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Don’t use your work voice at home

When you introduce yourself, what do you say?

“I am Kate Maria Artur, and I am an accountant journalist engineer at  Apple SpaceX Automattic„… Most of us will use the job title as a representation of who we are.

My mom infuriates me, and it’s teaching me a lesson about work. She infuriates me with a particular voice, a type of preachy „Maybe you should think about THIS” type of tone. I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.

See, it took me a pandemic to figure out WHY it’s so annoying.

My wife and I are living in a summer house together with my mom and a new dog. It’s a journey of self-discovery, and one of the lessons I received is seeing my mom work. She is a high school teacher and tries to teach remotely, over Zoom.

And she uses THE VOICE when teaching. The same one I hate. My mom tries to literally lecture me when we have a disagreement!

I, on the other hand, am an engineer. My default reaction is to diagnose and solve every problem. This is what I’m good at. Surely, if we address the core issue of every discussion, we can move on, right? Don’t try this at home.

Turns out, sometimes people sometimes want you to listen to them. Shocker, right? They don’t want to be lectured, they don’t want their problem solved, they just want to get their emotions out. You may not think of this as a professional behavior to have at work, but in your personal relationships, that may be a thing.

We all play our roles.

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players

William Shakespeare

Mammals are hell-bent on protecting their identity and acting accordingly. The famous, (but now under reevaluation) Stanford Prison Experiment concluded, that regular people can do horrible things when assigned a new identity. Acting against our identity and assumed roles introduces Cognitive Dissonance, which causes heavy psychological stress. Every cell in our body wants to act according to what we are.

Applied behavioral science recognizes this. Master Key System, Think and Grow Rich, and The Secret all focus on addressing identity first and letting behavior follow. Tony Robbins says that “Identity is everywhere. We do what we believe we are”.

When we tie our identity to work, we continue to perform similar functions at home, which can cause issues.

Information processing choices

When faced with a new piece of information, you can do a couple of things with it. Your reaction can be:

  1. Reflexive
    fight or flight, etc
  2. Pattern matching/ problem solving
  3. Empathy / Connection
    Seek to understand the experience
  4. Mining for potential

Most professionals’ job description will fall on the spectrum of „#2 – Pattern matching/problem-solving”.

Recognizing patterns as „another one of those” (as Ray Dalio puts it) is a cornerstone of not only Engineering and Medicine but also Law, Investing.

Modern economy rewards jumping straight into problem-solving mode. “World’s biggest challenges are also the world’s biggest business opportunities”, according to Peter Diamandis. The more problems you solve, the bigger the big shot you are. And then you get back home.

Every cell in your body will ache to do what you have done all day – solve problems and bark orders.

But at home, you are not a bigshot any more. You are an accountant journalist engineer husband, mother, or a son. Leave the bigshot voice and, better yet – identity at the door. Be human, emphatise or help somebody explore the potential.

Automatically transcribe your Evernote voice notes

I am a big believer in taking notes and working on my personal infrastructure. I find joy in polishing the “Artur OS” and removing little pockets of friction in my setup. Have a look at my automation philosophy:

Recently, we adopted a dog and I have quite a bit of time spent walking. What if I could use it for some deep thinking?

So I wrote a bot.

How does it work?

A: I record an audio note on my phone:

B: I run my magical code

C: A transcription shows underneath

D: Profit!

There are other ways to solve this problem. Particularly, Otter.AI is a great service to transcribe your notes. However, it requires extra manual steps to open the app, export recordings, etc.

If you don’t have an elaborate setup behind your Evernote account, I recommend you check out Otter.

What do you need:

  1. You need to set up the PHP (Yes) SDK for Evernote
  2. You need an API key to Google Cloud Speech API. You don’t need a client library! Just follow these steps:
    1. Enable the API for your project here
    2. Create a new “API Interface Key” here

This code assumes you already search for a note and pass it in. I tag a note with `Tools`. A cron job periodically checks the label and does certain magical things on the notes tagged with it.

Code

It finds the audio recording in your Evernote note and transcribes it:

<?php
// https://piszek.com/2020/05/27/evernote-transcriber/
function transcribe_audio_file_in_a_note( $evernoteClient, $note ) {
// This will find the place where file is embedded, so we can display the transcription underneath.
if( preg_match( '#<en-media hash="([a-z0-9]+)"[^>]+>#is', $note->content, $res ) ) {
$id = hex2bin($res[1] );
$resources = array_filter( $note->resources, function( $resource ) use ( $id ) {
return $resource->data->bodyHash === $id;
} );
if( $resources ) {
$resource = array_shift( $resources );
}
}
if ( isset( $resource->mime ) && $resource->mime === 'audio/x-m4a' ) {
// Only audio files
if ( isset( $resource->attributes->applicationData->keysOnly['transcribed'] ) ) {
$this->log( LOG_INFO, 'This resource is already transcribed.' );
return;
}
// Set for the future
$evernoteClient->client->getNoteStore()->setResourceApplicationDataEntry( $resource->guid, 'transcribed', 'true' );
// this is your Google Speech API token
$token = "tsrtrastr8astars8tras8t";
$in = tempnam(sys_get_temp_dir(), 'evernote_transcript') . '.mp4';
$out = tempnam(sys_get_temp_dir(), 'evernote_transcript') . '.wav';
$data = $evernoteClient->client->getNoteStore()->getResourceData( $resource->guid );
file_put_contents( $in, $data );
// Because Google Speech API is crap and cannot deal with other formats, we have to recode it.
system( "ffmpeg -i $in $out" );
$data = file_get_contents( $out );
$payload = array(
"audio" => array( "content" => base64_encode( $data ) ),
"config" => array(
"languageCode" => "en-US",
"alternativeLanguageCodes" => [ "pl-PL" ], // I only use English or Polish. Your mileage may vary.
"encoding" => "LINEAR16",
"sampleRateHertz" => 44100,
"maxAlternatives" => 1,
"enableAutomaticPunctuation" => true
)
);
$payload = json_encode( $payload );
$context = stream_context_create( array(
'http' => array(
'ignore_errors' => true,
'header' => "Content-Type: application/json\r\n",
'method' => 'POST',
'content' => $payload
)
) );
// Wondering about the v1p1beta1 here? You have to use this version to have alternativeLanguageCodes. This of course is not in documentation.
$result = file_get_contents( "https://speech.googleapis.com/v1p1beta1/speech:recognize?fields=results&key=$token&quot;, false, $context );
$result = json_decode( $result, true );
if ( ! isset ( $result['results'][0]['alternatives'][0]['transcript'] ) ) {
$this->log( LOG_WARNING, 'Empty transcript. ' . print_r( $result, true ) );
return;
}
$text = $result['results'][0]['alternatives'][0]['transcript'];
$this->log( LOG_INFO, 'Transcript OK: ' . $text );
$new_body = str_replace( $res[0], $res[0] . "<div style='font-style: italic'>$text</div>",$note->content );
$note->content = $new_body;
$evernoteClient->client->getNoteStore()->updateNote( $note );
}
return $note->content;
}

More of my adventures in automation:

VIPs secret weapon: the Post-It note.

In the olden days before the pandemic, there were conferences and meetings. People would gather together to discuss matters in person, looking at each other, not through the screen, but face-to-face.

Meetings, naturally, are most productive when you take notes. Without action items and concrete takeaways, there are just chit-chats between friends. So people whip out their laptops and tablets to „jot down something.”

Have you ever participated in a meeting where everybody is walled off behind a screen? I did, and it was entirely unproductive. I’m sure it had great notes, though.

Last year, during our company offsite in Orlando, I had a series of meetings regarding a feature I was responsible for. There were many stakeholders, and I wanted to use the time to discuss strategy. I met with the Head of Product, President of our product line, and the CEO of the company. And I noticed something quite interesting:

The more senior the person, the more minimalist their note-taking approach.

All the people I met used Pen&Paper. But it really clicked when we invited the amazing Stephen Wolfram on stage. He would carry a stack of post-it notes, just like our CEO!

I wanted to have something that the average theoretical physicist can use

Stephen Wolfram on why he created Mathematica. He could have been talking about post-its, too.

What is it about paper notes and post-its in particular?

Note-taking is something I take seriously. I type about 500 new notes per month and I am very fond of the search function of my Evernote account. But I have to admit – the paper is superior for note-taking.

  1. Analog (pen & paper) note-taking lets you stay present. There is no wall of screens between you and the other person,
  2. Your posture is different when you take notes on paper, making it easier for you to use body language. (With hands on the keyboard, your back is rounded, just like when your ancestors were hiding from danger. This is not the body language of successful people),
  3. It’s clear and even encouraging that you are noting things down. The other person does not have to worry, that you are playing Animal Crossing,
  4. Post-it notes are easy to carry and convenient to pull out when needed. You can keep them in your pocket,
  5. You can use them while standing, which is useful during conferences,
  6. One idea, one note is a neat, self-contained information nugget. Post-it note is big enough to note the important stuff but too small to take your bloat. Just like a tweet.
  7. You can easily re-arrange, combine, and process them after the meeting. It’s like the are made for this.

Now, that you are in on the secret, you can carry a stack of post-it notes to your high-stakes meeting. Let them know you are a professional too.

Communication, and other CIA Sabotage tactics

Communication is Oxygen. If you feel bad, breathe. If a project is stuck in a rut – communicate. So if you see fire somewhere, you just pump more oxygen into it, right?

Oh, wait.

David Perell has recently shared a page from the CIA Sabotage Field Manual:

This document was created in 1944 to help incite enemy to

“make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-cooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit”

In my corporate experience, I have seen genuinely well-meaning employees act in any of these ways. The bigger the organization, the more of these behaviors become defaults. You default to committees to shift risk. You insist on proper channels to be a „Team Player.”

I will not explain why these behaviors are not conducive to innovation or, for that matter, even operating of a healthy organization. Have a look at the source document.

Open communication in a bigger organization encourages most of these behaviors and that is what I marked in red.

At Automattic, we kind of take the „Apple Opposite” approach. We are distributed in 75 countries, work without a spaceship HQ, and default to open communication whenever possible. I can snoop in on all internal projects and our VIP clients, see source code of upcoming releases and chime in on a product line strategy that has zero overlap with my responsibilities.

I found our instincts to be much closer to how Pixar operates and it makes me very proud:

A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.

„Creativity Inc.”


Unfortunately, everything in life has a downside and Open communication does as well. Every positive behavior can become a subterfuge tactic if overused:

My intentSubterfuge tactic I fall into
Async communication, by definition, can be read at any time.
I don’t know what the context of the other party is, so I will make a long-winded explanation of my reasoning, so we can skip the back-and-forth
(2) Make „speeches”. Talk as frequently as possible at great length…
When I stumble upon a thread or conversation, I try to provide additional value by looping in knowledgeable people.

Connecting people who talk to each other is great for creativity.
(3) When possible, defer all matters to committees for “further study and consideration”

This one is particularly effective as subterfuge – people I loop in will reciprocate, ensuring exponential growth of a committee.
Sometimes I try to provide additional value by sharing ideas and concerns. Did you thought about X?

Maybe they didn’t, and I just saved them a discovery in the future?
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible

Also known as Bikeshedding. Extremely powerful combined with the above (3). Random people looped into a conversation will feel compelled to provide value, sharing shallow unrelated concerns.

Since Async communication does not really have the concept of the „meeting finished”, we can hit another tactic for bonus points if we „share our thoughts too late”:

(6) Refer back to matters decided upon the last meeting, in an attempt to re-open the question (…)

Hippocrates said, that everything to the excess is opposed to nature.

Excess communication can have detrimental effects. It introduces noise for everybody, but more importantly – piles on more work for people trying to solve a problem. I am not advocating for hiding the communication but cutting on self-serving comments.

Are you making that comment to:

  • Show that you are smart? Pass.
  • To prove that you have taken action, even it is contributing very little? Pass.
  • Because you feel concerned, that „proper channels” were not used? Pass.
  • Project shipped, but you feel compelled to share a concern that should be addressed earlier? Pass.
  • You have helpful information, that will make them achieve goals faster? Go ahead.
  • You are certain a major risk was overlooked? Go ahead.
  • You have a genuine question and answer will help you or others in future pursuits? Go ahead.

Breathe and communicate. Within reason.

I miss the commute

Ridiculous as it sounds, even before the lockdowns, I missed the commute.

The gentle rocking of the bus, The camaraderie of workers returning home, and the blank stares filling the space. The commute is universally recognized as bad, right?

University of the West of England
  • It eats into your schedule, robbing you of your life
  • It starts your day off rushed and stressed, which limits your performance and happiness
  • You share the rush hour traffic with half of the known universe, all competing for the same 10cm in a bus to squeeze in.
  • You get infected with every possible ailment your fellow travelers can carry.
https://external-preview.redd.it/Z23YPAIgYeA3ts8d8PJ3Lo44RG3wANFc8MhLdDY3hvc.jpg?auto=webp&s=9060d1e6512aac55046317d3ea0bc0e0b12c51ec

And yet, a few times a year, this feeling comes back. Especially during challenging periods of focused work, I sometimes yearn for this transition period that will let me decompress between work and private engagements.

Now when we all are sheltered in place, these boundaries get blurred. We carry our stresses from work to home, because, well, both happen on the same couch!

The unexpected benefits of commuting are much more apparent now During summertime, it was quite enjoyable. I love cycling to the office and am in a fortunate position where I have 8 km of parks between the coworking spot and me.

  • On the way to the office, I get my daily fix of cardio and spent some time in nature. I identified some time ago that on the days that I see the trees, my mood goes up.
  • On the way back, I sometimes cycle quite slowly, reflecting on the day and some times maybe even sit in one of those parks.

On those exhausting days, the way home lets me decompress and maybe even put a border between times of the day.

  • The commute helps switch gears mentally
  • Me cycling to work produces mental energy

While stuck at home, you may want to reproduce the benefits of a commute:

After a challenging day, the most appealing thing is to sink into a couch and start the mindless consumption of Netflix. But if you try exercising, you will discover being more rested after the exercise than before it. Your mind will notice a transition between work and rest.

Hopefully, the lockdowns will end, because the commute can be quite OK if you choose it. With a flexible work schedule, going to the office on any given day is my decision, and I can make specific arrangements to avoid rush hour traffic.

Hopefully, I won’t have to always work from home, nor will I have to commute every day. I can choose whatever works for me, and that is the point.

402 Payment Required and why micropayments are doomed

The promise of fast, seamless micropayments (by micro I mean <$1) has been circling around the web for a while now. The original HTTP status codes, created over 30 years ago, even contain a „placeholder” for such a system, which is still reserved for future use:

The HTTP 402 Payment Required is a nonstandard client error status response code that is reserved for future use.

With the advent of Bitcoin, related arbitrage opportunities, and attention economy problems, cryptocurrency experts have renewed interest in providing micropayments solutions.

But I am not convinced this is a problem worth solving.

The administrative cost of accepting payments

Accepting payments and donations has their administrative cost. Taxes, fulfillment, answering support questions, upkeep of the payment system – most of this stuff can be automated, but you are never able to get rid of these pesky details.

Of course, the answer is easy – just make it up with higher volume!

But there is a catch-22. With more volume, there is more upkeep, more treadmill, more support, and bigger risk that you will run into a problematic customer. This constant administrative cost is a reason why every Credit Card processor charges a roughly similar rate for processing payments. They have overhead too.

2.9% + 30c of the fixed cost.

Dire reality of Paypal, Stripe and other processors

The cognitive cost of the purchase

Each payment has not only a material cost but also a cognitive cost. While you are purchasing something, you not only whip out your hard-earned cash, but you also have to make a purchase decision.

  • Is this really worth paying for?
  • From the myriad options available, is this one the best?
  • How much did I spend already this week?

All these decisions go through the customer’s head each time they are trying to buy something on the web (and IRL). That means, that each customer can only make so many purchases, regardless of their price.

While customer pays a higher price, you benefit. If they pay a high cognitive cost, everybody loses.

Subscriptions and bundles

Bundles and Subscriptions are both ways of addressing this issue.

  • The purchase decision is made only once. In case of a bundle, its spread over items and in case of a subscription – over time.
  • The administrative cost for the seller is also more manageable. It’s one customer instead of many, one fulfillment and one line item in a tax sheet.

That is why you are witnessing an explosion of subscription services – Spotify, Disney+, Netflix… Even Apple is moving to Apple TV+ because iTunes pay-for-a-single-episode model didn’t work out.

Micropayments are never taking off.

There are a million exciting technical ways of making micropayments work. Cryptocurrencies, in particular, are a favorite tool of those working on technical details.

The problem is human nature (and isn’t it always?). By putting the value of 50c on something, you are signaling that this is what it’s worth.  Higher price means higher perceived value, and as recounted by Robert Cialdini, raising prices can, surprisingly, bring more customers.

Micropayments are a favorite excuse of non-customers. If you have something worth paying for, it will be worth paying more than $1. People not willing to shell out a $5 will find an excuse not to shell out 50c either. You don’t want these people as your customers. Pricing psychology and market economics are against < $1 transactions, and maybe that is why there is not a single successful micropayment startup.

Provide real value, raise your prices, and start solving $300 problems instead of 30c problems. Better yet – start a subscription!

In the words of Patrick McKenzie:

And if you came here from Hacker News, you might like another one of my articles:

A tale of two paywalls

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of me helping the WordPress.com users earn a living.

We are building a whole suite of products and features that would unlock the economic potential of the people starting their journeys as the publishers. Our goal has just the right keywords to suggest that we are building a „paywall.” But, Paywall is not a straightforward affair. Let me explain how I think about Paywalls:

Traditional Paywall – let’s call it „big publisher paywall.”

This is the paywall we all think about and see in leading publisher sites like New York Times, Washington Post, and similar ones. Since the business model of those sites is publishing, they produce news articles. That is what they get paid for, and that is what they are meant to guard.

They are usually monetizing through the quantity of content. There are several modes of operation here:

  • “Metered Paywall” is the most popular approach of “3/ month free” articles
  • “Nagwall” is where you get progressively worse reading experience, or they would badger you to sign up, but they will not block the content outright.
  • “Hard paywall”, where you have no way of accessing the content without a subscription

That technical solution is tightly coupled with:
Producing a lot of content with a short shelf life.

If a site had 3 evergreen, amazing pieces that are bringing the majority of traffic and the rest would be meh content, then there would be no reason to pay! A quota of 3/month is enough to consume this great content, and there is no reason to sign up for more. Because there IS no more. So these sites are producing content that is enough to draw the traffic and give you a taste of future goodies, but not enough to fill you up. Additionally:

  • Since you pay for quantity, it incentivizes larger teams or news organizations
  • It’s best to have a uniform quality. If there is a breakaway hit, it is used to draw traffic and not be value in itself
  • They tend to focus on general topics (news, sports) to have the biggest possible total addressable market.
  • They have already a huge back-catalog of existing content when starting a paywall (hard to pay for quantity when there are only 20 pieces on a site)
  • The signup messages are short and minimal because it’s clear what you pay for – more of the same

Publishers using these paywalls have other, complex needs – customization, email newsletters, corporate strategy. They don’t exist in a vacuum and are usually connected to a bigger organization and budgets.

“Member features” / “Niche blogger paywall”

Now, let’s consider a case of the smaller blogger, maybe even a 3-person team running a site.

  • They have no hopes of competing with NYT or Washington Post on quantity and broad-spectrum journalism
  • They cannot put out more than one piece per day
  • They tend to be very niche, and their Unique Value Proposition lies in being practical and having a perspective not found anywhere else
  • They don’t have an institutional brand like NYT, so they have to earn trust by producing great (free) content as well
  • They have a tiny (or non-existent) back-catalog of existing content.

Because of these traits, bloggers overwhelmingly are separating free and premium content.

  • Promotional content is what made them famous. Free articles with great quality and unique perspective are bringing traffic to the site
  • Paid content usually has a very clear value proposition, based on the blogger’s expertise.

Some of the ways for bloggers to monetize is to offer:

  • Drip feed, where you get access to “private blog”, with new relevant content being consistently added
  • All-In membership, where you get access to the back catalog of private content
  • Online Course
  • Online Community – where you pay for ongoing relationships with the blogger but also other people that paid for the same access (being connected to a blogger’s message enough to pay is a good filter for other people willing to do so, hence you can connect with similar-minded folks easily while skipping the internet randos that never pay.)
  • Product – (software download, excel spreadsheet for job hunting, or a physical product like a planner)
  • A Service – say coaching, private lessons, etc..
  • Hybrid – any mix of the above

The Source of this list is Membership Guys.

None of these business models are compatible with readers being able to “peek” pieces of content of their own choosing. Bloggers/site owners are making a clear distinction of what pieces of content are free and which ones are “premium” worth paying for. Sure, they tease what’s inside the „premium”, but they are explicitly choosing which parts can be accessible.

Additionally, the “free” section has to be pretty accessible as well. Before a customer trusts a blogger “out of nowhere”, she has to form a relationship based on time and trust. There is no brand like NYT to help with this decision. It will often take way more than 3 or even 30 free articles to convince a customer to pay.

If you are starting up, you are better off starting with:

  • Building up your catalog of the entirely free content that will help others discover your site
  • Once you have some free content, you should introduce „member only” section with something extra
  • Don’t concern yourself with the fancy mechanics of content blocking. You can start by sending your paid content manually via email. Don’t spend time on site features! If you are on WordPress.com, you can use the Premium Content feature we just released.

Book: On Writing by Stephen King

„Writing is a telepathy” – it’s a process that transports thought from the writers mind to the reader’s.

The biggest takeaway from this book is:

Damn, this guy knows how to write books! I know, insightful!

Part autobiography – part writing manual, „on writing” is a deep dive into Stephen King’s writing process.

An author of Carrie, The Green Mile, The Dark Tower series and countless other stories, Stephen is prolific to a point where people (including my mom) think he has ghost writers.

Now, pushed to spill his secrets, Stephen addresses his prolific career. The book is not self-congratulatory at all. It consists of two parts – one about writer and one about writing.

The writer

In the first part of the book, Stephen briefly tells his life story and it’s exactly what you would expect. He tells amusing stories about his teenage adventures, and later cocaine. All in all, I respect him more now than before reading this book. He just seems like a fun guy. Not only because of the cocaine.

He grew up poor, hardworking and fascinated with the stories. He kept writing since the age of 7 and not long after started sending his stories to journals and magazines, accruing quite a stash of rejection letters.

But he kept improving his art, kept going at it, getting better and better.

He immersed himself in storytelling – mostly pulp fiction, good writing and the kitschy movies of the 50s and 60s. He was at a drive-in cinema when his wife broke into labour.

This is not at all surprising for me. In fact, that’s precisely what Malcolm Gladwell discovered in Outliers and Walter Isaacson explained in Innovators.

Immersing yourself in your art and devoting hours of deliberate practice is key to being ’the best in the world’ in your area of expertise.

The Writing process

The second half of the book holds a few writing principles but is not in any way a curriculum.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

  1. Read, Read and read some more. You need to absorb new writing styles and writing tools, so you need to read any chance you get.
  2. Some well-behaved people will not considered it good manners to read while eating. If there is anything slowing down your progress more than not reading any chance you get, it will be listening to well-behaved people.
  3. Write a lot. A LOT.
  4. Ideal paragraph explains itself in the first sentence and in later sentences provides supporting evidence.
  5. Grammar is important. Adverbs are risky and sleazy. Especially in the dialogue. „He begged pitifully”
  6. Stories are made of:
    1. Narrative that moves the story from A to B
    2. Descriptions transferring the reality to the readers mind
    3. Dialogue
  7. Everybody is the hero of their own story. The best characters are the ones that are the heroes from their point of view
  8. “Write behind a closed door, edit in the open. The first draft belongs to you, the second – to anyone willing to read” – a concept similar to „Shitty first draft” of Anne Lamott
    Your second draft IS NOT an opportunity to add more stuff.
    Second version = First version – 10%

Benefits of daily writing practice

In the interviews I used to say that I write every day except Christmas, Fourth of July and my Birthday.
It’s a lie. In an interview you have to say something that sounds a bit funny and I didn’t want to look like a maniac.
The truth is that I write every day, including Christmas, Fourth of July and my Birthday which I try to ignore.

Stephen King

After taking the “Write of Passage” course, I finally understood why daily writing is helpful. Stephen’s reasoning is quite similar:

  • It gets the avarage ideas out of the way. You just have to flush the obvious out of your system
  • In the beginning you will use a hodge-podge of other people’s styles. There is nothing wrong with that. Only with writing you will be able to grow your own style. It needs room to develop and that room is the page.
  • Stephen says that when he is not writing daily, the characters in his mind start to ‘calcify’.
    It becomes harder and harder to make them move and it feels more like work.
    I found the same thing in regards to my blogging – when I don’t create something every day, it becomes harder and harder the next one.

”Write what you know about. If you know plumbing, the story about Space Plumbers is a good concept.”

You know what? I just very well may do that.

Book: The End is Always Near by Dan Carlin

I love Dan Carlin’s „Hardcore History” podcast. The stories of mundane concerns during wars, plagues, and other terrible events in human history are somehow deeply informative of the human spirit.

I am very grateful that Dan spares the gory details, but he keeps in the weight of the event and pulls lessons from the history books.

Thanks to Dan Carlin, I realized that history is like a TV series that really happened. And one more unpredictable than any “Game of Thrones” or „Witcher” script.

„The End is Always Near” is the first Dan’s book and a little more organized than the podcast. It has a central message that it supports very well – Humans always seem to be on the brink of extinction.

What stood out to me:

  • Through most generations in history, people were much tougher than we are. They have watched their sons and daughters die horribly, the wars and plagues were rolling constantly
  • The children were treated horribly as well. Basically everybody was traumatized, but somehow they haven’t seen it as trauma. Maybe with the constant risk of dying, psychological trauma was a less pressing concern?
  • The consequences of the Atomic bomb were enormous. Because nuclear retaliation is a tool that has to be deployed in minutes, only 1 person needs to make this call. Now, that the US president has this cross to bear, it automatically transformed the office of the president into one-man apocalypse machine
  • Cold War has introduced the tensions that turned the USA into a Police state and that is still the case.

If you want to listen more about the Cold War, here is the „Destroyer of Worlds” episode:

My highlights ( I’d love to have more, but I was not reading this on Kindle and my hardcover highlight game is not strong  )

  • Andrew Mellon, the secretary of the treasury under President Herbert Hoover when the 1929 stock market crashed, which initi­ated more than decade of economic collapse, thought the coming hardship would be good thing. “It will purge the rottenness out of the system,” Mellon said, as reported in Hoover memoirs. “High costs of living will come down People will work harder live more moral life Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people From Mellon’ point of view maybe he got his wish. The Depression put an end to the Roaring Twenties time remembered for high living, speakeasies, jazz, flappers, the Charleston, and the advent of motion pictures What Mellon might have thought wasteful frivolity was simply fun to others. Things got lot less fun when money became more Scarce.
  • Before the modern era, the number of people who lost multiple children to illness was astonishing One wonders what effects this might have had on individuals and their society as whole The historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was one of seven children All six of his siblings died in infancy.
  • One member of the Greatest Generation offered this solution for bringing down the Soviet Union: “We should have been dropping Playboy magazines, blue Jeans, and Elvis Presley records on them, and they’ll do It themselves
  • Lloyd deMause quotes piece written by the chief of police in Paris in 1780 estimating that of the, on average, 21,000 children born in that city every year, only 700 were nursed by their biological mothers. 
  • From 410 onwards successive Western imperial regimes Just gave way or lost practical auditority over more and more of the territory of the former Empire The Western Empire delegated itself out of existence Central authority
  • Saxons apparently ignored the warning, continued to kill evangelizing clergy, and never ceased their usual small-scale raiding and banditry on the border. Charlemagne fought cam­ aign after campaign against them, and eventually succeeded in Cutting down the sacred tree they venerated as holding up the universe and allegedly beheading 4.500 of them in day at Verden in 782. And, like the Roman emperors who preceded him, Charlemagne found out that there always seemed to be more ferocious barbarians behind the ones he’d just subdued. 
  • In the end, the clergy suffered fatalities at the same rate as the rest of the population, and their deaths led to unexpected consequences For example, to replace losses in their ranks, the church lowered the ages at which people could attain positions of authority. This led often to very young, hardly prepared peopie in positions that had previously been held by much older, more august figures. Before the epidemic, members of the clergy had devoted their whole lives to the church. The people who replaced them weren’t necessarily as committed or as educated. Corruption began to creep in, especially as men attained elevated posi­ tions in the church due to money changing hands, not thanks to their lifelong commitment or qualifications. Over the course of around two centuries, the clergy reputation diminished, tarnished by abuses and excess and lack of high standards. This dissatisfaction led to the development of the many complaints that the German theologian Martin Luther
  • In 1899, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia ? called meeting that would come to be known as the Hague Convention, the first of many to be held on the establishment of international law re­ garding armaments There, representatives of more than two dozen countries took up the issue of airships, with the Russians proposing ban on all bombing from the air. The American del­ egate counterproposed that the ban last only five years, since the science might improve to allow for precision bombing which might prove humane insofar as it could shorten Wars.
  • From September until November 13, London was bombarded every night. total of 13,000 tons of high explosives and 12,000 incendiary canisters were dropped. Other cities were raided, too, and the most famous raid is the one on Coventry on 14 November 1940, when 450 bombers discharged 500 tons of high explosives and 880 incendiary canisters. Civilian losses were appalling, mainly because there were few adequate air raid shelters. The attacks failed both to stop the British raids over Ger. many and to squash morale. Indeed, the whole idea of using bombers to destroy civilian morale was flawed for several reasons. One may have been the bravery of the citizenry
  • The physicist Freeman Dyson, who worked for the raps Bomber Command, said years after the war, “I felt sickened by what knew. Many times, decided had moral obligation to run out into the streets and tell the British people what stupidi- ties were being done in their name. But I never had the courage to do it. sat in my office until the end, carefully calculating how to murder most economically another hundred thousand people It takes time to get to point of logical insanity
  • It’s hard to really know how much of the navy’s opposition was truly based on morality or how much might have been an effort to defend the necessity and relevance of its branch of the military services In the face of those looming budget cuts. (Indeed, the moral complaints would be notably muted later when navy submarines began to carry nuclear weapons The admirals’ testimony elucidated key moral question that the world still wrestles with decades later

Your product is either a commodity or hospitality.

Have you ever been to a truly great hotel? You walk in and find yourself thinking:

  • “Oh, this makes sense” when you see an extra pillow
  • “Ok, that’s nice” when you discover a lovely porcelain tea set, with all you need prepared for you,
  • “That’s beautiful” when you open the window.

Everything is just where you want it, whenever you want it, just how you want it before you even realize what it is that you want.

You feel like all your concerns are melting away, and you don’t have to deal with minutiae anymore.

These are the same thoughts I would use to describe my Apple experience. Of course, we can talk about the declining quality of the keyboards, but when interacting with Apple products or great hotels, I don’t mentally tick off the list of benefits. I enjoy the feeling ‘everything being in its rightful place.’

MacBooks and iPhones are expensive – they don’t stack up feature-to-feature or number-to-number to other offerings on the market. My more technically-inclined friends keep reminding me that a different machine has more burro-bytes or zetacycles than a $2000 Macbook.

What I usually tell them is hard to justify, so I started viewing it through a lens of how I would judge a hotel.

Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

Such a lovely face.

– The Eagles

That hospitality is Apple’s entire business strategy. Playing in the commodity sandbox requires you to play the cutthroat game of racing to the bottom of the lowest margin.

According to Forbes, Apple’s profit share is over four times larger than Samsung, its nearest competitor. 

Despite this success, people rightly point out, that by most of the measurable parameters, devices from Cupertino are falling behind – they have slower processors, smaller pixel density and are more expensive.

And yet, this is not the game Apple plays.

The full vertical integration is the strategy that also works in luxurious resorts. They have thought deeply about every single need of their users and designed an experience to cater to them. There is rarely a need to venture outside.

‘We are programmed to receive.

You can check out any time you like,

But you can never leave!’

– The Eagles

I won’t belabor the Apple point any further, I promise.

Think of the great products you really love. Maybe it is an app for tracking your fishing expeditions or a tool you use at work.

If you feel at home while using this product, then it’s real business is hospitality. A great host knows exactly what his guests want and provides it to them before they realize it themselves.

Focusing on the user’s secret needs, of course, is simple but not easy. Your business has its own budgets and trade-offs, and you will have to make it all work. Both types of businesses have to tackle logistics, value chain, porter’s forces, and labor laws.

But the first question they ask is different.

The hospitality business is about leading with Qualitative Questions, like:

  • “How can we make this experience better.”
  • “What do our guests secretly want?”

Commodity business asks Quantitative Questions first:

  • How can we make this cheaper?
  • How can we have more feature X?

Hospitality is opinionated. To best suit your specific needs, it has to know what is the group of people that it does not want to make happy. In a truly great hotel, the other guests matter. They make you proud to be a part of the group and – in truly exceptional ones – they help you learn a thing about yourself.

There are, of course, hotels that I would consider a commodity and not hospitality. The proliferation of price comparison engines makes it easy to shop around with numbers, commoditizing the whole industry.

When searching for a hotel during my travels, I’ll use Booking.com to find something affordable. But inevitably, after an hour or two, I’ll stumble upon a photo that will make me abandon my price limits.

I’ll know if this hotel is genuinely hospitable if it has a working iPhone charger by the bed instead of some useless desk phone.

The Hospitality vs. Commodity lens helps me better understand the product-market fit for consumer businesses. B2B and enterprise markets have their specifics – like bundles and vendor relationships that make it play by different rules.

But every consumer business can learn a lot from great hotels.

Feel free to attach this post to your expense report, but don’t blame me if it gets rejected.

Still, the stay will be lovely.