Drop database

Lately at work I've been letting others pick up the slack on simple tasks that I had been hoarding to myself for years. Nothing interesting—mostly database maintenance kind of tasks. Nothing intellectually nutritious—mostly things that I had learned to do either because they had to be done and someone had to do it or because someone had done it but not very skillfully and I just don't know when to leave well enough alone. It's work that I know how to do. It's work that I owned, not by any conscious thought rather that I can never get ahead of that default yes that escapes my mouth immediately after someone asks can you help me with this?

I can help with that. But should I help with that?

Death by small tasks. Death by a thousand minutes of a thousand small tasks.

There's a central office that works on these databases in the company anyway, and a smaller one in our division that does the same (but separately, of course). I'm glad I was stubborn enough to avoid all that help for a while—like a drowning man splashing intentionally away from a thrown life ring I taught myself how to swim.

Swimming is a skill. Sure. As is understanding databases. But to what end? Because I know how things work, I know how things work...? It's one thing to practice a skill repeatedly, honing it, respecting it, perfecting it. But this wasn't that. A person could get stuck in that role forever—though not quite forever, really just up until the moment of terminal obsolescence.

Someone stopped by and asked for some help with the database. I didn't answer, not out of pique, not by any strategy, but because my brain was stuffed with cotton balls, couldn't get the thoughts to congeal into words into sentences. And they looked at me with a slightly concerned ok...? before asking if they should ask the database office to take care of it. Yes, please do that.

That database is a monstrosity, and the fools that learn to use it are doomed to keep using it. Say yes until you understand it, then say no. Simple subtraction. Clear out those minutes and use them consciously for something else.

mysql> DROP DATABASE timewaste

A week in review, 2020-W10

Wrote

  1. Fightflight (2020-03-03).
  2. The bends (2019-03-05).

Read

  1. Giovanni Russonello, Overlooked No More: Valaida Snow, Charismatic ‘Queen of the Trumpet’, The New York Times (2020-02-12). And she often graced the movie screen, helping to bring black music from the vaudeville stage into the audiovisual age. African-American newspapers and the international press celebrated Snow both for her immense skill and for her novelty as a female trumpet master. She encouraged that coverage and bent it to her ends, telling tall tales and making her interviews as much a performance as her stage act.
  2. Deborah Netburn, The flu has killed far more people than coronavirus. So why all the frenzy about COVID-19?, The Los Angeles Times (2020-03-05).
  3. David Lerner Schwartz, How Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Continues to Show Up in Literary Fiction, Literary Hub (2020-03-05). Stories are tools to shape life, providing structure from otherwise chaos. The difference between our lives and narrative is a beginning, middle, and end. I like to think books built for interactivity are less about the linearity of story and more about the power of the cyclical. They prime us to pay attention to interconnection, the possibilities that could be, should be, won’t be depending on factors pre-decided by the author and also chosen by the reader in the moment. Retrospection, too, can be narrative, a looking back at the aggregate. A realization of quantity, a comparison of quality. A gradient instead of a line.
  4. Kate Klonick, What Artificial Intelligence Is Not, BLARB (2020-02-22). Philosophers, ethicists, technologists, and people with blogs have devoted a lot of energy and time to fearing or not-fearing the singularity. The singularity might never happen. Or it might. But if you are in a sinking ship and taking on water, it might be better to spend your time on pumping, fixing holes, and finding lifeboats than worrying about a pirate attack. So too is it perhaps more prudent to spend time on the urgent and knowable problems of AI than those imagined ones that might not ever come to be.
  5. Tracy Mayor, 6 career hacks from Apple VP Kate Bergeron, Ideas Made to Matter (2019-03-14). That said, she tells aspiring managers on her team that they need to be able to let go of a personal sense of ownership on projects. “If it's all about you, stay an engineer. You solved a hard problem. You can take that personal level of satisfaction when the product ships.” Managers, on the other hand, need to be able to draw true satisfaction from the success of others.

Listened

  1. E332.代驾司机的夜与欲, 故事FM (2020-03-02).
  2. Starbucks vs Dunkin - A Steamy Culture Clash, Business Wars (2020-03-02).

Photo

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

The bends

I got caught up recently at work in a problem I've had before.

I know how to move comfortably—maybe not comfortably, but naturally—in two speeds: (1) slowly deliberately thoroughly; and (2) breakneck downhill try to avoid the trees if you can but if you can't keep your forward momentum going. There not much of a gradient between the two.

I don't recall much about the state change from (1) to (2). There's a general frustration at the slowness of forward progress—quite often due to the accumulated work I've pushed out ahead of me while moving to slow, but frequently the frustration comes from the sludgy pace that The Big Company moves at with its infinite resources at the ready. The pressure builds and builds and then ignites. Like a rocket leaving the pad, the acceleration is slow until it isn't.

In state (1) the movement is manic: do this and do that and write this and test that and plan this and ship that. Never stop moving. Never slow down. Stay one step ahead of death, one step ahead of deadline. It's fear and flow, and sometimes it's not clear which one I'm feeling at the time. It's often like that at The Small Company—persistently understaffed and oversubscribed.

The transition from (2) to (1) is where I have problems. Moving from (2) to (1) is like ascending from the depths of the ocean, and it gives me the bends. The pressure from the outside has subsided, but the internal acclimatization to the pressure is still there. I imagine the best case scenario is simply easing back to the lower speed—literally no effort at all, just rolling. In reality I'm still pushing, although it's not clear why. All the insufferable bullshit that I foisted on others when there was a deadline and there was a need for urgency—it's extra insufferable when the pressure's gone. And the wheel in my head is running and running and it won't slow down and it won't slow down and it won't slow down.


Deep in the trenches carved into the floors of the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, there are fish which live and die without ever seeing or sensing the sun. These fabulous creatures cruise the depths like ghostly balloons, lit from within by their own radiance. Although they look delicate, they are actually marvels of biological design, built to withstand pressures that would squash a man as flat as a windowpane in the blink of an eye. Their great strength, however, is also their great weakness. Prisoners of their own alien bodies, they are locked forever in their dark depths. If they are captured and drawn toward the surface, toward the sun, they simply explode. It is not external pressure that destroys them, but its absence.

—Stephen King, "The Langoliers", Four Past Midnight (1990)


Possibly related—I don't know—but this song has been playing on repeat in my head all week: Firewater, "Six Forty Five", The Golden Hour (2008).

So this is how it feels / To stagger from the undergrowth / And rediscover emptiness / Dancing on the beach

Fightflight

The quiet voice says:

Run.

The loud voice says:

Resist.

Fight. Flight. Fight. Flight. Fight flight. Fight flight fight flight fightflight fightflight fightflight.

Float.

Swimming is easy, but floating is difficult. Swimming, however, ends with the energy available to support it. Floating ends... ?

I admire the people who can remain quiet and wait things out. But. No. I admire the people who drop the shoulder and drive through the problem. But. No. Remember the fable about the oak and the reed? Bend but don't break. But. No. Remember the fable about the boy and the nettles? Grasp it firmly.

But.

No.

We were talking about change, weren't we? About what we can do to survive in uncertain times?

We were just hinting at it, hoping to sneak up on it with stories and metaphors. Hoping to understand change without the difficulty of calling it by its name.

Do you... do you think it will work?

Well, we're not dead yet.

We're not alive, either.



Oblique strategy: "Listen to the quiet voice"

A week in review, 2020-W09

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Matthew Cobb, Why Your Brian Is Not a Computer, The Guardian (2020-02-27). One sign that our metaphors may be losing their explanatory power is the widespread assumption that much of what nervous systems do, from simple systems right up to the appearance of consciousness in humans, can only be explained as emergent properties – things that you cannot predict from an analysis of the components, but which emerge as the system functions.
  2. Ahmed Kabil, Our Long Bets and Predictions about 02020, Blog of the Long Now (2020-02-26).
  3. Alison Bowen, A Chicago historian is sharing his secrets on uncovering your home’s past. Here’s what you might find out., The Chicago Tribune (2020-02-26).
  4. Jeff Atwood, How To Achieve Ultimate Blog Success In One Easy Step, Coding Horror (2007-10-26).
  5. Brooks Barnes, Ben Affleck Tried to Drink Away the Pain. Now He’s Trying Honesty., The New York Times (2020-02-18).

Listened

  1. Why the U.S. Lags Asia in Use of Robots in Factories and Warehouses, SupplyChainBrain (2020-02-27).

Photo

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2020-W08

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, Vaganza: a mini-extravaganza?, The Grammarphobia Blog (2012-08-02).
  2. Drew Schwartz, We Interviewed the Guy Behind @dril, the Undisputed King of Twitter, Vice (2018-08-24).

Listened

  1. Chinese industrial espionage and FBI profiling and overreach, with Mara Hvistendahl, Sinica Podcast (2020-02-20).
  2. #586: The Story of the Skiing Soldiers of WWII, The Art of Manliness (2020-02-19).

Photo

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2020-W07

Wrote

None>

Read

  1. Eric Berger, Starliner faced “catastrophic” failure before software bug found, Ars Technica (2020-02-06).
  2. Jeff Hecht, The future of electronic health records, Nature (2019-09-25).
  3. Sharon Begley, Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant tested in Boston hospital, STAT (2016-05-31).
  4. Skeuomorphism is dead, long live skeuomorphism, Interaction Design Foundation (2017-08-29).
  5. Louis Sahagun, Wilderness designations proposed for 30,200 acres in the western San Gabriel Mountains, The Los Angeles Times (2020-02-10).

Listened

  1. vol.260 2019/20赛季欧洲足球冬窗转会盘点, 日谈公园 (2020-02-09).

Watched

Surprising images from inside North Korea, BBC (2020-01-29).

Photo

zucchini pancakes

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2020-W02

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Ken White, David Foster Wallace Was No Coward, The Atlantic (2020-01-07).
  2. Mark Manson, 10 Important Lessons We Learned from the 2010s, markmanson.net (2019-12-29). The television age trained us to be docile and receptive. “Show me the shiny funny things, oh, glorious fun box.” But the internet requires us to be active participants in our own consumption. Taking responsibility for that consumption—and managing ourselves when we over-indulge on that consumption—is a difficult and never-ending task.
  3. Alice Boyes, 5 Ways Smart People Sabotage Their Success, Harvard Business Review (2018-11-13). (notes)
  4. Arthur Waldron, So Long, Lu Xun, Commentary Magazine (2007-08-28).
  5. Paul French, Top 10 books about Old Shanghai, The Guardian (2018-09-26).

Listened

  1. Boeing vs Airbus - Cleared for Takeoff, Business Wars (2020-01-08).
  2. Are U.S.-China Relations In a Downward Spiral?, China in the World (2020-01-07).
  3. #25 How to publish a book in China, Middle Earth (2020-01-07).

Watched

Amélie (2001)

Photo

Art

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2020-W01

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Burkhard Bilger, The Nun and the Cheese Underground, The New Yorker (2002-08-19).
  2. John Fecile, How Chicago Bars Got So Many Old Style Signs, WBEZ (2019-12-28).
  3. Rob Walker, The 15 Crazy Objects That Defined an Even Crazier 2019, Marker (2019-12-20).
  4. Ted Drozdowski, ’97 Flashback: How Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind Survived Stormy Studio Sessions, Gibson Lifestyle (2008-01-02).
  5. Michael Cavna, Bill Watterson talks: This is why you must read the new ‘Exploring Calvin and Hobbes’ book, The Washington Post (2015-03-09).

Listened

  1. The Zero-Minute Workout, Freakonomics Radio (2019-06-26).
  2. Episode 216: How Four Drinking Buddies Saved Brazil, Planet Money (2020-01-01).
  3. 716: The Right Way to Form New Habits - HBR IdeaCast, HBR IdeaCast (2020-01-02).

Watched

The Dismemberment Plan: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

Photo

Upcoming

  • :

There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2019-W52

Wrote

  1. 39 (2019-12-24).

Read

  1. Seth Godin, Quality and effort, Seth's Blog (2018-11-01). We ignore checklists and processes because we've been taught that they’re beneath us. Instead of reacting to an error with, "I need to be more careful," we can respond with, "I can build a better system." If it matters enough to be careful, it matters enough to build a system around it.
  2. Gene Williams, Calvin's Other Alter Ego, The Plain Dealer (1987-08-30).
  3. Van Savage, Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper, Nature (2019-09-26). And don't worry too much about readers who want to find a way to argue about every tangential point and list all possible qualifications for every statement. Just enjoy writing.
  4. Shane Parrish, How Not to Be Stupid, Farnam Street (2020-01-02). By the way, if you're in any field and you want to find ways to innovate, focus on words that are commonly used and try to define them simply. It took me about a month, and I defined stupidity as overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information. Right? It's crucial information, like you better pay attention to it. It's conspicuous, like it's right in front of your nose and yet you either overlook it or you dismiss it.
  5. Natasha Frost, What do Boeing CEO's Dennis Muilenberg's apologies actually mean?, Quartz (2019-10-31). Right now, Boeing's apologies appear to be more focused on rebuilding the relationship with customers than on actually fixing the problem or offering an explanation. It's not surprising if they thus ring a little hollow—especially since the company's attempts to fix the problem appear to be being done at the behest of the FAA, rather than its own leadership.

Listened

  1. Podcast #571: The Voyage of Character, The Art of Manliness (2019-12-23).

Watched

Meet Memo, the Marie Kondo of Fitness, The New York Times (2019-11-01).

Photo

Upcoming

  • 2020-01-01: It's a new year—we ain't makin' any plans quite yet.

There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com