The Basecamp Drama

Some thoughts on the recent Basecamp drama:

  1. The mighty are humbled. DHH and Jason Fried market themselves as the best tech managers out there. Regardless of the backstory, a third of the company leaving, among them many senior employees, shows that something is off at Basecamp.
  2. Style matters more than substance. While DHH has many of the “right” opinions, his style is reminiscent of a certain reality TV host: always the center of attention, announcing major company decisions via social media rather than directly to the people involved and generally an online bully. What seems like a maverick and charismatic leader from an outside perspective can be a nightmare at close range.
  3. The revolution will come for thee. No amount of wokeness will be enough for some people, and management by trend-driven committees is reckless. Once a joke in poor taste becomes equivalent to genocide, there’s not going to be a productive conversation.
  4. Non-politicized spaces are important. I don’t doubt there were people who quietly complained, and many people who added feigned support out of fear. Keeping spaces free of politics gives everyones some much needed breathing room.
  5. A SaaS company or a marketing company? I wonder how much of Basecamp’s revenue comes from their tech rebel persona and selling books instead of selling their actual software? I can’t say I’m particularly impressed by their software.

Meta Politics

It’s rare to find a solution to all that ails political discourse in a single article, but Politics is way too meta fits the the bill.

Political journalism and discussion has become all about “policy X will make group Y feel Z” instead of “the result of policy X will be Y”.

This is my new filter to ground any discussion about COVID, politics or almost anything.

The Fading Index Fund Dream

Make a decent salary, live frugally, invest the rest in index funds and retire early. This was a mantra to live by at one point for me. I’d quote Mr. Money Mustache in regular conversation.

A lot of the advice is still valid. There’s nothing wrong about a simple and reasonably frugal life. Not living paycheck to paycheck gives you options.

But as a lifestyle, there are cracks from the early retirement influencer crowd. I can only image what’s not being reported.

When Jack Bogle pioneered index funds, they were a pithy way for a few crackpot investors to beat the system. Yet if index funds become the majority of investors, they will destroy the system.

People Who Buy Software

I’m always weary of moralistic arguments where someone is fighting for everyone else against some big bad evil. There’s usually more to the story.

DHH, someone with whom I usually agree but find annoyingly self-righteous, has claimed his beef with Apple is over the App Store monopoly, freedom and such lofty ideals.

This slipped out in a recent interview:

It just so happened to be that the majority of the customers for that service were on Apple. About 90% of the customers that we have for HEY, use at least one Apple device. Something like 70% of the paying customers use Apple devices predominantly.

The real issue is that overlap between people who would pay a hundred dollars a year for an email service and exclusively use Apple devices is more than 70%.

DHH tries to frame this as a completely random event, “It just so happened…”, but people who pay for quality software overwhelmingly buy Apple hardware.

The groups that hate everything Apple like hardware hackers and gamers aren’t likely to pay for software.

Sidestepping the whole App Store debate, why won’t (or can’t) anyone else make hardware that people who pay for software are likely to buy?

Not Going Viral, Not Making Money

Great thoughts on the recent trend of every blog having a paid newsletter and rando bloggers essentially panhandling from Greed is ruining the web:

Great content usually lives in odd corners of the web, seen only by a few people a year, created because someone was passionate about something. It will not generate money, it will not make someone famous. And that’s OK. ​​I think way too many people nowadays approach the web with a financial mindset.

Also, a related Pinboard tweet storm:

We have this debate any time there’s a new gravy train for online writing, and it’s getting exasperating. Every new platform will reward a set of star writers in a POWER CLAW distribution, the early will cash in, and discovery is the unsolvable problem.

What rankles me in the Great Wheel of Online Publishing is not that we repeat the same debates about it each time, but that when these bloated platforms inevitably disappear they take entire communities and comment histories with them. And those have more value than the writing.

I’m ok not going viral and making money at my day job.

A Mental Model Packed into a Word

And so Apple is following the trend and changing the CTA on podcasts from “subscribe” to “follow”.

Listeners are building entire mental models around a single word. Subscribing costs money, following is free.

Even though Apple invented the podcast and subscribing has always been free, there’s much point in fighting a quixotic battle against the dominant mental modal in the industry and the words connected to it.

The Bodies of McMansion Culture

Everyone is beautiful and no one is horny is one of those great internet reads.

The gist:

  1. Gratuitous violence fills our screens while Hollywood grows ever more prudish.
  2. Normal sex by regular people with realistic bodies in happy relationships just doesn’t happen on screen anymore.
  3. There’s a curious connection between the functionally useless McMansion (and the linked McMansion Hell had me literally laughing out loud) and ’roided up bodies that are unhealthy and equally useless.
  4. Porn is the only place for sexuality and nudity in American culture.

This is all rather curious and deeply unhealthy.

Self Virtue Signaling

I’m reading The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.

One of the main points is that all of us, no matter how rational we think we are, get caught up in non-rational biases, tribal thinking and everything we accuse other people of doing. It’s a good read for some self-reflection and to also understand where other people are usually coming from.

Along those lines, as a left-leaning American here’s a prime example of where we virtue signal: California is making liberals squirm.

Human Scale Measurements

Outside of scientific contexts, I’m just not a fan of the metric system. Feet and inches feel intuitive for most objects that I handle on a daily basis.

Likewise Fahrenheit is more natural with a great range of degrees for the climates most people live in. Water freezing at zero and boiling at a hundred in Celsius doesn’t do anything to simplify my life.

Along those lines is the ri. To quote Craig Mod:

A ri is a unit of measure, it’s about how far a person can walk in an hour at a reasonable pace. It clocks out at roughly 3.93 kilometers.

That’s a beautiful, intuitive measure. Measures were made for humans, not scientism.

Work Ethic in America

How work ethic became a substitute for good jobs is a chilling read about the role of “work ethic” in American culture.

One quote to mull from the article, although the whole thing is worth reading:

The spectre of life without work has fuelled many utopian schemes for centuries. But there’s also a pragmatic rationale – we simply don’t need to work as much to produce what we need and want as we once did. Long hours serve a political and cultural agenda as much as they do an economic imperative. Transcending a long-hours economy will, in the process, transform our ideological commitments to work, offering different lessons about ‘time well spent’.

Not directly related, but I’ve recently been working with Americans more than at any point over the past decade. The cultural need to talk about work, appear busy and what amounts to productivity porn is real. Incidentally, they are some of the least productive people I know.

iOS Syncing Fixed on the M1

Three months after release, the latest version of Big Sur contains a software fix for the iPhone/iPad sync issue that would have been an M1 dealbreaker for me. Good, of course. But shouldn’t testing have caught this long before release?

Ignoring Second Order Effects

The COVID lockdowns have been a mad rush to protect the interests of the primarily older upper middle class. Putting your life on pause for a couple of years in your 20s is catastrophic, in your 50s not so much.

Young people are at the breaking point:

Last in line for vaccines and with schools and universities shuttered, young people have borne much of the burden of the sacrifices being made largely to protect older people

In the United States, a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds said they had seriously considered suicide.

The lasting effects on suicide rates, depression and anxiety are still being measured, but in interviews, a dozen mental health experts in Europe painted a grim picture of a crisis that they say should be treated as seriously as containing the virus.

We may realize in the coming years that the lockdowns were far worse for society than the virus ever was and highlights a slow shift in our values away from investing in to future to paying anything to protect the status quo for boomers.

By the way, Meg Jay’s TED talk about not wasting your 20s was incredibly important for me during those formative years.

Managers’ Island

Imagine if all managers were kept on an island four days a week. They’d give each other presentations about leadership, congratulate each other, pour our over spreadsheets, talk about mentorship and growth. The only catch is that it’s a retreat — no contact with their teams.

The productivity and happiness gains among their teams would be unprecedented. And then the following week, the managers could talk about how their leadership brought about this uptick in productivity.

Fixing Culture the Wrong Way

I like Google calendar at work. If everyone in an organization uses it, scheduling meetings with multiple people is easy. The calendar shows you when they’re free, without having to play “does 3 o’clock work for you” ping pong.

In organizations with too many meetings — or where looking busy is valued above productivity — people start to add fake meetings to their calendar. To fight this cultural problem, it’s common to block off work time, a lunch break or whatever.

Now I’m back to square one and writing to half a dozen people, “ok, I looked at your calendar but when are you really available to meet?”

The problem isn’t that people want time to actually work and have lunch; the problem is that if you don’t explicitly schedule time for those, low value meetings will fill the empty space on your calendar.

The Cost of Dark Patterns

And another look at LinkedIn. This time when accessing the website via my phone.

LinkedIn works better if you switch to our app. Continue or continue with mobile web

This screen frustrates me for a few reasons:

  1. It’s bad UX writing.
  2. It uses the principles of UX to nudge people into doing something they probably don’t want to do.
  3. Dozens of people had a hand in making this at the cost of doing something beneficial for the product or humanity at large.
  4. Some PM hit their vanity metric (app downloads) at the cost of a better product.

Innovation, Optimization and Creativity

An office prank led me to write a quick AppleScript (yes, we’re all nerds). Scanning through the documentation sparked an idea that was completely unrelated but helped solve a much bigger problem. Having an afternoon lull let the people who could move the solution for the bigger problem hack out a proof of concept.

As optimization becomes the highest value, we’re killing the chance encounters that lead to creativity and innovation. If everything is optimized for today, there will never be enough resources for tomorrow’s opportunity.

Wrong Voice, Wrong Tone

Good UX writing is subtle and easy to overlook. Bad product writing is obvious.

Get the LinkedIn app and see more profiles like this person's anytime, anywhere

I’m looking at a new connection’s profile on LinkedIn. This text has the voice and tone of a dating app, not a professional tool. Even if it were properly targeted at a recruiter, the intent is not “profiles anytime, anywhere”, it’s to make it easier to view the right profiles. The last thing anybody wants is a work app open “anytime, anywhere”.

Corona Puritanism

This whole pandemic thing has shown how religions are born. Even staunchly secular types like the Guardian are essentially arguing that Covid is divine punishment for sinners.

Ignore the fact that culturally similar countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US) have had vastly different outcomes. Nope, it’s not incompetent leadership and poverty (lockdowns are for the rich, after all). Peasants who get corona just didn’t follow the rules.

The Conductor

Seth Godin’s blog provides something to think about nearly every single day. For instance, Famous Conductors:

[Conductors] wear expensive clothes, make dramatic gestures and receive ovations. They also get paid a lot to carry a very little stick and they’re the only one on stage who doesn’t make noise.

But it turns out that none of these things are what makes a great conductor.

It’s always worth remembering that much of the real work goes on behind the scenes and what we judge is often unrelated to it.

Starting a Stream

Inspired by the idea of streams, campfires and gardens, I’m going to experiment with starting my own stream — posting short thoughts, links or ideas a few times a week.

I still plan to write longer posts once or twice a month.

And I’ll be working on a bit of a redesign and splitting the RSS feeds in due time.