Mono no aware

What would happen if we look at time through the lens of attachment theory? That’s the question my friend Simon asks in Attachment Styles to Time. I definitely have an “anxious attachment style” with time:

An anxiously attached person to time will try to arrest it: to find comfort again in a space where time felt distant. A coping strategy is to try and keep things the way they were. To hold onto people and places even if you aren’t present anymore.

The framing also reminds me of the Japanese phrase Mono no aware:

Mono no aware (物の哀れ), lit. ’the pathos of things’, and also translated as ‘an empathy toward things’, or ‘a sensitivity to ephemera’, is a Japanese idiom for the awareness of impermanence (無常, mujō), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.

That is also basically what the entire “synthwave” genre is about so if you’d like to hear what that concept sounds like as a song, just make your way over to Los Angeles by The Midnight.

Advice For Engineers, From A Manager

Marco Rogers has been an engineer and manager of engineers for 20 years. In this post he shares some short, practical (but not always easy to follow!) advice for engineers. A few of my favorites:

  • Learn what the true scope of the project needs to be. Back away from “story points” and understand what the project needs to accomplish. More context about the goals will help you negotiate what’s in and what’s out of scope.
  • Collaborate on designs. Designs never have the level of detail that matters. When you run into UX problems, work with people to develop a solution. Don’t just ask for more mocks. Own the details of what you’re building.
  • Don’t just write code. Solve problems. Make sure you understand the value of your work and you talk to people about that. Not just “features”. For example, “this needs to ship by Fall because it’s our big strategic bet for the year.” Tell people how to achieve the strategic goal.

Read the rest of his post for the others.

Link roundup for February 11, 2023

Cassettes Are Making a Comeback, But Can Production Keep Up? “After music cassettes died in the late ’90s, National Audio kept busy with cassettes for instructional materials, spoken-word bibles and Library of Congress work until indie bands and labels came calling as early as 2006. ‘Suddenly, we were back in business,’ Stepp says.” I love that story. []

Things I Do Not Like Hearing. I appreciate a well-written personal grievances post. This one—about phrases the author doesn’t like—is bound to become a classic of the genre. “I have never read the words ‘friendly reminder’ and not imagined that person seething, incandescent, smoke blowing out of their ears like a hot kettle, just absolutely furious. I simply don’t believe you. I do not think that you think we are friends or that this interaction is friendly. If you want to fight, we can fight.” []

Engagement, Attention, Shining a Light. This is a great writing goal: “My goal is for my writing to engage readers on a ‘shared inquiry’ level, where whatever I am saying is not viewed as a declaration that demands agreement, but an exploration attempting to illuminate the subject at hand in a way that encourages the reader to go exploring with a light of their own.” []

A library of words. I bet you didn’t think you’d want to read about the real purpose of a Thesaurus today, but you’re going to have to trust me. This post is fantastic. “The purpose of an ordinary Dictionary is to simply explain the meaning of the words. After you look up the word, you are given the idea the word is supposed to convey. The Thesaurus is supposed to work in the opposite direction: you start with an idea, and then you find the words to express it. A dictionary turns words into ideas and a thesaurus turns ideas into words.” []

SF’s Market Street Subway Is Running on Floppy Disks. This is quite something. “SFMTA is hardly unique in using them, however. As recently as 2020, British Airways was loading avionics software onto 747s via floppy disk.” I also love that they felt the need to include a photo of a floppy disk in the article. []

Latex, severed legs and fake erections: why is a whole new generation obsessed with DVD menus? This is a wonderful homage to the lost art of DVD menus. “Some turn-of-the-century landing pages were so imaginative they cut through into popular consciousness: 2003’s House of 1,000 Corpses featured a murderous clown directly addressing (and mocking) the viewer, while the Harry Potter DVD let viewers choose a wand, cast spells, and solve puzzles to access deleted scenes.” []

An Imperfect List of Books Like “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”. This is my favorite book I’ve read in a long time. Good list of others to try. []

20 Things I’ve Learned in my 20 Years as a Software Engineer

Old technologies that have stuck around are sharks, not dinosaurs. They solve problems so well that they have survived the rapid changes that occur constantly in the technology world. Don’t bet against these technologies, and replace them only if you have a very good reason. These tools won’t be flashy, and they won’t be exciting, but they will get the job done without a lot of sleepless nights.

—Justin Etheredge, 20 Things I’ve Learned in my 20 Years as a Software Engineer.

Link roundup for February 9, 2023

Lego reveals massively detailed Lord of the Rings Rivendell set. Take my money! []

The Window Trick of Las Vegas Hotels. “In order to make the buildings look smaller, less intimidating and messy, architects have come up with a ‘four or six windows in one’ solution. This means they grouped several windows (usually four or six) together and made them look like one window. This creates the visual effect of ‘shrinking’ the building, of making it more orderly and symmetrical.” []

You have to read this whole article for the full context, but this classification of the different ways we can choose to act online really got me thinking: “I see roughly three typical public stances: boring, lively, or outraged. Either you act boring, so the bandits will ignore you, you act lively, and invite bandit attacks, or you act outraged, and play a bandit yourself. Most big orgs and experts choose boring, and most everyone else who doesn’t pick boring picks bandit, especially on social media. It takes unusual art, allies, and energy, in a word “eliteness”, to survive while choosing lively. And that, my children, is why the world looks so boring.” []

The Junkification of Amazon. Why Does It Feel Like Amazon Is Making Itself Worse? “If you understand Amazon as an aspiring megascale infrastructure company — a provider of systems, services, capacity, and labor — its junkification makes sense. Amazon hasn’t been acting like a store for a while. In its ideal future, selling things to people is everyone else’s problem.” []

People Can’t Stop ‘Spotify Snooping’ on Friends, Exes and Crushes (WSJ paywall, link here). “When Ms. Ticoalu looked up what her ex-boyfriend was listening to in November, she saw ‘Glimpse of Us’ by Joji, a song about starting to date again after a relationship ended. Because he played the song so soon after their breakup, it led her to believe the two events were related. ‘It does lead me to overthink a lot,’ Ms. Ticoalu says.” []

New Form of Ice Discovered. “The newly discovered ice is amorphous — that is, its molecules are in a disorganized form, not neatly ordered as they are in ordinary, crystalline ice. Amorphous ice, although rare on Earth, is the main type of ice found in space. That is because, in the colder environment of space, ice does not have enough thermal energy to form crystals.” []

This is such a fun and interesting story by Louie Mantia about his time working as an icon/UI designer at Apple in the early 2010s. []

Don’t build a personal brand, build a reputation

I love this post on the personal brand paradox by Debbie Millman:

But rather than manufacturing a personal brand, why not build a reputation? Why not develop our character? Imagine what we could learn from each other if we felt worthy as we are instead of who we project ourselves to be. Imagine if we could design a way to share who we are without shame or hubris.

Tracy Durnell builds on this:

I’m more interested in following people as people — while I might have been drawn to certain blogs in the past because of the topic, the reason I keep reading many of them is having gotten to know the writer.

Those two posts articulate why I’ve decided to relax a little bit on the blog this year. For too long I didn’t really post here any more because it was so hard to get over my own self-imposed “this is worthy of a post” line. But these days I’m so much less interested in “building a brand” than I am in just… having fun and, well, being a person. So I am sharing things I find interesting, I am publishing unfinished thoughts alongside the deeply-researched posts. And I am slowly getting comfortable with posting more personal things as well (like yesterday’s LotR post).

I know this is the year of saying “this is the year of the personal blog” so I’m sure you’re pretty tired of hearing it from yet another person. But seriously, consider it. Consider thinking out loud and sharing those thoughts on a place that you own. Plant that digital garden—it might just give you life.

There and back again: a tale of two book editions

My first online purchase ever happened on September 5, 1999. I was in college at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, I really wanted to read Lord of the Rings, and after doing the math I realized that buying the book from this online bookseller in America called would be cheaper than buying it from a local bookstore—even when I took international shipping costs into account.

The book arrived a few weeks later, just in time for the summer holidays to start. I did very little that December that wasn’t reading Lord of the Rings. In fact, I distinctly remember missing the turn of the millennium because at 12:00am on January 1, 2000 I was deeply engrossed in the Entmoot proceedings to figure out whether or not the Ents should go to war against Saruman.

The book ended up traveling with me all over the world. To Australia where I lived for a few years, back to South Africa, all the way to the US, then back to South Africa again, and now here, in Portland, OR. It has served me well:

Robin Sloan has a new edition of his newsletter out. It’s called Crossing the Sunshine Skyway and it is wonderful, as always. Towards the end he links to Adam Roberts’s reflections on re-reading Lord of the Rings. It is long and it looks great so I saved it to read over the weekend. But then Robin says this:

I’ve just completed a reread of LOTR myself: a beautiful one-volume edition with Tolkien’s own (slightly wonky) illustrations included, plus some lovely rubrication.

He posted a photo of the edition he purchased and I was immediately smitten. It looked beautiful, and the idea of seeing some of Tolkien’s own illustrations as part of the story? Heck yeah! I decided that it was time. 24 years after purchasing my first copy of Lord of the Rings—and after many years of resisting lots of wonderful editions because I didn’t want to “cheat” on my original—I purchased The Lord of the Rings Illustrated By The Author. Robin only posted one photo in his newsletter, which made for a bit of a surprise when I received the book. It is so much more beautiful than I had imagined.

I am excited to embark on my own re-read of Lord of the Rings this year, something I’ve been planning to do anyway. And I don’t feel so bad about cheating on my 24-year old copy any more. I mostly feel grateful for the internet and blogs and newsletters and how they can help us find our people and make meaningful connections that sometimes end with a beautiful piece of art in our hands that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Maybe, at least sometimes, we can have nice things.

Don’t delete your old backlog

There’s a sentiment I started to see in the agile development world that advocates for deleting old/stale items off a backlog completely. A good recent example is Jason Knight’s latest newsletter:

The backlog becomes a dumping ground for every single customer support query. Every account manager and every salesperson has something in there from conversations with customers and prospects. […]

It’s tempting to see “length of time in backlog” as some kind of vector for prioritisation, but it really isn’t. It’s quite the inverse, in fact. So let’s all try to get comfortable, embrace the idea of getting rid of old stuff in our backlogs, and give people a “no” rather than a “one day”.

I’m not trying to pick on Jason—his work is great and it’s another very good edition of his newsletter! I am just using it as an example that got me thinking about this a bit more deeply.

My take is that we should absolutely keep all customer feedback around in our backlogs, because that is continuous discovery data that would be a shame to lose. Instead, my proposal would be to normalize the backlog as a place to build organizational memory and a customer feedback knowledge base—not as a list of things that all have to get done.

Two tactics can help with this approach. First, a Now/Next/Later roadmap keeps the focus on the list of current priorities. The entire backlog doesn’t go into the “Later” column—only things that are currently prioritized to start within the next few months.

Second, have a standard process that the entire company (especially the customer success team) can use to collect user feedback and attach it to features. In our case that’s Productboard, and our success team can easily add and process customer feedback via a browser extension.

I guess our list of features in Productboard is technically our “backlog”, but it doesn’t cause us stress in terms of feeling like we need to work on everything that’s on there. However, as part of our planning cycle we can go through this list and figure out if anything is important enough to pull into the “Later” column of our roadmap. An added bonus: if/when we start to work on any of those features we have access to lots of customer data about each feature, and we can reach out to those customers to have more in-depth conversations with them about their needs.

So instead of deleting old issues off our backlogs, let’s rather remove the pressure and stigma around what backlogs are for (maybe we should rename it to “customer needs knowledge base”?). And then let’s use our actual roadmaps for the list of things we know we’re going to work on.


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