The Blogroll: Week 11

If you’re asking “what the heck am I looking at?”, here’s a primer. Also, if you know of an article or blog I should be reading, let me know.

The Blogroll

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Chris Ashton - I Used The Web For A Day With JavaScript Turned Off

Think also of the emerging global markets; countries still battling to build a network of fast internet, with populations unable to afford fast hardware to run CPU-intensive JavaScript. Or think of the established markets, where even an iPhone X on a 4G connection is not immune to the effects of a partially loaded webpage interrupted by their train going into a tunnel.

The web is a hostile, unpredictable environment, which is why many developers follow the principle of progressive enhancement to build their sites up from a core experience of semantic HTML, layering CSS and unobtrusive JavaScript on top of that. I wanted to see how many sites apply this in practice. What better way than disabling JavaScript altogether?

I did this for about an hour and died a little. So many of the pages I go to are so unnecessarily complex.

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Best Buy got a new logo

Stephen Petrey - Best Buy’s Rebranding Nightmare

It’s easy to see that Best Buy’s branding and new spots were designed by committee. They’re chaotic, amateur and insult the consumer. Those TV spots aren’t going to motivate anyone under 55 to go to a Best Buy (or visit bestbuy.com for that matter). Perhaps — maybe it is best that their branding turned out like this. I mean, Best Buy’s financial pitfalls will be designed by committee. Just like Blockbuster.

I get the shakes when I see things that are obviously done by-committee. Have a vision, make a plan, then trust people to do their jobs. Or else this happens.

Brand New - Tag, You Are It

The old logo wasn’t great or a bastion of fine design execution but it was impressively, undeniably effective as a storefront element, making their stores visible and distinguishable from a mile away, driving at 60 miles per hour on a highway. The yellow tag matched the price display in the store and the blue background was matched by the now-famous, now-almost-hip blue shirts of the employees. The logo wasn’t suave or cool or elegant, nope, it was dorky, uncool, and cheap-looking but it has gotten the job done for over 30 years — they even tried to replace it in 2008 but it didn’t take.

>The new logo is technically and aesthetically better, with more balanced letterforms — the type in the old logo may have been scaled horizontally — brighter colors, and an overall more refined look. I think they did a good job with the placement of the yellow tag, tucking it under the “Y” with the hole of the tag working almost like a period. (I don’t know why the hole ain’t a hole, though.) The spacing in the type is troublesome because it’s an unfortunate combination of nightmare-kerning-pairs and when set so tightly all the awkwardness is more evident and I wonder if the leading should be as tight as the letterspacing to create a more cohesive unit.

The biggest challenge this logo has, though, is the amount of time it will take for all those storefronts to change — and what are they going to change to? — as it will require a huge capital investment to update the most effective beacon of the brand.

I don’t so much agree with the review, but design is subjective. What’s interesting to me is the note about design usage. The previous Best Buy logo, with the huge yellow tag, worked because you could spot it on the freeway a mile away. And that’s Best Buy’s bread and butter — big box stores on suburban freeway exits. The new logo? Not so much. Maybe they see the writing on the wall — big-box stores are toast. They’ll all be coworking spaces in a decade.

The interesting thing to think about (designers think about this all day) isn’t how good a logo looks on a jpg, it’s how well logos perform a task. Best Buy’s old logo was pretty wonky, but it definitely wasn’t boring and I know exactly where their stores are when I’m driving by. It’s hard to think of that as anything but a success. The new logo? I dunno, it looks pretty much like every other hipster logo being designed these days.

Me to Kevin about the Verizon logo redesign a while back:

Is this how design works now? Boring font, high contrast, move the design element off to the side because you’re not allowed to just delete it? Does every logo have to look like it was built with Squarespace’s Logo Maker?”

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Khoi Vinh - Valuable Lessons from Pointless Machines

It’s also interesting to note that what makes these machines interesting, entertaining and even educational to audiences is not just whether they accomplish their tasks. Granted, no one cares about a Rube Goldberg machine that doesn’t make it to its final stage, that fails to deliver that slice of cake or whatever its ultimate punchline may be. But it’s also true that no one cares about a Rube Goldberg machine that’s dead simple and poses no challenges, whether to the creator or the audience. What matters is the aesthetic quality of the contraption, whether it challenges the possible for no better reason than the fun of that challenge.

Indeed, looking at any successful Rube Goldberg machine offers a lesson in how we might appraise design. In design, we often emphasize the simple metric of whether a something works or not. Some people argue—some designers among them—if it accomplishes its goal then it’s hardly important whether it looked great or not, whether it offered any kind of ineffable aesthetic qualities. I think that’s a false dichotomy though; I think it’s important that a design solution should work and that it’s beautiful. Given the choice between an ugly solution that works and a beautiful solution that also works, most would choose the latter.

This right here was Best Buy’s problem. Their old logo was ugly, but it worked. Instead, it should’ve been pretty and functional.

Logos aren’t the main application for this though — they’re almost always made by designers, and are usually only ugly when brands put together approval committees that kill them. This Rube Goldberg story is about interfaces.

Too often, interfaces are built by developers with one thing in mind — functionality. And don’t confuse functionality with usability — if the thing works in an intended way without breaking under normal stress, it’s considered a development win. It’s when you get designers, content strategists, and UX people involved that you start getting things to respond well to humans.

My plea is for developers to bring usability people into projects right off the bat. Don’t build a thing as a minimum viable product, then task someone to make it usable. You might get lucky that way, but you’ll be fighting against usability debt forever. It’ll be baked into your DNA.

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Jill Duffy - Beyond Decision Fatigue: How Managing Decisions Can Help or Hurt Your Productivity

Another difference among decisions comes down to how many people must agree on them. The question of still or sparkling is a no-brainer if you’re alone, but it’s likely to become a group decision if you’re at the table with friends.

Anyone experienced at working on a team knows that group decisions can be double-edged swords. Certain decisions benefit from groupthink, while at other times it’s more a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. It’s hard to know when a team lead or senior team member should be decisive for the sake of the group or if making decisions as a committee would lead to a better outcome.

Committees never lead to better outcomes. k;ha[w0ehi;3n4rsf;hawef! That’s not saying one person has to make all the decisions — designers should design, writers should write, developers should develop — but there needs to be a singular vision. Creative people yearn for freedom, but the best work comes when there are constraints.

For instance, Elon Musk at Tesla has a singular vision to make electric cars. He even has a priority list: start with an expensive electric car, then with that knowledge gained, reinvest that money into the company to build an affordable electric car. It’s a forward-looking vision people believe in, and it provides a framework creative people can work with. Employees know not to come to management with plans to build hybrid gasoline cars — that’s not the vision.

You need a singular vision. Everyone should know the vision. That vision is your DNA.

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James Williamson - Coding with kids

Make sure the kids know what they are building and how they are going to do it. Whenever you use a open environment it encourages the kids to explore on their own and ignore what you are doing and saying. Letting them know what is required of them, how decisions will be made, and setting a structure for how you will complete each task will keep the chaos to a minimum and ensure they remain focused. I recommend having a stage that lets them explore and create on their own. That way you can keep them on task with the promise of exploration later and the kids get some free time to learn through their own actions.

Speaking of structure, replace “kids” with “team” and you’ve just solved every problem tech companies have ever had.

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John O’Nolan, Hannah Wolfe - After 5 years and $3M, here’s everything we’ve learned from building Ghost

Our team is spread all over the world, and we have no office in any country. After 5 years I would summarise the overall experience as very positive. The stuff you might imagine is hard generally turns out to be a non-issue, like: How do you know if people are working? How does anything get done? How do you pay people if they live in different countries? What about contracts? — The things people ask about most often all have straightforward answers. In summary: You hire people you can trust, you trust them, and the logistics in between are solved mostly with Slack, Zoom and Github.

The stuff which is actually hard, nobody ever asks about. For instance: How do you know when someone is in a bad mood? How do you deal with loneliness? How do you foster camaraderie? How do you achieve urgency? How do you ever get to know people outside of work when you never spend time with them outside of work?

Real challenges of being remote are more human, than business.

This is right on the money. Remote work isn’t really any different than office work — the difference is that when you get fed up with things and would normally gather some people for a coffee run, it’s just you. Your nearest coworker is sometimes 1,000 miles away. Video chats are an ok substitute, but you learn a lot about someone when you’re in the same physical space. It’s just different. Not necessarily worse, but different.

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Dave Rupert - The Eponymous Laws of Tech

Conway’s Law

“Organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

Conway’s Law might be one of my most observed laws. From large company to small company you can see the fingerprint of an organization and leadership on the products they build.

I like to put it another way…

“Your website is a manifestation of your organization’s problems” - Dave Rupert, NetMag March 2016

A friend once pointed out to me that you can expose all the problems of an organization just by suggesting you redesign your website’s main navigation. This is the quickest way to make enemies and catch hell-fire at an organization. Product owners come out of the woodwork to justify their existence in the main navigation, but it’s really just a proxy for their existence in the entire company.

Ha, I really like the main navigation bit. When you tie people’s worth to bits and pieces, they’re naturally going to fight for their existence. No one wants to be left behind.

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Cal Newport - Beyond Black Box Management

What I mean by my above claim is that knowledge work management cannot stop at the boundary of the black box: providing workers only shared objectives and the tools/information needed to act on these objectives.

It must also consider what occurs inside the box — setting up cultures, workflows, and environments optimized to help the human brain act on these objectives with maximum effectiveness.

To put this in (admittedly dehumanizing) economic terms, in knowledge work, the largest investment and most valuable resource is the attention capital latent within each worker’s brain — that is, their potential to process information into something more valuable.

To optimize the return on this capital requires that you care about what helps the human brain best pay attention to what matters and think deeply about it.

And yet, almost no one does this.

It’s true that most managers implement structure primarily so that they know what’s going on, which hopefully turns into them being able to streamline something. But the additional overhead placed on knowledge workers can be crippling, depending on the personality type.

This post places the management burden where I think it should be — to ruthlessly clear bullshit from employee plates so they can work without burden. As Cal later in the post puts it though: “These organizations will be a massive pain to run (imagine how much extra overhead will be introduced into your daily routine when you can’t simply email someone when you need something) […].”

For anyone in a management position (or for people like me who pretend everything is The Sims), it’s an interesting thing to think about.

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K.Q. Dreger - Medium Kills Off Custom Domains

Using your own domain was one of the few meaningful ways you could separate your Medium-hosted blog from all the others. Anyone signing up today will be stuck using whatever publication names (medium.com/publication) are still available to register, making Medium more akin to a long-form Twitter than a place to keep a blog. Lame.

Lame indeed. There’s a reason I don’t include Medium posts in the Blogroll. Get that closed-web shit off my lawn!

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Rob Beschizza - TXT.FYI

This is the dumbest publishing platform on the web.

Write something, hit publish, and it’s live.

There’s no tracking, ad-tech, webfonts, analytics, javascript, cookies, databases, user accounts, comments, friending, likes, follower counts or other quantifiers of social capital. The only practical way for anyone to find out about a posting is if the author links to it elsewhere.

I kind of love this. And I’m always happy to see a new TLD in the wild.

The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts. Also, I’m only listing blogs that don’t act as newspapers, because those are the ones I feel need the most support.)

Motivating people

motivation

People motivation. I think when you start a company, you go into it thinking that with the right product and the right compensation, everything will just work out. The brand will grow, people will be happy, yada yada yada. But what I’ve seen in my years of professional work is that:

  1. the happiest, least-likely-to-leave people are rarely the highest paid employees
  2. stagnation and uncertainty are what cause people to quit
  3. employee turnover is bad for morale and terrible for getting things done — losing and retraining institutional knowledge is painful

So what do you do? Focus on eliminating bullshit (sorry, Mom… bad language alert). And unfortunately, like actual shit, work bullshit is often messy and is made worse by the choices you make day after day. If you just eat cookies and don’t exercise, things aren’t going to go well.

Bullshit is:

  • meetings that don’t have agendas and end without clear or useful takeaways
  • expecting people to manage their own projects effectively and still be 75+% efficient
  • not being clear about the future — when a stagnating group is looking at an unclear future, they tend to spend large amounts of time charting their own course and speculating on what the future holds
  • not being clear about where people stand
  • thinking of people as worker-bees instead of individuals with ambition that goes beyond the task at hand
  • hiring people without knowing what they’re going to do, or to perform a task you don’t at least conceptually understand

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Rand Fishkin’s Lost & Founder the last couple days and what I’ve learned is that every startup runs into variations of the same issues. Even the good ones.

Motivating people, moving projects forward, and cleaning shit is very hard, especially when the initial growth ramp starts to level out. The trick is… well, there doesn’t seem to be a trick. The “shortcut,” as the book puts it, is to become hyper-aware of your failings and the struggles of your brand, then do everything in your power to fill the gaps. I’m summarizing here, but Rand writes that being a CEO/manager is a really hard job, and brands are usually direct reflections of their founders/leaders. You’ll only be good if you can retrain yourself away from “I started this company to do what I love” to “I get the most satisfaction from empowering others to succeed.”

It’s a good lesson, and a really good book. I recommend it.

Phoenix and the world of tomorrow - unadulterated, part 1

DOOOOMMM!!!!!!!!

But seriously, I recently gave a talk at ElixirConf EU about what is going on in the backworks here at iwantmyname. As with all the talks I seem to give, the original draft packed 150 slides into a 45-minute slot placed right before lunch, and the talk right before me always runs long. My best-laid plans are usually for naught.

But here on this blog we have infinite time, so what we’ve decided to do (mostly Chris, our friendly neighborhood content strategist) is to slowly publish the full contents of my talk as a series of articles. And in our continuous effort to support the independent web, we plan on expanding each of the points so that this can work as a guide to our research and how you can apply it to your business, blog, or whatever to make the web a better place for everybody.

If you want to play at home, I would recommend poking the following with a stick in the near future:

It’s not necessary to have all these things installed or even to know what they are to read the coming blog posts, but I always find it helpful to have an example of what’s being talked about running locally so I can try stuff out.

Until next time!

The Blogroll: Week 10

If you’re asking “what the heck am I looking at?”, here’s a primer. Also, if you know of an article or blog I should be reading, let me know.

The Blogroll

Alexandra Schwartz - Improving Ourselves to Death

Survival in the hypercompetitive, globalized economy, where workers have fewer protections and are more disposable than ever, requires that we try to become faster, smarter, and more creative. (To this list of marketable qualities I’d add one with a softer edge: niceness, which the gig economy and its five-star rating system have made indispensable to everyone from cabdrivers to plumbers.) Anything less than our best won’t cut it.

[…] Meanwhile, parents continue to feed their children the loving, well-intentioned lie that there are “no limits” and they can “be anything,” which leaves the kids blaming themselves, rather than the market’s brutality, when they inevitably come up short.

All told, this is a bleak picture. If the ideal of the optimized self isn’t simply a fad, or even a preference, but an economic necessity, how can any of us choose to live otherwise? Storr insists that there is a way. “This isn’t a message of hopelessness,” he writes. “On the contrary, what it actually leads us towards is a better way of finding happiness. Once you realize that it’s all just an act of coercion, that it’s your culture trying to turn you into someone you can’t really be, you can begin to free yourself from your demands.”

[…] Since it is our environment that is causing us to feel inferior, it is our environment that we must change: “The things we’re doing with our lives, the people we’re sharing it with, the goals we have. We should find projects to pursue which are not only meaningful to us, but over which we have efficacy.” Storr means to be helpful, but changing every aspect of the world we inhabit is a daunting prospect. No wonder people try to change themselves instead.

It’s always interesting to read accurate descriptions of modern life. Being in the suburbs of a mid-tier tech town, I’m a little removed from the optimization grind people in Silicon Valley probably feel, but I still feel it. And it’s exhausting. I don’t want to track or even optimize my productivity, because truthfully, I’m only productive when my fickle gut bacteria and children allow me to be. I’m somewhat resistant to metrics and market segmentation because once in my life I’d like to just ignore the data and make something I think is cool…

…which is sort of what he’s saying. You are basically a constant with consistent flaws — maybe you have an evolving skillset, but fundamentally, you are you. Happiness comes from making the pieces around you fit accordingly. Embrace change, and cozy up to fighting for the things you need and the direction you want to go in life.

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Cate Huston - Creating Success, Together

We want to be careful how we create process. The fastest way to a mediocre team is to define your process around mediocrity. A slow but sure way to a mediocre team is to define your processes to gradually push them towards putting their own self interest front and centre – like the conclusions the guy drew from the promotion process we talked about earlier.

  • Incentivizing complexity is terrible. When you incentivize complexity, you get a lot of it. Most of it unnecessary.
  • Impact is contextual and subjective. Time in app is a good example – is it good if people are spending more time on your app if it’s also making them more miserable? Are there longer consequences from that?
  • People leave when they don’t grow. Not all people, but still – if people don’t see a way to learn, or increase their impact, or whatever growth means to them, they will leave in search of it. Remember career development was the top thing developers were looking for in new jobs.
  • And people leave when they feel unappreciated. When the work they are doing doesn’t seemed valued in whatever definition of value they have – financial, or recognition (or both).
  • If you don’t feel like you can be successful somewhere, why would you stay? Which is why we need to understand what people think of as success, so that we can give them a path – or encourage them to find that path elsewhere.

A lot of this goes back to the economic necessity the last article mentions. “Survival in the hypercompetitive, globalized economy, where workers have fewer protections and are more disposable than ever, requires that we try to become faster, smarter, and more creative.”

That’s probably the hardest thing about being a business owner — to keep the best staff, you have to offer growth potential. No one has time these days to sit around forever doing the same tasks, making the same paycheck. The demand is for people to become “faster, smarter, and more creative,” and the natural desire is for people to want compensation for the effort and the additional expertise they acquire.

Or I guess the alternative model makes being a business owner quite easy. It seems that the future we’re moving to is the Netflix model where we’re only retained when we’re immediately useful, and not a day longer. Loyalty means nothing, and growth potential is something you’ll have to look for elsewhere. As things evolve, there’s always someone willing to work a little harder with a skillset that matches the need a little better.

This was from a great NPR story on Netflix’ culture:

HENN: And the rules were the same for the top people too. When Netflix changed strategies around streaming videos, they let go an entire team of engineers who basically had helped build the company. Today, Patty calls herself the queen of the good goodbye.

How may people do you think you have fired?

MCCORD: Oh, I would really like to remove that word from our vocabulary. It’s like, we don’t shoot people.

HENN: OK. What word do you like? Severed is no less pleasant than fired.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCORD: No. You just move on.

HENN: How many people have you moved on?

MCCORD: Oh, hundreds.

Partially because of this culture, Netflix is now one of the most valuable companies in the world. It’s kind of a weird way to look at humans though. We’re only useful to the machine if we can do a very specific thing with 100% efficiency — it doesn’t really matter if people are scared that they might not be able to pay rent or eat next month. The company and its shareholders are what matter.

I guess I’m lucky enough to have a marketable skillset and work at a place that doesn’t operate like this — but it almost feels inevitable. We’re all moving to a gig economy, and even the most noble brands are embracing gig-economy flexibility. And if your gig is about to be automated, I… I really don’t know. I don’t know what people are supposed to do or how they’re supposed to think anymore.

People are being replaced by machines, companies are optimizing for ruthless efficiency instead of well-being, and we’re voting for politicians all over the world who are eating away at collective security and social safety nets. It’s a big ball of awful.

All we can do is try to get ahead as far as possible, as soon as possible, then retire before Google Assistant literally performs all the tasks. That feeling of urgency has really been hitting me lately — it’s keeping me up at night.

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Austin Kleon - The ones who disappear

In his later years, Lennon struggled with the notion of churning out rock ‘n’ roll product, so his househusband era was also a kind of retreat and sabbatical from the meat grinder. “Rock ‘n’ roll was not fun anymore…I had become a craftsman and I could have continued being a craftsman. I respect craftsmen, but I am not interested in becoming one.”

“I chose not to take the standard options in my business – going to Vegas and singing your great hits, if you’re lucky, or going to hell, which is where Elvis went,” he said. “Walking away is much harder than carrying on.”

What a luxury to even entertain the idea of walking away from your craft.

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Khoi Vinh - The Secret to Writing (Is Writing)

In a world full of talented designers, the ability to express oneself in written form is a key advantage.

However, someone asked me recently: “I know I should write, but when I actually do it I don’t know if I’m writing for myself or because I know I should write.” I’ve always said that everyone should just write but I realize that for many people it doesn’t come so easily. It can feel more like a compulsory duty than a passion, at which point it becomes pointless—unless you’re writing from your heart, your writing is unlikely to make much of an impression on anyone.

Touching on a thread above, I do think that as efficiency becomes more of an employment factor than anything else, having the ability to clearly communicate and record thoughts is going to be huge. Especially if you’re a company founder. It seems so clear to me how different the trajectories are of startups with founders who write and communicate well vs. companies that with founders who don’t.

Even if you’re not “a writer,” you need to be writing. Just make sure to find someone on your team who can edit.

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Chuck Wendig - It’s Time To Talk About The Sandwich

[Bad language alert for this one.]

Here’s why it’s great — first, it does the thing that you might find in, say, Thai food, or some Vietnamese food — you’ve got sour and savory, plus the fattiness of the peanut butter (not to mention the salt), and the pickles bring some nice crunch. It’s eerily satisfying. And it helps then too to decouple your assumption that PEANUT BUTTER = SWEET, because it ain’t. Think satay. Normal peanut butter is savory as shit, we just happen to use it a lot with sweet things, combining it with jelly or chocolate or honey or whatever.

So, then authors-extraordinaire Kevin Hearne and Adam Rakunas said, no no no, you need food lube for that sandwich, and they said the true magic is adding in mayo to that motherfucker.

Peanut butter, pickles, and mayo. What a time to be alive. (Can’t wait to try it.)

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Andrew Allemann - Over 100,000 .App domains already registered

Over 100,000 .app domain names have been registered after less than a day in general availability.

Google Tech Lead Ben McIlwain disclosed the number during a talk at Google I/O this afternoon.

30,000 domain names, ostensibly pre-registrations, were registered within the first three minutes of general availability.

If you didn’t know, .app just went live. It’s kind of a big deal

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The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts. Also, I’m only listing blogs that don’t act as newspapers, because those are the ones I feel need the most support.)

Getting back on track

fry cook

Life happens to everyone. Sometimes things are great, and sometimes your kids get sick on Saturday morning and force you into round-the-clock parent mode until Tuesday night. You know… normal stuff.

But depending on your definition of life, it’s hard to know where work is supposed to fit in. In those sick-kid parenting moments, it doesn’t fit in at all. Yet it does. The couch your kid is sitting on? Work gave you the money to pay for that. The Netflix account your kid is using? Work gave you the money to pay for that, too.

Like it or not, work and life will be intertwined for the rest of our lifetimes (probably). So it’s up to us — all of us — to best manage how much funding life needs. Or what the right ratio of work to life is. Work hard and live large until you’re dead? Sacrifice your 20’s and 30’s for your 70’s and 80’s? Take it easy like Peter’s neighbor in Office Space? It’s different for everyone, I guess.

What’s interesting to me is how hard it is to jump between the two when you intentionally try to create separation. For instance, right now I’m clearly still in non-work dad mode, but I’m on the clock for work. And it’s not my own work — I’m being paid to fit into a very specific slot to perform a less-specific task that someone else decided they needed. I admittedly have been given a lot of intellectual freedom to write whatever I want on this blog, but “making a dent in the universe” requires focus.

Focus. It’s focus I lack right now.

I read a tweet a while back that said something like (pardon the language), “It takes equal time after time off to start giving a shit again. So one week of vacation requires another week to resume giving a shit.”

Perhaps it’s true, but the feeling I’m having now isn’t that I don’t give a shit, it’s that my mind’s eye is pointed inward. I want to provide value because I’m valuable, but sick kids, in particular, reframe everything. The societal cogs you lean on to work without having to watch your children have to be contacted. Basic bodily functions have to be monitored. Creature comforts have to be considered. And you matter zero. Like, not at all. If your back hurts and you’re home alone with a sick two-year-old, you learn to suck it up real fast.

In a way, the office is kind of like a family. Not one you would do anything for, like your real family, but a rich tangle of knots just the same. Perhaps that’s the problem — we’re all spiders with two webs. One you have to build and nurture, but loves you unconditionally, and one that naturally exposes your flaws and assigns a literal dollar figure to your total package. And if you’re working for yourself, that web is the market, and the market is a fickle thing (there’s a reason not everyone is an entrepreneur.)

We just jump from web to web on autopilot — it’s just something we do as modern humans. But when something disrupts that pattern and keeps you on one web longer than normal, the other web starts to feel alien. And the problems go from real and awful to silly and pointless.

I think we all go through these funks at times, but it always fascinates me when I look at someone and can’t be sure. I was watching a show on Netflix last night and it had a bit about a taco truck, and these two ladies had been churning out probably the most delicious tacos I could imagine night after night for eight years. Eight years of tacos! And it wasn’t even their taco truck!

What struck me though was something the owner (Roy Choi) said about his team: “They are a part of Kogi’s flavor now more than I am.” He made a specific point to say that while he provided the initial recipes, so much of the magic came from tweaks and changes his employees made. The truck and the original menu was his dream, but the loyalty he created came from providing a certain level of autonomy — to let others flex their expertise.

“This taco needs this.” Done. Not, “let me ask my boss and run it through endless abstraction.” Just do it. Make small changes, learn small lessons, optimize. Always. It’s all about empowerment.

I imagine those taco ladies have minds that wonder like everyone else’s, but at least from the outside, it seems like they’re doing alright. I admire their work ethic so much. But I also admire the structure built around them — it sets very clear goals (make awesome tacos) with clear instructions (here’s the menu), then allows for improvisation as needed to move the needle.

That’s the kind of structure people need to get back on track quickly and want to be back. Don’t confuse it with all-caps STRUCTURE. The person at the french fry station takes seconds to get back on track after time off — you rinse the potatoes, cut the potatoes, drop them in oil for a set amount of time, then put them in a container. The structure is so sound a tornado couldn’t knock it over, but no one wants to be a fry cook forever.

There’s this great talk I posted last week about creating a “culture of learning” to get things done. And a bit that stuck with me was about framing the task at hand. Most people intuitively go into a hole and emerge with some kind of grand plan to be executed, but this speaker preferred to frame things differently. To him, management or leadership (whatever) should simply present problems to interdisciplinary teams. So instead of saying “we need to do X, Y, Z” to a dev team, you’d say, “what we’re missing today is A, B, C. Is that possible?” to a small group of doers who are given the freedom to allocate personnel and resources accordingly. It seems like a really smart plan of action.

Fortunately for me, that’s roughly the structure I have here on this blog. I’m over here feeling aimless and unproductive while doing exactly the task expected of me because I have a creative outlet and room within an expected framework to break small things. Mmm, I guess I’m back.

The Blogroll: Week 9

If you’re asking “what the heck am I looking at?”, here’s a primer. Also, if you know of an article or blog I should be reading, let me know.

The Blogroll

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Ley’s talk from ElixirConf EU is on YouTube now, so go… watch it or something. Here’s the teaser/description from the page:

Phoenix has already proven to be the framework of choice when dealing with a large number of users, on possibly intermittent connections, and all that other well architected Erlang stuff. Which is great when you are behaving as a responsible—-ish adult on the backend of the site.

But now there are literally millions of people coming online, an estimated billion in the near future. These people haven’t seen a web app before, their best connection maybe a household 2g connection, and even their entire country’s connection may have concerns.

I will outline the things we learned, at iwantmyname, about architecting our application specifically for that market and share our lessons learnt while on that journey. This will go all the way from css to how to model your problem in Phoenix to best deliver small consumable chunks.

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Jaron Lanier - ’One Has This Feeling of Having Contributed to Something That’s Gone Very Wrong’

My feeling is that if the theory is correct that we got into this by trying to be socialist and libertarian at the same time, and getting the worst of both worlds, then we have to choose. You either have to say, “Okay, Facebook is not going to be a business anymore. We said we wanted to create this thing to connect people, but we’re actually making the world worse, so we’re not gonna allow people to advertise on it; we’re not gonna allow anybody to have any influence on your feed but you. This is all about you. We’re gonna turn it into a nonprofit; we’re gonna give it to each country; it’ll be nationalized. We’ll do some final stock things so all the people who contributed to it will be rich beyond their dreams. But then after that it’s done; it’s not a business. We’ll buy back everybody’s stock and it’s done. It’s over. That’s it.”

That’s one option. So it just turns into a socialist enterprise; we let it be nationalized and it’s gone. The other option is to monetize it. And that’s the one that I’m personally more interested in. And what that would look like is, we’d ask those who can afford to — which would be a lot of people in the world, certainly most people in the West — to start paying for it. And then we’d also pay people who provide data into it that’s exceptionally valuable to the network, and it would become a source of economic growth. And we would outlaw advertising on it. There would no longer be third parties paying to influence you.

Because as long as you have advertising, you have this perverse incentive to make it manipulative. You can’t have a behavior-modification machine with advertisers and have anything ethical; it’s not possible. You could get away with it barely with television because television wasn’t as effective at modifying people. But this, there’s no ethical way to have advertising.

The constant mental tug between socialism and libertarianism is something I see in a lot of tech founders. We want freedom through equality, unlimited access, and a public square anyone can participate in. But we also, as Jaron puts it, want to be Steve Jobs.

The answer, as it usually is, is advertising. I’m personally not opposed to an advertising model — maybe I’m in a tech minority. What I am opposed to is advertising based on nearly perfect forms of data.

That probably sounds confusing, so I’m going to come at this as a consumer. I’m perfectly ok with someone like Squarespace advertising on a tech podcast because it’s a fair bargain — I get free content, and Squarespace basically acts as the sponsor. I’m also perfectly ok with reading a food blog and seeing an ad for an awesome kitchen product for the same reason. Enough data exists on a surface level to do the job, and I’m happy that the things I like are being paid for.

What I’m not ok with is looking at a product on Amazon, then seeing that product follow me everywhere I go on the web. And I’m especially not ok with ideas being presented in the marketplace of products — if you’re a 65 y/o woman who goes to church, lives in Mississippi, and posts excited messages about your grandchildren, you shouldn’t be subjected to nationalist political propaganda just because you fit the demographic that is typically swayed by certain types of messages. It’s gross. And it’s bad for society.

So to me, advertising is fine as long as we keep it to products, and we completely eliminate data collection for the purposes of advertising.

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Ethan Zuckerman - ’We’ve Lost 10 Years of Innovation. This Decade Has Been Boring for the Web.’

So Google has the first model that really works on the internet, which is directed advertising. Where someone basically says, “Hey, I’d like someone to come fix the hole in my roof; I’m in this town, find me a roofer.” And Google doesn’t really want to hold on to you; Google wants to send you on to a roofer very quickly. The roofer wants you to show up as a qualified lead. Everybody’s happy; everybody benefits.

But when I go onto Facebook and I grouse about how much it sucks that it’s still snowing in western Massachusetts and my roof is leaking, I don’t really want someone to lure me away at that point. I particularly don’t want to hear about a vacation; I don’t want to hear about the new car that would make my life happy. What I really want is to grouse and get sympathy from friends, so Facebook at that point is in conflict with me.

And I think what we basically fail to realize is that, in the vast majority of these cases, we’ve sort of picked a revenue model in which we’re in conflict with one another, rather than working coherently in a way where we all end up feeling good about incentives being aligned. For me, the moment where it went wrong was when we failed to realize that there were two kinds of advertising, and that one of them might be healthy for the internet, and the other one probably wasn’t.

Aligned incentives nails it. I want something “free,” a company sees an alignment between their brand and the thing I want, they sponsor the thing. I get my free thing, the people making the thing I want get paid, and now I know about some other thing. Everyone wins.

Nowhere in that process should I have to disclose where I live, what my political views are, who I know, and what websites I’ve been to that day. Stop the surveillance.

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Jessica Nordell - How Slack Got Ahead in Diversity

So a team at Slack rebuilt the interview process. For each role, the team determined what characteristics and skills a successful candidate should have—communication skills, say, or capacity for teamwork. Then, for each of these, they defined what information they needed to assess those skills, and then devised a list of behavioral questions expressly aimed at sussing out that information, questions like “Tell me about a stressful situation, and how did it go?” or “Tell me about a change to your code base.” Each candidate now faces the same set of questions. “If you ask every candidate the same question,” Grace told me, “you start to see what a good answer looks like.”

I first read this and went, “Duh, of course you should ask each candidate the same set of questions. How else would you properly compare them?” But then I thought back to every interview I’ve ever run — not once did I go in with a specific set of questions. I consistently make interviews a conversation to determine who — amongst on-paper equals — I would most want to work with. This is a great way to introduce bias, and a terrible way to introduce diversity.

Lesson learned.

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Om Malik - Dating with Facebook: What’s love got to do with it?

In this age of suspicion — no one trusts Facebook — even asking for what song you heard on Spotify feels like an insult. However, if sharing your musical tastes helps with your likelihood of finding love, chances are you will gladly handover that information. You will even input your physical description, your location, and every goddamn detail about your life. You will leave your intimate thoughts, conversations, and fears on Facebook’s servers, making yourself even more beholden to them.

All this in the name of love! All that data can help them create a better profile of you to sell to their only customer — the advertising community. The brazen audacity of their move is fantastic

“Boss, tracking their every move is making people ask questions. What if, instead of tracking them, we could incentivize them to just hand over all their data. More data than ever before! The possibilities are endless!”

“Yes,” Zuckerberg said in contemplation. “They’ll get married and have babies and tell their children it all happened because of me. Mark Zuckerberg. And then they’ll give us their data, too. Perfect, beautiful data.”

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Marco Arment - Overcast 4.2: The privacy update

Overcast has offered anonymous sync accounts since 2014. They’re fully functional, but they lack email addresses or passwords, so they can’t log into the website. A login token is stored in iCloud so the account can be accessed after a restore or upgrade, or from other devices you own.

Previously, the login screen pushed email logins. But with four years of perspective, feedback, and usage data, I now think that’s the wrong move. Only a single-digit percentage of customers use the website, and the iCloud token-sync method solves cross-device logins for almost everyone.

Your personal data isn’t my business — it’s a liability. I want as little as possible. I don’t even log IP addresses anymore.

I’m not a Marco Arment superfan or anything, but this should be up for a Nobel Prize.

I’ll say it again – the best way to grow your business is to make it better. And unless you’ve simply run out of known things to improve, there’s plenty of work to be done that doesn’t require you to be creepy.

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Jeff Gothelf - ”Building Successful Teams with Evidence-Based Innovation and Design”

Another YouTube description, bleck. The talk is wonderful though.

You’ve read The Innovator’s Dilemma. You’ve bought in to The Lean Startup. You’re ready to kickstart your company’s product innovation efforts. There’s just one problem: you’re not sure where to begin.

What can design teach us about building a collaborative culture? How do you structure a successful product design team? How should that team work? How will that team measure success?

Jeff offers practical, step-by-step, guidance on how to build and support successful product design innovation in your business. Using insights gained from leading and working with dozens of product and design teams, Jeff steps through team makeup, process steps, management structure and the corporate infrastructure needed for these teams to flourish.

Identify a problem, make decisions, ship things, get feedback, internalize feedback, make new decisions/optimize, repeat. That’s how things should work, and It requires, as he says, to build a culture of learning.

When was the last time you got feedback, accepted it, and optimized? When was the last time you listened?

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The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts. Also, I’m only listing blogs that don’t act as newspapers, because those are the ones I feel need the most support.)