// The Comment #15: Remotely Retrospecting

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park in Accra, Ghana

The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST.

Thanks for reading.

// A Retrospection on Remote Work

I’ve been working remotely, full-time, for the past 18 months after having spent a decade working in a traditional office setting. It’s been a wonderful experience that, like all things in life, comes with tradeoffs. Martin De Wulf writes about the “Stresses of Remote Work” and for the first time, I’m able to articulate some thoughts and feelings I’ve had.  Most of this applies to the interesting collaboration dynamic remote work injects into collaborative software products.  Read the full article first.  I’m going to highlight sections that resonated with me the most.

Also, written exchanges are more prone to misinterpretation, even with people you know very well. Not to mention that, if you already spend your day typing on a keyboard to accomplish your technical programming tasks, it might become annoying to have your communication done in written form too: you might end up feeling like a text processing machine.

Written exchanges aren’t just prone to misinterpretation but sometimes its just easier to explain things (especially those technical in nature) in person with the assistance of body language and a whiteboard.  These things are more accessible in a physical office environment.

So, after some time working remotely, it happened multiple times to me to miss the coffee chats, previously felt as unproductive wastes of time. I felt detached from the team, especially when the teams I worked with were made of multiple people working in the same office/place, and seeming to have fun.

I’ve been on both sides of this (in an office of a company with remote workers and as a full-time remote worker). Inevitably, in person communication and problem solving are just more efficient and decisions get made more quickly. Sometimes that decision comes with less communication and documentation so the context of the decision and the decision itself aren’t communicated with the rest of the company. I also find that just running into people in the office, you can get a better feel for the things they work on and needs they have (or the audience they serve has). A place where different people are working on a solution in the same physical space can lead to more serendipity and micro-innovation.

Working at home can mean a lot of loneliness. I do enjoy being alone quite a lot, but even for me, after two weeks of only seeing colleagues through my screen, and then my family at night, I end up feeling quite sad. I miss feeling integrated in a community of pairs.

I never didn’t end up feeling sad, just a weird feeling of isolation.  Isolation from the audience being impacted, but also isolation from some of the company culture.  It’s similar to the feeling I’d get when I did remote freelancing, remote consulting, and remote client work.

Also, working at home does not leave you time to cool off while coming back home from work. For me, the ideal duration of a commute is 15 to 20 minutes. That leaves you some time to walk, and so, do at least a bit of physical exercise, and to change your thoughts a little bit.

The concept of context switching, going from “work” mode to “family” mode, is something I discovered working remotely. If I’m working on something at a high-intensity, like testing a crazy SQL query in Android, it’s difficult to quickly “come down” and switch “family” mode, especially if I haven’t come to a stopping point with my work. As much as I don’t enjoy long commutes, short ones are useful for wrapping up your thoughts and “debriefing” before arriving at home.

An important part of taking on new experiences is knowing your strengths and weaknesses.  A weakness I slowly identified, it’s really awkward for me to work in physical isolation for long stretches and collaborate primarily through technology.  As savvy as I am with technology, I’m not a savvy technology communicator.  This is ironic as I grew up in the AOL / AOL Instant Messenger / invention of Facebook / Skype era.  An important distinction is that those platforms were in support of real-life relationships and interactions.  My remote work experience flips this on its head, whereas, the technology becomes the conduit for work relationships and collaboration.  Furthermore, I believe there’s some type ambient communication that doesn’t translate well through technology.  This helps, because I prioritize chemistry and a professional bond with the company, teammates, and work simultaneously and I think remote work introduces a few roadblocks to this process.  So, I have something to work on for the rest of 2018.

P.S. Remote work isn’t all bad.  In fact, there are some significant advantages like:

  • You can work from anywhere, home, co-working space, coffee shop, a different country
  • No commute
  • You can work in pajamas or a tuxedo
  • Ultimate choice in the comfort of your work environment
  • Schedule flexibility
  • Drink your own coffee and listen to your music as loud as you want

# How Pennsylvania Rigged it’s Voting Districts

# 50 years and no progress for African-Americans

Some depressing news from an Economic Policy Institute via The Washington Post:

Fifty years after the historic Kerner Commission identified “white racism” as the key cause of “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing,” there has been no progress in how African Americans fare in comparison to whites when it comes to homeownership, unemployment and incarceration, according to a report released Monday by the Economic Policy Institute.

In some cases, African Americans are worse off today than they were before the civil rights movement culminated in laws barring housing and voter discrimination, as well as racial segregation.

  • 7.5 percent of African Americans were unemployed in 2017, compared with 6.7 percent in 1968 — still roughly twice the white unemployment rate.
  • The rate of homeownership, one of the most important ways for working- and middle-class families to build wealth, has remained virtually unchanged for African Americans in the past 50 years. Black homeownership remains just over 40 percent, trailing 30 points behind the rate for whites, who have seen modest gains during that time.
  • The share of incarcerated African Americans has nearly tripled between 1968 and 2016 — one of the largest and most depressing developments in the past 50 years, especially for black men, researchers said. African Americans are 6.4 times as likely than whites to be jailed or imprisoned, compared with 5.4 times as likely in 1968.

# In Heavy Rotation: New Tigallo, New Tigallo, New Tigallo

Phonte, formerly of Little Brother and 1/2 of Foreign Exchange, drops another solo project “No News is Good News”.  Little Brother and now Phonte is one of those artists I “grew up” (starting in college) listening to.  As I’ve grown and matured so has he and you can hear it in the music.

Dope beats, dope rhymes, hip hop ain’t really that hard man

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// The Comment #14: Morning routines, Facebook, and Decentralization

A former slave castle, Elmina Castle in Ghana

The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST.

Thanks for reading.

# 25,000 Mornings

James Clear wrote 8 ways to make the most of your mornings.  A couple of ways stood out to me:

2. Prepare the night before. I don’t do this nearly as often as I should, but if you only do one thing each day then spend a few minutes each night organizing your to–do list for tomorrow. When I do it right, I’ll outline the article I’m going to write the next day and develop a short list of the most important items for me to accomplish. It takes 10 minutes that night and saves 3 hours the next day.

Preparation has been increasingly important to me.  Life tends to get more complicated and busier the further along we go.  It has caused me to consciously prepare and plan out the next day, the night before, so I wake up with a plan of action.

8. Develop a “pre–game routine” to start your day. My morning routine starts by pouring a cold glass of water. Some people kick off their day with ten minutes of meditation. Similarly, you should have a sequence that starts your morning ritual. This tiny routine signals to your brain that it’s time to get into work mode or exercise mode or whatever mode you need to be in to accomplish your task. Additionally, a pre–game routine helps you overcome a lack of motivation and get things done even when you don’t feel like it.

Having a morning routine is important, if only for the fact that, I don’t wake up and immediately dive in to my phone.  A routine allows you to wake up and do the things that you really need to be doing to get yourself ready and going for the day.  It becomes that thing that don’t even have to think about doing, you just do it.  I’ve built a routine that looks like:

  1. Wakeup at the same, super early time, each day
  2. Immediately put on my workout clothes (this is very important as it removes the excuses why I can’t workout)
  3. PAM – Prayer, affirmations, meditate
  4. Run & workout
  5. Get my family ready for the day

Check out the remaining six.

# Facebook will never change

Facebook has been in the news, a lot, recently.  They’ve been accused of being used by Russian intelligence to exploit American political divides.  They’re business model also provides incentives that seemingly gave the Trump campaign the upper hand in online advertising during the 2016 election.  Om Malik writing why Facebook won’t change:

Facebook’s DNA is that of a social platform addicted to growth and engagement. At its very core, every policy, every decision, every strategy is based on growth (at any cost) and engagement (at any cost). More growth and more engagement means more data — which means the company can make more advertising dollars, which gives it a nosebleed valuation on the stock market, which in turn allows it to remain competitive and stay ahead of its rivals.

# Decentralization & the Internet

Chris Dixon writes “Why Decentralization Matters” in the next evolution of the Internet, how winning the mindshare of developers and entrepreneurs matter:

The lesson is that when you compare centralized and decentralized systems you need to consider them dynamically, as processes, instead of statically, as rigid products. Centralized systems often start out fully baked, but only get better at the rate at which employees at the sponsoring company improve them. Decentralized systems start out half-baked but, under the right conditions, grow exponentially as they attract new contributors.

In the case of cryptonetworks, there are multiple, compounding feedback loops involving developers of the core protocol, developers of complementary cryptonetworks, developers of 3rd party applications, and service providers who operate the network. These feedback loops are further amplified by the incentives of the associated token, which — as we’ve seen with Bitcoin and Ethereum — can supercharge the rate at which crypto communities develop (and sometimes lead to negative outcomes, as with the excessive electricity consumed by Bitcoin mining).

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// The Comment #13

The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST.

Thanks for reading.

// Pixel 2, Four Months In

I’ve had my Pixel 2 XL for 4 months. My experience with it has been mostly good, though there were some issues, some self-inflicted.

I dropped my Pixel on a sidewalk in Boston and cracked the screen. It was in a MNML “case”. The touch screen worked, but the crack was too much to bear every day so I paid the ~$200 to get it fixed at UBreakifix. A few weeks later, with the replacement screen installed, I noticed some weird fringing on the right side of the screen. It looked almost like there was ink spilled inside the phone. UBreakifix took care of this issue at no charge to me.

Sometime in late December or January, after the Android 8.1 update, my proximity sensor stopped working. When the proximity sensor stops working, the Always On Display turns off after 10 seconds and squeeze for Assistant stops working as well. On phone calls, the only way to revive the phone is if the party on the other end of the call hangs up. When the proximity sensor stops working, the phone thinks its in my pocket or flipped over on its screen all of the the time. Nonetheless, it was annoying. The issue has been reported to Google for sometime. I wasn’t confident that a software fix would resolve the issue so I requested a RMA for my device.

The replacement (2nd Pixel) showed up without the proximity sensor issues. However, out of the box, the vibration motor sounded like a box of marbles. I lived with the replacement for a few weeks before coming to the conclusion that I shouldn’t. I RMA’d the device.

The replacement (now my 3rd Pixel) arrived and it’s perfect. Let’s hope it stays that way. It’s still fast, the camera is still superb, battery life is great, and software updates come very quickly. Other than the inconsistent hardware, I have no complaints 4 months into my Pixel 2 purchase.

# Roadblocks to home ownership

Aaron Glantz and Emmanuel Martinez of Reveal writing about the barriers to home ownership for people of color:

The disproportionate denials and limited anti-discrimination enforcement help explain why the homeownership gap between whites and African Americans is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.

In the United States, “wealth and financial stability are inextricably linked to housing opportunity and homeownership,” said Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, an advocacy group. “For a typical family, the largest share of their wealth emanates from homeownership and home equity.”

The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show the median net worth for an African American family is now $9,000, compared with $132,000 for a white family. Latino families did not fare much better at $12,000.

More:

Philadelphia was one of the largest cities in America where African Americans were disproportionately turned away when they tried to buy a home. African Americans and non-Hispanic whites make up a similar share of the population there, but the data showed whites received 10 times as many conventional mortgage loans in 2015 and 2016.

Banks also focused on serving the white parts of town, placing nearly three-quarters of all branches in white-majority neighborhoods, compared with 10 percent for black neighborhoods. Reveal’s analysis also showed that the greater the number of African Americans or Latinos in a neighborhood there, the more likely a loan application there would be denied – even after accounting for income and other factors.

The fact that this is happening is not surprising, but eye opening. Home ownership is avenue used by many families to move into the middle class. Homeowners benefit from favorable tax policy, housing stability, and hopefully, increasing equity / net worth. This is just one of many obstacles for people of color experience attempting to make a better life.

# Raising money to see Black Panther

A heartwarming story:

The 100 Black Men Triangle East Chapter exceeded its fundraising goal, raising nearly $6,000 to bring mentees and children from other organizations to the IMAX theater at Marbles Kids Museum to see the film.

As the group stepped up with their tickets, their excited and hopeful energy blended with those who had just left the theater following a previous showing of the film.

“The cast being black that way, I think that was miraculous and it set a tone for not only entertainment, but just in our own world that we live in,” Mitch Summerfield, a pastor who took men in his church to see the movie.

The hope is that the children who saw the movie Sunday night will walk away with a message that transcends their childhood.

# New Kooley High

Kooley High just released a single, “Ceiling” off their upcoming album “Never Come Down”. I’m a fan.

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// The Comment #12: Crawling, Downloading, Parsing, Notifying

Durm

The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST. 

Thanks for reading.

# Open sourced some infrastructure

In 2014 to 2015, I spent a lot of my spare time building a podcast app for Android. I probably spent hundreds of hours coding the Android app and the parsing / syncing backend.  I shut the app down a few months after I released it because I failed to quickly find a good “product market fit”.  Anyway, I open sourced the Android app a year ago or so and it even runs as a standalone Android app (no backend needed).

Today I’m open sourcing the backend apps and APIs that ran everything.  There’s nothing spectacular here.  It’s just a bunch of Java and Node.JS code.  There are several apps here:

  • PodcastCrawler – Crawled iTunes podcasts for all the podcasts.
  • Retriever – Pulled podcasts RSS urls from the database, retrieved the feeds data, and stuck the data into a Redis queue.
  • Parser – Parsed feed data from a Redis Queue and stuck Podcast and Episode objects into another Redis queue.
  • Storer – Wrote Podcast and Episode records into the database.  It also built notification records (for push messaging) and stuck those into a Redis queue.
  • Notifier – Sent Google Cloud Messages to devices for push-to-sync purposes.
  • Billboard – Built the trending podcast lists by crunching user listen data.
  • API – Source of all podcast and episode data as well as an avenue for account creation and syncing

Looking back, this was the first large scale backend I built by myself.  It parsed 200k+ podcasts, multiple times an hour, making available millions of podcast episodes.  I learned all about DevOps, setting up VPN, scripting deployments, and the MEAN stack while working on this project.

Check the project out on GitHub.

// The Comment #11: No Distract Zone

The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST. 

Thanks for reading.

# Eliminating Distraction

Most of us have smartphones loaded with tons of apps used for communicating, news, social media, and entertainment. This presents tons of distractions. Fortunately, we have total control over how we let smartphone apps interfere our real lives. This article at timewellspent.io gives us a few tips for reducing or eliminating this distraction.

Some things I’ve done to eliminate some distractions:

  1. Remove social media apps. I don’t use apps for Twitter or Facebook. I sign into Twitter’s mobile website. I try not to sign into Facebook at all. The only social media app I use is Instagram.
  2. Turn off useless notifications. I only get interrupted by phone calls and direct messages (text & chat). I have turned off Instagram likes. I get notifications for breaking news, weather, calendar invites, NY Jets losses, and reminders.
  3. One-two tap access is reserved for apps that allow me to do constructive things like writing or passive entertainment like listening to music. I have to go to my app drawer for everything else.

// Injustice in the US criminal justice system

I listened the following TED Talk thinking it was published recently. It was published in 2012. This is an evergreen TED talk.

Bryan Stevenson talks about the injustice in the US criminal justice system.

// “Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble”

An incredible article by Steven Johnson at the New York Times.

For our purposes, forget everything else about the Bitcoin frenzy, and just keep these two things in mind: What Nakamoto ushered into the world was a way of agreeing on the contents of a database without anyone being “in charge” of the database, and a way of compensating people for helping make that database more valuable, without those people being on an official payroll or owning shares in a corporate entity. Together, those two ideas solved the distributed-database problem and the funding problem. Suddenly there was a way of supporting open protocols that wasn’t available during the infancy of Facebook and Twitter.

Blockchain is one of the most revolutionary technologies invented in some time.

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