Interesting stuff club
Our monthly roundup of anything we’re doing and learning in our own time.
“The most ‘interesting’ thing I’ve been doing in my own time is working on an app to see whether I can call my family, as they go mad if I call when they’re watching their favourite TV shows. I’ve run it by a few people who think it’s a good idea and my developer (Eddy!) is pretty excited about it too, so I’m looking forward to seeing where we get with that. Other than that, I’m reading Sprint which Ryan talked about and recommended last month, and I’m also reading Discussing Design which is very useful, as getting practical design feedback is actually really hard. Off the back of what I’ve read in those two books, we held a design and UX retrospective with our clients this week which was a really useful activity which resulted in some great ideas of how we’ll approach the next slice of work.”
“As Rachael said, we’re making an app together which I’m really excited about. I originally wanted to use Elm, but we have a requirement for native functionality (contacts) and the Elm equivalent of react native, elm-native-ui, is very experimental so I’ve decided to use React Native and Redux, which is still really cool! I am looking forward to getting started with the new Elm stuff though and I’ve been sharing some resources with Dave. Version 0.18 has just been released so I’ll hopefully have some time soon to get going with that.”
“In one of the history books I’m reading there was a really interesting snippet about in World War 2 when Germany declared war on the Soviet Union. Everyone wanted to fight for their country, men and women alike. So Marina Raskova, of the Soviet Air Force, campaigned to Stalin himself and was able to set up a women-only team. They were nicknamed the ‘night witches’ as apparently their aeroplanes sounded like witches brooms?! Marina Raskova was the world record holder for the longest non-stop flight, and when she and her team went to fight the Germans they had an advantage. Their planes were so slow that if the Germans flew at their speed, their planes stalled which meant that her team could manoeuvre with ease.
The regiment would fly in groups of three, with the front two deliberately getting the attention of enemy spotlights to draw the fire away from the plane behind, allowing it to bomb their target. They would then regroup and another pilot would fly behind to attack and then rotate again before returning home. Raskova died in combat and had the first state funeral of the war and was buried by the Kremlin Wall.”
“I’ve just come back from a holiday so I’ve been able to do some reading. It’s a book I mentioned in perhaps my first Interesting Stuff Club called I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59. It’s about Douglas Edwards; the first marketeer employed by Google who explains what it was like to work there in the very early days. The two guys who started Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page were eccentrics who didn’t want to do anything that had already been done before, and it became obvious that Marketing wasn’t their top priority, and that they certainly didn’t want to spend any money on it. In fact, they didn’t want to spend any money on anything it seemed. They bought all of their equipment cheap or second hand, with the mindset that they could buy anything again if it broke. When you hear about working at the Google of today, it’s always how they have ping pong tables, chefs, and that you could basically live there. Well they’ve always had that, even on day one. So I guess their priorities have always been about the staff perks making Google and cool place to work.”
“I read something recently about people who can speak multiple languages and how their brains work, and that being bilingual can help you to concentrate as the brain has more ability to focus and ignore irrelevant information. Another thing is that the languages almost fight to be heard in your mind. If you speak one language, then that is the voice that you talk to and hear in your head, but when you can speak more than one, they fight to be used and eventually one will win. I know that when I was a younger and living in India, Gujarati was the only language I spoke so that was the one I heard in my head, but when we moved to England, I spoke more and more in English, and now the voice I use in my head is always English.”
“I’ve been looking for a way to validate Angular JS templates as they’re very fiddly, and you often don’t know about any mistakes until you run your end to end tests (or even when you spot it in production). Then you’re often given no clues about what’s wrong, it just doesn’t work, so I wanted to find a way to find any errors before we run our tests. I could only find one solution (html-angular-validate) but it only checks that the template is valid HTML and we need something a bit more in depth. Therefore I wrote my own tool which extracts all of the expressions out of the Angular template, compiles them to Typescript, then runs it through the Typescript compiler. I’ve already run it on Limpid Markets and it’s found one syntax error as well as a few incorrect types, so it’s certainly already been of use to us. It’s written in Clojurescript and run on node so that I can use the ts-node npm module to compile the Typescript. It’s on github at https://github.com/DaveWM/angular-template-type-checker. We’ll certainly use it at UVD as a regular sense check for us.”
“Similar to what Rachael and Eddy said, I’ve been working on a little side project to push my self to practice a few new things. My idea is very self indulgent, but I’m almost certain other people have the same problem. In the run up to Christmas, I wanted to share my gift wish list with my family. Last year I ended up using Pinterest, but this wasn’t ideal as it required my Mum, for example, to have to create an account. I story mapped my solution and prioritised the bits that I felt would achieve an outcome for the most important user – me! From the tech side I wanted to focus on progressive web app technologies alongside other bits that I’d like to learn a bit more about. So far it’s React using Redux for state (looking to include redux-persist for hydrating state from service worker) with Redux Saga for async side effects, Firebase as the backend and using CSS modules and PostCSS for styling. I’m using embedly to gather meta data for any links users add to their list. I’m hoping to have my MVP ready for Christmas and will almost certainly have something to show for next Interesting Stuff Club.”
“I had a really interesting lecture the other day about zero knowledge proof, which is the concept that you can prove you know something to someone without telling them what it is that you know. A good example is if someone’s doing a crossword and you know one of the words they’re struggling with. You could go to a dictionary and find the word, then choose one of the largest words in the description and then go to that word’s definition and maybe do this for three words. Then you can give the person the largest word from the description of the third word and when they’ve completed the crossword, they can hopefully follow the same trail as you, thus proving that you knew the answer.”
“I’m reading a book called ‘Wiser: Getting beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter’, the premise of which is how we’ve always relied on groups to make all sorts of important decisions (in boardrooms, governments, juries) but in fact, it’s entirely possible these groups are amplifying bad decisions.
One example of how groups can unwittingly amplify bad decisions is through something called a ‘social cascade’. Think about a typical decision a company board might have to make – whether to invest in venture A or venture B. Everyone is provided with information regarding these ventures and is free to go off and do some research and then come to a decision on their own. Statistically, if the group decision was the aggregate of the individual decisions, the group would come to a better decision than if everyone came back together and explained their decision to the group and decided between them. This is because if they take it in turn to reveal their decision to the group, some of the individuals will be unwittingly swayed by irrelevant information and some relevant information will be witheld due to social pressures. For example, George is first to reveal his decision and explains that he chose venture A. But George has missed something in his research and is in fact convinced of the wrong venture. Then it’s Jane’s turn to reveal her decision but Jane was actually undecided when she came into the room. After listening to George’s argument, she now decides to support his decision and go for venture A. But she doesn’t reveal to the group that based on her own research she was completely agnostic. Now let’s say it’s Arthur’s turn and through his own research has some information that isn’t conclusive but is compelling for venture B. But Arthur currently thinks that two individuals have supported venture A. So he can either reveal his information and state his preference for venture B or he can go with the previous two, in which case the group is then in a social cascade.
In this case you might think that Aurthur is going to be completely uninfluenced by what’s happened before, but in reality, there’s a chance he will go against his own information and change his mind due to social influence. And in doing so, unwittingly he creates a chain reaction in the group that will amplify George’s initial error.”