265: TZ Discussion – Going Beta with Disco

Justin and Jason discuss the movie Guardians of the Galaxy and the show Halt and Catch Fire, why they both like the post-apocalyptic genre, the final dates for the TechZing Summit, a progress report on Operation Superhero, Justin’s “audacious goal” of starting a funk band, why Jason thinks Derek Sivers is wrong about keeping your goals to yourself, Jason’s electrical engineering learning experiment and his idea of posting his notes and problem solutions to the web using CircuitLab and MathJax, what is was about Stanford’s Neurogrid project that inspired Jason to learn electronics, how Jason’s MightyHive convertible note actually converted into equity and how his angel investment, MV Code Club, is opening a second location, the latest on Disco, why Justin enjoys doing devops using Salt, how Jason and Sandy are going to be teaching Algebra to 5th graders this year and Jason’s plans for the Battle Math card game, a contrarian view of MITxParkinson’s Law, whether it makes more sense to join an established but growing tech company or to just apply to YC, why Justin sold his Soylent, Jason’s recent physical and Lightbot – the app / game that teaches basic programming concepts. 

  1. Matt S says:

    I liked “Halt and Catch Fire”, but I could tell that it probably wasn’t going to stick for non-techie viewers. The pilot and episodes 8-9 were *really* good, but ultimately, the rest of the season putzed around. The pilot has so much promise, mainly based on how smart and cunning the Steve Jobs-esque character (Joe) was; but when it was later revealed that his master plan was just smoke and mirrors, the season fell flat.

    I really appreciated a show about computers that cared about the technology details and didn’t dumb stuff down for the audience (Amazon’s Betas and Silicon Valley both do this to some extent). It was also great to see Donna (the wife) and Cameron both as strong, intelligent women that could hold their own. Signs aren’t good for a season 2, but here’s to hoping 🙂

    I don’t recall if you’ve (Justin/Jason) have seen these TV series, but I’ll recommend them again: Black Mirror (Twilight Zone with modern twist), Orphan Black (excellent scifi serial drama with big twist in Episode 1 that I won’t spoil), The Wrong Mans (a TV version of “Hot Fuzz”/”Shaun of the Dead”-type movies), Nathan For You (deadpan comedy spoofing business advice reality show)

  2. Two thoughts after listening to this episode:

    1. Mike Taber and I had the same discussion about Hacker News on Startups for the Rest of Us a couple episodes ago. Turns out Paul Graham stepped down from moderating and handed it over to someone a few months back. The front page has totally changed since then. Far less startup and marketing-type posts make it there (even with enough votes), and as you guys discussed, it’s mostly code stuff. Which is ok, but IMO only in moderation when mixed with other topics.

    2. I really want to like Halt and Catch Fire, but I share Jason’s sentiment that since you’re not rooting for anyone it’s hard to like the show. I’m 4 episodes in and continuing to watch purely for my love of tech. If it wasn’t about 1980s computing I would have been gone 2 episodes ago. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bode so well for the show.

    Thanks for continuing to put out shows, and wish I could make the TZ summit in October. I would absolutely be there (only a 3.5-hour drive for me), but I’ll be out of the country at the time.

  3. Joe says:

    @Jason — I think neurons simulated in hardware is an incredibly cool idea. From what I’ve read, the hardest part is creating a dynamic system — real neuronic pathways are constantly changing as brains learn new things, and a statically wired system cannot perform in the same way. It seems like a hybrid FPGA system might be able to be used to create a dynamically wired simulation.

    I’ve been thinking lately that it would be really cool to play around with ASICs that simulate other biological processes — protein folding, etc. I got a degree in biochemistry before I got in to firmware engineering, and I’ve been thinking about getting a Master’s degree in EE. Your novel approach with the PhD tutor is something I’ll have to look into 🙂 thanks!

  4. Alfie says:

    @Joe – It’s not hard at all. It’s already a thing:


    The most interesting story I’ve heard was of the circuit that evolved to its specific silicon:


    “The plucky chip was utilizing only thirty-seven of its one hundred logic gates, and most of them were arranged in a curious collection of feedback loops. Five individual logic cells were functionally disconnected from the rest– with no pathways that would allow them to influence the output– yet when the researcher disabled any one of them the chip lost its ability to discriminate the tones. Furthermore, the final program did not work reliably when it was loaded onto other FPGAs of the same type.”

    In other words, the chip’s circuit evolved specifically for that chip alone given the chip’s underlying atomic characteristics. An atom or two more on a wire could have evolved a completely different circuit! Pretty damn cool 🙂

  5. Joe says:

    @Alfie — thanks, those articles were awesome!

    It sounds like the main problem is getting the evolution to be performed in realtime, like an actual brain does it. Basically the “fitness function” for the optimization needs to be evaluated in parallel with new inputs that are entering the system. I would guess that reprogramming FPGAs takes too long to be done in anything even approaching realtime, but I’m no expert and that’s just a wild ass guess on my part.

    Anyway this makes me even more excited to explore this field 🙂

  6. I’ve recently started getting into clojure and I am obsessed with it. I have set myself the audacious goal of giving the keynote at the clojure/conj conference. This seems a million miles away right now but I really want to try and make this happen!

  7. Jason says:

    @Paul Cowan – That’s awesome! There’s nothing like an audacious goal to focus your efforts. Now do the opposite of what Derek Sivers advises and tell as many people as possible about your goal. That’s what I’m doing and it’s working. You can’t talk to me for more than 5 minutes without knowing what my goal is and what I’m GOING to do. It’s tremendously effective because it forces extreme accountability and it keeps the goal at the front of your mind.

    In fact, I just had my 8-week follow-up body composition test with the bioengineer who’s overseeing my diet and training program and she was blown away by my results. But I’ll talk more about that on the show we’re recording tomorrow. 😉