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Reading Notes, March 2022

Article: “The Good Room”

A tremendous read. Deep and thoughtful, as always from Frank. A few excerpts I loved.

First, on the non-commercialness of libraries:

a library is one of the few remaining places that cares more about you than your wallet. It means that a person can be a person there: not a customer, not a user, not an economic agent, not a pair of eyes to monetize, but a citizen and community-member, a reader and a thinker, a mind and—God, I am going to say it—a soul.

The web, or at least part of it, has this ethos in it (love the suggested correlation of “public lands” and “open protocols”):

the web is a boundless and shared estate, and we only later learned how to commercialize it. The commercial endeavors that now dominate our digital experience sit on public land, or, should I say, open protocols.

But the public library web is drown out by the outsized commercial influences:

the web is a marketplace and a commonwealth, so we have both commerce and culture; it’s just that the non-commercial bits of the web get more difficult to see in comparison to the outsized presence of the commercial web and all that caters to it. It’s a visibility problem that’s an inadvertent consequence of values

Video: “The Problem With NFTs”

Honestly, I have’t watched this whole thing. It’s long. But this excerpt aptly describes a problem from which so much software and technology suffers.

Cryptocurrency does nothing to address 99% of the problems with the banking industry because those problems are patterns of human behavior. They’re incentives, they’re social structures, they’re modalities. The problem is what people are doing to others, not that the building they’re doing it in has the word “Bank” on the outside.

Article: “Employment history doesn't define your value.”

I first saw Dave tweet about this article:

I noticed a shift some years ago at meetups where the question shifted from "what do you do?" to "where have you worked?" and Twitter bios became micro-résumés.

I remember feeling a bit deflated by it. Not just because I work for a small 3 person company and not a megazord FAANG company, but because it made every introduction feel like a transaction to assess someone's value. Like I could feel people mentally drawing dollar signs on me.

And the article is a good ‘un.

I’m noticing that more and more people on LinkedIn and Twitter are replacing their profile synopsis with a simple list of previous companies where they have worked…Instead of a thoughtful introduction, profiles now sport a list of previous employers, like a race car driver’s uniform covered in logos.

The problem with this seemingly clever use of limited character counts is that it reduces the value of people against the brands of the companies where they worked.

Am I supposed to be swept away in your brilliance because you collected a paycheck at these places?

Article: “My guiding principles after 20 years of programming”

I always enjoy these kinds of takes—“things I’ve learned over two decades of doing this”.

Pick the right tool for the job or you’ll have to find the right job for the tool you got.

Respect people more than code.

Don’t attach your identity to your code. Don’t attach anyone’s identity to their code. Realize that people are separate from the artifacts they produce.

Don’t do speculative programming. Only make the code extensible if it is a validated assumption that it’ll be extended. Chances are by the time it gets extended, the problem definition looks different from when you wrote the code.

Article: “Making the world’s fastest website, and other mistakes”

Worth remembering:

HTTP/1.1 204 No Content
Cache-Control: max-age=999999999,immutable

This is the fastest web page. You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like.

That may seem unhelpful — of course a useful page is slower than literally nothing! — but anything added to a frontend can only slow it down. The further something pushes you from the Web’s natural speed, the more work needed to claw it back.

Article: “Noise cancellation for development”

One big step towards becoming a tech lead is to use your experience to help people grow. Not to let your horrible memories taint possible great new things to come

Article: “The Art of Plain Text”

Resist the temptation to use images. If you are unable to distill the concepts or thoughts into language, then you have likely not fully understood the problem. Use illustrations as supplementary, not instead of information.

That's it. You should find that you soon will spend a lot more time on defining your thoughts and putting the important information forward rather than fiddling with font faces, sizes and colors.

I like this idea of trying to make images supportive not essential, like a progressive enhancement of narrative: if the images aren’t there, you can still understand what’s being explained in the words.

I’m not saying get rid of images, but there’s an art to this kind of communication. As an example, I like what Gruber does on Daring Fireball where images are often supplementary and therefore hyperlinked via the text that describes them (rather than displayed directly inline).

I’m not sure I’m ready to go all in on that, but there’s something appealing about it to me personally.

Article: “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed”

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.

Article: “#WorstWorkWednesday”

The working world also largely disincentivizes broadcasting weakness, which is a huge loss given failure represents an opportunity

Lovely post from Eric. Spot on in defining a problem area, and specific in recommending solutions.

Modeling your notion of what success is from what others publicly share doesn’t grant you the vital context of why they made the decisions they did, and what constrains they had to work with.

I can see this practice being useful, even for only myself in a non-work context like blogging, but the work context is probably even more transformative.

At the end of the day, we all still have to produce value for the place that employs us, with value being highly dependent on the organization’s priorities.