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An Interview with Matt Mullenweg About Working From Home

Ben Thompson interviews Matt Mullenweg about Automattic’s distributed workforce. Ben and Matt are two of my favorite people on the web, so it’s delightful to hear them discuss this topic. The interview is behind Ben’s subscription paywall, so if you’re not already subscribed, you should! 


People are surprised when I say this, but I think in-person is really key. And so we just flip it, so instead of saying you have to be an around your colleagues 48 weeks of the year and do whatever you want for a month, we say be wherever you want for 48 weeks out of the year and for three or four weeks a year we’re going to bring you together. And that might be once a year for the whole company, and then your individual team, which is probably five to 15 people, you’ll see them two or three times a year and you can build that trust. There’s nothing, no technology, VR or otherwise, that has the same effect of breaking bread across the table or sharing a drink with someone, for building trust, for building communication, for getting to know someone.

Working remotely in a distributed company shouldn’t replace all face-to-face communication and interaction. It’s just not the default.

And, later: 

I think that when you become a truly distributed company versus just trying to recreate your meetings and everything else you do online, you start to realize how much more valuable it is to move things to be asynchronous versus synchronous because that opens up a ton of flexibility, autonomy, and agency between all of your colleagues.

Bingo. Synchronous communication (where everyone must stop and do something at the same time) is my number one productivity killer. 

Om Malik’s Coronavirus Live Blog

Great list of resources and updates on Om Malik’s blog, in a ‘live blog’ style approach.

Like everyone else, I have become anxious about the Coronavirus Pandemic. It is hard to discern the actual impact, especially since social media is conflating facts with fiction. I have begun keeping a document that is full of links to articles, research, commentary, and videos that come from experts — scientists, immunologists, viral disease researchers, and sources that could only be said to be biased toward logic and caution. In other words, I am paying very little attention to the self-proclaimed experts who are investors, car company chiefs, or anyone else who thought Corona was just a beer till about a month ago.

Instead of keeping it on Google Docs, I have decided to share it here on the blog, and I will be continuously updating it with new links. I am no expert, but I have a pretty good sense of who to ignore and when to pay attention.

Links: Coronavirus and Working from Home

It’s been a busy week for remote working fans and first-timers with all of the safety measures being put in place for COVID-19. Here are some of the better links I’ve found recently:

More to come, I’m sure!

Update March 13, 2020: 

Coronavirus and working from home – a primer to get your team started
“If your work happens in front of a computer, it can happen remotely. Yes, face-to-face interaction is the best way to transmit complex ideas, details of the tasks, hilarious jokes, and deadly viruses.”

Kevin Roose: Sorry, but Working From Home Is Overrated
I think he’s missing the point here. Working from home shouldn’t (and doesn’t) mean working in isolation. Communication, breaks, and personal health should be focused on whether working in an office or remote!


I’m really enjoying Tot, a new utility from The Iconfactory. It’s a simple little window with a few scratch pads for text, organized by color. Tot appears to be a very basic app on the surface but features an exceptional level of design quality and attention to detail. Interesting pricing model too: free on the Mac, $20 on iOS.

During the week I have about a million little text windows open with all sorts of scratch information. On iOS I’ve struggled to find a similar solution for these quick notes and pieces of text. I don’t need to keep them forever, sometimes just a few minutes, so it’s nice to have a little scratchpad that syncs.

Tot also uses a small subset of Markdown, which is really handy for basic formatting. Even better: the library for handling Markdown was open sourced on Github. Worth the $20 price alone just to fund this library’s development.


Last week I open sourced a new Ruby library called Tally. Tally was created over the past few years as a part of a number of products I’ve worked on and I’ve always wanted to open it up to the public for anyone else to use as they see fit. It’s a bit techy, so it doesn’t feel right here in the journal, but I posted a bit about it here, in case you’re curious.

The Paywalled Garden: iOS is Adware

Steve Streza, with a great look at how pushy Apple has become with its services:

[…] Apple has resorted to insidious tactics to get those people: ads. Lots and lots of ads, on devices that you pay for. iOS 13 has an abundance of ads from Apple marketing Apple services, from the moment you set it up and all throughout the experience. These ads cannot be hidden through the iOS content blocker extension system. Some can be dismissed or hidden, but most cannot, and are purposefully designed into core apps like Music and the App Store. There’s a term to describe software that has lots of unremovable ads: adware, which what iOS has sadly become.

Boy Scouts of America files for Bankruptcy

From the BSA’s leadership:

We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. We believe victims, we support them, we provide counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward. We believe that all victims should receive our support and compensation – and we have taken decisive action to make that possible. Our plan is to use this Chapter 11 process to create a Trust that would provide equitable compensation to these individuals.

It is incredibly sad to see what the Boy Scouts has become. As a kid I spent so much time at scouting events, campouts, and meetings. My memories are all incredibly positive and the experience I gained from scouting has been a big part of my life.

However it is clear that my story is certainly not the only story. It’s easy for me to say from my position of privilege that this organization is all good. But it’s heartbreaking to hear these stories of repeated and institutionalized abuse. I hope this is the first big step towards correcting these wrongs and fixing the problem for good.

James Taylor: “I was a bad influence on the Beatles”

Nice piece in The Guardian by Jenny Stevens about the great James Taylor. 

Taylor boarded a flight to London shortly after New Year’s Day 1968. His friend had given him the number of Peter Asher, the brother of McCartney’s then girlfriend Jane Asher; he had just been hired as a talent scout for the Beatles’ new label. Asher liked Taylor’s demo and arranged an audition with McCartney and Harrison. “I was very nervous. But I was also, you know, on fire,” he laughs. “In my sort of mellow, sensitive way.” He played his song Something In the Way She Moves (a line Harrison pinched for the opening line of his song Something) and they signed him then and there to make his eponymous first album. At the time, the Beatles were making the White Album. “We intersected in the studio a lot,” says Taylor. “They were leaving as I was coming in. I often came in early and would sit in the control room and listen to them recording – and hear playbacks of what they had just cut.” Did you hang out together? “Yeah,” he says. I ask if the band was unravelling by that point. “Well, it was a slow unraveling, but it was also an extremely creative unravelling.”

I had always thought it was Taylor using that line from Harrison. Great story.

NBA Players’ Phone Numbers

Yaron Weitzman, for Bleacher Report:

Most Americans go through life with one cellphone number. They receive it in middle school or high school, keep it through college and bring it with them into the workforce. They use it to call their bosses. They use it to call their mothers. It never changes. Everyone—from their bosses to their mothers—knows how to reach them.

NBA players aren’t like most Americans, and not just because they’re graceful and tall. “Imagine walking down the street and knowing that every single person you see wants something from you,” one National Basketball Players Association executive said. Selfies. Interviews. Seed money. A video for a nephew’s bar mitzvah. And what better way to gain access to an NBA player than by seeking out his personal phone number?

According to this, some players change their numbers anywhere from a few times a year to weekly. What a crazy look into a world most of us never see.

The High Cost of a Free Coding Bootcamp

Zoe Schiffer and Megan Farokhmanesh, reporting for The Verge:

Lambda’s intentions appear to be well-meaning, if also a bit self-serving. Of course, Silicon Valley’s solution to upward mobility and education boils down to teaching people to code. After all, engineering jobs demand a skilled workforce, and these gigs pay remarkably well. But the startup ethos of prioritizing efficiency, speed, and scale is incompatible with many people’s ability to actually learn.

Still, it’s easy to see the appeal of a school built upon a financial agreement that aligns the schools’ incentives with the goals and aspirations of its students. With the ISA, if a student succeeds in landing a job, the school gets paid. If a student can’t find work within five years after completing the program, the ISA is automatically dissolved.

And, again yesterday, in a follow-up:

In December, online coding bootcamp Lambda School quietly partnered with Edly, a digital marketplace that helps schools sell income-sharing agreements (ISAs) to accredited investors. The arrangement allows Lambda to receive money from the ISAs upfront, rather than waiting for students to find jobs. But it also flies in the face of the values Lambda typically espouses: namely, that ISAs align its incentives with the goals and aspirations of the students.

Paging Michael Bloomberg

Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, who I don’t normally quote or agree with, I think is spot on here:

So who is the right Democratic candidate? Well, for starters I will tell you who it is not. It is not Bernie Sanders. On which planet in the Milky Way galaxy is an avowed “socialist” — who wants to take away the private health care coverage of some 150 million Americans and replace it with a gigantic, untested Medicare-for-All program, which he’d also extend to illegal immigrants — going to defeat the Trump machine this year? […]

Please, Democrats, don’t tell me you need Sanders’s big, ill-thought-through, revolutionary grand schemes to get inspired and mobilized for this election. You want a revolution? I’ll give you a revolution: four more years of Donald Trump, unencumbered by the need to get re-elected. That will be a revolution! And it will do permanent damage to the institutions and norms that have sustained this country since its founding, not to mention our environment, which Trump has been selling off to oil, gas and mining companies at an alarming pace. […]

If Democrats can choose a candidate who can hold the core Democratic base and also appeal to these same independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women in the key swing states, they can absolutely defeat Trump.


This week I was in New York kicking off a project with a new agency partner of ours. (More on that another time, but it’s something I’m very excited about.) As an ice-breaker during the meeting they asked everyone to talk briefly about a favorite new app or website we’re using.

One of my favorite new apps over the past year or so is a flight tracking app called Flighty. The app appears simple, but the level of information and attention to detail in its design is extraordinary.

Flighty’s flight tracking service will send push notifications about each step of your trip, and in my experience is always ahead of the actual data you receive from the airline itself. It lets me know when the flight plan is filed. It lets me know when the plane I’m taking arrives at the airport. And perhaps most importantly it tracks that inbound plane for a day or so in advance of my flight so if there’s going to be a delay, I know about it early.

The app keeps track of a flight’s history so you can see the on-time percentages historically as well. There’s also a ton of other flight nerdy tidbits, like the weather and time zone changes necessary for the arrival city.

Highly recommended. Flighty is a joy to use. App Store Link


HEY, a new email service is coming soon from the Basecamp folks.

HEY is our love letter to email, and we’re sending it to you. Coming April 2020.

Great domain name. I’m a sucker for Basecamp/37signals products, and this one sounds great. Can’t wait to give it a try. 

A few more details from DHH on Twitter:

Email is so damn good that we have to rescue it from the travesty that is its capture by the likes of Gmail, Outlook, and a handful of other big tech providers. They’ve successfully fooled everyone into thinking the highest ambitions in email is a new gmail client. Ugh.

So with HEY, we’re going full stack and full integration. An email service that doesn’t require paying fealty to Google or Microsoft or anyone else. A new, fresh way to cut that big tech umbilical cord.

Type Capsules

New from H&Co: Type Capsules:

Today we’re introducing three type capsules, each created for a different kind of communications: a Foundation capsule as a basic typographic toolbox, a Digital capsule for designer-developers, and a Literary capsule for publishing. I chose each of these fonts personally, by working in reverse: starting by designing the kinds of things that could most benefit from better typography, and selecting those fonts that best fit the bill — fine-tuning each selection along the way, to ensure that every type capsule stands alone as a complete, effective, and flexible tool for design.

This is a great idea. I hope it takes off and we see even more of the pairings.

The Iowa Caucus App

Primary season is underway. I would have thought that the parties, especially the Democratic party after its hacking woes in 2016 would have been more prepared.

Dieter Bohn, for The Verge:

Below is a not-so-brief and nevertheless incomplete list of warning signs that I think anybody conversant with computers should have recognized as a red flag. I don’t mean they should have recognized exactly why exactly each thing was wrong, but that they should have had the sense of tech scale to see that urgent questions needed to be asked and expertise sought out. These should have been emergency-brake moments, especially with an election at stake:

The consulting group that made the app, Shadow, was paid just over $60,000 to develop the app, far less than it should actually cost to develop.

$60,000 sounds like a good start for an initial testing budget. Or perhaps just the stress and penetration testing budget. That amount for an app on multiple platforms is absurd.

Shadow itself reportedly didn’t have the coding chops to pull off the app in the first place, especially on such a tight timeline. How carefully was this outfit vetted?

We can do better. We have to do better.



Happy New Year. Well sort of. It’s February and I’m still kicking off the holiday dust and getting back into high gear. It’s time to turn my attention to something I’ve wanted to do differently this year.

I’ve published something to this website for nearly two decades now. At first it was just a simple home page, hand edited in HTML and CSS like we did everything in the good ole days. For the better part of the past decade it has been a personal site with some occasional shots on my photos blog.

Later I tried posting links, articles, and thoughts about tech and more work-related topics. That was tough for me to keep up. I spend my entire week focused on work and the last thing I want to do in my spare time is think more about work stuff and post it here. So I stopped.

But I still love the idea of a blog here. I love the idea of posting thoughts and having some sort of a digital record throughout the years. I follow dozens of others’ blogs and have kept up with some of them for many years. It’s a joy to look back on past events and compare to the present.

I’m trying something new. Occasionally, I’m going to post some thoughts here. I’m calling it a journal. A journal to me is more personal than just a blog about work stuff. Sure, I have many thoughts on tech and products and work-y things. But there is more to life than just tech and work. If it feels right, I’ll post about what’s going on in life and my thoughts around it. It’s not going to be a complete record, but it’s a start. This should be fun. It shouldn’t feel like work. I’m not going to feel guilty if I go months without posting. I’m not going to hold back if I have a lot to say in a short period of time. This isn’t my job, it’s just an outlet. It’s my tiny little corner of the web.

I’d like to share more online this year. This is a start. I don’t care about an audience. There are no analytics or tracking on this website. I’m posting this for me and if anyone finds it interesting, then that’s wonderful.

Here’s to sharing more in 2020, and hopefully beyond. Cheers.