My Friend Cindy Li

Cindy Li and Brian posing with silly glasses
Cindy Li smiling on top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco

I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years.  I’ve liked most of them, been friends with a lot of them, and loved many of them.  Cindy was definitely in the last category.

Cindy Li and I became fast friends and co-conspirators while we both worked at AOL.  We were on the CSS Working Group together.  We went to SxSW Interactive many many times (we had different but overlapping “gangs” at SxSW but we always intersected somehow during the conference – sometimes in the green room, where we’d try to distract each other’s panelists).  We went to countless dinners, lunches and dim sum brunches.  We caused trouble.  With our pal Jason, we built ficlets and came up with a t-shirt that became a bit of a sensation.

Matt Harris, Patrick Haney and Jason Garber sporting the Geeks Love * shirt at dim sum.

Cindy died on Monday, 10/15/2018. Cindy was amazing. She was equal parts creative, silly, kind, funny and smart.  She was a perfect co-conspirator.  She could take bad ideas and make them brilliant.  She effortlessly seemed to rally people to join the Cindy Li Vortex of Fun Adventures.

Cindy and Kevin making stupid faces for the camera.
Cindy tormenting Jason, one of her faaaavorite pasttimes.
Cindy, about to chow down on a steak at Austin’s Hoffbrau

Cindy brought people together.  She was the ultimate connector, and even though she’s gone, the connections she made with all of the people she impacted all over the world will remain.  After she was diagnosed, Cindy organized a small group of friends from all over the world into her support system.  We were all around, talking to each other about how best to help her and her family, and the whole while she was sick, she was there being the life of the party, right up until the end.  Even with her illness, she was connecting people and spreading love, kindness and empathy.

She was a vortex of love, and fun, and whimsy, and adventure, and you weren’t just along for the ride, you were an integral part of it. I don’t think anyone who knew Cindy thought they were anything less than 100% included and in on the joke, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing.  She was that way until the day she left, I imagine riding a Hello Kitty cloud on her way to organize an adventure with St. Peter and redecorate the gates of Heaven.

Her friends organized a site for sharing memories of Cindy as a way to share with her how much she means to all of us, and as a way for her sons to understand what she meant to us when they’re older.  You can share your own memory of Cindy by following the instructions there, read her obituary, and help her kids out if you’re able.

Reviving Old Recipes: Carolina Rice and Wheat Bread

Carolina Rice and Wheat Bread

I’ve had this obsession with old community cookbooks for a couple of years now, snatching them up whenever I find them at thrift stores, flea markets, etc.  There are two shelves on our big bookcase full of spiral bound journals of recipes from as early as 1933 and as late as 1991.  Honestly, I prefer the older ones.  Starting in around 1960, everything has at least one tin of salmon or tuna and a bucket of mayo in it.

Then I found The Carolina Housewife, which isn’t really a community cookbook.  It was published in 1847 anonymously, but most likely written by Sarah Rutledge.  I found a copy on Amazon, but it was just scanned pages, and almost impossible to read…  but what I read had me hooked.  No easy-to-read list of ingredients and step by step instructions.  Each recipe is a paragraph, full of lots of assumed knowledge (that I don’t have).  I was so fascinated, I found and ordered an old library copy on eBay and have this crazy idea that I’m going to take all the bread recipes, update them with modern ingredients and publish them.

But, I kept putting it off.  The recipes are intimidating.  But, I finally found my first one, Carolina Rice and Wheat Bread.  It took a few attempts, but I think I’ve got it.

The Original Recipe

 Simmer one pound of rice in two quarts of water until it is quite soft; when it is cool enough, mix it well with four pounds of flour, yeast and salt as for other bread; of yeast, four large spoonfuls. Let it rise before the fire. Some of the flour should be reserved to make the loaves. If the rice swell greatly, and requires more water, add as much as you think proper.

The Carolina Housewife by Sarah Rutledge

My Version

I didn’t attempt to make my own yeast for this, and it took a couple of attempts to get to this point.  Since I have no description of the taste, texture or appearance, I just baked them in loaf pans, and well, they turned out fine!  The long ferment in the fridge helps it develop flavor.  My first attempt didn’t really taste like anything.  This one, with the addition of the whole wheat flour and the longer ferment, still has a subtle flavor, but I think it’s really good.  And don’t worry about lumps of rice!  I have no idea HOW, but it all gets absorbed during mixing and kneading.

This recipe should make two large loaves.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 quart (4 cups) water (for the rice)
  • 1.5lb all-purpose flour
  • .5lb whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup of water (for the dough)
  • 2 tablespoons active dry or instant yeast
  • 1.5 tablespoons salt

Directions

  • The first step is to make the rice.  In a large saucepan, heat the rice, quart of water and a healthy pinch of salt over medium heat.  Once it starts bubbling, turn it down to medium low and simmer uncovered until the rice has absorbed almost all of the water and is really soft and sticky. 
  • Let cool to room temperature, or throw it in a bowl and refrigerate overnight.
  • Add the now-cooled rice to the bowl of your mixer, add the flours, yeast and salt and mix on low with the dough hook until the rice breaks up and the flour starts mixing with it.  Slowly add the water, about a tablespoon at a time until a shaggy sticky dough forms.  Depending on how much of the water is left in the rice you might not need all the water.  It should be just wet enough that all the flour gets absorbed into the dough.
  • Once you’ve got the shaggy sticky dough going on, turn up the mixer to 2 or 3 and knead until the dough gets smoother and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 5-7 minutes.  It’s still going to be sticky, but hey, that’s the rice!
  • Scrape the dough into a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or oiled aluminum foil and throw it in the fridge for 36-48 hours.  Check on it a couple times a day and punch it down if it looks like it’s going to jump out of the bowl.
  • Take the dough out of the fridge, cut the dough in half, form into loaves and put them into oiled loaf pans.  Let rise on the counter covered with a towel for 2.5-3.5 hours until they’ve doubled in size and a peeking over the top of the loaf pans.
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees, then take the out of the oven, remove them carefully from their pans, rub a stick of butter over the top of the crust, and let cool on a rack as long as you can stand it!
This is what my rice looked like after cooking.  It’s… not super appetizing, but it works!
Another view of the final product!

This recipe is still a work in progress.  If you try it, let me know how it goes! 

Agile Moderation

I read a lot of advice – on any social media platform it’s hard not to. Everyone spouts endlessly about hustle, self care, the grind, being the best you, on and on forever. There are memes and videos and heartfelt shout outs to gurus and coaches.

All of that advice is fine, but it always leaves me cold. It all feels so extreme and if you fall down one rabbit hole of advice or another, it will probably lead to a lot of unhealthy behavior.

I’m a developer. I’m incredibly hard on myself. I work with people who are also incredibly hard on themselves. They all seem to feel worse about themselves than I do, and I’ve been trying to figure out why – and what I do or what experience I have that tells me when to let up on the self-criticism.

It’s taken a while but I think I’ve figured it out.

I’ve been doing some form of agile development for a very long time. More than a decade but less than two. It’s fine and I’m not going to go into details about it because it doesn’t matter.

My favorite part of that process, though, is the retrospective. It’s where the entire team gets together every two weeks and answers three questions:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What are we going to do differently next time?

It’s a chance for the team to refine their process, learn how to work better with each other and improve personally. The best part is that my teams always write everything down so we have a record of our retrospectives over time so we can see our growth over time.

It’s so effective that I now use it on myself. And this is where the moderation from the title comes in. Every time something goes wrong or I’m under stress, I go through those three questions. It’s calming, and a chance to reflect and commit to doing better.

But, it’s not open ended. I can’t spent forever on how badly I messed up or on how great I did, and I always have to finish with how I’m going to improve.

That process allows me to continue to be self critical, continue to hustle and not just love through the grind of startup life, but to love it, take care of myself and be aware of what I still need to work on.

The goal of agile isn’t perfection; it’s constant, sustainable, incremental improvement. That’s a goal I can get behind for myself too.

Observing Humans Under Stress in the Airport

Being stuck in the airport is a great chance to watch people deal with disappointment and things outside of their control. Observed today:

  • The Grumbler: Vents aimlessly to anyone in earshot but not loudly or with any attempt to do anything to fix it.
  • The Busybody: Has to find something to do that’s demonstrably “doing something” about the situation because there’s nothing they can really do. Can usually be seen leaning againsr a column, gesturing wildly to someone on the other end of a phone call… who of course can’t see them. But we can. We can.
  • The Demander: must go up to the gate desk every ten minutes for an update. The more trips to the desk, the more red they are in the face and the longer their stride.
  • The Cheerleader: They’re just happy to be there and will loudly proclaim how wonderful everyone is being. Constantly fetching things for other members of their party. I have a feeling the cheerleader is the busybody when traveling solo.
  • The Relaxer/Fatalist: this is me. Weighs the situation. Decides they can’t do anything. Sits there reading and waiting for updates and silently wishing the grumbler had a better conspiracy theory and the busybody would express their distaste a little quieter.

And then there are the shell-shocked parents trying to wrangle angry toddlers who’ve had their routines even more disrupted than they would have been without a delay. These are really the only group I feel bad for. They all look so desperate for relief. Hang in there, parents. It gets easier.

Did I miss any? Who are you?

Susie King Taylor Community School

I’m on the governing board of Susie King Taylor Community School, and it’s been amazing to watch the progress the school’s made even since I joined in December. It’s a different model for Savannah, and one that I hope works well enough that it pulls the rest of the school system forward.

If you’re a business in Savannah and want to get involved with the school, teachers are always looking for people to come speak to their class, get involved with a lesson, or let a gaggle of young learners come check out businesses and see how things work. If you’ve got money to spare, we gladly accept donations. If you want to help, but don’t know how, you can reach out and get involved.

Who’s In Your Pantheon?

I haven’t finished the whole piece yet, but Pauli Murray lived an amazing life and blazed a lot of the trails people better-remembered walked.

Learning about Pauli, Susie King Taylor, Fannie Lou Hamer, Lucy Craft Laney and others… we need to expand our pantheon of heroes we learn about in school.

Think about the people in your history books from school. How many of them are men? How many are white? How many do we now know aren’t as heroic as we were taught?

It’s time to expand the pantheon to include people history tried to erase, the trailblazers who made the path others followed, and spoke truth to power when the consequences were life and death.

And maybe it’s time to retire some of those other statues that never belonged there in the first place.

Kevin’s Musical Year in Review for 2017

I’ve written these for a few years now (I could have sworn I wrote one last year, but I guess I didn’t), and I think this is the first year that it’s been harder to pick out albums than some great songs. I think Spotify may have finally broken me of my “listen to the whole album” rule since it’s easier to just fire up a playlist or daily mix than go find an album to listen to.

But, I still have my favorite songs of the year list (I’ve embedded it below) and though it’s a little smaller than previous years, there’s still over 12 hours of music in it that came out this year.

Before I get to the albums, the song of the year for me is definitely Goldfrapp’s Anymore. No, really, it’s amazing. So sexy and fun and danceable. You should listen to it a million times.

There’s been a trend for a few years now of releasing a bunch of singles to streaming services before the album gets released, and some of my favorites this years were really just EPs, so I think they should have their own section.

EPs

  • Serengeti: Kaleidoscope – Reminds me of The Submarines in the best possible way. Groovy, fun, and ripe for multiple listens. Bonus points for some lovely muted trumpet on Is It Too Late.
  • Her: Her Tape #2 – Weighing in at 17 whole minutes, they pack a whole album worth of goodness into it. This one kind of snuck up on me, with several songs showing up in various daily mixes until I listened to the whole thing. It’s beautiful, especially Swim, which will make you dance.

Albums

  • Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapés – Another great down tempo album from Ghostpoet. It’s like the best of Massive Attack with some modern hip hop.
  • Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator – Folksy, old school, clever, silly and a lot of fun… all without being cloying or annoying. It’s just… good.
  • New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions – I don’t know how they do it, but this band feels like it gets bigger with every album. I keep thinking their sound will get old or stale, and it absolutely doesn’t. One of my all-time faves that just keeps getting better.
  • Big Thief: Capacity – Kind of like if Beach House, Luna and Emma Pollock teamed up for a really sad and lovely country album. Gorgeous songs and amazing lyrics.
  • The Dears: Times Infinity Volume Two – The Dears should be bigger. Everyone should love The Dears. You need to listen to them. A little TV on the Radio, a little of a lot of other things, always good.
  • Widowspeak: Expect the Best – Dreamy, fuzzy, and ethereal. I love this band unconditionally and they can do no wrong. This album is as good as all their others, and that’s saying a lot.
  • Said the Whale: As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide – Is it wrong to love pop? No. No it isn’t, especially when it’s this good. Also, it’s even less wrong when the band is Canadian for some reason. So, yeah, just listen. You’ll like it.
  • Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice – This is way more grown up than her last album, and that’s alright, I guess, though I absolutely loved Sometimes I Sit and Thing, and Sometimes I Just Sit. I’m alright with growing up, I guess.
  • The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding – Mostly for the song Holding On which feels like a huge 70’s rock callback, but is also just a great song. The rest of the album is fine too, really.

Musical Discoveries

  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones: I’d heard of them, but never listened until they were coming to Savannah for a show and a bunch of my friends gushed about them. Now I’m sad I missed the show, because this band is great. I listen to them in the kitchen (unapologetic revival soul is perfect baking music).
  • Big Sam’s Funky Nation: Another concert-related discovery. These guys played Revival Fest this year and blew the doors off. Their albums are good, but their live show is insanely great. If you ever get the chance to join Funky Nation, you should rush to renounce whatever citizenship you need to in order to get in.
  • Flunk: I should have heard of this band before this year, because they’re in my wheelhouse. They’re a perfect trip hop throwback, a little like Portishead, and I could listen to them all day at work.

There you go, my musical 2017. Enjoy the playlist below, and here’s to an acoustically pleasing 2018!

On Uncomfortable Topics: Rules and Sexual Harassment

I realized I’ve never written these down, so… here are the rules I try to follow, and that I’ve given my kids in some form or another over the years. I haven’t always followed them, because I honestly didn’t know they were a problem, and needed to be rules. Some of them are a lot easier to follow because I’m married. Some of them still require work, because I’ll hopefully never be done getting better.

There are a lot of reasons we need to stamp out sexual harassment. The first being that women are human beings and deserve to be allowed to not be threatened, abused, molested or coerced… ever, anywhere. I’d hope that would go without saying, but, it apparently needs to be said… a lot.

If we make our communities, workplaces, families, churches, etc, places where people feel threatened, uncomfortable or violated, then they’re not going to be productive. We’re missing out on their ideas, their contributions, their genius, because some of us can’t control our urges. The benefits of creating inclusive, diverse and welcoming places is that we get to benefit from everyone’s contributions. If we’re doing something that decreases someone’s ability to participate, then we should stop. That sounds stupid when we’re talking about sexual harassment, but if you can’t be convinced to treat women as equal humans, then maybe a productivity argument is what you need?

So, I said there were rules. Here they are. This list isn’t complete, but it’s a start:

  1. Don’t touch people unless you ask them first, AND THEY SAY YES. If someone is asleep, they can’t say yes. If someone is passed out, they can’t say yes.
  2. You never have to hug or touch anyone you don’t want to. If you’re a man, don’t initiate a hug unless you’ve been hugged by that person before.
  3. Do not, or attempt to, date people you have power or influence over. If you’re in management, don’t ever attempt to date anyone at work.
  4. Don’t stare. You can conquer “the male gaze”. It makes people really uncomfortable, is objectifying, and is just a bad habit – so break it.
  5. Don’t talk about, or comment on, other peoples’ bodies.
  6. Be kind. Be gentle. Be someone people can feel comfortable and safe around.

I honestly have no idea if I’ve ever harassed anyone, but I’m sure I’ve made people uncomfortable, and I’m sorry. Hopefully, I’m better now than I was, and I’ll be better tomorrow than I am today.

I appreciate the women who do speak up, and especially the women over the years who were brave enough to tell me their harassment stories, and take the time to educate me, and point me in the right direction.

This isn’t fun to talk about, but we have to stop forcing women to run the gauntlet of abuse it takes to report harassment and abuse. Men, this is OUR problem to solve, because we’re the perpetrators. If you work with harassers, pull them aside, talk to them. Report them. We have to police ourselves, and be better.

Coding is a Social Activity

You’ve probably heard about that manifesto that some techbro at Google wrote. This is the response I wish I would have written.

A couple things to highlight and emphasize:

  • Writing software is about understanding problems, and to understand problems, you have to not only know how to solve them with code, but know the root cause of the problem. That requires building empathy. Without it, you’ll never be great.

  • There’s no such thing as “male” or “female” skills. They’re just skills. That people put them in buckets says more about the broken rigid gender roles in our society than the quality or value of those skills. Empathy is much harder to develop than learning how to code.

  • The dude should have talked to some non-bro humans before publishing that crap. They would have, hopefully, gently slapped him around intellectually and convinced him not to be stupid in such a public way.

  • Guys, every single woman you know who’s ever had a job or worked in any situation where men are present has dealt with things you can’t even imagine. Not most. ALL of them. If they haven’t told you about any of them, you probably have a lot of work to do on empathy, because they don’t think you can handle it, or you’re kind of a jerk.

This isn’t totally related, but it’s related enough and I wanted to write about it, so here it goes.

Sara Soueidan tweeted yesterday about other peoples’ productivity tweets, and it got me thinking about how I keep myself motivated and keep myself from feeling too down about feeling stuck. I replied with a couple of things, and I thought I’d share them, because especially early on in my career, they were extremely helpful in keeping me going when I didn’t really have a way to measure my progress.

  • Document your progress, because it’s easy to forget. I’ve kept a work journal in various forms for the last 15 years or so, just a little record of problems I’ve solved, things I’ve worked on, etc.. Why? Because progress is easy to forget and time erases our victories. It’s easy to feel like we’re not getting anywhere when we’re only looking at the last week or so.

  • Whenever I feel down or stuck, I go back 6 months to a year and just randomly pick a day from the journal to remind myself what I was working on. It’s almost always a pretty immediate reminder of how far I’ve come. If I still feel down or stuck, I just go farther back.

In agile development, my favorite part is always the retrospective. It’s a meeting you have every 2-4 weeks where the entire team answers the following questions:

  • What went well?

  • What didn’t go well?

  • What are we going to do differently next time?

Answering those questions is a way to celebrate successes, build accountability by honestly and constructively figure out what didn’t go well and why, and then come up with a couple things to work on for the next time.

That same set of questions works really well for personal stuff too, so I have personal retrospectives all the time after stressful experiences or times I reacted to something in a way I shouldn’t have or, for me especially, when I overreacted to something.

I don’t have personal retrospectives to beat myself up. They’re not pity parties or self-destructive. They’re hopefully the same as a good team retrospective – they exist only to make sure everyone knows the part they play in the team’s success, and so everyone improves.

And that’s where the productivity tweets, and the harmfulness of judging yourself by others’ public projection of themselves, come in. Those public projections are meaningless to me. I might be able to learn some new tactics from them or a new thing to try, but trying to copy someone’s success only by observing the outward result is a recipe for disappointment.

Things to remember whenever reading any personal account of success:

  • The author is an unreliable narrator and will almost always downplay other peoples’ contributions to their success or that luck played a much larger role than they mention.

  • They’re not you. You’re not starting from the same place. You don’t have the same resources. You have different talents and skills. Do not judge yourself relative to someone else’s position because you don’t know where they started.

I was the first web developer in my group when I moved to Virginia to work in the “main office” at AOL. I had no one to measure myself against because no one else did what I did (my manager used to say, “I don’t know what you do, but everyone loves it, so… keep it up!”). I was young, and dumb, and ambitious, and… had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to be the best I could be at it.

I’m a big fan of the Golden Rule for teams. I try (and fail) to work so the other people on the team have an easier time of things. I fail at this more often than I succeed, but that’s the goal.

After my first couple of projects, I realized that I also have to practice the Golden Rule on myself. So, now, I really only compete against what I call Past Me, and I try to do my work so Future Me doesn’t think Present Me is a jerk.

This framework has worked out pretty well for work over the last almost-twenty-years. I just recently realized that it’s equally applicable to life outside of work too, and am trying to apply it to my health choices too.

I hope this is helpful to someone. Life is hard. Make it as easy as you can on yourself and others.

#YallDoGood: Shout Out Your Community’s Unsung Heroes

There are people in your community doing great things completely unnoticed, except maybe by you.

So, this weekend, maybe take a minute between the latest outrage and trying to ignore the latest outrage to give your local unsung do-gooder a high five, or buy them coffee, or a big shout out on social media to tell the world how awesome they are, so people can see that there’s good stuff happening.

Let’s call it… #YallDoGood

Cool? Get to it, y’all.