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Tech is Magic! image copyright © C.L. Hamer

Here's a parable you've probably heard:

In the 1890s New York City had a daunting horse manure problem. Transporting people and goods around the city resulted in so much manure that officials worried that the streets would soon be buried deep in it. Apparently in 1898 there was a conference to address the problem in which they essentially gave up.

Of course everyone knows what happened next. Along came the car and the electric tramway, and boom! Problem solved.

This tale was popularized in the climate change section of Levitt and Dubner's book Superfreakonomics. The authors used this story to illustrate the value of looking at a problem from a different perspective, also known as "thinking outside the box." …


Video version!

This is episode -1 because before you can even begin to be a master builder, you need to start by sorting your Lego collection. This is not only to make it more efficient to find the pieces you want but it's also an important step for familiarising yourself with what pieces you have available.

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A tower of sorted Legos!

If you're not quite at the stage of having this elaborate a set-up, don't be intimidated — this is not how it starts. But it's important to sort your collection — whatever stage you're at — if you want to do a masterful build. …


I keep reading the claim that we have to support Bernie because he’s the only one who can beat Trump in 2020. But is that really true?

First of all, if Trump actually makes it to November 2020 (without being impeached and convicted), then the deadly precedent of allowing blatant presidential criminality would essentially turn what’s left of rule of law in the US into a smoking crater. …


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Startup House © 2019 C.L. Hamer

I’ve spent most of my career working for tech startups, but I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur. It was kind of by chance that I’ve ended up working more for small and new tech companies rather than big, established ones — and consequently, I’ve learned that choosing this career path offers some real advantages.

If you are an engineer, should you do the same? Let me give you an overview of some of the pros and cons. …


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“Potted Housewife” by C.L. Hamer

In response to recent mass murders by self-described “Incels,” there were a couple of high-profile articles sincerely recommending forced redistribution of women. In case you missed them, please follow these links.

This suggestion was dismissed as absurd for the obvious reasons: that the Incels’ misogyny is 99% of what makes them undatable, and that women — being autonomous humans — cannot be forcibly “redistributed.” …


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Illustration by C. L. Hamer

In our modern tech world, the holy grail is to come up with a new idea or develop new technology that is such a game-changer that it “disrupts” an existing industry. If you want attention, success, and respect in this industry, disruption is the way to go.

But what if you’re in tech management? There’s a temptation to feel like you need to disrupt there too — come up with a game-changing playbook — in order to be on the cutting edge. But while our ever-changing tech landscape naturally leaves doors wide open for new ideas, there’s less reason to imagine that the task of organising a team of engineers to construct something should change dramatically from one decade to the next. …


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“Look, Ma — No middle management!”

If you’re the CEO of a hip, young startup, you naturally want to be the cool, approachable boss — not the one who distances himself from his employees with ten levels of hierarchy by adding a bunch of extra bosses who are just there to tell other people what to do. It’s tempting to dismiss management as a useless task and try to keep your organigram flat forever.

In tech companies in particular, there’s a common misconception that management is “easier” than engineering.

It’s not hard to see where this idea comes from. Typically engineers will spend years getting an advanced degree — or creating an amazing independent project — in order to qualify for a software engineering job. And then someone on the team gets promoted to head the team, usually without any management training of any kind. …


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eye evolution, illustration © C.L. Hamer

Early in my career I was working for a tech firm that had recently grown from a tiny startup to a company with a few hundred employees. One day the CEO gave a company-wide address in which he explained, “Startups produce code more efficiently than large companies — therefore we will continue to run this company like a startup!”

Unfortunately, in practice, this essentially amounted to free soft-drinks and everyone being expected to work unpaid overtime every day.

I remember at the time thinking, “That’s not how it works. There are reasons a big company can’t function like a startup.” And if you figure in all of startups that fail, it’s not even clear that startups produce more code-in-production per developer than larger companies. …


Sometimes my friends in the skeptic community post claims that “organic” agriculture is a complete crock, that it’s actually bad for the environment (especially the climate), and should be debunked. Lucky for me, I work at a company that analyzes the impacts of different food choices, so I had the opportunity to learn about the subject from scientists working in this field. (Here’s a related article from my company’s science department.)

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raspberries with a bee

“Organic” foods can have a higher carbon footprint compared to comparable conventionally-produced foods because often they produce a lower yield per acre. This is generally the biggest criticism of organic, but it turns out that it’s not always the case. Sometimes the difference in yeild is margnial, and can be offset by other considerations. Specifically, some organic labels have additional requirements — such as preventing tropical deforestation or restricting the use of heated greenhouses — that can balance out the carbon footprint. …


I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that we humans aren’t changing our ways fast enough to keep the climate disaster we’ve created from killing us. And one of the most challenging components of that change is food.

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delicious!

There are a thousand ways we can tweak what we eat, but the simplest and most effective one is to cut back on animal products. …

About

C. L. Hamer

has written three books on Java programming and is currently CTO of Eaternity AG: http://www.eaternity.org/

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