A great cause, especially now

I listened to an interview today with a German doctor who is part of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). He talked about Ebola and was impressively clear and convincing about the topic. I learned more in 20 minutes than in all the previous weeks of Ebola coverage in the news here. For example that MSF has been at the forefront of fighting this outbreak since Spring and that they’ve been sounding the alarm bells about its scale and seriousness for half a year, with the international community dragging their feet for an embarrassingly long time. His description of the conditions in affected countries, what MSF are doing to help, and why it’s pointless to panic about Ebola in Europe and the US made a lot of sense. The doctor in the interview is the head of a hospital in Switzerland, and he is headed back to Sierra Leone next week to help. It was a good reminder of what a great organization MSF is and that I had not donated to them in a while.

Podcasts I like

Colin tagged me to reveal what podcasts I listen to. I’m subscribed to a few, but these three are the ones I listen to frequently:
– The Slate Gabfest, a weekly political roundtable, smart, witty, occasionally subversive.
– Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, multi-hour long, epic history podcasts, told in a gripping and conversational style.
– The Rachel Maddow Show, her audio only podcast is fun to listen to, she has a great radio/podcast style and there are no commercials.

A trip for the ages

This summer I got the chance to travel down the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. The trip was organized by a friend of ours, Tom Huntington, a former river guide who has traveled rivers all over the world. Our group was 18 people plus guides. Most of us knew each other from having our kids grow up together, and we all got very close on this trip. We spent a day at the Grand Canyon’s rim, then got up before sunrise to hike the Bright Angel trail down to a place called Phantom Ranch at the center of the canyon where we got picked up by the boats. Then we went down the river for eight glorious days, alternately floating, going over white water rapids, stopping for waterfall hikes and lagoon swims, and setting up camp on the sandy shores every night. Beyond the amazing scenery, history, and natural beauty, I felt transformed by the simplicity, quiet, and the closeness to the elements and to my fellow travelers. I was sad to have the trip end – it’s a place I want to go back to for sure.

30 day blogging challenge: Week 2

The office space pendulum

Ash Patel, my former boss at Yahoo, told me yesterday that Yahoo’s offices these days feature all open space floor plans. When I worked there 10 years ago, everyone was in a private cube. The pros and cons of open floor plans vs private offices have been discussed at length over the years and big tech companies seem to slowly oscillate between them, once a decade switching from all private to all open and back. The current trend seems to be all open space with noise canceling headphones for the people who want privacy. Open spaces have advantages; they look better, foster more interaction, and they don’t have as much “jockeying for the nice office with the windows” going on. But they are more distracting and don’t work that well for people who need to focus for long periods of time – a private space is really helpful in that case. Ideally, an office would offer both. Open spaces for collaboration/inspiration and private spaces for taking that inspiration and turning into action. Depending on the job, I think a good balance is about 20% collaboration and 80% heads down execution (I know some people will disagree). At Automattic, we have found a balance with collaboration that happens during in person meetups and in virtual get-togethers (video conferences and chat), and execution that happens in peoples’ home offices. In centralized companies with physical offices I could imagine a similar model where the office serves as collaboration space one day per week, and the rest of the time is spent working from home (different teams could use the space on different days to avoid having it sit empty a bunch). This type of office could be really fun to create because it could be 100% focused on collaboration needs, more like a clubhouse or a cafe than a traditional office.

Deep linking

I’ve been at a conference for the last two days and a topic that’s been coming up a lot is deep linking for mobile apps. Three separate people have mentioned a company called Branch Metrics as someone who is doing interesting things in this area. Deep linking helps app developers who are looking for more ways to get people to discover their apps (among other things). The current ways are cumbersome – I’m probably not the only person who thinks that the little banners that pop up on my mobile web browser, trying to get me to install a new app, are not very effective. Clicking on those links takes too many steps (app store, password, install, app/user signup) and when the app finally runs, it starts without any of the referrer info or original context of where I came from. Seems like an area that’s about to see a lot of change and growth.