Categories
Future of Work

Stream Like a CEO

Update: There’s an updated 2021 version of this setup.

When Bill Gates was on Trevor Noah’s show it was amazing how much better quality his video was. I had experimented with using a Sony camera and capture card for the virtual event we did in February when WordCamp Asia was canceled, but that Trevor Noah video and exchanging some tweets with Garry Tan sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole, even after I was on-record with The Information saying a simpler setup is better.

The quality improved, however something was still missing: I felt like I wasn’t connecting with the person on the other side. When I reviewed recordings, especially for major broadcasts, my eyes kept looking at the person on the screen rather than looking at the camera.

Then I came across this article about the Interrotron, a teleprompter-like device Errol Morris would use to make his Oscar-winning documentaries. Now we’re onto something!

Illustration by Steve Hardie

For normal video conferencing a setup this nice is a distraction, but if you’re running for political office during a quarantine, a public company CEO talking to colleagues and the press, here’s a cost-is-no-object CEO livestreaming kit you can set up pretty easily at home.

GEAR GUIDE

Basically what you do is put the A7r camera, shotgun mic, and the lens together and switch it to video mode, go to Setup 3, choose HDMI settings, and turn HDMI Info Display off — this gives you a “clean” video output from the camera. You can run off the built-in battery for a few hours, but the Gonine virtual battery above lets you power the camera indefinitely. Plug the HDMI from the camera to the USB Camlink, then plug that into your computer. Now you have the most beautiful webcam you’ve ever seen, and you can use the Camlink as both a video source and an audio source using the shotgun mic. Put the Key Light wherever it looks best. You’re fine to record something now.

If you’d like to have a more two-way conversation Interrotron style, set up the teleprompter on the tripod, put the camera behind it, connect the portable monitor to your computer (I did HMDI to a Mac Mini) and “mirror” your display to it. (You can also use an iPad and Sidecar for that.) Now you’ll have a reversed copy of your screen on the teleprompter mirror. I like to put the video of the person I’m talking to right over the lens, so near the bottom of my screen, and voilà! You now have great eye contact with the person you’re talking to. The only thing I haven’t been able to figure out is how to horizontally flip the screen in MacOS so all the text isn’t backward in the mirror reflection. For audio I usually just use a headset at this point, but if you want to not have a headset in the shot…

Use a discreet earbud. I love in-ear monitors from Ultimate Ears, so you can put one of these in and run the cable down the back of your shirt, and I use a little audio extender cable to easily reach the computer’s 3.5mm audio port. This is “extra” as the kids say and it may be tricky to get an ear molding taken during a pandemic. For the mic I use the audio feed from the Camlink, run through Krisp.ai if there is ambient noise, and it works great (except in the video above where it looks a few frames off and I can’t figure out why. On Zoom it seems totally normal).

Here’s what the setup looks like all put together:

After that photo was taken I got a Mac Mini mount and put the computer under the desk, which is much cleaner and quieter, but used this earlier photo so you could see everything plugged in. When you run this off a laptop its fan can get really loud.

Again, not the most practical for day to day meetings, but if you’re doing prominent remote streaming appearances—or if your child is an aspiring YouTube star—that’s how you can spend ~9k USD going all-out. You could drop about half the cost with only a minor drop in quality switching the camera and lens to a Sony RX100 VII and a small 3.5mm shotgun mic, and that’s probably what I’ll use if I ever start traveling again.

If I were to put together a livestreaming “hierarchy of needs,” it would be:

  1. Solid internet connection (the most important thing, always)
  2. Audio (headset mic or better)
  3. Lighting (we need to see you, naturally)
  4. Webcam (video quality)

We’ve put together a Guide to Distributed Work Tools here, which includes a lot of great equipment recommendations for day-to-day video meetings.

Categories
WordPress

Celebrate Seventeen

May 27th, 17 years ago, the first release of WordPress was put into the world by Mike Little and myself. It did not have an installer, upgrades, WYSIWYG editor (or hardly any Javascript), comment spam protection, clean permalinks, caching, widgets, themes, plugins, business model, or any funding.

The main feedback we got at the time was that the blogging software market was saturated and there wasn’t room or need for anything new.

WordPress did have a philosophy, an active blog, a license that protected the freedom of its users and developers, a love of typography, a belief that code is poetry, fantastic support forums and mailing lists and IRC, and firm sense that building software is more fun when you do it together as a community.

We have relentlessly iterated across 38 major releases since then, and here we are.

If you’d like to celebrate with me, put on some jazz, eat some BBQ, light a candle for the contributors who have passed on, help a friend or stranger less technical than you build a home online, and remember that technology is at its best when it brings people together.

Categories
Future of Work

Gradually, Then Suddenly

The two main theses of my professional career have been that distributed is the future of work, and that open source is the future of technology and innovation. I’ve built Automattic and WordPress around these, and it’s also informed my investments and hobbies. Just today, we announced an investment into a distributed, open source, and encrypted communication company called New Vector.

On the distributed front, the future of work has been arriving quickly. This week, a wave of companies representing over $800B in market capitalization announced they’re embracing distributed work beyond what’s required by the pandemic:

Change happens slowly, then all at once.

The forces that enable working in a distributed fashion have been in motion for decades, and if you talk to anyone who was working in technology in the ’60s and ’70s they expected this to happen much sooner. Stephan Wolfram has been a remote CEO for 28 years. Automattic has been distributed-first for 15 years.

What’s been holding us back is fear of the unknown, and attachment to the familiar. I can’t tell you how many of the investors I see espousing distributed work once told me that Automattic would never scale past a few dozen people unless we brought everyone into an office. Or the CEOs who said this would never work for them, now proclaiming their company hasn’t missed a beat as tens of thousands of people started working from home.

What’s going to be newsworthy by the end of the year is not technology companies saying they’re embracing distributed work, but those that aren’t. Those who thought this couldn’t work have been forced by the pandemic to do it anyway, and they’ve now seen that it’s possible.

It was probably terrible at first, but now two or three months in it’s gotten better. We’ve learned and adapted, and will continue to do so. Necessity breeds invention. I promise you if you stick with it, you’ll progress through the levels of distributed autonomy. Over time people will be able to move houses, tweak furniture, buy equipment, upgrade their internet, and otherwise adapt to being more productive in a distributed environment than they ever could be in an office. Products and services are being developed all around the world that will make it even better. I’m so excited about how a majority of the economy going distributed will improve people’s quality of life, and unlock incredible creativity and innovation at work. (They go hand in hand.)

At some point, we’ll break bread with our colleagues again, and that will be glorious. I can’t wait. But along the way we’ll discover that things we thought were impossible were just hard at first, and got easier the more we did it. Some will return to physically co-working with strangers, and some employers trapped in the past will force people to go to offices, but the illusion that the office was about work will be shattered forever, and companies that hold on to that legacy will be replaced by companies who embrace the antifragile nature of distributed organizations.

Categories
Asides

Tulsa Remote Worker Experiment

Sarah Holder at Citylab has an interesting article on a program that paid people $10,000, a year of co-working, and a subsidized apartment to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Traditionally, cities looking to spur their economies may offer incentives to attract businesses. But at a time when Americans are moving less frequently than they have in more than half a century, and the anticlimactic race to host an Amazon HQ2 soured some governments on corporate tax breaks, Tulsa is one of several locales testing out a new premise:  Pay people instead.

I love this idea, and hope that after the permanent step-up in remote work from the virus we see much more internal mobility between cities in the United States.

Categories
Future of Work

Distributed Work’s Five Levels of Autonomy

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Sam Harris, author and host of the Making Sense podcast, for a wide-ranging conversation. Given the moment we’re currently living through, we naturally touched on the way companies are adapting to a new reality — one where remote work is a model to which they must adapt in a matter of days, rather than years.

As I mentioned to Sam on the podcast, “any company that can enable their people to be fully effective in a distributed fashion, can and should do it far beyond after this current crisis has passed.” It’s a moral imperative. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, or that the chaotic and stressful first taste some workplaces are getting right now is one that inspires them to keep trying.

To make sense of this journey — from a company’s cautious exploration of remote possibilities to a fully realized distributed experience — I like to think of how it plays out through the concept of levels of distributed work, which I modeled after self-driving car levels of autonomy. I’ve seen some solid recaps of my conversation with Sam from Steve Glaveski and Steve Jurvetson, but here’s my gist of how distributed companies evolve:

  1. Level Zero autonomy is a job which cannot be done unless you’re physically there. Imagine construction worker, barista, massage therapist, firefighter… Many companies assumed they had far more of these than it has turned out they really did.
  2. The first level is where most colocated businesses are: there’s no deliberate effort to make things remote-friendly, though in the case of many knowledge workers, people can keep things moving for a day or two when there’s an emergency. More often than not, they’ll likely put things off until they’re back in the office. Work happens on company equipment, in company space, on company time. You don’t have any special equipment and may have to use a clunky VPN to access basic work resources like email or your calendar. Larger level one companies often have people in the same building or campus dialing into a meeting. Level one companies were largely unprepared for this crisis.
  3. Level two is where many companies have found themselves in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve accepted that work is going to happen at home for a while, but they recreate what they were doing in the office in a “remote” setting, like Marshall McLuhan talked about new media mediums initially copying the generation before. You’re probably able to access information from afar, you’ve adapted to tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but everything is still synchronous, your day is full of interruptions, no real-time meetings have been canceled (yet), and there’s a lot of anxiety in management around productivity — that’s the stage where companies sometimes install surveillance software on laptops. Pro tip: Don’t do that! And also: Don’t stop at level two!
  4. At the third level, you’re really starting to benefit from being remote-first, or distributed. That’s when you see people invest in better equipment — from a good desk lamp to solid audio gear — and in more robust asynchronous processes that start to replace meetings. It’s also the point at which you realize just how crucial written communication is for your success, and you start looking for great writers in your hiring. When you are on a Zoom, you often also have a Google Doc up with the other meeting participants so you can take and check real-time notes together. Your company has a zero-trust BeyondCorp security model. In a non-pandemic world you plan meetups so teams can break bread and meet each other in person a week or two a year.
  5. Level four is when things go truly asynchronous. You evaluate people’s work on what they produce, not how or when they produce it. Trust emerges as the glue that holds the entire operation together. You begin shifting to better — perhaps slower, but more deliberate — decision-making, and you empower everyone, not just the loudest or most extroverted, to weigh in on major conversations. You tap into the global talent pool, the 99% of the world’s population and intelligence that doesn’t live near one of your legacy physical office locations. Employee retention goes way up, and you invest more in training and coaching. Most employees have home-office setups that would make office workers green with envy. You have a rich social life with people you choose. Real-time meetings are respected and taken seriously, almost always have agendas and pre-work or post-work. If you get good at baton passes work will follow the sun 24/7 around the world. Your organization is truly inclusive because standards are objective and give people agency to accomplish their work their way.
  6. Finally, I believe it’s always useful to have an ideal that’s not wholly attainable — and that’s level five, Nirvana! This is when you consistently perform better than any in-person organization could. You’re effortlessly effective. It’s when everyone in the company has time for wellness and mental health, when people bring their best selves and highest levels of creativity to do the best work of their careers, and just have fun. 🤠

A highly influential book for me in designing Automattic was Daniel Pink’s Drive, where he eloquently introduces the three things that really matter in motivating people: mastery, purpose, and autonomy. Mastery is the urge to get better skills. Purpose is the desire to do something that has meaning, that’s bigger than yourself. These first two principles physically co-located companies can be great at. But the third, autonomy, is where even the best in-office company can never match a Level 4 or above distributed company.

Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed, to have agency over ourselves and our environment. Close your eyes and imagine everything around you in a physical office: the chair you’re in, the desk, distance from a window, the smells, the temperature, the music, the flooring, what’s in the fridge, the comfort and privacy of the bathrooms, the people (or pets) around you, the lighting. Now imagine an environment where you can choose and control every one of those to your liking — maybe it’s a room in your house, a converted garage, a shared studio, or really anything, the important thing is you’re able to shape the environment fit your personal preferences, not the lowest common denominator of everyone an employer has decided to squish together for 8 hours a day. The micro-interactions of the hundreds of variables of your work environment can charge you and give you creative energy, or make you dependent, infantilized, and a character in someone else’s story. Which do you want to spend half of your waking workday hours in?

For a good summary of Dan Pink, check out this animation. The other books I referenced in the podcast are Geoffrey West’s Scale and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile.

My talk with Sam covered many other topics, from communicating in distributed companies to the challenges businesses are facing due to COVID-19, so I hope you head over and listen to the rest or stream it on Youtube.

Categories
Future of Work

Don’t Mute, Get a Better Headset

One heterodox recommendation I have for audio and video calls when you’re working in a distributed fashion is not to mute, if you can help it. When you’re speaking to a muted room, it’s eerie and unnatural — you feel alone even if you can see other people’s faces. You lose all of those spontaneous reactions that keep a conversation flowing. If you ask someone a question, or they want to jump in, they have to wait to unmute. I also don’t love the “unmute to raise your hand” behavior, as it lends itself to meetings where people are just waiting their turn to speak instead of truly listening. I’m always hesitant to disagree with Seth Godin, but that’s been my experience.

So what should you do? Use the latest and greatest hardware and software to have the best of both worlds, a fantastic auditory experience for you and your interlocutors and little to no background noise.

To summarize, I recommend a wired, USB headset with a mic that stays a constant distant from your mouth and has a noise-canceling microphone. Save mute for coughs and sips of drinks.

The rest of this post I’m going to try out eleven different microphones and headsets, ranging from $35 to $1,000+, and record a short file on each, and intersperse some software tips for people on MacOS. You may want to listen to these samples with good headphones on to really hear the differences. I apologize some are louder than others, I didn’t edit to even out the levels, which Zoom or Skype would do automatically.

My previous top recommendation was the trusty Sennheiser SC 30, in my previous bag posts. It’s cheap and effective, but the cord was too long and it was USB-A. If you read no further, get this one and revolutionize how you sound on Zoom calls. Here’s how it sounds:

Sennheiser has upgraded to a USB-C version, with a much shorter cord, the SC 130. It feels and looks much better, you don’t need a USB-C dongle, and the sound quality of the earphones is quite bearable. The cost is about twice as much (~$70).

You can plug the USB-C into your iPad or Android phone as well and it works great, though the headphones can be a bit quiet on Android. Either of the above will spoil you for making calls, and you won’t want to go back to the old low-fi way of doing things.

In order to have a bit more flexibility I tried out the much more expensive ($134) Sennheiser MB Pro 1. I liked the freedom of wireless Bluetooth, but you can hear that the sound is much worse. Connecting over Bluetooth lowers the quality a ton, and also occasionally means you need to disconnect, reconnect, etc.

All three of the Sennheisers above come in two-ear versions, which I prefer if I’m in a noisy environment, but at home I find the one-ear a bit more comfortable. I got excited about this $70 TaoTronics “Trucker Bluetooth” headset because it had Bluetooth 5.0 so I foolishly assumed it would have better quality, but it sounds really terrible:

But does wireless have to mean terrible quality? The Apple Airpods Pro ($249) are actually pretty decent, and you can easily switch them between your phone and your computer in the audio menu. If you haven’t tried the Pro version, the noise canceling is actually pretty amazing for something so small and light — I jog with them.

And one of the best sounding mics in this entire roundup was the wireless $119 Antlion Audio ModMic Wireless, which sound amazing, but you have to provide your own headphones to attach it to, and the entire thing ends up being fairly bulky and has its own wireless adapter. On the plus side, you can bring your own super-fancy headphones and get amazing audio quality. With certain headphones it did cause a buzz in the ear of the headphone I attached it to.

But hot dang that sounds good. If they made an over-the-ear USB-C version with an earbud, and had the mic be a little smaller, it would be work-from-home nirvana.

I ventured into the gaming headset territory for this SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless Gaming Headset, which at first felt totally ridiculous with its own connector box, a million cables, etc, but goshdarnit grew on me. It has this really cool boom mic that extends out, and I think it’s the most comfortable headset I’ve worn for an extended amount of time. I tried it out via its proprietary 2.4ghz wireless connection + USB, and Bluetooth, and unfortunately the results weren’t great, including the Bluetooth being a little garbled. I hope Steelseries does another iteration because they’re so close, it just needs to be USB-C on the headphones, the cables, the everything, and super high quality recording.

One final entrant — how about just your laptop? Normally I would say this sounds terrible and judge people who didn’t use a headset, but John Gruber’s review of the new Macbook 16 had some really impressive audio files that intrigued me, so here it is, the Macbook Pro 16″, which starts at about $2,400. It’s a little boomy, but not bad.

Okay now let’s get a little crazy. Here’s a Zoom H5 with the SGH6 shotgun mic attachment. (The other Zoom! $410 total.)

Next up is the Shure SM7B Cardioid Dynamic, which is what I usually use to record the Distributed podcast, and costs about $400. This is milky and smooth. (I accidentally called it a Sennheiser in the recording.)

A favorite of voiceover artists everywhere is the Sennheiser MKH416 Super-Cardioid Shotgun Tube Condenser ($1,000), which I like the sound of and I also use for if I’m doing a fancy video setup and want super-good sound that’s not in the frame of the camera.

It’s a great sound, but the part of the house where I recorded all of these is pretty noisy with an AC unit on the other side of the wall, and there’s a ton of background noise in this.

Software eats the audio world

Just like photography has been completely transformed by software enhancing images to the point where the top-of-the-line Apple or Samsung smartphone camera is better than all but the very top pro SLR cameras, I think the same thing is going to happen for audio.

None of these clips are processed, which is why some of the volume levels are different, but I thought it would be fun to demo a tool I’ve been recommending to a lot of people.

There’s a $40/year program called Krisp.ai, which I first learned about in 2018 from this awesome post on the Nvidia developer blog, Real-Time Noise Suppression Using Deep Learning. What it does is create a virtual microphone, like a filter that exists between one of your physical inputs and what the software on your computer “hears.” For fun I re-recorded the MKH416 in the exact same place, but filtered through Krisp.ai:

Now the audio quality is not as good, it sounds a bit clipped, but throughout there is no more distracting background hums or noise. Krisp can be a little awkward to use but they’ve made it a lot more user friendly. You could mix Krisp with almost any option here and it would make it sound much better, in fact when I’m in a pinch my favorite go-to is Airpods Pro + Krisp.

With everything, a pro tip on MacOS is to hold Option when you click on the sound icon in your upper right taskbar, and it will let you select both input and output devices. Sound Preferences, linked at the bottom of that menu, are your friend. If a mic is too soft you can boost the input volume in the preferences. To choose a camera or mic in Zoom, click the arrow next to the mute button in the bottom left. In Zoom audio settings, under Advanced, they are starting to expose a number of new options for real-time audio processing.

The future sounds good.

Categories
Asides

Physical Distancing

I’ve really had enough of this term “social distancing.” That is not at all what we are looking for, is it? It should be “physical distancing.” In these times of rampant loneliness (especially for seniors), disconnection, and lack of empathy and compassion, we need the opposite — social connecting. And we need it under these circumstances more than ever. Let’s be creative in finding new ways to come together.

Adam Gazzaley, M. D., Ph. D, University of California, San Francisco

Update: On March 20th, the World Health Organization has officially updated it’s recommendation to “physical distancing.”

Categories
Asides

Business as Usual in The Information

The Information wrote Business as Usual — Remotely, which includes “85% of its 900 employees working from their homes” Hashicorp, which just raised $175M at a $5.1B valuation today. (I have to get them on Distributed.) Here’s my part:

A survey of American workers by the polling firm Gallup found that in 2016 43% of employees worked remotely at least some of the time, up from 39% in 2012. Of those remote workers, almost a third spent 80% or more of their time working remotely in 2016, compared to 24% in 2012. In computer-related professions, 57% did some remote work in 2016, according to Gallup. 

That includes tech companies like Automattic, which makes WordPress and other software products and has been almost entirely remote since it was founded in 2005. At one point, it opened a large office in San Francisco for employees who preferred a more traditional work environment, but it got rid of that space in 2016 because of how little people used it.  

“We had this 15,000-square-foot place with only five people coming into it,” said Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, which acquired Tumblr last year. 

Now Automattic rents only one small co-working space in a WeWork suite in New York  and uses another small office in San Francisco exclusively for board meetings. It manages its remote workforce using Slack and Zoom and gives new employees $2,000 so they can purchase home office equipment. 

Employees can also get up to $250 per month for access to a co-working space or for daily coffees at a local coffee shop. But Mullenweg says only about 300 of the company’s 1,200 employees chose to work somewhere other than a home office.

“I hope there can be a silver lining to this crisis, which we all hope is over as soon as possible, that enables people to reexamine how they work and how they interact with things and improve it,” said Mullenweg. “I’m happy to spread the gospel wherever possible for distributed work. I think it’s better for companies, employees, the environment and the world. There are very few downsides.” 

The Information is a worthwhile subscription if you’re in the tech business.

Categories
Asides

Sonny Rollins Interview

David Marchese at the NY Times has a beautiful interview with Sonny Rollins up.

Categories
Automattic Future of Work

Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For

“We’ll never probably be the same. People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way. Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.”

Jennifer Christie, Twitter’s head of human resources, in BuzzFeed News

This is not how I envisioned the distributed work revolution taking hold.

It has been a challenging time around the world—from how we live our daily lives to how we keep our kids safe in schools and our family members healthy in assisted living communities and hospitals. 

And then there’s how we work. Seattle (and all of King County in Washington State) is encouraging companies to have their employees work from home. Given that Automattic is already distributed, we’re receiving requests from the press and other companies about how to navigate what is turning into a massive global work-from-home experiment. 

It’s not ideal on any level. Even at a remote-friendly company like Automattic, we rely on in-person team meetups and conferences to strengthen our connections and get work done. For now, we’ve canceled all work-related travel.

But as the BuzzFeed story notes, this might also offer an opportunity for many companies to finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility. Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, or the harsh inflexibility of not being able to stay close to home when a family member is sick. 

Or even when you’re sick yourself. How many people in America go into an office even when they’re feeling under the weather, because of pressure from the company or managers, or because their sick days come out of their vacation days? This might be a chance for a great reset in terms of how we work. 

For those asking for tips, my Distributed Podcast has a wealth of advice and stories about how we operate. But here are four good ones to start with: 

  1. Operate as if everyone works from different time zones, because one day they might. This means more communication, likely written, that is accessible to people even if they can’t attend a specific meeting or be in a specific place. If you can minimize the number of real-time meetings, do so. Embrace asynchronous communication.
  2. If you are hosting a real-time meeting, improve the audio (and video) quality. Don’t use conference call lines with grainy phone audio. Sign up for Zoom, which allows for crystal clear audio calls or videoconference chats. Make video participation optional unless it’s planned well in advance. Record these calls so folks who can’t attend can catch up on what they missed. Everyone must use good headphones with mics (I love Sennheiser) to minimize external noise. Krisp.ai is also cool. Need a quiet place without distractions? Try a parked car or a closet.
  3. We use our own WordPress blogs, called P2, instead of email as our central hub of communication so people throughout the company can access every team’s long-form notes, documents, and priorities. We’re bloggers by heart, so we blog a lot. There are other similar tools, like Basecamp. Make it your new office.  
  4. We also use Slack for real-time chat, social connection, and urgent conversations. Check out Matrix for an open-source, distributed version. Use it to chat and connect with your colleagues, but don’t let it replace your long-form planning notes in No. 3. Also create an etiquette that doesn’t force people to become chained to it all day and all night. When you ask a question in DM, do not expect that person to respond immediately, and ask your question upfront. Never write “got a sec?” and let it hang there. 😁

The truth is, there are a thousand ways to do remote work, but it starts with committing to it at all levels of the company. If you assume positive intent and place trust in your coworkers and employees—knowing that if they do great work in an office they can do great work anywhere—then you will all succeed. 

Categories
Asides

Livestream Tomorrow

About eight of the speakers including myself are going to be doing a livestream tomorrow from 2 to 10 UTC, or what would be 9am to 5pm in Bangkok where the inaugural WordCamp Asia was supposed to happen this weekend.

We’d all much rather be in person, but I do think there is a silver lining in us learning how to do official WordPress livestream events that can be accessible to everyone all over the world, following in the footsteps awesome virtual events like WordSesh.

Categories
Birthday

Thirty Six

I am now solidly entering my late thirties, and fortunately I am in good health, good cheer, and doing one of my favorite things — exploring a part of the world and culture I haven’t experienced before (Maldives and Sri Lanka).

The past year has included a number of professional milestones including a significant amount of fundraising and related activity, bringing in a major new product to the Automattic family, the maturation of Gutenberg in the WordPress ecosystem, launching the Distributed blog and podcast, and a growth in the breadth and depth of the Automattic team.

Partially because of the schedule those milestones required, this ended up being my year with the most travel ever since I started tracking: I flew over 515k miles, to 124 cities in 24 countries. I was able to incorporate a good amount of running in my routine, started picking up musical instruments again, and learning more about sound and its impact on our lives. I found small daily habits, like a little bit of exercise or stretching first thing in the morning, to be sustainable and high-impact.

What suffered in 2019 was my book reading time and making a dent on the top 50 list. I still check tech news every day, but I had to unplug from daily non-tech news because it was just too hectic — I’ve found a lot of value in weekly publications like the Economist to make sense of what’s going on in the world with the benefit of a little distance and time.

Personally my main goals this year are for the health and wellness of my family, incorporating more playing music and photography into my life, and strengthening my meditation practice. If you’re reading this, I hope to run into you online or in person and this year let’s do our best together to leave the world a little better than we found it.

All birthday posts: 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38.

Categories
Asides

29 Books in 2019

As a follow-on to my lists in 2017 and 2018, here are the books I completed this year. I’ve linked all to the Kindle edition except the Great Mental Models, which is so gorgeous in hardcover you should get that one, and the The World is Sound isn’t available as an ebook. Bold are ones I particularly enjoyed or found myself discussing with others a lot.

  1. The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coehlo
  2. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
  3. No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe
  4. Imagine it Forward by Beth Comstock
  5. The Great Mental Models Vol. 1 by Shane Parrish
  6. Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright
  7. There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald
  8. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  9. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
  10. nejma by Nayyirah Waheed
  11. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (also on Obama’s book list, and based on the high school I went to, HSPVA)
  12. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
  13. The Way to Love by Anthony de Mello
  14. The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz, Don Jose Ruiz, and Janet Mills
  15. Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker
  16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  17. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elian Mazlish
  18. Make it Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison
  19. A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright
  20. Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris
  21. The World Is Sound: Nada Brahma: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness by Joachim-Ernst Berendt
  22. The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer and Diana Chapman
  23. Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
  24. Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli
  25. Working by Robert Caro
  26. Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
  27. Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  28. The Devil’s Financial Dictionary by Jason Zweig
  29. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (also on Obama’s book list)

What’s interesting is that if you were to purchase every single one of those books, it would be about $349. You could get them all for nothing from your local library, even on a Kindle. The money I spend on books is by far and away the best investment I make every year — books expand my mind and enrich my life in a way that nothing else does.

Categories
Asides

Comments and Collatz Conundrum

Over the summer Terence Tao, a Fields Medal-winning mathematician considered one of the best of his generation, got an anonymous comment on his WordPress blog post from 2011 exploring the Collatz conjecture — one of the most persistent problems in math — suggesting he explore the problem for “almost all” numbers. Terence has been a regular WP.com blogger since 2007 and he and his commenters make extensive use of our LaTeX feature to express and embed equations.

That anonymous comment led him to an important breakthrough on the Collatz Conundrum, as Quanta Magazine reports. If you want great comments, you as the author have to participate in them and Terence is incredibly active in engaging with the commenters on his site.

I’ve always said that comments are the best part of blogging, but this is a particularly cool example. Here’s Terence’s latest post on it, with an excellent comment thread following.

Categories
Asides

Powering Your House

I enjoyed this fun video from xkcd’s Randall Munroe on different ways you could power your home, illustrated. Check out his book How To for more in the same vein.

Categories
Future of Work

Distributed Podcast: Clark Valberg, Lydia X. Z. Brown, Stephen Wolfram, and the Grand Meetup

If y’all haven’t caught up recently with my podcast Distributed, this is a perfect moment to do so—the past several weeks have been full of insights from folks like InVision CEO Clark Valberg, attorney and advocate Lydia X. Z. Brown, Stephen Wolfram, and some of my own Automattic colleagues in-person at our Grand Meetup.

You can subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Google, Overcast, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. 

Categories
Future of Work Ideas

Farnam Street’s Great Mental Models, Presented by Automattic

I’ve been a fan of Shane Parrish and his indispensable Farnam Street for many years now. Shane is a fascinating person — he’s a former cybersecurity expert for the Canadian intelligence agency and occasional blogger who turned his website into a full-time career. Oh and fs.blog is on WordPress, too. 😎

His book, The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts, has been tremendously valuable to me in my work. So valuable, in fact, that Automattic is now sponsoring the next printing of the hardcover edition. You can pre-order it here, then learn more about the mental models outlined in it.

Categories
WordCamp WordPress

State of the Word 2019

In case you missed it, here’s the first-ever State of the Word… designed completely in Gutenberg:

WordCamp US was a fantastic experience, as always. Thank you again to the hundreds of organizers and volunteers who made it happen, to the thousands who attended, and to the city of St. Louis for hosting us. We’ll be back there again next year.

And special thanks to this next generation of WordPress contributors. So exciting to see KidsCamps continue to expand and thrive:

As you can see, my site is now featuring the new WordPress Twenty Twenty theme. And for more coverage from my State of the Word, check out the recaps from WP Tavern and Post Status. Here’s my full audience Q&A below:

You can see my previous State of the Word keynotes here.

Categories
Asides

New Automattic CFO

As Venturebeat has picked up, Mark Davies will be leaving Vivint and joining the merry band. Automattic is creating the operating system for the web, from websites to ecommerce to social networks. As we zoom past 1,100 employees in over 70 countries, we wanted a financial leader with experience taking businesses from hundreds of millions in revenue to billions (Vivint) and even tens of billions (Alcoa and Dell), as Mark has. I’m excited about working alongside such an experienced leader day-to-day to build what I hope will become one of the defining technology companies of the open web era.

Categories
Asides

Debating OSS with DHH

The other week I ended up going back and forth in tweets with David Heinemeier Hansson, it wasn’t going anywhere but he graciously invited me to their podcast and we were able to expand the discussion in a way I found really refreshing and mind-opening.

DHH and I have philosophies around work and open source that I believe overlap 95% or more, so that makes where we have differences all that more interesting to mine. Although we would see each other logged into the same server 15 years ago, we haven’t actually spoken directly until this podcast started, but the conversation flowed so naturally you’d think we have been talking since then.

Check out the episode on Open Source and Power on the Rework Podcast, hopefully you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed recording it.