Week 15, 2024 - Slow circles

Week 15, 2024 - Slow circles

Monday morning I discovered the above labyrinth nearby and spent some time trying to walk it. Slowing down between taking the kids to school and starting the day felt energizing. In the spirit of trying out new things, I also went to my first-ever yoga class this week, and found an interesting question at the end of the registration form:

What do you want to achieve with yoga?

It stopped me in the rush to fill out the questionnaire. How weird is this question right after my birth date and pre-existing medical conditions? I guess it could be seen as a gym-membership-style motivational tool, but it felt more than a cheap marketing trick. It made me stop, collect my thoughts, and commit to something.

Imagining what success looks like, putting it to words, writing it down on a document, and signing it does have a lot of power. This is very similar to professional goal-setting: the more specific and explicit your goals are, the stronger the commitment and the better the chances of success.

📋 What I learned this week

Besides exciting new experiments that still need some work before I can write about, I checked off two of three items from last week’s goals.

I published arguments on why Engineering Leaders should have a geeky tech hobby like homelabbing. As I was writing the article, newer aspects were coming up, and by the end, I was confident that doing something like this is not just fun, rewarding, and directly improving tech skills, but also very useful in a more subtle way, giving skills and experiences that translate well to the professional setting.

Many of us started being engineers like this: being passionate about some tech stuff, spending most waking hours discovering how things work and how they can be modified and combined to build new stuff. I had the luck to experience this feeling twice: in my early teens when I got a Commodore 64 for Christmas, and a decade later when the web started. Tinkering with a homelab is similar to what I was doing back then. Finding the place in memory to change to gain more lives in a game, or looking at the source code of a cool new site to see what HTML tags there are that I don’t know yet gave the same feeling of flow that's so rare to experience.

I also finished the async book club reading Collaborative Software Development. Interestingly, the book itself gave me less excitement than the tool we used, so I’ll talk a bit about the latter. Hypothesis, a collaborative annotation tool allows public and private group discussions about text on any page on the web via a browser extension. Everyone reads at their own pace, and makes their annotations or replies to others’, allowing interesting discussions to grow from comment back and forth. I think this tool and process could be used well for distributed book clubs in any setting, maybe adding a starting and closing Zoom call for introductions and closures, creating a good cadence and a better way to connect beyond writing.

Finally, I wrapped up the parallel testing of the two Umami installs that I struggled with last week. The difference between metrics became less than 1%, and I decided I could live with that, so I turned off the remote instance. As of today, analytics of this site are being hosted exclusively on the old Mac Mini under our TV, in a Docker container, on a Debian VM, running on ProxMox. So many layers!

🎯 What I want to try next week

Interesting meetups, webinars, and other discussions are coming up, so time is limited. I had an inspiring call this week where we touched on the topic of difficulties in pushing initiatives for change. It got me thinking after we hung up. There might be an article in it about self-confidence, impostor syndrome, and the role of leaders and what environment they build can have in these.

On the homelab front, I’m afraid I’ll need to do some refactoring. Blinded by the excitement of shiny new toys, I managed to build some tech debt while adding one service after another. There’s no clear separation between user data and other stuff and little conscious planning in infrastructure setup. I’d like to end next week with a cleaner, simpler setup.

🐌 Articles that made me think

What I Do When I Can’t Sleep

I have slightly mixed feelings about this article, but there were enough interesting ideas in it to share. The main concept of the article is that naming the things we like helps us when we use them. It’s similar to how a sommelier learns to appreciate wine by studying its vocabulary. The author used this concept to find his own writing style — with the help of AI. This kind of text summarization is a strong area of AI tools, and their objectivity shines when the text to analyze is very close to us, causing all kinds of biases. We struggle to see the forest from the trees, but AI can help us take a step back. The reason I had mixed feelings was that I didn’t find the AI summary very revelatory in this particular case, in fact, it felt almost banal and obvious. But the idea of naming things stuck with me.

Slow Seeing

To name something, we need to see it first. Heather Swan, the American poet/beekeeper urges us to do that: slow down, watch, and see the nature around us. She adds interesting examples of the details people used long before Google and iPhones to precisely describe something when all they could rely on were their words. I heard about her from a great (Hungarian) podcast interview with another poet/beekeeper. There seems to be something about bees that attracts poets.

Coco's Dispatch #67: Counterfeit Death Valley Pine Nuts at Kwik Mart

Peter is one of my newsletter heroes if that’s a thing. I love how he gets frustrated about negligence, waste, bureaucracy, and all the similar annoyances in life, but instead of complaining, he channels this energy to concrete actions — or to mock the situation funnily. He’s also a good example of having a million things to do, yet finding the time for the ones he truly cares about. I liked this thought:

I am a believer in not focusing on the volume of good work but the trajectory and influence.

It’s a good answer to cynics who point out to you with a smug condescending smile that small actions like picking up trash, taking public transport, buying second-hand, voting, etc. will not have any significant positive impact in the grand scheme of things. Of course, they won’t! But there’s a compounding effect of behavior change within a society... and besides that, at least I feel better about myself.

📱 Something cool: Beeper putting All my Chats in One App

Interestingly, while multi-protocol chat applications were popular twenty or so years ago (remember Miranda? Trillian? Adium?), they seem to have disappeared, and I thought we’d forever be stuck with half a screen of apps on our phones doing essentially the same thing.

Beeper saw this, rolled up their sleeves, and after a long closed beta, opened up their apps for everyone to use. This comes, most probably not as a coincidence, right after being acquired by Automattic, makers of WordPress (and a company that made distributed work work way before COVID, but that’s another story). I wonder what they are cooking, it’s the second all-in-one messaging app company after the Texts.com purchase late last year. Who knows, spending what looks like less than $200M to buy the top two apps in a small market might not be a bad idea, especially if Apple will finally be forced to allow third parties to use the iMessage protocol. Or, it’s just a habit of handpicking interesting products like Gravatar, Tumblr, Day One or Akismet — all owned by Automattic now.

Either way, I hope I can remove a few apps from my phone in a month or two — for now, I just muted their notifications and we’ll see.

That’s it for this week, have a slow weekend,


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