Losing the scent, acquiring the taste

When I didn’t drink coffee, the thing I enjoyed about coffee was the smell. It has a really great aroma. Unlike popcorn!

Now that I do drink coffee, I don’t notice the smell as much. I have to stop myself to take notice of it. That’s sort of a bummer.

I’m acclimated to coffee. I love drinking it, and tasting it. But, I wish I could drink coffee, regularly, and still smell it.

Getting around, together

Riding the Rails: Celebrating Trains and Subway Commuter Life:

Train time is essential time, and rail travel isn’t strictly pragmatic. For many, the commute is their only time to read, think, and zone out.

For a brief window of several months, ten years ago, I rode the Dallas light rail to work. It was exactly as quoted. It was when I read, when I reflected on the world or just the day gone past. I often miss it.

…as Jacquelin Cangro writes in The Subway Chronicles, the “New York Subway is a microcosm of world culture. The train is the great equalizer. When the doors close, all of us — black or white, Sephardic or Catholic, Chinese or Indian — are going together, and no one will arrive any faster or in better style.”

Even more, I wish everyone had to partake of public transit. We spend too much time in our bubbles. Our offices, homes, social networks, and cars isolate us from each other. Perhaps we wouldn’t find ourself in this strange election cycle if people from different backgrounds and circumstances had to spend twenty minutes with each other several days a week.

Taking polluting cars off the road, reshaping our communities, greater safety, it’s all secondary to me. Growing our empathy with one weird trick to see each other and relate is the outcome I find most intriguing to good public transit.

Of all the pop culture beefs going on at the time of this writing (Meek vs. Drake, BoB vs. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Trump vs. Everyone), my favorite is now Tim O’Reilly vs. Paul Graham on income inequality.

When a startup doesn’t have an underlying business model that will eventually produce real revenues and profits, and the only way for its founders to get rich is to sell to another company or to investors, you have to ask yourself whether that startup is really just a financial instrument, not that dissimilar to the CDOs of the 2008 financial crisis — a way of extracting value from the economy without actually creating it.

This has always bugged me in particular. So few startups have an idea beyond “get smart people together, maybe make something, hope that selling the team ends up profitable”. We need a much better word for “speculative technology-focused company funded by speculation”.

Threaded discussions: nope nope nope

Pet peeve #73: threaded discussions. You may have seen it in a Usenet reader or perhaps even your email. It may seem like a great way to manage a long conversation with multiple ideas and lines of discussion. OK, that’s fine, I think you’re wrong and looking at this a little too technically but it’s not forcing that perspective on anyone else so fine.

I get peeved when its suggested that conversational tools like Twitter or Slack should implement threaded messages. Nope. You have now failed my secret test, please disembark from the pragmatic train.

If a conversation requires threading, that conversation has already gone way off the rails.

Two people talking about one thing and another two people talking about another thing in the same conversation is the definition of talking past each other. Why should our software enable that?

If an email or chat ends up covering two important topics, e.g. whether to use solid or liquid fuel on a rocket and what color to paint the rocket, it was poorly written in the first place. A reasonable person can easily jump in and say “let’s talk about the fuel now and we can figure out the color later”.

Bottom line: I think people can and should handle breaking off side discussions on their own instead of trying to push weird hierarchy on participants.

What if large open source projects appointed a community manager to handle things like codes of conduct and social spaces? Anecdotally, those who make large projects are often the worst at actually running a community. Even volunteer projects need management. Flat organizations will always be dominated by ad-hoc in-group politics. The internet we’ve created thus far is allowing terrible people to outpace good people by a long shot.

Ideas for Twittering better

When it comes to Twitter, things can get out of hand fast. Setting aside the hostile environment some people face when they participate in Twitter (which is setting aside a doozy!), it helps to have a few defense mechanism for what is appearing in your stream.

Most importantly, I evaluate each potential follow by the rule of “smart and happy”. Which doesn’t mean smart, angry people are automatically off the list. But, they have to show a really unique intelligence to get past my emotional filter. I made a graphic to boil down my “should follow?” decision:

How to decide to follow someone on Twitter.
How to decide to follow someone on Twitter.

Non-brilliant and happy? Probably in! Brilliant and happy? Probably in! Smart with a little bit of edge? Maybe. Just angry? No thanks.

Information overload, confirmation bias, and overwhelming negativity are also handy things to manage. I do a few things to keep my head above water and a not-too-dismal outlook on life:

  • Don’t worry about keeping up. It’s impossible. That’s OK!
  • When I have stuff that needs doing, shut it down. The tweets will go on without me.
  • Follow people with a perspective different from your own.
  • Keep a private list for high signal-to-noise follows. Good friends and people whose ideas I don’t want to miss end up here.
  • But follow a lot more people as a firehose of interesting and diverse voices.
  • When on vacation: don’t even care about Twitter. Disconnect as much as possible.

I hope one of these ideas can help you Twitter better!

Hype curve superpositions

It seems, these days, that technologies can exist in multiple phases of the hype curve, simultaneously. Two data points I read this weekend:

  • Node, which I personally place somewhere between “trough of disallusionment” and “plateau of productivity”, is in the “exceptional exuberance” phase for the author of Monolithic Node.js
  • Ruby, which I personally place in the “plateau of productivity” phase is in the “trough of disallusionment” for the author of The Ruby Community: The Next Version

In short, I strongly disagree with both of these opinions. But I think that’s not the useful datapoint here. The takeaway is that both viewpoints can exist simultaneously, in their own context, and not be entirely wrong.

Missing the big picture for the iterations

I.

Driving in Italy is totally unlike driving in America. For one thing, there are very often no lane markers. Occasionally a 1.5 lane road is shared by two cars moving in opposite directions. Even if there were lane markers, it’s doubtful Italian drivers would heed them. Italian traffic flows like water, always looking for shortcuts, ways to squeeze through, and running around temporary obstacles. For an American, driving in a big Italian city is a white-knuckle affair.

My conjecture is that the unspoken rule of Italian drivers is “never break stride”. Ease in and out of lanes, blend in at traffic circles. There’s almost a body language to Italian driving by which you can tell when someone is going to merge into your lane, when a motorbike may swerve in front of you, or when a tiny delivery van is going to blow past you on a two-lane road.

II.

Start with the result. I find myself mired in optimizing for short-term results that I can incrementally build upon. This is a fine tactic, especially when getting started. It’s a nice way to show progress quickly and keep making progress when rhythm matters.

But, it’s a tactic. To make a musical analogy, it’s how you write a song, not how you write a whole album. At some point I need a strategy, a bigger idea. I need a result in mind.

III.

I love to tinker with new technology. The grass is always greener with new langauges, libraries, tools, etc. I’ve learned a lot this way, and kept up with the times. I’ve got lots of surface-level experience with lots of things. But increasingly I want more experience with deeply accomplishing or understanding something.

IV.

Driving in Italy was extremely jarring for me at first. It closely resembled chaos. Eventually, I got used to it, at small and medium scales. (But never drive in Rome/Milan). Now, I sort of miss driving in Italy, at least the good parts. I miss the freedom to overtake other drivers without having to swerve through lanes, and I miss not stopping at traffic signals any time there’s an intersection.

Maybe this is a reminder, for me, that getting out of my routine (American driving) isn’t so bad. Worth the initial shock. Maybe my routines, my tactics, my tool/library/langauge novelty seeking, were helping me along as much as constraining me.

Maybe the big picture result, not the iteration, is the thing and how you get there (highly ordered American driving or seemingly unordered Italian driving) is of less consequence.

Sometimes

  1. Sometimes you go on a writing slump. Usually, just throwing something at the wall is how you undo that.
  2. Sometimes you notice that a lot of your writing can end up in platitudes and that deepens your slump. We regret the error, those responsible have been sacked.
  3. Sometimes you get kinda caught up in learning, tinkering, and enjoying things and forget to write. That's ok!