Saturday, May 26, 2018

[Daily] Saturday 2018.05.26 - Brain dump: a few things I learned this week, mostly about people

I learned a few things this week from two events and a new acquaintance. This is a brain dump of things that stuck.

== Work -> Coworkers -> Health ==
On Tuesday night I went to an event where Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford Business professor, talked about his new book on the cost of modern management practices. His opening line: “According to the Mayo Clinic, the person you report to at work has a bigger impact on your health than your family doctor.” It's obvious when you think about how often we see doctors, but it's an unusual way to frame the people we work with: are they helping extend your life? That's a question to turn inwards to ask myself: am I helping extend the lives of my coworkers (or killing them faster)? It's also a responsibility I had never explicitly thought about.

One objection to measuring "well-being" at a company is that it's hard to measure. However, Jeffrey said a single self-reported 1-5 of “do I feel healthy” has been found to correlate to mortality. I.e. people roughly know whether they are healthy or not.

== You get what you screen for == 
Wednesday night, I attended a panel about mentorship that featured a mentor/mentee chain: Ken Coleman, Ben Horowitz, and Michel Feaster. The second half of the panel focused on diversity and inclusion (often shortened to d&i). People management lessons are best conveyed in stories, and Ben told two stories that stuck.

The first story was about a person named Chris they'd hired for a role that required being really good at making people like you. They had interviewed and passed on a number of people who were investment bankers (Ben joked that was probably not the ideal profession to be looking in) before considering alternative profiles. Chris used to work as a waiter at the Cheesecake Factory, where they rank waiters by their tip percentages. Chris had ranked #1 chain-wide in percentage tips, so he was a champion in a field where to be good, you have to be liked. Ben's points: 1) when hiring, are you defining what skills you actually need for the job? (notably Ben didn't stress the title of the job, rather the skills needed), and 2) are you then seeking out people with those skills in all possible places, including non-obvious ones?

Ben prefaced the second story with, "People at the firm don't like it when I tell this story, but I'll tell it anyway." He once asked a team that was all women, "What is it about your interview process that you can't hire any men?" The team responded that they screen for helpfulness. Ben could have taken this response in a number of ways—are no men helpful? this team must be crazy—but his observation was, hey, it's unusual to screen for helpfulness, and that is clearly making a material difference.

I remember this one statement by Ken: if you are discussing a candidate and can't identify their weaknesses, stop. You are probably missing something because everyone has weaknesses, and if you know about them upfront, you can manage around them.

== Words and connotations; Culture from office furniture ==
Yesterday, I met up with Jules W, whom I ran into at the a16z event. He's a product manager at Slack working on growth. During our conversation, he told two stories that gave me, "oh shit, I'd never thought of that" moments.

The first story is about words. At Slack, they did a few months of user research and found the most effective phrase to describe Slack to most new users was "collaboration hub." For the longest time, Stewart, the CEO, had opposed using the word "collaboration" because it's a fluffy, overused-to-the-point-of-meaningless word in Silicon Valley. But the Valley is not the rest of the country, where "collaboration" can be viewed quite positively, and the Valley already knows and uses Slack. Their research also found that people were confused by the word "tool," because people outside of tech don't really use "tool" to describe software and tend to think of physical objects. A "hub" captured the feeling of "tool" while illustrating the purpose. For me, that's something to chew on regarding the words we use to describe Instabase. Mind you, we have many other critical things to think about, but I had at least personally been operating with the mindset that an "operating system" sounds cool!

The second story was actually a statement. "Slack will never have a ping pong table." Why? He said, a ping pong table is fun for people who have looser schedules—which tend to be younger folks who don't have families. They can afford to take longer breaks, play matches, and make up for it by working late. People with more commitments outside of work can be conflicted, possibly feeling left out because they can't afford the breaks in the middle of the day. In general, Slack wants to foster a culture of "come to work, work hard and stay focused, then go home," because that culture tends to work for a wider range of people. And building that culture requires thinking about even the office furniture. I have thought about open offices and noise and distraction, but not about this particular second-order effect of fun things.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

[Daily] Thinking Spaces - Saturday 2018.05.19

I wonder if loud environments are particularly distracting to people who are wired to think a certain way. In college I talked to two friends who said they don't think in words; they think visually and in symbols. About two years ago I remember Blake Ross wrote a note on Facebook about the opposite: he can't visualize anything in his head (known as aphantasia). I primarily think in words and sentences, not pictures—I can visualize things, but in general it's not natural, and I find spatial thinking tough.

This morning, I got a coffee and quickly left Sightglass on Divisidero, where they were playing rock music at volume 10 in their airy space that enhances the sound of chatter and coffee grinding. I had pulled out my computer to write, put in earplugs (an underrated city essential), and still had trouble focusing, so I moved down the street to Vinyl. I remember reading in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains that Dr. Paul Farmer used to study in the same room as someone (a sibling?) practicing drums, and I find that dumbfounding and superhuman.

Incidentally, an article about how open offices are bad for women came out recently. Besides one internship where I worked in a cubicle, I've never known anything different, and in general I prefer open offices. I have fortunately not encountered—or not noticed—any comments from people around me about me as I've worked. If anything, discomfort I've felt sitting close to others has been in my own head due to self-consciousness, especially early on in my career: am I working too slow? Can people see me struggling? I remember feeling this doubt strongly almost everywhere I worked at Facebook, especially when I was seated right next to tech leads who are today my north stars. On the other hand, sitting next to these people allowed me to see up close what they did on a daily basis, and have frequent conversations with them. Ultimately I think this environment pushed me to and helped me become better, faster.

The one aspect of open offices I continue to dislike is the lack of sound barriers, which makes deep thinking hard for me—perhaps due to the verbal-ness of my thinking, or due to a musical instinct to pick apart ambient sound. At Pinterest, I first encountered and took a big liking to these chairs with walls, which do a surprisingly good job of blocking out the world. I would choose to have one of these at my desk over an office chair.

the Pod PET Felt Privacy Chair by Benjamin Hubert

One thing I look forward to spending more time shaping, as our small startup grows and claws its way to more stability, is the kind of spaces we work in. I think there are non-ideal parts of open offices as they are typically designed, but instead of dismissing them as being bad for a whole swath of the population, we should talk about the specific features we want to enhance or mitigate. I wonder if small tweaks, like allowing people to choose the type of chair they sit in, would help some of these larger problems. The funny thing is that I have never encountered at any company big or small a conversation about how each person tends to think, what they find distracting, and what spaces they seek out, although this seems a substantial lever for productivity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Importance of Names (Lessons from Winston Part 1)

In fall 2009, I took Patrick Winston's introductory AI class, 6.034. Almost nine years later I remember almost none of the content, but two of his "off-topic" lessons have stuck, and one has become a guiding principle for choosing where I work. In this post I'll just talk about one.

The first lesson is the Rumpelstiltskin Principle, which is roughly: "when you give a concept a name, it gives you power over it." Wikipedia shows this idea dates as far back as a paper by Willem van Tilburg in 1972.

There are many possible interpretations of this principle. There is the general positive take: when you have a name for a concept, you have an anchor against which to have a discussion and further explore it. There is a cynical take: you can manipulate how people perceive an idea with the name you choose.

For me, the interesting corollary of this principle is: you should expand your vocabulary about a topic, and seek to be specific. A general word for a large category of ideas gives you "power" over a whole lot of vagueness. One example is the power we have over our emotions, the better we are to label them. (This wheel below is in fact still very incomplete, as articles like this one—"216 'untranslatable' emotional words from non-English languages"—remind us.) Learning these words is part of developing emotional maturity.

These days there is a lot of news about "social media" and "algorithms," and it's disconcerting how definitive a pronouncement people are making about such large general concepts. It's hard to say specific things about not-specific concepts. So I guess the other side of this Principle is: a name for a general concept can give you the feeling of power over that entire concept. And this is a word of warning to ourselves. Even a term like "climate change," which people talk and are concerned about for good reason, gives us a false understanding of the general topic. One warning sign is: if I know a general word but no specific words for the topic I'm talking about... I either should do some more research (or invent some words for my new field).

One of the interesting parts about law in particular is just how many terms there are. One small specific thing I learned from the outcome of a court case over a beating at the August Charlottesville white nationalist rally is there is a higher form of assault called "malicious wounding" that is more serious than "assault and battery." Law is rightfully full of terms because it's an attempt to put clear rules around the ambiguous world (and still there is plenty of ambiguity left over so that we need lawyers, judges, and juries). One way of looking at law is that it's purposely inscrutable to the masses because it keeps the in-crowd employed. The other way of looking at any field with a thickness of vocabulary is that this field likely has a deep understanding of something.

Monday, May 14, 2018

[Daily] Monday 2018.05.14 - Moving bricks

This morning I feel a bit in a daze. I the spent the latter half of Saturday in my room, and most of my Sunday. I got into a groove working last night. Finally, most of the pain in my hands is gone. As well as my back (gosh, am I that old?). I got up early this morning, waking at 3 and beginning at 3:30 with breaks. If I've learned anything from these episodes it's the importance of breaks.

I'm writing at Snowbird, where I've returned as a semi-regular after a break. It may be my favorite coffeeshop in SF now. It's a good place for hunkering down to do a set piece of work—the low ceilings favor it.

Yesterday I reflected on the types of activities I enjoy. I've found working at a tiny company where there are lots of gaps to plug is a perfect environment to figure out what I gravitate towards, or at least what I gravitate toward in the presence of others. Since college, I have felt I have the heart of a liberal arts major in the body of an engineer—not that those are mutually exclusive but that I feel some part of me not exercised in my work. Top of my list were: writing and teaching. Then, working with people, communicating, solving problems. Engineering is only interesting to me in that it can solve some problem. The bits and pieces themselves are just bricks.

This short exercise made obvious the restlessness I feel day to day. This blog has been a good outlet for scratching the writing itch. I'll have to work on the teaching.

And now, to work. An ambitious day ahead. Many bricks to move.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

[Daily] Saturday 2018.05.12 - Beautiful weather; McPhee on editors

It's a beautiful day in San Francisco, sunny, high in the upper 60s, windy. I forced myself out of bed to go for a run this morning. As I stepped outside and smelled the air I felt immediately energized—perfect running weather. For the first time, I made it first in line at Andytown.

Not wanting to squander this day, I wandered to one of the sunniest cafes I know, Neighbor's Corner. They were closed due to a power outage. I went to Hearth instead and read for a few hours: first, some of Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel and then a chapter of John McPhee's Draft No. 4. I noticed the days-of-week of Steinbeck's journal are almost aligned with 2018, and I had happened to have made it to early May, so I made an effort to read through Friday May 10; there's no Saturday entry and it picks up tomorrow, Sunday.

In the McPhee, I read the chapter on editors and publishers. It was mainly a portrait of William Shawn, longtime editor of The New Yorker (he held a tenure of 35 years) and the first of McPhee's editors there. The portrait was McPhee's lens through which he made points about editors: what they are when they are good or bad; weird biases even great ones can have (e.g. Shawn did not like reading about cold places or unusual food). I liked this particular passage regarding the role:
        Shawn also recognized that no two writers are the same, like snowflakes and fingerprints. No one will ever write in just the way that you do, or in just the way that anyone else does. Because of that fact, there is no real competition between writers. What appears to be competition is actually nothing more than jealousy and gossip. Writing is a matter strictly of developing oneself. You compete only with yourself. You develop yourself by writing. An editor's goal is to help writers make the most of the patterns that are unique about them.
        There are people who superimpose their own patterns on the work of writers and seem to think it is their role to force things in the direction they would have gone in if they had been doing the writing. Such people are called editors, and are not editors but rewriters. I couldn't begin to guess the number of onetime students of mine who have sent me printed articles full of notes in the margins telling me what the original said. An editor I know (not professionally) tells me that he sees this topic from the other side and most writers need what they get. He will never convince this writer. My advice is, never stop battling for the survival of your own unique stamp. An editor can contribute a lot to your thoughts but the piece is yours—and ought to be yours—if it is under your name.
I like that sentiment—it's not a novel idea, but well said. He goes on to talk about "nut graphs" in the next paragraph. This section brought on unpleasant memories from writing for The Tech (where pieces got edited last-minute by sleepy, overworked student editors to the point of inserting factual errors, and nut graphs were often discussed).

I have a chunk of coding to chew through this weekend, so I'm now home. Despite the work, I'm in enviable circumstances: south-facing window open a crack, a splash of rye in my old Facebook whiskey glass, listening to Seong-Jin Cho's Chopin Preludes.

Friday, May 11, 2018

[Daily] Friday 2018.05.11 - On becoming "experienced"

We're back at that time of year when I can wake up early to sunlight. The sun rises at 6 am.

When I think back to college, I know I would do it differently if I had another chance. The same goes with the earlier years of working. It's common to say that over time, you get better at estimating how much time a given task will take, and recognizing what's important to work on and what doesn't matter. 

I think a good part of becoming "experienced" is just learning about yourself—what are the types of things you like to do and are good at? Given constraints, what's the best way for you to achieve a goal? I used to stay up late studying before exams, when probably I would have done better to sleep more and study less. These days, I know I'll do better to complete a task by resting eight hours and working three than if I pushed through the whole eleven, or even pushed through the first three. (Maybe it's also me aging through my twenties.)

I think another part of becoming "experienced" is establishing a core set of beliefs about how the world works and your place in it. I think it's hard to push hard in a consistent direction without this. This core set of beliefs can be different than what you observe your environment generally follows, and if it is, it helps you understand sources of conflict. For one, I generally believe in the happiness of the group over the individual, and carry a bias toward stability and efficiency. I have to remind myself that the act of giving birth, so to speak, is sort of antithetical to stability.

Another kind of core belief is about the way life will play out and the innate value of different types of experiences. What are your views on fairness and luck? What you picture being the arc of a life well-lived?

I believe having a grasp on these questions allows a person to be more resilient and self-directed, in whatever work they choose.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

[Daily] Thursday 2018.05.10 - Me as video game character; Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel

One of my coworkers describes RSI as the black lung of programmers. The past week has been tough with the pressure of delivering new features, doing interviews and lots of interview coordination (which is highly manual and thrashy), responding to and debugging inbound support, and fighting pain that goes all the way from the wrist up to the shoulders. If I were a video game character my health bar would not be full, but with RSI it's like playing a video game where there's a lag between taking a hit and seeing the drop in health—you don't quite know how much pushing yourself now for this length of time will show up later.

One piece of joy in my day is reading a little bit of Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel [review by Independent], which I chanced upon at the Brattle Book Shop in Boston last spring. I love Steinbeck's voice in my ear, and I purposely read this small volume of diary entries in small spurts to savor it. It's especially interesting because I recently (like a year or two ago) read East of Eden. More on this in a later post.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

[Daily] Tuesday 2018.05.08 - A new blanket, and resisting purchases

I am inordinately happy with this blanket I got this weekend from Maker's Market @ Mill Valley Lumberyard. Here it is freshly laundered, in active use:

I'm not a huge shopper, but every so often I see something that in the moment I take a big liking to. On this day, in particular, I weighed three other items: a print of a minimalist map of the Outer Sunset, at Avenues SF (not Avenues Dry Goods or Other Avenues or even The Avenues generically—lots of Avenues out there); a small crossbody canvas bag at Guideboat; and even a pair of pennyloafers at Guideboat. Anyone who has seen me would probably find the last two items out of character, and I agree. I wear a faded green-now-tan backpack like a permanent turtle shell (it fits a laptop, notebooks, a few books), and comfy black Nike sneakers 95% of the time. Every time I go out with other footwear, I notice I can't walk as fast. So as to why I took a liking to these things—it's got to be ads. 

I've bought numerous things before that are more aspirational than practical (clothing, advanced cookbooks, even wood floor polish), and then I realize they don't fit in my life. The reality of my day-to-day life and bias toward practicality win out. 

So I ask myself these questions now: Will I enjoy this thing in two months? (This is especially relevant for seasonally-useful items.) When do I see myself using this? I try to picture a specific event or situation when I'd use it. 

It would be a lie to stop here, though, and pat myself on the back for my mental fortitude. I think a big part of resisting purchases has been the fact that I've packed up so often in the past 8-9 years. That includes clearing out my dorm room at the end of each college year, moving into a temporary apartment while TAing one semester, moving across the country, then moving five times in the last five years in the Bay Area. Packing is a pain and actually highly thought-intensive (you are solving minimal packing problems constantly), and each time, I've gotten a good look at all my belongings and know what things I don't use and are dead weight. So really, the immediate second thought when I see something I want to buy is, "Will this make moving more annoying?" That thought brings about recent memories of packing and probably triggers my brain to emulate physical pain, and slaps away most of my urges. 

Now you understand what barriers this bulky-ish, big blanket had to overcome to arrive on my bed.

Part of this "imagine moving" technique relies on my believing I will move in the future, and the near future. I've thought about how my mindset will shift once I buy a house—which I have no plans of doing, but believe won't be in the Bay Area (I want a yard enough to plant a garden... with money left over to do other things). 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Environment and Compatibility

There's a certain kind of thinking that can only be done in coffeeshops in the morning. Or maybe there's a kind of thinking that's just hard to do in the office, where the environment envelops me in a sense of duty. This morning, I picked up coffee to-go and came into the office early, falling back to what I've been doing my whole short career. There's still no one here, but the first hour and half became responding to emails and ticking off boxes, the type of things I can do in the minutes before bed. This small experience shows to me the impact of environment—even four walls with connotations, no people around, can do this. I've now put on Dave Brubeck and Coffitivity, which helps.

This reminds me of a related topic, that over the years I've come to believe a similar thing about jobs as relationships. W.r.t relationships, I have lost most of the inhibition to make the first move, because rejection does not hurt much anymore. (It will always hurt some.) This is ironically an outcome of being in several relationships (and other not-quite-relationships) that didn't work out, which made me realize that modern-day compatibility is incredibly hard and rare to find, and failure is not explicitly the fault of either of the two parties. Modern-day compatibility is strongly based on individual tastes. If someone rejects me, it's not my fault for not being attractive enough or their fault for not finding me attractive. As much as we like to think we are in control of ourselves, we can't force what we respond to, or on the flip side, dramatically change our personalities. It's in fact easier to change our looks.

Jobs are fit to a personality as well, which is often talked about in terms of entire professions, or big companies versus small companies. What I've seen is that even subtle differences among very similar situations make a big difference in how effective the same person is. I can say that for myself. I felt that at Facebook v. Pinterest, which are on the surface two large social networking companies, but the difference was more pronounced in tiny companies. After leaving 13-person Chorus, I felt I couldn't make a decision on another startup without working at them first, so I did brief contracting with four companies (sizes: 5, 13, 10-20, 4) before joining Instabase (4). It was surprising to me how at certain places, I felt—and I think, was—much more effective than at others. Same person, different types of work, different coworkers and company structures, different styles of communication.

I keep this in mind when recruiting. It makes me more empathetic when things don't work out, and makes me realize the resume and even pure technical interview is only a slice of what makes someone successful at a particular place. More broadly, I hope this mindset will become more common, so people do not view either being rejected in a relationship or being rejected by a company as categorical value judgements or measures of their self-worth. As with finding a fulfilling relationship, finding a fulfilling job is hard, and you should expect to fail a few times and get better at it over time.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

[Daily] Saturday 2018.05.05 - Musician-Athlete, Jazz-Engineer

Last night I saw Ray Chen play Brahms Violin Concerto with the SF Symphony. It's hard to say words about a fine performance (probably easier to find words for criticism) because there are only so many words in the English language for sound. This reminds me of something Anthony Bourdain said about food writing, that it eventually all sounds the same, like porn. [1] I can say generic things like "Ray played the shit out of the Brahms," or describe the impact on me: I felt joy to be alive to experience this. Part of the impression I left with is what I imagine you'd feel at a professional sports game like tennis. The simple act of standing on stage mechanically executing finely coordinated finger-and-arm movements with 99% accuracy for forty-five minutes is an athletic feat. Layer on top of that the need to focus on artistic expression, and on top of that the psychological pressure from being under the spotlight and from audience expectations. Witnessing this concerto played in such a setting with a breathtaking degree of skill and expression is to witness a height of human ability.

Before the concert, two friends and I were sitting in the lounge at Davies chatting, and we talked about the decline of classical music. Well, it's declining in the US, but has become very popular in Asia. We joked that it might be because Asian culture emphasizes skills tests (there is a game show in China called The Brain, which is like The Voice but for mental skills, where competitors do things like solve Rubik's cubes), and classical music is an elaborate skills test.

Though Asian culture favors mental tests over physical tests like sports, playing an instrument is to me much closer to sports than to a cerebral field like science or engineering. One thought that occurred to me last night was: I've read the Brahms concerto on violin, so I can physically play the same notes as Ray... but, what oceans between us! It's like me hitting a tennis ball versus Serena Williams hitting a ball. Yes, you can point out the fact she has a better racket—a tennis-racket Stradivarius, if you will—but truth is, she can beat you with any racket. 

Classical music as it's practiced today is focused on refining a set repertoire, whereas jazz is more like engineering, where you have some common foundation but then are never quite building the same thing, even though many jazz licks and engineering feats look similar if you squint. The goal, at least, is to build something new and improve upon the past, rather than reinterpreting a plan created centuries ago. I love classical music, but of the two mindsets I prefer the latter, and that's why I think if I were ever to become a full-time classical musician, I would get quite frustrated.

[1] The quote: “Writing incessantly about food is like writing porn. How many adjectives can there be before you repeat yourself?” [source: New Yorker]

Friday, May 4, 2018

What makes a hands-on trade?

My RSI is kicking in again, so I'll try to keep this short.

I'm reminded of a college suitemate who arrived as a freshman with RSI already, because he had spent so much time coding in high school. He installed dictation software and got a foot-powered mouse. It was still a big struggle. I would hear him in the lounge outside my room laboriously dictating code at 1AM. I heard from another friend he eventually got foot RSI.

The short of it is, coding is still inconvenient without your hands, despite the perception that it's the opposite of a "real" hands-on trade. It's likely easier to be a writer with RSI than a programmer. Or rather, a writer of conventional pieces: sentences and paragraphs that move from top to bottom and consist of the standard words in the language. Things that might still be hard: writing Finnegans Wake or concrete poetry. In both the cases of programming and unconventional writing, the hard part is not actually getting the characters out (if you knew exactly what to type before you start), but the process of editing.

At the same time I think it would be pretty manageable to do something like write equations in a spreadsheet, or write Instabase Flows, both of which are a type of simpler programming. The difference is there are clear standard building blocks and relatively little custom 'glue' for the programmer to deal with. These are both more constrained environments, overall more declarative than imperative. It makes sense that when the 'blocks' of an environment are defined, it's easier to create tools to make it easy to work with those blocks.

On the other end of the spectrum there are artists—painters. I can't imagine that becoming a non-manual job until we have true brain-machine interfaces.

Those seem to be the two ways we can approach making manual jobs not manual: making them as declarative as possible (abstracting away complexity), then building tools around them; or creating better ways to translate the intent in our minds into action. Even cars can been viewed this way: cars translate our intent to move in some direction into action. In this example, the fidelity of this translation is limited by the vehicle's turn radius. For a painter of fine still lifes, that fidelity would have to be very high.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

[Daily] Thursday 2018.05.03 - China and the Muni, both are crowded

On Tuesday night I had dinner with my good friend Julie. We spent the end of the evening chatting in the first floor lounge of her apartment building. Before I left, we headed back to her apartment to get my backpack. We stepped into the elevator, joining two others: two men who looked to be delivering items (one had a dolly piled with household goods). Then a third guy stepped in, just making it in before the doors closed.

There were five of us with roughly enough personal space to raise our arms to 30-degree angles without touching—cozy but not uncomfortable. Julie joked, "Hm, it's crowded in here."

The third guy said, trying to joke back, "Have you been to China?"

There was an awkward silence. "Uhhhh.... yeah," Julie said.

"It's, ah, super crowded over there."

"Have you been on the L during rush hour?" Julie said.

Then the doors opened and we got out, along with one of the delivery guys. After I got my backpack, we went back to the elevators and ran into the delivery guy also heading back down, and the three of us shared a chuckle and "wtf?"

A few thoughts:
  • This story told without additional context is really half the story. For instance, some context is that Julie, the delivery guy, and I are all Asian, and the third guy was white. Rough ages: late 20s/mid-30s, except the delivery guy who may have been in his early 40s.
  • Going one layer deeper, Julie is second-generation Korean, I'm second-generation Taiwanese, and I don't know about the delivery guy. Perhaps none of us was attached to China as a country at all.
  • Yet this was awkward for everyone, third guy included. And the three of us who met back at the elevator were able to have an immediate unspoken common ground.
  • I truly think the third guy said the first thing that popped in his head and immediately realized how weird it was. 
  • I wish I could tell him this. Unfortunately, in most such situations there is no opportunity for a group post-mortem.
  • At face value, it's weird that saying a country is crowded can be awkward. You have to go a layer deeper to: what does a statement like that imply that the speaker is thinking, such that that is the first thing that comes to mind? On the flip side, he is likely wondering, how did the thing I just say get perceived by everyone? What do they think of me now? It's natural to assume the worst.
  • I am bad enough at remembering faces that I don't think I would recognize Third Guy if I saw him again in a different context—or even in the same apartment building. There could be a different kind of awkward if we do ever meet again and he does remember the encounter and assumes I do too.
  • Any potential resolution most likely hinges on another chance meeting between Julie and Third Guy in the elevator.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

[Daily] Tuesday 2018.05.01 - Merriam Webster Trending Words

There are trending words on Merriam-Webster now.

I was surprised that each link doesn't open the definition; it opens a short blog post about the word's rise to popularity. For example: kakistocracy

I find this a delightful way to learn new words—the words are relevant, and you learn how to use them through real writing.