Crash-Only Thinking

by Venkat on October 29, 2014

A few weeks ago, I learned about something called crash-only software  (ht, Robert Greco). This is software that has no normal “start” or “stop” mechanisms. It can only be stopped by crashing it. Often this means unplugging the computer physically. It can only be restarted through some sort of failure-recovery routine, with a hard reboot being the most extreme kind. There’s a whole theory of crash-only software design apparently.

The idea of crash-only design  steelmans a strawman idea of mine that has cropped up in multiple recent posts. In  How To Fall Off the WagonI argued that falling-off-the-wagon is the right focal point for understanding self-improvement efforts.   On the Unraveling of Scripts was about why major life transitions are necessarily messy. In The Adjacency FallacyI argued that career transitions necessarily involve a period of anomie caused by status and value disorientation. Crash-only is the more powerful version of all those ideas. From a crash-only perspective, falling off the wagon (and getting back on) isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.

A self-improvement system, or a management model for a business, that doesn’t solve for crash-only constraints isn’t a solution, because it will cost more in crash-recovery effort than the value it creates. Transition management of any sort has to be entirely about crash-only mechanisms.

Software ideas of crash-only design don’t port well to human lives and businesses. So how do you port the thinking?

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Playing Games to Leave Games

by Sam Bhagwat on October 21, 2014

Sam is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home blog at Moore’s Hand.

When I was a kid I played a lot of chess. On Saturdays my mom and I would get up early and drive an hour to a high school somewhere around Michigan. She would bring a box of old New York Times and read as I played five rounds of chess against other 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds.

The games were typically G/30 or G/45, which means each player had 30 or 45 minutes to make all their moves. If you finished your game early you would have to wait for all the other games to finish and the organizers to calculate the rankings and matchups for the next round.  That process would usually take about an hour, which doesn’t seem like a long time now but of course did at the time.

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The Adjacency Fallacy

by Venkat 10.08.2014

Lately, I’ve been having quite a few conversations with people who are trying to reinvent themselves for the new economy. The most common pattern is MBA-types trying to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurial types. The second most common pattern is mid-career types who would normally be moving into either middle management roles trying to reinvent themselves as […]

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The Political Hangover of Prohibition

by Editor 09.30.2014

This is a guest post by Craig Roche, a data scientist and artisanal landlord. Whiskey is very easy to make.  Farmers used to make it at home using their crops, and Henry Ford designed the Model T to run on home-distilled ethanol.  George Washington distilled 55,000 bottles/year when he retired from being President. Even the mutineers […]

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The Rhythms of Information: Flow-Pacing and Spacetime

by Ryan Tanaka 09.24.2014

Ryan Tanaka is a musician, writer, programmer and product manager living in the Los Angeles area. For every article that he writes, Ryan also improvises a live musical piece as means of organizing his ideas. (Below, or here.) “Flow Pacing” is a phrase used in chemical, sewage, and water facilities in order to describe the […]

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We Have Them Surrounded in Their Tanks

by Jordan Peacock 09.17.2014

Jordan is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf on Google+ and “We have them surrounded in their tanks.” So spoke Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, the infamous Iraqi Information Minister in the first days of the American invasion. His missives should be an inspiration to public relations personnel everywhere; he was unshakably on-message even as the […]

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Geopolitics for Individuals

by Kartik Agaram 09.09.2014

Kartik is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf at I recently spent a month playing a board game called Diplomacy, and it turned out to be a surprisingly mind-broadening experience. Pretending to be the German Empire before the First World War, exchanging missives all day with the other “great powers” […]

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How to Fall Off the Wagon

by Venkat 09.03.2014

Self-help ideas generally belong to one of three schools of thought, whether the originators realize it or not: values-first, goals-first or process-first. Norman Vincent Peale (Power of Positive Thinking, 1952), Wayne W. Dyer (Erroneous Zones, 1976) and David Allen (GTD, 2002) are the authors of the pioneering mainstream classics of each sub-genre. Those dates are significant: the schools […]

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The Creation and Destruction of Habits

by Venkat 08.26.2014

Just for fun, I decided to try and weave a tweetstorm-style chain of thoughts through a chunk of my writing over the last few years. As you might expect, it isn’t exactly short, but at 42 tweet-sized chunks, it’s a decent feat of compression. I’ll spare my twitter followers the actual storm though. 1/ There are […]

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The Veil of Scale

by Venkat 08.20.2014

There’s an old Soviet-era joke about communist notions of sharing. Two party workers, let’s call them Boris and Ivan, are chatting: Boris: If you had two houses, would you give one to your comrade? Ivan: Of course! Boris: If you had two cars, would you give one to your comrade? Ivan: Without a doubt! Boris: […]

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