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Codebases are Amortized Intelligence

Anyone who has written more than a handful of lines of code gains the intuition that measuring productivity in terms of code quantity is not a promising approach. But the perception that a codebase is an asset - whether proprietary or otherwise - is present even in engineering cultures.

How do we explain that having code is worth something, but measuring work in terms of writing it isn’t? One answer is that lines of code are valuable, but in such a nonlinear and context-sensitive way that counting and assigning some sort of score is futile.

I find that perspective compelling - but incomplete. To understand why code is valuable we have to first ask what a codebase really is.

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Profit from Effort

A continuation of Profit as a Series of Asymmetries.

When one party is monetarily compensated by another due to their hard work, that is capitalism “working as intended.”

Work reduces not just to capitalism, but to physics - it is the energy transferred by applying force to effect displacement. In other words, it’s pushing stuff around, and when considered figuratively it is an apt description for many capitalistic enterprises.

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Monad Lisa

#!/usr/bin/env python


class MonadLisa:
    """A Monad-ish structure containing the Mona Lisa."""

    def __init__(self, func):
        """Set Mona Lisa inner state, execute function."""

        self._mona = """
            ____
            o8%8888,
        o88%8888888.
        8'-    -:8888b
        8'         8888
        d8.-=. ,==-.:888b
        >8 `~` :`~' d8888
        88         ,88888
        88b. `-~  ':88888
        888b  --' .:88888
        88888o--:':::8888
        `88888| :::' 8888b
        8888^^'       8888b
    d888           ,%888b.
    d88%            %%%8--'-.
    /88:.__ ,       _%-' ---  -
        '''::===..-'   =  --.  `
        """
        self.error = None
        self.result = None
        self._run(func)

    def _run(self, func):
        """Run function on inner state, set result or error."""
        try:
            self.result = func(self._mona)
        except Exception as e:
            self.error = e


def run_examples():
    """Examples of the MonadLisa class."""
    print("Monad Lisa examples")
    print("Each run instantiates a MonadLisa")
    print("and gives it a different function")

    print("\nm1 is the built-in 'print', causing below side effect")
    m1 = MonadLisa(print)
    print("m1 error:", m1.error)
    print("m1 result:", m1.result)

    print("\nm2 is the identity function")
    m2 = MonadLisa(lambda x: x)
    print("m2 error:", m2.error)
    print("m2 result:", m2.result)

    print("\nm3 is the built-in 'abs'")
    m3 = MonadLisa(abs)
    print("m3 error:", m3.error)
    print("m3 result:", m3.result)

run_examples()

Thoughtless Niceness

In erstwhile eras, when “corona” referred to astronomical halos and terrestrial beverages, certain behavior was, in some circles, considered nice. Small talk in grocery stores, Girl Scout cookies sold door-to-door, surprise birthday parties - all assorted opportunities for spontaneous social interaction.

The (apparent) intent of these events was always benevolent - and many participants derived as genuine of joy as most of us can claim to. The sudden shift to pandemic life was particularly challenging for those whose identity centered on communal engagement - but it also offered an opportunity for an unprecedented introspection into what we do and why.

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Fortune as Cognitive Bias

Think about the most money you’ve received as a windfall - perhaps you deserved it, but its arrival was unexpected. You could have literally been gambling, or simply been in a situation that favored you in unanticipated ways.

Similarly, think about the most money you’ve ever lost unexpectedly. Again, you might have been gambling - or maybe you suffered a very real loss, and whatever form of insurance that should have mitigated the situation was inadequate.

For both of these, you should focus on situations with immediacy. Getting a raise or taking a loan both have substantive impacts on your finances, but neither have the psychological punch of a poker hand.

Our fortunes, good and bad, shape us in many ways. Their direct impact is most obvious, but they also become perceptual reference points.

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Typing is Thinking

You probably type a lot.

It’s a pretty strange thing, considered historically. Rather than interact directly, we serialize our thoughts and send or broadcast them (often lossily and asynchronously). In the past, written correspondence was an occasional luxury, used for special purposes and communiques. Now it is our default mode, how humans reach one another for work, family, friendship, and more.

The modern ubiquity of literacy is a societal boon and equalizer - but the accompanying commoditization of communication has had unexpected side effects. We produce and consume - materially and ideologically - yet despite the prodigious growth of production, consumption has become so automatic as to outpace it for most individuals.

But this post is not yet another consideration of “doomscrolling” (see my previous post if interested). This post is about the creative side of the equation, and will hopefully encourage you to consider and create a bit more yourself.

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We Select Our Distractions

Why are you reading this?

You clicked a link, resulting in some network requests, software churning, and the pattern of lights on your screen changing.

Though that proximal cause is fascinating, why did you click? Perhaps because you clicked something else first, and something else before that. But it’s not quite “clicks the whole way down.”

You are reading this because there is enough of your mind that wants you to. It wants that for a mix of reasons - affiliation (i.e. you know me or are in my “network”), curiousity, avoidance of other tasks, and more. These are the “latent causes” behind clicks that advertisers and others love trying to get at.

But they aren’t just sources of manipulation and dark patterns. In a very real way, by clicking around, skimming, and “doomscrolling” we are being true to ourselves, or at least an important part of ourselves.

We select our distractions.

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Profit from Interest - Starting a Free Email Newsletter

As promised, here is the first followup to my consideration of profit as a series of asymmetries. The first (“best”) reference point in our model is when transactions are motivated by an imbalance of interest - not the percentage charged on a loan, but the “excitement of feeling, whether pleasant or painful, accompanying special attention to some object.”

I find it interesting that Webster’s definition allows for both pleasant and painful possibilities. But regardless of source, interest entails an agent having an intrinsic preference or desire that may impact their behavior.

And so, if a monetary exchange occurs simply because the seller is personally interested in providing the good/service, and the buyer is both satisfied with the terms and is purchasing for their own interest as well, that is perhaps capitalism working at its best.

Or is it? How cleanly does this model actually correspond with reality? To critically evaluate the above claims, I am going to engage in a (meta-ish) case study - I am going to start a free email newsletter.

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Profit as a Series of Asymmetries

Profit is inherently asymmetric - a resolution of an imbalance through the exchange of “survival tickets.” The source of this asymmetry varies - heritage, effort, investment, resources, aptitude, interest, and more. Whatever it is, it is enough that one party lacks it, and is willing (or required) to pay another party that has it to deal with the details instead.

When considered from this angle, a useful ethical slant appears. Profit that emerges from asymmetry of what I’d loosely term “true utility” (effort, real value, practice) is perhaps good, or at least as good as capitalism gets. But profit that depends on asymmetric information (opaque costs, bureaucratic rules, proprietary knowledge) is problematic - specifically it leads to situations where the incentives of the profiter and their client diverge dramatically.

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Categorizing Transcendence - A Consideration of Music Genres

What sort of music do you like?” - a common question, often used to introduce and discover what one may or may not have in common with another. Along with “what do you do?” and “what are your favorite movies?”, musical preference is a typical icebreaker for people engaging in the never-ending game of social alliances and competition.

Yet many claim their musical identity is deeply personal - a piece of their soul, bared for those who share their tastes. There are movie buffs and foodies and other flavors of enthusiast, but love of music has a rare universality relative to other options in the buffet of life.

Or does it? The key word of our introductory question is not music, but sort - everyone cares about music, but everyone characterizes it quite differently. A lover of death metal may eschew country as “not real music”, and vice-versa.

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