Books and Links: April

Hey everyone! It’s my birthday today, so lots of opportunities to give thanks. This quarantine time is going to make for a memorable birthday, that’s for sure.

I’m still working on refactoring some of my systems, mostly pulling in reading and links in a different way into my knowledge system. This has enabled a bit more reading, and quite a bit more commentary, so feel free to throw away whatever isn’t useful.

Currently this site is built in middleman and hosted on s3, but I’m thinking about moving it to netlify or codebuild to enable building on git commit, which means I could post from my phone using Drafts and Working Copy… I’ve just been busy with other things.

Books

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck Ph.D

Started reading in April 2019 on kindle. It took me a year because I took a break to finish a bunch of other books. This is one of those books that’s always name-checked in a list of “important books.”

The first part of the book shows the destructiveness of what is dubbed the “fixed” mindset… a world in which you are already all you can be, and you pursue success to prove your worth and avoid failure so that you aren’t revealed as a loser.

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

It also introduces the growth mindset… a worldview where failure and being pushed is an opportunity to grow and become better than you were yesterday. Such a person is less stressed and able to achieve more.

This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

This book has hit very close to home. I considered myself to have above-average intellect as a kid. I was praised as a smart kid. I also considered myself to be not athletic and not disciplined. While I have learned over the next decade and a half how much effort counts, the old lies of a “fixed mindset” are still whispering away and have more influence on my actions than I’d care to admit.

The idea that we can be a mix of growth and fixed makes sense to me. I can see areas of my life: (math, introversion, athleticism) where I have been moved from fixed to growth by the challenges of parents, teachers, or a positive experience. As I am in a new season of leadership and caring for my family, I hope to use some of these tools to be more intentional of putting off a fatal fixed mindset.

I think that some of the stratagems in this book align wisdom from scripture, but the base psychology is more self-centered in motivation. I think it’s compatible with a God-centric worldview, if you reconsider things from a biblical perspective.

Code

How gatsby generates your site at compile-time · Josh W Comeau

I found middleman in 2012, and I have been loving static site builders ever since. I need to check out the newest crop of generators… I honestly just don’t want to end up in Javascript-land. I’m stubborn.

The idea that users can access dynamic data without a made-to-order database request is wild. Think about the weights that it takes off our shoulders:

  • If the database falls over, and the team can’t figure out why, it’s not an emergency because the site is still up and chugging along.
  • If a developer deploys a change that messes up the GraphQL API, you won’t be able to build a new version of the site, but the current version has already made all the requests it needs to, so it isn’t affected.

Your database servers could be teleported to an alternate dimension by an evil wizard, and your users wouldn’t even know that there’s a problem.

How gatsby generates your site at compile-time · Josh W Comeau

Listboxes vs. Dropdown Lists

dropdowns vs listboxes

Following up on last month’s link about not using the word “drop downs” to mean everything, here’s what they actually are and what they actually can be used for.

Summary: Listboxes and dropdowns are compact UI controls that allow users to select options. Listboxes expose options right away and support multi-selection while dropdowns require a click to see options and support only single-selection.

Listboxes vs. Dropdown Lists

Radius: A Design System Accelerator | Rangle.io

I’m not sure I want this yet, but it’s a cool tool.

The Radius DS is a collection of open-source tools and libraries that allow you to accelerate your design system. The choice of tools, their composition, and a set of foundational components guides you on how to build a constraint-based system.

Radius: A Design System Accelerator | Rangle.io

Last night I spent some time reading on my iPad, and I noticed a few articles that I might want to link to from my blog. Except I didn’t want to start creating drafts in iA Writer, or doing any manual work. I just wanted a way to remind myself that I want to link to this at some point.

[…]

So I came up with an idea of two shortcuts, one to store relevant data about the article I wanted to reference, and then another which I could use to select from the list and kick off a draft in iA Writer.

In a way, I’m doing a very similar thing using plain-text and Drafts, but this is a very cool project. If nothing else, it’s a great example how automation tools like Shortcuts allow almost anyone to create the application that they want to use.

Developers, be put on notice: Your URLschemes and Shortcuts integrations are part of your User Experience, and are often the reason I choose your app over another.

How I’m Using Shortcuts and Data Jar To Help Write Link Posts – Chris Hannah

UX

[Don’t] listen to your customers

It is so important to listen past the initial “reading” of a statement to try and find the intent and meaning of a statement.

  • Your customers tend to make up stories to explain their behavior. This is the Press Secretary.
  • These stories tend to attribute behavior to attitudes, beliefs and preferences (e.g. “I care about my future”).
  • The stories tend to discount the choice environment’s influence on behavior (e.g. we don’t say, “the default made me do it”)
  • We’re not aware that any of this is going on. If anything, we are overconfident in our ability to reflect accurately on our behavior.

[Don’t] listen to your customers

The Baymard Institute: A glorious, evidence-based trove of UX best practices

The full reports require payment (a la carte or through a subscription), but Baymard has also published more than 250 freely available articles on their site — each one containing a number of evidence-based recommendations.

Simply put, these articles are some of the best free resources out there for learning about concrete usability best practices. They’re one of my go-to recommendations for those new to UX design.

Well, I feel rather foolish for not knowing about this. Already their UX archive to my RSS reader, and you should too.

The Baymard Institute: A glorious, evidence-based trove of UX best practices

Business

How Will You Measure Your Life? By Clayton Christensen

I had not really heard of this man before his passing, but having read some of his writing I’m eager to learn more.

This article resonated with me greatly as a man trying to balance work and faith in a way that is consistent and effective.

This past year I was diagnosed with cancer and faced the possibility that my life would end sooner than I’d planned. Thankfully, it now looks as if I’ll be spared. But the experience has given me important insight into my life.

I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

Clayton Christensen. How Will You Measure Your Life?, Harvard Business Review. July 2010

Guide to Internal Communication, the Basecamp Way

Companies don’t have communication problems, they have miscommunication problems.

While this is really long, there is a lot of great truth about communication in here. I would really like working at a company that operated this way. It is very anti-meeting and pro-writing.

Some highlights:

Speaking only helps who’s in the room, writing helps everyone. This includes people who couldn’t make it, or future employees who join years from now.

This reminds me of Scott Hanselman’s limited keystrokes principle.

“Now” is often the wrong time to say what just popped into your head. It’s better to let it filter it through the sieve of time. What’s left is the part worth saying.

This is just good counsel in general. The approach I’m attempting to make where I store all outgoing messages in drafts and process them at the end of the day is sort of building this into my world.

Further, we take spacial context seriously. If we’re discussing a specific task, we discuss it in the comment section below the task itself. If we’re talking about a specific document, we discuss it in the comments attached to the document. Communications stay attached to the thing we’re discussing. This provides the full story in one reliable place. The alternative is terrible - communication detached from the original source material, discussions all over the place, fragmented conversations missing entire chunks of time and detail, etc.

This one piece has captured my thinking for several days. It’s a common problem… I have one thread of conversation in JIRA, one in email with the Product Team, one in Slack with the developer, another backchannel private with one developer who has specific questions… I need to be more thoughtful about where I ask questions and start conversations spatially so as to not cause this problem for others.

Guide to Internal Communication, the Basecamp Way

Random

The Amish Health Care System | Slate Star Codex

As always, Jason Alexander ends up with a fascinating look at a tiny microcosm of “what if.”

But by some miracle, the US government played along and granted the Amish exemptions from all the usual health care laws. They don’t have to pay Medicare taxes or social security. They aren’t included in the Obamacare mandate. They can share health care costs the way they want, ignoring any regulations to the contrary. They are genuinely on their own.

They’ve ended up with a simple system based on church aid. Everyone pays tithes to their congregation (though they don’t call it that). The churches meet in houses and have volunteer leaders, so expenses minimal. Most of the money goes to “alms” which the bishop distributes to members in need. This replaces the social safety net, including health insurance. Most Amish go their entire life without needing anything else.

How well does it work?

The Amish outperform the English on every measured health outcome. 65% of Amish rate their health as excellent or very good, compared to 58% of English. Diabetes rates are 2% vs. 8%, heart attack rates are 1% vs. 6%, high blood pressure is 11% vs. 31%. Amish people go to the hospital about a quarter as often as English people, and this difference is consistent across various categories of illness (the big exception is pregnancy-related issues – most Amish women have five to ten children).

His conclusions as to why this works so well for so cheaply are very intriguing, but here are my favorites:

Second, the Amish are honorable customers. This separates them from insurance companies, who are constantly trying to scam providers however they can. […] Fourth, the Amish never sue doctors. Doctors around Amish country know this, and give them the medically indicated level of care instead of practicing “defensive medicine”. If Amish people ask their doctors to be financially considerate – for example, let them leave the hospital a little early – their doctors will usually say yes, whereas your doctor would say no because you could sue them if anything went wrong. In some cases, Amish elders formally promise that no member of their congregation will ever launch a malpractice lawsuit.

Finally and fascinatingly, a sense of stewardship guiding how spending is used.

But for the Amish, those other people are their fellow church members and they feel an obligation to spend it wisely. For the English, the “other people” are faceless insurance companies, and we treat people who don’t extract as much money as possible from them as insufficiently savvy.

If any of this is interesting, you should check out the whole article. It’s worth it.

The Amish Health Care System | Slate Star Codex

NAQT | Buzzword

If you are looking for some quarantine fun, maybe give this trivia game a try.

It’s quite fun, and even the easy level is quite hard.

Buzzword is an exciting online game of knowledge and recall from NAQT, the leading provider of quiz bowl questions. Buzzword will challenge the depth and breadth of your knowledge in an engaging, audio-based format and let you compare your results with those of players at your level from around the world

NAQT | Buzzword

The Most Dangerous Book in the World — I love Typography (ILT)

the frontispiece of the Gospel of St. Matthew in the Tyndale Bible

This is a beautiful article, celebrating the care and craft with which the first translators of the Bible put into their illegal, easily concealable Bible.

While the Bible was being printed in secret, the loose lips of a tipsy workman at a local pub led to a raid on the print-shop, whereupon the unfinished Bibles were confiscated and destroyed. Tyndale managed to salvage a handful of loose sheets when he and his assistant William Roye made a run for it. Only 31 leaves of that first abortive 1525 edition have survived, and are held at the British Library.

The Most Dangerous Book in the World — I love Typography (ILT)

HANIA RANI — F MAJOR on Vimeo

HANIA RANI — F MAJOR from Neels Castillon on Vimeo.

Listening to Hania’s music over and over, I began to dream of a single sequence shot that would follow her music floating in the wind of an unreal Icelandic landscape. I asked each dancer to give a personal interpretation of Hania’s song. We were very lucky to succeed in this insane artistic performance despite the great cold (minus 7 celsius), it was such a moment of truth.

HANIA RANI — F MAJOR on Vimeo