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October 29, 2020

I Got Five Minutes

I have six minutes to write something. Make that five. Today has been tough. Not tough in the sense that anything bad has happened, but in the context of my new routine of getting up early, exercising, drawing, reading, and writing, it’s been a grind. This is day four, and after a fantastic day three, it’s a feeling of coming back down to earth. Unsurprisingly, it has everything to do with my sleepiness. I don’t feel mentally fatigued, as if the activities are too intense, I simply feel like I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Which is odd, considering I slept the longest I have all week. I don’t know if I believe in fatigue “catching up” with someone, but perhaps the first two days my body and mind were in denial. I feel less confident about the drawing today than I did yesterday. Yesterday’s was one for the ages and although today’s wasn’t bad, it wasn’t as good. Ten seconds left. There’s something more to that, I think. A great drawing really puts wind in my sails and whatever happened before or after is less important. Gonna think about that some more. Time’s up. 🙃

October 28, 2020

Empowering Your Judge

Only you know how truly lazy you are.

I think it was one of my art school professors who casually floated that idea into the classroom one day and I’ve regularly thought about it ever since. The point was to assuage any trepidation or feelings of imposter syndrome that might hamper our creativity, productivity, and any other pertinent “ivities”. I’m fairly certain is was also to combat the introverted art students’ penchant for pointing out everything wrong with their work every time they opened their mouths (🤚🏻 guilty). The byline went something like, “People probably think your work is pretty decent, no need to persuade them that you actually suck.” Bob Ross used to say don’t “spoil the magic” for those who enjoy your work. I think that statement is quite useful to hear, especially for creative people who have a critical eye.

Having said all that, there’s another side to this coin that contradicts the “you’re doing fine” mantra. While it’s healthy to refrain from undermining your abilities to others, that same instinct is a powerful spotlight to shine on your actual inadequacies.

The other day, I came across this vignette from one of Dr. Jordan Petersson’s lectures. Initially, he recounts the events of the trial of Socrates but rides that train of thought into the utility of setting difficult but attainable goals for yourself.

I’ve often heard him talk about “burning your personal deadwood”, leaving behind only the things about you that are good. I think this is a really powerful concept and imminently useful for anyone serious about self-improvement. People today seem so opposed to judgment of any kind - and who can blame them - but I think to completely ignore the judge inside your head is a missed opportunity to add substantial meaning to your life. And while I don’t think it’s realistic to expect anyone to scrutinize their every move, taking stock every few months or once a year, or whenever the mood strikes and seeing if you can “hire” an updated judge for yourself is something worth doing every time.

Only you know how truly lazy you are…(So while you’re busy keeping quiet about it, hire yourself a personal judge and work on it 😉)

October 26, 2020

Why I Work Outside

Embellished for dramatic effect. I love my family. (Ok, are they gone? Phew.)

Me. Outside.

Me. Outside.

I like the outdoors as much as the next guy, so my penchant for working outside isn’t surprising. However, the chirping birds, mischievous squirrels, soothing breezes, and fresh air are just a zen-like consequence of my real reason for parking in this ass-breaking porch chair every day: solitude. I’ve been working remotely for ten years now, but only recently discovered the joys of working in a house with other people in it. And by joys I mean please leave me alone, I’m working.

For the first few months of COVID, I tried my normal spots like the couch in the office or the old Ikea chair in my bedroom or the couch in the living room. Not in the expensive ergonomic chair at my desk, by the way. Never that. Something was different, though. Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t keep my head clear. One particularly beautiful morning, I decided on a whim to bring my laptop outside for a few hours to enjoy the weather. I quickly realized that despite the enhanced scenery, my attention was fully planted in my work. I initially chalked it up to the novelty of change and predicted I would return to my recently acquired state of constant agitation posthaste. As time passed, however, I came to understand that my focus wasn’t a fluke.

As far as I can tell, the key reasons for this are thus:

No people

This, I think, is far and away the biggest factor. Maybe I’m especially susceptible to distraction, but I can’t comprehend how people can get anything done in a modern office environment. Unless I aggressively tune everything out (which requires playing music louder than I probably should), I get snapped out of my zone of concentration with any background conversation. The house of cards I built up in my head to that point collapses with an unceremonious “fffft”, and I have to start all over.

No noises

You may think the only distracting noises are those coming out of the people, but each bump upstairs, each clank of a dish, each opened or closed door rings as a constant reminder that I can and will be asked an unnecessary question at any moment. Which brings me to…

No questions

I’ve always loved feeling useful and needed. I like to be the one who can fix any problem, answer any question, and spew forth my hard-won wisdom for all whose ears are privileged enough to cradle the waves of sound produced by these golden vocal cords. (Too much?) However…that lifelong pursuit has royally backfired it seems because now, regardless of how many times I say “sorry, I’m working”, people keep asking me fly-by questions that either, a) someone else could answer like, I dunno…Google, b) can wait until I’m not working, or c) aren’t even my decision even if I provided one. There’s something about that front (or back) door that’s just enough extra effort for them that they end up leaving it alone.

That blessed door

As studies have shown, doors are 2-way operations, and judging by my initial research, that logic holds. While it’s great that having to come all the way outside prevents errant questions from being lobbed my way, it also does a great job of keeping me out. When I’m inside, all it takes to get to the cookies is placing my laptop down on the coffee table, rising from the couch, and walking a few feet away to stuff my face. Replace “cookies” with anything in a house and you can see how this could become a problem. When I’m alone in the house and deep in concentration it’s less of an issue, but mix in some distractions that keep me from ever reaching that deep state of flow, and every extemporaneous thought is a potential field trip. When I’m outside, there ain’t nothin’ there. Just me, my coffee, and this laptop. What am I going to do, get up to pull those weeds in my landscaping that have been there for 3 weeks? Unlikely. I think I’d rather keep working.

So, if you find yourself listless, aimless, unable to concentrate…don’t beat yourself up. Blame everyone in your immediate vicinity, grab a glass of lemonade, and head outside. Vitamin D is good for you, anyway.

October 16, 2020

👟 Hitting Your Stride Late

My mother tells me I’ve always been a late bloomer. I think that’s a generous way of saying it takes me longer to do what most people figure out in short order. I’m not talking about an individual task or skill, more of an acceptance of the way things are and the adaptations and adjustments that go with it. When I was in college, the last thing I wanted to do was think about what I was going to do when I got out. Sounds ridiculous when I write it out, but I’ve always just picked up necessary responsibilities along the way and that hasn’t steered me wrong. Some part of me always trusted I would settle into the rhythm required to succeed without having to rush.

I’ve had a handful of epiphanies in my life that acted as forcing functions to fundamentally change my behavior. When I was in 10th grade, I became fed up with being shy and afraid to show my personality in school. With my family, I always felt like I could make them laugh and had no problem opening up, but amongst my peers I was too afraid of potential ridicule to do so. I remember deciding one day, without provocation, to change the way I was around my classmates. I came home and told my mother my plans to loosen up, make more jokes, smile more, and be more talkative. It felt like the opposite of quitting an addiction cold turkey. Instead of stopping something, I was starting it, and I remained that way ever since.

Professionally, my epiphany didn’t strike until I was 30(!). It was a little over a year after I left my first design job, where I’d climbed up from Junior Web Designer to Creative Director in a few short years. I began reading a lot about design professionalism and the proper way to conduct yourself - things I just assumed I was doing right from the beginning. It occurred to me one day as I read that I’d been 100% wrong the entire time in my attitude towards my work. The hubris of youth, we’ll call it. Again, I decided to change my outlook and behavior, and that’s how it stayed.

While I’m proud of my ability to grow and change in those moments, there remains a bittersweet regret that I didn’t come to those realizations sooner. Hindsight has a way of fooling us into thinking things could have been different, but in reality I’m only ready when I’m ready. I didn’t particularly like being so shy, but I didn’t have it in me to change that. Until I did. And maybe if I read up on design professionalism at 25 instead of 30, I would blow it off and think I knew better, still subconsciously clinging to that youthful hubris.

As I get older I realize that it’s not that important when you start. What’s important is that you start. I once heard Morgan Freeman didn’t start acting until he was fifty. That’s pretty damning evidence for anyone who thinks if you don’t have your act together by {insert age here}, you may as well pack it in. Don’t be afraid to start kicking ass today, even if you’ve never kicked ass before.

October 10, 2020

🎵 Weekly Tunes Roundup

This week I started a new stream-of-consciousness writing routine using Roam’s {{POMO}} feature, a 25 minute Pomodoro timer built right in. This is the perfect opportunity to make use of my Epic Soundscapes playlist which contains some zen-like ocean, creek, and rain sounds. Perfect for letting your mind wander. Sitting outside helps, too. 😉

October 9, 2020

I Ruined My Child's Fun. Again.

Yesterday I did something I want to take back. I ruined the fun of my 8 year old when we were playing in the driveway. I wish I could say this is the first and last time that will happen, but I’ve done this before. I always do this. I played sports as a kid and I loved nothing more than practicing by myself in the driveway, making up drills and challenges that were fun but stretched me beyond my immediate skill level. My youngest son isn’t like me. He likes playing sports, but doesn’t really want to get better. He says he does, but he doesn’t have that knack for practice that will lead to actual improvement. He has natural ability so he’s more than capable, but he tends to stop quickly when things get a little tough.

We were playing hockey and I challenged him to stickhandle a little bit each time before he returned a pass. I thought it would make it more fun while also helping him improve. He didn’t see it that way. What he saw was that I turned his play time into a dexterity test and he wasn’t having it. Rather than realize my mistake, I turned it on him and scolded him for wanting to quit so quickly. Predictably, this only made things worse and he began to pout and stomped his foot.

I ended up being the one who quit and told him I didn’t want to play with him when his attitude was like that. I maintained my innocence all night until I picked up a book to read before bed. I’d started this book last year but stopped in the middle and read some other things in between, so I had no idea where I left off when I opened it. The chapter was on over-parenting and the damage the lack of free play can do to a child’s ability to solve problems later in life. As I read, it slowly dawned on me that my son did nothing wrong and I was the reason the fun got ruined. I carved that mental note into my brain to stop doing that to him, but couldn’t read any further because of how upsetting it was to understand how dead wrong I was.

I want my son to do the things I look back on with pride. I’m proud of how much I learned and improved by practicing all the time, so I want him to experience that. Here’s the mistake: He isn’t me. Yes, I should keep teaching him the lessons I learned from my experiences, but forcing him to learn them by doing the same things is wrong. He doesn’t love sports like I do, so asking him to do drills when all he’s trying to do is play with his dad is misguided and stupid.

I’m going to try again today after work and this time, we’re going to play how he wants. I’m going to have to keep reminding myself that I can’t package up my experiences, lay them at his feet, and say “here, some of what you need to know is in this box.” He’s 8 and full of opinions. He’ll do it his way whether I like it or not and my job is to teach him how to learn from his actions, not to just repeat mine.

I’d like to share an excerpt from a commencement speech referenced in the aforementioned book I was reading, The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt:

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

This passage speaks to the value of the personal experiences that occur organically throughout our lives. It’s also more evidence of how little control I really have over the lives of my kids. I can guide them up to a point, but most of the things I’ve learned have come from the things I experienced over time, many of which were painful mistakes. Letting go of control is a hard fought concept, and I hope someday I figure out how to do it.

October 6, 2020

Books Update

The main challenge for this goal isn’t going to be completing these books. It’s going to be refraining from starting 10 more while I do.

Remember when I wrote that a month ago? I remember. As of today, I’ve gotten no closer to completing any of the books on my list, and I bought two books this week:

Badass: Make Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

Demand-Side Sales 101 by Bob Moesta

This may be a situation where if I’m going to reach my goal of finishing these books this year, I’m gonna have to do it with math. Number of days pages left divided by number of days in the year, and Bob’s yer Uncle. There are three audio books in my list, so I’m not sure how quickly those will go. I tend to have a harder time sitting still for those than I do when I read traditional copies.

So, having crunched the numbers, here’s what we’re looking at:

Total pages: 1,227

Days left: 86

Pages per day needed: 14.27

I’m actually really surprised at how attainable that seems compared to how monumental the task looks when I peek over at my stack of unreads. I might be able to do this, yet.

October 5, 2020

My Kingdom for a Back Button

Why simple feature requests aren't so simple.

We all think we know what we want. On occasion, we’re actually right about what that even is. But usually when we ask for something we fail to articulate what we really want. My daughter does this when she argues with me.

“Can I go to the mall?”

“No.”

“Come ON, I really want to go to the mall!”

False. What she really wants is to hang out with her friend and the mall is simply one version of doing that.

She used to latch onto the means without understanding that what she really wanted was the ends. We would go around in circles a few times before we got to the core of what she was asking for, at which point it was determined that a change of venue was all I wanted and she’d get her wish. Now, a good father might have suggested that for her, but I wouldn’t want to rob her of the satisfaction of psychological discovery. She’ll thank me when she’s older.

What does this have to do with anything? I find the same patterns of psychology when I browse some of the feature requests that come in for Fulcrum. Even when the same feature gets upvoted by dozens of users, it’s a good bet that many of them have a completely different workflow in mind for it. Without diving deeper into what they’re actually asking for, our assumptions are only slightly better than guesswork.

I sent a cheeky tweet about the recently released email service, Hey:

While this is far from a real feature request, it isn’t far off from what you get if you take feedback at face value. This fact was driven home recently when I discovered that there was, indeed, a back button in Hey. It just wasn’t where I wanted it. Se la vie.

September 30, 2020

Why Is It So Easy to Miss The Point?

I had this text exchange with my Mother-in-law today and I want you to pay attention to the initial knee-jerk reply that I didn’t end up sending:

games

The games in question 🧐

Naina (pronounced Nay-nah): [Brother-in-law] says these are yours. I’ll bring them over next time I visit. I’m assuming you have the PS2 back and I’m not hanging on to it.

My unsent reply: Not all mine, but ok lol. The GTAs and Madden 2004 could be mine, but I’ve never owned a wrestling game or an NCAA Football game. I’ll take em though, thanks!

🖐 Raise your hand if you can spot the issue here.

My mother-in-law has these games in her possession because my brother-in-law and I lent them to our father-in-law to quell some of the boredom when he was fighting cancer in the hospital 7 years ago.

As I was writing my reply, I realized the following: my wonderful, generous, sweet, caring mother-in-law could not give less of a shit whose GD games these are. Even if they didn’t bring up painful memories about losing her husband, these dumb objects aren’t hers and she wants them out of her house.

Untruths, no matter how insignificant, have a disproportionate effect on our brains, leading us to throw all decent judgement into a furnace and argue over the pettiest of details. I have moments I regret that took only a fraction of a second to transpire, but were the result of this exact phenomenon.

When I was maybe nine or ten, I was at summer camp and at the end of the day they would announce everyone’s name. That person would then call out what free activity they wanted to do, followed by what can only be described as a scene out of a nature film. Every person would bolt like a deer sensing danger and rush towards the area of their selected activity so they could get the best bow for archery or pick out the coolest computer game to play, etc. The list was alphabetical by last name, so the Wendy Wilson’s and Zarley Zalapski’s of the world got completely hosed. With my last name beginning with the 3rd letter in the alphabet, I was living a charmed life and I usually got my pick without much contention. One day, however, my name got skipped and in a snap reaction I blurted out something unintelligible and very dramatic about my name being skipped, putting me at the center of the type of attention no one wants. I was so crushed by the fact that I got skipped, the embarrassment of making a scene didn’t even occur to me until years later. When my name was finally called, I whimperingly mumbled out my activity and took my time getting over there, knowing that whatever the good stuff was would be gone anyway.

As a child, the injustice of being skipped, a.k.a. the untruth, was so visceral that I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. For example, I couldn’t grasp that it may have been done intentionally (I’m sure it was) or, somewhat more worryingly, that everyone after me (i.e. ~89% of the group) was dealt a worse spot in line by complete chance and there wasn’t anything to even be upset about. The shame I still feel over how I reacted that day negates any chance of forgetting that moment, adding it to the voluminous list of “things I would 100% do differently if given the chance”.

This reflex is so deeply ingrained that I still have to wrestle out of its grasp over 30 years after that painfully embarrassing incident. Failing to spend the extra bit of time to understand the core of what’s being communicated often leads to a grand battle of wills, with both sides arguing over details that don’t actually matter.

Which brings me back to Naina. I’m grateful that I didn’t send that clumsy reply. In the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t have been that bad, but I’ll take any small win I can get. Fighting against the numerous insanities of human psychology is an uphill climb. For reference, below is the revised reply. It isn’t Shakespeare, but hopefully it irons out at least one wrinkle from her day.

September 25, 2020

Fix-it Friday

In a recent CSS Tricks newsletter, Robin Rendle explains how he practices incremental improvements by scrutinizing Sentry’s CSS every Friday afternoon.

…after rummaging about looking at a component I realized that there were all sorts of places where our styles were coming from: there was no single source of truth. So! Instead of panicking, the first thing I did was make a list of every problem I could see with our styles. Then, the more spelunking into our codebase that I did, I started to refine that list into tasks.

I was taken aback at how closely this mirrors what I’ve been doing on Fulcrum for the past few months in our UI Audits. I did the first one back in March and I’ve been tending to it weekly ever since.

I didn’t initially set out to make this a regular practice, but that’s exactly what it grew into organically. And since these are small changes that usually don’t take longer than a few hours per week (if that), the payoff of constant improvement and momentum is well worth the modest cost in time.

Further down in the newsletter, Robin wrote something that made me look over my shoulder to see if he was reading my Slack messages:

This list of tasks isn’t really meant to be added to a Jira board or anything, it’s really just to inspire me to break up my pull requests into tiny chunks and then ship code every Friday afternoon. Each list item should ideally be one shippable chunk of code.

With a few exceptions (sorry devs 😬), I’ve been making a habit of creating tiny PR’s to make them easier to review and more likely to get deployed as soon as possible. The UI Audits go hand in hand with this, and the consistent routine has made things a lot more manageable that they used to be when I wrote giant spaghetti-monster PR’s with dozens of file changes.

I’m claiming “keeping at it” as my personal philosophy until something that produces better results comes along. Good luck to whatever that might be.

September 21, 2020

10 Years.

Stability is very important to me. I’ve tried to live my life in such a way that minimizes the opportunity for unrest to infiltrate my surroundings and leave me with more unknowns than I can handle. When I was recruited by my company 10 years ago, I was at an epicenter of career uncertainty. Following the departure from my first design job out of college, I spent a year freelancing with mixed results. Needing to find something more predictable, I applied everywhere I could and took the first offer. I won’t go so far as to call that a mistake, having learned a ton and met some decent people, but the culture was all wrong for me. After a somewhat miserable year, I was more than ready to move on. I updated my website with some of my newly learned skills and started blogging a bit.

I’ve written about the serendipity surrounding my recruitment and I still have to pinch myself at the sheer luck involved. Not only was I rescued from a company with whom I had no future, but I joined an incredible organization with outstanding benefits, great pay, the chance to work remotely, and a team full of people who above all else wanted to get stuff done. No red tape. No bureaucracy. No in-fighting or office politics. Just nice, smart, effective people.

Having these exceptional people around me is like an anchor, keeping everything from going off the rails even when things aren’t going according to plan. If you spend enough time somewhere, you get to see all manner of ebbs, flows, changes, pivots, petty issues, and deadly serious crises. Throughout all of it, I’ve been able to count on the professionals on this team, knowing we were all ultimately pulling in the same direction. Ironically, despite my long tenure here, I have no idea what the future holds. Besides the great people, the one constant here has been the amount of evolution each year brings and 2020 is certainly no different. I’ve adapted to the changes over the years the best I could, probably ungracefully sometimes. But I always learned something and applied it to whatever came next.

So, having just finished my first day of a new decade, I’m reminded of the value of stability, how lucky I am to have found it, and how excited I am to see where it takes me next.

September 18, 2020

🎵 Weekly Tunes Roundup

When I was younger I listened to a ton of instrumental guitar and this week I revisited one of the best: Joe Satriani. The word prolific doesn’t do him justice as he’s still going strong 34 years after his debut album. Today I made a playlist of some of my old favorites.

September 16, 2020

It's Not The Tool. It's You.

It was during an “earnest discussion of ideas” with my wife today that a certain aspect of human nature came sharply into focus. If anyone ever tells you they would love to do [insert activity] if they only had [tool only tangentially related to that activity that happens to cost money], you can take solace in the fact that nothing resembling that activity will be getting done with or without that tool. It’s not her fault. I’m absolutely guilty of the same behavior, as we all are to varying degrees. This is a stall tactic that we employ and every time it crosses my path I’m reminded of my favorite essay on the matter: Efficiency Is An Excuse To Not Do The Actual Work by Trevor McKendrick.

My favorite passage:

”I want to lose weight, what are the best exercises to do?”

Get down RIGHT THIS SECOND and start doing push ups. Go for a run in whatever clothes you already own.

It puts a spotlight on the utter absurdity of human procrastination and excuse-making. I had a college professor that once said, “There are a million reasons not to do something. At some point you just gotta cut the bullshit and get to work.”

Last year I wanted to start doing pullups. We have one of those door-frame pullup bars and it was collecting hella dust, so I placed it in the doorway and tried it out. Holy crap I could only do two, and they were the cheater, kick-your-knees-up kind. But I kept at it, and every day when I walked by, I’d grab on and do as many as I could. I didn’t fill up a water bottle. I didn’t change into a tank top. I didn’t buy a gym membership, or get new running shoes. I didn’t make a workout plan and try to do 100 a day. I did one set of as many I could do that day and that was it. I have hands I can grab with, so I used those.

What did I learn? The lack of friction in my little experiment was intoxicating. I did at least one set of pullups every day for over 9 months. I looked forward to it. And if I was brushing my teeth before bed and realized I forgot to do them that day, I spit out my Crest, walked down the hall, and did a max set in my skivvis.

We’re experts at getting in our own way. Not doing something has nothing to do with not having the tools. It’s probably that you don’t really want to do it in the first place.

In totally unrelated news, I’m on the hook to clean the mildew out of our master bathroom this weekend.

September 14, 2020

Paying Attention

I shattered the sidelight next to my front door yesterday with the weed whacker. Well, not with the weed whacker as such, but with the river rock launching out sideways from under its throttling spool. I was, of course, obvlivious to this fact due to the noise and chaos usually commonplace to this activity. However, my wife screaming my name at the top of her lungs broke through the noise (and my ear protection) just enough to wake me from my yardwork trance.

About five minutes earlier, my focus was on a small mound of dirt & rocks in the back yard that was sprouting some grass and weeds. I heard a loud bang that startled me and when I look to my right, I noticed one of the rocks from the mound had shot out to the side and hit the neighbors fence quite hard. I fleetingly noted to myself that I was lucky it was the fence and not my tibia getting hammered by that stone.

As I examined the spidered glass formerly known as my sidelight, it dawned on me that I’d wasted that gift of a near miss from the back yard. I did nothing to change my technique. I wasn’t any more careful. I didn’t even try to avoid the rock bed near my front door. I think paying attention is a hugely underrated habit in every aspect of life. The information is out there. Sometimes it even announces itself loudly. Ignore it at your peril.

September 12, 2020

Revisiting Seth Godin's Lizard Brain ➚

When I first read about the Lizard Brain by Seth Godin, it put a tangible symbol to the pain of self-sabotages gone by. For some reason, that helped me cope with that part of myself and try harder to keep it at bay. The constant of human contradiction is still bumbling forward as clumsily as ever, but hopefully revisiting Seth’s article will revitalize the resistance.

September 11, 2020

I Was a Dumbass At Least Once This Week

Toward the end of the workday yesterday, I began having trouble running our app locally. Like everything in life, the problem wasn’t what it seemed at first. I’ve been working on updating the color palette in the app since some of the theming didn’t precisely match some recent marketing changes we made. Dozens and dozens of haml and css files later, my find/replace cleanup was done and my new Sass variables were all nice and shiny. 🧐 Yup, everything still works.

I wanted to merge in any updates from the main branch so I could make a nice clean pull request and be on my way. Merge done. Cool. Time to restart the app to make sure ev…it’s broken now. 😑

I poked around, Googling some of the build hieroglyphics in the terminal, but no luck. Breaking my Google-it-again rule as I often do, I got an entire team channel in Slack (and a DM thread) all frothed up about it. It was late. I decided to sleep on it and try again today.

One of the colors we replaced is the reddest red there is: #ff0000. Formerly “Fulcrum Red”. I noted to myself at some point yesterday that the shorthand for that hex value is #f00 so I better find/replace that, too. I was so careful during the main color replacement about which files I included and excluded, but for this change, I didn’t pay attention as closely. I think we can all see where this is going…

Does anyone want to guess what the new hex value for our red is?

dumbass.jpg

There’s a moral here somewhere, I know it. Maybe I’ll find it tomorrow in another file.

September 10, 2020

11:59pm, September 10th

For the past several years I’ve had a task to complete as the clock approached midnight on September 10th. TQ, our former CEO, would have me create a one-off homepage for Fulcrum & Spatial Networks to pay homage to the victims of 9/11. He left the imagery completely up to me and though I showed him before we went live, he never once asked for changes. I always appreciated that he trusted me with this simple yet meaningful request, and I feel sad tonight as his recent departure from the company signifies the end of this tradition. However, as a way to keep it going for one more year, I’d like to share some of the images we used in recent years:

September 8, 2020

Old Work

There’s something unique about enjoying an activity where you leave artifacts behind. Whether doing it professionally or just as a hobby, there’s nothing quite like making something yourself and adding it to the world. In searching through some of my past work to accompany the case studies for this site, however, I’m reminded of one of my least favorite aspects of design: looking at my crusty old work. I think digital designers have a particular disadvantage compared to fine artists in that they are primarily making something to solve a problem for that exact time. While the painter gets to look back at their “blue” period and recall all the tumultuous or wonderful things they were experiencing at the time, the digital problem solver has to look at something that’s been solved 10 different ways since then and all of them are no doubt more clever, more usable, and probably better for the environment.

I think part of the reason for this is the nature of software and how fast things move in technology. By this time next year I will probably have learned things that don’t even exist yet. Something else I’m likely a victim of is spending a lot of time in the area just after the “suck zone” of the learning curve, where you’re learning a ton and getting better all the time, but that’s the catch. Every next thing I do is usually much better than the last thing I did and when you scale that over a number of years, you’re bound to find some uggo projects peering up from under the basement stairs. Granted, there are a few interesting ideas that stand the test of time, but in my case those are usually more fluffy marketing pieces as opposed to UI/UX efforts.

I guess the one positive I can afford myself is this: if I keep improving the design & UX of our software, I bet I can outrun the demons living in my old ideas.

September 7, 2020

The Every Day Calendar

I made a frivolous purchase today. When you reach a certain age, you don’t really get presents for your birthday any more. I’m not a big shopper and I don’t want much, so typically when I want something, I pick it up. However, there are certain things I would love to have that my cheapness will simply not allow. Normally that’s that and I leave myself wanting, but with my new goal of writing every day in full swing, I thought I would consummate the journey by buying myself a birthday present.

If you’ve never heard of Simone Giertz, you’re welcome. Now you have. Simone is one of the brightest, most interesting makers in the YouTube space, who originally made her name “making shitty robots”. She recently undertook a crowdfunding campaign, the result of which was positively not shitty: a beautiful every day calendar. While it’s not cheap, it’s also not prohibitively expensive, making it the perfect symbol to represent the small & consistent improvement philosophy that enthralls me so.

Below are some links about the calendar. Being a YouTuber, Simone obviously made videos about its origin as well as the crowdfunding process. I also wanted to include a glowing review by her friend and fellow maker, Adam Savage, which was the reminder that tipped the scales for me actually buying one.

September 6, 2020

🎵 Weekly Tunes Roundup

Here’s some of the music I had on repeat this week. I tend to pick a playlist and milk it for all it’s worth. This week was 90% Ori.

September 5, 2020

Books Started

I suffer from something I bet a lot of people struggle with. I start a lot of books. Sometimes I read the first few chapters right away to try and give myself a fighting chance. Occasionally I even make it halfway through or more before something else draws my attention away. I do finish some, but I get so excited when I come across a new book I want to read, I usually start it before I finish the last one. I even tried to jump start my reading by adding a Basecamp check-in entitled, “How many pages did you read today?”. That actually worked for the book I was reading at the time, Every Tool’s a Hammer by Adam Savage, but I didn’t make room in my routine for the next book, and poof: inertia gone. With 4 months left in the year, my goal is to finish every ‘started’ book. I list them thusly:

  • The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

  • The Innovators Solution by Clayton M. Christensen

  • The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

  • The Right Side of History by Ben Shapiro

  • Competing Against Luck by Clayton M. Christensen

  • Scale by Geoffrey West

  • Eloquence by Mark Forsyth

The main challenge for this goal isn’t going to be completing these books. It’s going to be refraining from starting 10 more while I do. Oh, and lest you think I’m just being a completionist, I’ve abandoned my fair share of books because they didn’t live up to my expectations, bored me to tears, or flat out stunk. I’m enjoying every one of these books so far and there’s no earthly reason they aren’t already finished.

September 4, 2020

Williams F1: The End of an Era

Logo from 2014-2019. My favorite Williams livery.

When I got interested in Formula 1 back in the late 90’s, the Williams F1 team was on the heels of what would turn out to be their final championships as a family owned team. This weekend’s Monza race marks the final time a Williams will be at the helm, as Claire steps down as Deputy Team Principal following the sale of the team to an investment group from the States.

My favorite racing driver when I was younger was Juan Montoya, so when I learned he was leaving Indycar* to drive for the Williams Team in Formula 1, I became a fan immediately. Even with limited knowledge about the sport up to that point, I knew that Sir Frank Williams selected Montoya specifically because he was a fierce competitor and a pure racer. Sir Frank always had a soft spot for pure speed and didn’t care as much about polish, politeness, or PR darlings.

Logo From 2000-2005. Montoya's era.

It’s impossible to say whether or not the sale will rejuvinate the team, but it feels like the loss of an institution. In a sport showcasing enormous corporations with multi-thousand employee support systems, Williams stood alone as a constant reminder of the importance of grit, the strength of family, and the success smaller teams once had. They were the last outfit that could truly be considered ‘scrappy’.

*Indycar is used colloquially here. There were 2 American open wheel racing series back then, IRL (Indy Racing League) and CART. It's a long story.

September 3, 2020

Meeting Fatigue

Recently, much of my time is spent thinking about, checking the calendar for, preparing for, or trying to avoid meetings. I’m a designer, so I expect my attendence to occasionally be required when questions of product flow, UI, UX, branding, or other designery things come up. Lately, however, it seems like more of my time is being spent somewhat needlessly. I’m actually one of the lucky people, as some have had their entire existence engulphed by Zoom calls.

My gripe, however, is not necessarily with the meetings themselves, but rather my growing inability to tolerate anything even resembling a meeting outside of work. I got an email this morning from my daughter’s school reminding me about Parent’s Orientation over Zoom for one of her extra curriculars. Maybe it’s because I’m already somewhat familiar since she’s done this for a few years, but I didn’t even consider attending. The downstream consequence of inescapable meetings can manifest in an unhealthy way by sapping the willingness to participate in potentially informative or enriching experiences. If my knee-jerk reaction is to shut down any and all non-essential meetings just to get some relief, that’s probably a sign something’s amiss.

September 2, 2020

The Did-I-Google-it Rule

Fairly early on in my tenure at Fulcrum, it became obvious that I was working alongside higher levels of talent and intelligence than I was used to. Everyone was very kind and answered my questions politely and I didn’t hesitate to let my curiosity show. As I settled into my place in the company, however, I had a growing feeling of guilt about interrupting coworkers to ask for answers that could most likely be found with some thrifty Googling. Granted, some of the information was inside baseball and only they had the answers, but the rest of it? Not so much. One day, though, my attitude changed.

Working in softare, sometimes you cross paths with someone who seems to know everything. Even regarding subjects barely tangentially related to their focus, they seem to have a thoughtful nugget to share or an eye opening vision for what’s possible. I’m not going to go so far as to say some people’s time is more valuable than others…but some people’s time is more valuable than others. The tragic thing about having a coworker like this is interrupting them with a question, even if it’s relevant to what they’re doing, breaks what is likely a long, deep, highly important train of thought.

It took only a few times doing this for my guilt to disallow any future attempts to get answers from this person. The impulses to do so are as strong as ever, but I vividly remember the day I almost asked for help before stopping myself and instituting a rule I still use: the Did-I-Google-it rule. The concept is simple yet brilliant. The moment you’re about to DM a question to your friend, coworker, or loved one, stop. Delete it. Search for the answer yourself. Then, when you can’t find it, I’ve invented a companion rule to go into effect if the D.I.G.I rule fails: Did-I-Google-it-ENOUGH.

I’ve used this rule not only on the smartest person at work who’s time I don’t want to waste, but every person who’s time I don’t want to waste. Sarcasm aside, I’ve surprised myself often enough with this to see that this is a great mindset to have. The only downside I’ve experienced so far is the precise knowledge when other people asking me a question didn’t use the rule.

September 1, 2020

Mental Inertia

Jerry Seinfeld writes material every day for his act. In interviews, he often references his endless collection of yellow legal pads, saturated with ideas he curates and refines until they resemble the comedic equivalent of a bonsai masterpiece.

What he discovered early in his career, with either an acute stroke of self-awareness or a deep understanding of human psychology (maybe both), is that inertia is everything. Making continuous contributions, no matter how small, have the power to add up to something incredible over time. This discovery did not, unfortunately, come to me early in my career, having only truly settled in my consciousness in the last few years. I’ve already seen remarkable results with even cursory attempts involving my art, fitness, and design habits, making noticeable strides over time with minimal effort in the moment. The point is firmly driven home after falling off the wagon at any point. I haven’t consistently made art for more than a year after having drawn something every day for at least that long prior to suddenly stopping.

It’s crazy to consider how easy it was to do every day contrasted with how difficult it is to find the energy now that my inertia has completely faded. I hope by writing something every day, I can relearn what it feels like to build and maintain inertia, so I don’t continue neglecting my ‘bonsai’ masterpiece.

August 31, 2020

Building in Public

Here’s the Twitter thread of this endeavor.

I set out to make something of this website in short order and here, on day 2, I publish my first set of changes. I won’t list them all here as you can check the thread above for those details, but one of the changes is this post.

I’ve wanted to get into a daily writing routine for some time, and it’s energizing to finally be embarking on that goal. Most of tonight’s updates involved adding styling tweaks and placeholder images to the Work and Art pages and while I’d like to write more, the battery in this ancient MacBook is losing steam and I’m too lazy to go get the charger and plug it in. One of the exciting things about writing / publishing more frequently is that the preciousness of each post drops dramatically when you know there’s another one right around the corner. It can be paralyzing knowing that this is the only fresh thing going up on the site for who-knows how long. That’s the pattern I’ve followed forever, and thanks to a recent (within the last year or so) change in working philosophy, I feel confident I can leave it behind.

Thanks to a chance following of Jack Butcher on Twitter, I’ve taken up one of his tenets and decided to chronicle this website resurrection project “in public”, giving daily updates (link above) as I go. I rarely used to post on social media, so this is another change for me. It’s unknown whether or not this will spark something that continues longer than the project, so we’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

May 24, 2019

Working from home today. Forever.

This article was originally posted on Medium

Sitting here on my couch with a cat crowding my hip (and getting her stray fur on my keyboard), I strain to remember a time when this was not how I spent all my working days. In September, it will be 9 years since I was cold-called into what has become the longest tenured, most rewarding, and most fulfilling career experience of my life. On a warm, late-summer day in 2010, I was clicking away at my computer in a generic office building, daydreaming about being anywhere else. Back before robo-calls made it unwise to answer a call from an unfamiliar number, a ring from my lightly used iPhone 3G prompted me to excuse myself from my desk and sidle over to the break room to see who was on the other end.

“Hello?”

“Hi, am I speaking with Tim?”

“Yeah, this is Tim…”

“Hi, Tim, this is Jolene from Spatial Networks. We found your resumé online, are you still looking for design work?”

“Well, I, uhh…wait, I’m sorry, did you say design?

I’d received numerous similar calls from recruiters asking me if I was looking for a new job. I was. Desperately. But every time, like clockwork, they wanted someone to work in their call center, or someone to go door to door selling buckets of who-knows-what. They didn’t want me, they just needed a thing that was close enough to a human being that it could make phone calls. When Jolene mentioned the word “design” I went from half-listening to fully panicking that the call would somehow disconnect and this opportunity would vanish. At the time I was already working a design job, but nearly every aspect of it was pulverizing my soul, so I wanted out in the worst way. I carefully positioned my fingers and cheek away from the End Call button and continued the conversation.

During the call, Jolene explained what Spatial Networks was, what the job would involve, and oh by the way, if I didn’t want to relocate to the Tampa area, I could work from home.

“Is this something you’d be interested in?”

While trying (poorly) to contain my excitement, I politely affirmed and we set up a phone interview for the next day. The call went well, and after an in-person interview at Spatial Networks HQ the following Monday, I punched my ticket out of career misery and into the unknown.

🎲 Rolling the Dice

“The Unknown” is an appropriate designation for both parties. At the time, aside from a few small client projects, I didn’t have much experience working remotely as a freelancer, let alone for an actual company. And, as I would discover shortly after my first week at SNI, they didn’t have much experience working with remote employees, either. In the years before they gambled on me, there were fewer than a handful of remotes that didn’t work out for various reasons. When they hired me I was the only one, and it remained that way for quite some time.

As with most things, luck plays a huge role in this story. I live about 20 minutes northeast of downtown Orlando. Because HQ was only 2½ hours away in Clearwater, FL, I was a safer bet than someone out of state. Not only could I visit the office more easily and on shorter notice, but there were fewer steps needed from a corporate perspective dealing with out of state procedures for taxes, payroll, benefits, and so on. The experiment was underway.

🤘 Searching…Seek & Employ

One of the fundamental recruiting hurdles for us is finding people with the right combination of talent, skills, attitude, temperament, sense of humor (this counts more than you think), and work ethic. We have exceptional people here and our goal with every new hire is to keep it that way. This made things tough for hiring managers early in my Spatial Networks career, as I sensed the desire to hire only locals to work from HQ, while looking at remote candidates as more of a last resort.

As time wore on, however, necessity came calling and the attitude towards hiring remotes gradually relaxed. With more avenues of talent opening up, we were able to attract some amazing people — a trend that continues to serve us well. Many of our current remotes are absolute linchpins, critical to the success of Spatial Networks and its products. Without the openness and flexibility of our leadership to allow this fundamental shift in hiring philosophy, our growth would stagnate and we’d always be on the back foot.

As of this writing, over ⅓ of our company works remotely. Considering Spatial Networks spent its first 10 years as an on-site only company, this is a remarkable achievement.

⚓️ All Hands on Deck

When it was only me, I enjoyed the remote working lifestyle from my own little island without much fuss. A handful of times per year I’d pop over to HQ for a day or two to get some face-to-face time, meet new hires, and workshop new product features. Sometimes I would simply go into the office because it had been a while and I missed seeing my peeps in the flesh. Though this routine evolved somewhat organically, everyone was conscious of the fact that I was on my own quite a bit and my presence at the office was not only welcomed but highly encouraged. In fact, TQ (our CEO & Founder) always made it a point to mention that it was nice to have me in the office if only for me to remember that I’m not alone out there. This thoughtful gesture was instrumental in helping me avoid the feelings of disconnection and isolation that sometime result from working remotely.

The knowledge gained from those early experiences proved invaluable as our remote numbers grew. Seeing the morale-boosting effects of my visits ensured that bringing everyone into the office periodically was a positive thing for the team and worth the cost of doing so. We began to coordinate HQ visits so everyone was there at the same time to maximize our togetherness quotient. Due to my proximity, I still visited HQ slightly more often than the out-of-staters, but we at least made sure I was there when they were. As we grew, however, we reached a tipping point and the relative informality of our office visit scheduling became untenable. Enter: the SNI Semi-annual All Hands Week.

Ever since we made this an “official” company event a few years ago, the feeling of camaraderie, collaboration, and being a valued part of the team skyrocketed. Every All Hands we have is bigger and better than the last, and we’re growing so much now that these are nearly becoming too big for our office space. That’s a good problem to have, if you ask me, especially when everyone genuinely enjoys working (and playing) with one another.

🤔 There’s Always a Catch

Even with the best support system, company-wide chat, video conferencing, and multiple office visits per year, working remotely still presents unique complexities and challenges.

One major distinction between working in an office with coworkers nearby and working from home with only the pets and dust bunnies is availability. By availability I mean the availability of your attention. At the office, you’re there. People can see you. If people can see you, they can talk to you. And if people can talk to you, they will talk to you. For any task that requires sustained concentration which is, you know, everything, this is less than ideal. You would think, then, that working from home would be a huge advantage by comparison. However, if your friends and family know you work from home, they immediately discard the “work” part from their memory and latch onto the “home” portion. This is a clear “knowing-is-half-the-battle” situation. Had I known to simply lie to those most precious to me for the last 9 years and say I was at the office during work hours, perhaps I could have avoided at least some of the random phone calls, house calls, honey-do requests, appointments, errands, pick-ups, drop-offs, and other such non work-related things people assume I can be doing between the hours of 8:30 and 5:30.

But I’m not bitter.

There’s also a certain level of personal discipline required to succeed as a remote employee. I’m not talking about the bare minimum of actually doing the work you’re supposed to be doing while unsupervised. If you have trouble with that part, let’s just say this might not be your thing. Instead, I’m referring to the concept of leaving work at work. This becomes tougher when your office is your home, so it’s important to make the conscious effort to set your boundaries accordingly. I’m extremely fortunate to work for a company that understands this inherently and doesn’t “punish” its remotes by expecting higher levels of availability.

I neglected to mention something about all that pesky talking people do at HQ: that’s one of the things I miss about working in an office. Even as someone who loves my fair share of quiet moments, there’s no work-from-home replacement for jovial coworker banter. We all genuinely enjoy each other’s company, so as distracting as water cooler talk is at times, it’s a welcome respite from the monotony of routine, and remotes do miss out on that. Slack is pretty decent at capturing some of these moments, but every time I hear a rousing swell of laughter while at HQ, it reminds me that there’s no replacement for the real thing.

🍀 Right Place, Right Time

Occasionally I daydream about how different my life would be if I’d never taken that phone call years ago. 100% of the time, I imagine my situation as worse by varying degrees. Strangely, however, the fact that I get to work from home isn’t one of the factors. The difference between career misery and career euphoria for me was a tiny shred of good fortune, as the planets aligned and allowed me to be part of this team of amazing people. Every morning I wake up excited to make my meager contributions to the meaningful work we do. And sometimes…I even put on pants.