Watch this person use Excel for an hour

Joel Spolsky, of Stack Overflow, Trello, and Fog Creek, did an internal presentation where he just walked through how he uses Microsoft Excel for about an hour.

It’s riveting for two reasons.

First, I learned a bunch of techniques that I didn’t know existed (transpose! named values! oh my!). Unfortunately, many of those don’t apply to Google Spreadsheets, which is worth using due to the simple and powerful collaboration tools. A few of the techniques are universal to spreadsheets, though.

Second, he’s good at it. There is something compelling about watching someone with deep skill and knowledge do their work, regardless of what it is. In the same way, I can enjoy watching a skilled musical perform regardless of my interest and taste in their musical genre.

This style of presentation, featuring a simple tour of the just-beyond-basic features, is a great way to share with co-workers. I’ve learned a ton from watching Stephen use Photoshop, and I got hooked on split-panes in iTerm after watching Malena screen-share in an unrelated presentation.

 

Design sprints and healthcare

With the help of a few of my co-workers, I’ve written about a new design sprint process we’ve been using at silverorange, and how it applies in healthcare organizations. It started as a post on our silverorange blog, but was pulled into GV‘s Sprint Stories publication (thanks to John Zeratsky).

If you love design processes and healthcare (and who doesn’t), read the article: Running a design sprint in a healthcare organization

 

On Surplus

“We as human beings find a way to waste most surpluses that technology hands to us.”

—Stewart Butterfield of Slack speaking on The Ezra Klein Show podcast.

He also makes a good analogy between our difficulty managing the new ability to communicate with anyone/anytime and the difficulty of dealing with the abundance of easy/cheap calories available to many of us.

 

I hate deals

One of my favourite tech-writers, Paul Miller from The Verge, has articulated something I’ve always felt, but have never been able to express well: I hate deals.

From Why I’m a Prime Day Grinch: I hate deals by Paul Miller:

Deals aren’t about you. They’re about improving profits for the store, and the businesses who distribute products through that store. Amazon’s Prime Day isn’t about giving back to the community. It’s about unloading stale inventory and making a killing.

But what about when you decide you really do want / need something, and it just happens to be on sale? Well, lucky you. I guess I’ve grown too bitter and skeptical. I just assume automatically that if something’s on sale AND I want to buy it, I must’ve messed up in my decision making process somewhere along the way.

I also hate parties and fun.

 

Recommended Reading: Trajectory Book 1 and 2 by Robert Campbell

Years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Deb Richardson and Rob Campbell, a couple who were both working at Mozilla at the time. They came to our Zap Your PRAM conference in Dalvay back in 2008.

Rob was working on the Firefox dev tools, which had begun to lag behind Chrome, and have since become great again.

Trajectory by Rob Campbell

Then last year, I saw that Rob was self-publishing a science-fiction novel. This interested me as several of the books I’ve enjoyed recently are in the genre (Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, and my all-time favourite, the Mars trilogy). However, I was concerned. What if someone you know invites you to their comedy night and just isn’t funny? Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with Rob.

Rob’s book, Trajectory Book 1 was great. Easy to read, interesting, and nerdy in the right ways. My only complaint was that it ended abruptly. The solution to this, obviously, is Book 2, which came out yesterday.

If you have any interest in science fiction, I can gladly recommend Rob Campbell’s Trajectory Book 1 (and I’m looking forward to starting Trajectory Book 2).

 

Things I’ve Done and Things to Come

When I look back on my life so far, the things that are the most satisfying and fulfilling are those I have built myself or with others.

I’ve never built a house, a piece of furniture, or much of anything physical at all. I have, however, helped to create some less tangible things that have been enormously rewarding.

As a mostly self-serving exercise, I’m going to list out these things that I’m proud to have created. I would encourage you to do the same.

My family is the most significant and important thing that I’ve helped to build. Though a family is a lot of work, it is a gift, not a product. It is so much more important than these other things that it really belongs in a separate category.

So, here are some things I have made (or helped to make):

I made a blog (Acts of Volition)

This weblog was started in August of 2000 with two friends (Rob and Matt). It went on to be the venue for me to write 160,000 words across over 1,200 posts. There have been over 10,000 real comments by real people on the site.

One post I made on this site in October of 2003 about the visual design of Mozilla products sparked the beginning of a personal and professional relationship with Firefox and Mozilla that has lasted for 13 years. It brought me to meet extraordinary people, visit Whistler, Toronto, Portland, San Francisco, Mountain View, and gather countless free t-shirts.

In the early years of the blog, when I was writing regularly, I felt it was a window into a real community. Many of the posts are links to things that were silly and many are now irrelevant. Some were more meaningful. All of them were fun or interesting (to me, at least).

I made a podcast (Acts of Volition Radio)

In 2003, I started a podcast that I described as “assembling a bit of music, talking about who it is and why I like it”. Over six years I produced 34 episodes, including 261 songs. That’s over 24 straight hours of music and me talking about music.

While it’s embarrassing to listen to myself ramble, especially in the earlier episodes, I’m not embarrassed of a single one of the songs I picked. People would tell me they discovered artists and songs from the podcast, and went on to buy their music or see them live. I love hearing this.

I have always claimed that Acts of Volition Radio had no publishing schedule. I still consider it alive – there’s just a still-growing seven-year gap between the last episode and the next. You never know.

Though the weblog and podcast were about connecting with people, they were primarily solitary creations. The following few are things I created in direct collaboration with others.

I made a conference, twice (Zap Your PRAM)

My friends Peter Rukavina and Dan James (along with help from others at silverorange), created a small conference we called Zap Your PRAM. We hosted it once in 2003, in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. Twenty-five or so extraordinary people came and spoke about film-making, the web, technology, radio, and whatever else interested them.

Five years later, in 2008, twice as many people came and spoke about music, radio, the web, and again, whatever else interested them. This second instance of the conference was hosted in the extraordinary Dalvay By-The-Sea hotel. I will never forget eating dinner with new friends in the Dalvay dining room, talking around the enormous lobby fireplace, or playing touch-football by the Dalvay lake.

These two conferences created friendships that continue over a decade later. There may yet be a third Zap (code-name Zap Your 3RAM). The five year gap between the first two isn’t enough to determine their regularity. Another could occur at any time.

I made an album (with Horton’s Choice)

I would highly recommend having been in a high-school rock band. For me, this band was Horton’s Choice. In addition to having a terrible band name, we were overly earnest and usually too loud. Our old website described us as follows:

Horton’s Choice was a rock band from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. We had delusions of grandeur, a lot of fun, spent a week in a recording studio in 1999, and then we broke up. A good time was had by all.

That recording studio was attached to a gift-shop in Borden-Carleton, at the Prince Edward Island side of the Confederation Bridge. It was a small and affordable studio with a studio tech who knew how to operate the recording equipment. We did everything else ourselves.

Each evening for a week, we worked from around 5pm until 11pm or so. We used the money we had made from our lousy part-time jobs to pay for the studio time. We recorded nine songs for a record that was never really named and never really released. I called it The Borden-Carleton Sessions. We had spent all of our money on recording and didn’t have any left over to produce actual CDs.

We weren’t a great band – but we loved playing together, and the recording we made is something I will always be proud (and a little embarrassed) of.

I made a company (silverorange)

Finally, something I helped to create that has probably had the most direct impact on my life and the lives of others is the company where I still work today.

In high school, a friend and I started a small web design business that was relatively successful given our modest goals. In 1999, we met a similar small company and joined with them to create silverorange.

There were seven (equal) founders. Three of the original seven moved on to bigger things, but the remaining four still work at and run silverorange today. In the sixteen years of silverorange, I’ve had the opportunity to work for amazing clients, like Mozilla, the original Digg, and Duolingo. We’ve helped companies sell seeds, crystalware, furniture hardware, medical education, and a ton of other things.

I’ve met and worked with people in many different companies and locations. I’ve had years early-on where I didn’t get paid. I’ve since helped to build something that now supports 11 great people. While it is a corporation – an intangible legal entity – silverorange has an office, clients, products, and most importantly people. It may be the closest I get to building a home.

While nostalgia can be fun, the reward of making, building, and creating isn’t confined to the past. I don’t know what else I’ll build, but experience tells me that if I really do build something, it will be worthwhile.