Books and Links: December

A year comes to a close, I'm going to a year-in-review post later, but until then, here's what I read this month:


Dead Astronauts by Jeff Vandemeer

(Content warning: Some Strong Langauge)

I think I started this year reading the Annilihation trilogy, and finishing it with Vandemeer's lurid fluorescent ravings of a somewhen not far away is appropriate.

As always, Vandemeer leaves me with a rough brush against a flavor of a meaning… no moral but wafting sick odor of the meaningless of human endeavor against the currents of time and nature's endurance. (It's kind bleakly hopeful?)

Sense and Respond by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden

The main benefit of Sense and Respond to me is a description of the other business practices that have to change to support a customer centric agile team: leadership, planning, budget, hiring. It paints a useful picture of what could be if the organization goes all in on understanding the market needs and responding quickly.

Strategy is expressed as intent. Rather than lay out a detailed plan, leadership set direction and asked the folks close to the customer. Commitments are made to outcomes rather than features. By tying initiatives to outcomes rather than to features, leaders gave staff members the flexibility to pursue their missions and use their best judgment to achieve the desired outcomes.

With some time off, I've also caught up on a lot of podcasts and gotten instapaper zero for the first time in years.


Talking a lot about design systems at work, so I've been doing some reading.

Level of Effort

We need to say “death to the waterfall” and quit handing off Zeplin links as gospel. We need to make frontend designers equal partners in the design process. Developers need to snap out of it and demand to be a part of the design process instead of blindly building out bad “requirements”.

I really like the description of the dance between design and development... "hot potato" is as good a description as any.


The Technical Side of Design Systems by Brad Frost

Jeremy Keith again with a great resource for those of us who didn't make it to An Event Apart.

When Brad talks to companies, he asks “Have you got a design system?” They invariably say they do …and then point to a Sketch library. When the focus goes on the design side of the process, the production side can suffer. There’s a gap between the comp and the live site. The heart and soul of a design system is a code library of reusable UI components.


The Mythology of Design Systems by Mina Markham

Mr. Keith always does such a fine job passing on notes on really important and useful talks... he gets "liked" a lot in my instapaper.

The reality is that design systems should be multi-disciplinary. That means engineers but it also means other kinds of designers other than product designers too: brand designers, content designers, and so on.

What you need is a hybrid, or unicorn: someone with complimentary skills. As Jina has said, design systems themselves are hybrids. Design systems give hybrids (people) a home. Hybrids help bring unity to an organization.

Lots of great ideas that I'm going to have to return to in the coming months, but I loved this one:

Your design system is your pantry, not your cookbook.

So well said... and so much more. If nothing else, this is truth:

Myth 3: a design system is a side project


“Link In Bio” is a slow knife

And the ultimate triumph of being anti-web is to make links scarce. The smallest possible number of links a platform could allow is zero, so Instagram gets as close to that theoretical limit as possible, and gives you… one. You can have one link. Aren’t you grateful? One!

This is true...


A Recap of Frontend Development in 2019

The world of frontend development once again evolved at a rapid pace over the past year, and this article recaps all the important events, news, and trends from 2019.

Very interesting look... I need to catch up.


The Thank You Note — A Sketching Tool for UX Hiring

The first time we did it, it felt a bit weird. That’s because it is weird. After all, we’re writing a thank you note to an employee we haven’t hired yet.

I'm going to have to steal this...



The Lesson to Unlearn

The most damaging thing you learned in school wasn't something youlearned in any specific class. It was learning to get good grades. [...] Why did founders tie themselves in knots doing the wrong things when the answer was right in front of them? Because that was what they'd been trained to do. Their education had taught them that the way to win was to hack the test. And without even telling them they were being trained to do this. The younger ones, the recent graduates, had never faced a non-artificial test. They thought this was just how the world worked: that the first thing you did, when facing any kind of challenge, was to figure out what the trick was for hacking the test. That's why the conversation would always start with how to raise money, because that read as the test. It came at the end of YC. It had numbers attached to it, and higher numbers seemed to be better. It must be the test.

This describes directly a reality I’ve known but could not express. As wonderful and open as my education has been, I still struggle with this.


Service Blueprints: Definition

My friend Simo pointed me at this as a tool.

Definition: A service blueprint is a diagram that visualizes the relationships between different service components — people, props (physical or digital evidence), and processes — that are directly tied to touchpoints in a specific customer journey.

Think of service blueprints as a part two to customer journey maps. Similar to customer-journey maps, blueprints are instrumental in complex scenarios spanning many service-related offerings. Blueprinting is an ideal approach to experiences that are omnichannel, involve multiple touchpoints, or require a crossfunctional effort (that is, coordination of multiple departments).

A service blueprint corresponds to a specific customer journey and the specific user goals associated to that journey. This journey can vary in scope. Thus, for the same service, you may have multiple blueprints if there are several different scenarios that it can accommodate. For example, with a restaurant business, you may have separate service blueprints for the tasks of ordering food for takeout versus dining in the restaurant.

Ok Simo. You had my interest, now you have my attention.


The travel agent’s problem

Not just travel agents, but all agents. Information scarcity is disappearing.

Fascinating idea.


Five years, building a culture, and handing it off.

After 5 years, the time has come. This is my last week as Etsy’s CTO. Five years ago I joined a tiny site, with a struggling software product…

Got to this article through the book Sense and Respond… lots of great thoughts.

Theory 1: Nothing we “know” about software development should be assumed to be true.

Most of our tools, our mental models, and our practices are remnants of an era (possibly fictional) where software was written by solo practitioners, but modern software is a team sport.


Is the college wealth premium *zero*? - Marginal REVOLUTION

The college wealth premium (extra wealth) has declined more noticeably among all cohorts born after 1940. Among non-Hispanic white family heads born in the 1980s, the college wealth premium is at a historic low; among all other races and ethnicities, it is statistically indistinguishable from zero.



The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade

(Content warning: Strong Language)

85 min read For the past ten years, I have written a lengthy year-end series, documenting some of the dominant narratives and trends in education technology. I…



Galileo and failure - All this

Last week’s episode of the 99% Invisible podcast was about failure and the problems that arise when we try to design safety systems to prevent failure. I found myself disagreeing with a lot of what was said, but a particular example struck me as flatly wrong. As I looked into it in more detail, I learned that it was wrong for more reasons than I originally thought. [...] To be fair, I’ve been investigating failure professionally for three decades, and it may be that no simplified journalistic approach to the topic of failure would have satisfied me. But there is a line between justified simplification and misleading oversimplification, and one of the show’s examples went over that line.

This is wonderful math nerdery of the highest order. I salute you Dr. Drang.


This Page is Designed to Last: A Manifesto for Preserving Content on the Web

Bookmark after bookmark led to dead link after dead link. Vanished are amazing pieces of writing on kuro5hin about tech culture, and a collection of mathematical puzzles and their associated discussion by academics that my father introduced me to; gone are Woodman's Reverse Engineering tutorials from my high school years, where I first tasted the feeling of dominance over software; even my most recent bookmark, a series of posts on Google+ exposing usb-c chargers' non-compliance with the specification, disappeared.

This is more than just link rot, it's the increasing complexity of keeping alive indie content on the web, leading to a reliance on platforms and time-sorted publication formats (blogs, feeds, tweets).


Brittany Howard - Stay High (Official Video) - YouTube

This makes me feel good. Small town vibes and values.


The Magically Unstructured Life of a Crypto Baller

I schedule anti-procrastination slots with friends whenever I have to do something that I know I’m going to be putting off.

That would be something like collecting all of the papers for my accountant for taxes, which I hate doing. I’ll call a friend and say, “Hey, let’s get together for two hours on Sunday and do all the things that neither of us wants to do.”

It’s so good because everybody is dreading doing something, and if you do it together it’s way less s----y. Misery loves company, so I think it's a good way to do it. You end up just getting it done instead of worrying about it.

I love this. I don't agree with everything she does, but I like this idea a lot.


Trump Unleashed

I don’t know what is scarier, a world where impeachment is meaningless and useless like this author describes, or a world like the one Al Mohler fears where impeachment replaces the peaceful transferal of power every single time.


Memories post-scrapbook, pre-Facebook -

I recently stumbled upon a web project from about 17 years ago that really put into perspective how far certain technologies have come in the last couple of years…

This is wonderful. I miss this era of web experimentation and macgyvering.


  • 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

  • 2019-12-31 19:00:19 -0600
    Fix width of video

  • 2019-12-31 16:29:14 -0600
    First draft: December link post