This is probably the most balanced interview I’ve ever read from a software company executive. Daniel Ek’s perspective on technology and his company’s place in the world shows much more humility and a more nuanced understanding than we’ve come to expect from technology companies. It’s a refreshing read and offers a lot to learn, for anyone interested in understanding how to manage people, lead companies and leverage technology for effective social change.
One of my goals for post-PhD life is to write more, on both technical and non-technical topics. So far I’ve been managing to keep a more or less regular habit of writing privately, but been publishing very infrequently, but am hoping to change that. As the author notes: the limits of our stories are the limits of our lives. Our words should open up the world, not close it off. Our words should include all, not trap them in cages. I see every story, every word as a struggle of memory against forgetting.
I’ve been a big fan of Nick Offerman ever since watching Parks & Recreation. This article seems to sum up his view on life and manliness, which in turn is summed up by his line about whiskey: my advice is to craft your life in such a way that your whiskey drinking can be for enjoyment, which means that it’s delicious and in moderation, rather than for escapism, or to obliterate your consciousness.
I recently moved to a new city to start a new job and am in the slow and not-quite-steady process of rebuilding my social circle. Though it’s not the quite the same flavor of loneliness as after a relationship, being comfortable of doing things entirely on one’s own again takes time and effort. On the one hand, I know that this too will pass, but on the other hand, knowing that doesn’t necessarily make the awkward or uncomfortable moments any less awkward or uncomfortable.
One side affect of finding oneself alone again after being used to a vibrant social life is getting used to a larger-than-usual amount of quiet time by oneself. As a child, and during most of my teens, I was content, and quite happy with a lot of time to myself. Over the years, I seem to have lost that ability, at times feeling like a part of myself is missing. The modern Attention Economy makes it all the harder for sitting quietly with oneself to be a normal part of daily life, and that in turn makes periods of solitude all the more uncomfortable. I’m hoping that this is another skill that can be (re-)learned given enough time and practice (both of which I have ample of for now).
For a long time now I’ve considered myself a materialist — I like nice things, especially when it comes to things that I use day in and day out. But I also like having a small number of such things and taking good care of them (the difference being a materialist and a consumer is something I’ll explore another day). Craig Mod is also one of my favorite writers when it comes to the question of tools and how they can shape and direct your creative work. Pair this with his excellent GF1 Field Test and Leica Q Field Test.
A conversation about Star Wars during a long drive made me start rewatching this wonderful animated TV show set in the Star Wars universe during the Clone Wars (as the name suggests). It has a broader range of characters and more in-depth story arcs than the movies and is a testament to how good storytelling can be with a good premise and enough time to do a good job (which probably goes part of the way to explaining the recent increase in really good television shows).
Yesterday I rewrote about half (the entire front-end) of a project that took me and two other collaborators several months to complete a few years ago. At the end of a solid work afternoon, I had things compiling and running, but in a very buggy state. Unexpectedly, the associated feelings turned out to be somewhat bittersweet and conflicted. I’m happy and proud of how much I’ve improved in the years since I first worked on this project, but I’m also sad thinking of how much faster and better things might have gone originally if I had known back then all the things that I know now.
Later in the evening, I learned something new (GADTs and how to use them in OCaml), which makes me hope that in a few years I’ll be even more capable than I am now. At the same time, I’m also wary of falling into the trap of rehashing old projects and ideas with new tools and techniques, rather than moving forward into new areas.
A part of me really wants things to be “just right”, not just when it comes to work, but in the rest of my life as well. It’s almost a visceral when I have to deal with things that don’t seem (close to) perfect for long periods of time. But at the same time, keeping a steady pace of progress in research and engineering requires knowing when things are “right enough” and moving on to the next thing.
Navigating that boundary isn’t something that I have a lot of experience, but I’m hoping that just like my programming skills, it’s going to be something I get better at in the coming years.
Over the weekend I took a few hours off from a paper push to watch a couple episodes of the second season of Gotham. In one of them, Alfred Pennyworth has some words of wisdom for the young Bruce Wayne (who has just signed him up for a fist fight):
Pick your battles, don’t let your battles pick you.
Just prior to watching this, I was busy planning a trip I could have planned weeks ago. That probably explains why I thought about Alfred’s line in the context of planning and organization. I often put things off until the last moment, and then get them done in the nick of time, feeling like my back’s against the wall. As a result, I’m often just doing the bare minimum, and repeatedly losing the opportunity to do a better job, or as happened with planning this trip, get more out of an experience.
Being early and prepared lets you pick your battles. Procrastination and disorganization lets your battles pick you, and often lets them kick your ass.
I don’t identify as a “creative” (I far prefer “engineer”), but I firmly believe that artistic and creative endeavors need to be balanced by economic utility. Molly Crabapple is quickly becoming one of my favorite people on the Internet and her no-bullshit take on selling art is one of the best things I read this week.
“Alternative” social networks seem to be all the rage nowadays (I’m looking at you, Ello). Tilde.club is just about as alternative as they come, though the author insists it’s not a social network. If you long for the days when men were men and wrote their own device drivers, then this might brighten your day a little.
Retirement is so 20th Century. I’m going to make the completely unsubstantiated claim that changing economic situations are making retirement a thing of the past, but that doesn’t have to a bad thing. For some people, “work/life balance” simply doesn’t apply.