What’s all this?

Trust Building

It’s official, I’ve been fired from my first client. Learn from failure! What went wrong?

Oh, lots of things.

But my working unified theory of The Problem is that I couldn’t build trust with them. I couldn’t form a relationship that proved to them they should trust me, and so every action I took was regarded with suspicion. Every mistake was proof of bad intention, and every success was reframed as a mistake. It was a very bad scene.

They had a big problem with trusting each other. Meetings were ambushes. The developers were blamed for not working fast enough. The tech lead was blamed for problems with the codebase he inherited. No one told the truth and toxicity reigned. It was a very very bad scene.

What should I have done? Was there a way to save it? Ask me next week, once the sting of it has dulled a little. In the meantime, I’ll share a little game theory that uses the (flawed) prisoner’s dilemma to show the best strategy for developing trust, and why modern society is getting worse at it.

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I can’t freaking wait for driverless cars

They’re safer. They’ll kill fewer cyclists. They’re more energy efficient. They reduce the need for parking space. I, for one, cannot wait for our self-driving overlords. And it turns out they’ll be pretty good for the trucking business too–

Driverless trucks are coming. In the near future, they will still need drivers, and they may dramatically improve their job:

Besides being able to nap and relax in the cab while Otto does the driving, says Berdinis, drivers could use the time away from the wheel to catch up on trucking’s heavy paperwork, locate a “backhaul” load that would pay for the return trip, chat with family and friends, learn a second trade, or run a business. “And while they’re doing it, the drivers are still getting paid for driving,” he says.

This is not all good news, though. Once the country gets comfortable with the idea, there will probably be a swift and traumatizing death of the trucking profession. And so my excitement for the safer world we’ll live in day to day on the road must be tempered. Every massive leap in technology means a lot of personal anguish as yet another class of job disappears. So I can’t freaking wait, but many people very much can.

The world is incredible: Honey Bees Edition

Watch this video:

SPOILER ALERT the bees kill the wasps. Not only that, but they all signal to each other with a thorax waggle (what??) to swarm around the spy wasp (they’re bees?? How do they know to do this???) and vibrate so furiously that the swarm cooks the wasp but not the bees. It’s an evolutionary edge that is laughably slim. They can survive temperatures three degrees hotter than the wasp. The wasp dies, the bees live, and the hive survives.

This does not jibe with my understanding of evolution. Evolution does not work though detective work, where a species analyzes its strengths agains its foe, then strategizes how to take advantage of it. I have NO IDEA how a hive of bees could figure out that this is how they can kill wasps, that they have a secret edge, and don’t get me started how some bees could teach their sisters that a thorax waggle means ‘swarm and cook that big thing over there.’

I was so flummoxed I told everyone I knew about this issue. Hang out with me if you want to learn about bugs. And Sam Hotop (QA wunderkind) shed some light. “Maybe all bugs cook at the same temperature?”

Ah! What if, many many years ago,these Japanese bees somehow learned to cook wasps, vibrating their little hearts out, and also cooked themselves? Bees are more related to each other than we are to our siblings (citation: The Selfish Gene) and are that much more willing to die to protect each other. Wasp dies, some bees die, and the hive survives. Then, after millennia, hives that have bees that survive at a little higher temperature have a little better survival edge. The success of the cooking method selects for bees that have a higher boiling point.

Still doesn’t make any sense how they figured out the cooking in the first place, but I’m satisfied. Bee wearing contest. China.

Pigeons can be superstitious too


Awesome post on Quora Digest this morning.

Psychologist B. F. Skinner thought free will in humans was a farce, and it had much more to do with reinforced behavior. His peers at the time offered superstition as a counter example–other animals don’t show it, and it develops without true reinforced behavior.

Skinner was able to show that pigeons developed superstition when a learned reinforcement was randomly applied, just like humans. We don’t control when it rains, for example, but we have plenty of practices that try to bring storms. Pigeons didn’t control when the food pellet came, but they’d turn in circles like the first time, or put their head in the corner.

The research was done in the ’30s, so I’m not sure what the contemporary idea of this is. But I still love it for pointing out that superstitions are based on logical reactions–it doesn’t matter if it only works some of the time (because the two activities are unrelated) we’re still able to draw a connection between them.