April, 2009

Apr 09

Great Ted Talk: Bonnie Bassler

Another of my top 5 TED talks, this time profound science from Bonnie Bassler, a microbiologist, who discovered how bacteria communicate with each other. Blew me away.

Apr 09

Walking in the footsteps of giants

Mike Beltzner and I had a neat experience today — we got to give a talk at Stanford’s CS547 class on how we do design at scale at Mozilla, with Firefox in particular. It was a nostalgic and humbling experience for me — revisiting a set of experiences that significantly changed my life. In the early 90s I was trying to figure out what I really loved; what I wanted to do with my life — and what I wanted to learn while I was at Stanford.

A friend, Sean White, kept telling me I should look at Human Computer Interaction — I eventually did, and got involved with the curriculum that Terry Winograd was creating at Stanford, I helped TA for Bill Verplank, read this article by Mitch Kapor, and just generally found the thing that I really, really loved to do, which was try to build computing systems that made sense to people and made them generally happier and more productive. These people are huge in my history, and in the field — they invented so much of what we think of now as software design — I feel incredibly lucky that Sean encouraged me to follow that path, and incredibly lucky to have been at Stanford at that time.

So when Professor Winograd asked if I’d like to give a talk at 547, I of course said yes. CS547 is a seminar course that has been a who’s who of people doing amazing work in design — the list of speakers over the past 15 is truly unbelievable — people who have made real and massive differences in making computing (and the Internet) more accessible, useful, and joyful for people around the world.

As we got closer to the event, I got more reflective on the path that I’ve taken from there to here; the choices that have led me to be more interested in how to help more people do design — to help more people participate and engage and change their world — and how Mozilla represents such a natural point on that path. And of course that made me more self-conscious than ever about speaking in this forum — it’s a small class, but the history and the implications are not.

I was touched that Bill Verplank came by — and happy to get a chance to talk with him, 15 years after being his teaching assistant. And I have to say that I was shocked as I heard myself talk — how many of the ideas that I use today, in 2009, I realized came out of our interactions back then.

Anyway, I was happy to get the chance to talk, in this storied forum, and extremely humbled. And very proud to give the talk with Mike Beltzner, one of my very favorite collaborators and co-thinkers on design. I’ll put the slides below, and you can see video of the talk as well (link is at the bottom of the page — sorry for the WMV!)

Apr 09

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, by Hooman Majd

Great look at modern Iran life, culture & politics by an insider. A bit of cultural exposition, memoir, and travelog — but interesting to read, and reminded me of how much more time we need to spend trying to understand each other .

Now am reading The Shia Revival , sent to me by a friend.

Apr 09

The Ascent of Money, by Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson is an undeniably smart guy — he’s written about a broad range of global topics quite convincingly (Colossus, for example, on the American empire). So I was happy to pick this history of financial systems up — I read it more or less in tandem with Krugman’s book.

The number one lesson from this book is this: financial systems collapse all the time. It happens in every era in every geography — which highlights why it shouldn’t be such a surprise that our own system is under serious strain right now.

Wonderful history of financial systems, and was great to read alongside Krugman, for a taste of contrasting (but both helpful) views.

Apr 09

The Return of Depression Economics, by Paul Krugman

Like everyone, I’m learning a lot about our global finance system lately. While Krugman has his critics (someone at dinner the other night said “Krugman is awesome — he’s predicted 27 out of the last 2 recessions”), and he’s a little on the gloomy side, I learned a LOT from reading this book, and from reading his blog on nytimes.com.

Among other things, he’s excellent at describing the conditions in which recessions happen (and the reason that monetary policy & stimulus is basically the way out), and a ton of situations around the world that have had massive currency and economic issues over the last few decades.

It’s hard to know who to really believe in the situation we’re in today, but I feel much, much better able to understand what’s happening and make my own sense of things having read this book — I’d encourage everyone to.