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Showing posts from August, 2016

Tools: Take Your Pick Part 4

Back in Part 1  I started this series of posts one Sunday morning with a very small thought on tooling. (Thinking is a tool.) I let my mind wander over the topic and found that I had opinions, knowledge, ideas, and connections that I hadn't made explicit before, or perhaps only in part. (Mind-wandering is a tool.) I wrote the stuff that I was thinking down. (Writing is a tool.) Actually, I typed the stuff that I was thinking up. 1 I have recently been teaching myself to touch type in a more traditional style to (a) stop the twinges I was feeling in my right hand from over-extension for some key combinations and (b) become a faster, more consistent, typist so that my thoughts are less mediated in their transmission to a file. (Typing is a tool.) I reviewed and organised my thoughts and notes. With each review, each categorisation, each classification, each arrangement, each period of reflection away from the piece of writing, I found more thoughts. (Reviewing and rationalis

Tools: Take Your Pick Part 3

In Part 1 of this series I observed my behaviour in identifying problems, choosing tools, and finding profitable ways to use them when cleaning my bathroom at home. The introspection broadened out in Part 2 to consider tool selection more generally. I speculated that, although we may see someone apparently thoughtlessly viewing every problem as a nail and hence treatable with the same hammer, that simple action can hide deeper conscious and unconscious thought processes. In Part 3 I find myself with these things in mind, reflecting on the tools I use in my day-to-day work. One class of problems that I apply tools to involves a route to the solution being understood and a desire to get there quickly. I think of these as essentially productivity or efficiency problems and one of the tools I deploy to resolve them is a programming or scripting language. Programming languages are are tools, for sure, but they are also tool factories . When I have some kind of task which is repe

Tools: Take Your Pick Part 2

In Part 1 , I described my Sunday morning Cleaning the Bathroom  problem and how I think about the tools I'm using, the way I use them, and why.  In particular I talked about using a credit card as a scraper for the grotty build up around the sides of the bath and sink. On the particular Sunday that kicked this chain of thoughts off, I noticed myself picking the card up and using a corner of it vertically, rather than its edge horizontally, to remove some guff that was collecting around the base of a tap. This is something I've been doing regularly for a while now but, before I got the scraper, it was a job I used an old toothbrush for. In Part 1 I recounted a number of conscious decisions around the way I keep the littlest room spic and span, but switching to use the card on the tap wasn't one I could recall making. Observing myself taking a tool I'd specifically obtained for one purpose and using it for another put me in mind of this old saw: When all you

Tools: Take Your Pick Part 1

It's early on a Sunday morning and I'm thinking about tools. Yes, that's right: Sunday morning; early; tools. Sunday morning is bathroom cleaning morning for me 1 and, alongside all the scrubbing, squirting, and sluicing I spend time evaluating the way I clean against the results I achieve. My goal is to do a good job (in terms of the cleanliness and appearance of cleanliness of the bathroom) balanced against expense, time and effort. I've got a set of tools to help with this task. Some are traditional and obvious, including sponge, J-cloth , glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner, toilet brush, Marigolds , ... Some are reasonably well known but not mainstream, including citric acid crystals, squeegee , old toothbrush, ... and some are more niche, including a credit card, flannel, and car windscreen coating, ... By tool  I mean something as basic as this, from Oxford Dictionaries :  A thing used to help perform a job And I'm being generous in my interpretat

Fail Over

In another happy accident , I ended up with a bunch of podcasts on failure to listen to in the same week. (Success!) Here's a few quotes I particularly enjoyed. In Failing Gracefully on the BBC World Service , David Mindell from MIT recalls the early days of NASA's Project Apollo : The engineers said "oh it's going to have two buttons. That's the whole interface. Take Me To The Moon , that's one button, and Take Me Home is the other button" [but] by the time they landed on the moon it was a very rich interactive system ... The ultimate goal of new technology should not be full automation. Rather, the ultimate goal should be complete cooperation with the human: trusted, transparent, collaboration ... we've learned that [full autonomy] is dangerous, it's failure-prone, it's brittle, it's not going to get us to where we need to go. And NASA has had some high-profile failures. In another episode in the same series of programmes, Fast

Understanding Testing Understanding

Andrew Morton tweeted at me the other day: Does being able to make a joke about something show that you understand it? Maybe a question for @qahiccupps — Andrew Morton (@TestingChef) August 9, 2016 I ran an on-the-spot thought experiment, trying to find a counterexample to the assertion "In order to make a joke about something you have to understand it." I thought of a few things that I don't pretend to understand, such as  special relativity , and tried to make a joke out of one of them. Which I did, and so I think I can safely say this: @TestingChef Wouldn't have thought so. For example ... Einstein's law of special relativity says you /can/ have a favourite child. — James Thomas (@qahiccupps) August 9, 2016 Now this isn't a side-splitting, snot shower-inducing, self-suffocating-with-laughter kind of a joke. But it is a joke and the humour comes from the resolution of the cognitive dissonance that it sets up: the idea that special relativi

Know What?

I regularly listen to the Rationally Speaking podcast hosted by Julia Galef. Last week she talked to James Evans about Meta Knowledge  and here's a couple of quotes I particularly enjoyed. When discussing machine learning approaches to discovering structure in data and how that can change what we learn and how we learn it. James suggested that  In some sense, these automated approaches to analysis also allow us to reveal our biases to ourselves and to some degree, overcome them.  Julia asked whether there wouldn't  still be biases built into the way that we set up the algorithms that are mining data. James responded that  When you have more data, you can have weaker models .  And on ambiguity's impacts on collaboration: I have a recent paper where we explore how ambiguity works across fields ... the more ambiguous the claims ... the more likely it is for people who build on your work to build and engage with others who are also building on your work ... Really i