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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#65)

Quote that I loved:

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

Ten stories you need right now:

https://www.sciencealert.com/here-are-10-good-news-stories-you-need-to-read-right-now


50 things to do:

Just some ideas between friends.


A great talk on self-renewal:

Hard not to just copy the entire talk here, it’s really good.

We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit. Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Someone said to me the other day “How can I be so bored when I’m so busy?” And I said “Let me count the ways.” Logan Pearsall Smith said that boredom can rise to the level of a mystical experience, and if that’s true I know some very busy middle level executives who are among the great mystics of all time.

Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, When you hit a spell of trouble, ask “What is it trying to teach me?” The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn’t a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.

We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can’t change, by taking risks.

There will inevitably many who will find the current disruption a reason to venture out and do something new and scary. At least there is something good there to think about.


It’s normal to feel weird about this:

And so the drunken carousel of wildly-spinning emotions goes on, staffed by octopods, ridden by monkeys, narrated by a short-circuiting robot.

These are weird days, friends. It’d be weird if you weren’t weird about that.

I love Chuck Wendig.


Favorite book excerpt:

“What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here—and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)

Writing, drawing, making, doing…the same rules apply. Go make a mess and leave it for awhile. It’s ok.


A gripping story to keep you occupied:

Forty five years ago, eight Soviet women climbers were pinned on top of a high mountain in the USSR in the worst storm in 25 years.

The presentation on this is super cool.

https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/01/sport/russian-climbers-peak-lenin-spt-intl


Art projects keep us sane:

Here’s what we did this week. Lots more to come.


Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#60)

St Andrews is cold (and awesome):


The power of great feedback:

My notes: It’s all about working out your confusion. What does good look like, get in sync. What’s your experience? Describe it. Find out more about the other persons experience. Then if there’s a gap, figure it out and look at it together. No blame.

Worth a listen


Concierge car buying:

Then a guy called wanting a car. Carroll said he didn’t work at the dealership anymore. And the buyer said he didn’t care. Carroll decided then he would go solo. Not as the usual car “broker,” who tends to charge a direct fee to shoppers, but as a car “concierge” who planned to charge customers $0. He would work on commission.

https://eu.freep.com/story/money/cars/2020/01/23/fired-car-salesman-brian-carroll-dealership/4533934002/

Side note: I had no idea that USA Today has a trimmed down, super fast site special for the European Union which is intentionally bland and simple and fresh air compared to the usual bloat and ads on most news sites:

https://medium.com/usa-today-network/the-tech-behind-the-usa-today-networks-eu-experience-5631e99539fd)


The bad client/clueless boss trap:

There are two secrets to doing great work:

1. Persuade the client to let you do great work.
2. Get better clients.

They dance together every day.
You get better clients as soon as you act like the creator who deserves better clients.


The intelligence coup of the century:

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret. The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/national-security/cia-crypto-encryption-machines-espionage/


Are people getting worse at the price is right?

Americans are worse at The Price Is Right than they used to be. On the game show, which has been running since 1972, four contestants are asked to guess the price of consumer products, like washing machines, microwaves, or jumbo packs of paper towels. The person who gets closest to the actual price, without going over, gets to keep playing and the chance to win prizes like a new car. In the 1970s, the typical guess was about 8% below the actual price. People underestimate the price by more than 20% in the 2010s.

https://qz.com/1740513/why-are-people-getting-worse-at-the-price-is-right/


Favorite book excerpts of the week:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running.” (Haruki Murakami and Philip Gabriel, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)

Running = life in this context I think.

“Many people think they’ve determined the next action when they get it down to “set meeting.” But that’s not the next action, because it’s not descriptive of physical behavior. How do you set a meeting? Well, it could be with a phone call or an e-mail, but to whom? Decide. If you don’t decide now, you’ll still have to decide at some other point, and what this process is designed to do is actually get you to finish the thinking exercise about this item. If you haven’t identified the next physical action required to kick-start it, there will be a psychological gap every time you think about it even vaguely. You’ll tend to resist noticing it, which leads to procrastination.” (David Allen, Getting Things Done)

Boiling things down to the physical behavior is annoying and hard but makes such a difference. I’m trying to get better at it.


What I’m thankful for this week:

  • Almost every time Sam sits down to go to the toilet he tells me: “Daddy, boys have willies, girls don’t have willies.”
  • Playing cribbage with my Dad in the evening, hadn’t done that in a long time and had forgotten the simple pleasure of playing cards.

Quote I was thinking about:

The way you tell your story to yourself matters.

Amy Cuddy

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#52)

Giving thanks travels well: Celebrating Thanksgiving outside of the US is a bit different. Thanksgiving travels well, even if your neighbours don’t have the Thursday off to drink and eat all day. It’s a holiday about gratitude, which everyone can get behind. I was fortunate to spend it with great people this year. I’m also grateful for all the sources of inspiration this year, such as Austin Kleon, Cal Newport, Haruki Murukami, John McPhee, Tyler Cowen, Shane Parrish, Seth Godin, Sam Harris, Ben Franklin, Jason Fried, Steve Martin, Tim Ferriss, and Paulo Cohelo…to name a few.


Book excerpt I was thinking about last week:

“What veteran artists share in common is that they have learned how to get on with their work. Simply put, artists learn how to proceed, or they don’t. The individual recipe any artist finds for proceeding belongs to that artist alone — it’s non-transferable and of little use to others.” (David Bayles, Ted Orland, Art & Fear)

I love the first part. And, while I think there is an important point in the second part (you need to figure out things for yourself), I find the individual recipes of others an endless source of inspiration and of much use.

Another book excerpt that made me think about my current work and what I spend the most amount of my time doing (albeit as a novice at the moment):

“An untrained observer will see only physical labor and often get the idea that physical labor is mainly what the mechanic does. Actually the physical labor is the smallest and easiest part of what the mechanic does. By far the greatest part of his work is careful observation and precise thinking.” (Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

I think a lot of us are like a mechanic in how we work, or at least it would be helpful to think of ourselves in that way.


What it’s like when a distributed company gets together: I missed “the grand meetup” this year but a recent Distibuted podcast covered this years’ get together in detail. I’m looking forward to it next year!

It can be especially difficult to foster a company culture when workers aren’t co-located. It can’t be forced into existence in an employee handbook. The people who make up the company have to live it and embrace it.

The GM addresses this challenge in several ways, including a number of traditions that have developed over the years. For example, the all-company photo — this year, it included so many people that resident photographer (and Automattic’s first employee!) Donncha Ó Caoimh had to take it from a roof overlooking the crowd. Each event ends with a big party, where an all-Automattician band provides the soundtrack. Matt Mullenweg holds an hours-long Town Hall where anyone from across the company can ask the CEO a question directly. These highlights help to cultivate a sense of togetherness and shared values.


Don’t believe everything you read: I learned that previously boiled water isn’t really any different than fresh water, at least as far as my coffee is concerned.


I should make more time for poetry: Away messages made me think this.

Whenever an old poet — an old poet — dies, I can’t get too upset. This is what they’ve been training for! I think. It’s go time!


Quote that I was thinking about:

People are most vociferously opposed to those forces they have to resist most fiercely in themselves.

Tim Krieder

The 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years: Interesting list. There are definitely some on here I am going to add for 2020.


The story behind the graphing calculator: How Texas Instruments Monopolized Math Class.

Today, Texas Instruments still sells a dozen or so different calculator models intended for different kinds of students, ranging from the TI-73 and TI-73 Explorer for middle school classes to the TI-Nspire CX and TI-Nspire CX CAS ($149), an almost smartphone-like calculator with more processing power. But the most popular calculators, teachers tell me, include the TI-83 Plus ($94), launched in 1999; the TI-84 Plus ($118), launched in 2004; the very similar TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, also launched in 2004; and the TI-89 Titanium ($128).

“As a former teacher, I was appalled at the pricing, not only for educators but for the families who were forced to pay inflated prices for the damn things,” she told me. “The margin is incredible. I can’t verify the exact numbers, but the margin was like 85% 90%.” In comparison, PC manufacturers like HP, Lenovo, Dell, Asus, and Acer have profit margins below 3%. (Texas Instruments did not return a request for comment for this story.)


This made me laugh:

https://i0.wp.com/media.wired.com/photos/5dd416b944aad10009406a39/master/w_1600%2Cc_limit/20191121-ehler-wasteland.jpg?w=580&ssl=1

From Wired’s cartoons.


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