The Wednesday Writeup - Issue #11

Welcome back to The Wednesday Writeup! I decided that for this week I'm going to try a couple of format changes.

The first big change is that rather than having a section for reading and one for watching, instead I'm just going to have a Recommendations section. That way I can be a little more varied with what I recommend without feeling like I need to fit a template. I'm also replacing my 'What I'm Thinking' section with a single Idea of the Week. I want to treat it more as a mini essay, and I may even dedicate more time to ones that turn out well and turn them into blog posts.

Let me know if you like these changes!

What I'm Doing

Adding a few new features to gatsby-theme-brain. I landed a change earlier this week to add RSS feed generation, allowing for potentially generating entire blog sites as a subset of a site generated with my theme. I still need to port my site to use it, but I think it should be somewhat valuable for folks that want to use my theme for the entire thing. I also landed a feature earlier today to allow for backlinking between separate sites. This is more of a nebulous one, but I think it would be really cool to help people grow interconnected online gardens together.

Slowly reintroducing mindfulness exercises. I have been alternating between a few minutes of meditation and a few lines gratitude in the mornings. So far not seeing much effect, but they are still pretty minimal amounts of time so far (which I'm doing intentionally to make it completely painless to complete every day), and I'm hoping to see more once I increase the duration. I actually attempted a morning Headspace meditation habit around the beginning of the year, and I stuck with it for a few weeks, but it actually started making me a little bit frustrated. I usually wake up feeling pretty good, and so it felt a bit like I was wasting time dedicating 5-10 minutes to something that maybe wasn't needed. So this time around I'm starting it even shorter, and I'm going to experiment and adapt as I go to make it work for me. I have found great benefit in the general mindfulness of daily journaling, and I suspect if I can find the right approach, introducing more of those types of habits can prove quite valuable.

I started making video tutorials! Earlier today I published my first very short video guide on setting up tools for gatsby development on Mac. I have the next couple of videos outlined, and I'm hoping to have a full series that can take people from zero to a full website using my theme over the next few weeks. I was inspired by the folks at Egghead.io, and I'm basically copying the format from them, and some of the teachings from their educators. In particular, I stole the workflow from @laurieontech's post here, and read through the materials in the Egghead Instructor Guide to get some ideas about how best to make this.

Recommendations

The Scriptlings by Sorin Suciu

I started reading this this week on my brothers recommendation. It is really fun so far. If I was to summarize the key point in one sentence: It is a world where people perform magic by coding using ancient languages. It is a unique hook, and although there are certain things that don't feel quite right as a software developer, it is still an incredibly enjoyable story to read.

iPad Art App: Procreate

This app is one of my favorite apps I have on my iPad. I'm not much of an artist by any means, but this app is so intuitive and fun to use, it really makes me want to get better to live up to it. And it has some good correctional features to make it easy to draw smooth lines, along with really fun brushes for texturing. So even for me, I have been able to use the app to make reasonably nice looking logos, and even used it to design business cards back when I thought I was going to the Game Developers Conference.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Just realized I haven't even mentioned this book in my newsletter yet. At some point I need to jump on the bandwagon and write a full review of this book, but for now, suffice it to say that if you are trying to establish habits and haven't read this book, do it, do it now. It is so incredibly actionable. There are some books (Power of Habit is the main one), that have much of the same theory, and are even referenced by James Clear, but haven't compressed it into something quite as concrete to act on. I have been meaning to do a re-read, because there is a bunch that I'm sure I haven't been properly executing, but just applying a handful of the rules has helped me establish and maintain several habits relatively consistently since the start of the year.

Idea of the Week: Never trust what users say, only what they do

I spent three years on an emerging markets team at Facebook. A big part of that job was user research trips. We would start by doing a bunch of data analysis to look for problems impacting sub-populations of our user base. We would look for metrics that stood out in different countries, strange spikes at different times, bugs only impacting a single device type, things like that. Then, after doing a fair bit of initial investigation into the issues to try and discover potential causes, we would often decide to visit the country to learn more, discover new problems, solidify or dismantle our assumptions, and clarify our understanding. These research trips took me to Mexico, and all over Asia (India, Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia).

One of the difficulties with these trips was trying to get accurate signal. We did a lot of interviews and street intercepts, and asked people about how they used Facebook. But it was incredibly common, when we asked them to demonstrate how they used the app, to discover that what they do is actually different than what they say they do. Sometimes that is because they aren't familiar with the correct terminology for something, but often they actually just aren't even aware of what it is they are doing when on their phone. It takes a surprising amount of self awareness to know how much time you spend, where you tend to spend time, or even be aware of which features you use most often, and most people simply hadn’t given it much thought.

Usually the best thing we could do is ask them questions about a couple of very specific things that we thought they might know, and other than that prompt them on things that would get them using the app in a more natural way. The biggest goal was to observe, and try to notice subtle things that we didn't expect. We weren't always entirely successful, but we inevitably left our trips with an enhanced understanding of how people behave, and a number of interesting insights into what makes a country's Facebook usage unique.

I have learned that it is always more valuable to observe actions than to try and get people to describe their behavior. This may not always be possible, but it is something to strive for.

Location of the Week: London Surroundings

I have been to London several times, but my first ever stay there was for two weeks back in 2016. I was working the first week, but the second was just me, staying in an Airbnb, enjoying the city. Because I had some spare time on this trip, I took a couple of day trips out to the surrounding areas.

It's really gorgeous countryside, and nice to see the quaint, brick-and-cobble villages every few miles. The first outing was out to the coast in Hastings, for what ended up being a much longer than expected hike involving numerous cliffside stairwalks. It was quite pretty but rather exhausting. Later on in the week I knew I had to get out to Stonehenge at some point, so I scheduled an English Bus tour, and spent the whole day visiting Bath, Stonehenge, and also a place called Lacock Village, where I got to see the cottage that was used as the Potter family home in the Harry Potter films! It also started storming while I was at Stonehenge, which led to the luckiest photograph that I have taken in my life. I actually ended up getting that one printed on canvas and had it hanging up on my wall for several years in Seattle.

Signing off until next week
- Aengus McMillin