David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Month: May 2011 (page 3 of 3)

From Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew

One of the centerpiece speeches of Diderot’s masterpiece Rameau’s Nephew, from the tragic, pathetic, hilarious, vexing, vexed nephew, who presents a brilliant facade at social occasions in order to be the perfect social parasite:

For my part, I find in writers a digest of everything one ought to do, and everything one ought not to say. Thus, when I read L’Avare, I tell myself: be miserly, if you wish, but take care not to talk like the miser. When I read Tartuffe, I tell myself: be a hypocrite, if you wish, but don’t talk like a hypocrite. Keep those vices which serve you well, but beware of the tone and the air that go with them, and would make you appear ridiculous. To be sure of avoiding that tone and air, one must know what they are; now, those authors have portrayed them superbly.

I am myself, and that is what I shall remain; but I behave and talk in a socially acceptable manner. I’m not one of those men who despise the moralists. One can profit greatly from them, particularly from those who depict morals in action. Vice itself is only intermittently shocking. The appearance of vice is shocking at all times.

Perhaps it would be better to be an arrogant fellow than to look like one; the man with the arrogant character offends only from time to time; the man with the arrogant face offends all the time.

And by the way, you shouldn’t suppose that I’m the only reader of this kind. The sole merit I claim here is having accomplished systematically, through clear thinking and rational, accurate observation, what the majority of others do by instinct. That’s why their reading doesn’t make them better than me, but instead, they go on being ridiculous, whereas I am so only when I mean to be, and then I leave them far behind me; for the same art that shows me how to avoid ridicule in certain situations, shows me also, in other situations, how to achieve it at a superior level.

Then I bring to mind everything others have said, everything I’ve read, and I add everything of my own invention, which in this domain is surprisingly abundant.


Profiles in Type L: Some Engineer at Microsoft

(Original typology in Battle Lines: Type L are the free-market technocrats and Type C are the conservative old boys in American society. Once more, I don’t identify with either of them.)

The always-intriguing corporate-insider blog Mini-Microsoft is the venting place for many of the R+D people dissatisfied with the state of affairs at that company. One anonymous commenter effectively summarizes the Type L’s case against the Type C, much as Paul Van Riper did. The parallels in content and attitude are very striking. I don’t get some of the terminology in the comment either, but this person’s point comes across anyway.

There are some geniuses over in Microsoft Research; somebody needs to set them free to productize.

It isn’t a lack of IC [individual contributor] talent. Although that is rapidly changing. it’s the decline of technical talent and integrity at almost all levels of management.

With “trios”, no individual is charged with cross-discipline technical oversight until GM or VP level. This is no the job of a GM or VP. It *was* the job of the now-extinct Product Unit Manager. Doubtless trios was sold as a way to commoditize skills by narrowing the remit of individuals along discipline lines. Unfortuately, those with broad skill sets that can envision how to actually make a prodcut (rather than a document or a nice report) have been pushed out. It is the age of the bureaucrat.

With trios, the notion of “product team” has vanished. A product team comprised all disciplines, and (usually) et weekly, with their PUM. This has been replaced by layers of tripartite committees based around the arbitrary notion of Dev, Test, PM. The meetings required have grown exponentially. A product team may only get together at a divisional all-hands.

BY GM/VP level, reporting on product state has been so sanitized that the majority of issues are never even surfaced. Yes, there is of course a category of issues that should never require a VPs intervention, but this goes way beyond that. “No bad news, ever”, is the rule. Anyone who rocks the boat is one of those negative, non-team-player 10%ers who will shortly be gone.

More senior ICs are, by definition, supposed to raise broad issues by dint of their level and years of experience. The existing culture makes this a very dangerous thing to do. That’s why I left in January after 10+ years.

The various disasters/missed opportunities over the last 10 years were well known to engineers at the front line… but due to a viciously-enforced policy of “no bad news, ever”, those who might have taken corrective action don’t find out until its too late.

There is a clear pattern of failure to execute… and it is not the doing of engineers. It’s a culture that rewards the suppression of “bad news”. It’s the lack of spine in the management chain to unpromise things that were promised, and blame their “underperforming” ICs when the crap hits the fan. Those with a spine soon find their prospects blighted.

Changing VPs won’t help much. They rely on their generals amd below to garner a picture of the situation. If those generals don’t provide truthful reporting, it simply isn’t possible to execute effectively. It’ll take an IBM/GE/HP/Honeywell (etc) sttyle intervention to fix this problem – it won’t get fixed by those who benefit (hugely) from it.

It’s like watching the third season of The Wire!

Xenakis’s Rebonds

Feldman: Do you think that some memories are better than other memories? I mean like in psychoanalysis: one goes there to free one-self of the memories that makes it impossible to live in reality, and I would say as a metaphor about becoming a composer that one has memories that one has to get rid of.

Xenakis: I prefer artistry instead of psycho-analysis because in psycho-analysis… infact what you do is, you’re trusting on some traces of your memory, something different in your story and when you think you have left that story you’re building something different and it becomes your new past..

Iannis Xenakis and Morton Feldman in Conversation

Saw an excellent performance of Iannis Xenakis‘s solo percussion piece “Rebonds” last night by the very fluid Ayano Kataoka. From the number of performances on Youtube, I guess it’s repertory now. This is a pretty good one:


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