The Next Software Gold Rush

I am currently working on an as-yet-unannounced side-project/product, and I decided that I wanted to be able to do some server admin stuff from Slack. They have APIs that make this really easy, and if you haven’t tried this yet I do suggest it. You can create a Slack robot, then from your own Slack account (on the phone or desktop or wherever) send it commands to do things to your server. Some ideas that crossed my mind: restart a Passenger instance that fell over, copy the production database to staging, back up the entire site and send it to your Dropbox, issue a refund to a customer; really the only limit is how much time you have.

This is all fine, but that’s made for programmmers. Facebook seems to have some bigger ideas about this, though. Earlier this week at F8, they announced that Facebook Messenger is becoming a platform. The idea is that companies will build robots that you can interact with from Messenger. Facebook shows examples of people ordering food by texting the robot and other such things.

I would love to be wrong, but I predict this will be huge. If it does get huge, it will only be a matter of time before Google and the others create something similar, and I think that will be another tech gold rush. It will be on the level of the iOS App Store, the first self-serve ads, or Facebook’s own App Platform in 2007. If you are a developer, you should familiarize yourself with how to make the robots for Messenger. If you’re a small company, start working on your robot now– your competitors are too big and slow to know to move on something like this; it’s early enough days that there’s a competitive advantage to be had.

Personally I think this is all ridiculous and that no one should be using Facebook for anything, but the people have spoken and Facebook is here to stay. Nothing wrong with trying to make some money on it while you can.

The Expert Beginner

Erik Dietrich, at his site DaedTech:

When you consider the Dreyfus model, you’ll notice that there is a trend over time from being heavily rules-oriented and having no understanding of the big picture to being extremely intuitive and fully grasping the big picture. The Advanced Beginner stage is the last one in which the skill acquirer has no understanding of the big picture. As such, it’s the last phase in which the acquirer might confuse himself with an Expert. A Competent has too much of a handle on the big picture to confuse himself with an Expert: he knows what he doesn’t know. This isn’t true during the Advanced Beginner phase, since Advanced Beginners are on the “unskilled” end of the Dunning Kruger Effect and tend to epitomize the notion that, “if I don’t understand it, it must be easy.”

Nice piece of writing. The Expert Beginner is like the FedEx arrow: now that it has been pointed out, I notice it all over the place. Dietrich also touches on the “do you have 5 years experience or the same year of experience 5 times” thing, which I think is a major way people become Expert Beginners. The terrifying part is that it seems impossible to tell whether you, yourself are an expert beginner. If your company hires average people, and you’re in the top 10%, others might look to you thinking you’re the expert.

Maybe this is all a really long way of saying “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

An Election Year

This is not a post about politics. Promise.

Even though it’s way too early in the campaign season, the Presidential election is already shaping up to be really nasty. I completely understand why this is. I also understand that there is a huge chunk of people, including every journalist and news reader, who sees the world through either ‘red lenses’ or ‘blue lenses.’ There are plenty of legitimate reasons for this, many of them having to do with selling advertising.

But “a huge chunk” does not mean “everyone” — why is there no coverage of the election by people who can be completely emotionless and write about the election from the strategy point of view?

For example, the Trump campaign is the most innovation that the American political system has seen in a long time. Whether Trump wins or loses, and whether or not you like Trump’s politics, you have to admit that he may have figured out how to “Moneyball” the American electorate. That is, every campaign from here on out will be styled like Trump’s. He gets more votes for less money than anyone has in a very long time. I want some journalist to cover this from a strictly strategic point of view. Let go of the “Trump is Hitler” / “Trump is our only hope” narratives and analyze, with no emotion how this primary is playing out. Under what circumstances would the convention be brokered? What are the delegate rules for when a candidate drops out, then endorses another candidate? If the convention is brokered, what exactly are the rules on that? And it isn’t just about Trump. The Carson and Jeb! campaigns played out in such a strange way that professors of campaign finance will probably study them for years to come.

The same goes for the Democrats. One recent example that I haven’t seen anyone offer a real explanation for: Bernie’s huge upset in Michigan. There are two possible reasons it happened: Either A) Bernie surged 20 points for a victory in the eleventh hour or B) polls are garbage. Again, I understand why it is in the interest of news readers and internet pundits to try and tell us the reason is (A), but (B) seems a lot more likely. Is there not one single news person who can explain all the reasons it’s (B) and dismantle the media’s narrative that “the black vote” is some monolith that always goes the same direction in every state? There are plenty of other things about this that can be really interesting without dragging your emotions into it. Then there are the party’s superdelegates, which are a big interesting story all by themselves.

These are all things that could still be interesting even with very little emotion involved. When I ask whether anyone is covering the election in this way, I am legitimately asking. Send me links to specific writers or outlets who are good at this. Some people think Nate Silver is good at this, but I don’t agree — not only did he completely blow it on Michigan, but he also didn’t predict the rise of Trump, which in my opinion was one of the easiest predictions of all time. One of the closest things I’ve found to what I’m describing is Scott Adams’ Master Persuader Series but it’s a little Trump-centric for my taste.

What Happened to Disk Utility?

In the Bad Old Days™ of consumer computing, there were external hard drives for sale that were “made for Mac.” Of course, that didn’t actually mean anything– a hard drive is a hard drive. Macs don’t have some kind of voodoo magic that requires you to buy drives just for them. The only difference between these and any other drive on the shelf was that 1) it came pre-formatted as HFS+, the default file system of OS X and 2) the makers of the drives charged anywhere from $10-50 more for the “Mac” model. Other than that, the hardware itself was identical. What this meant was that the smart move was to just buy the normal drive and re-format it yourself. The manufacturers just used the “for Mac” label to extract some extra money out of people who didn’t know any better.

For the past few years, I haven’t bought a drive like this; I used an external enclosure and just bought bare drives. When one filled up, I’d buy another bare drive. This is a backup strategy for really cheap people, and it works fine. External 3.5” enclosures, though, are mostly terrible. They require their own power, they’re ugly, and replacing the drives is a pain. When it came time to replace the drive most recently, I decided to get a “real” external hard drive.

It was more than a little suprising to find out that The Old Way of selling external drives is alive and well. Here’s one example of many: two of the exact same Western Digital 1TB drive, the Mac version with a price $15 higher.

Of course I assume I won’t be fooled by this, that I am A Smart Person™, and I’ll just get the cheaper drive and format it myself.

Bad move.

It wasn’t until the drive made it to me that I plugged it in and opened the Disk Utility, which apparently got a complete rewrite for Mac OS 10.11.

This is a complete mess.
This is a complete mess.

A few of the problems I encountered while trying to format this drive as HFS+, which (as expected) arrived formatted as NTFS:

I also attempted to make this work without the new Disk Utility GUI, just by using the Terminal diskutil (Disk is just an interface for this), but didn’t have any better luck. The disk has been returned and a “for Mac” version is on the way. Turned out, I wasted way more than $15 worth of my time trying to be A Smart Person™ on this one.

I still don’t know what exactly the problem is, but if the drive was a lemon, Disk Utility gave me no affordances to be able to tell. It is so bad that attempting to use the new Disk Utility on a known-good drive and on a broken one are completely indistinguishable.