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Here’s a thing, October 05, 2017

As I endeavor to re-establish writing here as a regular and consistent project, I’m reminding myself of two things that helped me in the past.

First and foremost, it’s about the writing and the finished product over the page views and vanity metrics. No one’s biography or Wikipedia page says “and lo they were followed by many social media influencers and gathered many thousands of impressions!”

Second, no weblog is better than the one you already have. Resist the urge to roll your own tools and just write.

By virtue of Apple Music’s “For You” tab, I came upon the musical landscape of Tim Heckler. If wooshy, atmospheric ambient experimental/electronic music is your thing, you should check it out.

Also, you should listen to lots of Nina Simone.

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The notes, October 04, 2017

I’m intrigued by folks having luck building virtualized development environments for localhost setups. It sounds like fun to work in this kind of workflow. I never want to do the legwork to make this work, though.

I did the preliminaries for this last year and ended up turning back from it. I understand Docker and virtualization superficially at best. I don’t want to impose it on teammates. It’s still too hard to search for Unix-y error messages and fix your development environment. Trying to figure out if your host Unix, Docker, or a virtualized Unix are the problem is not something I wanted to do to someone else.

Is Amazon Lightsail a move by AWS into the space occupied by Linode, Digital Ocean, etc.? Related to virtualized localhost setups: someone write me a thing to drop my dotfiles from macOS onto a Digital Ocean, AWS, etc. instance and do development from an iPad, keyboard, and SSH client.

Hammerspoon is a really cool to do all-the-things with your keyboard and some Lua. I use it to launch/switch to my most frequent dozen apps and some light Markdown helpers. But, something about it is correspondingly creepy. It can, theoretically, scoop up every keystroke. (Which probably every bit of open source I install via Homebrew could, to be honest) But maybe I could replace it with a clever bit of Alfred workflow and scripting. Catch a triggering keystroke and then give me a constrained list of apps to switch to. Yes, this is a very strange way to hit Command-Tab! I wonder how well a few custom Alfred workflows fit into a dotfiles repo.

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Afternoon notes, October 03, 2017

Someone will always have a slicker Git workflow than you. For example,Auto-squashing Git Commits for clever rebasing.

The passage of time is weird, lately. Nonetheless, it’s surprising that the Dynamo white paper is ten years old. Ten years of NoSQL hype. Even from a naive yours truly.

I’ve been using the fish shell for about five months and it is pretty great. A shell with human affordances! It has very good guesses about what I want to do (completions) and what I want it to remember (history). You can configure it with a web interface or regular-old dotfiles. It doesn’t do anything bizarrely different from your typical Unix-style shell, namely bash, so there’s not much new to learn and when I SSH to a server, I don’t wonder what kind of weird contraption I’m interacting with. I haven’t bothered to learn its scripting language because I’ve decided no one should learn those anymore and they should use Ruby, Python, Go, etc. for that kind of thing.

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Morning notes, October 03, 2017

I like Bluebottle’s coffee subscription service a lot. The web app is well done and having coffee magically appear in my mailbox means I have far fewer “awww heck we’re out of coffee until I go to a coffee shop” moments. However, I do occasionally mess up the timing, such as right now, and then I have a very first world problem.

Scheduling my time on social media and capping the total time spent, not unlike watching a regular TV show, is an idea with some appeal. It’s probably a good idea for moderating how much daily news one consumes, as well.

I was looking at WP-CLI so I could automate some housekeeping tasks on this blog. It’s pretty close to what I’d like to use, the ideal being something closer to t. I’m a little wary of installing a PHP tool though. It’s probably the language tribalism talking though. Seems pretty likely I’d save time using someone else’s PHP than figuring it out on my own.

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When my brain storms

I do my best thinking:

  • In the shower. I love to take long showers, and I love my tankless water heater.
  • While talking. Something about my brain is wired directly to my mouth.
  • When I’m not thinking. See also, the value of letting your mind idle, wander, or just walking away from a tricky problem.

Your thinking may vary!

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Personal city guides

I’ve seen lots of sites about how to use software. The Setup and The Sweet Setup are my favorites. You can find lots of sites about how to use ideas like Inbox Zero or Crossfit. People love this stuff.

What I don’t see a lot of is how to use a city, as a visitor or resident. I suspect these things are all around me and I don’t even notice.

A travel guide will tell you where you can go and what you can do, but it won’t tell you how you should go about it. It won’t tell you the little things you’d do as a resident but wouldn’t notice as a traveler. They don’t tell residents (or future residents) what the essence of the city is and what you should do when it’s nice, or gloomy, or when you want to go out, or when you’re hungry.

For example, if I had to write an Austin Setup guide, it would include things like:

  • what to eat lots of (tacos and breakfast) and what to eat little of (Italian, oddly enough)
  • where to go when it’s nice outside (S. Congress, Auditorium shores, or Zilker park), where to go when it’s blazing hot (Barton Springs), or where to go when it’s miserable outside (one of the many great coffee shops)
  • where to find funny people and where to find technology people (because those are my scenes)

The thing is, this would end up reflecting my idioms. Not as useful for someone who wants to do sports, or outdoorsy activities, or music. This thing is more personal, like an interview on The Setup about how people use computers to do their cool thing. Sort of a “how I’ve hacked my city to work better for me” guide. A reverse travel guide of sorts; not for everyone else, just for me.

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Sometimes it’s okay to interrupt a programmer

I try really hard to avoid interrupting people. Golden rule: if I don’t want interruptions I shouldn’t impose them on other, right? Not entirely so.

Having teammates around, and interrupting them, has saved my butt. I’ve avoided tons of unnecessary work and solving the wrong problems, and that’s just the last week!

Communicating with others is a messy, lossy affair. We send messages, emails, bug reports with tons of partial context and implicit assumption. Not (always) because we lack empathy or want to bury ideas in unstated assumptions, but because we’re in a hurry, multitasking, or stressed out.

When you interrupt a co-worker you can turn five minutes of messages back and forth to thirty seconds of “Did you mean this?” “Yeah I meant that!” “Cool.”

When you interrupt a co-worker you can ask “this made sense but you also mentioned this which didn’t entirely make sense” and they can say “oh yes because here’s the needle in the haystack” and now you can skip straight to working with the needle instead of sifting through the haystack that was your own assumptions wrongly contextualized.

If your coworker is smart, they are keeping track of why people interrupt them. Later they’ll try to make it easier for you to not interrupt them, e.g. write documentation or automate a task. Maybe they want you to interrupt them so that whenever someone wonders “why haven’t we automated this?” they can talk to you about how it’s important to have a human hand on it rather than let failed automation go unnoticed.

There are plenty of reasons not to interrupt someone. I know the struggle. I do my best to respect when people put their head down to concentrate and get stuff done. I always spend a few minutes rereading communications or spelunking the code, logs, or whatever context I have before interrupting someone. It’d be rude to interrupt before I even started trying. But, there’s a moment when the cost and benefit of interrupting someone so I can get something done faster swings towards mutual benefit. That’s when I interrupt them.

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Just tackle the problem

There’s a moment when a programming problem engulfs me. Perhaps it’s exciting and intriguing, maybe it’s weird and infuriating, maybe it’s close to a deadline and stressing me out. Whichever it is, I’m not so great at managing that intensity.

I can’t handle adult responsibilities. Any external demands on my time are met with impatience. My thoughts drift to the problem when I’m not otherwise occupied. I get on my own case about why it’s not solved, festering a negative feedback loop of feeling bad about not having solved it yet and then feeling worse about not having solved it yet.

I am able to step away from it a little bit. Go grab food, spend some limited time with my wife or dogs. It doesn’t fully engulf me. But I can’t detach myself from it.

It’s not frustrating that I get excited or perturbed by my programming work. It’s frustrating that I let it stress me out, to negatively effect my life even if only for a short time. Especially that it’s spurious, that I don’t need to stress out over it. My code’s not going to endanger lives, yet.

The best coping tactic I’ve come up with, so far, is to tackle the problem. Don’t go stew on the circumstances of the problem. Maybe take that moment away to pet a dog and release some stress. Then, find a solution that fits the time and context of the problem so I can get back to thinking clearly about work and life.

Sometimes, I get lucky and the solution to the problem presents itself.

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Protect the beginner’s mind

Someone joins your team. They have a beginner’s mind about your project and culture.

Take a person with beginner’s mind, tell them about how things have always been, how they got that way, and insist we just try to keep that status quo? That’s a shame.

When you harness a beginner’s mind, you have a short window to make the most of their new perspective. After a while, it becomes the team or culture’s perspective. Opportunity lost.

Put a person with beginner’s mind in a room with someone who knows All the Reasons. If they survive, you have just created a ton of learning for both people.

Protect the beginner’s mind. Listen to it. Act on it.

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Contrast NYC and SF

Dallas and Austin are the cities I’ve spent my life in. I’ve spent maybe three weeks of my life, total, in San Francisco and New York City. They’re similar in that SF and NYC are both a Whole Other Thing in comparison to my Texan expectations. Indeed, they’re global cities operating at an entirely different order of magnitude.

It’s long puzzled me why I find NYC less intimidating and strange than SF. I’m starting to think its the attitudes. Walking through either town, I frequently suspect that I’m Doing It Wrong, from where to eat to where to sleep to how to use the subway.

In NYC, I suspect the natives are looking on as I struggle to hail a cab or catch a train, but they are silent in their snickering about me doing it wrong.

SF feels much more in your face, eager to tell you “You have done it wrong and you should feel bad”, from the subway systems to the tech bubble.

San Francisco very much remains a frontier town. You move there to make your fortune, to burn bright and “compress your career into several years”. It’s at the same time fractured by law (the city has three different transit systems, all using different tokens last time I visited) and lawless (Uber and Airbnb in particular are about landgrabs before the law can catch up with technology). It’s at once a global city and embarrassingly self-centered.

In summary, I guess I just like Texas a lot better. Even after our awful lawmakers.