Books and Links: May

This month has been very busy... and I'm afraid I've fallen victim to spending more of my time on Factorio or other distractions. Life is full of balls in the air... Lord willing it'll slow down as the summer progresses. I'm currently in the middle of... four books? I really need to double down on just one.


Alas, I’ve seen many, many framework-driven sites that are most definitely not that operating at that scale. Trys speaks the honest truth here:

We kid ourselves into thinking we’re building groundbreakingly complex systems that require bleeding-edge tools, but in reality, much of what we build is a way to render two things: a list, and a single item. Here are some users, here is a user. Here are your contacts, here are your messages with that contact. There ain’t much more to it than that.

More wisdom from Jeremy Keith.


The Reinvention of Birmingham, Alabama

I love the city I grew up in... and it's only getting better. HT to Ed Hart for the link.


Moving toward a gender equitable internet

Online services tend to be designed with “one device, one user” in mind, but this principle doesn’t hold true for all women. Many women that we spoke to share their devices with family members.

Super fascinating insight.


TurboTax Deliberately Hides Its Free File Page From Search Engines — ProPublica

That's... really shady.


Nothing Fails Like Success

A family buys a house they can’t afford. They can’t make their monthly mortgage payments, so they borrow money from the Mob. Now they’re in debt to the bank and the Mob, live in fear of losing their home, and must do whatever their creditors tell them to do.

Welcome to the internet, 2019.

Interesting perspective. I think I agree. I certainly have been feeling a lot more joy working on my personal website than any social network in a long time.

It’s too late for current internet businesses (victims of their own success) that are mortgaged to the hilt in investor gelt. But could the next generation of internet startups learn from older, stable companies like Basecamp, and design products that pay for themselves via customer income—products that profit slowly and sustainably, allowing them to scale up in a similarly slow, sustainable fashion?


Itemizing Responsibilities

Awesome idea for quantifying and understanding the weight of "adulting."

It’s a bit obsessive and trite but quantifying what I need to be thinking about on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis has helped my brain immensely. My 5-column board gives me a 10,000 foot view of everything I need to get done to feel like a responsible adult. It’s still early days but I’m pleased with the results thus far and have begun offloading more parts of my brain into Notion.

(I'm not a Notion subscriber, but I think that I'll probably try this in my bullet journal as a start.)


1960: The Year The Singularity Was Cancelled

To review: population growth increases technological growth, which feeds back into the population growth rate in a cycle that reaches infinity in finite time.

But since population can’t grow infinitely fast, this pattern breaks off after a while.

The Industrial Revolution tried hard to compensate for the “missing” population; it invented machines. Using machines, an individual could do an increasing amount of work. We can imagine making eg tractors as an attempt to increase the effective population faster than the human uterus can manage. It partly worked.

But the industrial growth mode had one major disadvantage over the Malthusian mode: tractors can’t invent things. The population wasn’t just there to grow the population, it was there to increase the rate of technological advance and thus population growth. When we shifted (in part) from making people to making tractors, that process broke down, and growth (in people and tractors) became sub-hyperbolic.

As usual with SSC, fascinating ideas from a different worldview... I don't always agree but I'm always fascinated.


When I Sit Down At My Editor, I Feel Relaxed

We have covered a number of practical efforts to reduce the incidental complexity of a programming environment, and to make the editing experience more direct, adaptive to context, and intuitive. The efforts are incomplete, but feel promising: I hope they might provoke interesting critique, debate, and further work. I would now like to conclude with a short note about why work in this field might matter.

This is an interesting "editor" experiment, similar to and the work of worrydream.

I must admit, I liked it partly because of the interesting ideas, but mostly because I adore having the footnotes on the side column as a commentary to the essay, and I want to steal it for this blog. :P


How to Deliver Constructive Feedback in Difficult Situations

I was guilty of making excuses: It will sort itself out; they’ll eventually stop doing it; there are more important things to focus on. Of course, delaying these conversations always made things worse. And, sometimes, it even led to crises.

Great article, contains some excellent practical advice, like this:

Our brains are hardwired to take raw information and instantly create simple stories to explain them — good or bad, right or wrong, hero or villain. These stories are evaluations, and they are very hard to separate from observations. Here are a few examples to illustrate the difference:

  • Evaluation: “You are lazy” (which is a character attack). Observation: “You said that you’d send the document last week, and I haven’t received it.”
  • Evaluation: “Your work is sloppy” (which is a criticism). Observation: “Three of the numbers in the report were inaccurate.”
  • Evaluation: “You’re always late,” (which is a generalization). Observation: “You arrived 10 minutes late to the meeting this morning.”
  • Evaluation: “You ignored me.” (which implies intent). Observation: “I sent you two emails, and I haven’t received a response.”


Perspective | Alexa has been eavesdropping on you this whole time

Would you let a stranger eavesdrop in your home and keep the recordings? For most people, the answer is, “Are you crazy?” Yet that’s essentially what Amazon has been doing…

I listened to four years of my Alexa archive and found thousands of fragments of my life: spaghetti-timer requests, joking houseguests and random snippets of “Downton Abbey.” There were even sensitive conversations that somehow triggered Alexa’s “wake word” to start recording, including my family discussing medication and a friend conducting a business deal.

You can listen to your own Alexa archive here. Let me know what you unearth.

It’s not unusual or illegal… but you should consider this.


Wikipedia:List of hoaxes on Wikipedia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I've long maintained a folder of weird pages on wikipedia... I thought I'd start posting some of the odder ones. This is just what you think it is... a list of all the lying pages that have ever been on wikipedia.

There's a reason it has to begin with a plead to not make any more... people are just going to keep doing it.


How the Web Spread When No One Knew What It Was - The History of the Web

How did the web spread? Little by little, person to person. On mailing lists and in hallway conversations at conferences and on BBS boards and elsewhere in what was already a great digital abyss. The web enabled computers to connect to other computers but it is, and has always been, people all the way down. People loved the web, so people spread the web.

But it wasn’t always that way.


Why All Eyes Are on Billie Eilish, the New Model for Streaming Era Success

Content warning: Strong language.

I'm still trying to figure this out... is she an artfully contrived art-piece, an intentional zeitgeist to capture teenaged angst and transform victims into a power fantasy, or is she a genuinely brilliant artist who has the power to preach and nerve to seize the day before she's old enough to drive?

Either way, she stands in a long line of female power pop-stars that are capturing hearts and defining a generation, and if only for worldview analysis we should listen and try to understand.

“[My music] is about comfort, and it’s about ‘I know how you are feeling, and you are not alone,’ ” says Eilish. With the press of a button, she can connect with her 21.3 million Instagram followers. But a quick scan of her account -- where Eilish’s unfiltered photos reflect the current “I am who I am” approach preferred over perfectly posed shots -- offers no evidence that she just played Coachella, the social media content magnet of festivals.

The weird nature of trying to be a total artist in a world of algorithmic playlists and timelines is explored a little bit:

When Spotify first featured “Ocean Eyes” on its New Music Friday playlist, the song didn’t resonate like hip-hop did at the time. But the metrics, says Spotify head of global genre groups Mike Biggane, called to mind Post Malone, whose core fans drove his engagement on the platform before his mainstream breakthrough with “rockstar.” When “Lovely” with Khalid dropped, Eilish’s whole catalog exploded. “This is what true reactivity looks like in an attention economy,” says Biggane. “She’s always focused on her core fan base. Credit’s due to her team for maximizing opportunity as her audience developed.”


The Web Is a Customer Service Medium (

“Why wasn't I consulted,” which I abbreviate as WWIC, is the fundamental question of the web. It is the rule from which other rules are derived. Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.

"Why wasn't I consulted" could be only part of the equation... "I would never have done it like that" seems to be a close second. I feel like the author is narrowing down on saying that humanity is prideful as a whole...

What makes MetaFilter a success?

Matt: I'd like to think it's intense moderation and customer service.

That is the point that I am trying to make. The web is not, despite the desires of so many, a publishing medium. The web is a customer service medium. “Intense moderation” in a customer service medium is what “editing” was for publishing.

Good stuff. HT to Christian Crumlish for the link.


The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Adam Savage (#370)

Content warning: strong language

As is usual with this podcast, some really wonderful moments of clarity and wisdom, such as this gem around finding a career path:

I got very quickly that there was a fundamental difference between their drive to study the thing and my desire to be a thing.

Also on drive:

“Your problem,” he said, “is you have talent, but no ambition.” I go, “Really?” And he goes, “Yeah. If you had ambition, you wouldn’t be talking to me. You’d be saying, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. George Lucas, I can’t make that by Tuesday.'”

And he really was totally correct. This was a guy who had been born and raised in Manhattan, and the thing that I now understand is that Manhattan is an amazing city if you know what you want out of Manhattan. It is a place built on and for ambition, and the people who get their work out and get seen in Manhattan have busted their a-- to do it because it’s the singular focus in their life.

Later, about realizing that working for a living was as fulfilling as art:

“I get this. I get that this work for commerce is satisfying the emotional and aesthetic need I have to explore this type of problem solving I was exploring in my art, and now I can point all of that towards this career, and I am steadfastly never going to say ‘I used to be an artist.’ Because it is the same mechanism.” [...]

[...] I think most importantly I didn’t consider it a loss of a purity. To take that energy and point it towards something that had to do with commerce, because I also saw that the commerce was feeding me. That this was a thing I could call a career, and hells bells, if it gave me the same kind of output thrill as making art, screw it. Let’s totally go towards this. Let’s see where it leads.

On failure and learning to “fail fast,” some excellent insight:

What we really mean when we say failure is we mean iteration. We mean the creative process is messy and it’s iterative and you have to chase up a lot of wrong branches in order to get to the right one. And you’re never going to end up where you think you’re going to end up. And while some people may think that that’s failure, a true creator knows that you follow the thing to where it’s going, not to where you think it ought to go

There's also some wonderful discussion of the mindset of creation:

Savage: So at the beginning, [..] the mental process you’re going to go through is going to be one of a constant gear switching, from the macro to the micro. [...] It’ll be this kind of constant back and forth.

For me, after all the years of experience that I have, it’s a very different mental process. I look around and I see the wall (project he's working on) as a set of like — I’m instantly translating it as a set of actions from the real thing to the smaller thing.

And so there comes a point in the making of things, in which the discipline you’ve chosen gets past that gear-switching mode and goes towards an almost entirely mental mode, where, I build something in my head first, and then what I do with my hands is just cutting the chunks I see in here.

I've felt that way with a few of my hobbies and skills, and it's a wonderful thing, and I've never seen it explained better.


Focused #73: Productivity and Art with Bob Reynolds - Relay FM

I've really been enjoying this podcast, and this episode is no exception. The discussions on being in love with the result rather than the process, and how that can lead people astray in their careers is worth the listen.


Perspective | It’s the middle of the night. Do you know who your iPhone is talking to?

More creepy findings about how you are the product. If an app or service is free... chances are it's taking your data and selling it to whoever pays them the most.


The iOS-Only Podcasting Kit

Pretty amazing what is possible these days with just mobile devices.


The World-Wide Work

At this point, I think I just subscribe to Adactio for accessiblity advice and links to amazing talks. This one is amazing... Ethan Marcotte delivers again. Very good.


  • 2022-06-08 11:31:29 -0500
    Rename articles

  • 2020-06-18 14:26:02 -0500
    Move everything to CST

    Don't know why I didn't do that before. It caused _no_ end of

  • 2019-06-06 13:10:58 -0500
    Fix a *lot* of broken links... sorry y'all!

  • 2019-05-31 22:04:27 -0500
    New post: Books and Links May