney Dekker , is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in a while. “Thought provoking” is usually a shorthand used by buttered-up friends of the author to mean “I agree” or “he/she provided a … Continue reading

Venture Deals

March 24, 2012

It occurred to me recently that, while I plough through a lot of books on my Kindle, I’ve not made an attempt to keep any sort of notes. As Mortimer Adler points out in How to Read A Book, books … Continue reading

Does Leadership Matter?

Below is an essay I wrote for a software engineering course taught by Professor Terry Woodings. It’s already dated, in the sense that since I wrote it, Steve Jobs has died.
I’ve mentioned it a few times on forums such as Hacker News and garnered some interest, so for my own convenience I’ve taken the original and adapted it to HTML. I’ve removed some irrelevant footnotes and turned most of the references into hyperlinks.


There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…
Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene 3.1 [fn1]

From an ancient greek philosopher musing about the perfect Republic, to a Rennaissance diplomat giving advice to Princes, through to the Bard’s character studies, leadership has occupied a central place of honour in great literature throughout history.

Software, being a human endeavour, lends itself to discussions of leadership also. What was true of Julius Caesar might be true of Steve Jobs. What was true of Archimedes might be true of John Carmack. We mine our history for parallels to the present day; we draw from old heroes lessons of heroism.

But does leadership make any difference? Or can these outcomes be explained in other ways?

The central thrust of this essay will be to explore the hypothesis that plain luck is as important a factor in leadership as any other traditionally-listed quality. Mere chance can govern the leader’s environment, the leader’s team mates and the leader’s task. Mere chance can be the determinant of success.

Put another way, I will propose that the qualities we see as leadership are necessary but not sufficient elements of the achievements of famous leaders, both in general and the software industry particularly. That we are sometimes confounded by leaders who followed a ‘recipe’ and still failed will be seen as an example of survivorship bias.

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Posted in Life, Software Engineering, Studies | 2 Comments

Cooking and Coding

Sometimes, when we programmers sit down to explain programming, we resort to the hoary old cooking metaphor.

“Programming is like cooking”, we say. “We write recipes, and the computer carries them out”.

And sometimes methodologists apply it to our work too. “Our method is like a recipe”, goes the sales pitch to management. “Apply our method, fill out these 9 reports, these 4 strategies and those 27 checklists and voilà! The soufflé will rise.”

Well, maybe. But ask a chef about the secret of fine gastronomie, and they will tell that it’s the ingredients that count.

And if you ask any experienced PM or software engineering research about methodologies, they’ll tell you it’s the people that count.

The recipe is useful to prevent known, avoidable flavours. But no method can rescue a soufflé made with fish sauce and pine bark. You have to have the right ingredients first, or nothing good will come of the recipe.

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It is done.

Just submitted by dissertation.

Alchemist:dissertation jacques$ date; texcount -nosub dissertation.tex
Wed 26 Oct 2011 20:15:06 WST
File: dissertation.tex
Encoding: ascii
Words in text: 11775
Words in headers: 283
Words in float captions: 632
Number of headers: 75
Number of floats: 35
Number of math inlines: 14
Number of math displayed: 0

What’s left: one project, one presentation, one poster, one exam.

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Another milestone

My dissertation draft has been reviewed by a few other pairs of eyes. I’ve also spent a few days going over it myself. Apart from getting BibTeX to display a sensible bibliography, I reckon it’s about ready for submission.

Wed 19 Oct 2011 10:30:15 WST
File: dissertation.tex
Encoding: ascii
Words in text: 11414
Words in headers: 275
Words in float captions: 613
Number of headers: 73
Number of floats: 35
Number of math inlines: 14
Number of math displayed: 0

Now for two massive assignments, a presentation, a poster and an exam.

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An important milestone

My absolutely unedited, unreviewed, unchecked, unimproved, uncorrected, un-followed-up-on-TODOs-yet draft of my dissertation is done!

FILE: dissertation.tex
Words in text: 9634
Words in headers: 252
Words in float captions: 590
Number of headers: 66
Number of floats: 35
Number of math inlines: 9
Number of math displayed: 0

Now for weeks of tedious editing!

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If you rely on refereed material …

Then a lot of stuff that happened just 10-15 years ago didn’t happen at all.

Some of my research is done “Just In Time”. I think of something I want to refer to, then I hit up IEEE Xplore and the ACM Digital Library to find conference papers or journal articles about it. A surprising amount of the time, I come up empty-handed, leaving me to rely on web pages for my citations.

For example, at the moment I want to refer to the 90s dot-bomb duo Beenz and Flooz. These two sites each have writeups on Wikipedia, but as far as the IEEE and ACM literature is concerned, they’re ghosts. Flooz appears in neither; the ACM has 4 articles which mention Beenz only in passing, not usable as a citation for the mere existence of these two firms.

I am not sure what to make of this. What our field needs is some historians to dig this stuff out before it’s gone forever. The IEEE had a journal for this — Annals of the History of Computing, but irony of ironies, it stopped publishing in 1991. The ACM have some conference proceedings on particular slices of history — programming languages and early PCs, for example — but nothing in general.

It’s a shame, but also very annoying. Against my own better judgement I am facing the possibility of having to cite Wikipedia in an honours dissertation.

Posted in History, IT and Internet, Studies | Comments Off on If you rely on refereed material …


According to SLOCCount:

SLOC	Directory	SLOC-by-Language (Sorted)
500     classifier      ruby=500
200     tracker         ruby=200
101     sql             ruby=101
59      publisher       php=59
8       https_experiment ruby=8

Totals grouped by language (dominant language first):
ruby:           809 (93.20%)
php:             59 (6.80%)

Total Physical Source Lines of Code (SLOC)                = 868

Mind you, the SQL directory contains … SQL. Not ruby.

And it’s not quite done. I’ve got the core protocol code working and its attending unit tests; what’s needed now is some end-to-end integration tests. Plus a bit more code on the back-end.

Meanwhile, according to TeXCount:

$ texcount dissertation.tex
FILE: dissertation.tex
Words in text: 1725
Words in headers: 122
Words in float captions: 77
Number of headers: 27
Number of floats: 6
Number of math inlines: 0
Number of math displayed: 0

I can usually bash out a few hundred words per sitting. I’m confident about getting the bulk required — approx. 50 pages, no more than 15,000 words.

One thing that really slows me down is digging up citations. So many ideas I’m writing about are from dimly recalled Slashdot stories, blog posts and textbook skimmings of yesteryear. Sometimes it takes a while to dig down to the actual sources.

Another slowdown is diagrams — but I think it’s worth it to visually support the text.

It’s weird how so much time and effort boils down to so little code and so few words!

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