Nine-to-five is how you survive, I ain’t tryna survive
I’m tryna live it to the limit and love it a lot
This is one of those lyrics I’d see quoted in AIM away messages growing up and I never really thought much about… until recently.
Since I’ve been working remotely, I have occasionally taken advantage of having more flexibility in my day to day schedule. Maybe I’d go for an afternoon run on a nice day to break things up. Or wrap my day up a little early to meet a friend. But honestly, I did this type of stuff when I worked in an office too.
But in the 7 weeks since our son was born, I’ve realized how amazing it is to have a lot of autonomy over your work schedule. I don’t think I can overstate the benefit.
Now maybe I go help with Buckley during the afternoon and catch up on work later while he sleeps. Or I start my day later to help with his morning fussin’. It is more fluid and flexible.
So this lyric means more to me now. I don’t want to just “survive.” I want to be deeply involved in raising my son (aka “love it a lot”) and turn User Interviews into a juggernaut (aka “live it to the limit”). Remote makes it possible for me to do both. I’m not limited by an arbitrary and strict 9 to 5 schedule each day. It is more fulfilling and I’m getting more done.
I grew up in Central New York. In a small town that received a lot of snow every year.
So when I was 16 and got my learners permit in November… learning how to drive in the snow was emphasized. One of the most important things to learn is how to react if the car fishtails around a corner. This is when you go around a corner, your rear wheels slip, and drift out towards the center of the road.
The answer is counterintuitive. You need to turn the front wheels towards the middle of the road too. Basically, you need to steer into the problem. This is how you stop it and regain control.
I find that this metaphor holds up in other areas of life too.
When I’m running a race and it starts to hurt… I do best when I lean into the pain and try to attack it. Or if I don’t know something at work… it helps to lead with my lack of knowledge. It attracts more assistance and input than pretending to have it under control.
This all makes me think I should get around to reading The Obstacle Is The Way.
I grabbed a screenshot of this haiku from Austin Kleon’s instagram story. It is by Ron Padgett in BIG CABIN.
“The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them.” – Ernest Hemingway
I’ve thought about this a few times since coming across it. On the surface, trust seems binary – I trust someone or I don’t.
But that doesn’t hold up under much scrutiny. Trusting someone to hold your spot in line is quite a bit different than trusting someone to watch your child, for instance.
So I’m going to try and default more to trusting people – in some capacity – from the start.
I knew there was a certain weird aura around Augusta but this story covers a bunch of things I had no idea about. Here are some of things that caught me offguard.
Literally the first sentence.
Beneath Augusta National, the world’s most exclusive golf club and most venerated domain of cultivated grass, there is a vast network of pipes and mechanical blowers, which help drain and ventilate the putting greens.
I had no idea how much they do to keep up appearances.
It has been accepted as fact that recalcitrant patches of grass are painted green and that the ponds used to be dyed blue. Because the azaleas seem always to bloom right on time, skeptics have propagated the myth that the club’s horticulturists freeze the blossoms, in advance of the tournament, or swap out early bloomers for more coöperative specimens. Pine straw is imported. Pinecones are deported. There is a curious absence of fauna. One hardly ever sees a squirrel or a bird. I’d been told that birdsong—a lot of it, at any rate—is piped in through speakers hidden in the greenery. (In 2000, CBS got caught doing some overdubbing of its own, after a birder noticed that the trills and chirps on a golf broadcast belonged to non-indigenous species.)
There is more.
… what appears to patrons and television viewers to be the whitest sand in golf is technically not sand but waste from feldspar mines in North Carolina.
Ok, this part about John Daly was not actually surprising.
Augusta National is sometimes likened to Oz. For one thing, it’s a Technicolor fantasyland embedded in an otherwise ordinary tract of American sprawl. Washington Road, the main approach to the club, is a forlorn strip of Waffle Houses, pool-supply stores, and cheap-except-during-the-Masters hotels. In the Hooters parking lot during tournament week, fans line up for selfies with John Daly, the dissolute pro and avatar of mid-round cigarettes and booze.
The article goes into a lot more detail and history about the club. Just read the whole thing. It is fascinating.
“Dad’s message about basketball—and life—was this: ‘Johnny, don’t try to be better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be. You have control over that. The other you don’t.’ It was simple advice: work hard, very hard, at those things I can control and don’t lose sleep over the rest of it.”1
I find that in some areas of life it is much easier to follow this advice than in others. Running, for instance, has a whole culture around this exact thing. PRs. Personal records. If I run a good race, it won’t be long until someone asks “hey, was that a PR?” And if it was, I’ll be met genuine enthusiasm and happiness in response.
And I’ll be genuinely proud. I outdid my previous best. That’s a cool accomplishment under any circumstances.
It’s all around great. But why does this dynamic happen in running but not in many other aspects of my life?
I have a two part hypothesis:
- It is easily quantified
- There are only two data points that matter really. Distance and duration. How far and how fast? These are easy numbers to track and share. It is simple. Lots of other things can be quantified but it is usually not as straightforward.
- It is a shared experience
- Everyone is trying to do the same thing. Run a specific distance faster than they ever have before. And regardless of your speed, doing so requires the same thing from everyone – their best effort. So whether your shiny new 5k PR is 18 minutes or 30 minutes, a PR means it was your best ever effort. Period.
I love cooking. But how do I quantify if a meal was my best ever effort and how would I share that with someone else? Same with work. Was that my best ever retro as a PM? Hard to say for sure.
It makes me want to try and quantify something like # of hours of deep work I manage in a typical week. Need to give that more thought.
- It is easily quantified
My son1 is 3 weeks old today. Almost everyone has informed us that these first few weeks are a blur so I’ve been doing my best to capture my thoughts. Here is a dump of things that have crossed my mind since his birth. Roughly in chronological order but also not really.
- He is the most perfect human to ever exist, nbd.
- As fucked as our healthcare system is in this country – and I do believe it is very fucked up – the people who work within it are amazing. It is the system and the corporations that deserve criticism – not the practitioners. Everyone we encountered while my wife was in labor and immediately after was amazing. I am so grateful for all of them and couldn’t imagine working in such a stressful profession myself.
- Not being in the delivery room with my wife seems so insane to me. I know that used to be common. But why? She benefitted from my support and presence. I wanted to be involved. It felt like a better arrangement for everyone.
- My wife delivered him without any pain medication, which I can hardly fathom. In one of our birthing classes the instructor was comparing labor to running a marathon. Uhm, I’ve run a marathon and now I’ve witness a natural birth… they are not even close to being the same. It took me a little over 3 hours to run a marathon and I wasn’t really in much distress until about 2 hours and 30 minutes into it. You pace yourself. I had also done long runs (up to 22 miles) so I was pretty familiar with the pain and discomfort. It wasn’t new. It was tough, sure. But you can’t prepare for labor and it seemed many orders of magnitude harder.
- He was 5 days late. Those 5 days, as you can imagine, felt very long. So the due date seemed inaccurate. But after more thought – it takes an estimated 280 days to make a tiny human. So it taking 285 in the end is less than a 2% miss. It seems unbelievable close with that framing.
- I’ve done much better with little sleep than I would have guessed. Tired at times and it certainly isn’t easy but I expected to be much more fatigued. Dad adrenaline or something?
- I got comfortable holding and soothing him really quickly. In general, I’ve felt at ease with him. The only times when I’ve felt panicked or worried about his care have been at night. I wake up terrified about him somehow getting into bed with us. He is always happily in his bassinet. I guess all the posters in the hospital about the dangers of co-sleeping are deep in my subconscious or something. I am hoping this will pass.
- There was a moment when I felt bad for how much I was using my phone. But I was using it almost entirely to take pictures and videos of him and to share those with our family. This is much different than my usual phone usage. We’re quick to assume any phone usage as bad. I’m not going to worry myself about how much I am documenting this little dude’s life though.
- Breastfeeding is hard. Like much, much harder than I would have expected. It has been, by far, the biggest source of stress for us. It is one of those things I had heard before but never internalized until having first hand experience.
- We wanted to avoid using formula but he wasn’t gaining weight with breast milk alone so we had to supplement. This was hard to accept initially. But in the end, certainly giving him nourishment is better than having him starve. So what is the alternative?
- I skew pretty stoic but he has put a good dent in that. We were watching an episode of Queer Eye and I burst out crying one day. It was an episode where they were helping a music teacher who had dedicated her life to her students. The idea of there being such good people in the world and that people like that are going to help little Buckley grow up really struck a chord with me.
- Going back to work has been hard. Tired and distracted are not the ingredients for peak performance. But I’m getting back into the groove. And it is nice to have some blips of normalcy in the day that is otherwise consumed by this little critter.
I’m probably forgetting a whole host of other observations and thoughts I’ve had about this dude. I suspect this will not be the last time I post about him.
Important update: the dishwasher and laundry machine have been life savers. We’re constantly cleaning something. I feel fortunate to have access to both.
It still seems wild to type that… ↩
I’ve been working at User Interviews – a fully remote company – for over 2 years now. I keep meaning to summarize my thoughts on remote work.
But this post came along and pretty much did it for me. A lot resonated with me. Some highlights. 👇
“The way to look at remote work is that it’s a series of tradeoffs. You enjoy benefits in exchange for disadvantages. The uptake of remote work over the next decade will depend most on the minimization of those disadvantages rather than the maximization of the benefits. Reason being, the benefits are already substantial while many of the disadvantages will be lessened over time with technology and process improvements.”
This feels exactly right. No commute, more flexibility, economic advantages, etc. These benefits already exist and aren’t going to get much better.
Whereas the drawbacks and challenges will be better addressed in the next few years. Collaboration and communication tools will continue to evolve. Norms and best practices will emerge and so on.
“I will say this about video meetings though: I have a very hard and sudden limit I reach with them. My first hour or two of video meetings every day are a joy. But the days when I have to do 4 or 5 hours on Zoom, it gets tedious. This is not the case for me with in-person meetings. I feel like in an office full of people you genuinely enjoy, sitting down in a conference room or taking a walk with them is refreshing. It’s part of what makes office life enjoyable… for me at least!”
This mirrors my experience. I love Zoom. Days without any video calls feel isolating.
But a slate of them back to back to back is exhausting. You’re performing for a camera almost. You feel “on.” Often with no real break between calls. A day full of meetings in an office at least usually means walking to different conference rooms. It is chopped up a bit as you physically relocate.
A day full of meetings is never great but it is worse over video.
“In terms of being super-productive in remote environments, the biggest lever is to work as asynchronously as possible. Carve off large chunks of work that you can do on your own without having to check in every hour or even every day. For design reviews, do some of them over video, but collect as much feedback via asynchronous comments as you can.”
Ding, ding, ding. Async is amazing if you can figure it out. Remote provides a natural incentive to figure it out. It’s not easy but it’s great. Plus, you end up with written documentation and other artifacts to revisit that don’t always come out of meetings or whiteboard sessions. It is documentation by default when working async.
A few final add-on thoughts from me:
- Companies fear remote work because they cannot track employees and worry they’ll take liberties. Employees fear remote work because they worry they won’t be able to stop working and set boundries when their home is their office. Seems like a silly misalignment in expectations when you think about it.
- Sometimes I love Slack. Sometimes I hate Slack. I couldn’t imagine working remote without it. But it distracts me a lot too. This deserves its own post.
- A pleasant home environment and socializing outside of work are key. But these should be key for office workers too. A nice home and regular social activities with non-coworkers shouldn’t be disproportionally valued by remote workers. Kind of sad when you flip it this way and realize office workers seem to be more okay forgoing these things without doing so intentionally.
My effort to commit fully to using Jekyll for all of my blogging needs has mostly worked and gone smoothly. It is in a good sweet spot for my technical abilities. I mostly understand it. My basic working knowledge of the command line, ruby, html, css, and git offer enough competence to get it working without too much fussing (usually).
But, more importantly, parts of it are a bit outside my current technical abilities. Sure, I encounter challenges. Often, in fact. But I perceive them as solvable challenges and so I’m motivated to do so. Flow state, deliberate practice, and all that stuff.
But not all challenges are worth solving.
As someone who has worked in Product for over a decade, I know this. It is obviously true at an intellectual level – there isn’t time to solve all of the problems before us. Duh. And I feel confident coaching others through these types of trade-offs. Or being the decision maker on where to draw the line on an effort.
But it is harder when you are the one wrestling with the challenge directly. It is easier to maintain good judgment as a third-party. It is hard to do it yourself and self edit while working on something.
That is all to say – I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to responsively embed media on this blog. It took me longer than it should have to realize the rabbit hole I was going down. It felt like a solvable challenge1 so I stubbornly insisted on trying to solve it.
But no solutions were presenting themselves. Some required moving off hosting on Github pages so I could use plugins, which means introducing a CI tool. Others required making a ton of custom CSS in various
No solutions that met my needs or abilities2.
But in earlier in my googling, I had stumbled across iFramely. A paid service for solving this problem. I didn’t want to pay for anything. But they offer a “Check URL” page where you can paste in any link and it spits out responsive embed code…
I thought about it a bit more. On average, I only post a few times a week. And maybe only a third of those posts need to handle an embed. I’m not going to be doing this terribly often. How slick of a solution do I need?
So there you have it. Now when I find a link I’d like to share, I take 5 seconds to copy it into iFramely and paste the output. It is an extra step, sure. But it is simple and it works.
Sometimes, it is good to re-learn a lesson the hard way.
And it still does, tbh – it is 2019 how hard can it be to embed links… ↩
This Jekyll codex has a “without plugins” section that looked very promising. It worked perfectly for Youtube links but Vimeo wasn’t working for me. Beyond that, looking at the code for it, I did not feel confident that I could expand it to work with other services any time soon. ↩
I’m not quite sure what to make of this? At a minimum, it is fascinating. And I love that someone took the time and effort to create it. It kind of works pretty well?
I’m surprised this didn’t get on my radar 10 years ago when it was first released. It’s a good gimmick and I love gimmicks.
Give it a listen.
I have no musical talent but I’ve gotten a real kick figuring this device out. I’d recommend picking one up. ↩
Had an interaction yesterday that felt like the internet at its best. I asked on twitter for intros to user researchers who work across cultures / countries. Got referred to Robyn Larsen. Ended up checking out her website where I found the illustrated print above, which I believe belongs to this artist.
5 minutes of serendipity and clicking links into discovering a cool graphic and an artist to follow.
It ain’t all bad online.
My wife and I heard this for the first time randomly on Spotify with no knowledge of what it was. Gradually, we started to realize it was awfully repetitive and laughing aloud. But we still thought it was real for a moment. Finally it clicked that this had to be a parody of some sort. It was a confusing and hysterical couple of minutes.
The backstory is kind of amazing. A real musician named Dustin Christensen made a joke version of one of his own songs.
For years, the two have recorded joke versions of Christensen’s songs. Their format is simple: Take the song’s opening line, and say it as many different ways as possible. “Parked Out by the Lake” lampoons Christensen’s song “Vacant Motel Heart.” (That one has only 5,000 plays on Spotify — “The original song is ruined forever,” Christensen said with a laugh.)
He didn’t even release it himself. It was a private joke with friends that leaked somehow. I love it.
I should offer a disclaimer upfront that I like Kindles. I know many prefer the feel of a real book. I do too in certain instances. But the convenience and portability appeal to my pragmatic nature.
My previous Kindle was a 6th Gen Paperwhite from 2013. It was still in decent shape and working well – actually not bad for a 6 year old piece of consumer tech.
But the Kindle trade-in program1 combined with handling an Oasis in an Amazon store put me over the edge and got the upgrade wheels in motion.
I’ve had it for about a week now, here is my quick review.
- Screen is much crisper. 300ppi vs. 220ppi on my previous device. Text is noticeably sharper and more pleasant to read. I didn’t have an issue with the previous screen until after using this screen. You really cannot go back once you adjust.
- Physical buttons for turning the pages. 🙌 Though I wish there was an option to disable the touchscreen page turns as a software setting. Craig Mod’s essay on this explains it better than I will so I’m not going to bother.
- The software and interactions are snappier and less laggy.
- Waterproof. Unclear often this will come in handy but a nice insurance policy.
- The width is a little awkward. I loved being able to quickly stash my Paperwhite in a back pocket when I was out and needed my hands. i.e. Commuting on a subway. The Oasis doesn’t fit in a pocket, which is a shame. I’ll probably have a backpack with me more often than not when using this outside the house but it is a slight bummer all the same.
- The little notch / ledge to help you hold it isn’t as ergonomic as it could be. At least for my hands2. The material is a little slippery. The ledge isn’t quite pronounced enough to really get a good hold on it. It is nice and I like having it. It just feels like a missed opportunity. I expected the holding ledge to be the best part of the device. It is meh. I think putting a case on it might help. For now, I’m leaning on gaffer tape…
I guess to summarize – I like it but I expected to love it.
Sadly, this ended up being disappointing and frustrating. I was under the impression that all trade-ins included a 25% off coupon for your next Kindle purchase. Somehow I ended up without this benefit and instead received a measly $5 credit. I ended up getting a refurbished 1st Gen Oasis for slightly less than I would have paid for a 2nd Gen new model with 25% off applied so… 🤷 ↩
I have pretty average male sized hands? ↩
Today – August 15th – is our 4th wedding anniversary. Which is great but it feels very overshadowed as we await the arrival of our first child.
Because today my wife also happens to be 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant.
We hit the 39th week on Sunday and it felt like an important milestone. After all, most babies are born between weeks 39 and 41.1
It has been a weird milestone, though… because nothing really changed?
It feels like something should have changed. But it hasn’t. We’re still in the same spot – the baby could arrive tonight or it could arrive over a week from now. Either of those outcomes would be totally normal and we have no idea which one it will be.
Beyond testing my patience2, it is also a big distraction for us. You can’t help think about it constantly while still trying to kind of go about your life as usual. It is a strange experience and a strange waiting game. Hence the title of this post. Time feels excuratingly slow waiting for her to go into labor. But once it happens, everything happens.
Either way, we’re beyond thrilled to meet this little dude. Maybe he’ll be our anniversary present this year? 🤞
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Finally saw this movie. It was phenomenal. A+. Soundtrack is solid too.
- The Lost Boy album by YBN Cordae. I wasn’t familiar with this at all until my brother recommended it. It is a nice listen. Lost & Found stands out.
- The Busy Trap article in NYT.
- “The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.”
- Mid-August weather in the high 70s and low 80s without too much humidity. It was a perfect New England summer weekend. Even managed to snag a fantastic lobster roll from Little Harbor Lobster, which is currently in the lead for my favorite lobster roll in the area.
- This entire radio station on Spotify.
- How a garden buddha statue changed a neighborhood in Oakland
- Styling embed links, particularly iframes, to be responsive to page width is way more complicated than it seems. I moved all of my old tumblr posts over to this self-hosted jekyll blog and that has been an unexpected complication. I’m going to work on fixing it next week. Happy with the transition overall, though.
- Related to above – I realized need to clean up how the CSS for this site is organized. I’ve managed to grossly overcomplicate it.
- Whimsical’s sticky note stacks work well for breadboarding. We’ve been using this more and more lately at work and it is a great way to quickly explore an idea or workflow.
- Preeclampsia is scary. My wife is 39 weeks pregnant today with our first child. Two days ago, her blood pressure was up a bit (it quickly returned to normal and she and the baby are fine). It was enough to set off some internal alarms and mild panic. Having kids is complicated but we’re almost done and he is almost here!
The new Chance album hasn’t quite clicked for me (yet anyways) like his previous efforts have but I like this song a lot.
Our first child is set to arrive any day now and this advice resonated. Interested to see how it holds up once the kid is actually here.
Sad I did not know much about John Dingell until he passed. What a guy.
Homer gets it.
I could basically share every episode of 99% Invisible – it is one of my favorite recurring podcasts – but the mini-episodes are particularly fun. I loved all of these stories.