Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Programming and the Fine Arts

2022-07-09 — Michael Haupt

There's a certain kind of "strange" programming language that could be called "poetic". This is because programs written in these languages read like texts from altogether unexpected genres.

Expressed in the Shakespeare programming language, for instance, programs read like dramatic plays by a certain famous English poet. And Rockstar makes programs look and feel a lot like heavy metal ballads.

Of course that's all a bit nuts. What's wrong with that? After all, English author Tom Holt, in his novel Flying Dutch, notes that Wagner's opera Der fliegende Holländer is actually part of an accounting software system. (If I recall correctly.)

Tags: music, books, the-nerdy-bit

James Joyce

2022-06-03 — Michael Haupt

I really admire James Joyce, Irish author of, over time, increasingly arcane and wonderful literature. I'm also too stupid to "get" many of his more complex writings, but there's always Anthony Burgess' excellent guideline book, "Here Comes Everybody". (Reading that guide, and one specific chapter of "Ulysses", even inspired me to a literary introduction to aspect-oriented programming.)

Two pieces of Joyce's art strike me for their intense poetic, melancholic, and musical nature. The first, and more accessible, is the few final paragraphs from the final story in the Dubliners collection, "The Dead". Read it here (scroll down to the end and take in the final few paragraphs).

The second piece is the ending (?) of Joyce's final work, "Finnegans Wake", that wondrous contraption of portmanteaus and language nerdery. Find it here. What makes the ending so special?

The mental image is that of a river (the Liffey, in Dublin, in fact) flowing out into the sea and thereby losing its literal self as it dissolves into the ocean, in a dreamy fashion of growing self-unconsciousness. It has the same musical quality as the Dubliners ending. And then, the book circles back to its beginning - you can really just flip back to the first page and start over, and the language will be very powerful, quite the opposite of how it ended, but it’s connected.

That's quite unmatched.

Tags: books

Sprunginnovationen

2022-05-22 — Michael Haupt

Recently, I read a newly published book on Sprunginnovationen (published in German only; "Sprunginnovation" is usually translated as "disruptive innovation"). One of the authors leads the German Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND), which is a fairly interesting institution.

The book summarises the agency's spirit and mission. The concept of a disruptive innovation is defined as an innovation that has a sustainable positive impact on a majority of people on as many levels of the Maslow pyramid as possible, while ideally not having negative impacts on anyone. Two examples: the printing press, and the ur-bicycle dandy horse (called Draisine in German after its inventor).

SPRIND is strongly inspired by agencies such as DARPA (to which we owe such minor achievements as the internet). Thus, it needs to operate in ways that aren't too common in Germany. The book criticises German innovation funding for several reasons. It's too bureaucratic, frequently requiring hundreds of pages of complex paperwork to apply for funding. It's too risk averse, being too intent on really really promising ideas and avoiding those that might fail. It tends to ride dead horses as it will yield to follow-up funding requests without putting the output to a real test for whether it's going to be practical.

This well deserved criticism notwithstanding, the book has an overall very optimistic and friendly tone. The authors clearly believe that innovation and technology, done right, can help address many of our current issues. The authors also don't lose themselves in celebrating technology for its own sake (that would most likely violate their own definition of a desirable innovation) but maintain a broader view on society with an emphasis on education.

SPRIND is already funding some interesting technology. Two projects that stand out for me are one to remove microplastics from water, and a huge onshore wind turbine.

The only thing I'd have wished for in the book would have been some more concrete inspirations and first principles - questions to start with. What am I doing in my field or industry that could have the potential to have a long-lasting large scale positive effect on our lives? A framework of questions perhaps, that would guide the reader's thinking beyond reading the book.

Tags: books

Cordwainer Smith

2022-03-06 — Michael Haupt

A while ago, I read some stories and a novel collected in a book titled "We the Underpeople" by Cordwainer Smith. This was an unexpected and very positive experience in my science fiction reading journey.

All of Smith's stories are set in the same universe, and cover a timespan of thousands of years, shedding light on the different periods and key events in the world's history. In that, it predates Iain Banks' Culture universe by decades, and I dare say Banks' works are more focused on grandeur and distinctively more hollow than Smith's (if somewhat equally witty).

This anthology contains Smith's only novel, Norstrilia, and some carefully selected short stories that serve as a good introduction to the universe and well prepare the unsuspecting reader for the novel. The writing is a bit unforgiving in that it throws the reader right into the water at the deep end of the pool, there is no introduction as such; one has to figure things out and tie strings and little clues together while reading. That makes it very interesting, at least for me.

I'm not going to give away too many of the details here, just that Norstrilia's plot about someone buying the entire planet Earth just because he can made me chuckle. (Iain Banks must have known this when he wrote about The Business owning the entire Roman empire.) Cordwainer Smith's writing is witty, thought provoking, and unusual in the best possible way. Strong recommendation.

Tags: books

Dreaming, Goals, and Coaching

2021-08-22 — Michael Haupt

In a recent leadership training, the trainer recommended the book Rethinking Positive Thinking by Gabriele Oettingen.

It's not strictly a necessary and important read, unless you have a very specific interest, and even then, the value is limited. Here's why. The book's gist, put very bluntly, is that, in order to realise your dreams, you have to be realistic about the obstacles and make plans for working around those. Well, go figure - that's about as common sense as it gets. Snark aside, the book is happily not one of those wordy self-help tomes, but provides an overview of all the empirical research the author has conducted to prove what looks like a truism true. That's good: the psychological effects of imagining obstacles and thinking them through are a thing, and they spawn more determination. Oettingen then also introduces a small but powerful framework called WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) that can be used to do the mental exercise, and gives examples of its application.

So, while its gist can be summarised in a paragraph, the book extensively describes the numerous studies and thinking journey. This is the value a reader can take from it: if you're interested in empirical study design, it's a treasure trove. The value is limited, though, as the book stays at the storytelling level and doesn't describe the study setups with the statistical rigour that would be needed to unleash full social sciences thinking.

The book did have some unexpected value that emerged when I processed it, post-reading, in the context of goal setting and career development conversations. In fact, something bigger may yet emerge from that (stay tuned).

Reproducing an idea from the book, dreaming is a substitute for doing, from which short-term happiness ensues, but no action and no change, and consequently less energy and momentum to realise the dream. This reminded me of the importance of the "accountability exercise" in coaching - i.e., the part where the coach works with the client to define and commit to actions and check-ins. In other words, generating an insight is not enough: what actions follow from it is important.

I have since applied Oettingen's WOOP framework in coaching, using it right there, or proposing it to clients as a mental tool for getting more clarity about goal setting. This had a good impact both in the sessions and during the periods until the next check-ins and follow-ups. In the greater context of goal setting and career development, it can be a valuable tool to work towards better goals with more clarity, probably even towards structured approaches like SMART goals and longer-term vision manifestos like V2MOM documents.

Dreaming is good. Taking the obstacles into account helps devising and implementing the plan. What's not to like?

Tags: books, coaching, work

The Language Lover's Puzzle Book

2021-07-12 — Michael Haupt

A former colleague recommended me this book by Alex Bellos: The Language Lover's Puzzle Book. So far, I've only skimmed it, so I cannot give a fully formed opinion. What I've seen is really good though.

It's indeed a puzzle book. Every chapter begins with a vocabulary quiz. Each of the chapters, in turn, explains some things around broadly language-related matters. For instance, family relationships, ciphers, ancient languages, alphabets, computer languages, and so forth. The fun part is that many of the explanations, again, come in the form of quizzes. That should make reading - or rather, working - through the book really challenging and interesting. Of course, the appendix has all the solutions.

Tags: books, the-nerdy-bit

Turing Machines

2021-07-04 — Michael Haupt

The Turing Machine is a theoretical abstraction for the discussion of computability problems, and one of the absolutely key fundamental ideas in computer science. They were introduced by Alan Turing in a paper titled On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, which was published in 1936. Any algorithm that can be represented as a Turing machine can be processed by a computer, and vice versa. Turing machines are the simplest abstraction for computability there is. Notably, there are Turing machines that describe Turing machines, proving they're, well, computable.

Any programming language that is Turing complete can be used to express any possible algorithm. Elegance is not implied, just sheer possibility. Thus, considerable sophistication, such as in languages like Haskell, isn't needed. A simple language like Brainfuck is Turing complete as well. Arguably, the "hello, world" source code in Brainfuck is not readily intelligible, but that's not the point.

++++++++[>++++[>++>+++>+++>+<<<<-]>+>+>->>+[<]<-]>>.>---.+++++++..+++.>>.<-.<.+++.------.--------.>>+.>++.

Turing machines are such a fascinating idea that people have even built Lego versions of them.

Anyway. I wanted to point to a really interesting book. Turing's seminal paper, while groundbreaking, is a bit hard to access because of its mathematical style. Charles Petzold has thankfully set out to take the paper and write a book around it that explains everything in great detail for a much broader audience. The Annotated Turing is a really fun read.

Tags: the-nerdy-bit, books

Thesaurus Rex

2020-11-08 — Michael Haupt

For us language lovers, here's a nice hefty brick of a book that will make you chuckle and think. Thesaurus Rex is a dictionary of sorts. It's a bit in the tradition of Douglas Adams' masterpiece The Meaning of Liff (available in German as Der tiefere Sinn des Labenz), wherein Adams used the names of cities to ascribe to them meanings and concepts that we all know exist but didn't have words for so far. While Liff/Labenz originate in English, Thesaurus Rex originates in German, and, while doing a similar thing for naming as yet unnamed concepts, uses puns to that end. In that, it's more Joycean in its approach, which doesn't make it any less good.

One of my favourites is "Dellfin". To appreciate it, you need to know that "Delle" is a German word for "dent". Now, a Dellfin can be one of two things: (a) a dented dolphin, (b) the end of a computer manufacturer.

Thesaurus Rex is full of such goodness.

Tags: the-nerdy-bit, books

Nobel Prize Literature

2020-09-20 — Michael Haupt

There are two authors books of whom I had read before they received the Nobel Prize. Günter Grass is one of them, and I really didn't enjoy his books too much. Sir Kazuo Ishiguro is a different case. I first came across his work watching the movie "Never Let Me Go", which touched me deeply, so I read the book, only to find that the movie was congenial, and the book, even more touching, deep, and thought-provoking than the film adaption. That caused appetite for more, and I read "The Remains of the Day" (there is an equally congenial movie including such excellent actors as Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson). By now, I've read most of Sir Kazuo's books, and haven't regretted a single one of them. He has a knack for describing characters with considerable depth, and for devising plots that surprise, sometimes in heartbreaking ways. I've found something to take away from absolutely every single one of his books. This, friends, is literature at its best, without the Hirnschwurbel-inducing gluttony found in Grass.

Addendum 1: Sorry, Grass fans. Maybe it's me.

Addendum 2: "Hirnschwurbel" is not easily translated. Imagine receiving cognitive input that makes your brain spin and tangle up on itself. That sensation is a Hirnschwurbel.

Tags: books