The past year has been an extremely busy one. There have been a number of challenges placed in front of me that were somewhat all-consuming. While there’s been plenty of introspection, much of it has been exceedingly private. My goal for the end of the year is to consider what I’ve learned in the past 9 or so months, and share it publicly. Wish me luck.
This Christmas, Jessica and I took a trip to Napa Valley. In the past year, I’ve taken quite a few trips out to California, but most of them have been helicopter trips for work. I’ve flown in, done what I needed to do, and flown out, as quickly as possible. These trips have been grueling, as they were designed to get me home quickly, and never allowed any time for relaxation. It seemed important to take a trip focused on getting to know an area.
We decided that we were going to spend a few days in Napa, so naturally, a B&B was a great choice. We wanted to have breakfast provided, a bunch of other folks to chat with about life, and a warm, comfy place to call home for a couple days. We found the Inn on Randolph via the Googlez, and were impressed by the comfortable looking rooms, so we booked. They offered a wine tour through Platypus Tours so we booked it. It seemed like a good idea for 2 folks who haven’t been behind the wheel in years to not be behind the wheel and drinking. That’s about all the planning we did.
Upon arriving, we were greeted warmly, given freshly baked cookies and the lay of the land. Both Karen and Stacey were immensely knowledgeable about navigating Napa, and were able to recommend great places based on how we felt. What’s more, it seems the Inn on Randolph has taken advantage of a great network of wine makers, restaurateurs, and tasting rooms to provide a great experience. Each morning at breakfast, Karen or Stacey would ask if we had plans, and if not, could they help. On their recommendation, they booked us into amazing experiences. For wineries they couldn’t book us into, they provided tasting cards. Much of the value of staying at the Inn is the advice and access (read: free tastings) they provide. However, expect that to evaporate into wine purchases, as the recommendations will quickly turn into opportunities to buy very unique and delicious wines.
The Inn itself is gorgeous. It has a warm, comfortable palette of dark wood, grays, and cremes decorated with Victorian furniture. The Inn has also paid close attention to creature comforts that make for a truly relaxing stay away from home. The bathroom floors were heated, which makes the Inn the most luxuriant place I have ever stayed at. The beds were the kind that hug you and don’t let go, with heavy comforters that make it difficult to leave. (The only way I was able to get up was knowing my feet wouldn’t freeze on cold floors.)
All in all, this was an incredibly warm, comfortable way to spend a few days in wine country. The Inn aims to send folks to places that will educate and treat them well, and to provide a delightful place to roost at once they’re done.
Since moving to New York, and discovering that there are more restaurants per square mile than any other place in the world, I’ve started eating out a lot. A probably unhealthy amount. But that’s OK, because everyone’s got to eat, right? And after eating at lots of places, I’ve discovered that there are certain gold standard dishes that most places are beholden to. The two that I’ve focused on are Eggs Benedict, and the humble hamburger. These are two meals that are basic, but can be riffed on infinitely.
Eggs Benedict is arguably the more complex of the two, given how hard it can be to poach a goddamn egg properly. Also, since it’s a breakfast, a bad eggs benny can put a serious damper on your day. However, despite the whole poaching challenge, I’ve rarely seen it mangled. There’s even room for quite a bit of variance. A bit of apple cider vinegar in the water can impart a tangy flavor. A few seconds can make the difference between a completely liquid yolk and a more viscous one. Then we get to the bread (soda bread being a unique standout, at Wilfie and Nell. This is the foundation of the dish, so it can really make or break it. For example, an overdone, rubbery English muffin can be so challenging to even the sharpest steak knife that you wind up shredding the whole meal. Breakfast should never be a workout. Hollandaise sauce is yet another canvas which can be painted on in endless ways. It accepts most seasonings surprisingly well. Dill is my favorite so far. Then you have the pig portion of the meal. Ham steak, streaky bacon, it’s all fair game.
The you have the burger, the old American stalwart. Again, super hard to screw up, but even harder to stand out. You also don’t have to wait in line at Umami Burger to get a good one. The blend of meat that goes into the patty (LaFrieda is king here), the cheese, bun all have a universe of possibilities. In my opinion, the more fat you start with in your meat, the better. Any burger that has short rib within 10 feet of it’s name is almost guaranteed to have a great flavor and texture. As pricy as it was, the $25 Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern was really something special. The patty there was made of prime dry-aged neef cuts. The choice of caramelized onions was awesome, as was skipping the cheese, as the patty stood completely on its own. Cave aged cheddar, which Peels employs, has made for a notable meal. And of course, the bun is there to keep your fingers (relatively) clean, or just fall apart. It doesn’t even have to be a traditional bun. Whitman’s makes a patty melt that comes between two slices of a Blue Ribbon Pullman loaf.
The best thing about these two dishes is that they’ll never get old. As long as restaurants keep experiments, coming and going, there’s always going to be an awesome variation!
Robert Frost extolled the path not taken in his famous poem. It was a tribute to bucking the trend, and finding a place that was your own. In the go go go world of the tech industry, there are fewer paths untrodden, and many of them look wrong. And yet there are just as many reasons to go along those paths. Those reasons are specific to each context, and may look sunnier or darker depending on what lays along that path.
After seeing many of these paths, and knowing that each one looks different to everyone, the only way to truly determine the wrong path is to wholeheartedly walk down a path as if it were the right one. My favorite learning experiences have been when I pursued paths that seemed right, but were not. When determining the right path to take, sometimes the best thing to do is pick a path, walk down it, and see if you get where you need to go.
Here’s to walking down each path as if it were right.
The internet is hostile. Not because of trolls or flame wars or your opinion on gay marriage, but because people want to destroy you. For absolutely no fucking reason. DDoS attacks are the scariest thing in the world to someone running a website.
The alerts will trickle in at first. It’ll just be a web sever or two that’s squawking. Then more. Then external monitoring will go off. Pingdom will mark you as down, a painful insult to your hard work, and numerous nines. Then all of the web servers will alert as down. And those alerts will keep coming. For a large infrastructure, potentially hundreds. You’ll have to quit email, or turn off notifications, or the cacophony of dings and vibrations will rattle around your brain and wrestle away whatever modicum of clarity you may have. SSH hangs, pings fail, your jump server gets squirrelly, and panic mounts. Tell your boss to get on chat. Don’t email, text, or call, because those channels will be fucked, occupied by automated alerts, hosting providers, vendors, and other team members.Go for it
After much neglect, and a few insane weeks, I’ve finally gotten the time to update a few things in my daily toolkit. First, RSS; I’ve decided to go all in with Feedly. I’ve found it to be a great cross-platform candidate that’s had to deal with a lot of scaling challenges in a very, very short period of time. I give them a lot of credit for building a massive platform and being able to continue to add features to what looks like a web app with great potential. At the moment, my only real gripe would be a progress indicator in the browser of the iOS app.Go for it
There was a period where I was insanely into RSS. It was what I did every time I sat down at the computer. I fired up the Google Reader tab, and spent hours in there. I pored over everything, and it was a really fun game to try and get through everything and still retain at least one useful piece of information from my frenzied filtering. That was usually the case, as at that time, I had a pretty tightly curated list of feeds.Go for it
The DevOps mentality of “measure everything” can be really helpful in key moments when you need to make decisions. In particular, deploying two things side by side for the purposes of measurement can yield super helpful decision making information. For example, the Behance team was wanted to see how APC stacked up against Zend Opcode Cache.Go for it
“The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots. If you’re not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one.” -Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny
The worst arguments I’ve ever had were with people who weren’t willing to bend on policy in situations where the policy made no sense. Context is everything, and most policy is made for a situation that has likely come and gone.
People with judgment will recognize this, especially in the context of running startups. Hopefully, they were the same person that made the original policy, and can see that things have changed. Smart companies have fewer policies, implicitly trusting their teams to make the right decision.
The takeaway here is that you can judge organizations and people based on how beholden they are to policy. Smart ones let you make smart decisions.
As we all may have some idea of at this point, performance on the web is one of the keys to success. However, finding actionable performance metrics can be a challenge. In the course of a web request, there’s a lot of stuff that happens. I’ll briefly explain it here in a couple run-on sentences.
When you click on a link, your browser or client looks up the location of the server via DNS, and then sends off an HTTP request, then your poorly secured router passes it on to the demons that are your local ISP, who then fiendishly pass that same request up to a backbone, which then traverses continents, oceans or even hemispheres, finally arriving at the data center or poorly ventilated closet where the web servers for that particular site live. That web server reads in that request for your stuff (probably porn, you sicko), and begins whatever its process may be to assemble the initial HTML payload, which hopefully involves validating that the way you asked for said stuff is correct, and if it is, then connecting to a database to actually get that lovely stuff, receiving a response, and puts together an HTML page with that data on it, plus references (more on those later) to CSS and JS to format the data in a way that makes sense, and even make it look a little purty. After that exhausting operation, the web server will take the opposite route through the backbone to the succubus ISP, through your router to your computer to your browser. Once that happens, you technically only have the payload HTML, which by itself isn’t a whole lot of fun, so then the browser will read aforementioned references to CSS and JS, and then make web requests for each of those files, which, btw, will follow the same process as the initial HTML payload went through, until you have all of the CSS and JS. Then you can finally improve your mind by thoughtfully reflecting on the highly intellectual prose you requested not too long ago.Go for it