Jason Becker
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.

Jason

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 4, 2023

Every episode of The Gilded Age. Literally the only show on any streaming service on the Apple TV.

A television with old school snow in blues, greens, and purple.

November 29, 2023
November 25, 2023
November 21, 2023

Via @jarrod, originally from Kev Quirk:

🔗 When Was the Last Time Tech Blew Your Mind? // Kev Quirk

The first time I sent an email was really cool. The performance and battery life of my M1 Mac was (is) very impressive; far better than any laptop I’ve ever had before. But I’m not talking about impressive. I’m talking about the kind of impression that makes you say, “holy shit, that’s fucking incredible!”

For me, it was the Vision Pro introduction. The interaction model, the visuals, and the use cases were utterly compelling, and the raw technology necessary left me astonished. Can’t wait.

Kev’s bar is pretty dang high– the first time he saw text messaging? I have had my mind absolutely blown multiple times since then. Off the top of my head:

  1. The iPod Nano (more than the original iPod– I had a Archo Jukebox and knew what carrying a harddrive was like)
  2. The iMac G4
  3. The first time I saw the Compiz rotating cube when switching desktops on Linux
  4. Opening a bash terminal on Mac OS X
  5. Retina displays, but especially when they came to Mac
  6. HDTV, and then again with OLED and 4K.
  7. The iPhone– literally everything about the iPhone through the iPhone 5, and then again around the time of the iPhone Xish when the cameras got truly great. I remember watching cyberpunk anime in the 90s that invisaged things like the iPhone and an always connected internet and thinking that the beige computer in my household den with a dial up modem would never fit in my pocket– not in my lifetime.
  8. TouchID and FaceID
  9. Distributed version control systems

I could go on and on.

A ton has happened in my life time that absolutely blew my mind. Most of the time, I suspect Kev might look at the above and say “something like this could have been imagined before it existed.” That’s true! I did imagine some of this! But also, most of these things executed something I had a fictional version of in my mind that I thought was impossible– and then the real world out did that.

Jarrod, on the other hand, seems to have a bar that’s a bit low for me. I might be blown away by the Vision Pro. I kind of hope I am. But I find it hard to get excited about things I haven’t touched. Maybe that’s because I read far too much Popular Science as a kid and a lot of what I have expected to see in the world never shipped.

But what’s my actual answer?

I had to think for a bit. Funny enough, I think both of the experiences that come to mind are Apple Watch related, even though I think it’s my least important device.

The first was using Apple Pay from my Apple Watch. Double tap, no phone in sight, fastest payment experience I’ve ever had at a store. The second is using my Apple Watch with a Home Key lock. Just raise my wrist, no other input necessary, and my door opens, fast. Small, delightful, fast interactions with the physical world seem to be the technology innovations today that feel the most impressive.

November 17, 2023

I was at a conference this week that really served the rainbow for lunch.

A plate of macaroni and cheese, pulled pork, baked beans, and a biscuit on a blue table cloth. The joke is that all the food is yellow, white, or brown.

November 10, 2023

This tree has been gorgeously overgrown for quite some time.

A large branch snapped near the trunk of a tree

November 5, 2023

Caught a bit of nature before two straight conference weeks. Two large columns of prism-like stone boulders framing a clear sky and tree tops

November 1, 2023

For all the methodologies, crappy business books, and numerous project management/product management/brain storming/planning software out there, most of it fails at deep thinking on how a product should work.

My number one tool remains a notepad and a pen. When we had an office, it was a white board and as many markers I could find that still work.

This isn’t in praise of the blank slate of analog tools. This isn’t a comment on the tactile nature of physical things. What I actually want to do is highlight a process I go through.

The most important “tool” in product management is writing things down over and over and over again until they feel right. Write down a flow chart, vocabulary words, diagrams, paragraphs, or whatever it takes to describe a problem and one possible solution and then stop. Think about how it feels. A few days later, don’t review what you wrote– do it again.

Do it again.

Do it again.

Every time I write it down, I either become more convinced that the rough edges are not so rough or I find my way to a slightly different perspective on a problem that leads me closer to the answer. The end result may look exactly like the first thing I wrote down. Maybe the language is a bit different and there are fewer squiggles as I got to my end state more assuredly. But the thought process that took me from my “guess” to my “solution” is a powerful one.

Through repeating my thought process, I become powerful at objection handling. I see the false paths I have already traveled. I become confident in the trade offs I am making along the way. I don’t know the answer to every question about what we’re about to build, but I come to believe that there are answers and that the problems which remain are relatively small. I have avoided the essential pitfalls that lead to us being stuck with no way out but to scrap all our work.

At this point, I have something damn near a “rule of three”– if I haven’t tried to work a problem from a blank page three times, I haven’t thought about it enough.

A vertical notebook with writing about a product problem I was facing, including some small diagrams and many arrows.

October 29, 2023
October 28, 2023

Baltimore, where it’s 80 degrees at the end of October and the trees are doing this.

October 22, 2023

Yesterday was breezy, though you can’t tell from the photo.

A willow tree, shockingly still, in a park.

October 21, 2023
October 18, 2023

Hotels still have 30-pin connectors.

A JBL alarm clock and speaker with an iPod 30-pin connector. It’s circular on a white table with a glossy wood panel in the background.

October 17, 2023

We started the second day of our executive retreat with an hour long walk in Baltimore City where we hung out with these two.

Two deer, one doe and its baby, in the woods that are right off a main road.

October 11, 2023
October 8, 2023

Not at all indicative of what my time in Jamaica was like, but this abandoned hotel (transitioning to office space) was pretty neat.

Green flowering bushes in the foreground in front a of a staircase with winding metal rails and windows with arches in a beige, stone building to the left.

September 11, 2023

Gracie is still quite old, but having more good days than bad. The good days are not as good as they were 6 months ago, but she’s got some happy life left in her.

It makes things like what happened this morning so much more meaningful to me. She has gone through many phases of level of independence– sometimes never being ok being alone, other times liking to be on her own. When she was first getting sicker, she spent quite a bit of time alone on the second floor in the living room. She was tired and seemed less interested in everything. It was one of the signs that felt like the end was near.

Lately, while still tired, she’s spending most of her time during the day with me. This morning, even with her grandma on the second floor eating and messing around in the kitchen, when I left from upstairs to get a coffee, she followed me to the second floor. When I returned, she waited at the stairs to see if I was going up, and when I did, followed me right into my office.

She didn’t want to be pet or paid attention to– or at least she didn’t give any indications of that. She just wanted to lie down in one of her three spots (in her bed, by my feet under the desk, or across the doorway) while I do my thing.

There are lots of ways that dogs can show their love and affection. Gracie is different with Elsa than she is with me. She’s different really with everyone. Her spending time with me is the perfect way to show her love. I’ve always been a “quality time” person. Somehow, she gets that about me.

Gracie lying across her gray bed with sunlight highlighting her fur. To the left is a bookshelf with hardcover comics.

August 21, 2023

I had some heads down time working at a coffee shop this morning. When I came home, Gracie was sleeping on her bed in my office, waiting for me. It has become her favorite day time spot, whereas she used to stay alone on the couch downstairs.

Gracie, my Pomeranian-Beagle mix, sleeping on a large beige bed

August 6, 2023

All summer there’s been construction work along Falls Road. Early on in the project, I thought about how much they were ripping up the street and hoping that we’d finally get something better than a thousand bits of patchwork and properly repave the street. To my surprise, a few weeks back, they cut the telltale grooves into the street that indicated we were going to get fresh, curb to curb, asphalt.

Imagine my delight when we had new street after extensive construction.

This has only been met by sheer rage, as just a few weeks later, a new crew shows up and cuts a huge trench right down the center of the road. They have been laying down metal plates since, and I’m sure when they’re done they’ll fill it like a pot hole.

This entire road was torn all the way down for work, and no one could coordinate with the next guys? They just show up a few weeks later and fuck it up?

This kind of every day incompetence in planning and coordination by local governments drives me insane. It’s the kind of low quality services that are unacceptable at $22.48 per $1000 property tax rates.

We need people who care enough about government services to do them better.

A crew of six men (one partially hidden by another) in bright yellow vests standing in the center of the road. There’s a white truck and a digger. One man is waste deep in a trench I the center of the road while another kneels beside him. There are orange cones around the workers, and a clean, clearly freshly poured street in the right lane in the foreground. A brick library with white, Greek revival columns is in the background. 3600 block of Falls Road in Baltimore looking south from 37th Street.

August 1, 2023

It didn’t feel disgusting outside today for the first time in a long time.

Close up of a white flower in a tree

July 22, 2023

The number of showings makes it clear as day, it’s Barbie’s world, and we’re just living in it. Nice to see a female-forward movie getting all of the time.

July 16, 2023

I’m at a bar alone. I have one non-fiction and one fiction book with me. Lethal Weapon is on one TV; Happy Gilmore is on the other.

A dark beer in a pint glass with 2 inches of foam on top. Next to it, a tall can with a green stylized skull. Stacked next to the beer are two books, a dark cover below and a white cover above.
July 13, 2023