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Some Details of My Personal Infrastructure (stephenwolfram.com)
1308 points by perardi on Feb 21, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 393 comments

Some pretty cool things:

- He's a CEO who dogfoods his own software! Not only that, he seems to be one of its most prolific users. That's amazing.

Having worked for over a decade at Google, I sometimes wonder if the founders still use the products. Larry Page used to always harp on latency (rightly), and now Google products are slower than ever.

- He's a remote CEO, and supports remote working! It sounds like the company was ahead of the curve in this respect.

- He's grown his company to 800 employees over 28 years, and it's still relevant today. And I believe he never took funding. Also amazing! Most tech companies that are 28 years old have gone through a ton of turmoil.

I've heard all the bad stories about Wolfram's personality. Combined with NKOS, that made me think poorly of him.

But maybe has mellowed with old age. People forget how insufferable Bill Gates was 20 years ago too. Gates really rehabilitated his image and maybe Wolfram will too. Despite the ego, he's definitely contributed interesting things to society. And I hope that I'm as excited by my work as he is when getting to that age.

Hey thats like a pipe dream. Build a tool for yourself that you really like. Then build a company around it to make that tool better, so it gets better for you and everyone else who loves using it.

A former colleague went to the APS spring meeting in Boston in 2011 (I think) and went to visit the Mathematica booth there. To his surprise, he found Stephen Wolfram himself standing there and showing off some cool Mathematica features to a small crowd of physicists. My colleague was (and probably is) a total Mathematica fanboy and evangelist and seeing Wolfram himself talk to users there made a big impression to him. I also have to say kudos to that, not many CEOs of billion dollar companies take the time to mingle with their users let alone show them how to get the most out of their software.

That said Mathematica is a brilliant piece of software and I have never seen a more powerful system for computer algebra and symbolic computation. It is kind of slow but what you can do with it is absolutely amazing, so I think it will remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

> It is kind of slow

It’s not though. You just need to make sure you aren’t computing with exact precision (the default) but use numeric precision and it’s as fast or faster than maple, matlab, R or python. Which are the obvious comparisons.

To be honest, the conference call linked lower in the thread has increased my skepticism for remote work. Another commenter pointed out how much smoother everything would have gone if everyone had been in the same room.

I love such comments. The guy has a multimillion dollar private business which is at the same time his hobby and a dream, and does it in the way he likes. And someone comes and says his meetings can be more efficient..

But commenters are taking evidence of how this guy runs his business as evidence that that method is effective. Shouldn't there be comments pointing out if this isn't effective?

It's easy to look at a something in isolation and assume you are qualified to cast judgement on where it can be improved but often a decision might have both a negative consequence and also a much further reaching positive consequences too. The sort of people who like to judge things in isolation miss those kinds of complexities.

This kind of arm-chair critic seems to be on the rise on HN as well. People making short, sharp judgements based off very little evidence yet they still feel justified as an expert by their self assessment.

If you think they are overconfident, then say so. If you think their analysis misses something, then say so. But being against assessment in general is not a good approach.

> If you think they are overconfident, then say so.

I thought I literally did just that?

> If you think their analysis misses something, then say so.

I've done that in the past and it usually just descends into stupid augments where the ill-informed only dig their heals in deeper rather than acknowledging their mistake. I mean if they weren't someone who was over confident about their own opinion then they wouldn't be the sort to make those kind of remarks to begin with.

> But being against assessment in general is not a good approach.

I'm not against assessments in general. I'm against specific types of non-constructive assessments from people who are just blatant armchair critics.

If someone has a the experience to offer a constructive assessment then odds are they wouldn't delivery it as a passive-aggressive one liner.

> I thought I literally did just that?

The point of my comment is that the discussion should take place on the merits of the criticism, not the arrogance of the person who would dare criticize. The fact that you mixed together the two is not a good rebuttal.

> I've done that in the past...

Bad arguments in the past are not a good reason to abandon the structure of good arguments in the future. Get better debating partners rather than trying to avoid the structure of healthy debate.

> blatant armchair critics

If some people praise "this is a good business practice" and others point out that, on the face of the evidence, it appears to be exact the opposite (i.e., that the conference calls are disorganized/confused), it is not unreasonable to point this out. It does not require special insight.

It's got nothing to do with the competency of the arguments presented and everything to do with the futility of arguing with someone who has already made their mind up. This very conversation is a demonstration to that fact.

Not really. It will always be easy to look at something from the outside and point out all the ways it should or can’t work or could work better. The systems and people involved are usually much more complicated.

The world also owes itself more compassion. “Thousand foot” criticism lacks compassion.

You're describing a policy of not making frank assessment of the efficacy of business practices.

That’s a bit far. From my perspective, the point is that looking at inefficiencies in isolation is as bad as looking at benefits in isolation.

Making a frank assessment about the efficiency of meetings is probably of limited value in and of itself in abstractly assessing the overall equation of trade-offs in running a distributed vs collocated business. Even more so when concretely assessing this particular company.

There's an asymmetry between the strong negative reaction to criticism but not to praise, even though criticism is more likely to offer substantive points. This suggests to me that people are mostly offended at the arrogance of the commenter rather than working about the risk that we could all become mistaken through reading overconfident criticism.

Every bully I remember tried to mask their bullying as “helpful” or positive in some way.

Every dictator promised to make the nation better. This is not a good reason to reject politicians trying to make the nation better.

More like a policy of avoiding drive-by commentary on businesses with which one has little knowledge or investment.

> It will always be easy to look at something from the outside and point out all the ways it should or can’t work or could work better.

People pay me to do exactly that. Come in with a fresh, unbiased view on things, look at how stuff works and what could be improved.

It's not about telling people that everything they've done before is BS but if there are things that are not working well, just tell them.

Yeah that is HN!

For me it does not look like a criticism. He simply is not convinced to the idea of remote work, which means that he does not see it fit for his way of working.

I can't add anything to that comment except: , I know that's right.

Well there's always a trade-off, isn't there?

wolfram admits in the article that his company can and should be bigger. fwiw.

> how much smoother everything would have gone if everyone had been in the same room.

Definitely true, but you'd also have to watch the livestream of everyone prepping for and commuting to work for a fair comparison.

I tend to agree. Unless there are genuine reasons to work permanently remote, an face to face interaction is always better. I also worry about the loneliness aspect of remote work. For all its downsides, the Office provides a real life socially active environment. It's pleasant to have people around, and to have water cooler conversations, or share a coffee with an employee from a totally different department. It's feels pretty good. I may be wrong, but I also feel that work is more than producing code. It's also about interactions with people.

I feel like some people get a lot out of it, and others not so much. As in, if someone has the type of personality where they work best with lots of "heads-down" time on projects (and frankly many of the best engineers I know are like this), give them that space to do their best work without being interrupted by That One Person Who Always Comes Over to Chat. Most offices and even most orgs / teams have THAT DUDE. If you can't think of who it is, it might be you. Sometimes Dude has good ideas, but a lot of the time Dude just wastes time, and worst of all, wastes the time of others. Time that those other people could be spending Doing Work, but because Dude doesn't know when to can it, and because they're obligated to have their butts in their seats, they just make small talk while dying a little inside each day.

I've also seen people be incredibly productive because they can just walk over with a few people to another person and settle something in real-time. Doing that over email might take a day or two. Doing that over Slack could also probably work, and given how many people are in a meeting / out at lunch / OoO / whatever not at their desk, I'd say it's about a 50/50 chance that the unannounced walk-up actually works in person anyway.

Sometimes Dude is also one of the best engineers you know when he can just get some “heads down” time to himself, but when forced to be in an environment with many easy distractions, he acts like a kid on the playground. Or something.

I’ve been Dude in the past. Yesterday I was probably in danger of becoming Dude but for my general introversion and maturity. I walked around listening to James Brown instead. I think flexibility and a culture demonstrating proper time management and production would help. It’s important to socialize but without detracting from others. Yesterday, I just couldn’t sit or stay at my desk - I needed some air. In hindsight, I was pretty amped up from a meeting.

Absolutely. You could argue that a water cooler/coffee machine conversation is unlikely to be distracting as compared to interrupting people at their desk. If people are by the water cooler, kitchen, canteen, etc chances are they wanted to get away from their desks and would be open to engaging with others (even if bery briefly)

For what it's worth, I seem to recall reading that the most effective engineers are not necessarily the ones that (heads down) create the best solutions for some specific challenges, but those that know who is the best person to ask about (or task with) a specific problem. So, the Dude might be contributing quite a bit.

There's also the person who seems to not be contributing but who gently steers others towards a solution. Without this person, the team wouldn't work well, but looking in from the outside (or even from the inside sometimes), the person looks like they're doing very little.

You may find it pleasant to have people around and water cooler conversations, but many others do not and have no need or desire for work to double as a social outlet.

It's not (just) about social outlet, it's about growing and learning professionally. Unless your job is to blindly implement features someone else adds to a spec sheet it's always worthwhile to get professional input from people from different fields. Often they'll have unique ideas and insights that comes from having a different background and different experiences.

But that's more than possible when working remotely.

Emphasizing public-first communication methods is a big one. Don't just send a slack message to Bob asking about that thing, tag Bob in the #thing channel so others can see and weigh in if needed. Don't just do a code review over a call and leave, write up a quick summary and post it somewhere. Have meetings where people who might not technically be related to the project are involved somewhat.

Sure, it's work, but it's not more work in my opinion, just different. There are absolutely downsides to remote work, but I really truly believe in and have experienced the benefits too.

To add to this, in no circumstance have I ever seen developers spending 100% or even close to 90% of their time actively writing code or thinking about code and working. Heck, for most of the ones I’ve worked with, it’s probably closer to 60% productive time during office hours, with the most productive being somewhere between 80-100% busy.

Just because you (the person before you, actually) are a reclusive jerk, doesn’t mean everyone else also hates people and chitchat.

Yeah but the difference is when you work remote, you can use that other 40% of your time to:

- run errands

- do the laundry

- hit the gym for a while

- cook a tasty lunch or even dinner for later.

Whereas in the office, you just use that time for chitchat, HN/reddit, wondering around etc.

And I'm not a reclusive jerk, I like my coworkers and I do enjoy it when we meet up in person, but I don't need to see them every day. We have a short voice call most days, and we catch up irl possibly 6-12 times a year which is already more than I see some of my friends who live further away.

Honestly there's just so much more time in the day for my personal hobbies and activities that I don't think I could ever go back to on site, or even full-time/more than 4 days/week for that matter.

I also do a lot of "watercooler chit chat" over slack and, to a lesser extent, voice chat. I don't need to be in the same physical space as my coworkers to do that. I mean, before starting my career, most of my tech chit chat was online, since my offline friends at the time were typically not too interested in tech.

What I do find problematic is when the majority of a company is in the same physical space and only a few are remote, as then the remote people tend to lose out.

> Just because you (the person before you, actually) are a reclusive jerk, doesn’t mean everyone else also hates people and chitchat.

Downvoted for tone. You do not need to name call here on HN.

Software engineering is only part writing code. A lot of time is thinking, understanding, collaborating and designing. Also a lot of testing.

There's a hybrid approach we use here at Wolfram where a lot of employees work remotely 99% of the time, but at least 2-3 times a year are in town for our conference, picnic, etc... We also have virtual 'meet-ups' where remote workers can interact with the corporate or regional offices for video games, activities, etc. It's not a perfect solution, but does help keep interactions and idea sharing greater than zero.

That's all very nice but it's all not work related. Water cooler conversation may be great for incubating the very very beginning ideation of some 20% project, but come on, how often does a 20% project really happen. When it comes to real work (well defined work), where what you need is a mix of concentration time and focused interactions to address questions, remote call could be much more efficient than face-to-face meetings that end up engulfing a dozen people just because "it's possible, everyone's here."

Humans aren't robots. If you want to keep them productive you should treat them as humans.

I think you're confusing "comfortable" with "productive". At some point in life a job is just a job and the job of the job is to get the job done. I'm happiest when I get it done, when everyone around me gets it done, together, on time and well.

Efficiency isn't everything. In my experience the problems with remote work are often more trust-related. If course this depends on the industry. We had a case in a fintech company where remote employee ended up doing some quite bad things for the company for financial gains. I think it is much more difficult to do that kind of deeds if you actually interact face to face with the people affected.

It's not always about projects. In order to be productive at a company, there is much more to do. In water cooler conversations, you learn who you have to talk with for this or that, you learn about meetings you may attend to learn new things, you learn that little trick that makes your work more efficient or about that colleague who is really weird, or about how to solve administrative matters. Not everything is in a manual or in a web site.

To give a very appropriate example, I think that if I was working in the same office as Wolfram, I may learn about his cool setup in water cooler conversations. In fact, I think it would make me a better engineer having water cooler conversations with Stephen Wolfram. I am not sure I would get the same benefit from interacting with him through screen sharing or phone calls.

I work in research, surrounded by PhD students. These students learn from the interaction with more experienced people, and I have to admit I also learn many things from them. Remote working would in theory be possible for most of us, but it would not achieve the same result.

I don't understand your point. I worked remotely for ten years and there was constant banter in the slack (skype before that) channels. We would spend as much time socializing as we would if we were in the office. I won't make any assumptions about your work experience but I believe most of these criticisms tend to come from people that have never worked at a remote-first company. If anything, remote is slightly more effective since you can have watercooler chats and go back to them months later to remember what Steve said about his cool personal infrastructure projects. :)

You don't understand that many people prefer interacting with other people in person instead of via a slack channel?

You can like your remote job. I agree there are ways to make it work, for certain people and certain jobs, and it can even be better than a workplace in some cases. I am not criticizing it, just explaining the advantages I find from working in an office with other people (btw, I have done remote work too, though never in a remote-first company).

I wonder if you have tried socializing in person and via a computer. It's so much better in person, that I don't care about not having logs. If you don't understand that, you may be a robot.

> You don't understand that many people prefer interacting with other people in person instead of via a slack channel?

> I wonder if you have tried socializing in person and via a computer. It's so much better in person, that I don't care about not having logs. If you don't understand that, you may be a robot.

Your point would be a lot more effective without the insults. I also wonder if you are unable to see the irony of your assertion that different people have different preferences and then telling me I must be a robot if I don't share your preference.

I did not know robot was considered an insult. It was just a lame joke. I apologize if it hurt you so much (ironically, this is the kind of misunderstanding that happens much less often in real life).

You may have different preferences, I did not say anywhere you should share mine. What I said was precisely that you should be able to understand that other people prefer to interact with their coworkers in the real world, not that you should do the same.

It's even more ironic given this person (or an ironic robot?) is socializing via a computer with someone else not even at work and learning about Wolfram's setup, something that'd be antisocial, uncomfortable, or seen as slacking off in many offices...

Why should it be antisocial or uncomfortable? I also prefer to see my family in real life than by telephone, but that does not mean I find phones antisocial.

To repeat my point: I understand there are advantages in working from home, and that for some people the way of socializing may be one of these advantages. What I found surprising was that pault did not understand that I prefer personal interactions when there are slack channels.

Your original comment did not say that you prefer personal interactions. You presented a bunch of your opinions about the effectiveness of in-person communication as if they were facts. Several more times in this thread you've written that it's just a preference then immediately asserted that in person communication is superior. That's what I didn't understand.

Also, you mentioned that you never worked at a remote first company, and I can say from experience that working for a company that has most of its employees in an office and a few remotes is the worst of both worlds. You get left out of all the decisions and social banter and all you get is a few crumbs when someone remembers to check the slack channel and see what you're up to. It's possible that if you worked for a company where everything happens online you would feel differently.

This is an interesting perspective. I guess having the company set up in a remote-first manner vs. just having a few employees working remote are indeed very different scenarios then, and if one is ever to work remotely, they should only aim for a remote-first company.

I've been working remote for decades and my observation is that whats standing inbetween great communication in remote teams are often trival, easily fixable things like poor software and hardware.

When it comes to hardware, people use whatever headset and camera they have, connected to wifi served by the a cheap SOHO router. More or less the stuff you use to call your parents over skype once a week.

> ... whats standing inbetween great communication in remote teams are often trival, easily fixable things like poor software and hardware.

Ironically for a big chunk of the time I've been working as an engineer, people have been falling back to consumer software instead of using broken entreprise videoconferencing.

> When it comes to hardware, people use whatever headset and camera they have, connected to wifi served by the a cheap SOHO router.

I mostly haven't noticed any huge problems here, but maybe I've just been lucky.

Now that I think of it my home WiFi has been getting worse over the years, and getting new top rated gear didn't help.

(I have seen some thread here lately about advanced troubleshooting of wireless networks and I consider getting the spectrum analyzed somehow.)

I may have formulated this a bit poorly, by exemplifying my experience, what I meant was that people that work remote and uses voice, video, chat, should spend more time making sure their setup works really well, with good audio and video quality.

Any resources you could share along these lines? I'm definitely interested in improving my setup.

Have you noticed how incredibly resistant people are to doing a thing about it? Just getting anyone to put on a headset is like pulling teeth.

One source of resistance I've seen is that people don't like being forced to add cameras pointing at them to their set up.

Maybe if companies paid for it it wouldn't be a problem, you know, like equipment at an office.

Just curious: In your opinion, what are proper tools / setup in hard- and software terms that makes remote collaboration as efficient as on-site interaction?

I've worked remote for the past 4 years so I think I can weigh in on this.

If there are meetings in person you really need to have a good conference call phone, preferably with an external mic.

Like this: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/images/i/000/016/072/origi...

For things like screen sharing, the conference room must have a very solid connection as screen sharing typically uses a lot of bandwidth.

For the remote employee, you need:

* Solid headset. I've tried using a USB one but it had interference at terrible times. Once I was on a call presenting to the client when interference started making odd noises. Now I use a USB headset with noise canceling mic.

* Good fast reliable internet!

* Solid voice-over-ip phone if you need to talk on the "phone" a lot. I use DialPad which are the makers of UberConfrence. The quality is _way_ better than using Google Voice, skype, etc.

If you want what they use in places like the Senate and other Big Boy meetings, get a Shure MX418D/C and a real external audio interface with phantom power. I use mine for gaming, and while it's totally overkill, it's a purpose-made professional quality desktop voice mic. They're tanks and will last 20 years. You can buy replacement parts for them. They're also on eBay for ~$120 if you keep an eye out. Pair that mic with something like a Focusrite Scarlett Solo (~$110), Zoom UAC-2 ($250), Universal Audio Arrow ($500, has built-in DSP accelerator [offload]), or something crazy overkill like a RME ADI-2 Pro ($2000), Antelope Zen Studio+ ($2500), or an Avid HDX system (~$5k with Pro Tools) with external Neve preamp (~$3500) and a Neumann U87 Ai ($3600) mic. That's if you're trying to record the next Grammy Award-winning track and have an unlimited budget to get world-class audio. For reference, something like a $400 Shure SM7B is what you'd hear on most broadcast radio stations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpU6H2EtjLI has a comparison of the $3600 Neumann U87 vs the $230 Rode NT1-A for comparison. You won't be able to hear the difference over a conference call.

> You won't be able to hear the difference over a conference call.

The difference between the microphones is stunning, I thought I was not going to be able to tell the difference, but the Neumann is extremely more, should I say, articulate? the Rode sounds "stiff." But nobody is going to be singing over a conference call, true.

RME user here with plenty of nice microphones and preamps to choose from.

It’s been years since I went through the trouble of setting one up for a conference call. These days I just use my Sony Bluetooth headphones. IIRC, the difficulty with most (not DAW or professional audio) software on Mac and any external audio interface, is that it doesn’t actually allow selecting which input to use, only the device. So while I might select “RME Fireface 802” in Chrome as the input device, I can’t select Input 1, 9, or 12 as the input channel to use for microphone. This used to be possible with apps like Soundflower, though, I’m not sure what the best solution is nowadays.

UA DSP for conference calls, now wouldn’t that be something. Ha-ha.

If only the mic was my problem and not the network! On cable here (Virgin, UK) and impossible to get VoIP to work well (lack of delay, crisp audio etc). Have tried half a dozen service providers and a range of codecs (including Opus).

When my mobile phone has less latency and better sound, I know my VoIP is screwed.

Full commerical network hardware. Netgate makes the pfsense firewall and they make hardware for remote workers. You can traffic shape and have a VPN to your company and ensure that voice and your workstation have the bandwidth they need and your home gets the rest. A good firewall at your home can make all the difference and once that doesnt have yearly subscriptions is a good route to go.

I used to be a big pfsense fan, but Ubiquiti's UniFi is my jam now. If you get their gateway, PoE switches, and a couple of APs, it's by far the best SoHo system I've ever used. Enterprise features that are easy enough for non-network admin technical users to figure out, auto firmware updates, rock-solid reliability, all for around the cost of a high-end "gaming router" that will crash weekly.

Unifi WiFi + edgerouter lite isn’t bad either, software isn’t as cohesive but the ERL is solid and hasn’t been an issue for me at all over 4 years on gigabit internet. WiFi is rock solid after initial setup in a VM (does not need to be running controller continuously).

That depends on what you work with. My productivity as programmer got higher but my ability to help with hardware issues went down a lot. Helping over phone or chat to replace a PSU is tricky.

Don't kid yourself, it's not going to be as efficient. Audio and delay are big issues, as not everybody can talk at the same time. But the point is that it is doable, and some companies have good success with that. They are usually small-medium companies though, my guess is we won't be seeing any 100% remote unicorns popping up.

It continues to amaze me that most businesses use worse conferencing tools than the average e-sports clan. High-quality, low-latency conferencing and screen sharing is essentially a solved problem if you don't use completely crappy tools.

Most businesses have far more requirements than a e-sports clan, namely security, standardization, and dealing with large numbers of people. An e-sports clan can change their service in a day with one email. A large organization can't move that nimbly.

We changed our voice conferencing to Discord since it worked better than anything else we had tried

Which tools should you use?


Both GitLab and InVision are 100% remote unicorns, last valued at $1.1B [1] and $1.9B [2] respectively.

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2018/09/19/gitlab-raises-100m/ [2] https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/11/invision-valued-at-1-9-bil...

Haha I did set up the stage for the multiple slam dunks I received as replies. This is really amazing.

Wolfram has 800 employees, most of them tech, which puts payroll at ~160m. Suppose 30% margin, thats about $50m earnings, at 20p/e thats about $1b/unicorn.

You mean like github?


Seems to me like the biggest benefit of a solid remote working culture would be the vastly larger hiring pool. That should be weighed against the downsides.

My son and I met Stephen and his son at the NY Maker Faire a few years ago.

As you might imagine, his son (I think he was around 11 then) takes after his father and was heavily into programming already.

Imagine having him as your father! Lucky bugger.

I saw a cool presentation by wolfram’s son last year. He seemed early twenties.

It was a neat demo of using population data and quickly running it through Mathematica for nice chloropleth maps, charts, etc.

He was pretty cool and answered questions afterwards.

He was showing how the tool is useful for social science, but it’s so expensive.

I hope that if Wolfram ever retires, he will open source it because it’s so useful beyond the current customer base who values it enough to pay.

At least for non-commercial use, Mathematica for the Raspberry Pi is free! https://www.wolfram.com/raspberry-pi/

There’s definitely arguments to have on the actual impact of Wolfram’s mathematical/scientific work vs the impact he claims it has, but there are no doubts regarding his skills at running a scientific software operation.

> Having worked for over a decade at Google, I sometimes wonder if the founders still use the products. Larry Page used to always harp on latency (rightly), and now Google products are slower than ever.

Is this for real? I've never felt like google's products have prioritized latency. Android latency has been atrocious from the very beginning. And gmail and google docs are easily some of the slowest webapps out there.

Their search team prioritizes latency for sure, and they have performance teams and things like the RAIL model.

Hahahaha ... what an oxymoron here . Wolfram and rehabilitation. The company has not been doing well for a while. Having 800 employees at a macdonald wAge doesn’t seem like a hard thing to accomplish for a cult like corporation.

Funny, I do this with my digital trash can:

When I was consulting at Bell Labs in the early 1980s I saw that a friend of mine had two garbage cans in his office. When I asked him why, he explained that one was for genuine garbage and the other was a buffer into which he would throw documents that he thought he’d probably never want again. He’d let the buffer garbage can fill up, and once it was full, he’d throw away the lower documents in it, since from the fact that he hadn’t fished them out, he figured he’d probably never miss them if they were thrown away permanently.

I do this but don't throw the documents away. Instead I put the "buffer" into longer term storage (read: jammed into a box in my shed that can at least be searched even if it takes ages).

It turns out that, for me, there are quite a lot of things you suddenly need a year or more later that felt unimportant at the time.. insurance documents, warranties, car related documents that are useful when selling the car, documents relating to house improvements. These should probably be filed better on day one, but this is life :-D

Scan, OCR and shred. I have a scan pile and a shred pile. I collect documents in front of my scanner. Once a month I'll shred the previous month's documents in the shred pile, scan the current documents, and put them in the shred pile to be shredded next month.

I do this because sometimes it's easier just having the hard-copy around, but if I haven't used it in a month, it's rare I still need the hard-copy.

Do you name them, or just put them en masse by date? And what ocr software do you use?

Initially they are just named with the date they are scanned. Once a quarter or so I'll organize the ones I care about and the rest stay in an "unorganized" folder.

I use DEVONthink Pro Office which embeds Abbyy for OCR, along with a Fuji SnapScan.

I use JS1’s exact process, software and hardware. That is just too eerie. I however only shred once I have a full banker’s box, which I take to a commercial shredder for a big toss for $100, once or twice a year.

Staples will shred for a $1 a pound, and a banker’s box is at most 30lbs.

Staples does, but indirectly. Your stuff goes into a lock box. Does it get shredded? No idea.

Why a commercial shredder rather than a $100 crosscut (Amazon Basics makes some pretty good ones)? I actually find the shredder pretty fun to use.

Most inexpensive shredders have a very low duty cycle, so they'll cut out or overheat if you shred continuously for more than a couple of minutes. That's fine if you shred a couple of documents at a time, but it's infuriating if you have a big box of documents that need to be shredded. Heavy-duty shredders capable of continuous use are bulky and heavy, which is a significant issue if you live in a small apartment.

Ah makes sense. I guess I just do it as I need to, since I don’t do the document buffering thing.

just burn em in a trashcan

I use a cylinder of wire mesh on something heatproof, in the garden.

Better than a cheap shredder by miles, and some nice heat that makes it pleasant in wintertime. :)

Domestic burning of household waste is illegal where I live, I would have thought it would be illegal most places in the Western world by now. Burn paper = CO2; shred paper = more paper.

It takes many hours to shred and not worth my time. I have a shredder for the rare cases I need something shredded NOW.

Even more fun is supervising a young child doing the shredding :)

Or a fireplace...

Cloud vendors have OCR built in now, Amazon announced a newer product at Ignite called Textract and the Rekognition service has some capabilities there. GCP Vision and Azure have options as well. Getting the mass scan/photo is the annoying part. Some scanners also have OCR built in, or you can look at pytesseract.

I do something similar. I scan to pdf then store those in Evernote and Evernote does the OCR.

> These should probably be filed better on day one

Maybe, maybe not! I've optimized aggressively for writes (common) over reads (rare) - I don't want to even waste time deciding if I can throw something away or not, so I also keep everything that isn't super obviously recyclable immediately (mass mail, autopaid bills for less 'important' things like internet/utilities, most receipts since I don't itemize my deductions, etc.)

Anything sent to me goes into either a yearly "keep long term" (10+ years - tax docs, house/car stuff, etc.) or yearly "keep short term" (2+ years - insurance receipts etc.) folder in a filing cabinet where it can be forgotten about. Even that's over-complicated IMO - I haven't gotten rid of any folders from either category. If I need my hard copy of something, I probably need it for a specific year anyways. Sorting into more categories doesn't help much - I'd still have to remember which category my 401k documents went in (tax documents? did I have a financial folder? was my system still the same in 2012?)

Hand written notes are slightly more complicated - I actually read my notes enough to optimize reads a little by scanning them in to save me the hassle of opening up my filing cabinet. Still extremely streamlined - I symlinked the default location to a single dumping folder where I actually want them (I:\home\scans\) without needing to select anything. I keep the default sequential numbering naming scheme. I got a sheet fed scanner so I don't have to keep lifting the lid of a bed scanner. I setup a shortcut on the scanner so I press the scanner touchscreen twice ("Shortcuts", "Scan to File"), and a file appears. I don't bother with OCR - my handwriting is terrible, a computer probably can't read it, I probably can't read it.

Car documents - glovebox. I don’t even attempt to organize them anymore. Buy oil to do a change myself? Put receipt directly in glovebox, writing mileage and date on it if I am diligent. Occasionally I’ll throw away the old insurance / registration papers in the stack.

I started following this same system, and after realizing how much sense it made, and how similar this system is to typical digital data storage system design, I concluded I should always design physical storage systems using the same mindset as data storage.

I pretty much do this daily for everything. If I don’t interact with it in a year, it’s fine to throw away next house cleaning. So if I walk by, it goes out. Often “going out” means sold on Craigs list or eBay, but still.

I kind of force myself to do it, because deep down I think we are all pack rats. It’s in our nature to want to keep things “just in case”, but we live in a world where we can get anything with a few clicks. So why?

> It’s in our nature to want to keep things “just in case”, but we live in a world where we can get anything with a few clicks. So why?

Um, money?


I mostly buy and resell so I actually don’t spend much at all on items. I lose from the depreciation, but not too bad actually.

I'd have thought the shipping (on eBay) and time would cost more than the depreciation.

If I had a 50's secretary to do all my fleabaying, I too would do this, sheesh.

People do that with their deleted items in outlook.

helpdesk empties deleted items

Hey! I keep stuff in there!

I do that with tabs for online articles I (probably) want to read.

I have a tab opened in October 2016 that I still didn't read yet.

You should use Pocket for that: getpocket.com

I prefer using tabs because the space constraint forces you to actually choose what's important to read. When there is no space constraint everything just gets dumped into a pile and there's no real way to prioritize what you truly do and don't want to read. You just end up with a long list of stuff you don't care enough to actually read.

At least that was my experience with Pocket. Maybe it works for some. I do the same thing with physical books. I don't keep a list of books to read. I keep a bookshelf full of stuff I'm making my way through over the years. Spending the money forces me to choose what I actually feel is important I read vs what I think I want to read.

Y'all love tabs too? Let me blow your minds real quick if you haven't seen these:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/sidewise-tree-styl... (tl;dr view tabs on the left with some visual hierarchy to indicate what came from where)


https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/onetab/chphlpgkkbo... (TL;DR click the button when you can't see the favicons anymore because you have so many open. It'll save them to a single page that includes all the previous tabs you've saved so you can cmd+f it if you REALLY want to find That One Thing You Had Open That One Time)

If you use that many tabs then you're better off using FireFox with the Tree Style Tabs extension [1]. Unlike the Chrome extension, it integrates properly with the browser window and you can hide the original tab strip.

[1] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-GB/firefox/addon/tree-style-ta...

Nothing ensures I'll never see it again more than bookmarking it and closing the tab in hopes that I'll one day read it. Out of sight, out of mind.

Accumulating tabs works for me. I always end up working back through them because they are so visible.

Tabs save the history of the tab as well. This is a great resource. And it's saved in session files when you save.

I'd claim to do the same, but I never really close the tabs, I'll just fire up a new window, and maybe come back to the old window mañana.

I had previously tried setting up some sort of Apple Script or folder action to do this in macOS for someone. The other day I noticed they added a, "Remove items from the Trash after 30 days" in macOS Sierra.

I do something similar and thought it was a cool reference to find another does it as well.

I don’t throw the second pail away and just put it in a storage bin, forever (so far). About once a year, I fish out a document. To me, it seems cheaper than the time I spent trying to think about how to sort or keep stuff.

I call this putting my garbage in (reverse) quarantine.

I personally wonder what has the modern world come to, that an individual cannot take a leisurely walk without distraction, and thus feels like they must be working on a computer while getting in some basic movement for their body.

Jack and Max are walking from religious service. Jack wonders whether it would be all right to smoke while praying.

Max replies, "Why don't you ask the Priest?"

So Jack goes up to the Priest and asks, " Father, may I smoke while I pray?"

The Priest replies, "No, my son, you may not! That's utter disrespect to our religion."

Jack goes back to his friend and tells him what the good Priest told him.

Max says, "I'm not surprised. You asked the wrong question. Let me try."

And so Max goes up to the Priest and asks, "Father, may I pray while I smoke ?"

To which the Priest eagerly replies, "By all means, my son. By all means. You can always pray whenever you want to."

I see him walking while working as a way to keep his physical self exercising alongside his mind, not because he can’t handle being alone with his thoughts. He even mentions that if there’s a stressful meeting, he can walk off some of the stress.

He also works remotely, and it’s important to take the opportunities to move around while remote. It’s easy to stay in the house all day, especially in a snowy winter, but getting some movement in is important for many people to have a happy and healthy life.

Different strokes for different folks - and he is certainly different. I have fantasised for years about doing my dev work away from a desk. So maybe it’s just me but I find his ‘walking desk’ fascinating and thought provoking.

To be fair, he's a very weird individual, and pretty old too (not all that modern).

It's a world that increasingly values cognitive output over physical output. Doesn't seem that dystopian to me.

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not.

Given the alternative would be working while being sedentary, I think it's probably a fairly good (if odd) setup? I'm assuming he doesn't take the laptop like that when we he wants to walk to the shops at the weekend.

> Given the alternative would be working while being sedentary

I would say the alternative is to not work 18 hours a day, but obviously that is his choice.

> I'm assuming he doesn't take the laptop like that when we he wants to walk to the shops at the weekend.

I wouldn't put my bet on that. He has said in the past that he uses his weekends to grid down his e-mail backlog. Rather, his graphs in past posts show him not talking on the phone on weekends, but still pretty constantly emailing.

Depends whether this is really "work" for him. He strikes me as a type who found his calling.

One thing that had me wondering about is how on earth he deals with reflections on the screen. Any attempt I've ever made to work outside in the sun (usually when it's too nice to be indoors) has resulted in me frustrated and giving up when I can't see a bloody thing on the screen. Maybe I'll give it a go on the Macbook Pro I've just gotten at work.

Polarized sunglasses help me a lot. As long as they aren't polarized in the same direction as your screen, it should work pretty well.

Ha! That's a really good idea. I guess most sunglasses are vertically polarized to avoid reflections off of water / wet ground so as long as the screen is polarized differently that should work.

I don't think he ever meant it that way. It's not that he "cannot take a leisurely walk without distraction", but that he wants to get some walking while working, i.e. the priority is reversed. He claims to walk for "a couple of hours" which is too long to not be doing anything for him. You seem to be generalizing a lot from this one person's preference.

Also, a lot of people listen to podcasts/audiobooks while walking/jogging. Is that a "distraction"? I'd say it's actually even a plus and those two activities are complementary to each other: Being in the wild helps you concentrate on the audiobook, and being able to read something uninterrupted motivates you to go out and do some exercise every day.

He is walking while working on a computer, not vice versa.

He may take regular walks also and find it weird that you can't work without sitting in a chair.

A lot of people don’t know absolutely massive amount of functionality that is stuffed in to Mathematica. It does everything from symbolic math to astronomy to economics to deep learning to biology to ... If Wolfram had figured out how to make his software free while still having sustained business, he would undoubtedly be the hero of the tech/nerd/geek world, perhaps shoulder to shoulder with Jobs or Linus or Gates - at least for the tech crowd.

Sage is free. William Stein deserves a huge amount of credit.

Some of the huge amount of functionality stuffed into Sage:


Mathematica never hade widespread appeal because it wasn’t even close to being affordable. Sage never had widespread appeal because it wasn’t even close to being Mathematica.

It was free with every NeXT workstation!

This right here, I believe, is the biggest problem facing software today. How do you pay for it? End-users expect software to cost $0, yet it takes a lot of time and effort to build anything.

The most successful software projects and companies I see today are those which figured out innovative business models: advertising, hardware, free for open source / paid for business, make it all open source and get a job maintaining it.

There's no one correct answer. For any business model you pick for your software today, half the world will be upset with you. I wish Mathematica was more affordable, but I can't fault someone for creating a sustainable business. As Joel Spolsky said, good software takes 10 years (at least!), and most software dies long before it gets 10 years of development, so we never even get the chance to see if it could have been good.

Business models are the most significant innovations for any business. Google or Maps or Gmail is jaw-droppingly expensive software but its sustainably free.

There might be way for software like Mathematica. For example, having marketplace that sells professional plugins like aerodynamics simulation for aircrafts or autonomous trading library etc. You can also have special classroom edition that charges nominal amounts or the enterprise edition that has cloud and IT support. The large chunk of platform can potentially be free and open source.

> This right here, I believe, is the biggest problem facing software today. How do you pay for it?

You find the people who are making money with it, find conveniences that those people would appreciate, and put them behind a paywall.

Or, with the same group of people, offer them a support contract. Sell them the “premium” version of the software with 24-7 support and contractors who can solve any problem they might come across.

Or, host the software as a service and let people pay for that.

Or, host the software as a feee service and use your users’ data to market products at them.

Or, use the software to solve a social or governmental problem, apply for grants to do more of that, and use some of the grant money to improve the software.

Or you can always sell virtual hats.

There are lots of ways to do it.

Will his company survive when he's not around anymore? (I don't think so)

I think the chance for him to be that hero, is to opensource everything, and then lead that project (linus way) or retire.....


Disclaimer: Stephen Wolfram pays my rent.

The times have changed a lot since Matthew Cook, now a lot of my meetings with him are simultaneously live-streamed on several different platforms and the recordings are available for anyone to use. If anyone were to say all the ideas on the particular piece of Wolfram Language I'm working on are all Wolfram's I'd have hours of video recordings to show.

I haven't tested my theory yet, but I think the day I decide to switch jobs those might prove useful.

How cow, this guy is the world's most organized person. I operate in the exact opposite way. The more disorganized, temporary, inconvenient, and cluttered my workspace is, the more I can ignore the outside world and focus on the abstract problem at hand.

Funny how people are so different.

My desk has to have exactly, 1 keyboard, 1 mouse, 1 A4 5mm graph paper pad and that's it.

I used to struggle to work on a slightly cluttered desk but these days it has to be basically empty.

In terms of paperwork, it goes behind me on shelves sorted by "Important, will need soon, Important, will need later, Not important" everything else goes in the bin.

Periodically I rip the pads apart and put them through the bypass scanner on the MFP in the main office and store the resulting PDF's.

First time my partner saw my office at work she was positively shocked because at home (other than my work space) I'm a messy, "leave it where I had it last" type.

That reminds me of when I attended a "Getting Things Done" ((C) (R) (TM)) seminar, sponsored by work. The speaker spent hours explaining how to organise the to-do-lists and calendars and how to label tasks (can be done on the road, calls, can be done offline, importance vs urgency, ...) and how to prioritise them, a really elaborate system, the whole shebang. And it results in the one task you should be doing right now.

He presented it, looked content, and invited questions, when someone asked, "ok, suppose now I know what I should be doing now. But what happens if I just don't feel like it? What then?". The presenter was dumbfounded, seemed confused, and had basically no answer (that I remember).

Younger I loved having all my shit around me on my desk. It was hyper natural and hyper efficient. Nowadays ... nope. It feels a bit like reading your own undocumented one night epic project .. with age you just love a bit of structure and cleanliness

Same here. Brain shrinkage is real; one can't deal with so much disorganization as one gets older.

Maybe that's me being in denial but I don't consider it to be shrinkage. In the recent years, it seems that motivation went from small to broad. I'm not less capable intellectually [1]. I'd say it's a decrease of energy and blind passion and more things to handle that divide attention and care. There's also a bit of energy saving dimension.. as a programmer we oughta know that a well maintained structure avoid worst-case complexity.. same goes for your drawers :)

[1] I'm actually a lot smarter than my college self, I tested few years ago when wildly sick trying to do proofs from scratch on stuff I knew nothing prior (theorems on fibonacci series). And after a bit of sweating and pencil twisting I managed to have insights and solutions. So it's not a linear decrease in brain power, it's more like a rotation or shapeshift.

What's a "bypass scanner"?

Bypass tray is the auto feeder on the top of the big copiers, ours can also scam to mailbox via that so it chews through 50 pages and emails it before I walk back to my office.

Beats doing it by hand.

> ours can also scam to mailbox

This would be a Nigerian scanner then? ;)

“Dear sir or madam, I have come in possession of a very valuable document scan which I am unable to get out of the country...”

How do you process the files in the three shelves?

I pile stuff up neatly left to right and periodically (usually last hour on friday when brain is done, go through it and either move or bin it).

The goal isn't to have everything meticulously organised (that becomes a task that takes more time than you save, it's yak shaving for me at least) but to be able to find it quickly (few minutes) if I need to and crucially out of my sight line, at my desk it's completely out of view.

Haha this guy doesn't know how to use the three seashells

;) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdnuOa7tDco

Flat wooden table top, laptop, sketch pad with plain unlined paper, colored pens.

Are you sure you wouldn't like to try a plain sketch pad rather than graph paper with all those nasty lines?

I use the faint grey line pads and my drawing/handwriting is terrible so quite sure :)

Completely unqualified thought, but I think it has to do with how you organize information in your brain. Are you spatially oriented or do you think in lists?

I'm a chemist, and I definitely think spatially. Creating images of physical objects in my head and reorienting them is a major part of my job, and the "memory palace" has been the most valuable memory tool I've found.

I can't think if there's an extra set of papers on my desk. I tend to organize my tasks using the physical space on my desk, so the most urgent item is about 3 inches from my keyboard at any time. I start to get anxious if too many things pile onto my desk without intentionally organizing them into priorities.

The implicit sharing of his sleep schedule through his email times over the past 25 years makes me feel better about myself.


The article says

>The big empty spaces are when I’m asleep, and, yes, as I’ve changed projects—e.g. finishing A New Kind of Science in 2002—my sleep habits have changed; I’m also now trying an experiment of going to sleep earlier

Earlier being 2am

I did not see in the article, but I wonder if all of those times are in the same timezone and if those times are based on UTC or his actual timezone, I did not see data on that but could have missed it.

It's his actual timezone - EST (Concord, Massachusetts).

>The first thing one sees from this plot is that, yes, I’ve been busy. And for more than 20 years, I’ve been sending emails throughout my waking day, albeit with a little dip around dinner time. The big gap each day comes from when I was asleep. And for the last decade, the plot shows I’ve been pretty consistent, going to sleep around 3am ET, and getting up around 11am (yes, I’m something of a night owl). (The stripe in summer 2009 is a trip to Europe.)


It is always great to see what an utterly incorrigible dweeb (and I use that term affectionately) does with power and money. I just fucking love that instead of a Learjet he has basically a large ecosystem of software built specifically for his personal needs.

I agree. This was one of the most motivating articles I've read in a while. This is a man who unabashedly goes 100 % all in to whatever he wants, fully admits it's nutty, and looks like he's having the time of his life.

He says in the article he went from never traveling to traveling all the time. I wonder if he has a Learjet as well.

Here's a guy I think of as very successful, and very smart, and yet he seems extremely tethered to his computers.

Meetings while walking, and assuming nobody notices? Questioning the practicality of time spent outside? That's kind of... really... sad.

I think most of us would be sad or depressed if our lives were like his. But it seems like he has intentionally conformed the rest of his life to the things that matter most to him (his work, company, personal productivity) rather than what you or I think of as happiness or a good life. I certainly wouldn't want to be him, but if he's living how he wants to live, who am I to judge.

I might be a little biased though, WolframAlpha got me through countless hours of college homework assignments.

I guess it really depends. I think I'd loved this lifestyle - always doing work that contributes directly to humanity's scientific output and having time to follow your own intellectual pursuits? Sign me in.

It’s not that nobody notices that he’s walking... it’s that, what is anyone going to do about it? Who signs their paychecks?

I'm just going to say this: walking is faaaar better than eating :)

What's wrong with meetings while walking? It's a great way to have a meeting, even better if it's a one on one and you're both walking.

Better than sitting in a cube all day like a lot of sw eng...

What's so sad about someone who doesn't really like to spend time outside? Personally I like going outside, but I'm a bit jealous of people who love their work environment that much.

I think there's great value in walking with no distractions and it is definitely still very productive if it lets you focus and gather your thoughts. Many great thinkers in history (Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, Carl Jung, doubtless many others) had walking as important part of their routine. But, there's no accounting for taste, and whatever works for you is all that really matters.

That was an intense read. I’m not sure I actually learned much of value beyond how awesome it might be to have an entire IT department at your beck and call, but certainly his File System has helped solidify some of my germinating ideas on how to reshelve my own file system with which I am lately dissatisfied.

Through the article I found he livestreams many of his meetings on Twitch!

This is particularly candid moment I happen to find: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGjvFyRk_4I&feature=youtu.be...

edit: I wasn't aware of the negative opinions regarding his ego, but from listening to this meeting I can say they aren't unsubstantiated!

First, it's awesome that these are live-streamed and publicised.

Second, I didn't hear anything unreasonable in that meeting. SW has a reputation for ego, but honestly this particular extract just sounds like frustration with buggy/messy documentation. I mean, the fact that the CEO is personally going through documentation is telling in itself.

I agree. If that seems ego driven, then you shouldn't be working in a professional environment. It's not even so much frustration as just getting to the bottom of the issue and resolving it.

I don't know why you're bending over backwards to excuse it.

It's toxic. He's being nasty. He could say everything he does without the snapping, blowing up at questions, dramatic sighs, 'oh boy's. It's all so incredibly passively aggressive.

And that's actually the worst bit! It's hard to call him out when he's not explicitly calling them 'idiots' or something. It's like it's some kind of plausible deniability of being horrible to people.

But I don't know these people and maybe they're all fine with it. And Wolfram is paying the bills so it's his style if he wants.

Rather than admit that the red, undocumented third parameter was a mistake they seemed to make all sorts of rationalizations for why it’s wrong (“It’s new”, “I thought it was fixed”, etc.) rather than just saying “You’re right, that’s a bug. We’re fixing it.” Why were the employees waffling around the fact that it actually is a problem? Calling them out on their justifications and excuses isn’t being toxic or nasty, it’s called being a professional who takes pride in the work they put out to the public.

Either it's a flaw in the engineers (lack of social skills to admit a mistake accurately) or in the working climate (fear of unreasonable repercussion make the engineers defer disclosure of failure). I'm undecided. Eitherway it seemed surprisingly inefficient way of communicating.

I only watched a few minutes but I didn't see anything objectionable. I was getting annoyed at the people he was talking to. It seems to me, you either know what the answer is so state the answer and the evidence, or you don't, so state that you don't know and express your plan to find an answer and return with it.

Once I hurt my back, had to drive for three hours, park far away, hadn't eaten all day, and when I stopped at a restaurant, having hobbled there with my bad back from a distant parking spot, the hostess was absent for ~5 minutes and when she finally showed up she was distracted and talking to other people multiple times while I tried to get an answer to how long the wait would be and if I could get served. So far, I've lived a fairly easy life, and I've always tried to be polite and even keeled - but in that moment of discomfort, tiredness, hunger, and disrespect, I genuinely wanted to be rude to the hostess.

The point of the digression is, I imagine that's what being the CEO is like, only it's not once. It's every day. And the more committed you are, the more hours you subject yourself to this kind of thing. You just want things well documented, bugs fixed, quality high, you want people to answer questions etc. When you've been dealing with this all day for decades - I can see how easy it would be to be a bit impolite.

I guess "toxic" is pretty subjective. Personally, I draw the line at personal insults. You might draw the line a little earlier.

As is “nasty”, “snapping”, “blowing up at”, “dramatic”, and “passive agressive.” Oh, and let’s not forget “horrible.”

Have you ever dealt with bad docs? Seriously!!!

Can you link to a bit you consider toxic and nasty? I went in expecting to hear him sound like he was reading out a Linus Torvalds email but I couldn't find anything like that.

Yup, and at the end he even says good work and acknowledges that he knows it's taken a lot of work to get to this point.

It's not professional for a mentor to take out his frustration on employees. I'm not saying I never get frustrated with poor quality work, but I don't see it as helpful taking out that frustration on someone. Better things I can do: 1. Figure out how to inspire quality with positive reinforcement. 2. Eliminate blockers to quality. 3. Automate quality checks so I'm not even reviewing code unless it already passes a certain QA level. Sometimes people are broken and that's fine. Let them go instead of beating up on them. But very often it is the processes that are broken and you should be fixing those instead of trying to fix people.

I think this video highlights as a leader being the 'bad guy' in a meeting because they are demanding excellence to a specific vision/goal and their subordinate's output isn't meeting their expectations.

There are no personal attacks, just critiques on the thought process, output and plan (or lack of planning), all of that is fair game. The dev(?) even admits at ~25:40 that they should be taking notes and fixing what is pointed out.

There's a bit of passive aggressive hierarchy conflict at play but it doesn't go that far IMO. Tone mostly goes back to relaxed ... could be friendlier but alas.

This is crazy. He is the CEO of an 800 person company and the people talking to him sound like they are completely unprepared for the conversation. Of course the third argument needs to be fucking documented! Their response should have been "yes, this is a clear bad, we'll fix the documentation by tomorrow's meeting." Not just sit silently on the call while the CEO has to go do it themselves.

The people there sound like I did on my thesis progress reports after I had been out drinking with friends. As much as I was ready to hate on Wolfram given his reputation, he's completely justified about his complaints, and he's being professional about it.

I see nothing "toxic" about this conversation, as others have mentioned. He is completely focused on the work; there are no personal attacks. The main interlocutor sounds like he is taking things personally.

Frankly a good CEO would not tolerate this bullshit or promote people like this. My guess is people there are promoted on technical merit alone which means that there must be a lot of smart fucking people there but with obviously poor task execution skills.

It's obvious that these people are not stupid and understand that interfaces need to be documented. They are instead confused. I've had micromanagers like SW before, and have been confused many times at the state of something precisely because the micromanager took it upon themselves to "do it themselves" on the fly, just like SW did here.

Admitting that it's clearly bad and saying you'll fix it by tomorrow would be a neverending pursuit, because the micromanager's meddling is constant and touches everything.

No doubt somebody else will now be confused that this third parameter is suddenly documented when it was a task delegated to them, and somebody else is confused because they were told to deprecate the parameter.

The difference between a micromanager and a detail-oriented manager is the micromanager tells you how to do it, the detail-oriented manager tells you what to do. I only see detail orientation here. Even the string to describe the API was written by Wolfram even after he asked for suggestions. I’d expect them to jump in and commit to fixing it themselves.

Interesting stuff, here's a recent one, if anyone is interested they are reviewing some new blockchain related methods and they walkthrough the methods. Not everything is clear to everyone, it's refreshing to see a very smart, CEO level person, logically step through new concepts/code.


I have somewhere between 5–20% comprehension of what they're talking about in a technical sense but found the conversation from 4m31s (as you've linked) to ~10m45s utterly fascinating.

Oh boy. If people think this is an example of being unacceptably direct and gruff, I need to reexamine the way I talk during technical discussions.

I've always thought it best to just cut straight to the core of issues like he's doing. I suppose it's a jerk move to corner people into admitting they're wrong even when it's obvious. Maybe there's a nicer jedi-mind way to do it.

Oy, I'm fascinated that this is publicly available, but kind of horrified if I was one of the developers on this public "con call"!

Thanks for the amusement, I'm left with the distinct impression that if everyone on that call were in the same room it would have gone a lot better.

His staff didn't even seem engaged in the subject.

From the article:

"Often I’ll do a meeting where I have lots of people in case we need to get their input. But for most of the meeting I don’t need all of them to be paying attention (and I’m happy if they’re getting other work done)."

So they're not paying attention because he enjoys having excess people on calls and wasting their time.

Sounds like torture. The CEO wants you on the call, probably won't need you, and you're supposed to feel comfortable disengaging when he's berating coworkers about a missing third argument in a function's documentation.

If that's what he's arranging, then its his own self-created dysfunction.

The people on that particular call didn't even seem to know what they were talking about half the time though. It's entirely possible that they're both asked to passively participate in oversubscribed meetings and neglecting to do their jobs creating further frustration.

> and I’m happy if they’re getting other work done

It seriously doesn't sound like he's happy when he snaps at them to unmute and start responding!

you know what's insane about that video? the CEO of a 100 (200?) person software company is writing docs. but then again i'm not surprised that wolfram is a micromanager.

Attention to detail is not micro-managing. In fact, it's very very good thing and you should have respect for people at CEO level having this kind of care, understanding and passion for their products. It's kind of thing that makes Steve Jobs, the Steve Jobs.

Especially as documentation is kind of the core value proposition of Mathematica

The article says 800. I can't imagine what it would be like, to be part of a machine of 800 people basically set up to cater to the whims of one overlord.

Every company is set up to cater to the whims of one overlord. Then there is a group who can change the overlord. Most effective companies are dictatorships with a fairly reasonable dictator.

I don't think I necessarily agree. While having one person who has complete control and effectively focuses a business to the correct decisions and technical goals is super effective, part of that effectiveness is getting the rest of the business on the same mindset as you and giving employees room to add their technical nous to the work.

The criticism leveled (which I do not actually any insight to the truth of) is that essentially people have to follow his "whims" and are micromanaged, which does not bring out the best of employees and can be very stifling.

But that said, I don't know the truth of that criticism.

Two words: Larry. Ellison.

The way you say it is like you're saying that Documentation should be second class, not just that it is anyway. Keep in mind that the software in this particular case, is software used mostly for the API, so the Documentation is front and centre.

Very much so. The documentation is the specification, so it's not merely writing the documentation, but writing the specification.

Another interesting tidbit that plays into this...the syntax coloring is programmatically derived from the documentation (yet another consequence of the documentation being the specification). This wasn't mentioned in the meeting because most or all of the participants already knew this, but it's an important part of the subtext of the discussion.

Speaking as an insider who wasn't present at that particular meeting, but has been present in some other live-streamed meetings.

And I quote...

> Usually we (which quite often actually means me) will write documentation for a function before the function is implemented.

Reminds me of this Sir Issac Newton quote:

> Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.

This is a Howard Newton quote. I think you're confusing it with "F = ma".


Do you have a source for that?

That does not sound like Newton ar all.

If you google “Newton” Google attributes it to Issac Newton on the side bar, seems like it must be wrongly attributed unfortunately. Thanks for correction.

Maybe mastery doesn't imply usage

Hearing this coming from Newton is surprising, given his infamous feud with Leibniz over which of them invented calculus.

Not really. People can have ideal ideas that don't match their own lived reality. And the Newton / Hooke feud is probably more interesting and relevant, than the Leibniz one (given that was entirely of Newton's making).

Fwiw: in 2010 Stephen Wolfram did an interview about his setup: https://usesthis.com/interviews/stephen.wolfram/

I always find it interesting to see what personal productivity improvements highly successful people _do not_ implement. Considering that the typical productivity speel for technology & progaming tasks is tiling window managers (minimize mouse movement), mechanical/ergodox/split keyboards (ideal hand width and orientation), possibly linux or OSX w/ homebrew to automate tasks using scripts. It's interesting to see how relatively rare these setups are among CEO's (in tech) and how 'normal' the setups of successful people really are.

There are several factors I see that are or have been impeding implementation of such setups. Firstly, many of the most common tiling WMs have only existed since the 2000s resulting while the current, mature segment of highly successful individuals likely started with the tools available in the 80s & 90s and by then both Windows and Mac OS were using desktop metaphor (floating) environments.

The use of floating windows (even with snapping, etc) increases use of the mouse and decreases the relative benifit of highly specialized keyboards like the ergodox. And a lot of membrane keyboards nowdays can /feel/ decent w/o mechanical switches.

The choice of OS is likely whatever they have been using since the 90s with some bias towards switching to OSX/MacOS and since it provides many linux-like capabilities in terms of shells for scripting(albiet often horendiously out of date).

Finally, likely the largest factor contributing to having relatively normal setups is that the more involved tasks can be delegated to employees whom may or may not have highly customized setups.

Personally, I use tiling window managers and mechanical keyboards not to be more efficient, but rather for 1) physical comfort and 2) personal taste.

By physical comfort, I mean that I rely on my hands too much to not take care of them to avoid RSI and personal taste, well, I like not having to reach for a mouse, being able to have what I need side by side with the press of a button and just the minimalist look of tiling window managers.

Does it also make me more efficient or productive? Maybe, possibly, who knows! It probably does, as it removes roadblocks from my workflow, but its not something I pay a lot of attention to.

That's because a lot of gains can be realized from sticking to a given system. The hardest part is starting some system than sticking to it. Also, being a CEO makes things easier from other perspectives. You have staff to take care of your mundane stuff and people double check to make sure they utilize your time effectively. A random employee wouldn't walk over and lean on his desk to comment about the weather.

    > It's interesting to see how relatively rare these setups are among CEO's (in tech) and how 'normal' the setups of successful people really are.
I suspect that's because one's setup isn't really a big deal.

Saving a odd second or two because you're using a split mechanical ergodox or whatever dvorak keyboard with no window manager and scripts to automate the wazzoo out of everything adds up to... not very much at all unless you're doing very repetitive tasks where seconds count.

I mean, I think folks should just use whatever makes them happy, and it is interesting to see what people end up using like on usesthis (https://usesthis.com/). But really, people can be productive with almost anything.

I almost wish more CEOs published something like this. It's quite fascinating to see what sort "manpower" it takes to help them run/lead their org at their greatest efficiency... the behind the scenes look. I imagine head fashion designers or Apple and Tesla execs have a troupe of people working tirelessly to make sure the boss doesn't scew up.

I can see why some people think this guy is a bit much (Wolfram-branded Pilot Precise Grip pens, Wolfram Cloud, Wolfram Language) but this is a very thorough and interesting article. He even admits the embarrassing stuff: Apple Mac Pro.

Why is that embarrassing? I think they're pretty and pretty good.

> Wolfram-branded Pilot Precise Grip pens,

Honestly, that's just swag. I must have a box of them, plus 10 t-shirts, cardboard spikeys, bags from various conferences.

I really like the personal homepage idea. Reminds me of the iGoogle days.

Anyone know any products / tools to create a simple one consisting of essentially an organized collection of links? I guess any static site generator could work, but would be nice to have an out of the box theme and can show RSS Feeds.

Doesn't have a theme or ability to show RSS feeds but... I built an open-source Chrome extension I call SwiftTab for creating a custom page of links from my Bookmarks Bar (or a folder named "_Swift") https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/swifttab/poikmgend...

Source code is @ https://github.com/joshbuchea/chrome-ext-swifttab

You might like Netvibes. I've been using it for over a decade and it's still fantastic. https://www.netvibes.com/

Wow, I'd love something like this, but that would incorporate my social media into background stream of super-compacted, mostly-text events. Think of being on a Slack channel (in Compact mode), where the only things that are posted are messages from your Facebook timeline, e-mail, HN stories, replies to your HN comments, new IM threads etc. Also, you could pin stuff you care about, and with one click/keyboard press, everything else gets cleared.

Alas, I don't think Facebook in particular allows for such deep integration with one's feed - because yes, that would essentially replace me the facebook website/app.

Haven't heard that name in ages. Thanks for the reminder.

I just created my own chrome extension, and an html file for the new tab page:


Currently, I have a cronjob that greps my todo files in org mode, and puts the currently scheduled task below a picture of General Sherman.

I've been using Dropbox Paper and you can extend this AWS Lambda script I wrote that uses Dropbox Paper to generates a webpage to include RSS: https://gist.github.com/abhiyerra/7dcd96741cf98a1823da91f32b...

I just started using Notion (https://notion.so) for organizing to-do lists, links, notes, and reminders. It's simple yet amazingly flexible. I highly recommend it.

Google Chrome shows tiles of your most visited links. In mine, HN is first one.

Problem is it includes distractions. A personal homepage would be better focussed on things I SHOULD do, rather than things I actually do.

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