Show cover of Oddly Influenced

Oddly Influenced

A podcast about how people have applied ideas from outside software to software.


E45: The offloaded brain, part 5: I propose a software design style
In this episode, I ask the question: what would a software design style inspired by ecological and embodied cognition be like? I sketch some tentative ideas. I plan to explore this further at, a blog that will document an app I'm beginning to write. In my implementation, I plan to use Erlang-style "processes" (actors) as the core building block. Many software design heuristics are (implicitly) intended to avoid turning the app into a Big Ball of Mud. Evolution is not "interested" in the future, but rather in how to add new behaviors while minimizing their metabolic cost. That's similar to, but not the same as, "Big O" efficiency, perhaps because the constant factors dominate.The question I'd like to explore is: what would be a design style that accommodates both my need to have a feeling of intellectual control and looks toward biological plausibility to make design, refactoring, and structuring decisions?SourcesAndy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997Ray Naylor, The Mountain in the Sea, 2022Erlang processes (explained using Elixir syntax)MentionedBrian Foote and Joseph Yoder, "Big Ball of Mud", 1999TetrisIllinoisNew HampshirePrior workWhat I'm wanting to do is something like what the more extreme of the Extreme Programmers did. I'm thinking of Keith Braithwaite’s “test-driven design as if you meant it” (also, also, also) or Corey Haines’s “Global Day of Code Retreat” exercises (also). I mentioned those in early versions of this episode's script. They got cut, but I feel bad that I didn't acknowledge prior work. CreditsThe image is an Ophanim. These entities (note the eyes) were seen by the prophet Ezekiel. They are popularly considered to be angels or something like them, and they're why the phrase "wheels within wheels" is popular. I used the phrase when describing neural activation patterns that are nested within other patterns. The image was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons and was created by user RootOfAllLight, CC BY-SA 4.0.
38:06 12/31/23
E44: The offloaded brain, part 4: an interview with David Chapman
In the '80s, David Chapman and Phil Agre were doing work within AI that was very compatible with the ecological and embodied cognition approach I've been describing. They produced a program, Pengi, that played a video game well enough (given the technology of the time) even though it had nothing like an internal representation of the game board and barely any persistent state at all. In this interview, David describes the source of their crazy ideas and how Pengi worked.Pengi is more radically minimalist than what I've been thinking of as ecologically-inspired software design, so it makes a good introduction to the next episode. SourcesPhilip E. Agre, Computation and Human Experience, 1997, contains a description of Pengi, but is much more about the motivation behind it and also a discussion of "critical technical practice" that I think is nicely compatible with Schön's "reflective practice". I intend to cover both eventually. Philip E. Agre and David Chapman, "Pengi: An implementation of a theory of activity", 1987Chapman (including greatest hits)I found his ideas about Vajrayana Buddhism intriguingOtherA recording of a Pengo gameThe foundational text of ethnomethodology is notoriously (and, some – waves – think, gratuitously) opaque. I found Heritage's Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology far more readable. I've enjoyed the Em does Ca (conversational analysis) Youtube series. The episode on turn-construction units hits me where I live. She talks about how people know when, in a conversation, they're allowed to talk. I'm mildly bad at that in person. I'm somewhat worse when talking to a single person over video. I'm horrible at it when on a multiple-person conference call, with or without postage-stamp-sized video images of faces. CreditsThe Pengo image is by Arcade Addiction. Retrieved from Wikipedia. Fair use.
43:55 12/4/23
E43: The offloaded brain, part 3: dynamical systems
Scientists studying ecological and embodied cognition try to use algorithms as little as they can. Instead, they favor dynamical systems, typically represented as a set of equations that share variables in a way that is somewhat looplike: component A changes, which changes component B, which changes component A, and so on. Peculiarities of behavior can be explained as such systems reaching stable states. This episode describes two sets of equations that predict surprising properties of what seems to be intelligent behavior.Source:Anthony Chemero, Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, 2011Either mentioned or came this close to being mentionedJames Clerk Maxwell, "On Governors", 1868 (PDF)Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Embodied Cognition", 2020Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Computational Theory of Mind", 2021Wikipedia, "Dynamical Systems Theory"Nick Bostrom, "Letter from Utopia", 2008/20CreditsThe image is from Maxwell's "On Governors", showing the sort of equations "EEs" work with instead of code.
25:42 11/7/23
E42: The offloaded brain, part 2: applications
Suppose you believed that the ecological/embodied cognitive scientists of last episode had a better grasp on cognition than does our habitual position that the brain is a computer, passively perceiving the environment, then directing the body to perform steps in calculated plans. If so, technical practices like test-driven design, refactoring in response to "code smells," and the early-this-century fad for physical 3x5 cards might make more sense. I explain how. I also sketch how people might use such ideas when designing their workplace and workflow. Books I drew uponAndy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997Alva Noë, Action in Perception, 2005Also mentionedGary Klein, Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, 1998I mentioned a session of the Simple Design and Test conference.The sociology book I contributed to: The Mangle in Practice: Science, Society, and Becoming, 2009, edited by Andrew Pickering and Keith Guzik. My chapter, "A Manglish Way of Working: Agile Software Development", is inexplicably available without a paywall.The MIT AI Lab Jargon FileI believe the original publication about CRC cards is Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham, "A laboratory for teaching object oriented thinking", 1989. I also believe the first book-type description was in Rebecca Wirfs-Brock et. al., Designing Object-Oriented Software, 1990. The idea of "flow" was first popularized in Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's 1990 Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The idea of the hedgehog and the fox was popularized by Isaiah Berlin in his 1953 book The Hedgehog and the Fox (a wikipedia link).The original developer of the Pomodoro technique describes it here. There was a book about it, but Goodreads has been sufficiently enshittified that I can't find it. Perhaps you might be interested in Reduce PTSD and Depression Symptoms in 21 Days Using the Pomodoro Method instead? Because Goodreads prefers that.The Boy Who Cried World (wikipedia)CreditsI was helped by Steve Doubleday, Ron Jeffries, and Ted M. Young. I took the picture of Dawn in the tango close embrace.
34:10 10/27/23
E41: The offloaded brain, part 1: behavior
Embodied or Ecological Cognition is an offshoot of cognitive science that rejects or minimizes one of its axioms: that the computer is a good analogy for the brain. That is, that the brain receives inputs from the senses; computes with that input as well as with goals,  plans, and stored representations of the world; issues instructions to the body; and GOTO PERCEPTION. The offshoot gives a larger causal role to the environment and the body, and a lesser role to the brain. Why store instructions in the brain if the arrangement of body-in-environment can be used to make it automatic?This episode contains explanations of fairly unintelligent behavior. Using them, I fancifully extract five design rules that a designer-of-animals might have used. In the next episode, I'll apply those rules to workplace and process design. In the final episode, I'll address what the offshoot has to say about more intelligent behavior.SourcesLouise Barrett, Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds, 2011Anthony Chemero, Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, 2011Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997Mentioned or relevantPassive Walking Robot Propelled By Its Own Weight (Youtube video)Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, 1984Guy Steele, "How to Think About Parallel Programming – Not!", Strange Loop 2010. The first 26 minutes describe programs he wrote in the early 1970s. Ed Nather, "The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer", 1983. (I incorrectly called this "the story of Ed" in the episode.)Ed Yong, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, 2022Andrew D. Wilson, "Prospective Control I: The Outfielder Problem" (blog post), 2011CreditsThe picture of a diving gannet is from the Busy Brains at Sea blog, and is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deed.
31:52 10/12/23
EXCERPT: Concepts without categories
This excerpt from episode 40 contains material independent of that episode's topic (collaborative circles) that might be of interest to people who don't care about collaborative circles. It mostly discusses a claim, due to Andy Clark, that words are not labels for concepts. Rather, words come first and concepts accrete around them. As a resolute, concepts are messy. Which is fine, because they don't need to be tidy.SourcesLouise Barrett, Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds, 2011Anthony Chemero, Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, 2011MentionedEmily Dickinson, "A narrow Fellow in the Grass", 1891 (I think version 2 is the original. Dickinson's punctuation was idiosyncratic, but early editions of her poetry conventionalized it.)Talking Heads, "Psycho Killer", 1977Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997. (This is the source for much of the argument, but I'm relaying it second hand, from Barrett.)CreditsThe image titled "Girl seated in middle of room with books; smaller child standing on stool and wearing dunce cap" is via the US Library of Congress and has no restrictions on publication. It is half of a stereograph card, dating to 1908. 
15:38 9/29/23
EXCERPT: Christopher Alexander’s forces
Software design patterns were derived from the work of architect Christopher Alexander, specifically his book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. This excerpt (from episode 39) addresses a problem: most software people don't know one of Alexander's most important ideas, that of "forces". SourcesChristopher Alexander et al, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, 1977.Mentioned (or that I wish I'd found a way to mention)Gamma et al, Design Patterns, 2004Eric Evans, Domain-Driven Design, 2003. I also like Joshua Kerievsky's pattern-language-like description of study groups, "Pools of Insight".Brian Marick, "Patterns failed. Why? Should we care?", 2017 (video and transcript)"Arches and Chains" (video) is a nice description of how arches work.Ryan Singer, "Designing with forces: How to apply Christopher Alexander in everyday work", 2010 (video)CreditsBy Anneli Salo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia Commons
14:29 9/27/23
E40: Roles in collaborative circles, part 2: creative roles
The last in the series on collaborative circles. The creative roles in a collaborative circle, discussed with reference to both Christopher Alexander's forces and ideas from ecological and embodied cognition. Special emphasis on collaborative pairs.SourcesMichael P. Farrell, Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work, 2001Louise Barrett, Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds, 2011Anthony Chemero, Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, 2011MentionedEmily Dickinson, "A narrow Fellow in the Grass", 1891 (I think version 2 is the original. Dickinson's punctuation was idiosyncratic, but early editions of her poetry conventionalized it.)Talking Heads, "Psycho Killer", 1977Paul Karl Feyerabend, Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend, 1995Michael J. Reddy, "The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language", in A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought, 1979 (wikipedia article)Ken Thompson, "Reflections on Trusting Trust" (Turing Award lecture), 1984CreditsThe picture of the umbrella or rotary clothesline is due to Pinterest user MJ Po. Don't tell Dawn it's the episode image.
45:14 9/25/23
E39: Roles in collaborative circles, part 1
Farrell describes a number of distinct roles important to the development of a collaborative circle. This episode is devoted to the roles important in the early stages, when the circle is primarily about finding out what it is they actually dislike about the status quo. In order to make the episode more "actionable", I describe the roles using Christopher Alexander's style of concentrating on opposing "forces" that need to be balanced, resolved, or accommodated. SourcesMichael P. Farrell, Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work, 2001.Christopher Alexander et al, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, 1977.Mentioned (or that I wish I'd found a way to mention)Gamma et al, Design Patterns, 2004Eric Evans, Domain-Driven Design, 2003. I also like Joshua Kerievsky's pattern-language-like description of study groups, "Pools of Insight".Brian Marick, "Patterns failed. Why? Should we care?", 2017 (video and transcript)"Arches and Chains" (video) is a nice description of how arches work.Ryan Singer, "Designing with forces: How to apply Christopher Alexander in everyday work", 2010 (video)"Rational Unified Process" (wikipedia)James Bach, “Enough About Process, What We Need Are Heroes”, IEEE Software, March 1995.Firesign Theatre, "I think we're all bozos on this bus", 1971. (wikipedia)"Bloomers" (wikipedia article about a style of dress associated with first-wave feminists).CreditsThe picture is of Dawn and me sitting on our "Stair Seat", where we observe the activity on our lawn, sidewalk, and street. Which mainly consists of birds, squirrels, and people walking dogs. But it still fits Christopher Alexander's pattern of that name.
32:19 9/14/23
E38: The trajectory of a collaborative circle
Collaborative circles don't have a smooth trajectory toward creative breakthrough. I describe the more common trajectory. I also do a little speculation on how a circle's "shared vision" consists of goals, habits, and "anti-trigger words." I also suggest that common notions of trust or psychological safety may not be fine-grained enough to understand circle-style creative breakthroughs.I continue to work from Michael P. Farrell, Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work, 2001.Mentioned"Bright and dull cows"Sam Kaner, Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, 1996Brian Marick, "Seven Years Later: What the Agile Manifesto Left Out", 2008Image creditsThe image is of a route map for a particular cave complex in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, USA. There is not a nice linear path from the starting point to (any) destination. This is also true of creative work, like collaborative circles. The image is in the public domain.
27:52 8/24/23
E37: Resilience engineering with Lorin Hochstein
An interview with Lorin Hochstein, resilience engineer and author. Our discussion was about how to handle a complex system that falls down hard and – especially – how to then prepare for the next incident. The discussion is anchored by David D. Woods' 2018 paper, “The Theory of Graceful Extensibility: Basic Rules that Govern Adaptive Systems”, which (in keeping with the theme of the podcast) focuses on a general topic, drawing more from emergency medicine than from software.Lorin HochsteinResilience engineering: Where do I start?WebsitePublicationsBlogTalksMentionedBrendan Green, "The Utilization, Saturation, and Errors (USE) method", 2012?How Knight Capital lost $500 million very quickly. Link and link.Lucy Tu for Scientific American, "Why Maternal Mortality Rates Are Getting Worse across the U.S.", 2023David Turner, A Passion for Tango: A thoughtful, Provocative and Useful Guide to that Universal Body Language, Argentine Tango, 2004 Fixation over fomites as the transmission mechanism for COVID: Why Did It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid?, Zeynep Tufekci (may be paywalled)The safety podcast about a shipping company flying a spare empty airplane: PAPod 227 – What-A-Burger, Fedex, and Capacity, Todd Conklin, podcastCorrectionOn pushing, pulling, and balance, A Passion for Tango says on pp. 34-5: "The leader begins the couple's movement by transmitting to his follower his intention to move with his upper body; he begins to shift his axis. The follower, sensing the intention, first moves her free leg and keeps the presence of her upper body still with the leader. [...] The good leader gives a clear, unambiguous and thoughtfully-timed indication of what he wants the follower to do. The good follower listens to the music and chooses the time to move. The leader, having given the suggestion, waits for the follower to initiate her movement and then follows her." He further says (p. 34), "As a leader acting as a follower, you really learn quickly how nasty it feels if your leader pulls you about, pushes you in the back or fails to indicate clearly enough what he wants."Apologies. I was long ago entranced by the idea that walking is a sequence of "controlled falls". Which is true, but doesn't capture how walking is a sequence of artfully and smoothly controlled falls. Tango is that, raised to a higher power.CreditsThe episode image is from the cover of A Passion for Tango. The text describes the cover image as an example of a follower's "rapt concentration" that, in the episode, I called "the tango look". 
44:36 8/14/23
E36: BONUS: One circle-style history of Context-Driven Testing
I was a core member of what Farrell would call a collaborative circle: the four people who codified Context-Driven Testing. That makes me think I can supplement Farrell's account with what it feels like to be inside a circle. I try to be "actionable", not just some guy writing a memoir.My topics are: what the context-driven circle was reacting against; the nature of the reaction and the resulting shared vision; how geographically-distributed circles work (including the first-wave feminist Ultras and the Freud/Fleiss collaboration); two meeting formats you may want to copy; why I value shared techniques over shared vision; how circles develop a shared tone and stereotyped reactions, not just a shared vision; and, the nature of “going public” with the vision. MentionedMichael P. Farrell, Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work, 2001.Cem Kaner, Jack Falk, and Hung Quoc Nguyen, Testing Computer Software, 1993.Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass), (including the principles of context-driven testing), 2001?Cem Kaner, James Bach, Bret Pettichord, Lessons Learned in Software Testing: a Context-Driven Approach, 2002.Association for Software Testing.Elisabeth Hendrickson, Explore It! Reduce Risk and Increase Confidence with Exploratory Testing, 2012.Jonathan Bach, "Session-Based Test Management", 2000.Patrick O'Brian, Post Captain, 1972. (It's the second in a series that begins with Master and Commander.)Four articles that demonstrate personal style:James Bach, “Enough About Process, What We Need Are Heroes”, IEEE Software, March 1995.Brian Marick, "New Models for Test Development", 1999.Bret Pettichord, "Testers and Developers Think Differently", 2000.James Bach, "Explaining Testing to THEM", 2001.Los Altos Workshop on Software Testing and related:Cem Kaner, "Improving the Maintainability of Automated Test Suites", 1997. (This contains the conclusions of LAWST 1 as an appendix.)The LAWST Handbook (1999) and LAWST Format (1997?) describe the meeting format.The "Pattern Writers' Workshop" style is most fully explained in Richard P. Gabriel, Writers' Workshops & the Work of Making Things: Patterns, Poetry... (2002). James Coplien, "A Pattern Language for Writer's Workshops" (1997), describes writers' workshops in the "Alexandrian style" of pattern description (the one used in the seminal A Pattern Language). "Writers Workshop Guidelines" is a terse description.Image creditThe image is the painting Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe.
47:52 8/3/23
BONUS: a circle-centric reading of software development through the 1990s, plus screech owls
Michael P. Farrell's Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work (2001) describes how groups of people follow a trajectory from vague dislike of the status quo, to a sharpened criticism of it, to a shared vision (and supporting techniques) intended to displace it. The development of so-called "lightweight processes" in the 1990s can be viewed through that lens. I drag in a little discussion of binary oppositions as used in Lévi-Strauss's Structural Anthropology (1963) and later work.MentionedThe first NATO Software Engineering Conference, 1968The SAGE air-defense networkDavid L. Parnas and Paul C. Clements, “A Rational Design Process: How and Why to Fake It”, 1986The Alphabet of Ben Sira. For the story of Lilith, see this episode of the Data Over Dogma podcast: "Lilith Unfair"Etymology of "sinister"Wulf Schiefenhövel, "Biased semantics for left and right in 50 Indo-European and non-Indo-European languages", 2013Edsger Dijkstra, "On anthropomorphism in science", 1985Edsger Dijkstra, "How do we tell truths that might hurt?", 1975 (enthusiastically)Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh, The Mathematical Experience, 1980Peter Adamson, "Plato's Phaedo" (podcast)John W. Tukey, Exploratory Data Analysis, 1977Kent Beck, Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change, 1999CreditThe image of the screech owl is by permission of Erica Henderson. It was inspired by the "Doamurder, West Virginia (The Book of Genesis, Part 1)" episode of the Apocrypals podcast. I bought my Lilith T-shirt from their merch store, which also contains sticker versions, etc.
30:25 7/21/23
E34: /Collaborative Circles/, part 1: a teaser
 Michael P. Farrell's Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work (2001) is about how groups of people ("circles") begin with discomfort about the status quo and, after collaboration and discussion, make creative breakthroughs. It's based on six case studies. Four are circles of artists and painters, one looks at the early development of Freud's psychoanalysis, and one is devoted to a particular group of "first wave" feminist agitators.This episode aims to tempt you to want to learn more: by summarizing two of Farrell's case studies. My original thinking was that Farrell's model of circle development would be generally applicable to software teams dissatisfied with the status quo of development and who didn't fit common models like forming-storming-norming-performing. As I dug into the details, I realized it's not as widely applicable as I'd hoped, at least without substantial customization. So the episode ends with some reasons you might not want to listen to the next one. But I hope you do!Other sources and referencesCem Kaner and James Bach, Context-driven testing, 2012?Cem Kaner, James Bach, and Bret Pettichord, Lessons Learned in Software Testing: a Context-Driven Approach, 2001Donald Davidson, "Lee in the Mountains", 1938The "Yes, and..." rule in improvisational comedy. See also Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (1979). Looking for links, I also noticed Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration (2015), which seems to be a more standard business book. I haven't read it.CreditsThe episode image is "Ulysses and Nausicaa" by Charles Gleyre. In theme and style, it's the kind of art the Impressionists were rebelling against. 
24:56 7/4/23
E33: Interview: Jessica Kerr on /Games: Agency as Art/
Jessica Kerr (known to computers everywhere as @jessitron) is a software developer, speaker, and symmathecist. (A symmathesy is a learning system composed of learning parts. To her, each software team is a symmathesy composed of the people on the team, the running software, and all of their tools.) @jessitron is another of those people who apply ideas from outside software to software, including in her role as a developer advocate at Honeycomb, a company that aims to make the workings of software visible to its developers. Were she not engaging, personable, and enthusiastic, she'd be scarily like me. This conversation is about C. Thi Nguyen's book Games: Agency as Art, whose blurb starts, "Games are a unique art form. Game designers don’t just create a world; they create who you will be in that world. They tell you what abilities to use and what goals to take on. In other words, games work in the medium of agency."Jessitron (symmathesy)MastodonTwitterHer calendar for observability office hoursReferencesC. Thi Nguyen, Games: Agency as Art, 2020Pandemic (cooperative board game), 2008Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais, Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow, 2019John Kay, Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, 2010The "Farm to Tabor" podcast episode: "Donut science, cars, & grassfed beef", 2018James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, 1998In the podcast, I mentioned classic English country gardens. I riffed a bit on Tom Stoppard's play "Arcadia". It "explores the relationship between past and present, order and disorder, certainty and uncertainty. It has been praised by many critics as the finest play from 'one of the most significant contemporary playwrights' in the English language. In 2006, the Royal Institution of Great Britain named it one of the best science-related works ever written." I cut the riff out because – embarrassingly – I couldn't remember the names of either the play or its author. From personal experience, I can recommend this full cast performance for a road trip. On that trip, we also listened to the Alzabo Soup podcast's multi-episode commentary. Photo credit: me
41:16 6/6/23
E32: Foucault, /Discipline and Punish/, part 3: expertise, panopticism, and the Big Visible Chart
The final episode of "the Foucault trilogy". Ways of evaluating humans that became common during the ~1750-1850 period. Bentham's Panopticon as a metaphor. Self-improvement via exhibitionism. Final reflections on Foucault.SourcesMichel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, 1975.C.G. Prado, Starting With Foucault (2/e), 2000.Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What?, 1999.Other sourcesMississippi State University Extension, "Dairy Cattle Judging".Jeremy Bentham: The Panopticon Writings (PDF), Miran Božović (ed.), 1995.The Koepelgevangenis panopticon is described in "The Panopticon Effect" podcast episode. (There is no transcript, but there is a longish narrative.)Ron Jeffries, "Big Visible Charts", 2004."Brainless slime mold grows in pattern like Tokyo’s subway system", 2022 (video).Contact links (if you want the bonus episode on "Edgelord Foucault")Email: marick@exampler.comMastodon: @marick@social.oddly-influenced.devPicture (archived), Marty Andrews.
32:48 5/8/23
E31: Foucault, /Discipline and Punish/, part 2: the factory
An intermediate episode. It seems wrong to talk about Foucault without mentioning his theory of power and societal change. But I don't think there's a lot you can *do* with that theory in the sense of "applying it to software". So it doesn't really fit with the podcast theme. But his is a disturbing theory for the problem-solvers among us, so I make it more palatable by comparing it to a cult horror movie from 1997.SourcesMichel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, 1975C.G. Prado, Starting With Foucault (2/e), 2000 Vincenzo Natali, script for the movie "Cube", 6th draftPeter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century. The chapter I cite is “Ships and Chips: Technological Repression and the Origin of the Wage”Other mentionsOn large language models and "a judicious amount of randomness", Stephen Wolfram's "What Is ChatGPT Doing … and Why Does It Work?" is good. Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning, 2016George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind, 1987Gregory L. Murphy, The Big Book of Concepts, 2002The Eastern State Penitentiary was a model prison that featured solitary confinement, a Bible as the only possession, and piecework in the cell. It was the founding institution of what came to be called "The Pennsylvania System." See also  "Eastern State Penitentiary: A Prison With a Past".I mention an idea I got from Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish. I don't exactly remember the sources. For Rorty, it was probably Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. For Fish, it might have been Is There a Text in This Class?Image creditThe image is the Albion flour mill, completed in 1786, which was possibly the referent of Blake's "dark satanic mills" in his poem Jerusalem: And did the Countenance Divine, Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here, Among these dark Satanic Mills?
19:33 5/1/23
E30: Foucault, /Discipline and Punish/, and voluntary panopticism, part 1
Part 1 is a synopsis of Foucault's claim that the societal attitude toward punishment of criminals changed radically over a period of about 80 years, starting in the mid-1700s: from punishment as vengeance, to punishment as persuading the minds of many, to punishment as correcting the personality of one. BooksMichel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, 1975C.G. Prado, Starting With Foucault (2/e), 2000 Random other stuffBrian Marick, "Artisanal Retro-Futurism Crossed with Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism" (text and video), 2009The environment of evolutionary adaptednessThomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962N.W. Mogensen, "Crimes and Punishments in Eighteenth-Century France", 1977Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning, 2016Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776Kieran Healy, "Escaping the Malthusian Trap", an animated graph showing the relationship between the population of Britain and its GDP over time, illustrating the discontinuity caused by the industrial revolution.Wikipedia article about the cult horror movie "Cube"CreditsThe image is of Adam Smith's pin factory, possibly from Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751–1780). D. Diderot & J. d’Alembert.
29:37 4/19/23
E29: Interview: Trond Hjorteland on a radical approach to organizational transformation
Open Systems Theory (OST) is an approach to organizational transformation that dates back to the late 1940s. It's been applied a fair amount, but hasn't gotten much mindshare in the software world. It has similarities to Agile, but leans into self-organization in a much more thoroughgoing way.For example, in an OST organization, teams aren't given a product backlog, they create it themselves.if a team decides they need to slow the pace of delivery to learn new things or to spend more time refactoring, their decision is is based on skills, not productivity, so as to encourage multi-skilled work is organized so that there are career paths within the team, rather than advancement depending on leaving a team and rising up in a hierarchy.OST is even more radical at the levels above the team. Unlike scaled-agile approaches like SAFe or LeSS, OST changes the jobs of the people higher in the org chart just as much – or more? – than people at the leaves of the tree. Specifically, the shift is from order-giving to coordination at different timescales. Individual "leaf" teams are responsible for the short term, the next level up is responsible for the medium term and external partners, and the CxO levels focus on the long term.This episode is an interview with Trond Hjorteland, who – after experience with Agile – did an impressively deep dive into OST.SourcesAs noted in the podcast, there's not much accessible documentation about OST. However, Trond and his merry band of (mostly) Agilists have begun work on a new site. Trond has also written "Thriving with complexity using open sociotechnical systems design", originally published in InfoQ. Trond's blog.Trond is on Mastodon at @trondhjort.Image creditThe image is from the cover of the Marvel Comics graphic novel Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More.
44:40 4/10/23
E28: /Governing the Commons/, part 4: creating a successful commons
I describe how the Gal Oya irrigation system got better. It's an example that might inspire hope. I also imagine how a software codebase and its team might have a similar improvement.As with earlier episodes, I'm leaning on Elinor Ostrom’s 1990 book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, and Erik Nordman’s 2021 book, The Uncommon Knowledge of Elinor Ostrom: Essential Lessons for Collective Action. I also mention James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State, which I discuss starting with episode 17.More about Gal Oya and similar projectsUphoff, N.T. "People's Participation in Water Management: Gal Oya, Sri Lanka". In Public Participation in Development Planning and Management: Cases from Africa and Asia, ed. J.C. Garcia-Samor, 1985Perera, J. "The Gal Oya Farmer Organization Programme: A Learning Process?" In Participatory Management in Sri Lanka's Irrigation Schemes, 1986.Korten, D. "Community Organization and Rural Development:  a Learning Process Approach", Public Administration on Review 40, 1980 (Philippines, Bangladesh)Korten, F. "Building National Capacity to Develop Water Users' Associations: Experience from the Philippines, World Bank working paper 528, 1982Rahman, A. "Some Dimensions of People's Participation in the Bloomni Sena Movement", United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 1981 (Nepal)Rabibhadena, A. The Transformation of Tambon Yokkrabat, Changwat Samut Sakorn, Thammasat University, 1980 (Thailand). Refactoring books I have likedMartin Fowler, Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code, 1999William C. Wake, Refactoring Workbook, 2003Joshua Kerievsky, Refactoring to Patterns, 2004Scott W. Ambler and Pramod J. Sadalage, Refactoring Databases: Evolutionary Database Design, 2006The Strangler Fig patternFowler's original blog postA case study I commissioned, way back when. Credits "Agriculture in Extreme Environments - Irrigation channel for wheat fields and date palms" by Richard Allaway is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
19:55 3/14/23
E27: /Governing the Commons/, part 3: Man, 63, seeks software teams, any age. Object: matchmaking
A short episode that encourages members of software teams to give Elinor Ostrom's ideas a try, in two ways:1. I'm arranging for Elinor Ostrom's intellectual heirs to provide support.2. Your situation is not worse than those of Sri Lankan farmers in the Gal Oya irrigation system. A commons-style approach helped them, so why couldn't it help you?I'm looking for teams who want to collaborate with Indiana University's Ostrom Workshop, and I intend to provide financing.
09:37 3/9/23
E26: /Governing the Commons/, part 2: the key mechanisms
Ostrom's core principles for the design of successful commons: how to monitor compliance with rules, how to punish non-compliance, how to resolve disputes, and how to participate in making rules. Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, 1990Erik Nordman, The Uncommon Knowledge of Elinor Ostrom: Essential Lessons for Collective Action, 2021"The dirty little secret of contract law" Image of lobster buoys from Flickr user Raging Wire, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
29:19 3/1/23
/Governing the Commons/, part 1: setting the scene
This is the first of two or three episodes that draw on Elinor Ostrom’s 1990 book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, and Erik Nordman’s 2021 book, The Uncommon Knowledge of Elinor Ostrom: Essential Lessons for Collective Action. What I hope is that those lessons apply to the problem of keeping codebases from devolving into unworkable piles of crap. Ostrom has nine design principles for designing successful commons governance. I mention them all in this episode, and provide Ostrom's summary below. In the descriptions, "CPR" stands for "Common Pool Resource" (that is, a commons). "Appropriation rules" govern extracting "resource units" from the commons. "Provision rules" govern improvement and maintenance of the commons. I've replaced some of the bolded summaries with my own when Ostrom's had too much jargon.Clearly defined boundaries: Individuals or households who have rights to withdraw resource units from the CPR must be clearly defined, as must the boundaries of the CPR itself.The rules governing a CPR are strongly influenced by local context: Appropriation rules restricting time, place, technology, and/or quantity of resource units are related to local conditions and to provision rules requiring labor, material, and money.Those affected by rules make them: Most individuals affected by the operational rules can participate in modifying the operational rules.  Monitoring: Monitors, who actively audit CPR conditions and appropriator behavior, are accountable to the appropriators or are the appropriators.Graduated sanctions: Appropriators who violate operational rules are likely to be assessed graduated sanctions (depending on the seriousness and context of the offense) by other appropriators, by officials accountable to these appropriators, or by both.Conflict-resolution mechanisms: Appropriators and their officials have rapid access to low-cost local arenas to resolve conflicts among appropriators or between appropriators and officials.Minimal recognition of the right to organize: The rights of appropriators to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external governmental authorities.For CPRs that are parts of larger systems:Nested enterprises: Appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.--------In the podcast, I said "There will always be pressure to deliver faster. There’s been a lot written on reducing that pressure, or resisting it. That’s off topic for these episodes, so I’ll put links in the show notes." Well, I thought there were, but I don't have anything to offer you yet.Here's a comment from Sasha Cuerda: "a tactic I have used in the past is ADRs. Basically keep receipts documenting the trade off being made. When my team had a track record of correctly and proactively assessing and documenting risk and those documents kept surfacing in retros tied to those risks materializing, we gained credibility with the non-manager stakeholders impacted by incidents and were able to push back. But def a long game."it helped that we had an already established and blessed practice of using ADRs in other contexts. They weren’t initially seen as “resistance” but as part of established good practice."I did remember a blog post I wrote long ago, warning new agile teams not to deliver too much value too soon before they know how to do it sustainably. "I find myself advising new Agile teams to go slower than they could. Here’s the thing: at the beginning, they’re probably working on a bad code base, and they have yet to learn important rules and habits. They will find it easy to go faster than is compatible with making the code more malleable. [...]"But that's not really the same problem. --------Image of grazing cattle due to Emilian Robert Vicol is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and was obtained from
26:00 2/20/23
BONUS: Seeing like a personality survey
My goal is to help you understand what it means when you see a headline like “Scientists find that people on the political right are less open to experience than people on the left.”TL;DR: For practical purposes, it doesn't mean anything. You might guess, from the previous episode, that it's just that personality traits don't predict behavior. That's true, but more interesting things are going on: What does "open to experience" mean, actually? How much less open are conservatives?Key sources:John M. Digman, "Personality Structure: Emergence of the Five-Factor Model", 1999 Literal Banana (a pseudonym!), "The Ongoing Accomplishment of the Big Five", 2020Literal Banana, "Survey Chicken", 2020Konstantin Löwe, "Is Politics Downstream from Personality? The Five Factor Model’s Effect on Political Orientation in Sweden", 2019Image credit:The scatter plot showing a low-but-significant correlation was generated by Brian Marick in 2011. I don't remember the program I used.
13:12 2/13/23
Personality and destiny
It’s hard to predict how personality traits will affect behavior in new situations.We don’t have a good grasp of the difference between a “new situation” and “a variant of an old situation.”Small differences in the situation (like recent good luck) can make a big difference in how traits like “helpfulness” are expressed. So you'll probably need to try it and see ("probe-sense-response"), rather than assume you can find out enough to predict ("sense-analyze-respond").Summary sources:John M. Doris, Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior, 2005. (This is focused on questions in the philosophical idea of "virtue ethics". Unless you care about that, this is mostly a place to find primary sources.)Walter Mischel, "Toward an Integrative Science of the Person", 2004Also cited or used:Theodore Newcomb, The consistency of certain extrovert-introvert behavior patterns in 51 problem boys, 1929. (Not available online. Link is to the University of Illinois Library copy. All hail interlibrary loan!)Alice M. Isen and Paula F. Levin, "Effect of feeling good on helping: cookies and kindness", 1972. (The pay phone experiment)John M. Darley and Daniel Batson, "'From Jerusalem to Jericho': A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior", 1973 (the seminarian experiment).John M. Digman, "Personality Structure: Emergence of the Five-Factor Model", 1999 Walter Mischel, Personality and Assessment, 1968David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone, "A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making", Harvard Business Review, 2007. (I used this for quotes and claims about the Cynefin framework, which is pronounced "kuh-NEV-in", as it's a Welsh word.)Freeman Dyson, Infinite in All Directions, 1998Miscellaneous: “Always try to get data that’s good enough that you don’t need to do statistics on it.”What 0.14 correlation looks likeCreditsTwo-slot postage stamp vending machine image courtesy the Smithsonian Museum. Public domain.
28:09 1/30/23
This is not an episode (a diversion into what makes explanations good)
The key message begins with the observation that categories and concepts have central examples and fuzzy boundaries. The idea that categories are usefully defined by boolean-valued necessary and sufficient conditions is outdated. The stock example is the question: "Is the pope a bachelor?" The answer is, "Well, technically", but there are clearly more central examples that capture more of the concept's connotations. (See Lakoff's 1987 Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Gregory L. Murphy's 2004 The Big Book of Concepts is more exhaustive and covers different theories.)Examples teach you what lays within the (fuzzy) boundary. Counterexamples teach you what lays outside. You need both.Stories stimulate the kind of learning that happens from lived experience and social interaction. These claims are illustrated by the kind of examples, counterexamples, and stories that I think Etienne Wenger should have (but mostly did not) use in his 1998 Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. The episode isn't a comprehensive – or perhaps even accurate – explanation of his theory. Because (I believe) of how the book was written, my understanding of the theory is shaky.I also drew on these writings: Wenger, Snyder, and McDermott, Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, 2002Cox, Andrew M., "What are communities of practice? A comparative review of four seminal works", 2005Etienne Wenger, "Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems: the Career of a Concept", 2010I mentioned Tinderbox, a note-taking app, and Bike, an outliner.I mentioned my habit of writing books that include mistakes that are later corrected. As advertised, the first book I wrote this way is RubyCocoa: Bringing Some Ruby Love to OS X Programming. That's a book about dead technology, and is out of print. Perhaps the best example of this style was the unfinished An Outsider's Guide to Statically Typed Functional Programming, which is free. (The finished part is about Elm, which alas also seems dead.) Functional Programming for the Object-Oriented Programmer is an introduction to Clojure, uses something of the include-mistakes style, was pretty successful, but is old enough I've also made it free. The description of the apocryphal story of Saint Thecla is from the Apocrypals podcast. There's more than just man-eating seals.The science fiction story Año Nuevo is by Ray Naylor.----Picture of Magritte's "The Treachery of Images" via Flickr user darryl_mitchel,  under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
32:17 1/16/23
Legitimate peripheral participation: the book and the idea
Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, 1991. Note: I'd say this is the least readable of the books I've covered so far, especially if you're allergic to jargon-heavy academic social science. On the plus side, it's only 123 pages (excluding bibliography and index). Étienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, 1998"I sure as hell am not going to share my knowledge here for free!"Edwin Hutchins, Cognition in the Wild, 1996CreditsThe episode image is "Apprentice" by Louis Emile Adan (1839-1937), circa 1914, original copyrighted by Braun&Co., N.Y., but copyright not renewed. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons.
22:58 1/2/23
/Talking About Machines/: copier repair technicians and story-telling
Julian E. Orr, Talking about Machines: An Ethnography of a Modern Job, 1996CreditsImage of a person using a copier via Mr. Domingo.
32:15 12/22/22
/Seeing Like a State/, part 3: the users, the clients
James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, 1998.XKCD, Always try to get data good enough that you don't need to do statistics on it.Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1883.Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961.Rosa Luxemburg, Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy, The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions, The Russian RevolutionCreditsImage of a cow being given a physical exam ("bright or dull") courtesy Dawn Marick.
33:03 12/7/22
/Seeing Like a State/, part two: recognizing your High Modernist eidolon
James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, 1998.Paul McCauley has used the idea of eidolons in more than one series. (Two that I know of.) The most recent is in his "Jackaroo" series of two novels and a few shorter pieces. The first of the novels is Something Coming Through. Here's a review. "Something Happened Here, But We’re Not Quite Sure What It Was" is a short story that I think stands alone. I quote from the second Jackaroo novel, Into Everywhere, but I wouldn't read it first unless you're a fan of Gene Wolfe and like figuring out the backstory yourself. E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, 1995Paul Feyerabend, Bert Terpstra (editor), Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction versus the Richness of Being, 2001Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, 1972. CreditsWorker and Kolkhoz (collective farm) Woman Monument from C.K. Leung, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Although I don't dwell on it in this episode, Scott uses the Soviet collective farm as a big example of a failure of Seeing Like a State.
25:09 11/30/22