Simon Willison’s Weblog


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When you know something it is almost impossible to imagine what it is like not to know that thing. This is the curse of knowledge, and it is the root of countless misunderstandings and inefficiencies. Smart people who are comfortable with complexity can be especially prone to it! If you don’t guard against the curse of knowledge it has the potential to obfuscate all forms of communication, including code. The more specialized your work, the greater the risk that you will communicate in ways that are incomprehensible to the uninitiated.

Joel Goldberg # 6th January 2021, 7:43 pm

Generally, product-aligned teams deliver better products more rapidly. Again, Conway’s Law is inescapable; if delivering a new feature requires several teams to coordinate, you’ll struggle compared to an org where a single team can execute on a new feature.

Jacob Kaplan-Moss # 5th January 2021, 4:33 pm

You know Google Maps? What I do is, like, build little pieces of Google Maps over and over for people who need them but can’t just use Google Maps because they’re not allowed to for some reason, or another.

Joe Morrison # 29th December 2020, 8:32 pm

While copywriting is used to persuade a user to take a certain action, technical writing exists to support the user and remove barriers to getting something done. Good technical writing is hard because writers must get straight to the point without losing or confusing readers.

Stephanie Morillo # 28th December 2020, 3:58 pm

At GitHub, we want to protect developer privacy, and we find cookie banners quite irritating, so we decided to look for a solution. After a brief search, we found one: just don’t use any non-essential cookies. Pretty simple, really. 🤔 So, we have removed all non-essential cookies from GitHub, and visiting our website does not send any information to third-party analytics services.

Nat Friedman # 17th December 2020, 7:44 pm

I get asked a lot about learning to code. Sure, if you can. It’s fun. But the real action, the crux of things, is there in the database. Grab a tiny, free database like SQLite. Import a few million rows of data. Make them searchable. It’s one of the most soothing activities known to humankind, taking big piles of messy data and massaging them into the rigid structure required of a relational database. It’s true power.

Paul Ford # 16th December 2020, 5:35 am

If you are pre-product market fit it’s probably too early to think about event based analytics. If you have a small number of users and are able to talk with all of them, you will get much more meaningful data getting to know them than if you were to set up product analytics. You probably don’t have enough users to get meaningful data from product analytics anyways.

Michael Malis # 11th December 2020, 6:39 am

Discoverable CLIs have comprehensive help texts, provide lots of examples, suggest what command to run next, suggest what to do when there is an error. There are lots of ideas that can be stolen from GUIs to make CLIs easier to learn and use, even for power users.

Command Line Interface Guidelines # 4th December 2020, 8:48 pm

The value of a product is the number of problems it can solve divided by the amount of complexity the user needs to keep in their head to use it. Consider an iPhone vs a standard TV remove: an iPhone touchscreen can be used for countless different functions, but there’s very little to remember about how it works (tap, drag, swipe, pinch). With a TV remove you have to remember what every button does; the more things you can use the remote for, the more buttons it has. We want to create iPhones, not TV remotes.

Adam Wiggins: Heroku Values # 3rd December 2020, 9:25 pm

The open secret Jennings filled me in on is that OpenStreetMap (OSM) is now at the center of an unholy alliance of the world’s largest and wealthiest technology companies. The most valuable companies in the world are treating OSM as critical infrastructure for some of the most-used software ever written. The four companies in the inner circle— Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft— have a combined market capitalization of over six trillion dollars.

Joe Morrison # 20th November 2020, 9:11 pm

Seniors generally report having more trust in the people around them, a characteristic that may make them more credulous of information that comes from friends and family. There is also the issue of context: Misinformation appears in a stream that also includes baby pictures, recipes and career updates. Users may not expect to toggle between light socializing and heavy truth-assessing when they’re looking at their phone for a few minutes in line at the grocery store.

Michael Hobbes # 29th October 2020, 3:06 pm

Apple now receives an estimated $8 billion to $12 billion in annual payments — up from $1 billion a year in 2014 — in exchange for building Google’s search engine into its products. It is probably the single biggest payment that Google makes to anyone and accounts for 14 to 21 percent of Apple’s annual profits.

Apple, Google and a Deal That Controls the Internet # 26th October 2020, 3:10 am

Writing the code to sign data with a private key and verify it with a public key would have been easier to get correct than correctly invoking the JWT library. In fact, the iOS app (which gets this right) doesn’t use a JWT library at all, but manages to verify using a public key in fewer lines of code than the Android app takes to incorrectly use a JWT library!

James 'zofrex' Sanderson # 21st October 2020, 9:34 pm

The stampede of the affluent into grim-faced, highly competitive sports has been a tragicomedy of perverse incentives and social evolution in unequal times: a Darwinian parable of the mayhem that can ensue following the discovery of even a minor advantage. Like a peacock rendered nearly flightless by gaudy tail feathers, the overserved athlete is the product of a process that has become maladaptive, and is now harming the very blue-chip demographic it was supposed to help.

Ruth S. Barrett # 19th October 2020, 3:09 pm

It’s probably a bad idea to risk paying your ransom, though — the US Treasury Dept has issued clarifying guidance that companies paying off ransomware, and all companies facilitating the payment, can be charged with sanctions violations if the bitcoins end up at North Korea or sanctioned cybercrime groups.

David Gerard # 10th October 2020, 9:17 pm

I’ve often joked with other internet culture reporters about what I call the “normie tipping point.” In every emerging internet trend, there is a point at which “normies” — people who don’t spend all day online, and whose brains aren’t rotted by internet garbage — start calling, texting and emailing us to ask what’s going on. Why are kids eating Tide Pods? What is the Momo Challenge? Who is Logan Paul, and why did he film himself with a dead body? The normie tipping point is a joke, but it speaks to one of the thorniest questions in modern journalism, specifically on this beat: When does the benefit of informing people about an emerging piece of misinformation outweigh the possible harms?

Kevin Roose # 5th October 2020, 3:40 pm

Inevitably we got round to talking about async. As much of an unneeded complication as it is for so many day-to-day use-cases, it’s important for Python because, if and when you do need the high throughput handling of these io-bound use-cases, you don’t want to have to switch language. The same for Django: most of what you’re doing has no need of async but you don’t want to have to change web framework just because you need a sprinkling of non-blocking IO.

Carlton Gibson # 27th September 2020, 3:09 pm

The Bias-for-Building Fallacy is most common in orgs that worship speed. That’s fine, but if you go speedily in the wrong direction, you will end up in the wrong place. That’s why teams should value velocity much more than speed: velocity being a combo of speed & direction.

Shreyas Doshi # 26th September 2020, 2:07 pm

One academic who interviewed attendees of a flat-earth convention found that, almost to a person, they’d discovered the subculture via YouTube recommendations.

YouTube’s Plot to Silence Conspiracy Theories # 20th September 2020, 1:27 am

A manager on Strategic Response mused to myself that most of the world outside the West was effectively the Wild West with myself as the part-time dictator – he meant the statement as a compliment, but it illustrated the immense pressures upon me.

Sophie Zhang # 15th September 2020, 9:21 pm

Simply put, if you’re in a position of power at work, you’re unlikely to see workplace harassment in front of you. That’s because harassment and bullying are attempts to exert power over people with less of it. People who behave improperly don’t tend to do so with people they perceive as having power already.

Sarah Milstein # 1st September 2020, 3:10 pm

Why weekly? You want to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s really going on. When 1:1s are scheduled bi-weekly, and either of you have to cancel, you’ll likely be going a month between conversations and that is far too long to go without having a 1:1 with your direct report. Think of how much happens in a month. You don’t want to be that far behind!

Adrienne Lowe # 21st August 2020, 5:02 pm

We’re generally only impressed by things we can’t do—things that are beyond our own skill set. So, by definition, we aren’t going to be that impressed by the things we create. The end user, however, is perfectly able to find your work impressive.

@gamemakerstk # 13th August 2020, 3:12 pm

COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.

Wade Davis # 8th August 2020, 3:48 pm

When you talk with cheese aficionados, it doesn’t usually take long for the conversation to veer this way: away from curds, whey, and mold, and toward matters of life and death. With the zeal of nineteenth-century naturalists, they discuss great lineages and endangered species, painstakingly cataloguing those cheeses that are thriving and those that are lost to history.

Ruby Tandoh # 2nd August 2020, 6:57 pm

The impact of crab mentality on performance was quantified by a New Zealand study in 2015 which demonstrated up to an 18% average exam result improvement for students when their grades were reported in a way that prevented others from knowing their position in published rankings.

Crab mentality on Wikipedia # 1st August 2020, 4:25 pm

Organizations adopt microservices when the logistical overhead of coordinating teams against a monolith becomes so large that it starts affecting product velocity. Microservices are a way to release that organizational/logistical friction, at great technical cost.

sagichmal # 25th July 2020, 11:43 pm

If you have to repeat yourself, you weren’t clear enough the first time. However, if you’re talking about something brand new, you may have to repeat yourself for years before you’re heard. Pick your repeats wisely.

The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication # 25th July 2020, 3:07 pm

You always get the name of the dog, the editor explained. The dog is a character in your story, and names tell readers a lot about your characters. It’s a crucial storytelling detail, and if you’re alert and inquisitive enough to ask for the name of the dog, you’ll surely not miss any other important details.

Justin Willett # 22nd July 2020, 2:29 pm

Quite simply, it’s the product manager’s job to articulate two simple things: What game are we playing? How do we keep score? Do these two things right, and all of a sudden a collection of brilliant individual contributors with talents in engineering, operations, quality, design and marketing will start running in the same direction. Without it, no amount of prioritization or execution management will save you.

Adam Nash # 20th July 2020, 8:33 pm