Shutup When You Are Winning

Throughout my career I have come up with solutions to software problems that, shall we say, didn’t resemble those of my peers. More than once, working code had to be replaced with “working but sub-optimal” code because my first solution was beyond them.

Sometimes, when a group is brainstorming for a solution to a problem, I would make a suggestion and get shouted down. And yet, the next day, someone else would have a brilliant idea, that greatly resembled my contribution of yesterday, only they got the credit, and this would get me angry.

From personal experience, I can tell you exactly how not to handle this situation: demand that you get credit. This doesn’t work because (a) you never said a thing yesterday, and (b) they thought of it all by themselves.

In the highly unlikely event that someone happens to remember that you did actually say something strikingly similar yesterday, the good idea will get tossed out, discarded, thrown away, because you just reminded them of all the bullshit reasons they nixed it yesterday.

The correct way of dealing with this situation is:

Shutup when you are winning.

If they are using the best solution, and you originated the idea, but someone else gets the credit, don’t sulk, don’t rant. The right answer is being used: you win.

Occasionally sanity rules (cough) and the idea it isn’t nixed, and you even get a little credit, but someone other than you is championing your good idea, shutup. Maybe chirp “hey, that’s good” at strategic moments, or a very few very terse “steering” comments. You want to avoid any semblance of ramming it down their throats, even gently with kid gloves and a sprinkling of sarcasm itchy dust.

With a nod to  Stigler’s Law of Eponymy (thanks Brendan).

Planting Seeds

This innate human behaviour can also be turned to your advantage.  I call it planting seeds.  One by one, you drop into the office cubes of your team mates in the “inner clique” and offer some observations, small ideas, suggestions.  One of them is even the right answer.  Seed planted.

At the next team meeting, someone other than you, someone in the “inner clique”, will have this brilliant idea, and it will be one of the seeds you planted.  Do not start yelling that it was your idea, just smile and watch the seed sprout.

This also works on non-technical people, too, at things like sporting clubs and progress associations… plant the seed, and water it when it sprouts.  It is even possible to “plant seeds” in family members who want to renovate their 1970s kitchen to be 1950s retro.

Calibre and Kindle


I recently received a Kindle Touch as a gift. This is something that I would never have purchased for myself.


  • The Kindle’s e-ink  display works extremely well in a wide variety of light conditions.
  • The Kindle has reasonable battery life, way better than my phone.
  • The Kindle is about the size of a paperback book, slightly larger with the case included.
  • The case includes an LED light, powered from the Kindle’s battery.
  • Every book is large print if you need it, which also helps when the publisher chooses an absurdly small default font size.


  • The screen updates are very inconsistent: some times the screen flashes black then white and then the new content appears, at other times there is a flash-less transition. The flashes are very irritating. Given that flash-less is possible, why would you not always use this kind of transition?
  • The “collections” feature is not available over USB, so grouping books by author must be done manually. The Kindle can hold thousands of books, but without automatic collections, it is not possible to scroll to the middle of the title list before you die of hunger. Apparently, other Kindle models expose this feature via USB, why doesn’t the Touch?

Overall, I like the Kindle Touch, but I only keep a few books on it, updating the list when I finish one. There are some features, like “text to speech” and “music in the background” that I have yet to try.



It is necessary to have something to manage your book collection, particularly as the Kindle Touch’s collection feature is so disappointing. The open source Calibre program works brilliantly.


  • Automatically groups by author or genre or series.
  • You can add your own columns, and group that way, too.
  • It can convert between e-book formats, so if you search and download a book you want, but it is in the wrong format, you can convert easily. Depending on the input format, the results vary from brilliant (epub, prc) to only-just-readable (txt, ps, pdf).
  • Transfers to the Kindle are completely painless.


  • The user interface is very modal, editing attributes works in some windows but not in others where the attributes are visible.
  • The meta-data on most e-books is dreadful. (This isn’t Calibre’s fault.) It can take longer to fix the meta-data than it took to download the book.  Calibre has numerous tools for fixing meta-data.



There are numerous sites from which you can download e-books.

  • Amazon Kindle Store
  • Project Gutenberg is fabulous
  • Try the Baen Free Library for DRM-free e-books.
  • Using Google to search for “author torrent”, or even “title torrent” frequently yields useful results.
  • If you are into SF or Fantasy, using Google to search for “sff-update torrent” can produce more than you imagine.

The Not-So-Gentle Answer: 6. Infections

Lately, when people ask me “how are you?” I have to choose between being polite and being accurate. Most people get the polite answer “I’ve been better”. It turns out I may have been too gentle.

One of the effects of my CLL is that my bone marrow now produces almost no neutrophils.  There are still some being made, but far too few, and they get “used up” as fast as they are made. Continue reading

The Not-So-Gentle Answer: 5. Commensals

Lately, when people ask me “how are you?” I have to choose between being polite and being accurate. Most people get the polite answer “I’ve been better”. It turns out I may have been too gentle.

Commensal, n.,  An organism participating in a symbiotic relationship in which one species derives some benefit while the other is unaffected.

The human body is full of, and covered in, commensal bacteria, viruses and fungi.  Our gut flora, which digests our food for us, is one example. Continue reading

making assert(0) more informative

If you are like me, you use assert all over the place. Even when compiled out, it serves are useful documentation as to what is going on (or what is supposed to be going on).  I recently learned a trick that I could have been using for the past 30 years, even when I first met C in the early 1980s. Continue reading

The Not-So-Gentle Answer: 4. Platelets

Lately, when people ask me “how are you?” I have to choose between being polite and being accurate. Most people get the polite answer “I’ve been better”. It turns out I may have been too gentle.

The bone marrow of your pelvis, ribs and sternum produce your blood, about 15ml per day, in adults.  (If you are younger than 18 months old, the long bones in your arms and legs also produce blood cells.)  The interesting thing is that the stem cells that give rise to the blood cells aren’t fixed in place, they “go on tour” from one site to another.  This is how my CLL arose from just one mutation in one cell, once, and yet now all of my bone marrow is involved in producing useless CLL cancer cells. Continue reading

Fossil Fuels and the Carbon Tax

The carbon tax is seeking to do by indirect means that which is perceived to be unachievable by direct means. I would have preferred a more direct method to reduce carbon emissions.

Direct method? What direct method?

The point of the carbon tax is to reduce CO2 emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels.  (Other sources tend to be homeostatic, or “neutral” in today’s parlance, over a long enough baseline.)  Taxing CO2 emissions will increase the price of power because the tax is passed on to consumers.  This is supposed to reduce fossil fuel use as consumers choose, on price alone, to move to renewable energy sources.  The problem is that, at present, there are no viable alternatives, not for the majority of consumers.

And, of course, the government introduced a means test for the solar panel subsidy, and also reduced grid return prices, so “wealthy” consumers (the only ones who could ever afford to do it anyway) are choosing not to on price alone.  There are some folks with a sufficiently masochistic siege mentality who go alternate no matter the cost — they aren’t normal consumers.

By “direct method” I mean this: stop digging it up.  Leave the fossil fuels in the ground.  If you don’t burn them, they don’t enter the atmosphere.

How, smarty pants?  Legislate that there is to be a 5% reduction every year.  The Commonwealth (federal government) actually owns all minerals (even though the States are responsible for all administration and revenue collection) it can simply say “no”, incrementally.  In 20 years we will reach zero.  This will result in gradual price rises, just like the carbon tax, but due to limited supply, rather than an arbitrary and poorly aimed tax.

A progressive reduction in the available fossil fuels will motivate the power industry to locate and invest in alternative energy, rather than keeping on doing what it has always done, and just passing along the tax to consumers. The carbon tax does not motivate innovation and change by the incumbents.  Only by actually taking the fossil fuels away will they be motivated to actually change.

To be clear: A 5% reduction in natural gas volume extracted, every year.  A 5% reduction in crude oil volume extracted, every year.  A 5% reduction in coal tonnage extracted, every year.  A 5% reduction coal seem gas volume extracted, every year.  A 5% reduction of every fossil fuel, every year.  Exports will fall, naturally, particularly when the permitted extraction level approaches and then falls below the needs of the local power industry incumbents.

To be clear: this also includes a 5% reduction on fossil fuel imports, every year.  This is essential so that the local power industry doesn’t just switch to more expensive imported fossil fuels, rather than invest in and switch to renewable energy sources.

Carbon Sequestration

Why can’t we just bury it again, after we use it? It has been suggested that investing in carbon sequestration technologies could offset the deleterious effects on CO2 emissions.  Firstly, no existing technique sequesters carbon at densities as high as in-the-ground fossil fuels — which makes them inadequate to the task.  The next best sequestration technique is planting trees (like that’s ever going to happen) and it isn’t at a high enough density to get us out of this hole.  And at some point some idiot will call them a “renewable” energy source and burn them, making trees neutral (aka pointless) at best.

The very best carbon sequestration technique is to leave the carbon where it lies.  Where is has been naturally sequestered for 150 million years, and often longer.  Stop digging it up.  A concept so simple that politicians cannot understand it.

Social Consequences

But what about the mining magnates, how will they sustain their corporate cocaine budgets?  They will invest their money in whatever keeps them filthy rich, of course.  You don’t seriously think they are in business for the benefit of their employees, do you?

What about all those poor miners who will be out of a job?  They will probably still be miners, but for iron ore, aluminium, nickel, and lots of other things, including “rare earth” minerals needed to make alternative and renewable power devices.  Or they may move into the emerging alternate and renewable power industries, which will likely be less highly automated than the mining industry, and thus actually employ more people.  The point is to do it gradually over 20 years, rather than 100% immediately, so that jobs and innovations and opportunities emerge progressively, allowing a smooth transition.

What about my car?!?  Consumers have been paying less than the true environmental price of their petrol for decades.  Eventually, these rising costs will change consumer behaviour.  Leaving the oil in the ground, and not importing any either, brings forward the day when we switch to hybrid and alternative energy cars, but that day is coming, no matter what we do.

Global Consequences

Wont this hurt Australia’s balance of trade?  If Australia gradually stops exporting coal, there will be a reduction of income, but there will also be a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by other countries.  This is a good thing.  Plus, Australian industries have the motivation to invent new renewable energy technologies and products before the rest of the world, giving Australia new export opportunities.  The point is to do it gradually.

Australia haemorrhages about $30 billion per year in balance-of-trade, and it gets worse every year. Australia also exports far more minerals than just coal, and those minerals would not be restricted.  It is possible that the reduction in coal income will be just a drop in a the bucket.


The arithmetic and the politics of climate change, and the difficultly of leaving the carbon in the ground.

A government report: Most coal ‘must stay in ground’ to save climate: 7 News.  Climate Commission Reports.


The Not-So-Gentle Answer: 3. Neutropenia

Lately, when people ask me “how are you?” I have to choose between being polite and being accurate. Most people get the polite answer “I’ve been better”. It turns out I may have been too gentle.

CLL is a cancer of the white blood cells, specifically the B-cell lymphocytes.  There are many other kinds of white cells, and this blog looks at neutrophils, the most abundant type of white blood cells that form an essential part of the immune system. Continue reading

Boring is Good

Next time you have to wait 3 months to see a specialist, you have to remember that means your condition, medically, is not acute, not severe, not interesting, and just boring.  Increasingly, there are times when I’m not medically boring. Continue reading