— Key piece of advice from Ben Horowitz’s excellent book, The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers.
Great quote from an Etsy seller in the Wholesale program:
What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to those just starting out?
Get in over your head and work your butt off until you’re not in over your head anymore. It feels great to conquer more than you think is surmountable.
Winter Cabin Collection came together in 2012 when the owners of Wanderlust in Portland, Oregon asked artists Mary Kate McDevitt and Fred DiMeglio to create a holiday window display for their shop, melding their distinct artistic styles. They loved the resulting designs and began to brainstorm a full line of products inspired by their collaboration. Over the next few months they designed, sketched, made a business plan and formed the limited-edition Winter Cabin Collection.
What do you love most about your job?
We love being independent and being able to work hard at a craft that we find very rewarding. The process of working together to bring ideas to fruition is endlessly exciting!
What’s your favorite product you’ve ever created?
Our favorite product is the “Hunker Down with Me” banner. We always say hunker down when we settle in for the night, and we love to watch our cat, Peppy, when she hunkers down for a good nap.
Q: How does writing lines of computer code relate to your writing lines of verse?
A: I tend to break things up into functions. If I were building a cash register, I’d build the “add” and “subtract” and “running total” functions. If I were building a book about lynching, I build “how the crowd gathers” function; “how fear works” function; the “grieving” function; the “questioning if this is the best way” function. If a poem is a tiny machine, then a volume of poetry is a car or a plane—a bunch of parts that come together to perform a larger action."
— From “Computer Engineering: A Fine Day Job for a Poet: TJ Jarrett on how her IT career fits in with her life as a writer" in The Atlantic. Always fascinated with the intersections of different types of creativity.
— The opening lines to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
— Henry Miller on getting older (source: Brainpickings).
The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I’ll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.
No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.
There is a point in one’s life when one cares about selling out and not selling out. One worries whether or not wearing a certain shirt means that they are behind the curve or ahead of it, or that having certain music in one’s collection means that they are impressive, or unimpressive.
Thankfully, for some, this all passes. I am here to tell you that I have, a few years ago, found my way out of that thicket of comparison and relentless suspicion and judgment. And it is a nice feeling. Because, in the end, no one will ever give a shit who has kept shit ‘real’ except the two or three people, sitting in their apartments, bitter and self-devouring, who take it upon themselves to wonder about such things. The keeping real of shit matters to some people, but it does not matter to me. It’s fashion, and I don’t like fashion, because fashion does not matter.
What matters is that you do good work. What matters is that you produce things that are true and will stand. What matters is that the Flaming Lips’s new album is ravishing and I’ve listened to it a thousand times already, sometimes for days on end, and it enriches me and makes me want to save people. What matters is that it will stand forever, long after any narrow-hearted curmudgeons have forgotten their appearance on goddamn 90210. What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who’s up and who’s down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say. Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.
I say yes, and Wayne Coyne says yes, and if that makes us the enemy, then good, good, good. We are evil people because we want to live and do things. We are on the wrong side because we should be home, calculating which move would be the least damaging to our downtown reputations. But I say yes because I am curious. I want to see things. I say yes when my high school friend tells me to come out because he’s hanging with Puffy. A real story, that. I say yes when Hollywood says they’ll give me enough money to publish a hundred different books, or send twenty kids through college. Saying no is so fucking boring.
And if anyone wants to hurt me for that, or dismiss me for that, for saying yes, I say Oh do it, do it you motherfuckers, finally, finally, finally."
— Dave Eggers response when asked the question in 2000: “Are you taking any steps to keep shit real?” Worth reading in its entirety by anyone who has ever been in a discussion (or been the subject of a discussion) about “selling out.”
Mike Moritz, “What the New York Times Could Have Been”
If you see this kind of unproductive infighting in your company, figure out how to capture it and turn it into positive forward movement or watch your company slowly die.
The project begins in the programmer’s mind with the beauty of a
crystal. I remember the feel of a system at the early stages of
programming, when the knowledge I am to represent in code seems lovely in its structuredness. For a time, the world is a calm, mathematical place. Human and machine seem attuned to a cut-diamond-like state of grace. Once in my life I tried methamphetamine: That speed high is the only state that approximates the feel of a project at its inception. Yes, I understand. Yes, it can be done. Yes, how straightforward. Oh yes. I see.
Then something happens. As the months of coding go on, the irregularities of human thinking start to emerge. You write some code, and suddenly there are dark, unspecified areas. All the pages of careful design documents, and still, between the sentences, something is missing. Human thinking can skip over a great deal, leap over small misunderstandings, can contain ifs and buts in untroubled corners of the mind. But the machine has no corners. Despite all the attempts to see the computer as a brain, the machine has no foreground or background. It can be programmed to behave as if it were working with uncertainty, but — underneath, at the code, at the circuits — it cannot simultaneously do something and withhold for later something that remains unknown. In the painstaking working out of the specification, line by code line, the programmer confronts an awful, inevitable truth: the ways of human and machine understanding are disjunct.
Now begins a process of frustration. The programmer goes back to the analysts with questions, the analysts to the users, the users to their managers, the managers back to the analysts, the analysts to the
programmers. It turns out that some things are just not understood. No one knows the answers to some questions. Or worse, there are too many answers. A long list of exceptional situations is revealed, things that occur very rarely but that occur all the same. Should these be programmed? Yes, of course. How else will the system do the work human beings need to accomplish? Details and exceptions accumulate. Soon the beautiful crystal must be recut. This lovely edge and that are lost. What began in a state of grace soon reveals itself to be a jumble. The human mind, as it turns out, is messy.
Gone is the calm, mathematical world. The clear, clean methedrine high is over. The whole endeavor has become a struggle against disorder. A battle of wills. A testing of endurance. Requirements muddle up; changes are needed immediately. Meanwhile, no one has changed the system deadline. The programmer, who needs clarity, who must talk all day to a machine that demands declarations, hunkers down into a low-grade annoyance. It is here that the stereotype of the programmer, sitting in a dim room, growling from
behind Coke cans, has its origins. The disorder of the desk, the floor; the yellow post-it notes everywhere; the white boards covered with scrawl: all this is the outward manifestation of the messiness of human thought. The messiness cannot go into the program; it piles up around the programmer.
Soon the programmer has no choice but to retreat into some private
interior space, closer to the machine, where things can be accomplished. The machine begins to seem friendlier than the analysts, the users, the managers. The real-world reflection of the program — who cares anymore? Guide an X-ray machine or target a missile; print a budget or a dossier; run a city subway or a disk-drive read/write arm: it all begins to blur. The system has crossed the membrane — the great filter of logic, instruction by instruction — where it has been cleansed of its linkages to actual human life.
The goal now is not whatever all the analysts first set out to do; the
goal becomes the creation of the system itself. Any ethics or morals or second thoughts, any questions or muddles or exceptions, all dissolve into a junky Nike-mind: Just do it. If I just sit here and code, you think, I can make something run. When the humans come back to talk changes, I can just run the program. Show them: Here. Look at this. See? This is not just talk. This runs. Whatever you might say, whatever the consequences, all you have are words and what I have is this, this thing I’ve built, this operational system. Talk all you want, but this thing here: it works.
— Someone asked me recently, “Why are engineers so cranky sometimes?” I emailed this excerpt from Ellen Ullman’s Close to the Machine. It’s the best thing I’ve read on what it feels like to struggle against the machine when coding (and at 17 years old, still timeless).