• Media Diet, End of 2017

    A quick review of media since the last installment. It was a quieter second half of the year for media consumption.

    Books

    Oathbringer: Brandon Sanderson’s latest. Third in his Stormlight Archive series. As always a very enjoyable read. I felt that he did a good job really expanding the world and characters on this one. A couple of very powerful moments. It is a time investment, and probably not a good idea to jump in mid-series.

    A Wizard of Earthsea: A classic by Ursula K. Le Guin. This was a reread, which I read out loud. Seriously, you should read this. Works very well orally.

    Video Games

    Destiny 2: The beta did not lead me astray. Bungie knows how to make a good sci-fi shooter. The reviews have been mixed, but I’m in the camp of really enjoying the game. The reduction of the grind mechanics might reduce the ability to spend your entire life on the game, but it does mean there’s only so much time you need to spend. Given my time constraints for playing, this has made it very satisfying. The recent changes feel like they’re very well balanced in responding to the community, but not excluding anyone. I also have a clan to play with now, and the raid is a lot of fun.

    Super Mario Odyssey: A great game. Just fun. Created a nice balance of new and old mechanics. Beautiful level design. If you have a Switch, you should be playing this.

    Celeste: I played through on the switch. Challenging, but not impossible. The story made the game feel meditative.

    Breath of the Wild DLC: DLC 1 was fun, but challenge levels aren’t really my thing. The second DLC was great though. Hit the same notes as the main gameplay, and was a lot of fun.

    Movies

    Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Put me in the camp of having heavily enjoyed it. I loved the subtle and not so subtle twists on expectation throughout the movie. More thought provoking than The Force Awakens. I’d say The Force Awakens was emotionally more satisfying, but this might be the better movie.

    Mary and the Witch’s Flower: Not surprising anyone, this is a visually beautiful film. Very enjoyable, and well done. Ghibli-esque in style, story choice, and presentation, it still had some unique flavors.

    Cars 3: Wow, what a good job they did. As good as the first, but with an even better lesson to the story? My favorite moment was with the old racers explaining why they raced: “Moonshine”.

    Boss Baby: Better than it had any right to be. The previews do not prepare you for the way the story is told.

    TV

    The Good Place: Just finished season one. Very well done. They clearly had a lot of fun with this.

    What I’m Looking Forward To

    Some already released movies (babies really make it hard to watch movies): Thor: Ragnarok, Coco. Some upcoming: The Incredibles 2, Black Panther. I’m finishing up reading The Stone Sky. Obviously going to watch the second season of The Good Place.

  • HomePod

    Convenience is where the HomePod shines for music. I don’t want to fuss with menus, or having to look at my phone (especially trying to keep a one year old from seeing too many screens). Siri is good enough at music.

    For the price (and size) the HomePod sounds excellent. I’ve listened to much more expensive setups, and Apple did a stellar job. I’ve heard a few people say it is too quiet, but I haven’t even bothered to push it past 50% volume. My only critique is that the mids sometimes sound a bit weak. Oddly, it does seem to matter what type of music is being played. Might be a software EQ thing.

    Can the HomePod do all the other cool things that the competition does? Not really, but I don’t care. It plays music, sounds very nice, and doesn’t feel as creepy. We’ve been very happy with it.

    Well, except when I tried to get Siri to play music by Airplane Mode. That confused it a lot.

  • Tim Carmody on Kottke

    Recently Tim Carmody had a run as a guest editor on kottke.org. I get a sense Tim and I are at least similar in age, and I found myself with multiple posts just nodding my head in agreement. It is worth linking to a few of these:

    The hidden heart of Howl's Moving Castle

    Howl's Moving Castle isn't the best Miyazaki film. It continues to be my favorite. It isn't the first of his work I saw or read (Princess Mononoke in theaters 1997 and the Nausicaä manga years before that). There is just something about the movie that makes me love it a little more than the rest. Tim's comments really echo many of my thoughts.

    Four version of "A House Is Not A Home"

    Fascinating analysis.

    Planetary and the 1990s pulp comics revival

    A few years ago I found out about Planetary and quickly consumed it all. What a great world. What a great concept. The series isn't for everyone, a few issues have fairly gory violence, otherwise it holds around PG-13. If you're willing, read it. If not, at least read the article to get a sense of what was done in the series.

    Warren Ellis is rebooting the world this was in (no sign of Planetary though) in the new DC series The Wild Storm. The new series is pulling from other properties Ellis did.

    The sad humanity of American Captain, the best anti-superhero comic about superheroes

    I'd never read the comic, but it is a very interesting take on Captain America in his off time in the MCU. Fun read.

    Robots in disguise

    Seriously, the Transformers move is crazy. A follow on: the rebirth of Optimus Prime two part episode is also great. I had both of those on VHS at home.

    In praise of Cookie Monster, the literary muppet

    It seems like a joke, but have you watched Monsterpiece Theatre? Many of Tim's posts end with an interview, and this one almost did.

  • Great Thoughts on Diversity in Hiring

    A really great discussion on diversity hiring in tech. Much more to think about and actually apply from it than my post.

  • Visual Guide to Discworld

    A neat visualization about the Discworld series. I'm slowly re-reading it myself.

  • Brief Thoughts on Diverse Hiring

    It has been two weeks since the former Google employee's diversity
    memo

    came out. I'm sure you've likely read it, or a lot about it (or maybe just the
    satire
    ).
    I'm not going to make any points on that directly, but the one of the best
    things I've read is Cynthia Lee's article on
    Vox
    .

    I saw a comment on Facebook in response to all of this. The comment was arguing
    against diversity hiring, claiming that diversity hires don't have the same bar
    applied to them. In other words, diversity hiring programs result in hiring
    lower quality engineers than the ones hired outside of the programs.

    A well run[1] diversity program doesn't lower the bar for hiring. Instead
    it provides a way to ensure candidates all have an equal opportunity for
    consideration. It works to remove biases in hiring that adversely affect
    various groups.

    A well known example of this is with the hiring of orchestra members. I think most would expect that those auditioning are hiring strictly based on their skills, meaning that a woman who is more skilled than a man would be hired. This wasn't the case, and as orchestras implemented blind auditions suddenly women started to be hired. Studies have been done on this, and it is clear that blind auditions removed bias from the hiring process[2].

    There are a number of choke points where conscious or
    unconscious bias can come into play in hiring at most tech companies:

    1. Recruiter resume filtering
    2. Hiring manager resume filtering
    3. Phone screens
    4. On-site interviews
    5. Offer parameters (base pay, stock, etc)

    The best solutions I've seen put efforts into all stages[3]. The work at each stage is a bit different[4], but progress can be made and measured. I don't have a magical solution, and I don't think the big names in tech do either[5].

    Getting more diversity into tech is important. A varied set of backgrounds and
    life experiences help us make better products for our customers, and serve
    broader markets. The most important reason is that people should have
    the opportunity to work in the field they want, and actually be judged on their merits[6].



    1. Can a company implement a diversity hiring system that does apply a different bar for hires? Sure. Have I ever seen or heard of one? Nope. And let's be honest tech hiring is hard, imprecise, and makes mistakes. And evaluating the quality of someone's work, once hired, is subjective. Bias extends well beyond hiring and includes how we evaluate and treat the employees that are present. ↩︎

    2. See also: the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle for more. ↩︎

    3. A diversity program can be implemented only at stage 1, creating a pipeline where all the resumes meet the diversity criteria. This means that stages 2–4 can't make comparisons to candidates where a bias might come into play. This methodology has some problems. It means you are ignoring non-diverse candidates, running two hiring pipelines, or rejecting everyone just further down the pipeline. Is it better or worse than doing nothing? I'd learn towards better, but I'm not totally sure. ↩︎

    4. For example: Getting more resumes from diverse groups in at stage 1. Removing opportunities for bias to have an effect in stage 2. Making phone screens uniform for a job at stage 3. The hardest is stage 4, where it means training employees to understand bias. Stage 5 means uniformity for offers given and pay. ↩︎

    5. Looking at gender for Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. Of those that report the breakdown in engineering/tech roles, it is around 20% women. We can do better. ↩︎

    6. One other pet peeve I've seen this week is people citing statistics of the number of women in CS and engineering programs in the US being at all time highs (or particularly the AP CS test having a majority of women taking it). That's great, but retention of women in these fields is terrible. More women coming in the field is great, but they need to stay. We have a lot of work to do still. ↩︎