48 episodes

A podcast about how people have applied ideas from outside software to software.

Oddly Influenced Brian Marick

    • Technology
    • 5.0 • 6 Ratings

A podcast about how people have applied ideas from outside software to software.

    E45: The offloaded brain, part 5: I propose a software design style

    E45: The offloaded brain, part 5: I propose a software design style

    In this episode, I ask the question: what would a software design style inspired by ecological and embodied cognition be like? I sketch some tentative ideas. I plan to explore this further at nh.oddly-influenced.dev, a blog that will document an app I'm beginning to write.
    In my implementation, I plan to use Erlang-style "processes" (actors) as the core building block. Many software design heuristics are (implicitly) intended to avoid turning the app into a Big Ball of Mud. Evolution is not "interested" in the future, but rather in how to add new behaviors while minimizing their metabolic cost. That's similar to, but not the same as, "Big O" efficiency, perhaps because the constant factors dominate.
    The question I'd like to explore is: what would be a design style that accommodates both my need to have a feeling of intellectual control and looks toward biological plausibility to make design, refactoring, and structuring decisions?
    Sources
    Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997Ray Naylor, The Mountain in the Sea, 2022Erlang processes (explained using Elixir syntax)Mentioned
    Brian Foote and Joseph Yoder, "Big Ball of Mud", 1999TetrisIllinoisNew HampshirePrior workWhat I'm wanting to do is something like what the more extreme of the Extreme Programmers did. I'm thinking of Keith Braithwaite’s “test-driven design as if you meant it” (also, also, also) or Corey Haines’s “Global Day of Code Retreat” exercises (also). I mentioned those in early versions of this episode's script. They got cut, but I feel bad that I didn't acknowledge prior work.
    CreditsThe image is an Ophanim. These entities (note the eyes) were seen by the prophet Ezekiel. They are popularly considered to be angels or something like them, and they're why the phrase "wheels within wheels" is popular. I used the phrase when describing neural activation patterns that are nested within other patterns. The image was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons and was created by user RootOfAllLight, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    • 38 min
    E44: The offloaded brain, part 4: an interview with David Chapman

    E44: The offloaded brain, part 4: an interview with David Chapman

    In the '80s, David Chapman and Phil Agre were doing work within AI that was very compatible with the ecological and embodied cognition approach I've been describing. They produced a program, Pengi, that played a video game well enough (given the technology of the time) even though it had nothing like an internal representation of the game board and barely any persistent state at all. In this interview, David describes the source of their crazy ideas and how Pengi worked.
    Pengi is more radically minimalist than what I've been thinking of as ecologically-inspired software design, so it makes a good introduction to the next episode.
    Sources
    Philip E. Agre, Computation and Human Experience, 1997, contains a description of Pengi, but is much more about the motivation behind it and also a discussion of "critical technical practice" that I think is nicely compatible with Schön's "reflective practice". I intend to cover both eventually. Philip E. Agre and David Chapman, "Pengi: An implementation of a theory of activity", 1987Chapman links
    Meaningness.com (including greatest hits)I found his ideas about Vajrayana Buddhism intriguingOther
    A recording of a Pengo gameThe foundational text of ethnomethodology is notoriously (and, some – waves – think, gratuitously) opaque. I found Heritage's Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology far more readable. I've enjoyed the Em does Ca (conversational analysis) Youtube series. The episode on turn-construction units hits me where I live. She talks about how people know when, in a conversation, they're allowed to talk. I'm mildly bad at that in person. I'm somewhat worse when talking to a single person over video. I'm horrible at it when on a multiple-person conference call, with or without postage-stamp-sized video images of faces. Credits
    The Pengo image is by Arcade Addiction. Retrieved from Wikipedia. Fair use.

    • 43 min
    E43: The offloaded brain, part 3: dynamical systems

    E43: The offloaded brain, part 3: dynamical systems

    Scientists studying ecological and embodied cognition try to use algorithms as little as they can. Instead, they favor dynamical systems, typically represented as a set of equations that share variables in a way that is somewhat looplike: component A changes, which changes component B, which changes component A, and so on. Peculiarities of behavior can be explained as such systems reaching stable states. This episode describes two sets of equations that predict surprising properties of what seems to be intelligent behavior.
    Source:
    Anthony Chemero, Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, 2011Either mentioned or came this close to being mentioned
    James Clerk Maxwell, "On Governors", 1868 (PDF)Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Embodied Cognition", 2020Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Computational Theory of Mind", 2021Wikipedia, "Dynamical Systems Theory"Nick Bostrom, "Letter from Utopia", 2008/20Credits
    The image is from Maxwell's "On Governors", showing the sort of equations "EEs" work with instead of code.

    • 25 min
    E42: The offloaded brain, part 2: applications

    E42: The offloaded brain, part 2: applications

    Suppose you believed that the ecological/embodied cognitive scientists of last episode had a better grasp on cognition than does our habitual position that the brain is a computer, passively perceiving the environment, then directing the body to perform steps in calculated plans. If so, technical practices like test-driven design, refactoring in response to "code smells," and the early-this-century fad for physical 3x5 cards might make more sense. I explain how. I also sketch how people might use such ideas when designing their workplace and workflow.
    Books I drew upon
    Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997Alva Noë, Action in Perception, 2005Also mentioned
    Gary Klein, Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, 1998I mentioned a session of the Simple Design and Test conference.The sociology book I contributed to: The Mangle in Practice: Science, Society, and Becoming, 2009, edited by Andrew Pickering and Keith Guzik. My chapter, "A Manglish Way of Working: Agile Software Development", is inexplicably available without a paywall.The MIT AI Lab Jargon FileI believe the original publication about CRC cards is Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham, "A laboratory for teaching object oriented thinking", 1989. I also believe the first book-type description was in Rebecca Wirfs-Brock et. al., Designing Object-Oriented Software, 1990. The idea of "flow" was first popularized in Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's 1990 Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The idea of the hedgehog and the fox was popularized by Isaiah Berlin in his 1953 book The Hedgehog and the Fox (a wikipedia link).The original developer of the Pomodoro technique describes it here. There was a book about it, but Goodreads has been sufficiently enshittified that I can't find it. Perhaps you might be interested in Reduce PTSD and Depression Symptoms in 21 Days Using the Pomodoro Method instead? Because Goodreads prefers that.The Boy Who Cried World (wikipedia)CreditsI was helped by Steve Doubleday, Ron Jeffries, and Ted M. Young. 
    I took the picture of Dawn in the tango close embrace.

    • 34 min
    E41: The offloaded brain, part 1: behavior

    E41: The offloaded brain, part 1: behavior

    Embodied or Ecological Cognition is an offshoot of cognitive science that rejects or minimizes one of its axioms: that the computer is a good analogy for the brain. That is, that the brain receives inputs from the senses; computes with that input as well as with goals,  plans, and stored representations of the world; issues instructions to the body; and GOTO PERCEPTION. The offshoot gives a larger causal role to the environment and the body, and a lesser role to the brain. Why store instructions in the brain if the arrangement of body-in-environment can be used to make it automatic?
    This episode contains explanations of fairly unintelligent behavior. Using them, I fancifully extract five design rules that a designer-of-animals might have used. In the next episode, I'll apply those rules to workplace and process design. In the final episode, I'll address what the offshoot has to say about more intelligent behavior.
    Sources
    Louise Barrett, Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds, 2011Anthony Chemero, Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, 2011Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997Mentioned or relevant
    Passive Walking Robot Propelled By Its Own Weight (Youtube video)Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, 1984Guy Steele, "How to Think About Parallel Programming – Not!", Strange Loop 2010. The first 26 minutes describe programs he wrote in the early 1970s. Ed Nather, "The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer", 1983. (I incorrectly called this "the story of Ed" in the episode.)Ed Yong, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, 2022Andrew D. Wilson, "Prospective Control I: The Outfielder Problem" (blog post), 2011Credits
    The picture of a diving gannet is from the Busy Brains at Sea blog, and is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deed.

    • 31 min
    EXCERPT: Concepts without categories

    EXCERPT: Concepts without categories

    This excerpt from episode 40 contains material independent of that episode's topic (collaborative circles) that might be of interest to people who don't care about collaborative circles. It mostly discusses a claim, due to Andy Clark, that words are not labels for concepts. Rather, words come first and concepts accrete around them. As a resolute, concepts are messy. Which is fine, because they don't need to be tidy.
    Sources
    Louise Barrett, Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds, 2011Anthony Chemero, Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, 2011Mentioned
    Emily Dickinson, "A narrow Fellow in the Grass", 1891 (I think version 2 is the original. Dickinson's punctuation was idiosyncratic, but early editions of her poetry conventionalized it.)Talking Heads, "Psycho Killer", 1977Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, 1997. (This is the source for much of the argument, but I'm relaying it second hand, from Barrett.)Credits
    The image titled "Girl seated in middle of room with books; smaller child standing on stool and wearing dunce cap" is via the US Library of Congress and has no restrictions on publication. It is half of a stereograph card, dating to 1908. 

    • 15 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
6 Ratings

6 Ratings

gutierlf ,

Illuminating and entertaining

I look forward to new episodes of this show more than almost anything else I follow.

jborden-unique-nickname ,

Very well researched!

Several years ago I was in an extreme programming class with Brian, this podcast is in a similar vein, but much more broad in material than Ralph’s class.

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