Jason Becker
February 3, 2024

Do you think we should try to bring the forums back? When I say we I don’t mean me and you but we people who care about a certain type of web. Do you think there’s still a place for those? Or do you think we’re so used to social media that people will prefer to move to Mastodon or some other decentralized social network?

I hear you about “online only” relationships thought. I have quite a few of those and they’re honestly great. And the best part is when you finally do end up meeting someone in person and it doesn’t feel strange at all. I believe that digital relationships can be as powerful as IRL ones. Both types have pros and cons but they’re both powerful in their own way.

Your urban hiking thing is neat. Picking two points for lunch and dinner is such a cool idea. I might have to try it at some point. Quite hard for me at the moment because I live in the middle of nowhere but maybe in the future. I’m a big fan of moving slowly through spaces. We’re all so busy these days that we often forget to enjoy our surroundings.

Since this is going to be the last letter I’m going to ask you a couple of questions.

The first one is related to your work news: how does it feel? I’ve always been self-employed as I mentioned in a previous email so I’m curious how it feels to know your entire workplace will change as a result of an acquisition. Is it disorienting? Is it exciting? Is it scary? Does it make you want to change job entirely? I’m curious to know what’s going through your head at this moment.

The second question is probably silly but it popped into my head when you wrote “the start up I’ve worked at for almost a decade”: at what point a start-up stops being a startup and it’s just a company?

Lastly, do you think the letters experiment was something worth doing? Did you learn anything new about yourself over these months?

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog, I really enjoyed these exchanges.

Ciao, Manu

Hi Manu,

I think that forums continue to have their place, but they’re dead as social places on the web. What made them great communities was the magic of being a place that drew in people of similar interests who then just… stuck around for lack of somewhere else to go on the web. The number of easy “social” options where “everyone is” makes the magic of off-topic posts and relationships built on forums somewhat irrelevant. I think it’s hard to invest in the kind of community glue that used to exist on forums among regulars and translate that into a broader social interaction than it used to be and that’s probably here to stay.

That said, I think there are lessons to be learned from the world of forums. It’s right in that paragraph– there’s a magic to bringing people into a space with common interests and letting that be the basis of a community. That’s how “academic Twitter” or “black Twitter” (two bad examples because they represent, in a way, identity groups more than common interests, but they come to mind as known, named things) or activist hashtags functioned– they were like interest-driven spaces that became communities. Common interests serve as the foundation, but the load-bearing beams and walls of a community are the personal relationships that build between regular participants.

On to work and how I feel… I feel, well, everything. I ended a post on LinkedIn about the transition that I felt both hope and determination for what’s to come, and that still feels like the best summary of how I feel. I think there’s a huge opportunity here to take the work I’ve done for the last decade to a much larger scale and to have the support to go from “a start up that feels like it could end at any moment” to “a permanent fixture in US K-12 education and maybe more”. I think all the problems we set out to solve are still present and we’re in the best position we’ve ever been (and of anyone else out there) to really address it. That may sound like the hope,but instead that’s the determination. I am determined to do everything I can to take advantage of this opportunity.

The hope is not knowing if it’ll work. I’ve never known if any of this would work in anyway, and I continue to hope that I’m the right person to be a part of it. I hope that we’ll make good choices, that my coworkers that have been a part of building this thing will keep at it with me, and that we’ll add new people to contribute over time that level us up. But I know there’s every chance that I will fail, separate and in addition to whether “we” collectively will fail. Right now, I feel like we hit an important milestone, but I still feel far from done.

I was smiling reading your question about “the startup I worked at for over a decade”. This is actually something we used to discuss internally to help people understand the language we use about the business. For us, start up does not indicate “a new business”. Instead, when we say start up, what we mean is a business model. We considered ourselves a start up not because of size or age, but because we took outside investment in exchange for ownership in the company and designed the company to prioritize revenue growth over profitability. Our measure of success was top line revenue growth while ensuring our model could achieve profitability, but we would invest every dollar that came in (and then some) toward growth– both investing in sales and R&D. This is in contrast to a “new” business or a “small business” that is largely owned by proprietors and is geared toward achieving profitability every year. The only way Allovue would have ever ceased being a startup is if we changed our business model. Companies can be startups for a long time, provided its investors support that model. Startup, in that sense, does not really refer to the age of the business. Instead, it’s more “this is a business that needed ‘startup’ capital”– we had a business that took a lot of upfront investment before what we built could be sold.

Letters has been a fun project. As you can tell from my late response here, life often made it hard to be truly “weekly”. Many months on my site did not get a post per week. Sometimes that was my fault, sometimes it was the person who signed up for that month. I decided early on that I was not going to get crazy about it or generate any pressure for myself or others– an obligation that felt bad seemed counter to what I was trying to achieve. Despite that irregularity in a project that was meant to be regular, I’m confident that this year I wrote more long posts and more personal posts than ever before. Letters has made my blog feel less like social media reaction takes and more like a place I share a bit of myself. I have gotten to know some people I didn’t before, or know some people I knew but in a new way.

Maybe my favorite thing about Letters is that others were inspired to do a similar form of writing on their own blogs. I love reading letters/pen pals/whatever folks choose to call it on other blogs. It makes me feel like this last year I contributed a small bit to building the kind of community I’d want to be in online. I’m not trying to be well known. My blog is not designed for that, my temperament is not designed for that, my goals are not that. So it’s nice, in spite of that, to have made a bit of a ripple.

This has been a great way to sunset (in its current form) my main creative project for the last year. Thanks for being a part of it. And for anyone else who made it to the end of this post who has been reading Letters or participated in it, thanks for being an important part of my 2023 / 4.


January 26, 2024

it’s really hard to find good, new stuff.

It really is and it’s frankly amazing that we’re still facing this issue. It’s not rare for me to mindlessly browse the web not knowing which sites I should actually visit.

I don’t do social media and outside of those platforms there really aren’t many places useful to discover new content. I think that’s one of the unfortunate consequences of people moving on social platforms: old-school forums died, for the most part.

And forums were neat! If you had an interest in something specific chances are there was a forum for you out there. And since forums weren’t stupidly huge over time you could become friends with a bunch of regulars and it was such a cool experience.

That’s something I personally miss and I don’t think social media can really recreate that. And it’s one of the best aspects of small communities. I love small online communities, especially weird and niche ones.

I wrote about the topic a few times before and I suspect I’ll touch that topic again in the future because the way is changing and I think people will slowly move back to more distributed spaces. We’re seeing a resurgence of personal blogs and maybe forums are gonna be the next type of sites to come back online.

A completely unrelated question but is there a place in your life for exploration? I’m not talking about intellectual exploration but rather physical one: going to new places, walking random paths. I’m asking you because I was doing my morning walk with the dog earlier today and decided to go up on a path I often see while driving, and after a short hike on a snowy path I stumbled on this tiny cavern, and on the other side of it there was this gorgeous view of the mountains and everything was lit by the morning sunrise.

Not sure if you do pictures on your blog but I’m going to attach one I took from that spot.

Blue skies that are nearly clear but for a few wisps of clouds over rolling hills with dry grass and buildings in the distance.

And it got me thinking about how many things we’re missing simply because we don’t explore more often. I lived here for almost a decade not knowing about that wonderful place and who knows how many others are out there.

This is something that also happens when I click links at random, now really knowing where I’m going to end up. That’s one of the reasons why the indie web is fun. You start clicking and you don’t really know where you’ll land.

Hi Manu,

Forums were neat. I can’t believe how much community they could build. I still speak nearly daily to someone I first “met” on forums when I was about 15. He lives half or more a world away right now. We’ve never met in person. In various ways, our careers and interests have continued to follow similar paths. In some ways, he’s my original “letters” pen pal. It’s strange to have known someone that well for nearly half my life and having never met. But I think that friendship is a testament to the fact that forums do create community and connections that are meaningful.

I agree that today’s social media doesn’t really recreate that magic. The closest thing was early Twitter. I first joined Twitter at a conference in 2010. It was using a hashtag at this multi-track conference and being able to follow the conversation in other rooms (and have a conversation with folks at the same talk) that felt electric. In a way, those hashtags for real world events were like pop-up forums. I don’t know that I regret being on Twitter for so long, but it’s pretty wild how it took using Twitter as an augmentation to a real world event to make me “get it” and what Twitter usage became by the end.

I’ve also written about community at least a few times. It’s really why I participate in the web at all.

I personally love exploring. What I like to do whenever I travel is just move through a city on foot. We do “urban hiking” where we purposely choose two points pretty far from each other on the map for lunch and dinner and spend our day in the spaces in between, learning what it feels like to inhabit a place. I honestly wish we did more exploring and more “nature” hiking, which is something we’ve picked up and down depending on the year and our overall energy level. I think it was Annie, who I wrote letters with earlier in the project, who used to post a photo of her hike every weekend referring to it as “church”. That’s how I feel when I get to go outside for long periods and really shut things off. Lately, this is has been really hard to find time for. I’ve been pretty busy preparing for some big changes in my work life which has subsumed all the energy I have.

A little more exploration would be a nice thing for 2024. I’m going to think about how I can make that happen.

Sorry for the late letter— as I mentioned earlier this week, on Monday we announced that Allovue— the start up I’ve worked at for almost a decade— was acquired by a large public K-12 software company, PowerSchool. In some ways, this is going to change a lot. In other ways, nothing at all will change. But this week, especially, was a hectic one with a lot of emotions to process and people to support as my team and I transition.

Hoping we can still slip one more of these in.


January 15, 2024

From Manu

I guess Mondays are going to be the days for this “publicly private” conversation we’re having on your site and inside your inbox.

I was thinking about your leak at the house and it’s ironic how this kind of problem seems to always crop up at the most inconvenient times. I was also dealing with some annoying issues at home, not a leak but a clogged sink in the kitchen and we spent way too much time on January 2nd trying to sort that out. Like you said, we tend to look at the beginning of the year as this moment of starting from scratch but life manages to find ways to remind you that this isn’t a new beginning after all.

And in my case, that way was scraping away junk stuck in a pipe for who knows how long.

You wrote that you find slowness to be nice in the context of these conversations and I’d have to agree. In my weird internet-powered interactions I managed to find a few people willing to move these strange conversations on a medium that’s even slower and that’s old-school paper letters and I have to say, it’s incredibly refreshing.

Having to wait for weeks to get something back is a very enjoyable change of pace. Also the thrill of not knowing what is happening to your mail once it leaves your hands. Will it be delivered? Who knows! But it’s fun, something I want to do more of.

Learning about your blog journey was interesting and reading about this kind of journey through tools and services always makes me wonder if I just got lucky.

I decided to start a blog on January 1st, 2017 because, you know, clean slate and all that. I never had a proper site, one with pages and menus and content. I always had super minimal one-pagers that were more like digital business cards than actual websites.

But for some reason, I decided I wanted to start blogging. And so on January 1st I woke up super early in the morning, made myself coffee, and coded a very simple blog. The plan was to post weekly updates on my life, a way to keep me accountable. Those posts are still up on my blog and you can clearly see that I didn’t know what I was doing with the site. But it was clear that it was meant to be a way to have conversations. I kept that weekly pace for a month or so, and then I stopped. At some point, I removed the blog because I thought it was stupid to have a site with just a bunch of posts left there.

I coded myself a different static site that was mainly a collection of links. I then wanted to post something I wrote though and I didn’t have a way to do it anymore. So that simple list of links became a list of links with an extra page with this lonely blog post. At that point, I realized that I did want to blog after all and I re-coded myself a blog, powered by the Kirby CMS and I’ve been running on that ever since.

The site has not changed much over these years. I tweaked the typography a bit here and there but it’s been in its current form at least since 2018 I believe and I still like it.

I do want to change a few things in 2024 primarily because I know have a few extra side projects I want people to know about but I love the overall simplicity of my blog. And others seem to like it too so I don’t see why I should change it.

As they say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Schedule, rhythm, pace, this is something I find myself thinking about a lot these days. Both in the context of my online life and also my life in general. I’m 34, never had a proper job, always been self-employed so it’s been ages since I had to follow a schedule and I think it’s time to change that. Endless freedom has its pros but also some cons. Constraints are sometimes helpful.

Speaking of technology and pingbacks, I still think the best way to notify people is to simply email them. Because that opens up the door for more interactions. An automated notification doesn’t really help interactions with other humans because I think we’re now trained to ignore notifications of any sort.

At least that’s what I like to do. If I stumble on something I think it’s worth replying to I usually post something on my blog with links to the relevant content and then I try to email the author to let them know that I appreciated what they made and I wrote something in response. That’s how the web is supposed to work in my opinion.

You asked about my blog and I don’t really know what to say about it. It’s a chronological list of thoughts and things I find interesting. It’s part portfolio, part blog, part photo album, part side project. I don’t have a topic and I don’t care about having one. I’m the topic of my personal blog. If you read it you’ll learn things about me and about the things I like to think about. It’s a simple plan but has worked fine so far.

I also don’t try to be any different on my site than I am in person. My posts are not edited and are not drafted. I don’t spend days reworking my content. When an idea forms in my head I write it down and I publish and I move on. My English is far from perfect, there will be typos, and that’s ok. At the end of the day what I care about is not producing great written content but generating interactions with other humans which is why I liked your letters project.

Do you think blogging and online interactions in general will change in the near future with all the AI nonsense that’s coming up?

Hi Manu,

It’s funny you should mention emailing someone. Today, for the first time, I got one of those emails. It was so eerie I had to double check I hadn’t yet posted a response to this letter. It’s not a bad idea.

While I’m just a bit older at 36, and I have never been self-employed, I’ve had a pretty flexible schedule the most of the time. I still end up with quite a bit of routine. Some of that is imposed– I have, a metric ton of meetings. But a lot of that is just having found what works for me.

My ideal day looks something like this:

  • 8 - 9 AM Lift weights at the gym
  • 9 - 9:45 AM Shower, make or get a coffee, have a small breakfast
  • 9:45 - 12:30 PM Desk work and meetings
  • 12:30 - 1 PM Lunch
  • 1-2:30 PM Desk work and meetings
  • 2:30 - 3 PM Take a walk outside, sometimes with my older dog who likes to walk.
  • 3 - 4 PM Desk work
  • 4 - 6:30 PM Dog walking, dinner, and some time with my partner
  • 6:30 - 9 PM Volleyball
  • 9 - 11 PM Quiet desk work
  • 11 - 11:30 PM Prepare for bed
  • 11:30 - 12 AM Read

There are lots of disruptions to this. I only go to the gym 3 days a week and volleyball is 2-3 days a week. They’re not always on the same day. I also frequently have meetings with West Coast team mates from 4-6 PM or emergent issues that require sticking to my desk until 6 PM. Those days, I rarely make it back for the Quiet Desk work slot because my energy is just shot. Heck, in general, this kind of ideal day dramatically undercounts my typical hours. But I do think it shows off why flexibility is great.

I do some of my best work after 8 PM if I can at my desk doing focused, quiet work, that I find terrible difficult to do during the day. In fact, looking at it written out, there are very few long stretches of uninterrupted work. I think that fits my own brain and role– I very rarely can actually get something done for four hours straight. I don’t have the kind of work that is “Start here, and keep working until you solve the problem” very often. When I do, I kind of like to do that work on weekends. I do find myself often picking things up on a weekend afternoon and suddenly realizing I put in a half day of work because I finally had a concrete problem to just work through. It’s a real manager’s dilemma.

My blog is also just about me. In some ways, it represents the conversation I’d be having if I were with a friend. I’m just often… not. When I go quiet on my blog, it’s almost always because there’s a lot of stuff going on I don’t want to talk about publicly or I’m spending a lot of time with people. The quieter my physical space is, the louder my digital one gets. I once told a friend that my blog basically existed so that I didn’t drive my friends crazy with constant text messages.

That’s really what the theme of my blog is– the group chat no one signed up for but is happening anyway.

I recently added an About page. It started as something I wrote to test out a new design I’m playing with, but I ended up liking it too much and realizing the redesign project was going to take a long time. It’s funny– I put a whole section that was about my blog, but it doesn’t say what the blog is about.

AI and its impact on the web. Well that’s a bit of a can of worms.

I’m not sure how big the impact of the current AI models will be in the first place. It was actually Matt Birchler linking to a post in which I compared OpenAI to Uber that had me thinking about pingbacks. I never would have known he replied if I didn’t happen to follow his blog. I’m quite sure he doesn’t follow mine, so I my later elaboration and reply to his post probably never made it to him. I never really thought to email him about them. I don’t think he owes me or even should write a response to them. But, I guess I do think the internet would work better for conversation if he knew they existed.

That’s a tangent though. Large language models are pretty good at cleaning up writing. I’ve had times where I’ve asked it to simplify a sentence or make a paragraph more direct and I’ve been happy with at least some of its edits. Their chat interfaces are also genuinely great– remember the chat bot craze of 6 years ago? LLMs could make chat bots less like a bad support phone tree and more like a real interface. 1 I also think that the image generation tools are pretty damn powerful. Combined, I think they will create a bimodal distribution. There will be a new internet-of-shit, this time digital, filled with AI generated content. This will be a massive volume of web addresses that no one actually visits or wants. Then there will be the rest of us, whose websites and content may get a little better with the help of AI tools. As a result, I think more and more people will want a place away from the algorithms and clearly personal and human made to point to. I think we’ll see user generated content continue to grow as a counter to the AI slop. But I also think that it’ll continue to get harder and harder to find good stuff on the internet as it gets buried below the new content farms.

One of the biggest challenges of blogging will continue in the age of AI-content – it’s really hard to find good, new stuff.


  1. One thing that’s hard about LLM chat-as-an-interface is you can’t really design the experience. That feels like something that is a problem I haven’t seen anyone talking about. ↩︎

January 9, 2024

This month I’m talking with Manu Moreale

Hello Jason

As is often the case, life takes over my plans and things get delayed. It’s something I just learned to accept because fighting against it is a lost cause.

I must confess that writing a public email feels kinda odd. Like you, I have a blog where I publish content that is meant to be public but I also write a lot of emails that are meant to be private.

Writing an email to someone knowing it’s going to be public feels strange as if something is not how it’s supposed to be.

Anyway, I’m curious about this experiment you’re running. I remember stumbling on your initial post talking about it months ago and thinking “That’s a neat idea, I should participate”.

I got in touch and my month was so far into the future that I completely forgot about it in the meantime. So when your email landed in my inbox it was a nice surprise.


I was poking around your site and noticed that your blog—like many others—has an interesting history. You went through phases only to finally settle to a good publishing cadence. Do you think that journey is inevitable for all the people with blogs? Do you think we all have to go through the various stages before we find our preferred rhythm?

And speaking of rhythm, are you going to keep this letter project going for another year?

I hope you had a lovely end of the year and I also hope you can have an even better 2024.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Ciao, Manu

Hi Manu,

2023 ended with a lot of drama– a major house leak that has taken the better part of a month to plug up. The house is still in disarray, but there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. There’s also been some personal turmoil that I think mostly “will pass”, but still kind of in the thick of it. But that’s life– every year we think we get to reset the decks and wipe the slate clean, but there’s always new stuff to handle and plenty of unexpected challenges to disrupt our best plans.

This experiment is interesting. I have had some solid conversations with strangers and friends alike. No one I’ve done Letters with has been someone I regularly spend time with. I enjoy that I can wait until I feel like I have a clear head to read and write back. There’s something nice about the slowness and having a reason to write something a bit longer. The schedule and scheduling, however, has been kind of a pain. I double booked some months by mistake, and I wasn’t always on top of reaching out to folks well ahead of time. My life is a little chaotic– or at least has very little routine compared to the past. In that sense, the project has been hard.

It’s related to the life my blog has lived. The earliest posts on this blog came from a Pelican-based blog I started toward the start of my working career. I had previously written extensively on LiveJournal, Blogspot, and tried Wordpress at least a few times. Most of writing was on old topic-based forums, however. I never really got into a rhythm of blogging regularly. I wanted to write about my interests, but I put too high a standard on posts and never really met them. My blog mostly became a place to play with code on the side. By 2011 I was well into my Twitter phase. I probably had collectively around 100,000 tweets that I wrote from 2010 until 2023. So when something was much too long for Twitter, I’d occasionally blog instead of write long threads. At some point, I grew frustrated with Pelican and switched over to Hugo. It was a way to play with things like nginx settings and keeping a server running on Digital Ocean. It was fine, but I wasn’t inspired to write that much. The work flow of Markdown file, running Hugo, checking things, making a commit, pushing, SSHing into a server, pulling, and building was a lot. Then I had to link it places because otherwise no one would read it.

When micro.blog, my current host, cropped up, I was quite attracted to a couple of things. First, I was already uncomfortable with putting everything into Twitter. I had played with POSSE-like systems elsewhere, using things like tags on Pinboard to post links to Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook via IFTTT. I liked the idea of writing once and letting that go out to all the social networks. But I viewed Micro.blog as a stalwart against a Twitter I increasingly didn’t want to be on and a way to get posts into Facebook (which I briefly had an account on) and other places easily. A couple of years into using Micro.blog, it switched from being Jekyll-based to Hugo-based and opened up custom templates. Suddenly, I could take the blog I already have and host on Micro.blog.

So the real way I found my cadence here (on this blog) was a combination of disillusionment with Twitter and finding the right tool in Micro.blog. The key was that I could have almost all the same control I had with Hugo (at least enough control) and I could post from my phone easily. It’s not just that I can write micro-posts– it’s that I can use MarsEdit and the Micro.blog app and iAWriter to publish to my blog without the whole build step. It’s so much easier to share a photo or two or write a quick paragraph than it used to be. But I still understand how the whole system works and I can make things look how I want, mostly. That was key to building a blogging habit.

I think another key was nabbing this domain on day one of the .blog TLD being available. Naming this blog based on my own name took away the idea that this was meant to be anything other than a personal website.

Letters has been a great way to keep a consistent writing schedule, but I think this will actually be its last scheduled installment. Doing these weekly and having to keep track of folks ahead of time is too much work. I haven’t said this publicly so… this is the announcement of that.

However, I really like having long form correspondence on the web. Not enough blogs are blogging about other blogs. I think that’s really important to having discovery again on the web.

I haven’t come up with the exact idea for where Letters is going, but I think it’ll be something more like Tumblr’s “Ask me a question” feature. I’m going to try and encourage ways for folks to write me, a long letter or even a simple question, and I will do my best to respond to what comes in. At least that’s the current working theory. I’d love some feedback on this idea– how do I keep getting the chance to write a bit with strangers and parasocial relationships on the web? And how do I keep writing blog posts that are, in essence, responses to other people’s posts in a way that encourage conversations between the two?

I think our technology outside of the Wordpress pingback is pretty crumby here. I know that when I post links, I am not using Indie Web standards with u-in-reply-to classes. I’m sure very few people do. I don’t know when someone writes about a blog post I wrote! Unless they @ mention me on some form of social media, it’s just happenstance if I see that stuff. I think that kind of stinks, and I think the tech to fix that also kind of stinks right now. It’s too complicated.

Tell me a bit about your blog and what you write about and why. How are you hoping to keep being a person on the internet?


December 31, 2023

Hi Jason,

I already feared for the worst when I read your message on Micro.blog this week. I’m glad it was “only” from water from a leak instead of a burst pipe. But still, no matter how small or big, it comes at the worst possible time. I’m glad it can be fixed quickly and that you will return your office and living room as soon as possible.

I don’t mind the cold so much. I like it more than the sweltering summer temperatures. But then also it does not get as cold here as in other places. And I can be inside for 100% of the day if I want to.

The thing about moving is something I think about sometimes. I’ve moved around quite a bit. But all my moves were within 20km of each other. So, I always stayed in the area where I was born and grew up. I wonder how it would feel to move to a completely different place where you know nobody and don’t know the geography. I would feel totally lost and uprooted (“uprooted” is a strange word; “unrooted” would sound better – but that is a tangent ;-)). My wife took those steps as she moved into my region.

I love your idea of being “burned-out” of a location – it is not something I ever felt myself so far. But I can certainly imagine it could happen, especially when the surroundings change significantly due to external circumstances. I never felt much wanderlust (another lovely word ;-)) – actually, I’m starting to feel it now – but more for holidays than for moving my whole life to a different place. Not traveling much when I was younger is something I’ve come to regret in recent years. Now that I have a child, it is so much harder to do.

I need to remember the concept of “finding your pace.” I like it very much. And you can apply it to so much in life, not only sports. And it is undoubtedly a good thing to remember when you set goals. Focus on something other than the end result, but focus on how you can get there. By using a pace, you can keep up for a long time.

These letters helped me escape my bubble and the snail mail penpal habit I also started. It is just something different. And I can now write these emails without being nervous all the time. You should have seen me earlier that year when I wrote the first email to Jarrod!

I wish you (and your family a happy Christmas). I hope you can still enjoy the time, no matter the situation with the roof. And I now need to move some furniture around myself to set up our Christmas tree. Until the next email,

Cheers Chris

Hi Chris,

I’ve been avoiding responding, mostly because I feel pretty flustered and down. We continue to have water issues, and I’m having a lot of difficulty getting any help. Because of the holidays and bad weather we’ve had, it seems impossible to find someone to fix the source of the leak. In the meantime, our house is very loud, with blowers and dehumidifiers on every floor, very hot, and very messy. I like to start the New Year having spent some time decluttering and cleaning my slate for the year. I feel more cramped, cluttered, and uncomfortable at home than I have in a long time. It’s impacting my mood, and I was hoping to be a better one by the time I wrote our final letter.

I am thinking a lot about goals right now. It’s the end of the year, and I am seeking a theme. Last year it basically never came. I’ve been a bit knocked off my axis again at the end of this year, so I’m having trouble being introspective. I am having my own wanderlust, not for a place as well, but for a state of mind where I can feel a bit clearer and think about what I really want.

I hope you had a great holiday with family. I’m impressed you waited so long to setup your Christmas tree– around here it’s almost unheard of to go deep into December without fully embracing the season. We had a lot of folks visit prior to the holidays and get out of town around December 23rd. This meant we still got to have some restful time to ourselves, including taking a trip up to Philadelphia for a couple of days which was a welcome change of scenery.

Letters is nearly at an end. I have, I think, just one more set of these planned to go. I considered opening up all of 2024, but instead, I think I’m going to let this project live its 13 months and move on. Last year I started this project to do something fun and as part of creating a community, in a small way, on the internet. I missed blogs that responded to other blogs back and forth. And I read about the Republic of Letters and felt… well… jealous. I wanted to be a part of a network of people who shared interesting ideas with one another. Lofty for my short engagements with folks I mostly didn’t know.

So maybe what I should think about is not my theme for next year, but my next project. I want to continue to find ways to put the inter into the internet. I want to build a social web, but from the comfort of my own home there. I’m going to think a bit about how I can keep the spirit of this project going. Its format was rigid, but helpful to get at what I really want– to share ideas online in deeper conversation than the current model of social tools encourages.

I’m glad you’re no longer nervous writing these emails! I think that’s a sign that all of this is working. The best part of the weird web was always when we found each other.

Thanks for finding me.


December 20, 2023

Hello Jason,

I’m near the top of Mount Rigi as I reply. I’m now on my Christmas holidays and managed to carve out some time to go on a solo mountain holiday (thanks to my wife for allowing that). Unfortunately, the weather is not good. And I was the only person making it to the top (I’ve attached two images from the top - you may publish them with the letter). But I’m not on the mountain to sit outside anyway :-). I hoped to relax, reflect on the year, and write a bit – sometimes, it works better outside of home. But so far, I have not yet written much. Now I sit in the small restaurant beside the railway station on the mountain.

The US being a lot more in the south compared to Europe is also something I forget. But geography is not really a strong suit of mine :-D. I just wondered what the most northerly destination I visited so far. And it must have been Cologne (in Germany). I’ve only been to the US once (for a WWDC), so I’ve seen mostly the conference center and only a little of the country. I’ve enjoyed SF and want to get back at some point. However, there are so many places to go, and I’m unsure when I will manage it. We also have Japan on our list of destinations. We planned to go in the Spring before the pandemic. That did not happen for obvious reasons.

I have the feeling that many companies have downsized their offices now. There is just no need for offices anymore – at least in the computer sciences jobs. And I’m also with you that the company needs to live a remote-first culture for it to work. Luckily, we are small at the moment, and I hope that I can influence the culture in such a way as we grow.

How was moving 375 miles? If I tried that, I would land in a different country, so it would be a significant change (and depending on the direction I move, I would need to learn a new language as well ;-)).

I’m quite the opposite regarding habits; I tend to have compulsive behavior when I’m not careful. Luckily, I now know and understand some of the signs that trigger this so that I can work against it.

It is interesting with the swimming, and I was exhausted at the beginning with the 500m than I’m now with the 1000m. It is a question of the pacing, and I have now found the sweet spot where I can swim it at a usable tempo but also not go quite to my limit. And having done it now for most of the year also helps :-). I’ve lost track of how many books I have read this year. Only a few, I think (compared to other years). I planned on reading three books per month, but I was below that. It was more like two books per month. One of the reasons was that I switched to reading more nonfiction, which takes more time. And then taking notes and thinking about what you learn makes for a slower read. On the upside, it makes the reading more conscious and intentional. It feels less like fast food.

Another big goal was changing my workplace and starting the swimming habit. I don’t know what I want to do next year. One big topic is to be more open about others and be less in my bubble.

I wrote the text above yesterday. The weather is much better today, and I’m back at the top of the mountain. I am sitting in the same restaurant and enjoying my time.

cheers Chris

Hi Chris,

Things have been pretty hectic so it took me a few days to get back to you. While I’m not yet off from work for the holiday, I do already have a rotating cast of family staying with us. Unfortunately, I also had the return of some leaking in the house from severe wind and rain. I’m currently without an office, and soon our dining room will get torn apart as well. Things seem to be moving faster with both mitigation and repair than last time, but it’s a big unexpected expense and a big unexpected mess during a time where it’d be nice for things to slow down and go smoothly.

I want to say that the solo mountain holiday is exactly what this calls for, but seeing those pictures just makes me feel cold.

Moving was interesting. This is the third place I’ve spent a substantial amount of time living. My parents still live in the house they bought before I was born, but I went about 200 miles away for college and stuck around for some time afterwards before this move. It definitely broke a lot of my social groups and connections. I felt, for some time, less connected to where I lived than I ever had before. In some ways that was nice– you can burn out on places like you can with jobs, at least as far as I can tell. I loved where I was living, but I was “burned out” on it, in some ways. I think it’s taken the full seven or so years I’ve been here for it to start to feel like home. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have a little bit of wanderlust again, but I doubt I’ll be going somewhere else soon.

I think there is something to think about in “finding your pace” in a sense. You found yourself at a pace that you can swim, and a pace that you can read. A lot of the times we set goals rather than set a pace.

I hope that these letters are a small start to getting out of your bubble! I also don’t quite know what’s the goal for next year, but I’m glad that this year I’m feeling introspective and thinking about it. Last year, I really struggled to think about what I wanted and I think that led to a year that was a bit less grounded and focused than I would have liked.

Being “evicted” from my damaged office is leaving me unmoored this week. But hopefully I’ll have something to grab onto in January.


Two plastic sheets covering most of my office, with walls in the back corner with substantial portions of drywall removed. There are blue blowers and dehumidifiers in the center of the room

December 10, 2023

Hi Jason,

I just realized you were in Europe on holiday :-) How was Paris? It has been quite some while since I last was there. It would be nice to go there again (and it is pretty near – only four hours by train, I think). But then I would need to speak French, and I’m not good at it at all :-D Did you get around well with English?

Wow, that is a long time at the same place. I can not quite compete on that point; I was in my ninth year at the old workplace. There was also a lot of change, but I had more personal change and development in the end. So, I needed something new. And I also wanted to switch to product development compared to agency/consulting work.

Volleyball is fun, but it would not work for me to do regularly – too much social responsibility – which is one reason I like swimming. I can do it alone. But I also like being in the water. It is easy to do, and you can think about stuff while swimming. I don’t need to look outside so much compared to running. And I don’t only use my legs, which is also good, as I have a lot of tension in my arms and shoulders from being at the computer all the time. I started with around 500m at the beginning of the year, and now I’m up to 1000m, which was my unofficial goal for this year. Right now, I need around 30 minutes for it.

It is interesting how sometimes you don’t want to be alone with your brain – I also have this. But it got less so over the past few years (as my mental health got up again). But I’m used to being in my world inside of my brain. And it helps me when my body is doing something physical simultaneously. I struggle with classical meditation, where I must sit still and not think. There is so much going on in my brain at all times :-) Luckily, there is more positive stuff now again.

It is interesting how you can use them as a journal. I was initially using my blog as a journal as well. But when I started to write morning pages, I managed to move some of the stuff to a private place. I can use my blog again more for intentional writing – right now, I’m still trying my hand at fiction writing. But it did not go well this quarter. I was too distracted by the new job and the migraine battle.

Although the workshop was fun, I was much more nervous than I should have been, and I’m still trying to figure out why. I need to work on my pacing; I should have rehearsed it at least once. But at least everybody is not up to date on “Cybersecurity.” They think a bit more about strange emails they receive and ask me whether I made another test with them.

And speaking about work. I’ve seen that you work in a fully remote company. Was this an intentional decision for you to not work in an office? I assume that you were doing this already before the pandemic. I’ve only switched to remote work with the pandemic now. And I would not want to do it any other way. Unfortunately, I have already started to feel the pull of the office as most of my coworkers are in the office regularly. But I don’t want to. Having 100% remote work in my contract is one of the perks of the new position!

Cheers Chris

Hi Chris,

We were fine with mostly English, though we stayed largely in central parts of the city and my partner Elsa does speak French (and Spanish) fluently. I am unsure how I would have felt without her and zero French to fall back on, but I think overall the city was more welcoming to me as a very obvious American than I expected. It was my first time in Paris, and the furthest north I’ve been in Europe (probably pretty close to as far north as I’ve ever been, now that I think about it – most Americans, myself included, don’t remember just how far south we are compared to Europe).

I work with quite a few people who grew tired of agency work and wanted to build a product. I don’t think I’ve ever had someone leave to go back to agency work who had that experience, but I haven’t had a conversation in some time about the advantages or disadvantages with any of my employees. Most of them tired of not getting to influence what they built, of feeling like they did a less good job because clients only wanted to pay to make something work, not make it last and all of that. But I also suspect that swimming in the problems of your own past decisions doesn’t always feel good– I know I’m constantly in a state of frustration with my past self.

Allovue has always been at least partially remote. When I started, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island about 375 miles from where I live now and where our “home office” was. We had a few team members in the Baltimore area, but we always had a few remote. Some of us travel quite a bit for work, and even the folks from Baltimore often worked from home at least a few days per week. Over time as we grew, the team was almost never majority Baltimore based. So as a result, we were always a “remote first” workforce. We had an office, and use ebbed and flowed. Some teams were a bit more locally-based, others more likely to be remote. In the end, with less than a third of the company in Baltimore, we had way more office than we needed. 2020 was year four of a five year lease and we were already contemplating downsizing the office or radically reconfiguring it. We actually subleased most of our space. But COVID was the clear end of in office work for us– we actually got out of our lease early because another tenant wanted our space, and we never seriously considered having space again. We now have a small room in a co-working space that we mostly use as climate controlled storage. It also gives us access to a conference room for times when that makes sense to use.

I was probably one of the folks who used the office most, even though I travel a lot. I moved to Baltimore about 7 years ago for various reasons (I needed to move, and work and my best friend being here made Baltimore the right choice). My first year here I didn’t have any office space at home, so it was pretty important for me to go in. But once I bought a house in the city and space for a home office, it became less important.

I think remote work has to be a priority to actually work. I don’t think you can be a part of a small percentage of people doing it.

I’ve never done morning pages– I’m not a morning person and can’t even really generate a morning routine, unless you count staying in bed too long, then staying in the hot shower too long, then begrudgingly starting my day. But for some time I was writing in a journal at night. I would write the things I got done, then reflect a bit on work and my personal life. I’d write how I was feeling in just a few sentences, then rank the day. It helped me when I needed it, but for some reason didn’t last long.

While I am a person that likes certain comforts and consistency, I don’t know that I have a lot of habits. I think I view a lot of habits as things that are almost compulsions. They don’t stick. But there are times where I can use a … short term habit (which, this feels like totally not a thing) to break out of a certain thought pattern or rut.

Letters-as-journal for me really just means that writing a letter like this at the pace I write them creates time for a kind of introspection and retrospection that I don’t normally have. I don’t let out thoughts that are diary level private, but it’s also not quite a log. That’s why I settled on journal.

Constraints change outcomes. I didn’t want to get too deep into my own head, so I wanted to write in public. I wanted to write letters to slow down the pace of today’s “common” internet interactions. I thought it would build a different kind of communication, and it has. And I wanted to mostly talk to strangers so that the topics would keep me on my toes. That’s worked too.

Congrats on hitting your 1000M goal! Thirty minutes sounds both short enough to be manageable and utterly exhausting. I’m about to start book 29 for the year. I have a very modest goal of 30 books this year– the least I’ve read since 2018– and I hope I’ll hit it. What other goals did you have for this year? As we fast approach 2024, what are your goals for next year?


December 3, 2023

This month I’ll be chatting with Chris

Hi Jason,

I was looking forward to December – not only for the start of my turn in the letter wiring – but also as it marked a year of change for me. So today, when I’m writing this letter to you, I’m a pretty different person than earlier in the year when I signed up. And that is for the good :-)

One of the biggest changes I made this year was switching my job. It took so much courage to take the step and go from something known - and not all bad - to something new and unknown. On the other hand, I’ve started to do sports regularly, and that would not be a sentence you heard from me last year. Chris is a computer nerd, and they do not do sports ;-). So I started swimming this year, and I quite enjoy it.

It is early morning right now when I write these words (6:00), and I soon need to start work. I’m conducting a “Cybersecurity” Workshop for my co-workers today. I hope all goes well. It is quite the change now that I’m in a company where I’m currently the only “computer guy.” It is funny how you can’t rely on a common body of terms everybody knows or a “common culture.” I don’t know how to describe that, but we all had the same background and knew the same stuff at the old place.

It is good for me to stretch again and navigate some uncharted waters. Having the same background is not necessarily all good – it makes for an easy life – but not for the best solutions. This also fits perfectly into the theme of change I have for this year: be more open to the world.

So, how was your year? Did the regular writing with strangers change something?

Looking forward to your reply, Chris

Hi Chris,

Switching jobs is a big change! One I haven’t made in almost a decade. It’s crazy to think that April 2014 was the last time I had a different employer. And while what I do and everything around me has changed a lot, I still have worked for Allovue for as long as I went to college, high school, and middle school combined. Wow.

A couple of years back I started playing volleyball again, and it has been a huge boost to my mental health. I’m glad you’re enjoying the swimming! What is it that you feel attracts you to swimming, specifically? I haven’t really done it in a long time, but I know how exhausting laps can be. And quiet. I’m not sure I could sit in my head for that long… or swim for that long, for that matter. How much swimming do you do when you go? Something tells me that even in my best shape, 15 to 20 mins would be all I could do.

Writing with strangers has been a highlight of the year. For one, it’s caused me to stop and think about what I’m doing and where I am a lot more than I usually do. Reintroducing myself, digging into different parts of my state of mind and what’s happening has been a form of forced reflection that is sometimes absent. In many ways, these letters are a better journal than any journal I’ve ever kept.

Let me know how your workshop went! Did you feel you were able to communicate effectively? Make it fun?

And now that we’re at the end of the year… what are your plans for next year?


November 9, 2023

Meta note: this month I’m corresponding with Katie Dexter


First, I’d like to apologize in advance that I haven’t written in some time and I’m quite rusty. That said, I’m excited to be writing you a letter as you’ve always been in my periphery during my time in Baltimore. Our circles are similar, yet never seem to quite overlap. Hopefully this exercise can close that gap and allow us to learn more about each other. Hopefully you’re settling into the cooler months, and maybe you have some travels planned to go somewhere warmer sometime this winter, would love to hear if you do!

I’m not sure if you know but my partner and I had a baby in April and it’s been the most fantastic and wildly unexpected thing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been off work for the past 8 weeks, and I am returning on Monday. My time off has given me much to think about in terms of labor, capitalism, and how I want to spend my time going forward. I won’t lie, I did miss working. There’s something magical about solving problems using code, and I think you will understand how a break from that magic could leave me missing work. What I do not miss is the stress of always being available and online and ready to help and jump into things. This time away has given me a lot of perspective in what work life balance actually means. I hope that when I return it’s not overwhelming and I will be able to uphold some boundaries around my labor. Of course things have gone off the rails during my time off, which is why this letter is delayed. My company was acquired and I’m navigating the stress and uncertainty of returning to something completely different that I left.

I’m curious to know more about your own relationship with work. How do you balance that and doing all of the other things that are important to you? I know there’s a delicate balance and I’m trying to understand how to incorporate taking care of myself, my 6 month old, and still performing at work. It seems….wildly impossible.

Something I’ve been doing the past few months is taking a few hours each night when my baby is asleep to do something enriching for myself. I draw a tarot card, I make meaning of what I interpret from the cards. I read - lately heavily into understanding theories of psychoanalysis and the human psyche. I’ve been catching up on music, and got into listening to some difficult jazz. I wondered if this is me grasping at maintaining my own identity while also being a parent. It’s hard to know, but I do know that it seems easy to just get blended up in just being a parent and that’s not really ideal. Identity is such a big signifier and so is our perception of other people’s identities. I think it could be interesting if we shared our perceptions of each other, since we don’t really know much outside of a social media following. It could be a fun exercise.

Let me know what you’ve been up to, what’s got your attention these days. I look forward to hearing from you, and chatting with you over the next month.


Hi Katie,

I spent a few months in Mexico City last year essentially escaping winter— we were gone from the Friday after Thanksgiving until mid February. This year, no such grand plans. One of our dogs is getting older, and there’s no way we could take extended time away. We did land some stupidly inexpensive flights to Paris, so I’m going for the first time for a few days after Thanksgiving. I think that will be the only non-work trip this winter. That said, I’m writing this from Phoenix, so I do get my share of warmer locales, even if most of my time is at hotel conference areas or in school district buildings.

Congratulations on the baby! I can only imagine the big shift that has created, alongside an acquisition at work and … you somewhat recently moved houses too right? Seems like a lot.

That said, “grasping at maintaining identity” is definitely something I relate to, and it’s a big part of my relationship to work. I’m getting close to my 10 year anniversary at Allovue. And while I’d like to think that I’m a person who is more than his job, it’s often quite hard for me to separate my self-perception and identity from what I do and where I do it. It’s deeply unhealthy, but so much of my time, energy, passion, sweat, pride, fear, stress, frustration, and failure are all wrapped up in what I do.

The last couple of years I’ve started playing Volo Volleyball pretty regularly when I’m at home. Faster pace, team sports are great at turning off my brain. I literally can’t think about work about 97% of the time while playing volleyball. And while I haven’t made some deep, life long friendships, I now have a bit of a sense of community with folks who are regular players that make me feel connected to something that isn’t work— at least a little. Going to the gym to lift weights, which I also do with small group training, doesn’t help in the same way. There’s too much time to be in my own head and thinking. The pace and collaboration of a sport seems key. And it really does help— I come home exhausted, and still sometimes return to work and some of the stresses. But after volleyball, I’m rarely able to be quite worked up to the levels I let myself get whipped into throughout the day.

I love solving problems with code. I love thinking through a process and how to make it more efficient or effective, how to store the data needed for each step along the way, and how to present information more clearly to folks. I even like mentorship and management, when I feel that I’m up to the task. But there’s a lot more that comes with leadership of a small company that isn’t pleasant. And I often wonder, would I be much better at this if I were doing only 3 of the 15 things I am responsible for? And even if I would be better, would I actually be bored? I joke about a simpler job and a simpler life, but the people closest to me don’t think I could last 15 minutes without be overstimulated and pulled in 100 directions. They might be right, but that’s probably something I need to unlearn, someday.

What’s got my attention…

About halfway through this year, I realized the theme I wanted was “lighten” or “light”. In various ways, my life has felt very heavy pretty much since COVID. I have absolutely failed to make any progress on this idea, but I’ve been returning to it a lot lately. I need to find ways to be a little less serious, a little more fun, to feel a little less burdened (mostly self-imposed). So I’ve been trying to pay attention to my media diet and my habits and identify the things that seem to help. I’ve been reading less and watching fewer movies. And I’ve been walking less. And I very much feel as you do – work is a thing I love, but being always available, and letting so many things feel urgent and allow them to spike my anxiety… that’s not so great.

So, as per usual when the days get short, I’m turning inward and trying to get my health back on track. Maybe it’ll work better this year than last year.


October 28, 2023

Hi Jason,

My husband and son want me to pick telekinesis as my superpower. (“You know what, I think I like the couch and the loveseat better where we had them originally. You guys ready, or do you need a break?”)

But if proprioception were an actual superpower, you might be able to predict the future!! Somewhere in the jumble sale I laughingly call my memory, I recall hearing that we move our bodies a split-second before we consciously decide we are going to move our bodies. My hand is already reaching for the coffee cup a split second before I decide to reach for the coffee cup. So my body actually decided before my mind thought it decided. William James speculated about this, and I think science eventually proved it, and it comes up occasionally in discussions related to free will / determinism. So to my mind, proprioception becomes a superpower if you can predict next moves.

I’m getting over a cold. I was just thinking, “What if I had telekinesis, and whenever I sneezed, the cupboards blew open and my dishes fell out?” What would happen with superpowers if you get sick, or have nightmares, or a fever-induced delirium or something? (Another Marvel movie, probably, but what else?)

I love the fall, too! I grew up in New England, compared to which Virginia is but a pale imitation, but there’s an arboretum in the area with a gingko grove with about 300 gingko trees. The leaves turn a gorgeous, saturated golden yellow color which looks amazing against a deep blue sky. So my husband and I will definitely make time for that. I also want to put aside time to visit a family member who is ill. This is difficult, as they live about 300 miles away, and I have to plan for time off and call coverage for work. So I’m trying to figure which days I can take off in the next month or so, in between holiday travel and visitors. Perhaps another great superpower would be bilocation, like a Catholic saint!

You have the ability to hear a lot of details and sift through them and organize them in your mind in such a way that you see what is necessary, and what is superfluous. What a wonderful superpower to have! You are well-placed in your line of work. You called this “meta-structural awareness,” I’m thinking of it as “essentialism,” the ability to see what is essential.

I think the ability to subtract the superfluous is wonderful, and hard to come by. To remind myself to simplify, I printed and posted this equation at my desk, which comes from yet another source I don’t remember off the top of my head:


Agreed that when it comes to collaborative data and tracking lots of data, digital is best. I still keep a digital calendar for that reason, although most of my personal systems are paper-based these days. Back in the day, though, I had a Palm Pilot!

Have you been able to get outside during this beautiful fall weather? What are your favorite places to go to enjoy autumn?


Hi Anna,

I’ve spent just a little bit of time outside so far. It’s something I really should remedy– I know how important it is, but like eating well and moving often, it sometimes just doesn’t happen (and then I feel bad and wonder why). I don’t have a lot of places locally that I associated with “awesome for autumn”, which is sad because it is my favorite time of year and I do have those places for spring. There are a few spots within a 25 minute or so drive that have 2-4 mile hikes or walking paths that are all worth doing when I make the time. Most of them are wooded, and so perfectly pleasant this time of year. But none of them have the kind of “must be there each autumn” feel that a gingko grove would have.

Just around the corner from my house there’s a small field at the entrance of a park with a Zen Garden that I love in spring. There’s something about sitting there just as all the leaves are starting to come in when there’s a nice breeze that I really love. But for some reason, I don’t get the same feeling when I head there this time of year.

Right now, I’m wishing my super power was checking things off of my to do list. I feel like an old convertible with “Just Married” painted on the back and a trail of cans tied to my bumper. I have so many small things that are not individually difficult, and I find myself totally unmotivated to do them, yet the cumulative weight is clearly taking a toll. This is part of the cost of complexity– being responsible for many things, with lots of context switching is just plain hard. It feels like the kind of modern “we weren’t built for this” problem. I know the tools that help people in general, and I know the tools that have helped me in the past, but I just can’t… DO IT. There’s definitely a touch of burn out– I thought I was doing better on vacations and such this year, but it turns out I accumulated a fair amount of vacation time I didn’t take.

With November fast approaching, and two work trips and one “fun” trip coming up in that month, I’m going to try and maximize the cozy I can get for the remainder of fall. For me, this means heading to a pub/tavern type spot or a dark cocktail bar on Friday or Saturday. Sometimes with a friend, sometimes with a book. The key is getting out of my house and spending time somewhere dark, warm, and with a moderate background din. I have always needed third spaces, but never more than post-COVID, fully working from home, when the sun is down long before I stop typing away.


October 22, 2023


I love languages and have studied many. In seminary I got to study Hebrew. It’s the closest language to pure poetry that I’ve encountered. (Greek, on the other hand, is an excellent language if you want to be a lawyer; very precise.) I love organizing things and see organization as a spiritual practice; separating, defining, distinguishing things. I would agree that there is something holy about separation, making something distinct, having its own being. In spiritual matters there is always that tension between connection and separation. God in the first creation story in Genesis makes various aspects of beingness separate and distinct. Above our washer and dryer I used to have a cartoon that showed God whistling while separating the laundry, light from dark.

And speaking of holy separation: a separate home office with a door you can close is a wonderful thing! My office doesn’t have a door, but it’s at a far end of the house; not a lot of traffic except for my two office cats. However, it is around the corner from the kitchen, so I’ll hear important stuff like if a cellophane bag is crinkling and anyone’s making a yummy sound. Then I have to get up and see if somebody is snacking on something really good, that they ought to share with me. (The chocolate stash is often getting raided at these moments.)

I’ve shut off almost all notifications on my devices as well. And, it is bliss to be able to turn off my work phone at the end of the day.

Paper systems! I love those, too. Some years ago I got annoyed at keeping up with apps (and all their dependent devices, and environs, etc etc) and started moving more of my personal organizational processes to paper. It has helped immensely, not least because electronic devices have so many distractions at hand. Since it is my personal system, I have the liberty to be quirky about it. I can see where paper systems would be difficult with a large shared project like managing school finances. I used to be the network administrator for a medical records system with a practice that was transitioning from paper to electronic. If nothing else, paper sure takes up a ton of space, and is hard to back up. Did you see any advantages to the paper system, or anything it could do that was difficult to translate to an online process?

Super powers…. it is embarrassing to admit that the super power I’ve always wanted is to be physically coordinated. I don’t have an intuitive sense of where my body is in space, in relation to other things, which is why all of my sports are solo ones (yoga, hiking). I have to think daily puzzles through, like: “Anna is standing next to the car door with a tote bag, a backpack, a purse, and a coffee thermos that she may, or may not, have remembered to seal shut. It rained, so the ground is muddy. After she unlocks the car door, in what order should she place the bags inside, and place the coffee in the drink slot, without spilling something, dropping something in the mud, or injuring herself with hot coffee or an untimely door slam?” Yeah. It’s that bad.

The super power I have? I never lost the childlike ability to get absorbed in watching or looking at something. Bees entering and exiting a ground nest. Sunrise. Light patterns on the wall. Shadows on water. One of those tiny red mites traversing a board. Dust motes floating in sunlight. Patterns in flooring. Leaves blowing around in a breeze. People’s faces. Dogs, birds, plants, mushrooms. I can find something that I think is interesting or beautiful, anywhere I go. Sometimes it makes me late for things, though. I discovered it by getting in trouble for being “too slow,” or late. However: being a witness to the beauty in this world is my super power, and I will not renounce it. It is a wonderful way to go through life.

And, how about you? What is the super power you wish you had? And what is the one you do have, and how did you discover it?


Hi Anna,

It’s been a bit of a crazy month so I’m a little late to this one.

I think paper works great when you don’t have a system yet. Trying to solve new problems, or try things out, organizing something fresh. The phrase “blank canvas” sticks with us, though few of us are painters, for a reason. But paper really does fall down when collaborating with others or trying to learn from information. Paper can organize you, but paper is woefully inadequate as data. I think a core problem that folks have using software to do their work is that they mistake the needs of lots of organizations to generate data with their need to organize themselves. Quite often, digital systems are actually pretty poor at helping us organize ourselves, but they’re great at generating data that’s easy to share and summarize and learn from in larger groups.

Proprioception is such an interesting superpower choice. I can see how its lack impacts you day to day, but I wonder what a super version of proprioception would mean. Perhaps something like the Bene Gesserit and their precise control over their bodies leading to being great fighters but also things like controlling fertility and fighting against poisons or disease…

Being a keen observer and being able to watch — wow what a great power, and it makes sense given your current profession. As someone who has to consciously remind myself to watch and be in the moment, much like you have to think through the sequence of unburdening yourself as you enter the car, that seems like a great super power. A friend of mine has been making it her personal project to notice great service and then contact companies and managers to make sure they know that the people who helped them did a great job. It’s a simple thing I’m certain is leaving great feelings everywhere in her wake, but it all starts with even spending the time to notice a kindness. Noticing nature and the world around us is critical, but witnessing people may be all the more so. I find both challenging at times. Cis het white guy with a healthy dose of anxiety and main character syndrome over here.

I’ve always wanted telekinesis— the full kind that includes lifting oneself to fly, but importantly, the ability to physically control and manipulate the environment around me. It just seems to cover the full gambit of utility and fun. It’s an incredibly flexible power.

But my real power is the fast accumulation of moderate expertise. I am the type of person that can be placed in most rooms and listen to experts discuss a problem and quickly organize what’s happening, restate the problem more clearly for the folks in the room, and often even see steps to solutions. I can build up a knowledge of jargon quite fast. People often think I have significantly more experience and expertise with whatever it is I’m encountering, because I seem to be able to burrow to understanding fast. I think it’s a combination of systems and strategy thinking— I pretty quickly figure out what information is unimportant, and I often start to see the whys of things. Once you can see the structure and design of something, it’s fairly easy to follow to its conclusions. That’s the best I can describe it— maybe I’d call it something like “meta-structural awareness”. I can see what the human designers of any system were thinking, fast.

I’ve been traveling a lot this month, so I’ve missed a bit of my favorite time of year— the transition into fall. I’m looking forward to two weeks at home as we start to put on coats and sweaters and the air gets a little crisp. I need to create some space over the next couple of weeks to spend time outside. It’s been too chaotic lately, and I don’t want to miss one of the few falls I get to experience in my life. What’s something you should be putting aside time for right now?


October 8, 2023

Dear Jason,

I was in my thirties when the year 2000 came along, so I spent much of my childhood and young adulthood writing letters (phone calls being very expensive, and the proto-internet being unavailable to ordinary mortals). With phone calls, texts, and interactions on social media, communication is a constant back-and-forth. A letter is more like an essay. Yes, you are writing to someone else, but you can more fully unwind your thoughts without interruption. So I think the answer to whether one is having conversations with others or with oneself, when it comes to letters, is “yes.”

Letters are the one form of communication that allows you to finish your sentences. To communicate in paragraphs. And to ponder, over days or weeks, or longer even, what was said and what it sparks in you to say. I don’t think there really is a communications substitute for letters.

I love your comparison with pinning down a job description as being similar to describing the ocean as “blue.” I like the phrase “areas of responsibility,” as well. Perhaps as I get used to my new line of work, I will think of it in terms of areas of responsibility.

And this leads me to your questions about how to manage working with people who are going through serious challenges, while preserving my own soul; as well as shifting to being nondenominational, and what that has done to my tool kit.

The nondenominational aspect is actually more comfortable for me, just because my own personal and familial spiritual and religious background is pretty mixed. I think wisdom traditions like religions tend to hit on the same set of practices because we are all still human beings. I think the relationship of religion to the spiritual aspect of reality, is like the relationship of language to the physical aspect of reality. Religions are human-made modes for articulating and interacting with spiritual realities. So I’m “fluent” in some religious languages, and have a few little travel phrases with others. For patients who are connected with a faith community, my job is to support that, not undermine it. For patients who no longer feel connected to those traditions, or who want nothing to do with those traditions, we can often still do something like meditate together. At heart, I’m a pluralist. One of my favorite quotes from Frederick Buechner (?I think?) is that when it comes to the divine, we are like oysters at a ballet: we might dimly sense light and vibrations and movement, but we really don’t understand what’s going on.

Now, to soul preservation in emotionally intense environments… The rabbi, therapist, and organizational leadership theorist Edwin Friedman wrote brilliant and difficult books about leadership in congregations, based on family systems theory. I honestly think anyone who is in leadership anywhere, ought to read Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. It’s strange, provocative, filled with insights I haven’t seen elsewhere (so many pop culture leadership books are shallow or insular or both). I highlighted my first copy so much I had to buy another one.

It is nothing like any other leadership book I’ve read (and I have endured many). If you decide to read it, abandon your expectations and just experience it, like you would experience meeting a neighbor who was a true eccentric.

One of Friedman’s themes is the importance of self-differentiation for leaders, and how that affects the flow of anxiety through the group (whether it be family, congregation, company, whatever).

The core to healthy leadership in groups like congregations, which have high expectations of “meshing” emotionally with their leaders, and which also have high anxieties – is practicing self-differentiation, and practicing what Friedman called “non-anxious presence” (and what I, and many others call, less anxious presence). A leader who self-differentiates, who is non-anxious when others are anxious, can effect profound change in group dynamics over time. (I did it in my parish; it took several years.)

What does that mean in plain English? To my mind, it means that you know who you are, you know what you are about, you know what is yours to do, and you know what is not yours to do.

Can I be emotionally present with people who are anxious, grieving, in distress, without absorbing their pain and taking it with me to my next visit, or into my own soul? Friedman says, if we’re really intentional and practice a lot, we can self-differentiate and be a non-anxious presence maaaaybe 70% of the time.

I use what I call spiritual disciplines to train myself to self-differentiate, and to be a non-anxious (or less anxious) presence in emotionally difficult situations. Most of these practices might be called self-care practices in the secular world.

I keep a rule of life (what I call on one of my blogs a “personal framework,” because it doesn’t have to be religious), which I try to reread once a week to remind myself of what I am about, in this world. I journal, pray, and do what we jokingly call “speed yoga” each morning, I shut off my phone when the work day is over, I attend church (relaxing not to have to lead the service any more!), I get out for walks, I keep in touch with friends and family. I consider my home to be my sanctuary, and I make it a pleasant and relaxing place to be. I am getting serious again about practicing a real personal Sabbath, a day of rest from Friday night through Saturday. (And not what Eugene Peterson called a “bastardized Sabbath,” where I’m running around doing errands all day, which is what I fell back into.) I also use rituals.

It seems a number of people in hospice work use rituals. A nun I met who was also a chaplain would, when she was washing her hands between visits, envision all the sadness from the previous visit washing down the drain, so she didn’t take it to the next visit, or take it home with her. I know a social worker who discreetly wipes her feet on the mat before she goes in to a home (she is wiping away all of her assumptions and agenda, to be open to what will happen), and who wipes her feet (again, discreetly) as she leaves the house, so that that household’s problems stay there and don’t travel with her to other visits, or to her own home.

I ritually wipe my feet before I get in my car, and on a low stone in the alleyway before I walk into my house. I also ring a meditation bell three times at the end of each work day, which signals to me that my work is done for the day, and I need not think about it any more.

Rituals are fantastic. They communicate to the body as well as the mind, so you truly can let something go, and relax.

…And nobody likes to watch Young Frankenstein with my husband and me, because we quote along with the whole movie 😂

“Put… the candle…. BACK!”

A work trip to Jamaica? Wow, that sounds intriguing! Is this a conference? Have you been to Jamaica before? (I’ve never been, but would like to go.)

What do you do to balance your work life and your home life? How do you leave space and responsibility for YOUR soul (as you put it so well), with a job that can be done – as I am assuming – remotely?

Best regards,



There is a practice in Judaism when returning from a funeral. Before entering your home, you perform a ritualistic washing of the hands. What is the purpose of this? Much of early Judaism was obsessed with purity. The mikveh was a central part of life. It could be seen as a public health measure to wash after being in the presence of remains. But I think it is not merely about physical or spiritual cleanliness. I think the washing is much like the rituals you encounter in hospice workers– we are meant to take a moment and ensure a separation. The funeral was then, our home will be now. The Hebrew word for “holy” means “separate”– that which is holy is separate and distinct; it is holy by being apart. The Sabbath is holy through separation from the rest of the week.

I think learning to be self-differentiated, to be separate, while not being distant is a challenge of leadership. We need to practice deep empathy without being overrun and controlled by it. Empathy doesn’t require that we absorb the anxieties of those we are leading. But the way most of us know how to practice empathy naturally leads to some… leakage. We need moments to flush and seal.

It could be worse, it could be raining.

This was my first time in Jamaica. We’re doing some work to help modernize their school financial management. Quite a lot is still run on paper. It’s a small project for now that might grow significantly. I got to spend some time in a a rural high school reviewing their systems and working with several government agencies. It was a wonderful learning experience and a real stretch for me to apply the skills and knowledge I’ve built up for over a decade in a completely different context.

I do work fully remotely. In this same job, which was always remote-friendly, I started remote, then moved to Baltimore and went into the office for a few years, and during/post-COVID we went fully remote. Remote work was much harder when I lived in Providence. First, we had a one bedroom apartment so my office was the bedroom. Second, I was flying to Baltimore 2-3 times a month in addition to my regular work travel. Things are much better now that we have a large enough house that I have my own office with a door to close.

But separation is still hard, because I work across all of the North American timezones and I’m a bit of a workaholic. So there’s a few things I have to do. For starters, I schedule all of my time at the gym (small group training, with 1 trainer to up to 6 people max) and volleyball each week. I find that if it’s on my calendar, I go. And physical activity is especially helpful for me to achieve separation. It’s hard to think about and be consumed by work while playing a team sport especially.

I struggle sometimes because my work is at a computer, and many of my hobbies are also at a computer. So I only read on my Kindle or with physical books– my iPad would lead me right back to work. I also struggle because I work with my best friend, which is mostly a blessing but occasionally can make it hard to disconnect from work stress and anxiety. Especially when something is big enough to impact us both, it’s a major support that neither of us can lean on because it’ll just lead to a bit of spiraling.

I aggressively use Apple’s new Focus Modes. I broadly let very few things notify me, but I let even less post 6pm or on weekends when I turn on “Down Time” – it hides all my apps for a few useful widgets and reduces who can reach me to just a handful of people. Otherwise, 6pm or weekends means I have to go seek something out for it to get my attention. I’ve found this quite helpful, even if I still impulsively open Slack a few times a day.

This weekend I went to a bar and magic show. One of the tricks involved guessing the super power that people wished they had. What super power have you always wanted? And more importantly, what is your actual super power? How did you discover it?


October 4, 2023

This month I’m corresponding with Anna Havron

Dear Jason,

I’m wondering about your thoughts on this Letters project, now that it has been several months. Do you think of this project as a form of community, or does it feel more like a series of separate conversations? What, if anything, has surprised you about doing this?

Probably the biggest thing going on in my life right now is my career shift in moving from being a parish pastor to being a hospice chaplain. And since it’s both a new job and a career shift, I’m trying to figure out what it is, exactly, that chaplains do.

Even an academic who studies them said that nobody seemed to have an agreed-upon definition. Spirituality is, after all, difficult to define; and so defining spiritual care work is even harder.

Years ago, I did some training for chaplaincy work at a hospital. My supervisor said, “Chaplains are the only people wearing a hospital badge that the patient can refuse to see. Everyone else, the patient has to put up with. Don’t underestimate the healing power for someone being able to kick you out of the room.” That voluntary part is important. The medical people, they have to see. Chaplains are optional. I like to think that I’ve empowered a few people that way.

In reading up again about chaplaincy work, I’ve come across hand-wavy phrases like “spiritual clinician” (a healthcare chaplain educator wrote that), and “secular priest.” Healthcare chaplains are supposed to be able to work with people of any faith, or no faith. But Wendy Cadge, the social scientist, said that no one even agreed on how to define “spirituality,” which is kind of a problem, when chaplains are considered to be responsible for providing spiritual care. Side note: In her book Paging God, a study of hospital chaplains, Cadge outlined the difficulties of designing chapels that are supposed to be welcoming to all.

The lead chaplain where I work now, however, said something that resonated for me.

He said that the thing with medical care is it’s necessarily focused on the mechanics of the physical body. But at interdisciplinary team meetings, he saw himself as the advocate for the whole person. “I am the voice at the table for the soul,” he said.

Or, if you don’t like the word “soul,” I think “inner life,” or “the person” (as opposed to “the patient”) might be good words.

See? So hard to define.

The other thing that clicked for me was hearing a nurse say, “I did not think that existential crises could affect people’s physical health, until I came here.” Some of what I do, is to explore existential crises with people.

That part of the work, driving around to people’s homes, or going to see them at assisted living facilities, visiting with people and learning some of the topography of their inner lives, is work I have done for many years. I did it in the parish when I was a pastor.

What you do, is you look, and especially you listen. What is important to this person? What are the pictures on the wall? What objects are they keeping closest to them? What keeps coming up in conversation? Where does it hurt? What are they proud of? What is unhealed? What are they fighting? What have they made their peace with? What do they wish had been different? What has meaning for them? What seems hollow now?

Some good questions someone asked of me recently: What have you lost? What remains? What are the possibilities before you, right now?

So I listen for those things, if the person can communicate verbally.

If they can’t communicate verbally, if they are so cloaked in dementia or withdrawing as they are dying, I’m still listening. But I listen in a different way. I think of it, as attuning myself with them. You have to be receptive to their presence.

The lead chaplain, who has been doing this for many years, said it is wise to assume that people who appear non-responsive can hear and understand everything. He has known more than one person who awakened from a coma and was able to repeat overheard conversations. I have known people with dementia who were able, briefly, to communicate with sharpness and clarity. But that’s rare. When I talk to people who are non-responsive I speak with the assumption that on a deep level, they can hear me. When I am with someone, if it seems right, I might offer prayer or silent meditation. I’m surprised by how many people have reached out their hand toward mine. Many people get very little human touch.

So that is partly what I do on weekdays now.

But a lot of what I do on weekdays is to get out a laptop and document things into our healthcare application, so that Medicare and the administrative people at the hospice know what it is that I have been doing.

Whatever it is, exactly, that I do, do.1

The driving around, the documentation, and the meetings take more time than the visits.

So I’m still working on understanding what my job is. I would go on to say that nobody understands what anybody else’s job is, in general.

Ask most people outside the field what they think a teacher does all day, or a software engineer, or a forest ranger, or a CEO, and quite often their ideas are wildly different from the lived reality of what it is, to do that work.

What is it that people think you do at your job, and what is it, that you actually do?

Best regards,


Hi Anna,

Thanks for joining me on the Letters journey. And thank you for putting a wonderful Young Frankenstein reference — it’s one of those special movies I share with my father.

This project has been harder than I expected. It’s harder to keep up with, for me and my correspondents. Certainly harder than I expected. Some of that is life— I’m currently writing this from Jamaica on a work trip there— and some of that is wanting to have time to think about what people wrote. In that sense, Letters has been a success. Sometimes I respond right away, sometimes I wait a few days. But I almost always think about each letter for the full week or two between correspondence. I think about the ideas that are brought up, the language, and my own responses. I often wish I was actually having a direct, immediate conversation because of how much feels left unsaid. I’m often glad that I’m not having that immediate conversation that I can draw out until there’s nothing left, and instead get to savor a new conversation when time has passed and we have to move on to new and interesting ideas.

But I don’t feel the letters themselves have created a community or are speaking to each other. I think sometimes folks respond to how other have written and the months they liked the most. But they’re still separate conversations.


I’m not sure if I’m having separate conversations. From my view point, writing these letters feels very similar from week to week. I often wonder if my own responses could be read in isolation and if they would work as a stand alone text. Am I actually having conversations or am I just writing to myself? I’m not always sure.

I can commiserate with how hard it is to define your work, especially as you change roles. My job is hard to explain, and I don’t really have one job. I alternate from executive responsibilities to manager responsibilities to individual contributor responsibilities regularly. I am at once doing “product management”, which is hard to explain, and managing development teams, and focusing on data integration and analysis. Sometimes I’m a researcher, sometimes I’m a software developer. Sometimes I’m a coach or a mentor or a manager. Sometimes I’m trying to run a company. Sometimes I’m trying to be entrepreneurial in discovering future avenues for growth. Sometimes I support our customers directly. That can be detailed instructions on “how to use our product” or problem solving or process engineering or consulting.

I think jobs are hard to describe because they are so often so many things at once. Our areas of responsibility describe what we do about as well as “blue” describes the ocean. It’s not wrong, but it’s far from enough.

How do you handle working with people who are experiencing some of the most difficult times in their life? How do you preserve yourself knowing that if you’re present, it means that things are not going well. How do you leave space and responsibility for your own soul?

I’m also curious about the challenges of being non-denominational. Do you feel that this limits the tools you have to comfort those in need?


  1. Which reminds me, October; time to re-watch Young Frankenstein. “FrankenSHTEEN!” ↩︎

October 1, 2023

Hi Jason,

I totally agree with you on the “more money helps, but don’t expect much” messaging being both a) true and b) not a great story to tell! And I also appreciate your point about the sheer number of school boards not only contributing to the problem of just having too many elected positions, but that there is not enough talent to go around. I suspect that Americans react to poor governance by adding even more oversight (further diluting the talent pool!) rather than cutting the number of elected positions, leading to even worse governance and on and on in a negative feedback loop.

Since I may only have time for one more of your responses, I did want to get your thoughts on mass transit given your interest there. You may know this, but for outside readers: I’ve commuted via MARC train to DC for nearly 10 years. When I started working in DC, that was 4 days a week in the DC office (1 WFH), gradually moving to 3 days a week (2 WFH), then the pandemic (full WFH), and over the past 18 months, roughly 1 day a week in office. Just this week, I received the announcement that our DC office would close and I will be full-time WFH beginning in December. Remote work is its own interesting issue, though I’ll briefly say that I worked remotely for Brown University while working in Iowa for nearly 5 years in 2009-14, and it was really tough. However, the changes in technology, company acceptance, and the sheer percentage of remote co-workers has really made a tremendous positive difference in my work life.

OK, so back to mass transit. I see, on the one hand, mass transit enthusiasts (with whom I sympathize) discuss all the benefits of robust options, and being clear about the need for increased transit frequency to encourage more riders. I read recently about the potential revival of the Red Line in Baltimore, which would finally connect the western and eastern regions of the metro area, which have been significantly underserved for decades. On the other hand, I look at MARC ridership numbers since 2016, and I have significant concerns about the continued viability of commuter rail in the region absent massive infusions of cash. Going from an average of roughly 800k riders per month pre-pandemic to a post-pandemic high of 338k in May 2023 is alarming. I’ll admit that the last time I rode MARC this month had higher ridership than typical, but let’s be really optimistic and say ridership rebounds to 500k per month. A drop of 40% doesn’t seem sustainable to me, but I see a disconnect between transit advocates and the numbers (and my personal experience). MARC trains aren’t infrequent, and I’m not sure there’s capacity on that line, which serves Amtrak as well, to add more trains. MARC has also, for some reason, stopped running their electrified trains and is all-diesel, which is bad both environmentally and travel time-wise. What’s going to happen when Maryland runs out of pandemic aid and has a budget crunch?

I don’t want to overinterpret my experience, though. Perhaps commuter rail’s ridership issues are exacerbated by having ridership that is more likely to shift to remote work. It also appears the federal workforce, compared to other sectors, has disproportionately allowed WFH, and federal workers make up a significant percentage of MARC ridership. Is the future about more investment in intra-city (as opposed to commuter or long-distance) mass transit? Would love your thoughts on this (but please don’t use the word Maglev or I will cry).

Best, Jacob

Hi Jacob

It’s interesting how important feedback loops are in building systems. We see the strains of unexpected pathways all across our current government structure.

I suspect that Americans react to poor governance by adding even more oversight (further diluting the talent pool!) rather than cutting the number of elected positions, leading to even worse governance and on and on in a negative feedback loop.

This is definitely a part of what’s going on. Our inability to build infrastructure is, of course, about a reaction to horrible abuses by government and industry, followed by tons of rules and procedures to avoid those problems, generating new problems.

Proceduralism and legalism are the poor tools we’re strangled by as they act as restraints on abuse.

So let’s talk rail.

Here’s my overall take– moving people with cars first and primarily is a mistake. Moving people with trains works under certain circumstances, which the US largely fails to create. Moving away from electrification with MARC rolling stock is a great example. Instead of electrifying the few, infrequent spots that needed diesel, MARC invested in worse trains that lead to worse speeds and worse service. We standardized on the wrong thing.

I think commuter rail in Baltimore is largely doomed. The distance is too short, and the trains are far too infrequent and too slow. MARC has never had sufficient evening or weekday service. It’s never had service not focused on the heavy commute at 9 and 5. It’s got too many stops on rolling stock that’s far too slow. Baltimore to DC is possible with conventional rail in 25 minutes. It should be the case that trains have been running for decades by now, departing at :00 and :30 on the clock face and getting to DC in 25 minutes. But it hasn’t and it has broken transit. It’s helped to fuel suburban sprawl around DC. It’s just a mess. And of course, Baltimore City itself doesn’t help by having very poor access by public transit to Baltimore Penn. I don’t think we’ll see it “work” in our lifetimes the way that it should. But I do think we should invest anyway, because I think it just takes decades of investment to undo decades of supporting car culture.

Baltimore itself should be focused almost entirely on building better transit within Baltimore and the parts of Baltimore County that should be Baltimore City, except racism. I don’t think that relying on the DC connection and commute is a strong strategy for Baltimore. That’s not how I feel about Providence and Boston, meanwhile– Providence needs the strongest possible connection to Boston to thrive– but Baltimore both stands better on its own with a stronger metro area and has secondary connections to Philadelphia and New York. We should let Amtrak get its shit together on high speed rail along the current alignments in the Northeast Corridor and benefit from that. MARC just needs EMUs and regular service. Baltimore needs to be far less reliant on cars and focus on quality of life.

I once did some back of the envelope math that determined that simply by using bad rolling stock and having 3-4 stops that are largely empty in completely empty places south of the city, the Baltimore Light Rail takes 20-25 extra minutes to get from BWI to the Convention Center. The Nursery Road Light Rail stop makes the Boston suburbs look like transit-oriented development.

I’m pretty concerned about all the Red Line proposals right now. All of the routes have some significant curves that will impact speed which impacts frequency. The vision for tunneling seems to make some tough choices. I’m not convinced Maryland knows how to manage a project like this and do that kind of tunneling inexpensively. Bus rapid transit seems like a terrible idea, but I don’t see the red line as proposed connecting the Light Rail and Subway in such a way that makes for a coherent transit system. It’s clearly a necessary step, and I’m still mad we’re at least a decade behind now, but I also think it’s still too small with no plan for follow through to have the impact we need. I find myself agreeing with some of the advocacy saying that light rail is not enough – we should instead use heavy rail like the subway and MARC, especially with two explicit station connections to the MARC, and save on rolling stock orders and maintenance.

I’d like to see a bigger plan. Could Baltimore push for a better North-South corridor (studies are ongoing, probably should be along Greenmount to York up to Towson, in my opinion) at the same time? Could we explicitly staff up our transit agencies with experts on cut-and-cover tunnels and become the only place on the East Coast that knows how to build with Spanish costs? Could we then export this expertise as part of our investment?

It’s all going to be too expensive and take too long because it’s too small. More is more with transit, but we’re not willing to do that kind of thinking.

That said, if we don’t force denser zoning and construction out at CMS, Security Square, SSA, and the I-70 Park and Ride I’ll be furious. No more trains to parking lots in the County that just lead to people complaining that people from the city can access them.

Thanks for your letters this September!


September 20, 2023

Hi Jason,

I agree that the awards in speculative fiction are great - they’ve been helpful to me in exploring genres that I don’t have a lot of experience with. The Hugo Awards, for example, led me to N.K. Jemisin, Arkady Martine, and Cixin Liu, all of whom I’ve enjoyed. Interestingly, I’ve found that the big literary fiction awards - Pulitzer, National Book Award, Booker Prize - have been misaligned to my taste in fiction. I’m not entirely sure why that’s happened (it’s probably just me getting old). I’m also a reader who will endure through a book I’m not enjoying, particularly if it’s a “classic.” I do need to wean myself from the notion of a canon (the perils of majoring in English!), though there have been books where the struggle has been productive for me and I’m glad I persisted to the end. If only I knew which challenging books would result in that feeling! I’m also with you on a significant chunk of non-fiction books being more well-suited to a long-form article, particularly books that take on current events. It’s unfortunate that there’s not a strong market for non-fiction books too long for a magazine but too short for a full-length book, a sort of non-fiction novella category.

You really had to poke the bear by mentioning school boards. That said, I’ll start with the positives. I truly believe that the vast majority of school board members have good intentions. This is almost exclusively an unpaid, volunteer position. Don’t get me wrong, volunteers are essential. So many of our institutions rely on enthusiastic amateur volunteers to keep them running. This is certainly true in the institutions to which I belong, whether I’m in an active role like co-chairing a social justice committee at my synagogue or leading my neighborhood HOA, or primarily a passive member, like my kids’ schools’ PTAs or community sports leagues. There’s an assumption with these roles that a) everyone is acting with good intentions and b) the complexity of the role/institution is low enough that an amateur can do it without payment. School districts are…not that. I don’t have to tell you about the system complexity and financial complexity of school districts. These are not systems that should be overseen by well-meaning amateurs. However, we have this historical legacy of elected school boards, so what to do? I think the best option would be to, when possible, assign oversight of school districts to elected executives like mayors and county executives. Here in Baltimore County there is clear frustration from the county executive that he has little control over the largest budget item. This also ties into the concern that there are too many elected positions in the United States, which creates policy choke points and low-information/low turnout decisions by the public. This Atlantic piece bluntly states it: Americans Vote Too Much. Alas, a key hurdle here is that a lot of people believe that additional elected positions lead to better, more considered policy decisions, rather than (in my view) confusion about accountability and multiple choke points that stifle good decision-making. Recent attempts to streamline decision-making, like mayoral-led school districts, seem to have fallen out of favor, perhaps due to the unpopular decisions that many mayor-led systems had to make (e.g., school closures).

How do you feel about school boards? Other problems I failed to identify or different ways of looking at them?

Sticking with school governance, I’ve been wondering for the past two years about the roughly $190 billion in federal COVID relief funding to schools, which according to this Chalkbeat article works out to about $4,000 per student. While I know there were certain required set-asides to address learning loss and a few prohibitions, it seemed to me pretty much a blank check. I’ve struggled to find good information on how the funds are being spent or any impact on student outcomes, which is concerning! So I’ll end with a question for you: What do you think will be the long-term impact of the biggest one time infusion of funding into K-12 American education?


Hi Jacob,

I find all of the non-speculative fiction awards similarly frustrating. They’re just not the kind of strong indicator I might like a book that I get from the Hugos or Nebulas. I used to believe in finishing any book I have started, but lately, I’ve been more willing to put something down. Sometimes it’s just not the right time, sometimes it’s just not the right book. I can always go for other attempts, but if a book just stops me in my tracks, it’s time to move on. I’d rather be reading than not reading because of some sense that I should always finish my book.

I think that assumption of complexity– and that an amateur can contribute effectively– permeates huge portions of our American system. A lot of “small d” democracy and volunteerism is built on visions of a society of small towns centered around just a few institutions everyone took part in. That’s why we vote too much (I also loved that article), but it’s also why we have some bad assumptions. I think by ceding control to volunteer amateurs, elected or not (and they’re barely elected), we signal that it is possible for amateurs to do a good job!

I think a core problem with the municipal control piece is that most municipalities, organizationally, are less complex than schools. The web of local, state, and federal funds, statutory requirements, and complexity of service delivery means that most school operations are simply harder than running county or municipal governments. So while I like moving the elected accountability in some sense, from an organizational perspective, the municipal functions would probably be more easily absorbed by the school systems than the other way around. There’s this huge frustration among mayors and county executives and city councils that the schools are a “black hole”– but in truth, the schools are more transparent, have more sophisticated practices, and have more difficult jobs to do– at least in my experience.

I think my core issue with school governance, and boards in general, is less that they exist and more that there are far too many. I think it’s probably about reasonable for Maryland to have county level boards and districts. I think it’s a disaster that Nassau County, New York is over 50 districts or that Rhode Island has 39. I’d like to see consolidation of districts, at least from a governance stand point, and I’d like to see more of their governance move up to the states. There’s no current state capacity, but it’s absolutely not to our advantage that we have so much variation in our school system. The only thing having lots of school districts truly guarantees is inequitable funding of schools, and that’s not the kind of variance worth chasing. But there’s also just not enough talent out there for 15,000 school boards and 15,000 superintendents and central offices. Regional service providers covering some core operations don’t go far enough.

I do think that ESSER was pretty much a blank check by design, and yet, I also think it will have virtually no impact. The data how dollars were spent will, I think, become clear in about 12 months. We’re just about to the end, which means the expenditures should all have been recorded and can be analyzed. We do an “ok” job of this on the Relief Funds tab for districts on the Arizona School Finance Portal – we decided to show the spending on relief funds by “function” code in Arizona. For the most part, it’s a pretty good indicator on the school district activities. We do have the data by object (the “what”) as well.

Ultimately, districts with lots of money largely couldn’t help themselves and hired staff, from what I could see. Some of those staff are just going to go away, some they struggled to hire in the first place, and some may stick around in states like Maryland where additional state funding is sufficiently backfilling ESSER investments. Those that received less funding were more likely, it seems to me, to use it for backlogged capital expenses where possible. Neither of these were necessarily bad uses of funds, but I don’t think that we will really see much impact from any funding that isn’t permanent. Districts just can’t plan to restructure what they do and how without reliable, recurring revenue. And I don’t think there’s a whole lot we can do that is one time, on the margin, with persisting impacts.

This is all conjecture just based on conversations I’ve been having. It’s strange to be on the side of “more money helps” while also saying “like this, don’t expect much”. It’s a horrific position to defend.

I guess this is my pessimistic prediction: the capital projects backlog will continue to be long, but things will be less bad than they would have been. The current interest rate environment is going to make it even harder to chip away at things like build quality, and the ESSER funding may delay that being a total disaster long enough for interest rates to decline a bit.

Sorry for the late response! We had our all-company, in-person meeting last week at the Belvedere followed by our Education Finance Summit at the Maryland Center for History and Culture. I flew up to NY directly from the conference for Rosh Hashanah at my parents and… things got away from me.

Looking forward to your next letter.


September 7, 2023

This month I’m corresponding with Jacob Mishook


I hope you had a great Labor Day weekend. When we originally decided on corresponding in September, you mentioned it would be timely given the start of the school year and that we’ve both worked in education policy. So in keeping with that theme, I’ll start with the biggest education policy story of the last year, the “science of reading,” popularized by the “Sold a Story” podcast. I’m not an early literacy expert so I can’t comment on the merits of the argument of the pendulum swing back towards phonics - though my layperson reaction was that it is compelling - but I do have a few observations:

  • In the twenty-plus years I’ve been in the education policy field, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reaction to a single piece of research-influenced journalism larger than “Sold a Story” on early literacy policy. I’ve seen various numbers out there, but at the low-end at least 18 states have considered “science of reading” bills in the last year. In a field as frankly slow-moving as education policy, this is truly exceptional, and makes me wonder how it happened. A compelling and lay-friendly story, sure, but that can’t totally explain it (there’s a lot of good journalism out there). I could spin up a “just-so” story about parents seeing their kids struggle during the pandemic, but that seems incomplete as well. Any ideas here?
  • At the same time, the act of reading seems both larger and smaller in American culture now. Larger, of course, due to recent laws restricting what young people can read in their schools and libraries. But also smaller - the National Endowment for the Arts regularly puts out fascinating studies of Americans’ reading habits. The most recent one, from 2020 (using 2017 survey data) focused on the ways in which people read books (e.g., print, electronic, audio). And that’s certainly interesting (as an aside, I’m a dedicated print reader, and do not have the type of concentration needed to listen to audiobooks). But the broader reading trend seems disheartening:

Line chart showing the steady decline in readying for those under 64 and a small increase for those over 65.

I assume reading is falling victim to the crowded landscape of leisure activities, but maybe a real policy focus on reading over time will reverse the trend?

  • Which brings me to a (happier) last point - you and I are enthusiastic readers, though perusing our respective Goodreads activities, we don’t have a lot of overlap. At the risk of some overgeneralization, you appear to have a clear preference for speculative fiction, while I’m maybe more of a magpie but with a tilt towards (hate this but for lack of a better term) “literary” fiction. If my favorite pastime is reading, my second favorite might be reading book reviews, which leads me in a lot of different directions and also a huge pile of unread library books. How do you decide what to read? When and how do you find time to read? Are there books or genres you’d want to read more in depth if you had more time?


Hi Jacob,

I had a great Labor Day Weekend. Although it was too hot here to be outside (which has been my general feeling about Baltimore since about June 1), I took a little time off from work for a “staycation” of sorts. That meant doing a little bit of clean up/clean out at home and heading to Oppenheimer on Tuesday for a solid 3 hours in air conditioning when no one at work could reach me even if they tried on my day off.

It is remarkable how fast “Sold a Story” had an impact– especially since this was one of the least well-kept secrets in education policy… since I started this work in 2009/2010? I remember reading Daniel Willingham on learning styles and reading all the way back then and thinking it was wild how far practice had strayed from evidence. I think like many odd things in the world today, the answer is probably something like “It’s COVID, stupid,” just as you suspect. I’m not sure I would actually attach it to parents seeing their kids struggle. Instead, I think it probably has more to do with the broader breakdown in trust. Education has long been plagued by everyone loving their teachers, but thinking teachers in general are not great. Their school is great, but schools in general, not so much. I think pure enthusiasm from an adult that parents and families trusted and liked translated into belief in their expertise and capability. With so many districts failing to meet parent expectations, whether that meant opening or closing, I think that trust was just broken. We were ripe for a story that politicians of all ideologies could get behind that said, “Schools are doing something wrong that we all agree is wrong.” In so many ways, bad reading instruction was just super popular reading instruction. It was instruction teachers enjoyed, and we just reached the point where that was far from enough for families.

I’m not sure what to make of reading trends. On the one hand, looks bad! On the other hand, there’s this additional culture zeitgeist around things like “booktok” and the seeming staying power of independent booksellers. There’s also this whole world of self-publishing on Amazon and what that has meant or not. Books feel like they’re in a weird place, from a production and business model sense, and I wonder if we have to be careful about “books” versus “reading”. I really like long form, non-serialized storytelling. I like movies over most television most of the time. And I like books. I don’t think the novel is dead, but I wonder if what we’re seeing is a business that is struggling to pivot and deliver what its customers want in a world where culture is changing so fast.

I have a firm rule in my own reading– I try and stay away from most non-fiction. I can enjoy non-fiction, but there are a couple of hang ups I have. First, I find that almost every non-fiction book contains 90% of its value in 10% of its page count. I find myself constantly wishing that books were just longer form articles or monographs or sometimes even blog posts. The other reason is because I read non-fiction all day long every day. I read news magazine articles, blog posts, newspaper articles, and listen to many non-fiction podcasts. I’m awash in non-fiction in all my other media consumption. So there’s a balancing act there as well. I find books to be the wrong form for most non-fiction, and I find myself lacking in fiction every where else I consume new media.

Deciding what to read then is a bit more tough. I do heavily stick to science fiction and fantasy. I’m fan of the term “speculative fiction” because that’s where most of my interest lies. I find that it’s helpful to have unrealistic elements in a story as an animating mechanism. It’s not so much about having an exciting story– I read plenty of philosophical, non-exciting stuff– but instead, it’s that I find it easier to understand the message or ideas of a book when they’re a bit more plain. The point of most good speculative fiction is to manipulate the world and have characters that respond in realistic ways to a world with those rules. Playing with the rules makes the ideas more concrete and obvious to me. Reading literary fiction, which I do enjoy, I often find myself unsure of what an author is saying with their work. Literary fiction for me is all plot. I can’t penetrate the message. I don’t suffer that same deficiency with speculative fiction.

One thing that’s great in science fiction and fantasy is I can track some of the key awards– the Hugos, Nebulas, Locus, etc– and pick up the nominees I have not already read. I also then follow down the path of certain authors as well. I’m not that big into book reviews, but I imagine I could be. I just haven’t really found a spoiler free source that resonates with my own taste. Perhaps the closest thing is a nerdy pop-culture podcast called The Incomparable, which has book club episodes. Sometimes I just look at the “what are we reading?” notes at the end of episodes that have nothing to do with the book discussed and choose things at random.

If I had more time, I probably would read slightly more non-fiction, but quite judiciously. I would have to work harder to find the books that earn their page count. And I also wish I read more short story collections.

I didn’t answer everything, because we would be going on for quite some time, but I’m glad we’ve got September up and running and are discussing reading.

I’ll throw you something that haunts me that you can choose to respond to or not in your next letter– what can be done about school boards? The situation right now is, not good, to say the least.


September 1, 2023

Hi Jason,

At this point Claire and I have sworn a blood oath that we’ll never move again. I struggle to think of other events that so thoroughly expose you to the ways in which your society is seemingly held together with little more than string and wishes…

I think that’s why, as well as attempting to integrate physical note-taking into my life, I have spent a lot of energy thinking about it; I’m attempting to improve my existing invisible armour [sic] for surviving the actions of other people, whilst building whole new defensive mechanisms. My theory: To improve the infrastructure that is my thinking and feeling will inevitably negate at least some of the negative influences of “the crowd”.

Everything you say about the effect of physical working, as if it is tied closely to your ability to take action, is how I feel. When my environment is mostly ok, if not good, then sure enough the digital workspace is reliable; however, when enough “life happens” events occur the physical systems are both a safety net and reminder that I should rely on them in more than just emergency situations. The Analog system has definitely been influential in this way for me as well, though I have yet to begin using the Sidekick.

I like to use outline software — Jess Grosjean’s Bike, specifically — for planning or just dumping my thoughts quickly and have come to use it just for work. Beyond that I can only recall mind mapping being useful when working with other people and haven’t had the experience of trying to do that with software; it’s safe to say I’m doubtful that the experience would be anywhere near good enough to justify the effort involved.

When we moved last it was from the coast to a land-locked region and dealing with the change in air type has been difficult. Coastal air is ridiculously good wherever I’ve been across these isles and the current move will get us back there; it’s the only item on the short list of conditions for moving so soon that was likely to be met… and then of course the unlikely ones fell into place all at once. Life happens, as it were.

Sorry for the late response, again. It’s annoying how much I’ve enjoyed this, though, given the whole life thing happening. I’d happily do this again, once we’re better settled and stuff.


Hi Simon,

I’ve been thinking a lot about “air” myself lately. It somewhat came up in the last letter, but I find myself reflecting more and more on my physical environment and the weather I’m experiencing.

We spent last winter in Mexico City. It was a weird time in my life– work was still quite busy for both of us and I was recovering from surgery. I didn’t really feel physically up for much for some time, and I got severe food poisoning twice. It’s unclear to me how much of that was being in a new country with new foods or just my whole gut being a mess 8 weeks after an appendectomy and some pretty heavy anti-biotics.

We were spending our time somewhere built for indoor-outdoor living during its worst weather– occasionally in the 50s (low 10s C) at night!– and I was not fully myself. But we spent every day at least a little bit outside, walking around, and being in our environment. We explored more than we explore at home, because there was more to explore. Walkability where I am now is great for about a half mile in all directions. Walkability in Mexico City stretches as far as your legs can take you in every direction.

The air is different there– land locked and at altitude without it ever really freezing. Here at home in Baltimore, we are below freezing at night in the winter and have long stretches where the days are never below the 90s (32+C) and the humidity is set to maximum (outside of South Asia, perhaps).

I thought being in Mexico in winter meant avoiding the worst of the weather, but this summer has me wondering if perhaps the heat and humidity is more oppressive to me than the cold.

Unfortunately, in large parts, I think I’ve got the same pact you have with Claire with Elsa. Elsa is quite happy where we are, and any moves we’d make would have to be big. And I have to admit, given our current life needs, we are in the right house that would be terribly difficult to find somewhere else. A move would have to be driven by a need for a different lifestyle leading to a need for a different space, but that doesn’t feel all that likely. I don’t quite feel stuck, but I do feel that the expense, energy, time, and challenges of moving are making it hard and harder to quench my considerable wanderlust. You’d think traveling as much as I do for work and fun would help, but … it’s not quite the same.

When I travel, I really like to do what I call “urban hiking”. Choose a restaurant that’s a solid hour walk away for lunch and spend my morning ambling my way there, stopping wherever and whenever I want. Repeat for dinner. See as many of the neighborhoods as possible, moving through and spending your time like someone who lives in each space, but covering more ground. Sometimes I take a car or public transit 30 minutes away to give myself a new start point and work back toward “home base”. I’m not as engaged by a museum as I am knowing 10 coffee shops, 3 independent bookstores, 4 places the punks hang out, 6 pizza slice shops, and fancy dinner or two.

It doesn’t seem likely I’m going to get to live a different version of myself in these different places, but I want to achieve some poor approximation of that other version of myself while I’m there.

Maybe that’s part of the appeal of a blank page. Somehow, it’s more easily malleable for understanding a different version of myself. My digital tools feel more fixed.


August 16, 2023

Meta: This month I’m corresponding with Simon Woods

Hi Jason,

Sorry for the late start — my reward for scheduling something for August is an unplanned move. I think there’s a line about the quickest way to make god laugh.

I hope all is well for you? Given the wonderfully dystopian nature of our summers now and my inability to consistently keep up to date with, well, much of anything I’m unsure exactly how most people are keeping at the moment.

You hit the nail on the head recently regarding subject matter. Journaling, notebooks, and all associated ephemera have become a sudden, significant part of my life. Not only have I been journaling but I have more than one journal available, as well as two planners, and a host of notebooks of different types. I started building my collection at the very end of last year, beginning from maybe a handful of books.

It definitely caught me off guard and I realised that by separating certain aspects of my thinking from the computers in my life I had found the level of compartmentalisation that matched my long-term ambitions. It helped me to find a source of inspiration for what I mentioned in that original blog post: intention. In many ways, the physical books allow me to talk to myself within the constraints of writing in which I am comfortable and motivated, whilst the computer remains the best tool for talking to other people.

This was all news to me, having struggled to wrangle these thoughts for the past few years, and given that I am curious to know if physical notebooks play any such role for you?

Speak to you soon, Simon

Hi Simon,

I used to joke that the sure sign of when my life is getting chaotic is when I struggle to get a hair cut. I go through entire periods of time where planning something 4-5 weeks out, or even finding a slot that lines up with when I’m free can start to feel nearly impossible. Plans are comfortable fictions we cling to at our own risk. The dystopian nature of summer is making me rethink a lot of things about my life though— I am becoming less tolerant to the heat and humidity as I get older and yet have never lived somewhere with hotter and more humid summers than my home for the last 7 years in Baltimore. Escaping the heat (and cold, to a lesser extent) to be somewhere I actually want to be outside will need to become a permanent feature rather than a partial release.

Physical notebooks have a way of flashing in and out of my life. At times when I am really struggling emotionally, I’ve found that writing some quick and easy reflections at the end of the day can be helpful. Writing on the computer doesn’t always work for writing about how I’m feeling, especially the kind of writing that is never meant to be read. I don’t find that this kind of journaling is meant to be precious or returned to. This is the kind of writing I’m doing to help myself think and reflect.

Sitting at a keyboard and staring at a blank screen feels harder than a blank page. I know that there are people who feel like a beautiful notebook being sullied by first-ink is a meaningful barrier. But for me, staring at a blank screen feels constricting. It’s too easy to pause over a word or a sentence. It’s too easy, with the legibility of text on screens, to keep whole paragraphs in sight and think about the whole. Stream of consciousness on paper feels good. I can’t type fast enough to keep up with my thinking, but I can almost fool myself, which leads to bad writing. Writing by hand has no hope of catching up to my thoughts, so there’s a rhythm and speed to it that feels good when I’m trying to find words.

On the other hand, notebooks for work can play a different role. When I’m particularly scattered, I find a written down task list helpful. I need something physical and outside of my screen that catches my eye and attention throwing me back toward what I should be getting done. Doesn’t always work. So I like using something like the Ugmonk Analog system or Sidekick Notepad. I like using dot grid notebooks because what I write in these books are almost always bulleted lists, task lists, or drawings.

I still can’t get down with “mind mapping” or even diagramming software. When something is amorphous, writing or drawing is far more likely going to help me organize and resolve my thoughts. Sometimes I find myself writing about the same thing over and over again over weeks, each time tweaking it slightly. Going through this process often reveals some strokes that I keep drawing, and they become deeper and more solid. And eventually, I’m writing nearly the same thing and I know that I’ve figured something out.

There’s no ambition in my use of physical notebooks. They come and they go. But there are times in my life and types of thinking that just work better with a nice pen and paper.


July 24, 2023

Hi Jason,

Your mention of Philip K. Dick got me thinking about my reading list. Most people have a “nightstand” stack of books they intend to read. I do also. Stacked up in no order are Amusing Ourselves to Death, How to be Normal, Algorithms of Oppression, Doorways to Transformation, Caste, Reality +, An Autobiography of Skin, To Fall in Love, Drink This, and Exhalation, by Ted Chaing. I’m reading that collection of stories now. Brilliant. I have his earlier collection on hold at the library, and just picked up The White Album by Joan Didion from the library, which I will get to. Spare is on my Kindle, on loan from the library. I’m reading Digital Body Language on Kindle for work. On my Kobo to-read I have How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Ubik (a great Philip K. Dick novel I’ve read before), Murakami’s The Novelist as Vocation, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Perhaps I’m overly ambitious about this reading list? But I don’t think there’s such as thing as a to-read list that’s too long. My books-to-buy list is longer.

If a book is mine, I pencil notes in the margin or start an index of my favorite parts. I copy Kindle and Kobo highlights using Readwise.io. Every Friday I load all the digital notes into DEVONThink. I get a lot of pleasure out of reading and I like to remember it all. I’m pretty agnostic about digital or paper. Digital is good for work and note-taking. Paper is best for pleasure reading.

Do you have a to-read list, and if so, what’s on it?


Hi Lee,

Just as I received this letter I started getting walloped with a case of food poisoning. My third time in about 8 months. Not fun. It slowed me down responding to this letter and also making progress on Living in Data by Jer Thorp, a rare non-fiction book to make it from my “to read” pile to my “reading” pile. Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse is right next to it, ready to go.

I don’t keep a “to read” list per se, but I do have stacks of physical books, and an entire section of our bookshelves that are “to be shelved” which means “to be read”. When I buy a physical book, it goes there, and when I actually read it, it’s stored away, alphabetical by author, with fiction in one section and non-fiction by topic in other shelves.

I’m not near my desk at the moment which has a stack of books on design, managing programmers, and running development teams stacked up on it to read. I’ve also got quite a few sequels on that “to be shelved” shelf.

About 70-80% of my book reading is on my Kindle, because I travel a lot for work and it’s simply too convenient versus carrying books and risking reaching the end of one without another ready to go. I like to, when possible, use Libby to take out books from the library first on my Kindle, then buy them from my local bookshop if I really liked it. Of course, I simply preorder the stuff I know I’m going to read and love.

I’ve never been a good highlighter. I try with my Kindle, but instead, I actually find it interesting to see other people’s highlights. I’m not often drawn to the same lines as others, but sometimes I feel like I may have missed just how interesting a particular line or passage really is without the queue that 500 other people highlighted it. When I do remember to highlight, I quite enjoy looking back. I often still love what I found worth noting, though I also feel like when I get to the end of a book, reviewing my highlights doesn’t really capture how I felt about it. I guess part of reading a book is my total immersion in it, and even the best moments pulled out don’t make me feel what the book made me feel.

My best friend loves Joan Didion. I’ve never read any of her pieces. I hope my friend is not reading this blog post, because I’m quite positive I’ve never actually told her this.

I think it’s important to have stacks of books as a reader. Losing momentum with reading is something I’ve found can happen shockingly easily if you don’t have a couple of choices lined up to feel out. I never finish a book and go to bed— I always try to find the next book and read just a little bit of it so that I keep my groove.

Well maybe not never— those nights when you make the mistake of picking up your book with 3 hours of reading left to go at 11pm and realize at midnight there’s no way you’re not finishing it— I let myself crash after those “mistakes”.


July 20, 2023

As a reminder, this month I’m also writing Jarrod letters.

Hi Jarrod,

Thanks for the kind words.

At home, my world is ruled by my dogs. Gracie is a 13 year old Pomeranian-Beagle mix. We got her when she was about 8 months old, right as Elsa and I were going to start living together. In fact, the weekend I closed on my first condo was the weekend Elsa picked up Gracie. A month or so later, Gracie mostly moved in with me and Elsa was shortly behind. She was my first dog since my childhood dog passed away while I was in college. She’s intelligent, loyal, and loving. This summer is almost certainly her last, and we’re doing our best through a lot of money and care to give her as much quality time left as possible. A few weeks ago we thought that would be long gone by now, but I’m happy she’s rebounded pretty well at the moment, so we’re just trying to enjoy our remaining time.

Brandy is a terrier mix of some kind. She moved in with us when Elsa’s mom, also Elsa, moved in with us 7 or so years ago. At the time, she was about 2 years old. She is mostly deaf, very low energy, and incredibly caring. She will take constant rubs, and will kiss you endlessly if you let her. She’s a true lap dog.

Martina was my dog growing up, who we got when I was 4 or 5 and had for a little over 14 years. She was much larger (70-80 lbs, versus Gracie’s 20-21 and Brandy’s 16) and a yellow lab/golden retriever mix. She was a classic American family dog of her breed. My parents never got another dog after her, to my father’s disappointment. As a result, they love Gracie about as much as we do.

So what about the work world? What is “education-finance-technology”? Well, as it turns out, most finance and accounting software is built for finance and accounting people. And it’s mostly built for large businesses or “public sector” in a broad way. But it turns out, schools have lots of specialized needs and there are tons of people in school districts— principals, central office department heads, school board members, and even teachers— that need to be involved in decisions about how we spend public dollars to impact kids. So we sit on top of all that software that’s specialized for GASB accounting and treasury functions and do analytics, budget planning, and resource allocation modeling that makes sense to everyone who didn’t get a degree in financial management. Most of what we build is behind log ins and not super shareable, but this year we built a transparency portal for the state of Arizona that’s pretty cool if you want to poke around.

Being a part of something from the beginning is pretty special. I feel fortunate, not just because I was there early, but because I feel like we built this company deliberately (and sometimes far too slowly) such that I have experienced running a company at three or four distinct phases. I know what it’s like when everyone is an individual contributor doing everything. I know what it’s like when you first start to put a team together and figuring out basic people-management and collaboration. I’ve experience building a company to more than one team that has to collaborate across functions. And lately, I’ve been working on scaling my own function to many smaller teams working independently and collaboratively. So many of the folks I know who have worked for start ups get in when things are pretty good and spend a huge portion of their time hiring as they just keep growing. I feel like I actually learned how to run things. I think if I started at a company with 100 people that scaled to 1000 two years later, I would have learned significantly less about leading teams and managing people and how to build and execute on strategy. In fact, I’m pretty confident I could lead a team that had hundreds of people in total because of what I’ve learned here.

I don’t talk a ton about my work. I don’t think I feel like I’ve found my voice as a product leader outside of my job. In many ways, I can do what I do because of subject matter expertise. But I’m starting to get myself comfortable with the idea that I’ve built up skills specific to product management and even CTO-type skills, since I’ve been managing the engineers for 5 years (maybe more?) now.

I do think a way of bringing passions together is the key to success. Being a mountain guide is something you can bring to your site that no one else could. Maybe “bringing together” just means putting them side by side, two paths running in parallel, never meeting. Maybe there’s a way to braid the two lines together at times. For example, what does it mean to build community among mountain guides and enthusiasts? Where are those folks? How does being outdoors or at the gear shop influence your time with technology, or ability to be without it?

I wonder, as a mountain guide, do you build expertise on particular trails or a particular place? For you, what’s the balance between experiencing somewhere new and exciting versus a deep relationship to a single place? Maybe there are some parallels to my experience getting the time to experience different phases and sizes of my company versus simple scaling the experience of being a guide in a particular place versus further exploration. Maybe not.

I look forward to finding out.


Hey Jason,

It sounds like you enjoy a pet-heavy home. In my opinion, the best kind of home. Animals — particularly the ones that you can tell actually care about you — bring a sense of welcoming and belonging to a place. Judged by the sheer amount of time spent there, my pets are the true owners of our house. And they’re always visibly happy when my wife or I come through the door. They welcome us, and everyone else, in with attention and affection. We, humans, could learn a few lessons from our pets.

Gracie and Brandy sound like such sweethearts. That Brandy is “a true lap dog” rings true here. Our Golden Retriever, Phin (Phineas), loves nothing more than to be snuggled up with us. He’s about four years old now, but seems to think he still has the body of a much younger, smaller dog. He’s goofy, rambunctious and protective, but also a scaredy-cat, lazy and pampered. He contains multitudes. My wife and I got him as a puppy about a year into our marriage.

Ollie (Ollivander) is our Maine Coon cat that we’ve had together since back in 2015 when we were dating, but he also seems to think that he’s a dog. He chatters back and forth with us, will (sometimes) walk on a leash, and used to play fetch before doing so would get him pounced by the real dog. He’s the sweetest, most loving and affectionate cat I’ve ever come across. If he can see you, he’s purring. If he’s close enough, we’ll rub his face on yours. And although he’s coming up on his ninth birthday, he looks and acts as young as he ever did. I’m convinced he’ll live forever.

Our final pet is Remus the turtle. I picked him up (literally, off the ground while on a hike) when I was doing an internship down in Alabama in 2014. I was desperately lonely in a new state, living all by myself in a house that would usually have housed nearly a dozen interns. I needed someone — well, some thing — to talk to, and happened to spot a baby turtle. I’d wanted a turtle since I was a young boy, so he came home with me.

Remus, like my other pets, has lived through an identity crisis. You see, I thought he was an aquatic turtle when I first picked him up. So for the first few weeks of his life with me, he lived in my bathtub with a little rock to lay on until I could get him a proper tank. And then when I got a tank, I likewise mostly filled it with water. He seemed to thrive! He would even sleep underwater. But, as you can probably guess, Remus is not an aquatic turtle. He’s an Eastern Box Turtle, which, despite the name, is a land tortoise. When I finally realized that and switched out his living environment, he did seem happier. But I think he sometimes misses his swimming pool. He was a personable young turtle, very curious and cuddly. Not words I ever know to be associated with turtles, but he was! These days he’s going through what I think is his teen years and is being, in a word, an asshole. I hope he’ll grow out of his grumpiness, and will perhaps be happier again when we can move him into a bigger habitat when we move to our new home soon.

Wow, I didn’t expect this letter to turn into pet central, but here we are!

Your work sounds really important. Many professions and industries seem inaccessible to outsiders because their language and processes are so specific. For example, the medical field, law, software development, and, as you say, finance, are all black boxes. We put things in, we get things out, but your everyday person probably doesn’t have any sort of understanding about how it actually works. Building tools that are more accessible to the public must help them out, but — I imagine — also make the work of finance professionals more pleasant. Kudos to you!

Do you have aspirations to lead a bigger team of your own, perhaps at a different company as a new challenge? The way you talk, it sounds like you feel competent to do so. Does that confidence get you wondering if you should try?

Thank you for your insightful recommendations about blending my interests to showcase on my site. I think you’re right, I don’t see a lot of outdoor and tech enthusiasts out there. Perhaps this isn’t quite what you were suggesting, but maybe the key idea is just to write more about what I’m doing, things I’m trying out, and what’s working. I think, perhaps, I’ve been putting too much pressure on needing an angle for my writing. (Related, I feel conflicted about having two places to write, in general.) Maybe my writing would flourish if I aim for it to be less about what’s “right” and more just about me.

Since I’ve been guiding here in the Adirondacks for only as long as we’ve lived here (about a year and a half), it seems like I often get to experience new and exciting places right alongside my clients. Everywhere is new! That novelty will wear off. In fact, it’s starting to as I begin to take clients on the same key hikes or climbs here — the ones that have a particularly friendly approach or offer a wide range of opportunities for folks at various skill levels. But what’s never the same are the people. They each bring their own unique blend of history, interests, ambitions, challenges, and talents. I love sharing my passion for the outdoors with others, and try to inspire some in them.

But to keep things fresh, I do personal trips with friends and other locals. I never want to guide something that’s at the edge of my ability level, so I always feel like I’m holding back to a degree with clients. That’s a good thing because it means I have some margin to get us out of sticky situations should they arise. It also means that if I want to challenge myself, I can try crossing the same terrain faster, link hikes together to push the mileage, or try for climbs that get me a little scared. And I feel like there’s so much opportunity, even just here in the ADK, that I’ll never run out of things to try.

Thanks for coaxing these thoughts out of me.

Following that train of thought, I’d love to hear — if you’re willing to share — about some things that scare you and how you deal (or don’t deal) with them.

Until next time,


July 14, 2023

Hi Jason,

When it works, Slack is great. I use it for clients and projects. Sometimes it gets a little noisy for me, and I have to remind myself that I don’t have to respond in real time to everything Slack offers.

Your writing about walking in the real world and using paper for thoughts reminded me of a book by a researcher/writer I know. It’s called The Hand and it’s by Frank Wilson. Frank makes a pretty compelling case about how we learn with the hands. Holding things and interacting with them with the hands, he says, helps babies connect words to objects. He interviews jugglers and all kinds of people who work (and entertain) with their hands, to show how rich their lives, their intellect, and their use of language has become because they interact with the world in a tactile way. Great book, if you’re looking for something thoughtful. There are other arguments, too, in books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Shop Class as Soulcraft that make the case for a deeper connection with things when we make them with our hands.

This brings me to AR/VR, goggles and all the rest. There are some smart people, like artist Chris Milk, who gave a TED talk about VR media as an empathy machine, who believe that we’re all going to be running around with goggles pretty soon. I hope not. Companies like Meta and Apple have a business model that depends on us using their products and remaining in their world as often and as long as possible. If they can manage to get us all wearing goggles, disconnected from the actual world around us in favor of a digital one, well, that is their dream. But it’s our nightmare.

Even though you can rapidly spin up empathy by being in a world with someone else, and especially if you feel that you are sharing that world with them, I don’t think it’s smart to do this at the expense of spending time in our real world. The real world is in trouble because of the climate crisis, and we need people to pay more attention to it, and appreciate it, so they will be motivated to protect it and protest, and stop the fossil fuel companies from further destroying it.

For me, no amount of the cool factor of AR/VR is a solution there. Exceptions might include museum exhibits, education applications, and helping people with sensory limitations connect with the world around them. So I’m not proposing a blanket ban on goggles, but am raising my hand to note that we can’t let the cool factor and newness take over.


Hi Lee

There’s pretty strong evidence that we remember things better when we write them out by hand than when we type them. I think there’s quite a bit to the idea that some kind of embodied physicality is important to learning and processing information. It’s kind of what we’ve been made for.

I find it hard to muster a strong take on AR/VR like others. There are tons of folks out there with hopes— that it will be huge or that it’ll go away. Riccardo Mori was repulsed, and apparently received lots of low quality, negative feedback. I think a lot of people want to see some philosophy in this. I’m struggling to get there.

Maybe it’ll be cool. Maybe it will stink. Maybe it’ll be so cool that we retreat from other things that seem healthier to me personally. Maybe it’ll be so cool that it replaces things that are even more anti-social and unhealthy today and not encroach on “better” activities. I don’t know what I’d use it for, but I know enough from past experience that I have to use the word “yet” at the end of that sentence. There has been a lot of technology I didn’t think would exist, or I didn’t think would appeal to me, or I didn’t think would represent a meaningful jump from where things are today that turned out to be all of those things. There’s also been a lot I was excited about that just, fizzled.

There’s been a great body of “history” found on the internet, mostly on Twitter threads I care not to find, where someone will take a series of concerns about technology from letters written to newspapers over two centuries and find the exact same concerns and predictions over and over again applied to new technology, none of which quite come to pass.

I guess that’s all to say that I’ve learned that trying to be a “futurist” is somewhat of a fool’s gamble.

I do think there’s a benefit to experiencing the world through another’s eye. Mercerism may have been a lie, but the idea of an empathy box is quite powerful 1. I’m just not sure any of our technology comes even close to generating that kind of closeness and fellowship.

At the same time, here I am, writing these letters each week. They’re often quite personal and revealing. I suspect someone reading along might develop quite a sense of who I am and how I think. Their ability to empathize or care for me is almost certainly increased. So who am I to say what will happen if we increase the ability to be present with strangers?


  1. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, there’s a pseudo-religion called Mercerism, based on experiencing a horrendous, physically and emotionally challenging struggle by one man via an “empathy box”. I do not think VR is an empathy box. Mercer is revealed to be fictional, but that does not change the power of the ability to have a common experience. www.sparknotes.com/lit/do-an… ↩︎

July 11, 2023

And now for something not entirely completely different…

I’m writing a letter to someone else this month. So without any further ado, a double dosing of Letters for July.

Hi Jarrod,

It’s a bit strange to be starting one of these. For those that don’t know me who are reading along, and as a reminder to Jarrod, I started writing Letters on my own blog this year. I wanted to have a different kind of online social interaction, and I wanted to do it with people I may not really know. I thought it’d be a nice way to build up a dialog, be a part of building an Internet more like the one I wanted, strengthen some para-social relationships, and make sure the “long form” content on my blog kept flowing.

Jarrod reached out early, but not early enough for me to have booked up my year. But I’m glad that he decided to do his own project on his blog. I agreed to be a part of that project, so here I am, following my own rules, and writing the first letter for the month of January to Jarrod.

By way of further introduction, I’m the Chief Product Officer at an education-finance technology company, leading engineering, design, and product management. I love what I do, because I get to bridge problem solving and consultative work in my area of expertise (education policy), my skills as a data practitioner, my danger as a software developer, my taste (which exceeds my talent), and my never-strong-enough management skills to solve real problems for K12 schools. It’s wild to be a part of a startup for the last nine years from pre-product, pre-revenue, pre-Series A to now being a “real” company with over 50 employees.

I moved to Baltimore, MD about 7 years ago where I live with my fiancée (which I still have to look up how many “e”s each time), her mother, and our two aging dogs. Prior to that, we lived in Providence, RI for 10 years, and I grew up on Long Island, NY.

These days, besides work, I’m focused quite a bit on volleyball. I played (poorly) in high school, and I play now (slightly less poorly) in adult recreational leagues. This was one of my “I’m vaccinated, let’s go!” activities I reintroduced into my life after 17 years away from the sport. It’s been a ton of fun (and exhausting) and at this point it feels essential to my mental health. I also read quite a bit of fiction (or at least I think), typically hitting between 30-40 books a year. I love to travel, and travel quite a bit for work. Recently, I spent a week split between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA and had a great time getting out of my own routine for a bit and wandering. My style of travel is what I call “urban hiking”— I choose a spot for each of my meals in different parts of a city and wander between them all day long and see what I stumble into. I love getting a feel for somewhere different, and I love to walk.

I’ve been lightly following Hey Dingus, largely impressed with your consistency and keeping an eye on the “Projects” page especially, which is the type of thing I’d like to expand on my own site (see /books, /letters, etc). How do you feel like it’s going? Is it the outlet you hoped for? What’s success for you?

Looking forward to our month.


Hey Jason,

Oh boy, I’m going to have to step up my game this month. That letter had me in awe of your skill as a writer. It flowed, man.

Thank you for that fun introduction. Given the room to stretch out their descriptions, I’ve found that everyone I’ve corresponded with so far has highlighted such interesting parts of their lives. You are no exception.

For a brief introduction of my own, I’ll say that I like to exist at two ends of the spectrum of “extremely online” and “completely disconnected”. Often flip-flopping between them with little warning.

Perhaps a little more explanation is necessary. My day job is as a mountain guide and gear shop specialist, I’ve spent most of my summers as a camp counselor, and I spend much of my free time outside. I’ve spent months (years?) of my life in a tent, gleefully leaving the internet-connected world behind during those times. But I’ve also been a certifiable nerd and Apple enthusiast for as long as I can remember. In fact, in the time between being a full-time camp director and my current job, I spent a few months working as a Technical Specialist in an Apple Store. Technology engages the part of my lizard brain that loves shiny things in a big way. So anytime that I’m not working and I’m not playing in the woods, I’m probably devouring the latest tech news, spelunking the web, or – as of the last few years – sharing that passion through writing my blog.

Lately, I’ve been considering more about how I can build a better bridge between those two interests. Sure, I get into all the topographical navigation apps, track my rock climbing fitness and routes, try the latest camping gadgets, and am generally known as the “tech guy” in my outdoor circles. But I can feel that there’s more to share. I’d like to write more about my experience in the outdoors – to share how and why they make me feel so alive – but it’s proven difficult to break into that genre.

Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I was so eager to follow in your footsteps for this project. I saw it as a way to try out a different kind of writing.

But enough about me, you offered so many jumping-off points about yourself that I want to explore!

What does it mean to work at an “education-finance technology company”? Do you create finance software for K-12 schools? I was corresponding with Chris Verbree last month about how special it is to be part of something – a company, organization, community – from the very beginning. We agreed that having the opportunity to influence the movers and shakers (and sometimes being one yourself) is compelling. What have been your takeaways seeing that company, and your role within it, grow from its infancy?

Your “urban hiking” approach to traveling sounds like the perfect way to explore a new city. I get intimidated by big cities and tend to stick close to my hotel or AirBnB. Case in point, I recently visited your old neck-of-the-woods, Long Island, for the first time but didn’t get out to see hardly any of it. We used DoorDash for a couple of meals and wandered only once. But with a plan and destinations in mind, I could see enjoying the exploration much more.

Your excitement for volleyball is palpable, and I’m so happy you’ve found your way back to it. I strongly believe that having a hobby to stretch your body is as good for you as having one to stretch your mind. Like you, all kinds of foot-powered travel appeal to me. I went for a 10-mile run just this morning that I only intended to be a 5-miler. I just felt so good to be out and moving that I couldn’t stop. A mental health tonic, indeed!

Thank you for your readership of HeyDingus. “Consistency” is my theme for the year, so I’m quite tickled to hear that it has been noticed. After several years of stasis, my appetite for new side projects there has grown considerably. I’m not holding myself to them all going on forever, but they sure are fun to toy around with. My /lists page has been a creative outlet in particular.

Oh, and I’d love to hear more about your pets and what you love about them. I saw your post at the end of June that Gracie’s health hasn’t been the best. Allow me to offer my condolences. It’s so hard to see a family member in decline. My wife and I have a cat, a dog, and a turtle that we call (and treat like) our “fur babies”. They bring us such joy and it’s hard to imagine our family without them.

Finally, I’d like to offer my gratitude for kicking off this Letters project movement (can we call it that?). You nailed the allure of it when you said it was to build up an Internet like the one you want to see. Thanks for putting it out into the world.

Talk to you again soon,


July 10, 2023

This month I’m writing letters with @leeS.

Hi Jason,

The irony here, to begin with irony, is that your email to me reminding me to start writing my side of this correspondence got lost in my email. We all have a firehose of info coming at us; nothing new there. For me, the dividing line between finishing work at a reasonable hour and staying at it all night has become dictated by the efficiency of my filters.

I’ve thought long and hard, sometimes literally falling asleep to, various mental exercises devoted to creating efficient filters for my emails, workflows, and projects. I could regale you about the efficiencies of Apple Mail vs. Spark vs. Superhuman vs. Hey vs. Fastmail, and on the project side, of Todoist vs. Things vs. ClickUp vs. Sunsama vs. DevonTHINK; and on the short-form writing side, of Bear vs. Ulysses vs. Drafts vs. IA Writer vs. Evernote (Evernote!), and on the long-form writing side, of Ulysses vs. Scrivener. I’ve tried them all, and while fun to work with, and even more fun to port all your data from one to the other in a semi-useless exercise, they all lack something.

They all process my thoughts but none can do my thinking for me.

Let me branch off to another idea before coming back to that. When Threads launched, I was flung into another this vs. that thought cyclone. It went something like this: Should I crosspost on micro.blog and Twitter, vs. crossposting on micro.blog and Mastodon? And if I did that, which Mastodon instance should I favor in my crossposts (I’m in two instances), vs. posting to LinkedIn, vs. Instagram, vs. posting on Threads? And should I post the stuff I used to post on Twitter on Threads, or create some new magical identity that will gain me followers faster than Paris Hilton? And, if I could drink some magic elixir that would turn me into Paris Hilton, with all of her popularity on Threads, would I want to do that anyway?

In the middle of these various thought cyclones, I tested positive for Covid, which has left my mind in a state of crystal clarity. ( Not really.)

What I need, and what everyone needs, is a digital machete to slash our way through the info-forest. But then, I wonder about that. A blunt-force instrument, even if elegantly constructed of software, would cut away stuff we would need. Example: I was recently promoted to assistant professor at USC. My new contract went into spam. Doh. [Head slap evoking Homer Simpson.]

I think the solution is in stepping away from the mechanics that have brought us so much efficiency, and taking a moment, pausing, creating some space by breathing, walking, staying in the shower too long, or by staring into any distant mountains you may happen to have nearby. There is a superb filter already installed in the mind, always auto-updating to its latest version. I find I can turn it on by asking “Does this matter to me?” And being ruthless about the answer.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


Hi Lee,

A funny thing happened in my life about nine years ago. I started working for a startup that was using Slack, way back in the early days of Slack. And starting at that moment, email got quiet for me.

Sure, I have a lot of junk that comes in that I have to clean up from time to time, but I don’t live or die by email. Email that matters to me is rare, and the process of “doing email” is largely unimportant.

Slack didn’t eliminate email for a lot of folks, but for me, it sure quieted it enough to separate signal and noise pretty effectively. Well, that, plus aggressive unsubscribing from various advertising emails and a few well designed filters on emails from popular political campaign donation software.

Personally, I’m back largely on pencil and paper for the true “management” of my time. My tasks are written on Ugmonk Analog cards or in a Cortex Sidekick, depending on my mood. Sometimes it’s not written down at all. My work and life is sufficiently chaotic that there’s often little mystery where my attention needs to be at any given moment. Taking the time to write down a list, and then paying attention to that list, can feel like a luxury.

Walking is my solution. I’m a big fan of taking multiple mid day walks. When I worked in an office, I would often head out to Walgreens or 7-11 a block or two away for a Diet Coke. Yes, I wanted the caffeine, but doing that a couple of times a day and taking the “long way” back around the block cleared my head. My partner, Elsa, doesn’t leave her office in our home the entire working day. I don’t understand how she does it. I routinely have 5,000-7,000 steps already at the end of the work day even though I have a desk job. I need to get outside, I need to think a bit. I even like to take my meetings as regular phone calls (how not-millennial of me) so that I can walk through the park across from our house while talking through a problem.

We get lost in the tools and the mechanics all the time. But the work I do is knowledge work, and brains need rest just like physical muscle. And brains don’t active best sitting and staring at a machine that flashes lights in my eyes.

Perhaps you’ve heard of forest bathing? Or A Need to Walk? I believe in these things so much, it’s one of the only links on my vanity site. To me, a great vacation is 25,000 steps every day without even trying. Seeing a new city is walking its neighborhoods.

For all that time I spend on the computer and on the internet, for all my posts about the social web, I’d trade all of it without a seconds hesitation to take walk on a pleasant day with a friend.

Congratulations on the promotion, and I hope you have a swift recovery from COVID.


July 2, 2023

David shared some thoughts on our month of letters. I find the format similarly constraining, but part of what I enjoy has been how the conversation has to be different as a result.

Each letter is shorter than addressing everything could be. And we often have to let a thought from the other person drive by or fizzle out, lest the letters end up endless bullet points hopelessly attempting to recreate synchronous conversations.

As bandwidth increased, the internet moved us from asynchronous by default to synchronous by default. We went from websites, journals, blogs, and forums to feeds and streams.

I kind of like the idea of finding a different resting place than the heights of Facebook and Twitter for my own communication. That’s part of why I blog. Letters, in many ways, has been a project to have a different kind of communication, facilitated by blogging, that I don’t always get as a result of writing here. I’m lucky if a post gets one reply. Long posts almost never get any kind of response. That’s fine– but part of what I want out of blogging is for other people to write about things that I’m writing about and vice versa. A broad, loose “conversation” that isn’t a direct exchange, but a diffuse space with lots of folks contributing thoughts and ideas about similar things that I’m interested in.

Letters is not quite that, but it’s helping me to exercise that possibility.

July 1, 2023

Hi Jason,

I will likely get back into D&D soon. Once a few things settle down at work I’ll have a bit more energy to play.

Hobbies come and go. I’ve known that for a long time. I’ll have interest in one, then move to another, and another, eventually coming back to the original. Often I max out on one as it has my interest, then I move one.

I’m a couple of days late on this one. Will just make it within the month of June. Time since the Covid lockdowns has been weird. I had a keen sense of time beforehand and that has gone now. Getting older brings with it the sense of time going quicker. What I’ve lost is my sense of distance with time. An event that’s 2 weeks away feels like it’s later than something 3 months away. Makes me a little sad. Makes it hard to look forward to something.

Today has been a long time in the car. 5 hours as I headed NW to visit a couple of clients and return home. Good audiobook time. I’m listening to “Three Body Problem” off the back of the Netflix trailer. I read the book just 18 month ago and couldn’t have told you what it was about (yeah, ok maybe there is a pattern here) but the memory is returning as I listen to it. Years ago I would have dismissed audiobooks. Now I enjoy them, blending with my Kindle reading and my podcast listening. There is something different about a story being told to you. The slower pacing, even for a book I’ve read, means I often pick up nuances I missed first time around.

I will write up some thoughts on our letter writing in a separate blog post and send you a link when done.

Thanks for the conversation, David

Hi David,

It’s funny, I have been talking a lot about the Three-Body Problem lately. Must be due to the trailer. The idea of the dark forest haunts me.

I have never been able to get fiction audiobooks to click. I listen to tons of podcasts, and I can listen to some non-fiction audiobooks (sped up), but my mind drifts while listening to fiction. For some reason, it doesn’t stick, even though I much prefer to read fiction. I think it’s that slower pace causing me not to focus on details I missed, but instead, drift into the my own thoughts.

One hobby I’ve been dong a bit more of lately is cooking. Of course, I am always at least cooking sometimes. What I’m doing now is taking care when I cook. I’m not slapping cold cuts on cold bread. I’m spending that extra time making a small sauce, toasting my bread, chopping veggies to go inside of it. I’m just being a little less lazy about my food. It feels good. Sometimes I forget that it takes less than 10 extra minutes to make something that’s twice as good.

Sorry I’m late on this response.

Last weekend, this time, I was pretty certain our older dog Gracie had just days to live. She’s home now, comfortable, after 3 nights in the ER followed by a couple of days spending 8am to 6pm at the vet. She’s reached the point where she’s not going to get any better, but she’s mostly stable and seems to still have some time with reasonable quality of life. Thankfully once she was home for a couple of days and out of the anxiety of the overnight pet ER and vet, she seems to be about 80% her normal self. We have to give her fluids at home and she’s on a host of medication. But she’s eating, she still likes going for walks, and she loves us.

All that to say, I’m a bit late at least in part because other than work, the gym, and volleyball, I have done little else lately. My thoughts are, well, preoccupied.

Thanks for chatting with me in June.