Duncan Davidson
“Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it… to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.” —Alvin Toffler

Friday, October 23, 2020

To break the image

East German sports complex box office meets ancient Greek, wha?

Wandering around Friedrich Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark, I was surprised to come across a couple of ancient Greek words written on the box office: εἰκών and κλάω. The first word is the same in both modern and ancient Greek: “image.” The second word in ancient greek is “to break” or “to frustrate.”

Katerina and Christina, my resident Greek expert and her sister, point out that if you say the two out loud (“icon” and “klao”) and you get pretty close to iconoclast, which literally means “image destroyer”.

Christina went on to point out another possibility: κλάνω (klao with an n), which is the modern Greek word for to fart, literally breaking the silence.

What a strange little story to ponder on a rainy Friday in a photograph found less than 10 minutes away from home in the middle of Germany.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How do I work best?

The morning cuppa…

It’s incredibly obvious to say, but 2020 has not been a normal year for work. Next year probably won’t be either. So, what do we do about it? How do we stop simply reacting and instead meet the challenges we’re navigating and which are coming in a constructive way? My attempt to answer these questions have me going back to first principles and asking some basic questions of myself.

One of these questions is: “How do I work best?” As I think through this question, I’ve been reflecting back on my experiences and what’s worked well for me in the past and thinking about how they can be applied to the future.

Over the years, I’ve been in a wide variety of working environments. I’ve worked in big teams, small teams, and by myself. I’ve worked in private offices, group areas full of beanbags, my couch at home, and more coffee shops and airplane seats than I can count. For me, it’s not the physical environment that I find myself in that matters most, though it certainly helps. Instead, it’s finding the mental environment and space to focus on the problem at hand.

That means factoring out distractions, being comfortable enough, and concentrating on what I’m doing is what I strive for to be productive.

Sometimes, that means sitting down with a laptop in a café and focusing on writing and re-writing my thoughts as I work through a problem as the world goes by. Other times, it means settling into a beanbag with a code editor and terminal window and iterating through a test-driven loop. There are times that a long walk with a colleague to talk things out works best. And, sometimes it takes getting everybody into the same room — physical or virtual — and spending the time it takes to get everyone to a shared mindset so that a group can crack a problem that no single person can.

I don’t need quiet space to work, though it’s sometimes nice to be in a library-like environment. The background clatter of a café is sometimes a very soothing as well. Music always helps.

When I’m stuck, sometimes I just need to remind myself to put on a good beat and suddenly things start moving again.

When I settle into a good mental space to create within, I can easily handle multiple threads of conversation as long as they’re all related. Multiple threads of conversation about entirely unrelated topics will bounce me out of my zone. Surprisingly, I can thrive in complicated and chaotic communication environments as long as I can I find the connection between all the threads and focus on that to hang all the thoughts from.

I like understanding the entire scope of an issue from the holistic whole to the individual parts. My curiosity leads me to taking things apart and put them back together to understand them. I have a soft spot for building tools to build bigger things. And, when I find a point of friction that can be smoothed out in a way that will pay off over and over again, I am ecstatic.

If I’m working alone for a while, I like to bring the results of my work back in a form that is tangible in some way, whether that’s code that can be run, a document that describes something with supporting information, or a video that tells its story with a narrative feel. If I’m working in a group, I like to work in shared documents, code editors, or whiteboards combined with a free-wheeling discussion by voice to explore the problem space. Helping somebody else solve something is often as rewarding as solving it by myself. I don’t need the credit for every solution, but I love the satisfaction of being able to move forward.

As long as I’m a recognized part of a group that moves things forward, I’m happy.

I want to work with kind and smart people who have a sense of humor and are willing to consider all sides of a problem. People who have strong opinions and the arguments to back them up, but who can synthesize new input and change their opinion to apply a new understanding of the world. I enjoy learning continuously, I don’t mind it at all when I find out that I’m wrong, and I strive to consistently recast my view of the world, always with a mindset bent to growth.

I thrive being in an environment where risk-taking is appreciated, moving forward even as a consensus is developing is encouraged, and where failure is a learning opportunity met with kindness and introspection. Being critical of an idea even as I hold the person presenting that idea in the highest of regard is incredibly important to me.

When I fail to meet my standards, I appreciate being told and given the opportunity to try again.

I love the best parts of California startup culture and mindset, and I miss that living in Germany, yet I need to work in a global environment that understands that there is nuance to every action and decision. My passport is American, my family is in Europe, and my people are all over the place. I want to be in a team that finds working from an office in London or San Francisco is just as natural as from a café in Thessaloniki or a hotel lobby in Singapore.

This is how I work best. Give me a MacBook Pro, a good Internet connection, a set of problems that matter, and the smartest people around to work on them with in code, conversation, and in long-form writing. That’s how I want to work as we go into 2021 and meet all the challenges that are coming.

Sunday, October 18, 2020
Two car-share vehicles blocking a public charge point

🚙 Car sharing is great. Electric car sharing is even better. What’s not great, however, are two car share cars blocking the nearest public charge point — which is a 4 hour parking spot during the daytime — for over three days straight. Worst, these cars aren’t showing up on WeShare’s app which means that nobody can actually drive them away. Deadlock. Not good for anyone, including WeShare.

🧠 Preserving as much mental health as possible right now is top of my mind. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the election, and a few other things, that’s really tough to do. Last Friday after my morning meetings, I turned off my work laptop, disabled work email and Teams on my phone, and played hooky for the rest of the day. Highly therapeutic.

💪 Mornings are the best time to work out, at least for normal people. ”A new study published in the International Journal of Obesity found those who exercised in the morning lost more weight than those who waited until after 3 p.m. to break a sweat.” I always feel great when I work out first thing, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like.

💡 Which programming languages use the least electricity? ”Ultimately the researchers were even able to break down energy consumption based on whether it was being consumed by the CPU or DRAM — concluding that the majority of power (around 88 percent) was consumed by the CPU, on average.” C and Rust lead the list for efficiency. Interestingly, Java comes in 5th place with 3 times the energy consumption. Ruby, Python, and Perl, on the other hand, come in at 70 to 80 times the energy consumption of C and Rust.

🛢 Because I’d like to see as much of the fossil fuel economy shut down as fast as possible, I’m disappointed by the Biden/Harris campaign position on fracking. On the other hand, I can understand the argument that ”the political risk isn’t even necessary: Government leaders may not have to ban fracking, because the economics will likely do it for them.” Let’s hope.

🗽 Caroline Rose Giuliani is endorsing Joe Biden. ”I may not be able to change my father’s mind, but together, we can vote this toxic administration out of office.” Thanksgiving dinner at the Giuliani house has got to be quite the event.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020


Enjoying a cuppa earlier today outside the Barn at Hackescher Markt in Berlin

60 Minutes goes inside the Lincoln Project’s campaign against Trump. A fascinating look into the group of long-time Republican political operatives that used to support John McCain and George W. Bush who now are campaigning to defeat Trump at any cost.

⛅ Did you know that you can run a carbon aware Kubernetes cluster? “Carbon intensity data for electrical grids around the world is available through APIs like WattTime. They provide a Marginal Operating Emissions Rate (MOER) value that represents the pounds of carbon emitted to create a megawatt of energy — the lower the MOER, the cleaner the energy.”

🏴‍☠️ No. Microsoft is not rebasing Windows to Linux, says Hayden Barnes. “Neither Windows nor Ubuntu are going anywhere. They are just going to keep getting better through open source. Each will play to their relative strengths. Just now with more open source collaboration than imaginable before.” After all, if two kernels can run so well together on the same system, why on Earth would you go through the hell of trying to port all the APIs in order to just run one?

📆 This morning, Katerina let me know that Tuesday the 13th in Greece is like Friday the 13th for Americans and Brits. Tuesday in general is thought to be dominated by Ares, the god of war and the fall of Constantinople on Tuesday April 13th, 1204 was considered a blow to Hellenism. Topping things off for Tuesday, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans on Tuesday May 29th, 1453. Yes, its the 29th, but if you add 1+4+5+3, you get 13. Anyway, now you know. You’re welcome.

📲 Oh hello iPhone 12 Pro Max. Better cameras with bigger sensors, LIDAR, and magnetic snap on accessories. Yes, please.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Without the Earth, we have nothing

Weißer See (White Lake) in northern Berlin

🍂 Fall is starting to settle in here in Berlin. Some of the leaves on the trees have started turning and the weather is certainly crisp now. We’re breaking out our jackets, hats, and warm socks for our walks around the various parks the city has to offer.

🌍 It’s so awesome that David Attenborough is lending his voice to help Prince William launch the Earthshot Prize. _“Drawing inspiration from the concept of moonshots, which since the moon landing in 1969 has become shorthand to talk about the most ambitious and ground-breaking goals, Prince William announces the Earthshot Prize: an ambitious set of challenges to inspire a decade of action to repair the planet.”

📺 William spoke at last weekend’s six-hour long TED Countdown event which featured more than 50 speakers sharing ideas about how to accelerate solutions for the climate crisis. The entire event is available online.

🤯 The thought that’s really stuck withe me from the event is Professor Myles Allen’s statement that the fossil fuel industry could address climate change by decarbonizing fossil fuels. “Global warming won’t wait for the fossil fuel industry to die. And just calling for it to die is letting it off the hook from solving its own problem. In these divided times, we need to look for help and maybe even friends in unexpected places. It’s time to call on the fossil fuel industry to help solve the problem their product has created. Their engineers know how, we just need to get the management to look up from their shoes.”

💡 There are a lot of technology issues to solve with carbon capture and storage, but making decarbonizing fossil fuels a direct cost of goods sold through regulation neatly sidesteps the impossible mechanics of how to get an effective carbon tax in place to pay for it. There’s a lot of potential for this to be one effort that we can use in the portfolio of solutions which we need to deploy in the next decade.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Life with a plug-in hybrid in Berlin

When we got my family’s current car, I really wanted a full electric vehicle. We live in an apartment in the center of Berlin without a garage, however, which means we park on the street. A full EV would make us totally dependent on the network of public curbside charge points. More and more charge points are being built every month, but we weren’t yet comfortable relying on them all of the time.

So, we hedged and got a used plug-in hybrid Audi A3 e-tron. A starter EV, if you will. One that we can drive on electricity around town for most of our needs, but which always has petrol in the tank so that we’re never stranded because we couldn’t find a charge point to use the night before.

For me, driving the A3 e-tron underlines its nature as a transitional car. On the one hand, it’s lovely as an electric vehicle in town and as a gas-powered vehicle on the highway. It’s zippy off the line, handles well and, since it’s an Audi, it has great fit and finish along with lots of creature comforts.

On the other hand, it leaves me wishing it were a full EV every time I drive it.

On a full charge, the car claims that it can go a bit over 40km on its 8kWh battery. Our normal trips around our part of town have a lot of stop-and-go traffic, however, so I usually need to find a charge point several times a week to keep the gasoline motor quiet. Every time I plug it in, I think about the irony of how I’m doing this at least 5 times more often than I would in a full EV with a reasonably sized 50kWh battery. And how each charge takes almost 3 times as long since the A3 e-tron can only ingest 3kWh instead of the full 11kWh that the power point can deliver.

Furthermore, since the nearest public charge spot that we can use right now is 500m away, dropping off and picking up the car each time involves a little bit of a walk. Usually, it’s not a big deal at all — in fact it’s good for me — but it is something that you think twice about when it’s cold or inclement outside. If it’s too cold, of course, I can always choose to be lazy, let the car emit CO2, and get almost 500km of range on a tank of gasoline. I try not to make that choice.

The upside of having a small battery is that the cost of each charge is small. Charging up from empty costs all of €2.70, even paying the full public charge point rate of €0.40/kWh. It’s not nearly as good a deal as charging up at home if you can, but it still works out to being somewhat cheaper than using gasoline here in Germany. Given the environmental benefits, I’m not complaining.

And, it’s not like I’m stuck only being able to charge up near home. There are public charge points with included 4 hour parking in a lot of places near where we need to drive, including right next to the café next to my son’s kita. Drop off the kiddo, get a coffee, do a bit of email, and let the car get topped off. Easy.

All in all, having a plug-in hybrid has worked out extremely well for us. We make at least 90% our local trips on electric power only. And, we’ve had the security of not having to depend entirely on the electric charging infrastructure yet as it gets built out here. But things are moving quickly. Certainly, by the time our lease is up on our current car, it’ll make sense for us to get a full EV for the next one, even as a garage-less urban apartment dwelling family.

Postscript: There’s a new public charging point right that’s been installed across the street from our apartment that should be available to us soon. That’ll make charging up easier than ever and remove the 1km round trip walk excuse on cold winter days.

Friday, October 9, 2020

I may need to take a trip

🌍 Living abroad helps you develop a clearer sense of self. “When living abroad, our data found that people’s exposure to novel cultural values and norms prompts them to repeatedly engage with their own values and beliefs, which are then either discarded or strengthened.” That’s certainly been my experience, tho I do wonder if I’ve discarded more values than strengthened.

🛫 CommonPass may be the future of verifying the health status of travellers. I can certainly see something like this being part of the travel landscape, hopefully much sooner than later.

📦 From the office of holy crap, there’s gotta be a good reason: FedEx now operates a round trip between SAN and TIJ. Every time I’ve driven over the border at Tijuana, it’s been a complete pain in the ass, but it must be even worse than ever for FedEx to start using a 757 to transport cargo 18 miles.

📸 My friend Rick Lepage has been encouraging me to buy more photo books, so when I saw news of the new Accidentally Wes Anderson book based on the instagram account of the same name, I immediately ordered it. "inspired by a community of more than one million adventurers, Accidentally Wes Anderson tells the stories behind more than 200 of the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and interesting places on Earth." Approved by Wes Anderson himself. I can’t wait.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Bits of good news

🔎 COVID-19 is rewriting the rules of corporate governance “The pandemic has made all too clear that society depends on well-functioning companies to meet its most basic needs — for food, shelter, communication, you name it — and that companies do not exist solely to maximize returns to shareholders.” I’m so happy to see this idea get some traction. I’m super aware that several key companies have helped me and my family get through this pandemic so far, including some like Amazon who certainly need some internal improvements in how they treat their workers.

📈 It almost sounds like Goldman Sachs is endorsing Biden, saying: “a blue wave would likely prompt us to upgrade our forecasts.” Moody’s is on the bandwagon as well: “The economic outlook is strongest under the scenario in which Biden and the Democrats sweep Congress and fully adopt their economic agenda.” Amazing. I wonder how many ex-Wall Street mogels are spinning in their graves right now.

🦹‍♂️ Greece’s neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn was branded a criminal organization. This is great news. Hopefully, we’ll see more efforts like this across Europe to combat political groups that go too far.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

This is not a vote for Biden

This is a vote for democracy.

Look, I don’t hate on Joe Biden like people from further left of further right of me on the political spectrum do. I rather like him and I do think he was a pretty good influence in the Obama administration. He certainly carries himself with a decency in politics that we sorely lack in our current president. If I had a choice, however, I’d rather there be somebody else at the top of the Democrat ticket. Somebody leaning more into the future rather than rooted in the past.

There are two things to consider, however. First, while we vote for a person, we’re really deciding for which administration that person will build and lead. All signs are pointing to at least some sort of favorable outcome there, such as his campaign’s embrace of the Green New Deal.

Second, while there are 5 presidential candidates and their running mates, along with write in spot on the ballot (at least on my Oregon version), the choice this year really boils down to whether or not you want the United States to continue its current course into oligarchy, ignorance, inaction on climate change, and exploitation of working people. If your answer to that is “oh, hell no!” then the political math only gives one option.

Likewise, the capture and control of the Republican party by Mitch McConnell — who enables Trump at every single turn — means voting for the Democrat candidate for the Senate.

Someday, hopefully soon, we’ll have an election again where the choices are more nuanced. Where we can debate conservative versus liberal on a range of issues from economic to human rights. This is not, however, that election.

Vote for democracy this year.

Vote like the future of America depends on it, because it does.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Overload fatigue

🦠 The intro to CNN’s story on Trump’s return is priceless: “A strongly medicated President Donald Trump bolted from his VIP hospital bubble Monday, staging a bizarre White House comeback that included an irresponsible mask removal and a reckless pronouncement there is nothing to fear from Covid-19, which has already killed 210,000 Americans.”

🎲 In gambling terms, it’s clear that Trump is all in. He’s setting it up so that if he recovers, he can look like the powerful strong man and can continue his narrative. If he loses the bet and doesn’t recover, he won’t care at that point.

😷 Berlin corona virus cases are on the rise, and masks are now required again at the Bundestag. “The new restrictions coincide with several regions in Berlin struggling with an above-average caseload, with several German states implementing or threatening quarantine periods for residents who visit affected areas of the capital.” Four districts in Berlin are now classified as high risk areas. It’s looking like we’re going to have to buckle in for a long winter.

😴 Pandemic fatigue is certainly going to be a thing. First, we’ll have to make it through the election. 28 days to go.