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For topics that aren’t quite essays but aren’t quite tweets, either. (A self-imposed rule: no entry here should take longer than ten minutes to write and publish.)

I recently came across Mela on the App Store.

It is a delightful app. Nothing clever or fussy — just the underlying architecture of an RSS reader / HTML prettifier niched down to the world of recipe management.

It is a very clever app for that exact reason. The developer is also behind Reeder, a well-known RSS application and it is fairly obvious from comparing the two that they share a lot of DNA, both in terms of UI and underlying architecture.

I am envious of this! This is a smart way of extending yourself far as an independent developer: build something, find what else can be built (and marketed) using what you’ve already built. (I’m not suggesting that Mela is literally part of the Reeder codebase, but that doesn’t matter — the tacit knowledge you get transfers just as easily as library code, and in some cases even more easily.)

I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV lately as a white mage, which of course is a healer class. Healer classes are a little different in XIV these days: I fell in love with healing back ten or so years ago playing Warcraft, where the entire job of a healer was to keep the party alive. On hard content this was a full time job: you’ve got to be glued to the tank while making sure no DPSes pull aggro or befoul themselves of raid/dungeon mechanics. But on easy content healing is…peaceful. There’s a fair bit of downtime (especially with a veteran tank), and your character’s limits mean that you’re often spending more time running than casting.

XIV has shifted this paradigm. Healers are now distinguished by the fact that they can also heal as opposed to only healing, and you get some side-eye from the rest of the party if you approach your role as if in the 2010 zeitgeist. On a good day you can approach 80% of a dedicated DPS’s output, meaning that playing a healer is more about brinksmanship — how aggressively can you deal damage without having your tank die?

I think this is probably a stilted metaphor for how I’m approaching engineering management these days, but it’s hard not to notice the parallels. The EMs who I admire most are new-style healers: they unblock, they foster, they plan, but they are deeply technical and Do The Work. The EMs who I, even if I admire, do not envy, are old-style healers: their calendar is a proxy for productivity, and they fill their downtime with ‘the work about the work’.

I set two streak goals in July:

  1. Drinking less 1. This one fell a little short but was great overall. I had to tweak my definition of less; I’m not great at refusing a single beer in social situations (such as grabbing dinner with someone on a Thursday), but I ended up cutting my alcohol intake sincerely. This fell apart in the last week of the month because I was traveling, more or less on vacation, and drinking (not a huge amount — one to two drinks) every night. Still, good! I’d like to keep this up.
  2. Writing two hundred words every day. 2_. This one went…poorly. I didn’t even count for the back half of the month, which is never a good sign. I think this is more of a meta thing: just like last month, I’m bad at these creative or output-focused tasks because they always seem to fall off of my todo list and so I only notice them at the end of the night as I’m wrapping things up.

August’s goals (now that I’m exactly one day into the month) are going to be twofold:

  1. Clear out my inbox every morning before starting work. This is going to be a tough one, I’m not going to lie — I’m really bad at this historically. I also think if I get good at this it will be hugely beneficial to my mental state, which is why I’m excited about it.
  2. Write two hundred words every day. That’s right, I’m back at this again — I am so disappointed with how last month went I want another crack at it (starting, of course, with this very post!) I’m going to keep myself a little more honest by keeping a log of what I’ve written.
  1. Less meaning “zero drinks on weekdays, two drinks on weekends.” 

  2. Public meaning “published to the internet”. Blog posts count; snippets count; documentation counts; internal memos do not count. 

I set two streak goals in June:

  1. Close all of my rings. This one was uneventful and easy: I was already pretty good about it, and making a goal out of it made it even more so. 30 for 30, baby!
  2. Game for at least thirty minutes on something non-trivial 1. This one went…poorly. I got 20 days of out 30, having missed almost all of the penultimate week in June and a scattershot of days before then. The penultimate week was because of on-call, but really what bums me out is the scattershot weeks: I didn’t make it enough of a discipline, and it just fell out of the world at the end of the night.

July’s goals are going to be in a similar vein (one for health, one for mind): writing two hundred public 2 words every day and drinking less [^3].

[^3] Less meaning “zero drinks on weekdays, two drinks on weekends.”

  1. “Non-trivial” is perhaps a bit idiosyncratic, and I mean it to exclude games that don’t “complete” in a useful way (Rocket League, Basketball GM, etc. — the sort of empty calorie games that are more of a way for me to turn my brain off than to do anything useful with it.) 

  2. Public meaning “published to the internet”. Blog posts count; snippets count; documentation counts; internal memos do not count. 

Tonight’s cocktail was brought to us by Kindred Cocktails via Cocktail Virgin, and one of those blessed occasions where I got to exactly kill two bottles (Rittenhouse, Meletti) and dig into a third I’m trying desperately to kill (Creme de Cacao.) It’s a spirit-forward drink, exactly as you’d imagine, but I was surprised by how little sweetness there is; it’s complex and has a long finish but I think on a second try (which I would definitely do, in a future where I once again have a bottle of Meletti — something probably far off) I might sub rye for bourbon or add a barspoon of 2:1. (or perhaps add more creme de cacao, which does really nicely here — adds a layer of chocolate without turning the thing cloying.)

My friend Shep sent me a new XBOX (Xbox? What’s the right branding?) as a parting use of his Microsoft employee discount. Some notes:

  • The first run experience is surprisingly great. The app-based instructions worked well and it took around ten minutes total to get everything running.
  • The hardest part was putting in my CC information, which is wild because I think that would be perfect for offloading to a mobile device, which already has all of my payments information!
  • The form factor of the hardware is frankly really cute and nice. It looks drastically better than my previous console (a PlayStation 4).
  • The “you can download games from your phone” thing is great UX and also very clever at getting around any sort of iOS/Android revenue-sharing issues; you’re not buying the games, you’re merely preloading them!

Every meeting should have an associated writeup.

Every writeup should have exactly three sections:

  • Decisions made
  • Action items
  • Raw Notes

D, A, RN. The DARN Paradigm!

This is useful across a couple of axes. It makes it easy to skim meetings that you were absent from (which encourages people to not attend meetings, an unquestionably good thing.) It identifies meetings that don’t have clear decisions made or action items (which encourages you to cancel those meetings or push them in directions that force actions). It means you have a clear thing to review at the end of meetings (okay, so who’s doing X? what about Y? Are we all in agreement about Z?)

It’s good! Use the DARN paradigm.

(Why is this called the DARN Paradigm? Because this is the exact kind of sensible-but-low-stakes thing that you could write a fluffy 170-page book about and start a slow but inexorable rebrand as a “business expert”, and of course it needs a hackneyed, overwrought name.)

I’ve been making a fair number of Manhattans lately.

Manhattans were my ur-cocktail: my best friend’s parents in college made me them, I got comically drunk, I fell in love with them, et cetera. Even once I turned 21 and started taking cocktails “seriously”, the Manhattan was my launching pad for mixology: I tinkered with proportions, with aging, with vermouth substitutions.

Along the way, I slowly realized that while I loved Manhattans, I enjoyed Martinis and Old Fashioneds more — both seemed to suit my palate more. And so prior to the past few weeks, I could probably count on one hand the number I’ve had in the past three years despite always having vermouth and rye on hand.

I don’t know why, but something made me go back to the well recently, and I’ve been falling in love all over again. I think the Manhattan is the Best Cocktail — the platonic ideal of what a cocktail is. It beats out the Martini (a drink most commonly defined by how non-cocktail-y it is, to invoke Winston Churchill’s classic quip) and the Old Fashioned (by virtue of only having one base).

I devote a surprising amount of mental real estate to vacuuming, even though on the list of weekly chores it is minuscule — maybe fifteen minutes at most (usually closer to eight). Certainly it is less than dishwashing (around ninety minutes a week), which I don’t even bother capturing on a todo list — it is just a Thing That Happens, when we run out of dishes. I don’t mind vacuuming either: certainly it is a bit of a hassle, having to lug it up the narrow basement stairs and I hate flushing out the repository of hair & dust & grime. So why do I assign it the weight of an hour-long effort in my head? It is not clear.

I think there are a lot of work items that I do this to, as well. Writing out PR descriptions — something that certainly takes less than five minutes but leads to a much more harmonious product, both for me and my reviewer. Answering certain emails: ones that involve DNS spelunking, for instance (a slightly annoying task, but one with a very bounded problem space.)

Maybe it’s the Sisyphean nature of vacuuming? Left to my own devices — and absent any other humans — I would probably vacuum once a quarter. I am not sure.

An idle thought I had while finally admitting defeat and purchasing a handful of shirts last night to replace my old Ralph Lauren OCBDs (which are glorious and I will miss them, but RL has stopped selling them in the specific cut that I purchased them en-masse in 2015): a common trope in deckbuilding games like Slay The Spire or Dominion is that every card you add to your deck is one that you should be excited to draw more than half of the cards in your existing deck (i.e. raising the median value of your deck.) This doesn’t translate exactly to building a capsule wardrobe — you’re not shuffling your wardrobe and picking a random five items every day! — but I think it tracks, and perhaps selfishly I think the idea of a capsule wardrobe has more than a few parallels with that of running a thin deck in these games. (So now, I didn’t pull the trigger on a second chambray shirt even though I’d probably enjoy it. It just clutters up the deck, so to speak.)

After a long day of cleaning, we decided to unwind with the CGGF. We tinkered with the proportions a little bit — in particular, doubling the amount of gin to make it more full-bodied — but it was quite refreshing and turned out well. Making the cucumber juice was a bit of a pain (we ended up throwing a full cucumber into the Nutribullet and then straining, which was lossy but turned out well); the ginger syrup is really fun though I struggle to think of what else it could be used for. Would happily make and drink again!

I am playing through [[Bravely Default II]] and enjoying it quite a bit more than some of the tepid reviews primed me! There are some rough edges — the loading time especially — but it is doing a lot of interesting JRPGs that I enjoy. Some of them that come to mind:

  1. The per-job ability sets are really, really good. I haven’t hit the “synergy and combos break the game wide open” part of the game yet, but the amount of support abilities and interesting combinations feels really good.
  2. Accessories actually matter! Each has really interesting stat combos and it’s not just a matter of “ok give the fighters defensive stuff and give the mages +MP stuff.”
  3. Weight is a very cool system that forces you to think about things more than just “okay, what is Best In Slot for everyone?”

In general, it’s a game that seems to give you a lot of interesting choices and I really, really like that.

Continuing our weekday tradition of a tiki wind-down, we made Old Port Painkillers last night.

We…were underwhelmed. I think the beauty of painkillers is in the use of coconut creme, which gives it a bit of thickness and novelty that this iteration wholly lacks. It was basically… rummy muddled orange juice. Do not recommend!

Tonight’s cocktail was the Sea Beast, a tiki drink featuring Fernet. H was hesitant — she hates Fernet — but it ended up being quite a crowdpleaser. All you really get from the Fernet is a little bit of bitterness & herbacity on the finish, and the nutmeg in a highball works really nicely on the nose. On our second crack at it, I turned the rhum agricole into a split base of rhum and spiced rum (Kraken, because we have some lying around) and I preferred that — gave it a bit more of a complexity and depth.

After a stint last year of actually completing games, I’m back to abandoning stuff two thirds of the way through. It’s frustrating! I just sunk four hours into [[Child of Light]] and abandoned it for [[Bravely Default II]]; before that I spent a solid forty hours in [[Stardew Valley]] before burning out.

I know there’s nothing morally wrong with not finishing games. Games are leisure and stopping stuff that I’m not having fun with is probably the right thing to do. But I find it weird that I’m almost masochistic about completing books that I despise and yet I can’t summon the energy for games.

(If I don’t actually finish Bravely Default II, I swear…)

It is tiring to make decisions, and it is easy to think from the outside that certain artifacts are deliberate as opposed to made from a lack of decision.

I wasn’t expecting to get Fireballed today (though, yay!), but one of the things Gruber calls out is that the newsletter still defaults to including tracking. This isn’t deliberate: it’s an artifact of that being an opt-out and then me not changing anything or revisiting it in the past three years.

One of the hurdles I have yet to overcome is the ability to constantly choose. As I juggle various hats — manager, engineer, tester, entrepreneur — the failure case I run into most is that I end up choosing paths of least resistance when I have engineering energy (tech debt; obvious feature additions; bug fixes.) This has been ameliorated somewhat with me spending time in December carving out what the high-priority work for Buttondown has to be, but now I’m seeing it bleed into Stripe life a little. (Chatted with Peter today, too, who confirmed that he fell into the same thing — it is encouraging to hear that I’m not the only one for whom this is the case.)

Tonight’s cocktail of choice, courtesy of cocktail virgin. There is a certain class of cocktail that is best described as “base plus plus”; a french 75 is champagne plus plus, the Southern 75 is beer plus plus, and this is of course a mimosa plus plus. Anything with passionfruit syrup in it is delightful inherently; the crispness of the champagne offsets it nicely.

Also, as a reminder: the one product I recommend without recommendation is Aunty Lillikoi’s passionfruit syrup. After finishing this sentence I am going back to the store and ordering three more jars.

We have an embarrassment of AirPods in this house. Two regular pairs of AirPods (since deprecated in favor of the Pros), one pair of the AirPods Max (which I’m still evaluating, but largely positive of with the exception of the comical price tag), and… three pairs of AirPods Pro. We got the third pair because H ran one pair through the washer and purchased a new pair before even testing the old pair, which managed to survive the journey (!).

The irony is that somehow the third pair has made it much harder for us to keep track of the first two; we’ve transitioned from a each-person-is-responsible-for-their-AirPods situation to more of a tragedy of the commons, where every time we go for a walk or need to do chores we suddenly have to comb the house for a charged (if we’re lucky) pair.

Every year, come late November, I have twin pangs: “it’s about time to write a year-in-review post” and “ugh, am I really going to write a year-in-review post? Aren’t these the most self-indulgent things ever?”

And of course, yes, they are, in much the same way that I think lifting is self-indulgent or spending three years working on the proportions for your ideal margarita are self-indulgent. Indulgence is good when it hurts nobody and leads to joy!

The slow trickle of posts from folks I follow and respect in late December and early January are delightful, a sort of Advent Calendar of Content. And it has been fun to have some of my late-2020 RSS cultivation habits bear fruit: I discovered the majority of these through Feedbin, rather than Twitter.

My favorites:

But if the work of this year has taught me anything, it’s that getting something, anything out the door in time can make all the difference. Progress over perfection. One foot in front of the other. So here I am, telling an incomplete, imperfect, unsatisfying story, and sharing it with the world before it’s capital-R Ready. And that’s okay. I’ve still got my health, my loved ones, and the privilege of existence. That’s more than enough. Carolyn

This year, I asked myself on more than one occasion and in more than one context, “am I good enough to do this?” I don’t feel sad or depressed about the shortcomings, but I feel I’ve grown in meaningful ways. I don’t feel like this year was a “throwaway” or that I “lost a year”; instead, I feel exhausted from the constant refinement and metamorphosis. Jowanza

Moving a ratio, rather than moving some concrete number (like reading x books, or writing y posts), feels correct. Brian

2020 underscored my suspicion of year-long goals, as so much can change best-laid plans. In 2021, I’ll again stick to quarterly personal goals when aiming for something specific. That’s enough time to focus on a few priorities while remaining flexible. Melanie

Another important consideration is that ‘hours spent on’ is not a great measure of productivity - I want to achieve things and not just spend time doing busywork. Ala

Zack Korman writes about how bad legacy media is at managing digital subscriptions:

However, when an executive asks, “How can tech and data help us to drive digital subscriptions and improve retention,” they aren’t asking about digital storytelling. They are asking about funneling more users into the payment process, managing customer engagement, and the like. They are talking about digital marketing in one form or another. That is where media companies’ tech really fails. Most media companies have inadequate control over the data that is generated on their sites, and the companies that do have that control lack the technical capabilities needed to act on that data.

It’s true! I subscribe to three digital subscriptions of print media — The New Yorker, Lapham’s Quarterly, and The Kenyon Review — and all three experiences seem woefully antiquated (I receive more paper mailers from them than emails.)

I agree with Zack’s points on it being an issue that stems essentially from shipping your org chart, but the other thing it reminds me of is the lack of unifying technology across all media companies. This reared its head last decade with the advent of streaming, and the ultimate solution to the problem (the “problem” being getting a bunch of resource-strapped federated television companies to be able to competently build out a streaming platform) ended up being a productized consultancy spun out of the MLB:

BAM competes for clients with streaming tech companies like NeuLion and Imagine Communications, as well as big telecommunication outfits like Verizon. But, says Dan Rayburn, a streaming industry analyst, “there really isn’t anybody who does the true end-to-end solution like MLB does, especially at scale, out in the market.”

This part from the above article rung true in particular:

“The thing about broadcast television is, today people probably think of it as stodgy old engineers with big beer bellies and a pocket protector,” says Inzerillo. “But the truth is that there are a lot of things about the way they do it, the technology and the philosophy, that make it incredibly stable and scalable.” Inzerillo set out to fuse those two worlds, creating a platform with the agility of a web startup and the reliability of a broadcast network.

All of the engineers involved are talented. Sometimes you just need someone with a six-figure retainer to come in and tell an org “no, you’ve got to organize it this way.” (Or maybe offer a Stripe Connect abstraction with a five-digit price tag, but it seems more likely that will come from someone like Substack moving upstream.)