We're all guinea pigs this time

Hello from 30,000 feet above! As I write this, I’m on my way to Tokyo for a work trip. I’m in that wonderfully peaceful, half-lonely, disembodied state that settles in whenever I travel alone. My noise-cancelling headphones are snug over my ears*, the gentle glow of the “Lavatory occupied” sign is just enough to illuminate the flight attendants scuttling down the aisle, and my sleep mask is pushed up on my forehead from the moment about 90 minutes ago when I bolted up with a pulse of excited energy and sudden motivation to get through some long-awaited tasks. The sleep mask will be there, ready for the moment when that rush of energy leaves me again and I melt back into my seat.

Conversations with two close friends have helped me realize that I’ve been using email newsletters wrong, or at least that I could make better use of it. The few times I’ve delivered something to your inbox, it’s been of the “UPDATE: I HAVE BLOG CONTENT FOR YOU” sort, a flimsy knockoff of essays I already publish elsewhere. I’ve come to realize that is a bit of a waste of this distinctive medium.

There’s something much more intimate about newsletters than Twitter or even a personal blog (the voids into which I usually yell). My guess is it has something to do with the form factor, which feels more like a pen pal relationship than an influencer-y public persona one. It probably helps that people tend to be protective of their email inboxes, so if someone is subscribed to arbitrary pushes from you then they’re probably a bit more invested.

I could speculate for ages about why newsletters are a particularly good conduit for certain types of human connections, but the point I’m getting to is this: I’m going to experiment a bit more on format and frequency to see what feels fun and fitting. So watch out—you definitely don’t know what you got yourself into, because I don’t know either!

📚 Currently reading Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

I’m excited to announce that I’m reading a book which begins with a subway map the same way that fantasy novels begin with an adventure map.

The book is about the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metro in 1995. When someone originally recommended it, my immediately reaction was “Nah, don’t need to hear about that, just sounds like fear mongering, true crime, or—worse—gore porn”. But the recommender was insistent, so I relented and read a few pages on Amazon’s sneak preview. He was right: this book is very much up my alley.

The book is organized by the subway lines impacted by the attack. Each chapter comprises interviews from different riders, conductors, and onlookers who experienced the same events in the same trains and stations, but from their own distinct perspectives. It’s a captivating exercise in ego extension to see reality filtered through so many different lenses. My favorite way to explore a city is to traverse the different forms of transit, in different parts of the city, and at different times during the day in order to see the daily rhythms that people observe, so it’s really special to get this in book form.

Thank you to the recommender who ensured I didn’t judge the book by its cover! This book is a wonderful pairing with a trip to Tokyo.

💖 Launched GitHub Sponsors

I’m still reeling from launching GitHub Sponsors a month ago. Speaking on stage, representing the work of dozens of teammates who I respect and admire, was a wonderful but also odd feeling.

On one hand, I couldn’t have been more proud to announce what we’ve been working on together. Personally, it was an amazing professional opportunity, and it was just plain fun too.

On the other hand, I’m just one of many people who made this tremendous effort happen, yet their faces didn’t show up once in the keynote. Most of them weren’t even at the conference. This of course is the point of teams—coworkers specialize in different parts of the creative process, and presenting the final product is one of those specialties—but it still just felt odd to stand up there alone. It was like going on a long quest with a band of merry companions with whom I’d traversed mountains, forests, and deserts just to find myself alone at the destination.

That intense feeling reminded me of this quote by Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins:

“This operation is like the periscope of a submarine. All you see is the three of us, but beneath the surface are thousands of others. To all those, I’d like to say ‘thank you very much’.”

To me, this is much deeper than the famous “one small step for a man…” quote, yet it was surprisingly hard to track it down. No one seems to be quoting it on the internet. So I suppose my next project may have to be going on a personal crusade to popularize this quote.

Rabbit hole:

💭 Misc notes

Here are interesting things I’ve recently read, heard others say, or contemplated that have lodged into my brain:

  • Markets as a mechanism rather than a philosophy.

  • Closure as adaptive institutional response, stocks of knowledge value, and reducing openness as a filter for knowledge commons. Tightening that filter reduces the damage rate, but it also increases the false positive rate. Each institution needs to decide what the right equilibrium is, and the answer will evolve over time.

  • This gem from Ben Thompson:

    ”… when a company first comes to market, its initial customers by definition find the most value in their product. That is why they are willing to deal with software that is likely buggy and under-featured, because the need is so great.

    “Over time, […] the software improves in quality and features, ideally at a pace that makes the product ever more attractive to ever more marginal customers… At some point the initial product-market fit is exhausted, and a company needs to both evolve their product and their go-to-market strategy to find fresh avenues for growth.”

  • The framing of “Can anyone not live with choice A?” instead of “Is everyone OK with choice A?” allows a team to move quickly while respecting other useful perspectives + while making room for others to give input when it’s something the decision maker may have overlooked.

  • “Japan has subordinated defense production yet emerged as one of the most technologically sophisticated nations in the world.”

  • “San Francisco is a mining town.”

  • Setting permissions on a doc is a political act.

  • “For the most part, [tech companies] operate as antimonopolies. They make other markets more competitive.”

  • One of the greatest things that economics training does for you: it allows you to see the possibility of life in non-zero-sum terms. This is radical.

* Listening to Billy Ellish will submerge you into this state even faster than normal. I highly recommend it.

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