Advice for expecting parents.

These days I'm surrounded by people expecting their first kid. Having survived 2.37 years with my first offspring, I'm itching to share the pain and pleasure with anyone who will listen. It turns out expecting/new parents are a more socially acceptable outlet than random strangers on the street, and so they often wind up hearing from me and every other parent a long list of sage 'advice'.

In the interest of sharing this with all of those who may care, as well as saving for the posterity inherent in the inter webs, I hear-by present my advice to expecting/new parents:

  1. You don't need any of that stuff. I can't believe how much stuff babies come with. You don't need any of it. Except: a car seat (seriously, they get agro on you in the hospital about that), and some swaddleclothes.
  2. Corollary to #1, the books are all of moderate to full on uselessness. Except: Happiest Baby on the Block. If your kid is fussy, it's a lifesaver.
  3. Extending on rule #1 and it's corollary, and frankly the golden rule: Ignore all advice from anyone. It turns out all the kids are different, and all the parents are different. Nothing more annoying than listening to people who 'know' what you need.

So listen to me, don't get anything, don't read anything, and don't listen to anyone. Except me. And everyone else who wants to give you advice. Because you never know when you'll hear the one thing that makes this insane journey just a little bit easier. It turns out that after a few hundred thousands years of raising kids Humans have generally become good at it, and listening to a few people won't kill you. Just ignore them if it does.

 

RACI

RACI

Today's hammer: roles. If you're working with more than one person, somehow we've got to split the work. Let's just agree for the sake of this post that micromanagement isn't the goal. Understanding roles is a perennial issue, but especially as a company scales and small-group communication breaks down it becomes more and more of an issue. Smart people have been thinking about this for a while, and came up with a simple model that I've found useful in conversation recently called the RACI matrix.

RACI:

  • Responsible. The people who do the actual work.
  • Accountable. The one person on the hook. “The Decider” as Bush II puts it.
  • Consulted. Opinion contributors.
  • Informed. One way updates.

Example: Heroku's new website.

  • Responsible: The team who did the work. In this case, MaxShanleyD. Keith Robinson, and more.
  • Accountable. Max in this case. Final call on what is in, out, when it was ready to ship, not.
  • Consulted. Oren (me). I provided some guidance, some questions to think about, and tried to help stay out of the way.
  • Informed. Basically all of Heroku, both up the management chain and across the org.

This was a case where the roles where clear, and the team worked together great. All too often, roles are less clear causing major issues. The primary confusion I've seen is between Responsible and Accountable. Usually the person responsible also thinks they are accountable. Worse, everyone else around thinksthey are the accountable person, and the next think you know we have a nasty case of WWIC (don't confuse the consulted here with the consulted in the RACI model. It's a good article, go read it!).

So who is accountable? Accountable is not tied to rank in the organization. For the most part the more senior an individual, the less areas they should be accountable on, and the more they should be consulting. That isn't to say that an executive can't be accountable - there are projects that demand executive final say on. The accountable person is the person with the final call. It can be an individual, a manager. The main requirement is the person must have the capability to understand the trade-offs, know the limits, and know when they can be broken. They must work with the responsible team to build something great.

Let's look at some concrete examples of dysfunctions that can arise from not having a clear set of RACI roles laid out:

  • Jane is accountable for the office seating. Jane is also doing the work to assign people's locations. Jane's manager Eva thinks she is accountable one, and keeps second guessing and providing conflicting information.
  • Ryan is responsible for the new web site, and also thinks he's accountable. His manager Jill is accountable. Ryan strongly disagrees with some of the calls Jill is making and doesn't understand why he doesn't “just own the web site”.
  • VP Olivia is informed on a new product. Joe is accountable. A whole team is responsible. Olivia gets frustrated that no one is listening to her genius ideas and threatens to take control.

In all of these situations having a discussion on who exactly is the R, A, C, and I, and what that means can lead to a huge step forward. Sometimes the conversations are deeply uncomfortable; that points to a disconnect that isn't going away by ignoring it!

How does this relate to the chain of management? Managers always have veto power. But using it is the worst form of power available. When a manager vetoes someone's work, especially the Accountable role, that manager is destroying the very structure that allows us to work. Sometimes it's necessary, if something is really going down the wrong path, but it should be the absolute last choice. Exercising that overt power destroys morale, team cohesion, and frankly is lame. But that's a topic for it's own post.

If you are finding yourself frustrated with someone at work, chances are good that it's because you don't know the roles you are each playing. Feeling like you are getting stepped on, that others are butting into your business, that there are too many chefs in the kitchen, no room to breathe, are all signs of role confusion. Sit down, talk it over with your team, and clear the air.

Mobile makes me sad

Diving into the deep end, what's life about? I just want to be happy. For the sake of work, I define happy == flow. From Wikipedia:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

A day that has flow, even just an hour of it, is a day that I come home energized, engaged, feeling part of a larger life.

Mobile right now is anti-flow. It's distracting. It's short bursts. It's focus sapping. It separates us from fully engaging with those around us or our work in front of us. It's a bit empty. These aren't intrinsic traits of mobile; rather they define the state of interaction from a brand new channel that we haven't evolved into. Over our history we've established certain strong structural concepts to engage and hone our ability to enter flow. Books that you hold and fill you vision and touch. Notebooks to write in and smell the ink. Typewriters to clack and absorb. We haven't created the mechanisms of flow around mobile devices. We will. We'll invent new interaction models. We'll establish new social norms. We will figure it out… at some point. In the meantime, mobile is anti-flow. Figure out how to leverage it and use it, and know when to banish it and just… flow.

 

RX1: Because even when they stuff a huge sensor into a tiny camera and you think that's all you ever want in life, I can find things to complain about

My RX1 came in yesterday. Just in case you don't know about it, it's a full frame camera in a small camera body, with a fixed focal length 35MM Zeiss lens. If you're wondering why you want it, you don't. This is not a camera for anyone who doesn't have camera issues. This is my 3rd camera in the house, and the 6th I've bought in the past year. I have camera issues.

There's been a tonwrittenonthecamera already. I wanted to share some random thoughts I've found so far. My baseline of comparison is mostly the Olympus OM-D E-M5 that I've been using as my primary camera since it came out, as well as my Canon 5D MKII that is only brought out for the "pro" shoots these days.

Charging: To charge the battery, you plug a micro-USB cable in. I'm really surprised that this pricepoint camera doesn't come with a separate charger. The included wall wart is a 11W USB charger. My iPad 10W charger works, sort of. When plugged in it provides enough juice to charge, however turning the camera on provides a warning that it can't charge with the power source while on. Switching to the sony wall wart lets it charge while on as well.

Battery: I've heard the battery life is poor. Looking at the battery, it's obvious why. It's tiny! The other battery in this shot is the Oly's. I did buy a 2nd cheap $5 ebay battery. It works and charges, so knock on wood there. Of course, since you need to charge it in the camera, I have to remember to keep swapping around instead of just leaving one in the charger. 

Focus: Autofocus is slow. Borderline an issue for me. The Oly is insanely fast. I'm spoiled. The RX1 hunts around. It racks end to end often. And the huge lens takes a while to go back and forth. The contract detection AF seems accurate, it just has a ton of glass to move around a huge physical distance. Manual focus is shockingly good. With the focus peaking turned to red high, I've actually been using MF for about 1/3 of the pictures.

Grip: The camera is nice and skinny, with a tiny little rubberized grip on the right hand. It's not enough. My right hand actually gets tired trying to hold the heavy camera with just one hand and not enough to grab onto. Compared to the Oly which is in the same weight class, the Oly just has a worlds better holding experience.

Exposure compensation dial: many have said that it's too easy to bump. So far it feels more "knotchy" than I'd expect, in a good way. It doesn't easily turn with a brush, it takes deliberate action. Way more deliberate than the X100 for example. I think it's about perfect.

Built in flash: I wish it didn't exist. It takes up a precious space in the left that could be better used by a control dial. Ideally, I'd love to see the PASM dial moved over to the left, and a second control dial in the space where the PASM is now. Kind of like the Oly (if you're noticing a trend...)

Lens Cap: Not enough has been written about this lens cap. It's a thing to behold. It's 27 grams (!!!), metal on the surfaces you touch, and just feels perfect. It lends the whole package a feeling of quality.

Metering: So far, it appears to meter well, with inside scens often 1/2 stop underexposed. Better than a 5D MKII, worse than an X100 (which had the best white balance and metering I've used), slightly worse than the Oly. Check out these two pics below. The first is the untouched JPG, the second is with +0.5 stop exposure comp applied.

Image Quality: I'm a hack. I am not a professional. I don't deserve this much camera. And still, it's blowing me away. Here's the worlds most unscientific, pathetic comparison ever. A shot with the Oly 50MM 1.4 and the RX1, taken ~1 minutes apart, of my kid in two totally different poses. I'll leave it as an excercise to the reader to identify which is which (or click through to flickr).

Bokeh: 35MM may not be the knock-out-background go-to-focal-length, but with a full-frame sensor it does pretty well.

Bottom line: I'm excited to go take photos. 

Retrovelo Alfons, or "The perfect example of starting with a small thing and getting a huge long endeavor that doesn't end where you expected".

Nine months ago when the kid was born I immediately started looking forward to the day that we could go for a bike ride together. I love biking, and sharing it with the kid is something I've looked forward to. Jumping into research mode, I decided...

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It's the smile

It's the smiles. They're what propagate the human race.

He comes into the world. 18 hours of the type of pain we've designed out of our 21st century American life. 18 hours of spousal helplessness. 2 hours of confusion and exhaustion and frustration and deep dark night. Screaming. Her. Me. him. HIM

Adrenaline. Confusion. Crap, now I've gotta take care of this thing.

He's sleeping randomly, crying randomly, pooping back sludge randomly. The adrenaline keeps you going. 2 days. 4 days. You think the adrenaline has worn off. 1 week and you're starting to get the hang of things. The sleep ain't great, the days are hard, but your an awesome parent. 2 weeks and you're telling people it's not that bad.  The sleep isn't easy, but you're figuring out ways to make it work. He's fussy, but you know your 5S's and have it covered.

Then the adrenaline actually starts to fade. Each day is just a bit harder. Maybe it isn't as easy. He's 4 weeks old, and it's starting to feel like work.

He's a vampire. He stays up at nights. He eats bodily fluids. He's draining. He gives nothing back. No eye contact. No hugs. No smiles. He sleeps (randomly), he eats (slowly), he cries (loudly).

It's getting dark. 6 weeks and the parents are getting an understanding of the situation. He's sleeping even less. Up every 90 minutes all night long. Nothing to give back.

8 weeks. Crying every night. The parents. No sleep. No time. The nadir.

Then: A smile. Not gas. An actual smile. Wow. Another.

A week. These are not random. it's me. He's smiling at me.

A week. I come home late from work. Olivia and Beckett are sleeping in bed. Beckett stirs as I sit down. He cracks his eyes open.  He sees me.  He looks into my eyes. He breaks out into a huge grin, ear to ear. He gurgles.  He moves his hands.  He connects and is happy and makes me happy and makes Olivia happy. He isn't a vampire.

It's the smile that keeps the human race going.