Why do remote companies do meetups?

Last month, after two years of no flying, I got the opportunity to meet my coworkers in Playa Del Carmen, close to Cancun. It was exquisite – we got to hang out on the beach, eat buckets of guacamole, race jet skis, work a little, swim in the Cenotes, and most importantly – bond as a team. I got to find out how extraordinary human beings my teammates are.

Meet my colleagues

Before the pandemic, all my previous teams would meet at least three times per year in an exotic location to remind ourselves that we are still human beings, and not only windows in the company chat. But, as we created our team just before the pandemic, we were yet to see each other in person.

Why Remote companies do Meetups

  1. People need relationships, and trust to work effectively. Once you connected with a teammate, shared a meal, and even lived together (yup, we rent huge villas together when possible) – you develop an empathy for your coworkers, and can undestand them much better over the imperfect mediums such as Slack or Zoom. It becomes much easier to assume positive intent, if you went on an adventure together, or swapped stories about family struggles.
  2. All those mythical whiteboard planning sessions, that supposedly make working in the office so much more effective and creative? They can happen during a meetup, although I have yet to see brainstorming session that beats asynchronous exchange of thoughtful ideas.
  3. This is a perk, I’m not going to lie. The perspective of being paid to fly across the world to exotic location to ride jetski with coworkers is one of the reasons I continue to be very happy at Automattic.

Read about “The Importance of IRL in a World of Screens” on distributed.blog.

The trip reminded me why I love Remote work so much and how there’s a season for everything. Five years ago, I traveled to the same spot with my wife (then-girlfriend). Since it was only the two of us, we stayed for 1.5 months roaming across Yucatan and swimming in every Cenote we could find. Every time a meetup would come up, we would both go, and extend the stay to at least a month to take advantage of the paid-for flights and transfer time.

This time, it took painstaking preparation – my wife had to drive to her parents with our baby and the dog so that she could have some help while I was having fun. Instead of extending the trip as much as possible, I allowed myself to fly one day earlier to scuba in the Cozumel Coral Reef (2nd biggest in the world, and item 112 on my Bucketlist), where I met charlie – a giant, 4-meter turtle.

Meet Charlie

Every situation allows you to do something unique, only possible in that time and place in life. So try to take advantage of that before wishing for a different arrangement. Yes, I know this is something only a privileged and lucky person would say.

Three surprising things

Unnecessary Inventions

Unnecessary inventions is a very aptly named blog of Matty Benedetto, who “over the past two years, he has designed and fully prototyped over 280 new inventions that solve problems that don’t exist.”. My favorite is the Slice Slapper, a device to cut a triangle of Pizza right from the middle of your pie:

The Slice Slapper™️ Eliminate horrible pizza toppings in an instant! Our debut removal tool features an easy push button and tri-angled blades to rapidly chop away any potion of your pizza pie featuring ingredients you would NEVER eat. Simply locate the deplorable section and slap it away to customize your pizza to your unique one of a kind taste. Now… who TF ordered the pineapple olive mushroom pizza?!?

Polish Hogwarts

Czocha Castle is quite possibly the most interesting place in Poland. It doubles as Hogwarts for events, has 40+ secret passageways, is embellished with hundreds of Freemason riddles, and possibly houses art stolen before WW2. Read more here.

Tech jobs filter problem

Tech jobs are cushy, comfortable, and come with many perks. As a result, Google and others continuously sit at the top of “best places to work at” lists. However, the interview processes are famously demeaning and unrelated to the actual job at hand. A recent study found them measuring anxiety more than tech skills, but the best explanation can be found in the Hacker News comment section:

Google (& similar) have more applicants who can do the job than they have positions, so instead of checking for that and calling it a day, they filter for some combination of IQ and how bad you want it—willing to do a ton of otherwise-low-value prep work & practice, and to go through the painful interview process itself, likely several times at different companies, even for successful candidates.

At Automattic, we take quite a different route – you get hired for a (paid) trial period, and you can see if you like it before committing.

Your own Roam Research Quicknote REST API with Firebase

I love Roam Research ( have written a lot about it), but the biggest struggle for me is the lack of the proper REST API. I have tried faking it with Puppeteer, but I needed something quick for capturing the notes on the go.

Now I can capture the notes from a variety of apps through IFTTT, or iOS shortcuts (including Siri on my watch), and I have been doing so for more than a year. As automation is important for me, this script has helped include roam into my workflows.

Hey Siri, make a note in Roam

Cool, huh?

How does it work?

  1. iOS shortcut or IFTTT makes a POST request to Firebase DB
  2. Every 10 minutes Roam checks that DB, fetches new notes and deletes them in DB.
  3. Any new note shows up in my current daily page, with “#Inbox” tag

From what I have been able to gather, this is similar to what phonetonote is doing, without the need for you to manage your own DB.

What do you need to make this work for you?

You need 3 things: A Firebase project, a custom script in your Roam graph, and iOS shortcuts to start getting your data in the graph.


Firebase is a Google Cloud offering that lets you store JSON in the cloud. With the usage you will be generating, you will be able to operate the project for free.

  1. You need to set up a Firebase Realtime Database project
  2. Once you set it up, you need to generate a database secret ( Project Settings -> Service Accounts -> Database Secrets)

Roam custom plugin

This custom Roam plugin will pull data from this database – you can customize `path/to/quicknotes` to whatever you like.

Read here on how to install custom Roam plugins

const fireBaseUrl = 'https://YOURPROJECT.firebaseio.com/path/to/quicknotes';
const fireBaseToken = '';

function zeroPad( data ) {
	if ( data < 10 ) {
		return '0' + data;
	return '' + data;

function getTodayUid() {
	const d = new Date();
	return zeroPad( d.getMonth() + 1 ) + "-" + zeroPad( d.getDate() )  + "-" + d.getFullYear();
function importFromFirebase() {
	window.fetch( fireBaseUrl + '.json?auth=' + fireBaseToken )
		.then( response => response.json() )
		.then( data => {
			console.log( 'Firebase Import:', data );
			if ( ! data ) {
			Object.keys( data ).forEach( key => {
				const entry = data[key];
				if ( ! entry.string ) {
					console.warn( 'The payload needs at least a string', entry );
                entry.string += ' #Inbox';
				window.roamAlphaAPI.createBlock( {
					"location": {"parent-uid": getTodayUid(), "order": 0 }, 
					"block": entry
				} );
				window.fetch( fireBaseUrl + '/' + key + '.json?auth=' + fireBaseToken, { method: 'DELETE' } );
			} );
		} );
	window.setTimeout( importFromFirebase, 10 * 60 * 1000 ); // Check for more notes every 10 minutes.

window.setTimeout( importFromFirebase, 60 * 1000 ); // We run this a minute after Roam starts.

Start POSTing your data

Now you need to start throwing your data into the database and see it in your Roam graph!

iOS shortcuts

Here is an iOS shortcut action that will save my data in this database. You can include it in your workflows (just remember to change Text to your token and YOURPROJECT to your project).


You can always include it in IFTTT to provide similar functionality, or make it save all your liked Youtube videos for example:


Monotheistic thinking trap

People argue passionately about all sorts of things. What type of bed mattress should a responsible parent buy? Is preschool a humane choice? Is Bitcoin the only coin possible, did Facebook destroy democracy? Do people eating meat deserve to die? Should vaccines be mandatory? Is a hotdog a sandwich?

Each side will argue with a sense of total moral superiority, that of course, you have to be a deranged human being to support the other worldview. Who would do that in their right mind?!

It is not a new observation that detailed decisions are downstream of the value system – that is how we got the two-party approach represented in most democratic countries: First, we vote on the value system, and the particular choices will be an obvious consequence.

You will have no other gods answers before me

The first and most important commandment of the three biggest world religions states:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Moses et al.

There is only one authority, one truth, and one absolute. Every question has only one answer and only one way of arriving at it. Good people like me go to heaven and the bad ones like them go to hell.

At its essence, monotheism argues that everything should be judged only through one lens, one value system, and one ethical framework. It depends on the assumption, that it’s possible to create a complete and consistent ethical framework, and of course, each flavor is happy to provide one.

Modern western atheism proudly rejected the particulars of Christianity and Judaism, but continues to be monotheistic – its religion being scientism:

What experts-of-the-day say now is the truth, believing otherwise makes you an ignorant and bad citizen

The consequences of monotheistic scientism underpin most of our “big arguments”:

  • Only one, “blessed” way of solving the test is accepted at school, divergent thinking is not encouraged
  • New Scientific theories are mocked because of their inconsistencies with adopted dogma
  • Abortion pops up again and again in polytical debates (particularly in Poland where I’m from) – it’s either murder or a choice with no in-between depending on your monotheistic views

Monotheism makes it really hard to consider the arguments of the other side because it doles out the addictive sweet nectar of moral superiority:

If there is only one truth and everyone who believes something a little different needs correcting. If they refuse, it is just and good to fight them, for the benefit of all mankind. And, of course, the one truth is the one that I believe.

How to spot monotheistic thinking

It is easy to mock religion, and at the same time fall into the monotheistic way of thinking. You see, monotheists are by definition maximalists. If there is only one truth, and one answer – then the only logical choice is to maximize it. You can see this logic in a variety of situations:

  • Many people agree that eating less meat is good for you or the environment. But we’re stuck in debates over “true veganism” where difference between those camps may be an egg a day.
  • Bitcoin Maxymalists are also monotheistic – they argue that there is no other god before Bitcoin and not only current currencies, but all other cryptocurrencies are inferior
  • If public education is supreme good, and the answer to everything – we should take away children from parents like in the “Brave New World”
  • When lockdowns put everybody Zooming from home, people promoting Remote Work started complaining that “this is not true remote”,

Embrace Polytheism

The world is a complex system. We have some understanding of the underlying principles, but we are constantly proven wrong by new discoveries or uncovering our previous biases (like the replication crisis).

Reevaluating your thinking against multiple points of view saves you from the fragility of believing your own BS.

The ancients represented multiple points of view as figures of the pantheon, but it suffices to just remember there are multiple lenses, and not everything falls neatly into a category. Sometimes Zeus just really wants to seduce somebody so you die in a bloody war.

If you prefer a more rationalist argument – the basic structure of reality also seems to be favoring Polytheism. If light can be both a wave and a particle, and the state of the object depends on the observer – then maybe you too can adopt multiple points of view at once.

So stop being so smug. I will try as well.

Deliberate Internet

An arbitrary collection of deliberate thinking on the Internet.

Buldozer vs Vetocracy

Staying on topic, Vitalik Buterin (author of the Ethereum cryptocurrency) proposes a novel political axis: Bulldozer vs Vetocracy

Bulldozer: single actors can do important and meaningful, but potentially risky and disruptive, things without asking for permission

Vetocracy: doing anything potentially disruptive and controversial requires getting a sign-off from a large number of different and diverse actors, any of whom could stop it

Stained Glass random act of beauty

Danielle has created portable stained-glass stickers for her flight turning the Airbus 320 into a tsarist Russian Zeppelin.

How to make friends as an adult

A proven way of making new friends.

Basically, you make friends out of acquaintances — people you know but are not friends with — and the crucial friend-making act is this: you have to ask a not-quite-friend if they want to do something

Welcome to 2022 plus the best reads of the year

Welcome to 2022! Here is what I’ve been up to:

Last week, I published my review of 2021. It has been a fantastic year – I’ve become a father, went on an RV road trip throughout Europe (photos here), and spent some quality time with my daughter. Despite COVID, it has been a good year, and I hope it was for you as well.

In November, I took a break from writing to try out Twitter and frankly survive the complexities of parenting. The experiment was a mixed success:

  • one one hand I met more amazing people (and was invited to lunch by an inspiring couple from San Jose just yesterday),
  • on the other – I just didn’t spend enough time on the platform. Demands of life have “eaten up” the time I freed by giving up writing, and I found threads to be less conducive to deep reflection than I do blog posts.

Writing helps me discover what I’m thinking, and Twitter does not replace it for me. I will try to continue both, and I’ll share my best threads in the future issues of this newsletter.

I also explored “web3” and came out quite intrigued – to the point of writing a WordPress plugin connecting your site to the Ethereum sign-in system.

Best things I’ve read in 2021

This year, I feel like I’ve read less and discovered fewer pieces of exceptional content. While I had to decide what to cut out of the 2020 roundup, I had trouble finding ten links that would be valuable enough to share with you, so I decided to settle on 5, as I wouldn’t want to bloat the list.

Overall, my feeling about intellectualism was decidedly meh. Maybe that was an effect of a decline in critical thinking in the western world, me becoming older, or rediscovering other joys in life.

Humboldt again

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf was by far my biggest intellectual influence of the year. This biography of Alexander von Humboldt and his successors inspired me to change my blog’s focus (more Nature and Solarpunk, less self-improvement), spiked my interest in the Romantic Science period (early 19th century, think Jules Verne), and fueled my piece about Alexander von Humboldt that trended on Hacker News.


Noah Smith’s introductory piece about Solarpunk was the first one I have read that clarified this term for me. Furthermore, Noah is an excellent columnist and one of the very few career journalists (a Bloomberg Opinion contributor) that produce deep pieces explaining the modern world. He has deep thoughts about China, climate, and degrowth.

The most precious resource is Agency

The Most Precious Resource Is Agency eloquently phrases many criticisms of the formal educational system that I couldn’t quite put on paper.

“You don’t have to wait for professionals to tell you how to make stuff, you can just make stuff. Start typing “


David’s blog was a discovery of 2021 and a site I always wished deliber.at to be. Pieces like “How to enjoy life“, “Don’t Forget How Strange This All Is“, and “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed” are full of compassionate, deep, and brief advice reminding us how to live life on your own terms.

Book reviews by Slate Star Codex: The Secret of Our Success and Scout Mindset

Originality is an overrated illusion. Book reviews are an excellent form of looking at an idea presented in a book through the lens of another writer – have a look at Tiago Forte’s book summarization process to see how much value he adds to the original content. Another such writer is Slate Star Codex, and I enjoyed his reviews tremendously.

The Secret of Our Success presents arguments against progressive-rationalist abandonment of tradition. As it turns out, a lot of cultural dogma is an effect of evolutionary change and provides a valuable adaptation still relevant today. The world is a very complex system, and rationalist thought hasn’t been around long enough to pierce through layers of complexity.

My first instinct is always to question dogma, and I have made it my career. However, this piece made me rethink my whole approach to intellectualism, and I intend to read this book in 2022.

(on relying on divination in battle)
War is a classic example of when a random strategy can be useful. If you’re deciding whether to attack the enemy’s right vs. left flank, it’s important that the enemy can’t predict your decision and send his best defenders there. If you’re generally predictable – and Scott Aaronson says you are – then outsourcing your decision to weird birds might be the best way to go.

The Scout Mindset matches my observations on approaching complicated ideas: You can always try them on for size. Furthermore, you don’t have to treat everyone thinking of something else as an enemy.

Galef’s preferred dichotomy is “soldier mindset” vs. “scout mindset”. Soldiers think of intellectual inquiry as a battle; their job is to support their “side”. Soldiers are the people who give us all the military and fortress-related language we use to describe debate.

I wish more people would adopt the scout mindset.

2021: A year of rolling with it

In 2021, I have become a father, bought an RV, and spent 6 months off work – the longest period away from my job since I was 15.

An advice that I quite often give is to accept reality as it is and act accordingly, instead of demanding it to improve. We took our own advice this year and it has been paying dividends.

COVID has disrupted our carefully crafted jetsetter lifestyle full of travel and exotic destinations. We interpreted it as a signal to start a family and adopt a dog. We always talked about getting an RV to travel with the whole piszek gang, so we bought one as well (Hilariously, the conversation forked from the tough task of buying a baby car seat. After all, if we’re buying a seat, we have to get one that will fit both the car and the future RV).

Two years of consecutive lockdowns and travel bans later I now recognize, how lucky we were to implement all of those plans at once without dillydallying. Instead of clinging to hopes of our past lifestyle returning, we were able to enjoy a new, quite awesome one. Many people came to the same conclusions 6 months later, only to be met with years-long wait times for the RVs.

One sliver of my glorious globetrotter past is my Star Alliance Gold status, which I managed to retain, despite two years of being grounded. We will see how long I can keep up the charade.


The first lesson my best friend gave me about parenting was:

The key is to have no expectations. The moment you start expecting anything, you have lost

On one front, I have internalized these wise words. I promised my daughter not to coerce her too much and I think I have kept that promise, to our mutual benefit.

I am known to dabble in self-development, so many of my friends assumed I will put my poor child through “educational” apps, experiences, and toys. So far, I have been able to treat those with utter indifference, allowing Ewa to direct her learning herself. I hope to continue that trend.

The area where I made too many assumptions was the curriculum of my parental leave. As I mentioned before, I am fortunate enough to work at a company that gives all parents 6 months of paid time off. This probably deserves it’s own post.

Caring for a 6-to-11-month-old turned out to be much more of an involved affair than I hoped. It corrected my prior assumptions about what goals I’ll be able to accomplish, but it also gave me so much context about women’s and primary caretakers’ role in society. I have so much more respect for both of those groups now.

My wife always suspected she would leave her job after we’d start a family, and I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea. I always felt it was a little presumptuous – maybe I wanted to share the day-to-day of wrangling family life, maybe being a stay-at-home-dad was my future and should deserve an equal chance?

After experiencing it, I am now fully convinced that my strengths lie elsewhere. There are probably endless jokes about clueless men, but I really gave it my best shot and spent precious moments with my baby. Still, meaningful contributions at my work feel much more effortless whereas playing with the same toy for the nth time is just exhausting. I am deeply grateful that it’s the other way around for my wife.

If 2021’s theme is to accept the new reality and roll with it, then us scaling down the spending and me becoming a sole provider is probably the way to go, at least for some time.

Health & Fitness

Getting a better handle on my health was one of those goals of my parental leave that I failed to achieve. Despite close to 200 workouts, my weight barely moved. Maybe it staying still despite pizza, pasta, and wine is a win after all.

In the end, I think I didn’t really care enough about that goal. My mom put me to shame this year:

My new resolution for 2022 is to take it seriously. I’ll begin with a habit of eating mostly the same things – trays of baked veggies & chicken thighs

Memorable experiences

  1. So many smiles of my baby girl. Digital photography is a blessing, and observing the changes of the little cheerfull creature living under our roof is the best thing ever.
  2. My Wife and I managed to approach (almost) all challenges as a team, and the Baby strained our relationship like never before. We strived to play to our strenghts, and ensure everybody’s needs are met, with no bookkeeping, and grudges. I hope we manage to keep it up or even get better.
  3. Exploring Europe with our RV – particularly small towns and mountains of Southern Tyrol, strolling through charming (and quite empty) Venice, Swimming in lake Garda (and many others), and enjoying Italian sunshine, tomatoes and wine,
  4. Visiting friends abroad was much more fun than expected. Every time I do it, it feels a little bit of a hassle, but am very happy afterwards. I wish I reached out to my Munich friends one day sooner to enjoy Octoberfest with them,
  5. We invited a goat to our remote meeting at work. I am really proud of it
  6. Zooms are fine, but finally meating my team in Mexico was such a great experience – we realized how amazing of a fit we are, and I remembered how I miss flying (and turtles),
  7. One day before our meetup, I manage do squeeze in Scuba Diving in Cozumel Coral reef – the second biggest in the world. I hope to scuba more in 2022
  8. Helping to organize a Solarpunk Art Contest, resulting in some amazing submissions

My work

When I stepped back from the annoyances of day-to-day for six months, I realized that Automattic is quite an awesome company and I have been doing great, challenging, and fulfilling work. Over the years, I have been fortunate to work on projects critical to our mission a couple of times, solving complicated problems with friends.

My only concern is bureaucracy bloat that can be inevitable with the company growth, but we’ve been fending it off successfully so far.

My writing

Throughout 2021 I have managed to keep up my posting schedule, managing to publish at least one post per week. Only in the last stretch – November, and December, I have failed to keep up due to parenting responsibilities. That is why I am so determined to publish this post today, on January 1.

Two of my posts ended up on top of Hacker News, bringing quite a bit of traffic to my site:

It seems that I have developed a bit of a framework to getting featured in this community. I also re-took the Write Of Passage writing course, which I still endorse wholeheartedly. If you want to work on the inner game of blogging, developing your ideas, and the substance of your writing, this continues to be the best resource out there.

Till September of last year, I was running two blogs: Deliber.at, where I would write about self-development and making your life deliberate, and Piszek.com, where I would put all my other writing. The reason to have Deliber.at as a separate entity was my hope of turning it into something bigger and more focused – a project that could stand on its own.

This year, I decided to limit my concerns, and roll everything into Piszek.com. Now, all my writing is unapologetically a personal affair, touching on a variety of subjects. I feel freer now to pursue my curiosity, and if you want to tag along – you are more than welcome!

I hope 2022 to be the year of Leisure.

Trying out Twitter

In October, I’m planning to focus my writing a bit more on Twitter. I will put all my writing energy into crafting the most amazing threads and Tweets you have ever seen.

As much as I love exchanging emails with my subscribers, Twitter is just much faster. This allows me to get feedback on ideas before sending them to your inbox, skipping the mediocre ones and doubling down where I stumble upon something interesting. I feel like I can get more out of Twitter, and I’m planning to experiment in November. I’ll report in another email after a month.

In the meantime, follow me to, well, follow this process.

Some resources about Twitter

Twitter Strategy Guide

If you follow one person except me on Twitter, it should be Visakan. Just by having him on my timeline, I transformed my experience on the platform from a frantic hellhole to a heartfelt chat with friends.

The key feature of (public) Twitter is that any player can interact with any other player. Any player can reply to any other player’s tweets, or retweet it, or quote-tweet it. This bypasses traditional limitations of both “real life” as well as older web mediums like “blogs”.

Twitter: A Text Reneissance

I can’t entirely agree with Venkatesh about WordPress being obsolete, but his piece about the nature of text points out why Twitter is likely not going away.

It implements a few key features of 1980s vintage hypertext visions — block-level addressability, transclusion (changes in referenced blocks being “transfer-included” wherever they are cited), and bidirectional linking — that utterly transform the writing experience at the finger-tips leve

The ultimate guide to writing online

David Perrell’s idea of the content triangle inspired me to double down on Twitter. He tests his ideas on Twitter and in conversation, much like comedians iterate on jokes in smaller clubs before going on National Tv (or Netflix).

Many writers wait until they publish a blog post to share an idea with somebody. I do the opposite. I share my ideas as much as I can and run them through numerous filters. I move from conversations, to tweets, to emails, to blog posts. Each medium provides a different layer of feedback. By the time I’ve published a blog post, I’ve run the ideas through 3-5 filters, and each time I receive feedback, I keep more of what resonates and less of what doesn’t.

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Supply Chain.

The Solarpunk Art Contest I am helping to fund is closing its submissions on November 1st – one week from now. We are waiting for your art with a vision of a better future! You can find the submission procedure and all the details in this post.

The problems of today are in the seams of things

Have you heard about the supply chain problems? Hundreds of ships are waiting off the coast of California, which means those ships cannot be transporting goods from Asia, which means clogs, long wait times, and interruptions all around.

Since our economy is a Just-In-Time system, relying on the freight getting on time where it needs to be, the series of “hiccups” (Ship stuck in Suez Canal, Covid, Remote Work) overloaded the system. The problems are cascading, to the point where people are advised to get their Christmas shopping done in October because things will only get worse.

And, of course, nobody is to blame. Everyone is just doing their job, shrugging sadly and saying that there is nothing they can do. The stalemate of bureaucratic responsibilities causes the gridlock of shipping routes, but the solution is simple: Take charge. Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen rented a boat to inspect the situation in person:

It seems that everyone now agrees that the bottleneck is yard space at the container terminals. The terminals are simply overflowing with containers, which means they no longer have space to take in new containers either from ships or land. It’s a true traffic jam.

Right now if you have a chassis with no empty container on it, you can go pick up containers at any port terminal. However, if you have an empty container on that chassis, they’re not allowing you to return it except on highly restricted basis.

If you can’t get the empty off the chassis, you don’t have a chassis to go pick up the next container. And if nobody goes to pick up the next container, the port remains jammed.

The situation is getting worse because there are more ships coming, and more trucks rendered useless because they cannot unload the empty container:

This is a negative feedback loop that is rapidly cycling out of control that if it continues unabated will destroy the global economy

Ryan continues to recommend a list of interventions, but what struck me the most is that empty containers can only be stored two stories high because of zoning regulations. These are meant to protect the skyline of Long Beach, California. Ryan recommends temporarily allowing up to 6, tripling the capacity. The really impressive part is that Long Beach Mayor took Ryan’s advice!

I’m sure many experts and smart people were working on the problem. But no smart person can beat somebody willing to get their hands dirty and work across responsibilities to get the job done.

Sherlock Holmes is really Dr. House.

Sherlock Holmes is an inspiring character. Over the last ten years alone, we’ve seen three mainstream depictions (BBC Sherlock, Elementary, Sherlock Holmes with RDJ), with two Avengers playing their parts.

Sherlock was based not only on the previous characters by Edgar Allan Poe but also on the brilliant physician Joseph Bell, who trained Arthur Conan Doyle in his medical practice in Edinburgh.

Joseph was a pioneer in connecting the dots between his patients’ living conditions and their afflictions. He could deduce where they work and live by their clothes and quickly infer what could be troubling them.

Think of him as a nicer version of Dr. House. The similarities range from subtle to obvious, but it seems that Dr. House is closer to the “original” than Sherlock. Go figure.

Arthur Conan Doyle got his hands dirty, and his detective resonates so much as a result. Even though the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin (Edgar Allan Poe’s character) was the first hero of the genre, Sherlock became the archetype because he’s based on experience, not imagination.

Later in his years, Arthur Conan Doyle started dabbling in spiritualism – trying to communicate with the dead was a popular pastime in the early 1900s. His growing belief in the supernatural began clashing with his character’s skepticism, and he slowly started losing enthusiasm for Sherlock.

A case against degrowth

The degrowth argument goes something like this:

“Infinite growth is unsustainable and we need to stop it if we want to save the environment and the human race”

It is most popular in great cities of the western world. In Poland, it is sometimes met with confusion, but in the developing countries, it’s just plain ridiculous. Noah Smith makes a great case against degrowth in his article:

Growth doesn’t just mean using more and more stuff; instead, it can mean finding more efficient ways to use the stuff we have.

Enforcing global degrowth would require freezing world income at about $17,000/year. That means that most people in the world would never even come close to current rich-world living standards

There’s some genuine appeal to the idea of an end to “consumerism,” but the pandemic offered a taste of how a sudden drop in rich-world consumption would actually affect the developing world. Covid-19 dramatically curtailed Western imports and tourism for a time. The consequences in poor countries were devastating. Hunger rose, and child mortality followed.

The Triumph Economy and other solutions

“Remember that you are mortal”

It was the sole goal of the Roman Auriga slaves to repeat those words for the commanders celebrated by the Roman Triumph so that they don’t start equating themselves with gods.

The triumph was the absolute pinnacle of achievement and the goal of any ambitious Roman Citizen. For a day, the whole Roman Empire celebrated your contributions to the empire’s power, wealth, and safety. You were the most important person for that day, and your descendants would look up to that moment when spending time in Lararium – the household shrine.

In Rome, money was only a tool to fund armies and conquests, not a goal in itself. Roman Empire was a Triumph-based economy, in which noblemen worked hard and gave everything to the empire.

I am really fond of the idea of money.

Specifically, rolling in it.

Money is infinitely composable – you can sell three goats and exchange it for half a cow, 2 weeks of work, or help with turning your grain into flour. This composability has enabled billions of us to somewhat work together on creating the modern world. As Yuval Noah Harari points out in Sapiens:

Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

As much as I want to roll in a bathtub full of twenty-dollar bills, I have to admit that amassing money has become a bit of a problem. Wealth disparities are widely publicized, with Jeff Bezos earning 3 average American yearly salaries every minute, and [insert another wealth disparity example here].

But what is an ambitious and effective person to do? Amassing money, fame, and power is celebrated and presented as a worthy goal since high school (especially for boys). Young adults are full of energy, grit, and determination. There are hungry for greatness, but we offer them Netflix, collecting sneakers, and amassing a fortune instead.

What if we brought back the triumph economy?

A triumph for crushing your enemies, a triumph for curing cancer, a triumph for solving social media addiction, a triumph for emission-free energy sources, a triumph for solving supply chain problems… Money and power would again be only the tools meant to help humanity, not divide it.

What would you throw a triumph for?

Think like an engineer

The chat between Tim Ferriss and James Dyson is such a spectacular ride and validation for any engineer. You can feel the sheer joy of a breakthrough, of making somebody’s day a tiny bit better by technology.

Dyson’s big break was making a vacuum cleaner that does not clog from dust. It took 3 years and 5,127 prototypes because he was convinced people to spend a lot of time annoyed at their vacuums. He was right, and the only one who cared enough to solve the problem.

“Whenever I look at anything, I wonder how it works and then I wonder how it could work better. Could I make it better”

Now, James Dyson is releasing a new book, and creating a University, because he thinks engineers can solve the problems at hand:

Partly because I just wish there were more engineers, I just wish that more young people would find engineering fascinating interesting and worthwhile. And I think it’s particularly true now because everybody is talking about global warming and what he’s talking about using fewer resources, recycle ability and all these sort of things using less energy less water and its engineers that can make that happen

Couldn’t agree more – listen to the conversation between Dyson and Ferriss here.

Can you create your own country?

Continuing the topic of unorthodox solutions to the problems of today, Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex fame) wrote a prospectus on Prospera – an experimental city-state growing in Honduras.

The idea behind charter cities is: Shenzhen, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the rest of the rich world aren’t rich because their citizens are morally superior to those of their poorer neighbors. They’re rich because they have better legal systems, less corruption, stronger rule of law, and more competent administrators.

Prospera and other experimental communities can try out unorthodox legal and governance systems to better face the modern challenges. The experimental country created in 1776 dominated all the previous powers, so maybe it can happen again?

Warsaw, Climate Care, and Pierogi

I love October.

Sure, the days are getting shorter, but that makes you appreciate every ray of the sun so much more. Every warm-ish (by that, I mean 13 degrees celsius) weekend feels like the last day of summer prompting you to use it well. Soft light and falling leaves add a romantic appeal to even the most mundane street that happened to have a plant. Or maybe my sentiment comes from the fact that I was born in October. Who am I to know.

Warsaw is great

As part of my Solarpunk research bender, I joined an online InterIntellect salon about planning livable, sustainable, and inspiring cities. (“Inter Intellect is like a remote Parisian cafe where you can meet smart people and chat about complex things. But bring-your-own-coffee.”)

We had a strong representation (including some urban planning professionals) of Londoners and San-Franciscans interested in transportation, food availability, supply chain management, cycling, density, and green space availability. We had a great chat, but I was surprised to leave the call blown away by how fantastic Warsaw scored on those dimensions. For example, on the topic of reducing food waste, we came to an interesting point:

Cantine-style bars would be more sustainable than cooking because they can optimize for seasonal or abundant produce, and benefit from the economies of scale. Restricted choice, but flexibility in portion sizes will result in less food waste than at restaurants, or even your own kitchen (RIP multiple celeries that we didn’t use up in time. We have failed you). Plus, by eating together, you get to create a sense of community.

People from around the world have reinvented Polish “Milk Bar” in front of my eyes. From Eater’s article accurately titled “Your First Stop in Poland Should Be a Milk Bar”:

Warsaw’s traditional, dairy-focused cafeterias dole out nostalgic charm and plump pierogies in equal measure (…) When Communist rule took root in Poland and inexpensive food for the masses became a must, these accessible eateries flourished. Though the Iron Curtain has long since fallen, the traditions and tastes of these often government-subsidized eateries remains

I never thought I’d live long enough to hear people from San Francisco and London dream of what I took for granted in my hometown. I know the grass is always greener, etc, etc, but Warsaw is becoming quite a hidden gem. Founder of Nomadlist compares it to Berlin. We have some way to go, but it’s genuinely cool here.

The Climate Care Industry

In The Climate Care Industry I propose a new term for all activity aimed at helping the climate:

An entire industry is sprouting around mitigating effects of the climate change, capturing CO2, and creating sustainable technology. We need a term that will help establish these efforts as their own domain to help them succeed. I propose we start referring to this industry as Climate Care, similar to Healthcare.

Current phrasing is either combative (“fighting the climate change”), confusing (“negative emissions” vs “climate-positive”) or easy to argue against. You can read more about the climate care industry here.

The need for maintenance

Stewart Brand is an inspiring citizen of the Internet. His The Clock of the Long Now remains one of my favorite books, blaming our short-term orientation for landing us in trouble repeatedly. Currently, Stewart is writing a book about maintenance, and the need for an honest conversation about it.

The first chapter is on Audible, and tells a story of the first race to sail solo non-stop around the world, and how maintenance played a crucial part in the success, failure, and death of its participants. Stories like these should be mandatory for everybody working with the software. Other disciplines have millennia of experience dealing with stuff breaking, but we just shrug it away. We are so proud of our cleverness and layers of abstractions, but we almost always over-prepare for the problems we’re familiar with and under prepare for anything else.

Old systems break in familiar ways. New systems break in unexpected ways

In my 15 years of software development, I learned the hard way, that maintenance has to be a part of the design, not an afterthought:

  • Always choose simplicity
  • Don’t try to impress your engineer friends
  • Plan your maintenance if you want your stuff to work.

What is complicated will always lead to problems

Would you like some adulthood with that order?

We have built a culture of permanent adolescence, with nobody really steering the ship. Inability to perform basic human maintenance is sometimes celebrated (“LOL, adulting is hard”).

My wife will be hosting an Inter Intellect salon (that Parisian cafe with your own coffee), where you can meet interesting folk debating rites of passage, visions of adulthood learned from our parents or school, and the secrets of successful adults.

The usual badges of adulthood are either out of reach or completely lost their appeal. We don’t know what else could be put in their place. Without a shared narrative that explains what is even the point of growing up, or experienced elders who could guide the candidates through this process, a lot of us don’t feel like proper adults even in our 30s.

Go get your ticket here.

No hacks in getting featured on Hacker News

Twenty-six-year-old me would be very proud. Four of my essays have trended on the first page of Hacker News, bringing thousands of like-minded technologists to the site you’re currently reading. In this post, I’m going to share a few tips. And I am kinda proud, too.

What is Hacker News?

What is the website you open when you’re in the mood to read something? New York Times? Reddit? Facebook? For me, and millions of other technologists, it’s Hacker News. It is an aggregator of links gathering content from around the web, with a voting system, created by Y Combinator – a startup accelerator.

Open-plan offices offer few pleasures; one of them is snooping on other people’s browsing habits. When, years ago, I began working for tech companies in San Francisco, I noticed that my co-workers were always scrolling through a beige, text-only Web site that resembled a nineteen-nineties Internet forum. They were reading Hacker News—a link aggregator and message board that is something of a Silicon Valley institution. Technologists in Silicon Valley assume familiarity with Hacker News, just as New Yorkers do with the New York Post and the New York Times

This New Yorker article is not exaggerating. While working in a Polish subcontractor to the mighty western technology companies, it was my (and my friends’) morning ritual to begin every day with a copy and browsing of Hacker News. It was there, and then that my dream to work in a Silicon Valley startup, like the ones I read about, began.

When I circled back, we treated this site a little too seriously. We probably made technical decisions based on pieces of technology that happened to be popular and deemed everything trending worthy of our attention. Our views on social issues were quite in sync with the site. The other users are builders, techno-optimists, fans of obscure historical trivia, socialists, libertarians, and billionaires. For better or worse, my people. And some of them have read my stuff.

How did you launch on top of HN?

Go to your people

As I pointed out before, I spent significant time browsing the articles on the site. Is it possible that I somehow internalized the algorithm to think like the hive mind of Hacker News?

For an individualist, this is a scary thought. But it’s reassuring to feel like a part of something. The lesson is boring, and not very novel – promote your writing in the community you are already a part of.

When I heard this lesson in the past, I used to think that’s because of the trust you radiate as an established member. But now I realize that promoting in your existing online communities works because you deem them interesting and they influence your writing. It’s a self-reinforcing loop.

Where do you spend your online time?

The hardest problem in computer science is naming things

Hacker News has a very minimalist design. You don’t judge the book by its cover, you judge it’s by the title and others’ upvotes.

Notice the third one?

While wrapping up my essays, I find myself thinking “Hey, this is an interesting twist. How can I adjust the title to tease that promise?
And later, after adjusting the title I make sure the rest of the article follows that promise – it usually makes for a much more interesting angle. That’s why in the Write of Passage community, we call that a shiny dime.

Hacker News has a voting system, and clickbait is definitely not the way to the top. When I now reflect on the titles that have trended, they share a few common characteristics:

  • Something that makes you “huh, that is interesting, haven’t thought of that”
  • Has to have something with tech
  • Has to have a promise of teaching something new
  • My combinations have this vibe of “old + new”:

Here are my successful submissions. Each one brought about 4000 – 6000 visitors during the first day:

The content triangle

That last essay is an expanded version of my response to Paul Graham’s Tweet. It got a bit of attention, so I transformed it into an essay.

Only after the essay has taken off on HN, I realized that Paul Graham’s followers ARE HN readers, since he built the site. In Write of Passage, we call it the content triangle – you move the idea onto a “higher level” (in this case, an essay) only if it succeeded in conversation, on Twitter, or in your DMs.

There really is no way to cheat the system, but there is an extremely pleasant obvious route: Write content YOU would like to read and share it with people like yourself.

Your Hacker News visitors

You also need to know a few things about the browsing habits of the HN crowd.

We are reluctant to convert

We really hate spam, so converting these spikes of traffic into an email list requires a really good pitch.

We are blocking Google Analytics

This article suggests that 58% of Tech-Savvy HN users block Google Analytics. My own findings suggest a different figure, but there is a significant difference between my GA stats and WordPress.com stats:

3159 visitors according to WordPress.com

2472 visitors according to Google Analytics:

Other people’s experiences

Good luck!