Jason Becker
September 14, 2023

I’m actually quite good at most of the individual parts of my job. I just absolutely fail at balancing all of the parts of my job. Yet, I suspect if I focused on only one or two of the things I do, I’d be bored half to death.

September 13, 2023

When your desperate to go to sleep but need to wait for that laundry cycle to complete…

My social battery has less capacity post COVID. It also charges more slowly. I have also realized that there are some people in my life who do not deplete it at all.

September 12, 2023

Absolutely incredible thunderstorms here in Baltimore again and it’s the best.

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.

I have had a full beard for 15 years and I’m not sure I’m any better at maintaining it now as I was then.

September 10, 2023

Talking with Rufo and engaging deeply with his work leads to an inescapable conclusion: Exaggeration and hyperbole are not just incidental to his intellectual project. They are his project.

From one of many take downs of Chris Rufo that won’t matter one bit, because he’s a gifted carnival barker whose audience doesn’t care if he’s (at best) a liar.

September 9, 2023

I don’t understand why Whole Foods in Baltimore does not carry rolls of any kind. I like to eat sandwiches, and not only on sliced bread! I swear it’s like no one who shops there can look at a carb.

My colleague put an idea in my head about our current contexts in our app and now I can’t stop thinking about a big way to rethink how we work with data. It’s so hard to develop a product that has to integrate with heterogenous external systems.

September 8, 2023

If I had one rule for writing code it might be “never try to be clever”.

I think DRY (don’t repeat yourself) is counter productive and should not be taught. Everything that’s correct about DRY is covered better and far more specifically by other concepts (for example, SOLID). Meanwhile, blindly applying the DRY idea results in tons of bad code.

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 5, 2023

Oppenheimer earned every minute of its runtime. It was better as a film experienced in theaters, and even at 3 hours, left me wanting significantly more of the story. It did not feel incomplete or rushed like so many biopics often do, and yet, I found myself needing more.

September 4, 2023

On margin, I think it’s great that we’re unwinding COVID spending. It was a miracle there was actually support for very big investments during COVID to keep people above water, but that support was tenuous and may not have been present with a democrat in office.

Allowing pandemic and emergency spending to go away is critical to ensuring we can keep doing emergency investments when necessary in the future.

Imagine how much worse COVID would have been for people’s families and lives if every single step along the way (even more than it felt like this was true), the GOP would have been fighting that if they give this relief now, it’ll never go away.

Crisis spending is meant to help resolve the crisis. And while we continue to live with a new, frightening disease, we are no longer in the crisis we were in before.

On matters like student debt relief, the child tax credit, supplemental spending in education and at child care centers, the crisis funding should stop.

We can argue for each (or all) of those supports as a part of our permanent social safety net, but we should not be fighting for them as part of COVID or the crisis that was.

Here’s the thing– politically, this additional spending does not have the support it needs to be sustained. Fight for that, don’t try and win on fragile technicalities or twist a quick response system into permanence.

That last blog post did something I have been playing with but never articulated.

A lot of folks seem stressed about writing titles to blog posts. Short posts are mostly title-less, and there’s this sense that picking a title is a point of friction. There’s also a concern that no one clicks links or keeps reading.

I think that’s all a bit silly, but I know that my own absence of some kind of hangup around writing titles doesn’t mean that others don’t feel it.

But there’s already a native social form for long posts that are supposedly “title-less” that many folks clearly read. And mostly, when they read those long posts, they’re doing the equivalent of clicking through, so that’s clearly not a barrier.

We call these long posts “threads”, but really, they’re just a series of sentences or paragraphs where the lead in sentence is meant to draw folks into what you’re about to say and warn them it will span more than once 280 character block.

We have another term for an initial short sentence or phrase that draws people in and warns them there’s more than 280 characters to follow – titles.

I wish folks who adopted long form, title-less writing would learn from threads on other social platform and just make their opening sentence or so the title of their post. That’s what the first post in a thread always was, and it gives me far more to go on than a randomly truncated paragraph. You can certainly craft a 200 character or so sentence or title to start your post. You probably already did. Just make that the title.

Repeatedly watching smart people get tripped up on Mastodon, the Mastodon API, and ActivityPub has changed my opinion on the complexity of these services.

I have long thought the “Mastodon is hard” folks are being silly, but now I think they’re right. The conversation around interoperability and standards causes people to completely misunderstand what is possible (or even desirable). The ways in which Mastodon is not only or entirely ActivityPub confuses people.

The folks who seem attracted to Mastodon in the first place who are non-technical are sold a bill of goods about what is possible, not understanding protocols, APIs, federation, self-hosting, and all the ways they interact, along with the myriad of non-Mastodon services and how they can or can’t interact with each other and Mastodon.

What we used to call “prosumers” are getting killed by all of this mess.

Mostly they should just write on their blogs and forget about it.

This morning— shredded chicken, melted cheese, tomato, pickles, mayo, sub roll.

Lunch — pita, chicken thigh, hummus, hot sauce, pickles, olives, roasted brussels.

It’s been a good day.

September 3, 2023

I just spent an hour cleaning my office. On the one hand, that was less time than I expected to make what should have been a huge dent. On the other hand, I don’t really feel like things are that much better yet. I probably have to do another hour of “detail” work to “get there”.

September 2, 2023

I’ve talked about this exact idea before:

But if we see all the dogs running in one direction, especially if it’s towards us, we should take note.

A huge part of my own evolution and change in consciousness came from trying to be aware of where the dogs are running. When an idea is abhorrent to many people I respect, I try and pay extra attention to what my own bias may be doing or the interests of the people making an argument.

Yes, we need to learn from those who leave movements. And when people tell us who they are and what their project is, we should believe them. And when people tell us those things in the context of trying to convince us their politics are acceptable politics, we should apply caution. And when the dogs are running toward them, well… then we know what’s happening.

I also find the notion of a center situated above the political spectrum captures an incredibly dangerous idea. It’s one of those enticing ideas people with a certain level of intelligence fall into. “My politics is to look at the evidence on each issue and go with what that tells us.” This is a thing I’ve said, I’m sure. It’s a thing a lot of “Rockefeller Democrats” have thought describes them. It’s an idea every young libertarian dipshit thinks after their first economics class and reading one Robert Nozick essay. Basically, this is the explicit strategy designed to generate Ben Shapiro’s “high schooler who read Fountainhead” intellectualism.

But of course, none of us are above and separate from ideology. Our biases are a part of us. The biases of others are a part of their communication and their program. Underlying all evidence is a set of belief and theory to describe the world that embeds values.

There is no view from nowhere, there is no objective, values-neutral evidence on social activity. This ideal exists like a perfect sphere rolling down a frictionless inclined plane. Those who claim it’s mantle know exactly what they’re doing. Do you know what they’re doing?

September 1, 2023

I don’t know or really care what the new X logo is supposed to represent— lights from space? stars? It just looks like schmutz on my screen.