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Excerpts from Jamie Zawinski’ Diary ›

Here are some excerpts from my diary during the first few months of the existence of Netscape Communications (All Praise the Company), back when we were still called Mosaic. Back when there were only 20 or 30 of us, instead of however-many thousands of people there are today. Back before we had any middle managers.

This is the time period that is traditionally referred to as “the good old days”, but time always softens the pain and makes things look like more fun than they really were. But who said everything has to be fun? Pain builds character. (Sometimes it builds products, too.)

[…]

Thursday, 28 July 1994, 11pm.

I slept at work again last night; two and a half hours curled up in a quilt underneath my desk, from 11am to 1:30pm or so. That was when I woke up with a start, realizing that I was late for a meeting we were scheduled to have to argue about colormaps and dithering, and how we should deal with all the nefarious 8-bit color management issues. But it was no big deal, we just had the meeting later. It’s hard for someone to hold it against you when you miss a meeting because you’ve been at work so long that you’ve passed out from exhaustion.

[…]

Thursday, 11 August 1994, 2am.

I saw Ian today, for the first time in months. His first words were, “Wow, you look like shit.” He says I seem really strung-out and twitchy. I thought I had been doing ok! I got a full night’s sleep last night and everything. I have no life. I never see any of my non-work friends, and I’m wasting away my one and only youth. I ought to be out doing fun things and active things, the kind of things I won’t be able to do when my mind and body finally decay. But instead I’m stuck inside under fluorescent lights, pushing bits around inside a computer in ways that are only interesting to other nerds. I glanced at a movie listing and there are movies out that I haven’t even heard of. How did that happen? That freaks me out.

I bought some wrist braces at a drug store, and I’ve been typing with them for a couple of days. I don’t think it’s helping much; my middle finger doesn’t hurt quite as much, but my ring finger is just as bad. This job is destroying my body. This can’t be worth it.

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky ›

We Allow “Passion” To Be Used Against Us ›

We allow “passion” to be used against us. When we like our work, we let it be known. We work extremely hard. That has two negative side effects. The first is that we don’tlike our work and put in a half-assed effort like everyone else, it shows. Executives generally have the political aplomb not to show whether they enjoy what they’re doing, except to people they trust with that bit of information. Programmers, on the other hand, make it too obvious how they feel about their work. This means the happy ones don’t get the raises and promotions they deserve (because they’re working so hard) because management sees no need to reward them, and that the unhappy ones stand out to aggressive management as potential “performance issues”. The second is that we allow this “passion” to be used against us. Not to be passionate is almost a crime, especially in startups. We’re not allowed to treat it as “just a job” and put forward above-normal effort only when given above-normal consideration. We’re not allowed to “get political” and protect ourselves, or protect others, because we’re supposed to be so damn “passionate” that we’d do this work for free. 

What most of us don’t realize is that this culture of mandatory “passion” lowers our social status, because it encourages us to work unreasonably hard and irrespective of conditions. The fastest way to lose social status is to show acceptance of low social status. For example, programmers often make the mistake of overworking when understaffed, and this is a terrible idea. (“Those execs don’t believe in us, so let’s show them up by… working overtime on something they own!”) To do this validates the low status of the group that allows it to be understaffed. 

Executives, a more savvy sort, lose passion when denied the advancement or consideration they feel they deserve. They’re not obnoxious about this attitude, but they don’t try to cover it up, either. They’re not going to give a real effort to a project or company that acts against their own interests or lowers their own social status. They won’t negotiate against themselves by being “passionate”, either. They want to be seen as supremely competent, but not sacrificial. That’s the difference between them and us. Executives are out for themselves and relatively open about the fact. Programmers, on the other hand, heroize some of the stupidest forms of self-sacrifice: the person who delivers a project (sacrificing weekends) anyway, after it was cancelled; or the person who moves to San Francisco without relocation because he “really believes in” a product that he can’t even describe coherently, and that he’ll end up owning 0.05% of. 

What executives understand, almost intuitively, is reciprocity. They give favors to earn favors, but avoid self-sacrifice. They won’t fall into “love of the craft” delusions when “the craft” doesn’t love them back. They’re not afraid to “get political”, because they realize that work is mostly politics. The only people who can afford to be apolitical or “above the fray”, after all, are the solid political winners. But until one is in that camp, one simply cannot afford to take that delusion on. 

If programmers want to be taken seriously, and we should be taken seriously and we certainly should want this, we’re going to have to take stock of our compromised position and fix it, even if that’s “getting political”. We’re going to have to stop glorifying pointless self-sacrifice for what is ultimately someone else’s business transaction, and start asserting ourselves and our values. 

I feel like you could substitute programmers with designers and almost all of the points made would remain valid.

Leah Reich — The Mixtape ›

One, his song was Ray LaMontagne Hold You In My Arms.

The night I wore a strapless sundress and he wore a tailored suit jacket, the way we were drunk and our bodies were hot, the way he pulled me close to him in the crowded bar and whispered the words into my ear from behind. My limbs went loose like I was stuffed with buckwheat hulls, and every part of me tingled except the part that could think about the meaning of the song.

He put it on a mix for me when I had to leave him for the summer and maybe longer. It was a whole CD of music he loved, some from the United States, some from Central America, all new to me.

I drove back to Orange County with the CD in my car. I listened to the entire CD a few times to be sure of each song. Then it was hundreds of miles of Ray singing You Are The Best Thing followed by Ray singing Hold You In My Arms and me feeling around the edges of uncertainty and hope as my eyes welled up each and every time. Just before the Grapevine I stopped and sat in my car, looking around me at the cradle of mountains holding clouds glowing pink and blue from the setting sun. I called him, and he answered.

Alex Payne — Alone Together, Again ›

I am in a stranger’s apartment in Reykjavik, and for the first time in almost five years, I am truly alone.

Two months ago my life was as per David Byrne’s enthusiastically confused yelps: beautiful house, beautiful wife, not one but two large automobiles. I had a job that seemed like the job I should have at a company I was proud of. I lived in a city that I had carefully chosen to live in, a city that I thought was going to be my home for some time.

Nobody’s life ever really falls apart, exactly. Lives unravel, thread by thread. First, I came to realize that the job wasn’t the right job. Then the city wasn’t the right city. Two threads loose, easily stitched back in; there are other jobs, other cities. Our house went on the market. I resigned.

Then, a month ago, the person I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with came home from a neighborhood-scouting trip to a place we were intent on moving back to. “We need to talk”. Never good. “I can’t do this anymore. We’re just too different”. The seam, ripped.

That was Saturday evening. 

Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.
— Kurt Vonnegut

John Cotter — On Losing Music ›

Music is color. When you’re young you’re the hero of a movie, and the Heifetz you play in your car or the Velvet Underground you first try out sex to isn’t just background, it’s location and weather. You feel it on your skin.

So many of the big, meaningful scenes of my life have become centered, in my memory, around music, and not just concerts (though concerts are huge). I think of the time I spent every last dollar I owned on a 3-disc set of Einstein on the Beach and put it into the stereo while I drank coffee and thought about finding a real job; from the first notes (the numbers, chanted) I felt like I’d walked into a new life. Or the time Adam and I spent an hour driving through fogbound Portland, Maine and playing Genesis’s “Mama” over and over, not able to get enough of its brutal camp. There was the time Coleen and I debated the respective merits of various Johnny Cash records on New Year’s Eve while apportioning drugs on the back of one of the jewel cases. Or when Jaime and I realized, after seven years, off and on, that it was finished between us, this time for good, but she hung around my tiny apartment all afternoon because neither of us wanted our new lives to start quite yet. I played her Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer 1914”—she’d never heard it, didn’t know who Barber was—and we listened to every note and were ourselves silent, wholly owned, her cigarette smoke uncurling above us.

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