We’re all beta testers now
I kind of like the plaintive quality of this Pixel Fold post mortem from Ars Technica “I didn’t even do anything, and now it’s broken!” followed up by a very focused and Ars-ian dive into why it is broken. Sounds horrible. I don’t care which brands are involved and do not care about your choice of phone operating system. (OTOH, the NYT likes it.)
There’s lots of bad hardware that isn’t very well designed in the world, so take this as appropriately pre-qualified, but whenever a software company does a hardware thing and it’s bad, my head goes to “of course, because they’re used to iterating on software abstractions.” So why not just make a physical thing and see what happens so you can get it right with the next rev? Sure, sometimes you just kill a product line dead within five months of pushing the latest version of it out into the world, but that’s how they’re used to learning, I guess, so … the tree of commerce has to occasionally be watered with plastic and batteries.
Also, darting back to the NYT’s coverage:
“Still, the progress with foldable technology is good news. A few years ago, handsets from companies like Apple and Samsung seemed to have peaked. Their flagship phones were already incredibly zippy, their screens were big and bright, and their cameras took stunning photos. The smartphone industry, as a whole, became a pile of nearly indistinguishable black rectangles.
“What was left to do?”
I hate that people get paid to write things like that.
Obsidian sync and its discontents
There’s definitely a teething period when you first set up an Obsidian vault. I am trying to keep a minimum loadout of plugins and custom config, but it’s still just sort of odd and mysterious what syncs and what doesn’t. I’m not sure if I’d be better off trying Syncthing for a period, or just getting to a relatively stable configuration using Obsidian sync so that all I have to worry about is grabbing new notes and their edits.
I’d welcome anyone’s insight into how to smooth out plugin and plugin settings syncing, because that’s where it’s the most annoying and least predictable. In the past, when it has gotten wedged badly enough, I’ve solved it by making sure I’ve got a “reference install” on one of the “real computers,” then I remove and reinstall the app from the iOS devices (where the app settings are more reliably nuked at uninstall).
Living in the future
I feel very lucky to have landed at a company that cares about balance and has even worked the idea into its values.
During lockdown and the all-remote-all-the-time period afterward Al and I settled into a routine of morning walks. In their ideal form we take the ~1.5 mile walk out to Carnelian Coffee on Foster Road. On mornings where we’re running late, feeling pressed, or just don’t want to go there we take a walk down the Springwater Trail and out to the Foster Floodplain Natural Area. It’s a great way to start the day. Most of the time we just talk about stuff, some times one of us has a work thing we’re leaning into and want to process. By the time we get home, I feel like I am leaning into the day, not dragging into it.
I’m not rigid about the routine. I’ve got folks in the UK in my group, so I build some time in to touch base with them during the window of mutual availability in the West Coast morning, but I try to protect it. So far, no eyebrows raised that my work calendar is blocked to protect those walks.
This morning we got off to a late start, so there was a chance we’d be rolling in a few minutes behind the start of one of the two standups I drop in on at the beginning of the week. The chain of stuff I did to deal with that … wow there’s a lot we can take for granted:
- Grab the phone. I haven’t used Zoom on it at this company before, so sign in.
- SSO service …
- Password manager …
- Biometric auth …
- Airpods with transparency …
- A 5G connection and pretty good audio …
The WfH counter-revolution is in full swing right now, so most of what I read about remote work is either the WSJ stroking its chin or angry screeds about how in-person work is just, like bad managers being incompetent at our expense, man.
I just know I’m grateful for it, I’m glad it’s a thing my company supports, and it’s something I want for my teams as much as I want it for myself. And I know that when I think about all the tech coming together to allow it to work, it’s pretty amazing. I was a fully remote worker for the first 12 years of my really for real professional career, from 2000 to 2012, and it was all telephones, conference dial-ins, and AOL Instant Messenger to hold it all together.
I do not, however, agree that all the concerns about the office/remote mix come down to bad managers being control freaks. Sorry. I’ve got more time as a remote worker than most I’m in any regular contact with, and I remember how acutely it felt like finally starting to go to an office in 2012 gave me superpowers I’d never imagined. Not as a manager or supervisor, but as a human who needed to work with other humans to get things done. I also remember what it felt like when people who didn’t have a fifth of my experience working full-time remote were suddenly going remote all around me. Communications frayed, the counter-productive parts of an overdeveloped 1:1 culture deepened, and the overall sense of organizational latency went up.
There are definitely things you can do to offset all that. But I noticed that a lot of people were convinced that just because they were working remote and their company was still operating, they must be good at working remote. I was once on a working group formed around evolving into a hybrid-remote footing for the long haul, and it wasn’t lost on me that our first meeting involved someone from marketing talking about how they wanted to turn our non-existent remote-hybrid playbook into marketing collateral right away, “to show people how to do it” when we’d just barely formed a group to discuss all the ways in which we actually had no idea.
I guess what I’m saying is that we’re very well positioned technologically to make the transition, but that it’s not really a technological thing, and that most of us have not actually made the transition. I have known very effective remote cultures who had nothing more sophisticated than a conference line and AOL Instant Messenger. I’ve known companies with all the best collaboration tools at their disposal that remain operational basket cases.
I don’t know how we reconcile the predilection of people with a lot of power and authority to simply seek what makes them most comfortable — let’s call them the “back to the office, proles” faction — with the “efficient completion of my laundry at any time of day is an OKR” faction. They’re the two extremes in what passes for a discourse on the matter, and it comes at the expense of the “I just want to get something done this week” faction. That is, most of us.
I am pretty sure Al and I are going to Peru this fall. We’ve got some passport stuff to deal with, but signs are positive. I promised her a trip somewhere if I got my job stuff sorted out ahead of The Pucker Demarcation Line, and I did, so we’re going provided paperwork and the tourist season in Cusco align.
I’m super excited. Al’s super excited. It’s been forever since we traveled.
Some of our excitement is probably owing to Ben’s own trip to Germany and Switzerland right now. He’s taking 10 days to bike across Germany with two of his friends. It sort of feels like a capstone for his first year away from home.
The trip took me by surprise. It came up a few months ago, expressed in a way that seems perfectly clear and normal to a 19-year-old, and terrifyingly vague to the parent of a 19-year-old. But I just did what I have learned to do over the past year, which is say nothing for a brief blackout period, get my thoughts in order, then begin to ask strategic questions in descending priority order. It seems about right that the last trip-related thing we did was teach him how to load 35mm film into a point-n-shoot camera. “Perfect” would have been getting a roll of film through it and developing the pictures before he left, so I had to settle on spending the last of my self-imposed advice budget:
“Okay. So … remember to advance the film before each shot. If it seems stuck and you’ve taken about 24 photos, don’t try to force it.”
“Can I offer one piece of advice?”
“If you see something that’s just … like … you’re totally moved and want to remember it forever?”
“Just use your phone.”
“*snort* Got it.”
Professional fighters say there’s such a thing as being overprepared, so I think we cut it just about right.
Zooming out a little, I think this is my happiest moment as a parent so far. He took us by surprise wanting to move down to Eugene at all, and it’s been a year of predictable “figure it out” stuff, complicated by my layoff just as he was getting ready to move out. It was hard to be patient when I was doing weekly math on our controlled burn, and possibly even nervewracking during the eerily quiet job-seeking months of January and February.
At the same time, whenever we needed to have a conversation about accountability, he was always there for it. At some point I realized “oh, maybe I’m the one holding on to the baton out of a desire to not spook him about my work stuff.” So with a little prefacing that I didn’t want him to feel burdened, I explained why how we spend money mattered in a way that may not have been apparent before.
So this trip … He told us he was doing it, I asked a few strategic questions, and he made it clear he hadn’t taken our support for granted and meant to plan and pay for it himself. I committed to a certain amount of fallback support, which he accepted in principle. A few times I’d sense that he felt a little restless about the questions, so I stopped asking, and that seemed to create the space to let him come with his own questions. In my parental experience, “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” or “oh, okay” are the silver medals of interactions. Being asked for your advice or experience is the gold.
It feels good to feel so clear about what I make of it all.
It is super weird to have my kid wandering around Europe with a couple of other kids. One of them has been studying there this year, so there’s a little bit of street smarts in the group, but still … weird. I can tell from the texts and videos he sends that he’s happy, so I think he is doing the right thing and living his life the way he should be. That’s what you raise them to do.
The NYT’s attempt to summarize the whole reddit thing manages to cover the basic facts, embarrass the reporter, and frame the whole kerfuffle in such a way that … oh screw it.
We often make the mistake of trying to frame things like the NYT’s myopically CEO-friendly coverage as a “balance” issue. That’s like saying a fish has an unbalanced perspective about air because you’re struggling to explain water to it. It’s not about “balance” or “perspective,” it’s about values. People with values of a certain kind — the kind you can find at a place like the NYT — naturally see this entire thing as a question of a business “maturing.”
In this case, I’m kind of in favor of NYT’s bland, pro-business reporting, because we should be despairing over the ways in which the web was just sort of handed over to these platforms. It should irritate us. The manifest irreconcilability of needs found in this conflict — between those of people building and nurturing online communities and those collecting the rent — is clear. I’m kind of an accelerationist in this regard, similar to how I was about Twitter before I decided to quit caring about it. I don’t have any program or platform to go with my accelerationism. I just know that reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest are run by people who don’t care about what I care about when it comes to technology, connection, people, etc. So the sooner they play out this “end of free money, gotta grow up and squeeeeeze” string, the better.