Felix Crux

Technology & Miscellanea


These are some of the links from all over the Web that I enjoyed the most this month:

Irrational Exuberance - Writing an engineering strategy. This applies to more than just executives, and it’s not even just engineering-specific. The key insight is really originally from the book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt, and it’s that a strategy can’t just be a wishlist, but rather has to start with a diagnosis of your current situation, and from there propose a policy or philosophy for how you want to overcome the current problems, and a set of concrete actions to make that happen. The rest of the post goes into the practicalities of publishing and implementing the strategy, and it’s good stuff too!

The Atlantic - Permission-Slip Culture is Hurting America. Subtitle: “Why should anyone need a license to braid hair?”. Indeed. As Adam Smith said: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Nikita Popov - 3 things you’re doing wrong in 1:1 meetings. Good advice. Beyond the specifics of the article, the big idea to take from it is your manager ought to be a resource to help you and to fix things (obviously not all of them are — apply this advice contextually). Use them! That requires talking directly about what you need and what’s bothering you. They can’t necessarily always fix everything or get you everything you want, but they’ll make a heck of a lot more progress if they know there’s a problem in the first place and if they know what you’re striving for.

Email explained from first principles. I wouldn’t really say any of it is “from first principles”, but it’s a wonderful resource because of how comprehensive it is. In your mind, rename it to “Every component, tangentially-related technology that is now mandatory because of spam filtering, flaw, quirk, and historical wart of email explained to a reasonable degree in one place” and enjoy learning about all the various odds and ends you might have heard the name of in passing but never really looked into until now.

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Many years ago I laboriously ripped a collection of CDs (and a few cassettes) into digital files. It was already clear at the time that I wouldn’t want to lug discs around and that these newfangled “MP3 players” were on to something good.

Unfortunately, the hard drive space required to store my collection in a lossless format was far out of reach for me at the time, so I resigned myself to keeping everything as lossy low-bitrate MP3s. Later, a new free/open-source and patent-unencumbered format called Ogg Vorbis turned up on the scene, and my enthusiasm for it overpowered my horror at re-encoding from one lossy format to another, so I gritted my teeth at the quality degradation and converted everything.

Now in the present, Vorbis has been surpassed by Opus, FLAC exists, hard drives are cheap, and it’s time to start over.

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How do you follow your favourite online creators and their blogs, articles, videos, podcasts, comics, or what have you? How do you choose what to read when you have a few minutes to kill on the bus, or when you want to get caught up in the morning with a cup of coffee?

Most people hand this choice over to social media, inviting along the whole associated host of problems like clickbait; outrage amplification; snooping targeted advertising; radicalising rabbit-holes; echo-chambers and filter bubbles; algorithms choosing what to show you based on “engagement” rather than what you’d want for yourself; and on and on.

There’s a better way — and there has been for decades! Amazingly, it seems underused even within tech circles, and almost completely unknown to the general public. It’s super easy to use, actually more convenient than social media apps, and leaves you in complete control of what you see.

I’m talking, of course, about RSS/Atom web feeds, and I contend that they are not only a better alternative, but in fact I’d go so far as to say that a feed reader is the only tolerable and civilised way to read online! The system works really well and more in line with what (I think) most people actually want; it minimizes the use of harmful social media platforms; and it helps foster a more vibrant, independent, creative, and non-commerical Web. So drop your non-chronological algorithmically-obscured sponsored timeline, and let’s have a whirlwind overview of what feeds are and how to use them!

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I’ve updated my recommended reading list for software professionals (introduced and explained here) with a new section on people and project management.

Don’t think you need the word “manager” in your job title to benefit from learning these skills. If you want to make yourself more useful to a team, teach others, help your projects succeed, or guide groups to making good decisions, these books will help.

The new section of the list is here.