Five short links


Photo by Sean Lamb

Nine ways to break your system code using volatile – Even seemingly-simple constructs in low-level languages can have tremendous subtleties. I love reading explorations like these, hoping I never need to use the knowledge in production, but feeling like a little more of my in-game map has been filled in. At some point pedantic becomes sublime.

Bayes Rule and the paradox of pre-registration of RCTs – There’s a movement to declare what hypotheses you’re going to test before you start your research, to avoid the classic cherry-picking problem. Donald does a great job explaining why it should make a big difference in how much we trust study results, even though it feels counter-intuitive, and again a bit pedantic. I guess 2014 is becoming the year I try to bring pedantry back?

Are towns stuck in the wrong places? – It’s not often you can perform a 2,000 year-long natural experiment, but this look at the performance of British and French towns after the Romans is intriguing, and very relevant as we consider how to respond to struggling cities like Detroit.

The Chinese wheelbarrow – The eastern version of the wheelbarrow could carry far larger loads than the European approach, thanks to the design of a central wheel that allowed most of the weight to be taken by the vehicle, instead of the operator. This article makes a convincing case that the Europeans lost out heavily by sticking to their wheel-forward design that left half the lifting on the driver, but it also left me wanting to dig into the contrarian angle, and see what good reasons there might be for the adherence to tradition.

Empathy is a core engineering value – We have a tremendous amount of power as engineers, and time and again I’ve seen decisions that save a few hours for a single developer cost man-years of time and frustration for thousands of other people. Keith does a great job of showing why “it’s essential to at least attempt to understand the plight of users”. You can’t always gold-plate your software and deal with every problem in the depth you’d like, but putting yourself in the end-user’s shoes will help prioritize where to best spend your limited time.

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