Adding oxygen to the room

Every so often, I find myself wondering about what the state of ‘blogging’ is and where it’s going. It’s often when I take vacation – when I get more time to think more broadly about things of that nature – and in those moments I often start blogging myself again. To get a feel for what it’s like to take the thoughts that are circulating in my mind and put them down. To make them concrete and then share them. In these times, I often end up wondering what Matt Mullenweg is thinking at the moment. Which is what I’m doing right now.

I’m watching this great interview between Mullenweg and Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of LinkedIn.

There’s a great, two minute discussion that caught my attention around the 10 minute mark. You can skip to it roughly using this link. Hoffman has asked for Mullenweg’s thoughts about being in an open or closed ecosystem. Matt has a great answer, where he talks a little about how he thinks about partnering on open source projects with other organisations that all have a relevant stake in making said project successful. He shares some thoughts about where WordPress(.org) is going with the improvements being made by Automattic (WordPress.com) and other organisations that wouldn’t necessarily spring to mind – such as the New York Times. It’s worth watching.

The horizon bias

One of the things I noticed upon moving to San Francisco earlier this year was how much harder it was to see the horizon than it is in Sydney (or the east coast of Australia more generally). I hadn’t really given it too much though, other than I missed seeing it and felt a great sense of calm and place on the rarer occasions when I was in a location, like Ocean Beach, where you could see it.

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Last night, I overhead a podcasts Rose was listening to which really resonated with me. The two women being interviewed were explorers, one born in the foothills of the Himalaya’s in India and the other born in Europe in place ‘similar to the scenes of The Sound of Music – rolling green hills of luscious grass.’ Both women, among other things, have ventured to Antarctica, walked 100,000 miles or completed other enormous feats of exploration. Both commented that for them, they were more at home in their natural environments that echoed their initial place of birth.

It dawned on me that, whilst I might find being in the foothills of the Himalayas quite overwhelming, others might find staring out into the expanse of the ocean similarly daunting. But because I’ve grown up doing just that, I pursue the chance to ‘check in’ with that scene every so often. It’s good for me. I have a bias towards being calm in that environment. But it’s my bias alone – others may share it but that doesn’t mean others don’t find similar peace elsewhere.

Calibration vs Measurement in 23 seconds

A couple of weeks ago we held the latest Yammer Hack Day at Yammer HQ. Hack Day comes around a few times a year at Yammer and provides people a chance to work on things they really want to work on for 2-3 days. Many people hacked on things unrelated to Yammer as well as many choosing to hack on our API and other aspects of the service. For me, I decided to hack on something a bit different. I decided I wanted to hack the physical space by opening a cafe inside the office for the three days. Also, I really just wanted to scratch my own itch and have a try at making great coffee!

On the first morning, I set up the Rancilio machine I’d borrowed from a colleague and then the grinder we’d borrowed from the excellent Joy Ride Coffee. I had trouble getting the machine going – let’s just say that my cafe, lovingly named ‘150ml’ in celebration of the metric system, had to turn many customers away on the first morning of hacking. Quickly, I ran over the road from our office to my normal coffee haunt, Ma’velous to seek their wisdom. There, they gave me a quick lesson and one thing stood out to me.

Me, getting a barista lesson at Ma'velous.

When you’re making coffee, you may see people time how long it takes for the espresso to get made from the machine. From the point the barista presses the button and starts exposing the ground coffee in the portafilter to pressurised water, to when you stop it, is ideally about 23 seconds. Easy, I thought. Put the coffee in the portafilter, whack it into the machine and then start timing and press stop at 23 seconds. Not quite. The folks at Ma’velous taught me that you actually want to stop the machine when the water changes from the rich, brown ‘coffee’ colour to be more ‘blonde’ in colour. It’s at that point you stop it. “So why 23 seconds?” I asked? They informed me that was to calibrate the grind of the machine – mostly. You don’t measure how much water you put through by seconds. Instead you calibrate how finely you’ve ground the beans by seeing how long it takes for the espresso to come through. So, if the coffee changes to a more blonde colour at around 13 or 14 seconds, it means your grind it a bit off.

There’s a lot of subtlety in all this and I don’t feel like I’m quite doing it justice in this post – It’s my first for a while – but generally I’ve thought a lot about that since. It’s so easy when given a clear metric, like time, to manage towards that. It’s left me thinking a lot about other measurements and how they provide the opportunity for calibration in other areas rather than directly changing expected behaviour – like letting the water run until 23 seconds each time and pouring a sub-par coffee each time.

Pursuing one thing

I’ve been finding myself lately being drawn to watching and reading about people that have committed their lives to the pursuit of one thing. Or one ideal. Whatever it may be, they’ve committed themselves to an idea that is larger than just their time on Earth and taken steps to practice that commitment. I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to that idea at the moment. I guess I’m just realising (again) that good things takes time, and mastering a skill over years is a pursuit worth living.

So, with this in mind, I’d like to share three films I’ve watched in the last few weeks that have this idea at their core.

1. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I’ve actually been to the restaurant next door to this place, but never realised what I was close to when I was there last year. This film had me thinking a lot. My favourite thing about it is the dedication shown by Jiro’s two sons to follow in their fathers footsteps and how much effort they put in to keeping the bar as high for their apprentices as he did for them. Also, that they require their apprentices to serve for 10 years before actually doing any cooking! That certainly sets a high bar.

2. Somm

I watched this one tonight and found it really fun. It follows 4 guys who are trying to pass the Master Sommelier’s Diploma, which is the hardest and most prestigious title for Sommelier’s in the world. They’re just as dedicated as Jiro and his sons, but in a different way. There’s a time-bound tension for these four, because they need to pass the test at a given time. That creates an element of competition and ego, but by and large the focus is on how they can continue to progress themselves and learn more about their art.

3. Kiss the Water

This one was a different focus. It follows the life of Megan Boyd, who was a fishing fly maker. The film itself wasn’t as easy to watch as the other two, but the lessons perhaps deeper. I love the romanticism behind fly fishing, even if I’ll probably never do it. Megan Boyd’s flies were famous for how well they caught Salmon, so much so that the Prince of Wales was a customer of hers. Like Jiro, she didn’t try to expand her operation as it became more and more famous – why would she? She instead continued to serve people as best she could by continuing to make these beautiful works of art whilst also teaching a few others how to.

What are the Do Lectures? A Podcast with some recent attendees…

I’ve never been to the Do Lectures, but have been a long time admirer from afar. I’ve lived vicariously through many friends that have had the chance to experience it, starting with Ross a few years ago. More recently, many of the people I love and care about in Australia headed along to the inaugural Do Lectures Australia a couple of months ago. From all reports, Sam and Mel (and everyone else) did an amazing job making that happen.

Photo by @marklobo

Two other friends that went along recently were Abi Goodfellow and Olivia Smith, who are colleagues of mine at Yammer. I wanted to chat to them about their experience of attending the Do Lectures in Wales and Australia in the last few months, and pick their brains about how that’s changed the way they view the world. I also wanted to hear some basics about the Do Lectures, so more people can find out about it. I asked Liv and Abi to explain what the Do Lectures are, why they’re so special and to provide some advice for people in filling out their own application forms. I know I’ll be using that for next years applications! The Podcast is below. Enjoy!