Thursday, August 30, 2007

Physics Engine PC Cards? What about Magic?

First, there were graphics cards for computers that let those of us without Silicon Graphics computers to have 3-D graphics. Now, there are physics cards, which are supposed to bring more realistic physics effects to games.

What I want: magic cards. No, not Magic™ cards. I mean cards that enable impossible things to happen in the computer. Why keep trying to replicate reality in your PC, when you could simulate magic instead?

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posted by Brian at 1:38 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, March 23, 2007

Computer Science = Not enough to solve production problems.

Some thoughts occurred to me today as I looked back over my career:
  • My Computer Science degree taught me nothing about how to build great tools for actual people working in a production environment.
  • Nor did it tell me how anything about how such tools get created in the "wild" -- neither ideally nor poorly.
  • Small companies tend to build production tools from the bottom up, based on informal conversations between people needing tools and the developers.
  • Once a small company grows too big or gets bought out by another company, a top-down approach takes over.
  • This approach is a mostly linear flow:
    • Users complain about a problem.
    • Production or Management determines whether this problem is worthy. If so, it creates a ticket in the tracking system.
    • Developers see ticket and build tool.
  • Seems logical enough, but I have yet to work for a company where this invading top-down methodology:
    • Improves the actual production for the people using it or the customers they support.
    • Doesn't waste time & money and actually cause lower production over time.
    • Isn't initiated by so-called experts outside (and with little knowledge of) the production wanting vague results like "accountability" and "return on investment" and other business buzzwords.
    • Doesn't discourage bottom-up ideas from going through the new top-down process, EVEN THOUGH the new system mantra is "Please, send us your ideas to improve the system."
  • The top-down folks and the bottom-up folks tend to speak very different languages.
  • Managers from both sides host meetings with minimal feedback from their teams.
  • Hierarchy, a concept from the top-down folks, gets imposed to keep folks under the manager of the developers from going around and talking directly to the other teams they are building tools for.
  • The flow from top to bottom results in tools built to specifications that are weak because the folks needing them:
    • Speak different languages amongst themselves and the developers.
    • Can't determine precisely what it is they need.
  • The developers adopt a mentality of "Just build what is asked -- that way we are not accountable. It's their fault if they don't get what they want."
  • Meanwhile, the experts in actually making the production work without decent tools get overworked.
  • They finally burn-out and leave, leaving behind a gaping hole of lost knowledge.
  • Sometimes, the original developers become "operations" and new developers called "engineers" are brought in to formalize the (mostly unknown) process.
  • These engineers:
    • Have no understanding of the legacy system,
    • Often discourage feedback from the original developers
    • Make grandiose promises of a panacea for management.
  • The panacea never happens.
Next time, I'll describe what has worked.

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posted by Brian at 11:26 AM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, March 12, 2007

In Theory, I'm Reading...

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, Daniel Goleman
How we all (most of us) supposedly have a built-in Wifi-like system for dealing with the emotional state of other people.
Gödel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
Three gentlemen who, in their own ways (math, illustration, and music), dealt with abstract ideas such as self-referencing, loops, and self-creating systems (autopoesis).
Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software, Scott Rosenberg
Imperical evidence as to why building software (a relatively immature Discipline) can be frought with frustration, even with some of the best engineers.
Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, Cory Doctorow
More cool science fiction short stories.
But in practice, I'm watching the HBO series Rome and the documentary, Scratch.

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posted by Brian at 5:21 PM 0 comments links to this post