Things to do in Austin for foreigners short on time

An older post from my newsletter, but probably still helpful.

Breakfast tacos at tamalehouse

I navigate life, mostly, though food, rather, eating. Thus, my suggestions for things to do in Austin are primarily about things to eat. Also, I have a nine year old and have lived in Amsterdam for a year. So, my knowledge of “the hot spots” is about a decade out of date. Some of the places I recommend below may even be closed!

Nonetheless, here’s what I would do, and try to do, when I go back:

  • Eat breakfast tacos in the morning – the breakfast taco is a tortilla with scrambled eggs, cheese, and other things, usually bacon. If you’re vegan, get potatoes and beans, maybe gucamole. I would start with the basic, which is both the benchmark and the standard: eggs, cheese, bacon. Breakfast tacos must be served in a flour tortilla, white flour preferably. Breakfast tacos on corn tortillas are a fraud and should be stomped on. As a bonus round, try a migas breakfast taco. In fact, I would suggest pairing a standard breakfast taco with a migas one: eat the standard first, and then the migas one. If you’ve never had a migas breakfast taco, you want to prime your mouth with the standard, a sort of palet cleansing. Order these at aa Taco Deli, a Torchy’s, or any restaurant with a Spanish word and a number in it’s name, e.g., “Arranda’s #4.” If you can go a little out of the way, got to Tamale House or Mi Madre’s. I would recommend ordering extra salsa to put on the tacos (see below).
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The ethics of selling software, the find the good first test

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Riot!

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Should you be selling software to ICE? How about companies that make missiles, canned food that’s bought and eaten by drone pilots? How about only divisions of defense companies that make the defensive weapons, like anti-aircraft radar? Even authoritative regimes need asset management software that tracks what type of lightbulbs are used in the tourist department’s waiting room.

This is an ethical question programmers ask themselves sometimes, especially programmers employees by large enterprise software vendors killing time at an open source conference, wondering how they got so much mud on their pants cuffs.

I don’t know the answer, really. I have a philosophy degree from 2000, which means I’m from the school or philosophy that says “can you ever know anything? Let’s go get some pho.”

Some software is like canned food: a commodity item with faceless consumers. You’re not going to stop making canned food (or deodorant) because people you disagree with use it. You won’t kill httpd because some evil actor installs it and uses it to help oppress or kill people. Why? I mean, because it’s impossible to know who uses it?

Things get more complicated with a SaaS, like GMail. In theory you could investigate who’s using it. This could be like finding copyrighted material or porn on YouTube, a lot of work, but a business priority, so you figure out how to do it. You could deny email to bad actors.

But then what about, like, kubernetes? Should we be excited or depressed that it can run on fighter jets? Do we distinguish between defense vs. attack? Do we need to read some big ethics of war reading list to figure out if a first strike is actually defensive or offensive?

Are we going to use some observability to detect when the fighter jet is defending versus attacking, or just doing some air show for retires and kids, and shut down kubernetes according to our ethics (air shows use a lot of fuel after all, and those kids on grandpa’s shoulders are going to suffer the consequences of that fun afternoon in later years – oh, and also the scenario where you kill people).

Like I said, I don’t know the answer. (Yay gen-x, or whatever.)

I would just suggest a different approach to analyzing the question, different than I see most people discussing it. Most people ask the question “how do we identify when our customer is evil and, thus, we should deny them our awesome software?”

Instead, I would ask it slightly differently, “prove that the software will be used for good by the customer.” That is, instead of finding the evil, prove that the customer will do good.

I’m not suggesting ignoring evil done – you look for that too after finding the good. But, you’ll have a different approach and less continuous discussion if you start with “before you can use my software, you have to show me the good you’ll do, prove that you’re going to use it in ways I agree with.”

Theoretically, you’ll arrive at the same place as if you started with finding the evil. Whether you start by focusing on how delicious the punch is first, or start with there’s a turd in the bowl first, you should reach the same conclusion.

Simulate your business in a digital twin

A computerized system that produces reliable reference or a digital twin, and is able to introduce variety of changes and compare the results to the reference, while also depicts the potential impact of uncertainty and lack of accurate data, deserves to be called a decision-support-system (DSS). Such a system will reduce significantly the risk in taking top-level decisions and will also reduce procrastination that is usually found whenever ‘hard decisions’ are evaluated. This would help significantly to put the company ahead of the competition.

It's be cool. Instead of thinking it was impossible, maybe it's better to assume it is, and work on making it.

Original source: Decision Support Systems (DSS)

Make your conference talk about one small thing

The content at most conferences is midling. Most talks should be focused on one small thing, not an overview of everything (with the rare exception of an opening, level-setting talk, perhaps). Tech people fall prey to laundry listing a bunch of things because we get excited to learn new stuff, we love tools and new things and concepts – and usually we want to share that excitement, or at least show off and have the joy of hearing yourself talk (an under rated joy). But, listing everything you can think of on a given topic is usually a bad approach for a talk. A series of lectures is where to be comphrensive, or a book.

Sometimes, a laundry list of tactics is good, a table of contents for further work. A live demo is another thing too: you usually want to see the full-cycle of how an idea gets coded into an application, deployed, debugged, etc.

A story can be good if it’s a case study, but even then you probably want to conclude with one thing: “what we found was that we should have involved procurement at the beginning.”

Memorable talks usually have one idea, though.

A talk should be mostly the conclusion for a those laundry lists, those lecture series: here’s the one thing we found after all that work we described in chapters one to fifteen, or, the one idea we had, the one problem we solved that we didn’t even know we had, the idea you are (too) comfortable with that you need to change to stop suffering/unlock your potential, the one action I want you to take.

As with all people who give advice, I don’t follow it.

That latte paid for your black coffee

You can eat out and get an excellent meal at a fair price – if you don’t order any beverage except tap water. Restaurants earn their highest profit margin on drinks and often supply good food as a bait to bring in customers who will drink while they eat. Sodas usually sell at a markup of about 15%, wine goes up “two and a half to three times” the wholesale price, and beer often sells at a price increase of 500%. Some consumers don’t mind paying such high premiums. Others do mind but do it anyway. Such buyers subsidize good meals for the “nondrinking gourmand.” The idea of “cross-subsidies” is apparent in movie theaters where the food is bad and pricey. You pay a high markup for the popcorn and snack food because the theater isn’t making much profit on the movie. If you don’t eat at the theater, the movie itself offers good economic value. You can also experience this kind of benefit at Starbucks, but only if you order black coffee. Fans who pay inflated prices for fancy, foamy coffee, sugar and milk mixtures subsidize the plain cup of coffee.

Original source: getAbstract of An Economist Gets Lunch Free Summary

Better IT/business alignment metrics for insurance

Rather than just tracking IT metrics (the DevOps four, etc), track how digital transformation spend effects business outcomes, e.g., in insurance:

Increase revenue. Gross written premiums (GWP) and gross earned premiums are insurers' primary revenue drivers. To increase these, insurers must either sell more policies to new or existing customers or increase the policy value per customer. Digital technologies can help insurers design and develop tailored products; optimize marketing and sales to attract new customers and create opportunities to cross-sell or upsell existing customers; provide better service to foster customer loyalty; empower agents with digital tools to boost effectiveness and productivity; and improve engagement to retain customers.

How you link something like moving to an event drive architecture to that could be tough. If you're tracking all your design theories and back them up with observations of what users do ("we made this a single page rather than a wizard, and more people signed up"), you're be pretty well positioned.

Original source: Forrester report, Build A Business Case For Digital Insurance Transformation

When tractors are software

A license agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for "crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment … arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software." The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and "authorized" repair shops can work on newer tractors.

Original source: Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware

Argue the obvious

People don’t necessarily need to hear new, unexpected insights. The obvious can make more of an impact. And surprising insights can backfire: Managers may dismiss them if they don’t reflect existing beliefs. People tend to resist counterintuitive insights even when they have a solid evidentiary basis. But obvious insights cut through resistance. People already accept the obvious as true, so they’re more likely to buy in and act on it.

And:

Fresh packaging can gain attention for well-worn insights. Comparisons that highlight the obvious in surprising ways can spark interest.

From “Do you need to tell people the obvious? Yes, you do. The Surprising Value of Obvious Insights.”

Be more productive by saving up your excitement for when you’re actually doing the work

The longer you think about a task without doing it, the less novel it becomes to do. Writing things in your to-do list and coming back to them later helps you focus, but it comes at the cost: you’ve now converted an interesting idea into work. Since you’ve thought about it a little bit, it’s less interesting to work on.

It’s like chewing on a fresh piece of gum, immediately sticking it somewhere, then trying to convince yourself to rehydrate the dry, bland, task of chewed-up gum. Oh. That thing. Do you really want to go back to that? “We’ve already gone through all the interesting aspects of that problem, and established that there’s only work left”, the mind says.

Original source: Improvisational Productivity