Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Seven Links for Winter 2023

This year, rather than posting a digest of links monthly, I'm doing the same quarterly, aiming for five to ten of my favorite links every three months. I read 128 articles over January, February, and March, and favorited about 30% of them. In retrospect, here are the magnificent seven that really stuck with me:

  • High Variance Management (Sbensu) — Stage actors need to have a great "take" every performance, but film actors have the luxury of multiple takes. Analogously, rather than insisting on perfection every time, managers can embrace en evolution-inspired approach called "creative selection", encouraging multiple teams to tackle the same problem, prototyping and demoing to one another, and then having a decision maker pick the best approach.
  • Why Are There No Empires in Age of Empires (Unmitigated Pedantry) — Strategy games like AoE and Civ put you at the reins of an empire conquering other empires by means of total annihilation. This is misleading, because the point of real empires is to access the resources and labor of a subordinate population.
  • The Tomato Harvester (Boom California) — A well written account of California's rapid tomato farming transition from small individual farms to large industrial farming in the 1960s. The tomato and the harvester co-evolved, and the domestication of both plant and machine was due to the human animal.
  • Time Is a Wheel, Time Is an Arrow (Superb Owl) — Attempts to synthesize linear and cyclic time into a coherent worldview to counteract the modern propensity towards a linear view of time in which our civilization is progressing in some definite direction. What if the question isn't if the road we're on leads to utopia or dystopia, but whether we are on the road in the first place?
  • Annual Performance Reviews Ruin Everything (Elizabeth Ayer) — A long multifaceted post criticizing annual performance reviews for potentially diagnosing challenges correctly, but usually placing responsibility on the individual, rather on the organization itself or larger system. As Deming’s famous quote has it, "a bad system will beat a good person every time."
  • Which Meetings Should You Kill? (Camille Fournier) — Fournier suggests that excessive time spent on 1:1 meetings, not including those with direct reports, should be consolidated into "well-run weekly group meetings to fill the trust and alignment gap, rather than having your broader team go through the combined number of subset 1:1 meetings."
  • ChatGPT Is a Blurry JPEG of the Web (New Yorker) — Ted Chiang critiques generative AI for writing, observing that LLMs serve as a blurring and interpolation tool over large corpora of data they are trained on, employing the analogy of lossy compression. Chiang observes that "your first draft isn’t an unoriginal idea expressed clearly; it’s an original idea expressed poorly", and starting with a blurry copy of unoriginal work isn’t a good way to create original work.