Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#14: Holidays and the nature of conflict

Here at the holidays for, let’s say, reasons, I am thinking about the nature of conflict, and specifically personal conflict and standing at either end of one. There’s this great post by Adam Mastroianni about conversations. Good ones and bad ones.

On the nature of conflict, Mastroianni boils it down to the miscues of givers and takers transforming conversation into a zero sum game:

Neither givers nor takers have it 100% correct, and their conflicts often come from both sides’ insistence that the other side must convert or die. Rather than mounting a Inquisition on our interlocutors, we ought to focus on perfecting our own technique.

The solution is what he calls doorknobs. Mastroianni’s thesis is that good conversationalists offer affordances in conversations for others to jump in, which is what he refers to as doorknobs, places in a discussion for others to enter. Those doorknobs need to match your personal style. There are givers and takers in a conversation, and takers must present doorknobs with potentially oppositional statements, while givers can invite others with questions.

Blogging in a Vacuum

There’s a lot to love about Henrik Karlsson’s A blog post is a very long and complex search query to find fascinating people and make them route interesting stuff to your inbox, starting with the name. It’s an in-depth analysis of the way in which ideas move around in the web, not through self-contained circle but outward like a large river system, collecting different branches along the way. Karlsson has a lot to say about the function of a blog, not as a niche source of viral content, but as a way of producing clarity in thinking.

He also has some advice. Some very good advice:

You ask yourself: What would have made me jump off my chair if I had read it six months ago (or a week ago, or however fast you write)? If you have figured out something that made you ecstatic, this is what you should write. And you do not dumb it down, because you were not stupid six months ago, you just knew less. You also write with as much useful detail and beauty as you can muster, because that is what you would have wanted.

This is a blog that not many people other than myself read. And that’s okay, because it’s some of the most clear thinking I do all week putting posts like this together.

Wasn’t this supposed to be fun?

I’ve been catching up on some of those that have written or spoken about the general decline of quality on the web. And there is a lot to say about unfettered algorithms, viscous echo chambers and wanton neglect from custodians of the webs largest traffic sources.

But also it is very much true that things just aren’t as fun anymore. Writing in the New Yorker, Kyle Chayka sums it up pretty well:

The precipitous decline of X is the bellwether for a new era of the Internet that simply feels less fun than it used to be. Remember having fun online? It meant stumbling onto a Web site you’d never imagined existed, receiving a meme you hadn’t already seen regurgitated a dozen times, and maybe even playing a little video game in your browser. These experiences don’t seem as readily available now as they were a decade ago.

Fun, or even discovery, isn’t the primary goal of the web or any source of information on it. It can, rather, be a very serious place just as the world outside the screen can be.

But there is this idea that I think a lot of people had of the web. That if you connect a bunch of people from all over the world and get them talking, shouldn’t that be at least a little fun? And eye opening and engaging and nuanced and filled wall to wall with the thrill of discovery of new voices and perspectives.

The walled gardens have closed us in, and now it sometimes feels like there’s no escape.

Transparency in team communication

A couple of articles I read were about how to communicate better on a dev team. There’s the practical guide: How To Create Compound Efficiencies In Engineering. A list of a few best practices to bring some efficiency to a team over time. My favorite tidbit was adding tags to PRs that indicate the estimated time to review, and the risk level, which gives team members better context on how much time they’ll need to set aside.

Pairs well with Paul Robert Lloyd’s talk on Design Histories and recording the history of a project through decisions made. It is essentially a public blog devoted to a project with a focused hiearchy. Not all that dissimilar to what Automattic has been doing with its internal P2s for the better part of 20 years. But design histories have an added benefit of focusing strictly on the types of changes and decisions that have shaped a project, thus giving you a full view.

A design history looks both forwards and backwards.

New posts show the team where a service is going, older posts tell the story of how they got to where they are now.

James Baldwin on Shakespeare:

The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love — by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him.