December 27, 2018
Book: When Breath Becomes Air
I’ve had “When Breath Becomes Air” sitting at our cabin for a while, but decided to pick it up and read it on winter break. The book is a memoir by Paul Kalanithi told in two parts. The first part is his path through medical school and becoming a neurosurgeon, being close to serious illnesses, and dealing with death as a Doctor. The second part is after his cancer diagnosis with stage IV lung cancer, which causes his death within 18 months.
There were two things that struck a chord in me while reading this.
I kept thinking back to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I’m sure it was in part because Kalanithi, like Gawande, is a Doctor. The first part of the book had many references to the Doctor’s perspective when diagnosing a patient with a terminal illness. This book did too. Being Mortal is a very different book, and one that I highly recommend reading, but this touched on similar topics with a more personal perspective.
The other thing about this book was more personal. It reminded me in so many ways of the path of my friend David Hussman, who passed away earlier this year. He had the same diagnosis, stage IV lung cancer. I’m pretty sure he even had the same EGFR mutation and received similar treatments. Similar to Kalanithi, he did remarkably well for a long while after getting treatment. Enough that you could kind of forget a bit. But the cancer is just held back a bit. I was wishing I would have read this book when I got it, as it would have given me some deeper perspective when talking with David.
September 27, 2018
On Friday evening we had to say goodbye to our dog Chase. We adopted Chase into our family in 2007. The adoption agency had given him the horrible temporary name of Lurch. When we met him, the couple that had been fostering him had named him Chase. I had the fancy idea that a somewhat geeky name like Comet would be better. After a day of trying that out, we realized that he was Chase. It just fit. Chase was a Black Lab / Border Collie mix. Smart, loyal, and full of energy.
We don’t know exactly when he was born, but he was in full puppy mode when he came to us. If Mazie left any wooden toy on the floor, he would chew it to nothing. We learned the hard way that he shouldn’t be allowed on the couch, after the couch upholstery was so trashed it had to be redone.
He was always looking to please. He never ran off, not once. He liked the snow. The Border Collie in him wanted the family always together. He listened well and only barked when he needed something. Almost always a single bark. Our neighbor called him the “One Bark Dog” because he would just give a single bark, after waiting a couple of minutes at the door to come in. He even stood in for photos once.
I had grown up around dogs but had never had one. Chase was my first dog and he and I had our rituals. I always fed him in the morning. On the weekends I get up early, and he’d hang out with me while I did whatever. At the cabin we would go down to the dock in the morning with a cup of coffee and look at the water and the occasional bird or fish jumping.
Of course Chase wasn’t just my dog. Mazie loved Chase and would play with him a lot. Tyler declared Chase his best friend in Kindergarten and was hoping to take him to school for show and tell. Tammy liked Chase being around, going on walks and his friendly personality, although his shedding she could have skipped.
I didn’t realize that Labs live to about 12, more or less. I hoped we had more time. I knew Chase was getting older. He was slowing down and enjoyed long afternoon naps at the lake. He would find a spot in the grass and have a good day of it.
Sadly he wasn’t just getting old. We took him in because his teeth looked bad and his breath was beyond bad. We figured he just needed a dental cleaning. They found a growth in his mouth. Melanoma. They cut it out and asked us if we wanted to do cancer treatment. We declined, that seems to me like a hard thing for a dog, especially at his age. He also developed a number of other growths on his chest and stomach. To add to the challenges, he tore both his CCLs and for over a week he couldn’t walk up the stairs in the house. His whole life he also got rashes and sores on his skin. An allergic reaction of some kind. Medication usually helped, but with the cancer the meds didn’t do anything for that. For the last month we’ve had to help him out quite a bit.
On Friday we had a vet come to visit the house. We all went out on the deck. It was a cool evening, just gorgeous. We all sat with Chase petting and soothing him as the vet put him to sleep.
It was tough. I expected it to be difficult, but it was even harder. He was part of our family. Chase was everyone’s dog and we all felt the loss. 😢
I didn’t realize how much he was always there with us, and particularly with me. The mornings have been lonely without him there to do whatever was the plan. When we come home from doing something, there is no welcoming tail wagging at the door with eager eyes.
I miss my buddy.
August 23, 2018
Goodbye to my friend, David Hussman
The last time I saw my friend David Hussman we met at Red Wagon Pizza and enjoyed an extended evening of pepperoni pizza and several glasses of a delicious red wine. We initially sat inside to avoid some scattered rain, but then transitioned outside to enjoy a gorgeous evening, great wine and even better conversation. Like most times that David and I got together the conversation never had a gap and flowed all over the place.
I commented to David that he seemed remarkably well. It had been well over a year since David called to let me know about his cancer diagnosis. When he called he was talking weeks and months. Here we were drinking glasses of wine and laughing well over a year later. He was sharing stories of his recent trip to Italy with his family. It sounded amazing and I could almost be fooled into thinking that David wasn’t sick. But he definitely was.
I first met David when I was CTO for MarketWatch. One of the engineers on our team knew him and figured he could help us out with some of the things we were doing. I instantly liked David’s insight, his directness and ability to see through the messy stuff and get right to the problem.
David and I were able to combine forces several times over the next 25 years. We had what I would describe as a mutual mentor relationship. One of us would often ping the other with the vague request to get some “hang time” and talk through some topic that was on our mind.
David was always understated. His work to bring agile methods to companies was exceptional, and as a thought leader and speaker his stage was global. He presented at conferences around the world and brought a tremendous amount of energy and fun to the sessions. I enjoyed every talk I ever saw David give. There are dozens of them on YouTube if you never got the chance to see him present. I was really excited when he agreed to give the Keynote at Minnebar 9.
Often times I thought it would be fun to build something with David, maybe do a project or something. Both of us were always busy with family and work things that pushed that off. I tried to get him to join my book club at one point but he deferred, citing his busy travel schedule.
The last year I was able to connect with David on a more regular basis. A terminal cancer diagnosis provides some urgency. He approached his cancer with an amazing resilience. I can’t even imagine how hard such a thing is, but from what I could tell his approach to life made the time he got at the end so much better.
David was often referred to as The Dude, in an admirable reference to The Big Lebowski. He even coined his own law, Dude’s Law, that Value = Why / How. In life David always seemed to have a good handle on Why, and he kept his How pretty damn simple. The rest worked out as best as it can.
You will be sorely missed Dude! v5.6.50
Here are some additional items I’ve indexed remembering David.
June 7, 2018
DevOps Minneapolis: Changing the Enterprise Session
I had a great time talking about Changing the Enterprise at this week’s DevOps Minneapolis Meetup with Heather Mickman and Bridget Kromhout! My mic wasn’t working in the beginning but gets fixed a little later in the video.
It was a fun opportunity to talk about some of the concepts I’ve thought about with risk management, refactoring costs, how Agile and DevOps come together.
June 1, 2018
Humble Leadership Profile
A couple of months ago I was recommended for a project on Humble Leadership. Matt Norman is doing this project to put together some common traits and practices of humble leaders. I sat down with him for 45 minutes to talk about the topic and he made a great writeup of our discussion. He also interviewed Mike Carey who recommended me.
In my conversations about humble leadership with Jamie and Mike Carey, another senior vice president at SPS Commerce and the company’s Chief HR Officer, one common thread seemed to run through it all: Humble leaders resist that all-too-human urge to “blame and shame,” even when the pressure is on. (read all)
Here are the excerpts from the video as well.
This was a humbling experience and a good discussion. I hope others are able to take a couple of nuggets from it.
April 14, 2018
Today I went to my 13th Minnebar — I haven’t missed one yet! For the first time ever we had a blizzard to contend with. Usually Minnebar is competing with the first great days of spring. This year, we were worried if people could get to the event because of the snow. This was also the first Minnebar for our new Maria Ploessl, our new Executive Director, to take the lead on. The event went off great, with more coordination than the last couple of years.
The sessions I went to today at Minnebar.
- Computers Are Easy; People Are Hard with Bridget Kromhout
- Propelling More Women into the Ranks of Engineering Leadership with Ashley Monseth, Rebecca McCann-Young, Ethan Sommer, Cailin Wertish, and Millicent Walsh
- Blogging for Fun…..and Profit? with Chris Moffitt
- Web 3.0: Blockchain May Provide Us the Most Human Version of the Web with Matt Bauwens
- Pragmatic intro to functional programming with David Price
- Docker 101 with Rebecca McCann-Young
- Building Sandcastles with Leah Cunningham
Here are some pictures from some of the sessions I went to.
March 17, 2018
Why MailChimp for Weekly Thing
I’ve now completed the migration and automation of the Weekly Thing using MailChimp, and I’m very happy with how it has all worked out. Newsletters are experiencing a renaissance, so let me share why I moved from TinyLetter to MailChimp.
Be aware that TinyLetter was purchased by MailChimp. I don’t expect TinyLetter to get shut down, but I also don’t expect it to get any significant attention. TinyLetter is purpose-built for personal newsletters and ease-of-use. It is very easy to use, as promised, but it lacks power features that I knew I would want.
My move to MailChimp was driven by a few things:
- I wanted to customize the template for my newsletter. I make frequent use of block quotes and TinyLetter didn’t deal with those, neither did the standard MailChimp templates. TinyLetter doesn’t allow you to change the template, so I knew I would need to use something more powerful, and at some point I would need to author my own template. This a pain because dealing with HTML in email is really gross.
- I wanted to automate the process of creating the newsletter. I use Workflow to build the sections of the Weekly Thing. I also can use Workflow to access the MailChimp API to create my campaign, upload pictures and send the HTML of the newsletter. This saves me significant time each week.
- I knew that the advanced segmentation features of MailChimp may come in handy at some point. I haven’t used them yet, but it’s nice to know I can reach out to a subset of subscribers if I want.
MailChimp gives significantly more freedom and control, but it comes at the expense of additional complexity. When I first moved from TinyLetter to MailChimp, the time it took me to generate the Weekly Thing doubled or worse. I also had to use a laptop, since some of the tools wouldn’t work on my iPhone. Now that I’ve gotten my workflows updated, I can generate the newsletter faster than ever before, and once again I can do it all on my iPhone.
February 25, 2018
Book: Why Buddhism Is True
I recently finished reading Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright and enjoyed it very much.
I appreciated how Wright connected ancient Buddhist concepts to modern psychology. His deconstruction of complex topics like essence and nothingness are well done and allow Western readers to connect to them easier. I would highly recommend this book if you are curious about meditation and the overall approach to mindfulness.
I’m trying something new, and sharing my highlighted passages from the book.
1. Taking the Red Pill
Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.
To live mindfully is to pay attention to, to be “mindful of” what’s happening in the here and now and to experience it in a clear, direct way, unclouded by various mental obfuscations. Stop and smell the roses.
Buddhism offers an explicit diagnosis of the problem and a cure. And the cure, when it works, brings not just happiness but clarity of vision: the actual truth about things, or at least something way, way closer to that than our everyday view of them.
2. Paradoxes of Meditation
Technologies of distraction have made attention deficits more common. And there’s something about the modern environment — something technological or cultural or political or all of the above — that seems conducive to harsh judgment and ready rage.
This is something that can happen again and again via meditation: accepting, even embracing, an unpleasant feeling can give you a critical distance from it that winds up diminishing the unpleasantness.
3. When Are Feelings Illusions?
Feelings are designed to encode judgments about things in our environment.
This is a reminder that natural selection didn’t design your mind to see the world clearly; it designed your mind to have perceptions and beliefs that would help take care of your genes.
cognitive-behavioral therapy is very much in the spirit of mindfulness meditation. Both in some sense question the validity of feelings. It’s just that with cognitive-behavioral therapy, the questioning is more literal.
4. Bliss, Ecstasy, and More Important Reasons to Meditate
Noticing that your mind is wandering doesn’t seem like a very profound insight; and in fact it isn’t one, notwithstanding my teacher’s kind insistence on giving it a standing ovation. But it’s not without significance. What I was saying in that session with my teacher was that I — that is, my “self,” the thing I had thought was in control — don’t readily control the most fundamental aspect of my mental life: what I’m thinking about.
5. The Alleged Nonexistence of Your Self
But, he notes, our bodies do lead to affliction, and we can’t magically change that by saying “May my form be thus.” So form — the stuff the human body is made of — isn’t really under our control. Therefore, says the Buddha, it must be the case that “form is not-self.” We are not our bodies.
So two of the properties commonly associated with a self—control and persistence through time — are found to be absent, not evident in any of the five components that seem to constitute human beings.
But once I followed that logic — quit seeing these things I couldn’t control as part of my self — I was liberated from them and, in a certain sense, back in control. Or maybe it would be better to put it this way: my lack of control over them ceased to be a problem.
7. The Mental Modules That Run Your Life
Feelings aren’t just little parts of the thing you had thought of as the self; they are closer to its core; they are doing what you had thought “you” were doing: calling the shots.
Feelings don’t just bring specific, fleeting illusions; they can usher in a whole mind-set and so alter for some time a range of perceptions and proclivities, for better or worse.
If the way they seize control of the show is through feelings, it stands to reason that one way to change the show
8. How Thoughts Think Themselves
Zen is for poets, Tibetan is for artists, and Vipassana is for psychologists.
thoughts, which we normally think of as emanating from the conscious self, are actually directed toward what we think of as the conscious self, after which we embrace the thoughts as belonging to that self.
And I don’t mean just focus on whatever thought is distracting you — I mean see if you can detect some feeling that is linked to the thought that is distracting you.
9. “Self” Control
The more you do that, the less the urge seems a part of you; you’ve exploited the basic irony of mindfulness meditation: getting close enough to feelings to take a good look at them winds up giving you a kind of critical distance from them. Their grip on you loosens; if it loosens enough, they’re no longer a part of you.
RAIN. First you Recognize the feeling. Then you Accept the feeling (rather than try to drive it away). Then you Investigate the feeling and its relationship to your body. Finally, the N stands for Nonidentification, or, equivalently, Nonattachment.
10. Encounters with the Formless
As you ponder these words—formlessness and emptiness—two other words may come to mind: crazy and depressing.
There is a pretty uncontroversial sense in which, when we apprehend the world out there, we’re not really apprehending the world out there but rather are “constructing” it.
11. The Upside of Emptiness
But you could look at it the other way around. Given that our experience of a bottle of wine can be influenced by slapping a fake label on it, you might say that, actually, there is a superficiality to our pleasure, and that a deeper pleasure would come if we could somehow taste the wine itself, unencumbered by beliefs about it that may or may not be true. That is closer to the Buddhist view of the matter.
And maybe this helps explain how Weber could say that “emptiness” is actually “full”: sometimes not seeing essence lets you get drawn into the richness of things.
12. A Weedless World
For example, it’s common to think of criminals and clergy as being two fundamentally different kinds of people. But Ross and fellow psychologist Richard Nisbett have suggested that we rethink this intuition. As they put it: “Clerics and criminals rarely face an identical or equivalent set of situational challenges. Rather, they place themselves, and are placed by others, in situations that differ precisely in ways that induce clergy to look, act, feel, and think rather consistently like clergy and that induce criminals to look, act, feel, and think like criminals.”
There is a meditative technique specifically designed to blur this line. It is called loving-kindness meditation, or, to use the ancient Pali word for loving-kindness, metta meditation.
14. Nirvana in a Nutshell
These two senses of liberation are reflected in the Buddhist idea that there are two kinds of nirvana. As soon as you are liberated in the here and now, you enter a nirvana you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Then, after death — which will be your final death, now that you’re liberated from the cycle of rebirth — a second kind of nirvana will apply.
15. Is Enlightenment Enlightening?
The experience of emptiness, like the experience of not-self, defies and denies natural selection’s nonsensical assertion that each of us is more important than the rest of us.
Emptiness, you may recall, is, roughly speaking, the idea that things don’t have essence. And the perception of essence seems to revolve, however subtly, around feelings; the essence of anything is shaped by the feeling it evokes. It is when things don’t evoke much in the way of feelings—when our normal affective reaction to things is subdued—that we see these things as “empty” or “formless.”
What happens to essence when we let go of our particular perspective—the perspective that the feelings that shape the perceived essences of things were designed to serve?
I think the answer is that essence disappears.
That’s the thing about feelings, a thing that is particularly true when we talk about their role in shaping essence: they can render judgment so subtly that we don’t realize that it’s the feelings that are rendering the judgment; we think the judgment is objective.
16. Meditation and the Unseen Order
And here is an interesting feature of a calm mind: if some issue in my life bubbles up, I’m likely to conceive of it with uncharacteristic wisdom.
It isn’t just that you feel a little more relaxed by the end of a meditation session; it’s that you observe your anxiety, or your fear, or your hatred, or whatever, so mindfully that for a moment you see it as not being part of you.
In case all this sounds too abstractly philosophical, let me try to put it in more practical form, as the answer to this oft-asked question: Will meditation make me happier? And, if so, how much happier?
Well, in my case—and, as you will recall, I’m a particularly hard case—the answer is yes, it’s made me a little happier. That’s good, because I’m in favor of happiness, especially my own. At the same time, the argument I’d make to people about why they should meditate is less about the quantity of happiness than about the quality of the happiness. The happiness I now have involves, on balance, a truer view of the world than the happiness I had before. And a boost in happiness that rests on truth, I would argue, is better than a boost in happiness that doesn’t—not just because things that rest on truth have a more secure footing than things that don’t, but because, as it happens, acting in accordance with this truth means behaving better toward your fellow beings.
This is a happiness that is based on a multifaceted clarity—on a truer view of the world, a truer view of other people, a truer view of yourself, and, I believe, a closer approximation to moral truth. It is this fortunate convergence of happiness, truth, and goodness that is embedded in the word dharma
February 24, 2018
Your Version Number
My friend David Hussman likes to reference his age with a version number. He does a divide by 10 so at 32 you are version 3.2, and 47 you are version 4.7. This always makes me chuckle a bit, but I think there might be more to this than a geeky joke.
Reference Semantic Versioning:
Given a version number MAJOR.MINOR.PATCH, increment the:
- MAJOR version when you make incompatible API changes,
- MINOR version when you add functionality in a backwards-compatible manner, and
- PATCH version when you make backwards-compatible bug fixes.
I think the version metaphor works. You are a different person in your 20s, 30s, 40s and so on. Your life changes in meaningful ways! MAJOR version! Each year we tend to think of new things and new goals, but we don’t break backwards compatibility. MINOR version! And I think most people try to make each day a bit better than the last. PATCH level!
Today I’m v4.6.52 of me. I decided the patch version is the days since your birthday. In fact, I made a Birthday Version script for Workflow to calculate the version of people in your address book.
How will v4.6.53 be different? I don’t know, but I hope ever so slightly better. 🤞
February 22, 2018
Weekly Thing Enhancements
This weekend I made some significant improvements to the automation and template for the Weekly Thing. I’ve always had reservations about the template I was using since moving to MailChimp. It just didn’t fit me, and even more frustrating I didn’t have any ways to make simple changes to the styling. I use quotes extensively in the Weekly Thing, and it wasn’t possible to get those quickly styled.
I got a lot done over the weekend to make this better.
I used a very basic HTML template and extended it as I need it. I wanted it simple and didn’t want a lot of decoration. I like how it ended up.
You will notice that quotes look significantly better in the links section, with indentation and a left border. I’ve also added the hostname of the link, so you know what site you are going to go to if you click on that link, something I appreciate before I click on a link.
My automation is now complete again. I figured out the MailChimp API’s and my workflows now format all the content for me and then create the campaign in MailChimp, set the body content and I even got the photo uploaded with the API.
Now I can once again publish entirely on my iPhone if I want to.
While I was working on the template and the automation, I decided to make the microblog section better. I’ve never liked having those posts be a list of links. Often the only content is the text itself, and it feels disappointing to click on a link to get nothing new. But sometimes there was a photo there, so people did.
Microblogs are now directly in line with the Weekly Thing. You no longer need to click out to see an image, and you don’t get disappointed by clicking on a status post to only see a web page with nothing more than the status you already read.
Thank you for the time, and I would appreciate any feedback you have. 🙏 I finally feel like I can change this with some confidence and make continual improvements.