Two quotes that I keep on coming back to. The first is a tweet from Nicoll Hunt from 2014:

The first step of any project is to grossly underestimate its complexity and difficulty

The second is from a German field marshal by the name of Helmuth von Moltke (formulated in the 19th century):

No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength

Which, in its more modern reconfiguration, is frequently referred to as “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.

Applied to design documents in the field of software engineering, one might say that “no design document survives contact with the codebase”. This has largely been true for myself, at least. Which doesn’t leave a lot of options.

The first one is to not write any design documents at all, and kind of discover-as-you-go. The code itself becomes the design document, hopefully by either being clear enough or by being well documented.

The second option is to write a document, and then keep on updating it as you’re discovering all the things that can only be discovered during the implementation.

The third option is to write a document, pretend that it accounts for every possible scenario, make an elaborate planning chart on how much time exactly the implementation phase will take, and then pretend to be surprised when the real numbers had little to do with that chart.

The fourth option is where the final implementation has nothing to do with the design document, and nobody bothered to spend any time updating that doc.

And the fifth option is to write a design document, do the implementation, and then write another design document that describes the actual implementation and compares the original approach with what actually worked. A post-mortem, if you will, on the original design document. What worked (probably nothing). What did not (probably everything). What can we learn for the next time (probably nothing, again).

 

Those who do

February 2nd, 2021

Every once in a while, I come across the quote from George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman”. The one that goes

Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach

I’ve spent more than 20 years being a student. I’ve had my share of dull, uninspiring, lifeless teachers. The ones that would read from the slides, word for word. The ones that would insist on memorizing instead of on explaining. The ones that literally made me fall asleep in the back of the room. They probably saw me back there. I’m not sure they cared much either way.

I’ve had the privilege to come across a few brilliant teachers. The ones that opened up a whole new world with just a sentence or two. I may not remember their names or their faces. But I remember them. I remember those moments. I remember how they changed my life.

Being good at doing X, whatever that X is, is not the same as being able to teach X to somebody who knows nothing about it. Maybe it’s accounting. Maybe it’s rocket science. Maybe it’s programming. Maybe it’s basketball. Maybe it’s design. Whatever it is, the vast majority of those who are good at doing it, are going to be pretty bad teachers.

Unforgiveable

January 20th, 2021

In the last four years, this country has lived at the whim of an immoral, narcissistic, incompetent and corrupt con-man. An abject failure as a businessman, only surviving by the grace of the long-broken edges of our judicial system. A sinister ghost during his campaign that rode the winds of divisiveness and demonization of the “other” side. An unprepared, uninterested in and thoroughly unqualified for the job, he brought shame and utter disgrace to the highest public office in the land.

I am despondent about the unchecked descent into madness that we’ve witnessed during his term. I am proud that my home state of Georgia took a look at two politicians that decided to closely align themselves with his vitriolic rhetoric, and gently showed them the door.

His biggest transgression by far has been to aim to thoroughly destroy the most basic foundations of this democracy. To shatter people’s faith and trust in the fairness and integrity of our elections. I can only hope that every single excuse of a public servant that has supported that rhetoric will find themselves voted out of our institutions.

The sound of inevitability

November 20th, 2020

A lot of things have changed since February/March this year, and some of these things are not going back to the same exact way they used to be. It’s been said a few times before that this global pandemic has forced quite a few industries to take the inevitable technological changes that were going to take 15-20 years and compress them into a couple of months if not weeks.

One of these industries lies close to my heart – making movies and TV shows (for which I’ve been doing quite a few interviews recently) and getting them to the viewers. As spring went into a long summer, and now fall is going into a long winter with no clear path “out” of the current situation that we find ourselves in, the theatrical / exhibition side of the business is in deep, deep trouble. It is trying to position itself as an integral, vital part of the industry, and yet it’s becoming clearer with each week that passes that they were, well, a middleman.

As I wrote a few weeks ago:

A part of me wishes that the studios were a bit more desperate to release the big blockbusters that were scheduled all through 2020 and then postponed again and again. A part of me wishes to see what kinds of innovations we might see down the road when going to a movie theater is not considered to be a vital part of releasing a movie. Does Disney make some sort of a Marvel Pass that lets me in on all that franchise movies and shows for a flat $50 a year? Do I get a refund if I stopped watching a movie partway through because I didn’t like it? Do I get some sort of a discount for watching the next “Fast & Furious” if I already paid the full price for the last one?

While “Mulan” was undoubtedly a big move from Disney, I see Warner moving “Wonder Woman 1984” to streaming as a much bigger move. And before you say anything, I want to be realistic and say that no, it’s not going to drive huge crowds of viewers into enclosed, dark theatrical spaces where you may or may not be surrounded by complete strangers who may or may not pass on things that you may or may not want to be passed on.

What I do find fascinating is the business side of what used to be the big six, and now the big five movie studios. As I wrote:

Universal is part of NBCUniversal which is, in turn, part of Comcast. Comcast revenue for 2019 was $108.9B. Paramount is part of ViacomCBS. Warner is part of WarnerMedia (along with HBO and CNN) which is, in turn, part of AT&T. AT&T revenue for 2019 was $181B. Disney (after having acquired Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox) ruled the domestic market in 2019 with almost 40% share, and the parent conglomerate reported the revenue of $69.5B for 2019.

And while technically they are not desperate to take the huge blockbusters they’ve been sitting on for much of this year and get them to the viewers, every month that passes does add just a bit of pressure to the senior leadership of those smaller divisions to put at least some money into the earnings column.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is going to be made available for no additional charge to all HBO Max subscribers. AT&T has been building up that vertical pipeline for some time now, and understandably, they are anxious to get some of the money flowing back. Universal has Peacock. Disney has Disney+. Paramount has CBS All Access. Columbia is the odd one out, given that Sony pretty much gave up on Vue and Crackle. I actually had to look those up.

I don’t know how things are going to look like going into spring. I’m about 80% positive that Disney will put “Black Widow” on Disney+ in the next few months. I’m about 80% positive that Universal is going to put “Fast & Furious 9” and “No Time To Die” on Peacock before this coming spring is over.

Moving the big releases to the screens that people have on them (phones, tablets) or in their living rooms (flatscreen TVs) was inevitable. It was going to take 5-10 years, no matter how loud the inevitable hand-wringing and doom-spelling that the movie theater trade association lobbyists could be. And even though the original Matrix trilogy didn’t end up well for Agent Smith, this transition is inevitable. By the time it’s done, going to a movie theater will be the same as buying your favorite Lana Del Rey album on vinyl. Charming. Sweet. A bit old-fashioned.