Protocol Thinking

07 Mar 2023 09:57 - 13 Dec 2023 10:44
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    • VGR is organizing a big thing on protocols:
      • This struck me as such a good idea that I immediately started making a
    • Reading list

      • Phil Agre, Routines (maybe a stretch? But shows some new ways to think about the emergence of patterns of interaction)
      • All of software engineering and distributed computing is desiging protocols, basically, especially: languages, operating systems, APIs, platforms.
        • Unix
        • The whole field of distributed computation, esp Actors
        • Why these particular items? They exemplify a particular kind of design, which might as well be called "protocol design" although it is also fairly called "abstraction design". A normal design optimizes a single construct like a house (which might have a whole bunch of divergent and conflicting requirements, but its still a thing), protocol design creates a way for different parts to interact productively with each other.
        • In tech, this kind of protocol design is an everyday activity, almost. Actually, no it isn't, most work is making use of existing protocols, making a new protocol (or language or platform) is fairly rare and requires a certain skillset that not every programmer has.
        • Lambda: The Ultimate Protocol
        • A shit-ton of comedy is about protocol failures, and protocol mechanics -- Seinfeld especially was practically a textbook on this, its followup Curb Your Enthusiasm even more so. It's practically all the characters talk about.
          • Awkwardness might be relevant – as I recall, it is the social condition of not knowing the proper protocol or how to negotiate it.
        • A collection of books on social protocols
    • What is a protocol anyway?

      • technical protocols like TCP
      • social protocols like "restaurant" or "date" or "grocery checkout line", or the more heavyweight ones like "negotiation" or "campaign rally".
      • checklists
      • elaborate technical but non-automated procedures, things that require careful planning, runbooks, like that (thinking of the Apollo program because I'm watching that show)
      • Protocols, therefore, are the very embodiment of A. N. Whitehead’s observation: “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.”
      • Protocol as ritual minus all the spiritual / psychological aspects.
      • Standardizing various sociotechnical processes.
        • Containerization
        • The way YC made "startup" a routine thing, with very standardized steps.
        • Chain restaurants, Starbucks makes a standard protocol for getting (bad) coffee
      • Biological protocols: there are many
    • My day job

      • Building software that can encode and implement scientific protocols, especially those that require joint execution by human and automated processes. I've been doing variants of this for years; here's a screen from 24 years ago: