Learning to Learn

published5 months ago
3 min read

Learning to Learn

From Project Management to Data Compression Innovator

It's May now, and I have a new episode out here:

Yann Collet became interested in programming and discovered his passion for data compression while working on a game for his HP 48 graphing calculator.

He spent years working project manager and learning and tinkering with compression algorithms on the side. Eventually, he was the best in the world, and his LZ4 and later ZStandard algorithms spread everywhere.

Then he had a decision to make. Should he leave project management and France behind, move to Silicon Valley, and start a second career as a professional software developer?

Find it your podcast player or with a full transcript here.

CoRecursive BackStory Part 1

Let me share some of the story behind the podcast.

Around the time the #metoo movement was the big news story, my wife and I went to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico for a week. I brought several books and generally spent a lot of time drinking sugary drinks and reading. I had recently started podcasting and got the book "Out on the wire", a graphic novel about This American Life, and various other story-based podcasts.

The way I was thinking about podcasting at that time was translating conference talks to a different medium. So, for example, if someone gives an excellent presentation about functional programming at Strange Loop, I would interview them and get them to reexplain the concepts in a conversational format that could be listened to.

My interest in This American Life was separate from this. I loved that show and how they shared little slices of life in such a condensed and moving way, and I also loved the way Ira just talked to the listeners about some little incident in his life and then used it to reflect upon the world.

The book – Out on the wire – pulled back the curtain on how this process worked.

I was telling Kourtney as we sat in the shade, facing some giant pool in southern Mexico. I told her how wild it was that they took an interview, took it all apart, and then put it back together, but more condensed, and in the present tense, to give you a brief glimpse of being in someone else's shoes. When it works, the effect is that you aren't hearing the host interview a guest. Instead, you are experiencing a small part of someone's life.

I seem to recall the book broke down this kindness-of-strangers intro by Ira Glass, and how it blew my mind. It still think it's a great example of what TAL is great at. It's about nothing, a stranger on the subway, but it underlines an important truth, all in a minute or two of radio.

There is something about the judgment of strangers. When the clerk in the record store seems unimpressed by your choice of CDs. It's as if, by their status as strangers, they have some special instantaneous insight into who we are. Their vision isn't clouded by our feeble attempts to charm our friends and the people we work with.

At the time, this was just an odd curiosity. I'd had a couple rum drinks in the sun, and Kourtney wanted to go back to reading her book but I was telling her all about this storytelling process. Unfortunately, my excitement didn't transfer to her, and anyways, my interviewing someone about GC strategies in the JVM had no connection to what TAL was doing.

It wasn't until COVID hit, years later, that I borrowed some ideas from Ira Glass. I'll save that story for next time.

But that trip to Mexico was where the idea of working hard at podcasting first entered my mind. And when I hear from people that love the podcast or from those who hate it, a lot of what they hate or love comes from that trip to Mexico and from the fact that while many podcasters are pretending to be Joe Rogan or David Letterman, I'm pretending to be Ira Glass.


I see many online comments whenever a company built around an open-source tool raises money. How will they extract money from the users now that they have to generate VC-size earnings? The fact that I work for such a company gives me a unique insight into when profit incentives make a mess of things. Check out my article on the Earthly Blog.

That's it for now

Let me know what you think of the podcast episode,


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Hi! I'm Adam Gordon Bell

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