All posts by Stu


My mom heads home on Saturday. We have a few things left to do. This morning, we covered one of the most important ones: some rest and relaxation time over a massage and visit to a nearby spa! It was lovely.

One thing we’ll tackle this afternoon is notifications overload. My mom is way ahead of most of her peers with her use of technology. She has an iPhone 6S and regularly uses it for email, text messaging, Facebook, and Uber. Her least favorite thing about it is all the “messages that keep popping up.” As she describes it, my sisters and I have been regularly sending her messages and suggesting friends for her to connect with on Facebook. Additionally, she says that lots of people she doesn’t know send her messages asking to become Facebook friends.

This is a fine example of an opportunity to improve product design. I see a couple issues:
– First and most obviously, Facebook defaults to way more notifications than she wants to receive. I understand how Facebook’s product team got there: engagement is a key metric, and notifications can pull users into the app. Just like spam eventually ruined email, notifications spam will eventually ruin mobile apps.
– She misreads the friend suggestions that Facebook’s algorithms send her — some because they are friends of friends, some for other reasons — as suggestions from people. I also understand how Facebook’s product team got there: adding personal touches like the name of a mutual friend is powerful. But my mom has completely lost interest in Facebook — and she was sincerely annoyed at me for spamming her — because the Facebook product team was too aggressive.

I see this kind of “crappiness creep” pretty regularly. A team is focused on a metric (engagement! number of friends!). Each person who joins the team tries to make their own improvements. Eventually, their combined efforts cross the invisible line where — regardless of the short-term improvements — they make the product crappier and reduce its long-term appeal.

A big reason this happens is alignment of incentives. A company like Facebook works for advertisers, who provide its revenue, not users. As a result, Facebook’s interests are aligned with and pulled toward the advertising industry and its habits. Those ad industry habits happen to include spamming users (e.g. interrupting a perfectly good TV show every 7-8 minutes with four or five ads) and misleading users (e.g. infinite examples of snake oil sales my latest least favorite is the company Lifelock). So there is an inevitable pull of Facebook’s product decisions into that direction.

They just don’t work for users that well, especially my mom! We’ll clean up her settings this afternoon.

Visit to the coast, take 2

My mom enjoyed her Monday visit to the coast so much we went again! We began with a trip to a local grocer, Robert’s in Woodside, where we picked up sandwiches and drinks for a picnic. Then we drove out along State highway 84 to Highway 1, turned left, and headed toward San Jose.

Our first stop was at Costanoa, a family camping area where we go with the kids each year. We did a quick tour, used the restrooms (or “Comfort stations” as they are called, and took a selfie next to the tents we stayed in a few weeks ago:

Back on the road, where we stopped at a pull off along the coast for this lovely view:

Then it was on to the main event… a picnic! We looked at a few spots along the way and ended up settling on the bench on a little spit of land at the very western end of Cliff Dr in Santa Cruz, right next to Natural Bridges State Park. It was magnificent, with 180+ degree views of Monterey Bay. We sat there for about 90 minutes, enjoying our sandwiches and the views. Mom even did some her daily exercise on the path along the coast!

Finally, we loaded up the car and drove back, staying up in the mountains as long as possible enjoying this magnificent view of the Bay Area from San Francisco all the way down to San Jose:

Book report: Children of Time

If the girls are going to do book reports this summer, I can do them too! Here’s one on my first book of summer reading, following the same format the girls use.

Title: Children of Time
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pages: 609 pages

Setting: A few thousand years in the future, after humankind has fought itself to the point of destroying the Earth and the remains of the human race have fled to other planets.

Characters: Avrana Kern is a brilliant scientist leading an expedition to create a new planet that can be home for humanity. Portia is a brave warrior and explorer on the planet. Bianca is a wise and courageous scientist. Holsten is a historian trying to help everyone avoid the mistakes of the past. Lain is an engineer who understands the technology better than anyone else.

Main events: Dr. Kern and her team travel far away from earth to try and transform a planet so it can be habitable by humans. A remnant of humanity’s instinct for conflict causes something to go wrong. A few thousand years later, another group of people finds the planet. Meanwhile, on the surface, a new society is forming.

Problem/Conflict: Two groups want to live on this planet, which is the only one any of them could live on. They have great difficulty communicating with each other. Who will survive?

Conclusion/Resolution: The two groups find a way to communicate, but only after fighting, and realize they share the same goals and principles. They set out to live together on the planet.

Favorite part: I most enjoyed all technology and exciting capabilities in the story. Each was a bit fantastical (humans able to hibernate for 1000 years? near light speed travel?), but just credible enough to seem possible. Dreams of new technology are always inspirational to me.

Visit to the coast

My mom is visiting for a week. This is her first time in California in a couple of years, so we have a lot of catching up to do. Today we headed out to the coast.

First stop was the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a hotspot for tidepooling thanks to its extensive reefs and rocks at low tide. It was blustery, but lovely, as you can see from this shot in the beach:

I also got this fun panaroama shot from the same bench on a bit of land which stuck out in between two bays:

Next stop was the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, where we enjoyed a delightful brunch from a table overlooking the ocean. Mom even found a single dish that combines two of her favorite foods: Eggs Benedict and Dungeness Crab!

We then walked along the bluff at the Ritz for a few minutes, before retiring to the deck chairs in front of the hotel for an hour of pleasant conversation overlooking the 18th Green of the Ritz’s Old Course:

Afterwards, we drove down the coast and stopped at San Gregorio Beach to drink in a bit more salt air. We sat on a bluff above the beach for about a half hour, enjoying this great view:

Finally, we headed home for a well-deserved nap!


I’ve been having trouble “disconnecting” as I ease into my sabbatical, spending too much time on my computer. So, after a few days of cleaning up personal paperwork and a busy morning today helping my Mom with some of hers, I decided to take “disconnecting” more literally:

My laptop is in the shop (aka at the Apple Store) getting new parts installed to address some Retina display issues and a side of wonky USB-C ports). And my 27″ high resolution LG 5K monitor is on its way back to LG to get a retrofit with some extra shielding that wasn’t in the first set of production items.

And I’m on my iPhone for any “work” and mostly just reading on my iPad. Ahhhhh nice.


Our journal topic tonight was emoji, and both girls just described their favorites. I’ll tell you mine, but first a word on emoji more broadly. They started off in the late 1990s, used by a Japanese communications company, NTT DoCoMo, to differentiate its i-mode mobile internet service. As mobile phones have grown along with international multi-lingual texting, they became universal. The name itself comes from Japanese:

絵 (e ≅ picture) 文 (mo ≅ writing) 字 (ji ≅ character)

Emoji are currently “managed” by Unicode, a standards organization that defines character encoding on modern computer systems. Before emoji, it was pretty obscure (even for a global standards body). Since emoji, its work has become widely known and appreciated even if the organization itself has stayed pretty low-key.

Emoji are defined in general terms with a description and a rough line drawing. Each platform then implements its own interpretation of them. For a complete list of all current emoji, and their different implementations across Apple, Google, Facebook, and other products, see the latest full emoji list from Unicode. For example, here’s the first row in the food-vegetable category which shows the various images associated with the avocado emoji:

Every year or so, Unicode releases a new set of emoji. Here’s a list of all emoji broken down the year they were added. 2015 brought the burrito and pink unicorn which became instant classics in our household. And, to finish the emoji theme Claire and Juliet started, 2016 brought my current personal favorite:

Culture shock

A sabbatical is great though it’s taking some time, after running at full speed for so long, to find a lower gear. I’m missing the satisfaction of thinking through — and solving — a lot of work issues each day. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to settle into a more mellow pace where I get as much reward relaxing for the day with a book as from solving a dozen puzzles at work.

First two days of sabbatical

When I left for my sabbatical last week, I shared some goals with my colleagues:

So what am I going to do?
After a frenetic five years at a8c, I want to retrain my brain to focus for more than 20 minutes at a time so plan to read long books, avoid web browsers, go outdoors, and write. I’m excited about lots of family time — my girls have already told me they want to spend “daddy’s summer vacation” playing Minecraft, coding together, visiting amusement parks, and eating ice cream. I’ll also have some long visits with my mom, which is particularly meaningful after my dad passed away early this month. We’re planning a few short trips but are resisting the temptation of a big one. I may (or may not) clean out our garage. I will certainly play with my new drone and any other gadgets that come along.

Yesterday and today were my first few days. How am I doing?

I walked the girls to school, started and wrote in journals, cooked dinner for the family. Both days. I also did some prep for my mom’s visit Thursday, caught up on eight weeks of The Economist and four weeks of bills, at healthy(er) lunches, and brought some treats for Katherine (fancy cheeses!) and me (Oban!). I watched the keynote to an Apple developer conference (gadgets!), read a fun sci-fi book, and started the new season of House of Cards.

I also did a little too much work trying to wrap up a few things. Fortunately, that is winding down.

A good start…. and a lot to look forward to!


Claire, Juliet and I will be doing some journals this summer here on this blog. Why journals? For the girls, learning to express yourself with words is a big part of what they’re learning in second and fourth grades. For our family, it’s just fun doing things together.

For me, I’m looking for a change from the writing I’ve been doing lately. At Automattic, where we communicate mostly over text, I churn out a lot of words (15,000 or so a month). But it’s a certain kind of writing — fact-driven, rapid fire, driven by the breakneck pace of interactivity. Stylistically, it feels​ to me like the writing equivalent of empty calories. I’m looking for a space to savor the words, rhythm, and structure of writing.

10th anniversary week

Katherine and I celebrated our 10th anniversary last week. That night, we returned to Town Hall, the restaurant where we had our wedding reception, for a family dinner. We tried to explain to the girls what a wedding is and all the different things that happen at a reception; they mostly cared about the cake. The following week the girls had spring break so we headed for a 5 day visit to Calistoga in the northern part of Napa Valley. We started off with two days for just Katherine and me, including a day at the spa and a great dinner at our swank hotel (including a yummy bottle of wine). My sister Mona flew down from Seattle and spent those days with the girls including a trip to the Pt. Reyes lighthouse. Then the girls joined us in what they called “Calistogia” for a few days of lounging by the pool, playing bocce, visiting giraffes and zebras and rhinos at a nearby wildlife preserve, hiking on Mount St. Helena, and biking into town for breakfast in the morning. Photos below.