Empathy Driven Development interview

I was interviewed about “Empathy Driven Development” on the Embedded podcast: http://embedded.fm/episodes/2014/11/24/78-happy-cows

“Empathy Driven Development” is my attempt at making software engineering (and other types of engineering) better, specifically for the engineers who do the work. Very early thinking, but I think the interview went well!

I’ll be writing more about Empathy Driven Development here in the future, so stay tuned.

What does Fitbit’s “Switch to Activity Record” mean?

I got a Fitbit Force for an early Christmas present this year, and at first I was confused by the the fitbit.com “Switch to Activity Record” option. I figured it out, so I thought I would write about it here in case the explanation helps anyone else.

On the “Sleep” tab you can “edit” a sleep entry and see something like this:

Editing a "Sleep" entry

Here Fitbit’s site is showing me that I slept 10:24pm – 6:01am.

If you click “Switch to Activity Record” near the bottom of the yellow box the sleep data disappears and the UI changes to say “Record has been moved to your Activity Tracking page. Click to view“.

What just happened? Where did my sleep go?

Clicking “Click to view” (or going to the Activities tab) and selecting the same day the sleep data was for shows:

Activities entry

Aha! “Switch to Activity Record” took my sleep data (from 10:24pm – 6:01am) and reinterpreted it as non-sleep data; so now the movements I made from 10:24pm-6:01am are interpreted as steps/calories/etc.

You can change this data back to being interpreted as sleep data by editing the entry and clicking “This is a sleep record”, shown here:

Activity view

Maybe “Switch to Activity Record” is obvious to you, but I think it could use a better UI/description.

(I won’t get into how terrible the fitbit.com overall UI is. Okay, I will: note that “End time” is “6 : 1” instead of “6:01”, and that checkboxes and buttons and links are seemingly randomly used to change and select options, and that the time entry forms are completely different in the Activity and Sleep views, and that Some Options Are In First Letter Caps and others are not.)

On the bright side, I like the Fitbit Force device itself. It’s relatively comfortable to wear during the day and at night (normally I hate wearing watches while I sleep), and seems accurate enough, though I’ve only used it for a day so far; we’ll see how it holds up over time.

While I’m blah-blah-blah’ing here, I’ll add that I’d like to see a new feature. As it is, you press the Force’s (only) button to see the current time. I noticed that each time I want to see the time I first rotate my wrist so the Force’s display is more parallel to my face. My feature request is that the Force recognizes this sharp-ish wrist rotation and activates the display without requiring me to press the button. Maybe that’s not possible in practice with the sensors the Force has, but it might worth a try.

Computers are the wrong smartness.

From Isaac Asimov’s 1975 short story “Point of View,” talking about Multivac, a malfunctioning computer:

“…if Multivac were as smart as a man, we could talk to it and find out what was wrong no matter how complicated it was. If it were as dumb as a machine, it would go wrong in simple ways that we could catch easily. The trouble is, it’s half-smart, like an idiot. It’s smart enough to go wrong in very complicated ways, but not smart enough to help us find out what’s wrong. And that’s the wrong smartness.”

That accurately describes most computers and software today, almost 40 years later: they’re the wrong smartness.

Computer architecture humor

Hil. Ar. I. Ous.

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time, but maybe it’s only funny to other computer/hardware geeks:

I think that it used to be fun to be a hardware architect. Anything that you invented would be amazing, and the laws of physics were actively trying to help you succeed. Your friend would say, “I wish that we could predict branches more accurately,” and you’d think, “maybe we can leverage three bits of state per branch to implement a simple saturating counter,” and you’d laugh and declare that such a stupid scheme would never work, but then you’d test it and it would be 94% accurate, and the branches would wake up the next morning and read their newspapers and the headlines would say OUR WORLD HAS BEEN SET ON FIRE.

Link: “The Slow Winter” by James Mickens (his bio at Microsoft Research is also funny.)

Bret Victor: The Future of Programming

Yet another great quote from Bret Victor in his back-to-the-future talk, “The Future of Programming”:

“The most dangerous thought you can have as a creative person is to think that you know what you’re doing. Because once you think you know what you’re doing you stop looking around for other ways of doing things. And you stop being able to see other ways of doing things. You become blind.”

(the quote starts around 31:20)


Developing People vs. Developing Products

Great quote from bunnie about Makers:

The Maker movement, I think, is less about developing products, and more about developing people. It’s about helping people realize that technology is something man-made, and because of this, every person has the power to control it: it just takes some knowledge. There is no magic in technology. Another way to look at it is, we can all be magicians with a little training.

That comes from an interview bunnie did with CSDN.net, which you can read here: http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=3234

Summary of “Managing Humans,” 2nd edition

The second edition of “Managing Humans” came out this summer. In it, Michael Lopp (aka Rands) collects the engineering management wisdom from his blog in convenient dead-tree form. Again.

The second edition adds 18 chapters to the first edition, by my quick count, totaling 292 pages. The first edition was 209 pages. (I’m kind of disappointed the new edition didn’t say “Now with 40% more verbiage!” on the cover.) All sarcasm aside, I think that’s a good amount of new content, almost enough to justify buying the new edition. But I checked out the new edition at the library.

I loved the first edition, and I’m excited to dive into the second edition.

Here’s the money quote for me, from the first chapter:

“Every single person with whom you work has a vastly different set of needs. Fulfilling these needs is one way to make them content and productive. It is your full-time job to listen to these people and mentally document how they are built. This is your most important job. I know the senior VP of engineering is telling you that hitting the date for the project is job number one, but you are not going to write the code, test the product, or document the features. The team is going to do these things, and your job is to manage the team.”

That pretty much sums up Rands’s writing.

On to chapter two.

Note: that quote is originally from this Rands in Repose post: Don’t Be A Prick. It was edited before getting into the book.

Also, the book has a nifty web page with an old-school click-through intro: http://managinghumans.com/