Macro laws

    The double edged sword wielded by the post-survivor knowledge worker: macro laws.

    … there is very little, and perhaps no difference, between a genuine nugget of self-knowledge and what’s known as a “limiting belief.” A constraint that one minute helps you focus, in the next minute blinds you to an opportunity. A constraint that in one situation saves you from risk, in another situation limits your possibilities. This is why the skill of constantly formulating, discarding, testing, and refining macro-laws may be the most “meta” productivity skill of all.

    A great article that essentially says work will always remain essential in the human experience, but once work is no longer being done to survive, the rest is a mind game.

    In fact, I think the most sane view of modern “work” is that it’s simply a means for channeling thought, both for producers and consumers. Work occupies a worker’s mind, and the product of most knowledge work serves fundamentally to affect consumers’ states of mind: services, experiences, etc.

    Work keeps us busy—a necessary condition for a sane western mind. No amount of technological progress or economic growth can change this. If anything, the need to stay busy increases with technological progress because the value of our time approaches infinity.

    These imaginary problems are extraordinarily difficult to solve.

    What does it mean to be a man?

    Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, writing for HBR on “Rethinking What Masculinity Means at the Office”:

    Women have spent the past century expanding the definition of “feminine” in almost every country on the planet. For the past half-century, the LGBT community has been engaging each other and the world in a conversation about what it means to live outside gender stereotypes. Remarkably, despite these decades-long conversations, for a cis-gender man, the definition of what it means to be a “man” is still quite narrow.

    I think we will see much written on this in the next few decades. I think the evolution of male identity is one of the most fascinating sociological shifts taking place right now in the First World.

    Also, somewhat related: The anxiety of Father’s Day cards.

    Your brain's blind spots

    Lena Groeger:

    Chances are, you probably think your mind works pretty well. It might lead you astray now and then, but usually it helps you make good decisions and remember things reliably. At the very least, you’re probably confident that it doesn’t change depending on the time of day or what you had to eat.

    But you’d be wrong. Our brains fool us all the time. And we typically have no idea that it’s happening.

    We want so badly to believe we are rational—as though we reflect the unemotional machinery in the technology we gaze into all day. But we will forever be much more orange than clockwork. We are as precise as the chemicals sloshing around between our ears.

    ScreenFlow 6

    I’ve been surprised at the lack of posts on the new ScreenFlow 6. Version 6 adds several new features, most of which I have not had a chance to explore yet. The biggest “feature” I’ve notice in ScreenFlow 6 is that it brings back the stability that versions 4 and before had. Version 5 was still good, but it crashed a lot on me, especially with larger projects containing 30 minutes or more of raw recording.

    ScreenFlow 6 is butter-smooth when it comes to zooming in and out on the timeline, even for very large projects. Wave forms also seem to draw much more reliably.

    The only thing I’d nitpick is that they changed the behavior of the spacebar key, which will play/pause the scrubber during editing. Before version 6, pressing spacebar instantly paused the scrubber. Now, the scrubber pauses on release of the spacebar, which can cause a slight delay. Of course, K will still instantly pause (and L will play). You can also “hold and release” the spacebar to get more precise pausing. Like I said, nitpicking—but that’s what happens when you spend half your week in a great application like ScreenFlow.

    My unsolicited and unpaid recommendation: upgrade to version 6.

    The worst way to measure human value

    CNBC on the apparent “pay gap” between the allowance parents give to boys and girls in the UK:

    … boys received an average of £6.93 per week — almost 12 per cent higher than the average £6.16 parents gave to their daughters.

    Despite receiving significantly more, boys were also more likely to complain that they were not receiving enough money. This year, 44 per cent of boys said they thought their parents should give them a rise, compared to 39 per cent of girls.

    “Just like in the modern workplace, I suspect there is an element of ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ as some little girls are probably too nice to ask for more,” said Lindsay Cook, co-founder of consumer website Money Fight Club.

    Articles like this make me sad. Not so much that a gender pay gap exists—I believe it always will in one direction or another. Just like women (greatly) outnumber men in college, there’s a very high probability that one gender will always out-gain the other in pretty much any arbitrary measurement system you could devise.

    And as human-made measurement systems go, money is as infinitely sad as it gets. But that’s how Western society values all of us at an increasingly younger age. We’ve been duped into thinking that our worth is tied to our pay. It’s made children, family structures, and even leisure time fundamentally incompatible with modern capitalism.

    To be happy, we’re told, we should have the right to work—all the fucking time. Everyone should work. Work is the ticket freedom in the land of the free.

    But when the answer to the question, “how much money is enough?” is always “more than I have now,” how free are any of us? If our value is chiefly monetary, we’re certain to go to the grave feeling undervalued.

    The resolution to the gender pay gap is not to pay women more or to pay men less—or to pay men more in ten years when women make more than men. The solution is to psychologically abandon money as a human value metric.

    Money does not exist in the physical universe. It’s an illusion we created. We imagined money into existence. Maybe one day we’ll be advanced enough to forget we ever thought of it.

    That’s not likely to happen in our lifetimes, so if I were you, I’d look for happiness somewhere other than your bank statements. If I achieve any success as a parent, that’s what my daughter and son will do.

    Creating less work

    Jason Fried:

    Does that matter? Is that really worth doing? These are important questions that you should be considering often. Getting the right work done is almost always about creating less work to do.

    Adding this one to my “read every 6 months list.”

    Fear more

    Focusing your time on a narrower set of priorities is the biggest gut check you can experience in business and life. It is a never-ending fight with your primal self. Feature bloat, mass marketing, and “do it all” are driven by fear, and the internet age enables that fear like no other medium devised by humanity.

    Before you decide to spend time making more instead of making something better, ask yourself: what am I afraid of?

    Begging the question

    You should listen to this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast because it’s an episode that you really need to hear. OK, that’s actually a terrible reason to listen to it because…

    In this episode, three experts in logic and rationality will explain how circular reasoning leads us to “beg the question” when producing arguments and defending our ideas, beliefs, and behaviors. You will also learn how to identify, defend against, and avoid begging the question, or restating your beliefs without arguing for or against them.

    Yeah, that’s a more rational reason. This is the most nuanced, yet most widespread, logical fallacy I’ve heard in a while.

    Overcast link

    I'm sorry, I forgot to introduce myself

    A huge part of my job involves reading actuarial and insurance-industry-related articles. Mic drop: If that sentence doesn’t hook 999 out of 1000 readers, I don’t know what will.

    But anyway, virtually all of these articles are written by people who have three universal things in common:

    1. They are super smart
    2. They aren’t professional writers
    3. Their articles receive little to no editing before publishing

    These three traits lead to a number of structural problems in most articles that I don’t want to nitpick now, but one of the most common (and easiest to fix) is the introduction problem.

    The introduction problem

    The introduction problem, put simply, is the objective fact that introductions in shortish 3–5 page newsletter articles are universally terrible, if they exist at all. But the irony is that the introductions really do exist. They just end up in the last paragraph of the article in a section that’s usually called “Conclusion.”

    The typical conclusion section of an unedited article is something the author wrote very last, meaning the author wrote it at the point when he or she had finally figured out what they wanted to say by writing the preceding words of the body.

    In almost every case, a “conclusion” paragraph can be cut and pasted to the beginning of the article—completely overriding the original introduction—with almost no additional editing at all.

    Why am I talking about this?

    People don’t have a lot of time these days, and editing resources are increasingly scarce. If you’re asked to write something for a newsletter or industry publication (in any field), try moving your conclusion to the introduction after you write your thing. It will make your article significantly more accessible and relevant from the moment time-pressed readers lay eyes on it.

    See what I mean? If I had just put that paragraph first, wouldn’t this have been a better and shorter blog post?

    Ascertaining one's immortality

    Venkatesh Rao:

    Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Stock a lake with fish, and he’ll fish till he’s 40, at which point it’s generally not critical to anyone else that he continue to eat.

    If you aren’t subscribed to Ribbonfarm at this point, shame on you.

    Twitter is back on my phone

    Back in December, I removed all Twitter apps from my phone. I felt that maybe Twitter was causing me to look at my phone too much, and I wanted to see if my phone habits changed as a result.

    This experiment is over, and Tweetbot is back on my phone—and not because I wasn’t able to resist looking at Twitter.

    It’s because I created a worse problem by removing Twitter. My desire for news and information didn’t die when I took Twitter away, and I began using the Apple News app. This turned out to be a horrible idea because no matter how much I tried to curate and tell Apple News what I wanted to see, it filled my “You” tab with mainstream headlines of death and disaster. The unfortunate reality of a news aggregator is that by the time you cover every tragedy in the last 24 hours, there’s no room for anything else.

    It took a few months for me to truly realize the effect this was having on my mood, especially if I was foolish enough to look at it first thing in the day. I feel like the Apple News app itself is as much a tragedy as the headlines that flow through it, and I’ve moved it as far away from my home screen as I can get it.

    So anyway—yes, Twitter, and all its attention baggage are back on my phone. Twitter will always have good and bad elements to it, but it’s the best all-purpose source of curated information I’ve found.

    Outsmarting the smart dash

    I like writing dashes—both the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). But I don’t like the way OS X “smartly” converts certain patterns like -- to . I would rather have direct control over these patterns for at least two reasons:

    1. If I’m writing something that will ultimately end up in a LaTeX document, I need to preserve -- and --- strings because LaTeX is designed to turn those into and , respectively, in the resulting PDF. LaTeX will usually choke on actual en and em dashes in the .tex file. People unfamiliar with LaTeX would probably see this as a limitation, but I truly believe it’s a great feature because it ensures that all hyphens and dashes are composed of - as a base character, making it very apparent what I’ve typed in plain text.
    2. Even if I’m writing something that won’t end up in a LaTeX file, I can easily create en and em dashes manually by preceding the - key with Opt for an en dash and Shift-Opt for an em dash. Both work system-wide in OS X.

    In other words, I don’t need OS X to be “smart” enough to make these symbols. I can instantly create them myself according to how they’ll be used.

    Before OS X Mavericks, you could explicitly turn off smart dashes in System Preferences. Beginning with Mavericks, however, dashes and quotes were forced to share a common check box.

    I don’t really mind curly quotes showing up in places because even if I’m writing something for a LaTeX file outside of a .tex environment (e.g. in an app like Ulysses), I will normally run everything through Pandoc to generate proper LaTeX code. Pandoc is pretty good with translating quotation marks of all kinds into proper LaTeX syntax:

    ``quoted text''

    It’s not so good, incidentally, with en dashes, which are more ambiguous in meaning—some people use them in place of a subtraction symbol, while others use them in contexts where em dashes are more appropriate.

    All that to say, it’s unfortunate that you can’t separately turn on/off smart dashes and quotes in System Preferences. Fortunately, though, you still can through Terminal with:

    defaults write 'Apple Global Domain' NSAutomaticDashSubstitutionEnabled 0

    This command turns off smart dashes, allowing you to preserve --, etc. in any document, but it allows smart quotes to continue functioning. Interestingly, System Preferences will show the smart dashes and smart quotes box unchecked after this change even though smart quotes still work.

    For more on dash usage, see The Punctuation Guide.

    The foot hammock

    Being somewhat old fashioned, I sit at my desk a lot instead of standing at it. I also have carpet in my office, so I usually don’t wear shoes. The First World problem that this creates is that I tend to put my feet in what are apparently ergonomically disastrous positions without thinking about it.

    Experience has shown me that putting unnatural pressure on my feet for extended periods of the day—while not painful at all when I’m doing it—tends to cause my feet to scream at me the next day. As I’ve gotten older, the screaming has gotten louder and lasts longer.

    My solution: I bought a foot hammock, which I highly recommend.

    A water cooler gone wrong

    AgileBits is leaving Slack:

    Slowly but surely this addiction has been killing my sanity and sapping our productivity as we simply used Slack for too many things. We decided it was time to try a new approach for communication at AgileBits.

    Honestly I agree with everything here. I like Slack, too. A lot of people seem to like Slack. But my experience with Slack is that it’s a Markdown-supported chat client on steroids. Right now I’m only using Slack to keep in touch with a couple of friends on work breaks. I can’t imagine working with Slack open all day. I definitely can’t imagine scaling it up for more than a two- or three-person team and not spending time talking all day.

    I feel totally different about Basecamp, especially the new Basecamp 3. To me, it feels like more of a virtual office space, and it’s partitioned into a more logically-productive way. I think AgileBits is going to like Basecamp 3 a lot. I can’t recommend it enough for working with a small-ish remote team.

    I use it, but would I recommend it?

    Now that the smoke is clearing and Smile’s dastardly attempt to charge more for its product has been “adjusted,” we can talk about more important aspects of this transition. Specifically, Gabe describes Smile’s decision to not encrypt TextExpander snippet data as:

    A design choice like that has consequences that I’m not comfortable with. It’s not something I want to use or recommend.

    The word “recommend” zeroes in on the fundamental thing I’m struggling with as more developers abandon Dropbox and iCloud in favor of their own syncing platforms. It’s not really about the cost of the services to me. That’s something that I feel I can objectively evaluate myself.

    The more difficult decision process now is:

    1. Am I OK using it? And if yes,
    2. Would I recommend it to someone else?

    Before data privacy became such a thing, Decision No. 2 was almost always naturally a yes if Decision No. 1 was a yes. It’s not so simple now.

    An even better case study than TextExpander is YNAB, which shifted from a pay-per-upgrade / desktop app / Dropbox sync model to a subscription / web app model earlier this year. While I’m using the new YNAB and still feel that it is lightyears ahead of any other personal finance software because of its budgeting philosophies, actually recommending the new version is a far more complex decision than it was when user data wasn’t stored on YNAB-controlled servers and bank data didn’t sync “through the cloud.”

    Now, the recommendation decision is a function not only of the benefits of the software but also the risk management implications on the data side. The reason that I am ultimately comfortable with the tradeoff has less to do with my perceived security around the YNAB servers and more to do with:

    1. How selective I am with which bank accounts I sync
    2. Other backstops I have in place at the bank level (transaction alerts, fraud alerts, how I distribute savings across different accounts, and even my decision to keep my credit frozen)

    I can’t expect that other people will have the same things in place, but those things are now inextricably linked to my personal experience of the software—making my experience far more singular, nuanced, and much less “lift and move” to someone else’s life.

    So. Software is getting better. Software is maybe getting more sustainable through subscription pricing models. But the psychological benefits and costs of using software have never been more complex. As I’ve said before, software is fundamentally a knowledge resource—an abstract layer on top of the physical universe created by humans for humans to grapple with. Software is truly as human as it gets—a medium through which problems are solved and as many new ones are born.

    And software and data are now more inseparable than ever. This was inevitable: They are made of the same stuff. Software is a developer’s knowledge; my data are my knowledge. Where should they be allowed to play together? The developer’s house? My house? Or some sandbox in the sky?

    I can answer these questions for myself. But for someone else?