I’m trying the following breakdown that fits into three 25-minute time blocks (5-minute breaks in between):

  • First block: Six minutes of pre-reading. I mark an estimate of what I’ll read in the session. This time I marked off 80 pages. That was aggressive—I ended up reading 63 pages. I skimmed the chapters and wrote the names down. Then I wrote a couple questions down (How can I apply these techniques to writing and blogging?). Then I read for the remaining 19 minutes.

  • Second block: Read for the entire 25 minutes.

  • Third block: The old vomit draft. Trying to get from beginning to end. First an outline then filling in what I can. I’ll get better at this.

The chapters I’d be reading were about semi-scripted pieces and semi-scripted field pieces.

Live semi-scripted pieces

An example of a semi-scripted piece is a stunt piece, like David Letterman’s velcro suit. I mentioned in the first book note post on this that Joe Toplyn writes particularly straightforward for a book about humor. He saves that for the sidebars. I enjoyed the story he shared about developing the suit of Alka Seltzer:

A staff member tested the suit in rehearsal and, sure enough, as soon as the Alka-Seltzer started bubbling he began to suffocate.

The book also shares another principle, “Don’t literally kill anybody.” (The staff member lived.)

Semi-scripted field pieces

Everyone had their different file sharing means in college. “Back in my day…” Ok yeah actually back in my day we used DC++. One of the things that got around pretty quickly freshman year1 was this folder of Conan O’Brien clips. One of them was Triumph, the Insult Comic at the premiere of The Phantom Menace.

So I was happy to see it as an example in the book. Joe Toplyn deconstructs punchlines from the segment and explains associated pairs that could have led to it.

Triumph tells one of the only young females he found among the crowd of males, “You can choose from all kinds of guys who have no idea how to please you.”

A female fan + Star Wars fan association (“sexually inexperienced”) = “All these guys have no idea how to please you.”

Reading this, it made me realize that while some jokes may very well be ad-libbed on the spot, many were likely written ahead of filming. It’s cool to see how a segment like this could be planned.

Directives from the book

Here are my key takeaways from the book:

  • Write a lot: Writing teams probably write ten times as many jokes as appear on the screen.

  • Pick an angle: Take something real and recognizable then add an angle to it.

  • Use association lists: Association lists are the basis of getting to all of those jokes.

Cranking out jokes day in and day out doesn’t happen without some kind of structure. I found this really encouraging:

This process may seem formulaic […]

Professional writers juggle the formulas in their heads—automatically, instinctively—but that doesn’t mean the formulas don’t exist.

Now I just need to practice for twenty years.

  1. Association list: things that get around quickly + freshman year of college

He is Late-Night

I liked the format of writing separate notes for Grit. I’m giving that another shot. I write better book notes posts when I write as I read. When putting longer book notes posts together, sometimes I worry that excerpts are all coming from the same chapter. If I write while reading, I can cover sections while they’re fresh in my head. Diving back into a book’s highlights weeks or even months after reading the book means overcoming a good amount of inertia.

Comedy Writing for Late Night TV1 is by Joe Toplyn. He knows Late Night TV. In The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise asks if one of the leader’s knows the samurai well and he’s told that “he is samurai”. Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show, Late Show with David Letterman. Emmys. Everything. Joe is late night TV.

Joe distills that knowledge into straightforward breakdowns of writing techniques. It makes it clear that writing jokes can be mechanical. And if there’s a system, it can be taught and learned.

The only jokes are the jokes themselves, all pulled from jokes that aired on TV shows. He doesn’t punch up the explanations with humor. It’s straightforward. He lays out the underlying concepts, explaining how each concept is applied to all sorts of segments you see on comedy shows. The same concepts are used on the monologue, headlines, desk pieces, sketches, prop pieces, and on and on.

When I was a kid, my dad taped2 The Tonight Show. While I got ready for school, my dad would be drinking coffee and watching Jay Leno3. There’s an interesting morning ritual. Years later, my dad lost The Tonight Show and the Sonics in a very short, very rough span.

I’ll continue writing a couple notes posts as I read through the book. And sometime down the road I’ll try writing a few jokes. It’s gonna be very rough.

  1. It’s not available on Kindle so it’s the second physical book I’ve bought this year (the first is Ego is the Enemy).

  2. If you don’t know what “taping a show” is, then you probably weren’t alive when my dad was taping The Tonight Show.

  3. I’m part of a generation that seems to hate Jay Leno because of the whole Conan O’Brien feud. Whatever, I like him.

No internet, no laughing

Klosterman writes about starting his career as a writer without the internet.

It allowed me to have an experience that is not exactly unique, but that will never again be replicated: I started my professional career in a world where there was (essentially) no Internet at all, and I’ll end my professional career in a world where the Internet will be (essentially) the only thing that exists.

Not that I want to go back, but I’m glad I have some memory of a time without the internet. I’m also happy I could see it evolve to what we have today.

I read But What if We’re Wrong on a Kindle on the iPhone app. Highlights and notes are available at all times. I could switch to different books. I could switch and text friends for a few minutes. I could switch and watch the TED talk on the multiverse. I could switch and decide what food to order for 20 minutes.


Klosterman points out the rate of change for different activities. TV viewing in 2016 is totally different than 1996. Further back, TV viewing in 1976 is also very different from 1996. He contrasts that with the experience of going to a theater, which hasn’t changed all that much in the same span.

The movies themselves have changed. I walked by a Jurassic Park 20th anniversary poster a few years ago. That didn’t seem right but of course it was. Then I thought about 1993. Star Wars wasn’t even 20 yet.

Then I started thinking through other things on this 20 years back, 20 years forward scale.

Food: Yesterday I scrolled through options on Seamless for 20 minutes. If I was heading out, I’d probably do the same but on Yelp. In 1996 I feel like you went to like 5 places and those were your places. I was also ten so this exercise might not be perfect. In 2036 I’ll look up etiquette for tipping the robot car.

Talking to friends: Yesterday I texted friends in New York, Florida, California, and my brother in Washington. In 1996 this experience would be somewhat replicable with a desktop computer. Again, I was ten and had no access to the internet. But instant messaging existed so this is a surprisingly static experience. Text isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so 2036 might look kind of the same.

Talking to friends, pt II: In 1996, I could call them but it’d cost a lot of money. Klosterman talks about this:

as a college student in the early nineties, I knew of several long-term romantic relationships that were severed simply because the involved parties attended different schools and could not afford to make long-distance calls, even once a week. In 1994, the idea of a sixty-minute phone call from Michigan to Texas costing less than mailing a physical letter the same distance was still unimaginable.

Yesterday, as mentioned, I texted my friends and didn’t call. Because nobody calls anymore. Our hand computers happen to have phone apps. I don’t think this will change much by 2036.

Talking to friends, pt III: I do have a few video chats through FaceTime or Hangouts every week. If we’re going to take the time to set up a call, we may as well sort of look at each other’s faces. I don’t have a good sense of if I do this more or less frequently than others.

VR is advancing. In 2036 I guess I would put VR glasses on to talk to them. But I’ll probably still text first to tell them I was calling.

No laughing allowed

Just a short note because this seems like it should be a widely known thing but I asked a few friends and got plenty of huh I guess that is true:

When the rom-com series Catastrophe debuted on Amazon, a close friend tried to explain why the program seemed unusually true to him. “This is the first show I can ever remember,” he said, “where the characters laugh at each other’s jokes in a non-obnoxious way.”

Other characters just don’t laugh. Klosterman says it’s an “unspoken, internal rule”. No laughing, even if Joey has a turkey on his head.

If you enjoyed some of the ideas here, it’s probably worth checking out the rest of But What if We’re Wrong.

Klosterman did the rounds on different podcasts around the book’s release.

Simulation or multiverse? Doesn’t matter

Chuck Klosterman talks about consciousness and our place in the uni…multiverse. He explains the multiverse and has answers from Brian Greene, an expert in the topic. (Who has a TED talk about the multiverse.)

After a few more pages, another big idea doesn’t matter again. He describes traveling at the speed of light but manages to make it seem slow. It would take lifetimes to get to the edge of the galaxy. Forget about the edge of the universe. Even if we confirmed we were in a multiverse it wouldn’t matter.

Ok, another idea: what if we’re in a computer simulation? This was popularized by The New York Times in 2007 and it comes up once in a while when people like Elon Musk are asked about it. Musk talked about the advance from two rectangles and a dot to online multiplayer games in 40 years:

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.

“Either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.”

So what if we’re right about this? You might be able to stop at “So what.” Multiverse or computer simulation, we still couldn’t interact outside of it. It doesn’t affect day to day life.

Such a realization wouldn’t be like Jim Carrey’s character’s recognition of his plight in The Truman Show, because there would be no physical boundary to hit; it would be more like playing Donkey Kong and suddenly seeing Mario turn toward the front of the monitor in order to say, “I know what’s going on here.”

He can’t step out. We can’t stick a crane game arm in there to pull Mario into reality. If we verified that we live in The Sims 28728, the person playing can’t pull us out and into base reality.

So it might not matter. And that’s okay because it’s still fun to think about. Klosterman establishes that and describes some approaches to life, including testing boundaries like it’s GTA.

Klosterman seems to be a magnitude smarter than me. And he interviewed people he’d describe as a magnitude smarter than himself. And he contests that even they probably don’t have it all sorted out.

And that’s fine and leaves some fun things to think through. But What if We’re Wrong has Klosterman guiding readers through these topics. Whether it’s all real or not, I enjoyed the journey.

We’re probably wrong and that’s okay

In But What if We’re Wrong, Chuck Klosterman looks at the present as if it were the distant past.

In one chapter, he tries sorting out which modern writers will stand the test of time.

You need to write about important things without actually writing about them. I realize this sounds like advice from a fortune cookie.

He uses 9/11 as an example of an important thing. Down the line, though, whatever stands as representative of 9/11 probably won’t be something written directly about it.

One thing that’s stuck with me from listening to Serial is how poor memory is. Without looking it up, I couldn’t tell you details about 5 Thursdays ago. Klosterman brings up the inaccuracy of same-day eyewitness statements. Stretched over centuries, recorded history can’t be very accurate. It’s also missing a lot of pages altogether.

So maybe the past doesn’t matter, because we don’t really know what it was like. What about the future?

Well with computers we’re able to have accurate records of everything. True, but it really means everything. Who’s gonna go through that? It’s not like people hit up day to day. It’s usually a deep dive into one topic.

On a time scale of centuries, many things end up being winner-take-all. We can debate a Mount Rushmore of basketball players, but 500 years from now it’ll probably just be Michael Jordan in one full body mountain sculpture.

One takeaway from But What if We’re Wrong is that a lot of things won’t matter in the far future. Books take years to write. Most won’t be remembered a century from now, much less five centuries from now. Writers can only add a few pages to a book every day.

On an individual level, anything we do in a day or even in a year probably won’t matter in the (very) long run. It’s grim or freeing, or both.

Chances are, aiming to be remembered in the far future isn’t a great goal. Especially because the people who remember you don’t care in the first place:

To matter forever, you need to matter to those who don’t care. And if that strikes you as sad, be sad.

Basketball nerds can debate whoever else is in the top-4 with him, but Jordan will be in there. Of those 4, he’s the one with a global brand. There’s a culture with a foundation built around the popularity of his shoes.

A lot of the kids standing in those lines never watched a single game he was in live. They can’t care about Jordan as much as a Bulls fan in the 90s1. Their emotions aren’t tied to how well Jordan performs in a playoff game.

So the past doesn’t matter and now maybe the future doesn’t matter either. Bringing me to where we’ve always been and always are: the present.

For me, being present was the important thing this book was about that it wasn’t really about. I’m guessing it’s not even on the list of top 1,000 points Klosterman was aiming to make. I only made the connection because it’s top of mind for me right now. I started meditating recently, beginning my transition into the lifestream. Maybe it’s the way out of the simulation.

  1. I may have just talked myself out of this. It might be LeBron. More people worldwide have probably followed his hero’s journey. In a 24-hour news cycle. So it’s gonna be Jordan, unless it’s LeBron. It just won’t be Kobe. You can’t go long thinking about Kobe and where he ranks without thinking about Jordan.

Getting familiar

One of the patterns is called “Familiar Tools” talking about the tools programmers use.

Write down a list of your familiar tools. If the list has less than five items, start hunting around for tools that will fill the gaps in your toolbox. This may simply be a matter of identifying a tool you already use but don’t know well enough, or it may involve finding new tools altogether.

I’ve written some in-depth posts about learning the basics of prototyping tools like Form, Origami, and Framer. The “Familiar Tools” pattern reminded me to take a look at my current toolbox.

There are a lot of different tools out there, and if you’re just starting out it can be overwhelming to pick some out to learn. You might even be frozen by all the options.

As far as a hard-skill toolbox goes, here’s what I’d recommend to a new designer. Learn a different tool in each fidelity well.

Pen and paper for lo-fi thinking: Sometimes completely overlooked. Tools for animating microinteractions are fun to use. They’re fun to play with so it’s tempting to jump into super high fidelity and work with motion.

If you’re designing in high fidelity and not testing with actual users, it’s probably too early. Pen and paper can take you a long way when thinking through ideas on your own.

Static mocks for going through flows: Sketch. It’s become pretty standard. At least as far as the echo chamber goes.

High fidelity prototypes for mobile: A good old “it depends”. Just try them out and see which ones click for you. Framer and Origami have great communities and that goes a long way toward the usefulness of a tool. I still want to try Principle.

High fidelity prototypes for desktop: The advantage of the mobile interaction design tools is that they let you try things out without learning Swift/Objective-C or Java and learning the respective development processes.

HTML/CSS is more approachable than any toolset for native development. Right click in the browser, click “Inspect”. Tinkering around, changing values, and seeing the changes might be the best way to start learning CSS.

Get proficient with Chrome developer tools. Or the equivalent in the other browsers. Sit with a developer you work with and have them show you around the inspector and console. It’s a great investment of time.

Visual design: Here’s my biggest gap. Illustrator seems to still be the tool of choice of digital illustrators. I’d love to learn.

As far as soft skills go, they’re harder to sit down and practice. A lot of it comes through experiencing different situations firsthand. (I’d recommend actively avoiding the soft skills such as getting offended about interchanging UX/UI/interaction/product designer titles and thinking up UX analogies.)

We’re talking about practice

Apprenticeship Patterns has a pattern called “Practice, Practice, Practice”. Adewale and Dave talk about having a place where you’re comfortable making mistakes. Again, I’ll connect this apprenticeship pattern to something I read In Deep Work. A lot of the ideas in Deep Work also overlap with the idea of deliberate practice:

Its core components are usually identified as follows: (1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.

Many designers already receive plenty of feedback during the design process. (If not, check out my book notes on Discussing Design. It’s a great book by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizary about giving and receiving good critique.)

Deep Work is more about the focused-attention component. If you’re going to spend deeply focused time on something, you’ll want to make sure it’s the right thing. Apprenticeship Patterns provides some guidelines for picking exercises for practice:

Make sure that it’s just a little harder than one you know you can easily solve. You should have to struggle to solve it the first time. Solve this exercise from scratch once a week for the next four weeks, and observe how your solutions evolve. What does this tell you about your strengths and weaknesses as a programmer?

Day to day design work might not always stretch those skills. If that’s the case, sit down and identify areas you want to grow. Then find or create exercises of your own for practice.

When I started learning Framer, I learned a lot by trying to re-create animations from different apps. These exercises were usually scoped to a single interaction. I tried re-creating pull-to-refresh animations, I tried re-creating parts of the Material Design launch reel, I tried re-creating examples from the Framer docs.

The great thing about Framer is that the source code is available for a lot of things you’ll want to do. You can always attempt and then compare your approach to a working example and see where you can improve.

It’s a little different for Sketch and the other interaction design tools. It might not be as easy to find source files to learn from. This is where it’d be great to have a mentor to look at your work. You can share your approach to different things and they can explain where you can improve. I seem to always learn some sort of technique when I watch others using Sketch.

Retreating into competence

Apprenticeship Patterns talks about going deep into new subjects as a good way to learn. The risk with going in the deep end is that you’ll sometimes get in hairy situations. Competence can be the edge of the pool: something familiar that you can grab onto. They discuss applying the “Retreat into competence” pattern:

short-term fix while you gather your strength to bounce back. Set a time limit (or “timebox”) for yourself, such as “I will spend the next 10 minutes refactoring the JavaScript validation for this page before I optimize the SQL queries that provide the data.” Or “I will spend the next four hours implementing the command-line interface for this tool before I learn how to call this third-party SOAP API.” Or “I will spend the rest of today improving our test coverage before taking on the job of optimizing our code that is affected by Python’s Global Interpreter Lock.”

I tried thinking about how this could be applied by designers. A lot of the apprenticeship patterns have you looking at how you can stretch your knowledge. You look at valuable tools and techniques you’re not familiar with and deliberately practice with them.

As a side effect, you’re thinking through tools you are familiar with. These comfortable tools are the ones you can retreat to. That might mean taking a break from the latest prototyping tool to retreat into Sketch. Or taking a break from thinking through multi-screen flows to focus on some motion interaction with Framer.

Open the firehose, don’t drown in the shallows

(I’m trying to write book notes compilations one section at a time. One excerpt per day with the goal of filling one iA Writer screen up. About 350 words.)

This week, I’m focusing on Apprenticeship Patterns, by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye. Dave and Adewale talk about software as a craft and give guidance on how you can improve as a craftsman. It’s targeted toward developers, but a bunch of it applies to designers. (And even beyond that.)

One of the patterns is called “Expand your bandwidth”:

Expanding your ability to take in new information is a critical, though sometimes overwhelming, step for apprentices. You must develop the discipline and techniques necessary to efficiently absorb new information, as well as to understand it, retain it, and apply it.

They discuss setting up Google Reader to consume RSS feeds. They discuss one of the pitfalls that seems all too common today:

It’s possible to become obsessed with gathering and consuming new information, particularly as it becomes easier and easier to get at up-to-the-second thoughts on the most prolific thinkers in our industry. Some people could become lost in the sea of interesting information, and never come back to actually crafting software.

The book is from 2009 and there’s no mention of Twitter for keeping up with the latest information. That said, I was a pretty heavy Reader user and was just as addicted or even more so I ever was of Twitter. Reader made a lot of full content readily available.

One day, I remember stepping back and thinking, “Do I really need to see basically the exact same news from Engadget and Gizmodo?” That started the culling and then I was able to really cut things down and then eventually accept that I don’t need to read every. single. thing.

Because there’s value in all the available information out there, it might seem like a good idea to seek out as much of it as possible. Cal Newport discusses this in his book Deep Work:

This argument, however, misses the key point that all activities, regardless of their importance, consume your same limited store of time and attention. If you service low-impact activities, therefore, you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities. It’s a zero-sum game. And because your time returns substantially more rewards when invested in high-impact activities than when invested in low-impact activities, the more of it you shift to the latter, the lower your overall benefit.

It’s important to remember that time taken by shallow activities could be applied to more important activities. Having taken extended breaks from different social media, there’s major FOMO. It goes away once you realize enough times that you never really miss much.

Over 500 quotes

I started a refresh for this site. I want to continue writing regularly. However, I don’t think it will take the form of long articles about design sprints and design tools. I started writing newsletters to experiment with shorter writing, but even those took longer than I expected each time. I still want to send something out. For the next issue, I’m going to try writing a short post each day and collecting those to send together bi-weekly.

I would write the newsletter and then re-write over and over and try to make the whole thing coherent. Sometimes things got a bit forced because links just don’t always relate. And I was finding myself putting it off because I was looking for very large chunks of time to work on it. And of course, I wasn’t finding those large chunks of time.

Writing seems similar to working out in that you’ll see improvements through consistency. You can’t work out for 8 straight hours to make up for 8 individual hour-long workouts.

I’ll share links and book quotes and share some thoughts to how they can relate to different stages of a design sprint. Sometimes. Other times I’ll share how they relate at least to design.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Last week, I read Apprenticeship Patterns by Adewale Oshineye and Dave Hoover. I picked it up after seeing Ale Muñoz (designer/developer working on Sketch) recommend it as a resource for learning how to teach in a response to Koen Bok (Framer co-founder).

It’s about improving as a developer and looking at programming as a craft. A lot of it can be applied to improving as a designer. (Not to mention a ton of other careers.) One of the patterns discusses the importance of writing down what you learn:

When Dave was Reading Constantly during his apprenticeship, he kept a text file in which he transcribed all the quotes that shaped his learning. Over the years, that file grew to contain over 500 quotes, and Dave eventually decided to upload it and share it online.

(And “Reading Constantly” is another pattern I’ve been trying to apply.) Over the years, I’d like this site to have over 500 quotes. This is one of the first.

User testing

One of the bigger threads through Console Wars is the competition between advertising agencies to get Sega’s business.

One of the agencies—Goodby, Berlin, & Silverstein—really got inside kids’ heads through on-site user research. They’d visit families and observe kids playing video games in their bedrooms. Their biggest takeaway was the universal knowledge that adults don’t know anything. That’s captured in this passage describing a kid’s reaction to one of the Sonic 2 commercials:

“That footage you showed wasn’t even from Sonic 2!” said one of the teens. “It was from the original Sonic, and it was from level two, which isn’t hard at all.” From another: “Those commercials look like they were written by adults.” And from a third: “The guys who made it weren’t even good enough to get to the difficult parts.”

Kids instantly recognize these things. Back then, I could tell you a screen is from Mortal Kombat I or Mortal Kombat II no problem. Less than a glance at most. Same with Mega Man X and X2.

Kids of the 90s: cut those moron adults some slack. They were competing for your attention against the latest technology of the era.


Fun note: GB&S, now GS&P, still does some work with Sonic and it’s way more tasteful.


Console Wars does a great job capturing Sega’s willingness to try new ideas. And a lot of the ideas involve celebrities.

It was interesting to read about them planning the Sega Star Kids Challenge and bringing celebrities to the Sonic 2sday event:

A practice session may seem trivial, but it was important to Sega that these young celebrities give the impression that they really did love videogames and weren’t just heartthrobs for hire.

Wouldn’t ever want to make them look foolish.


Blast Processing and tech specs

Again, the best parts of Console Wars are the behind-the-scenes looks at Sega’s marketing strategies. The Super Nintendo had Mode 7, which made games like Star Fox and Mario Kart possible. Now that I’m doing some image searches, I’m learning it was also used in other games for certain sequences, like every overworld map.

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I like imagining a .ppt from Nintendo with a slide titled “Guidelines: fitting races into stories” with 7 bullet points underneath.

Sega didn’t have an actual thing to strike back with, so they decided to strike back with not an actual thing:

While looking through the manual, Latham found something that kind of, sort of, maybe fit the bill: Burst Mode, which in theory allowed the Genesis to process code faster than Nintendo’s chip could. Although this sounded like exactly what the marketing team wanted, Latham explained that Burst Mode actually had very little to do with the graphics, velocity, and overall performance of Sega’s games. To say that Burst Mode was the reason that Sonic could move so fast would be like saying that cheetahs were faster than elephants were because of their spots.

Burst Mode turned into Blast Processing.

I remember always checking the “Graphics” rating first when reading EGM or GamePro. But I knew that high gameplay scores went further for how much I’d enjoy the game. (There’s something about UX in there.)

The book ends in the very early stages of the 32-bit era. When our family got a Playstation, one of the first giant-jeweled-case games we got was NBA Live 96.

I remember thinking my dad would think this purchase was totally worth it if he saw the graphics. So one day I told him close your eyes okay now open them.

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“Can you tell it’s not live TV?”

Protips and more

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Prior to reading Console Wars, I had some perspective on video games in Japan. Actually, it’s a little unusual. My dad was in the Navy and I grew up on military bases in Japan in the 90s. I played console demos in Japanese department stores and spent plenty of time in Japanese arcades basically run by Sega. But our family and all my friends had American consoles.

And we had english TV channels, but they had weird mixes of syndicated shows. The oddest part was that instead of commercials for products, there would be commercials about military life and American history. So most of the American marketing I experienced was through video game magazines.
They talk about the impact of a particular GamePro cover where Star Fox is on the front of it. From Console Wars:

“But why?” Arakawa asked Tilden, looking at the April 1993 issue of GamePro magazine. On the cover, right there in front of them, was artwork from Nintendo’s Star Fox. Not only had this artwork been intended for Nintendo Power, but White had specifically met with Arakawa, Tilden, and Harman to discuss sharing it with outside magazines and had explicitly been told not to do so.

As long as I remember, our parents let us subscribe to at least one video gamemagazine. And any time we went to the book store I’d first look at Goosebumps for the newest release then read the game magazines.
Game Players magazine had a newsletter that, looking back, seems like weird internet before the internet became what it is today.

Something I remember is one issue where a reader wrote inn asking how the magazine makes the stitched together maps. And they said it was software that costs hundred and hundreds of dollars.

I remember picturing some kind of mega-expensive super computer. Where like they’d make the brontosaurus in Jurassic Park and then in another window they’d have Link to the Past maps. Now I realize it was probably Photoshop.

Game Players turned to Ultra Game Players then disappeared altogether. Then we switched to an EGM subscription. GamePro (of PROTIP fame) skewed younger. We had some of those but they were usually one off purchases from the book store.

Nintendo’s side project was publishing a magazine with more than a million subscribers. As far as I remember, the book store didn’t have Nintendo Power. So the only kids that had copies had subscriptions.

I remember the Star Fox cover but really had no idea it was a big deal. I was probably in 2nd grade or 3rd grade so I didn’t understand that anything was a big deal. I really had no idea that Nintendo Power was a giant monthly advertisement.

(Then one day you find out Saturday-morning cartoons were toy advertisements and the world falls apart. That’s the adult version of finding out Santa Clause isn’t real. In between those discoveries is finding out wrestling isn’t real.)

No mention of RPGs

Okay I exaggerated, Console Wars mentions RPGs exactly once:

Oshima partnered up with Yuji Naka, a brilliant hothead in the programming department who was responsible for one of Sega’s most popular series: Phantasy Star, a sci-fi role-playing game (RPG) about a resilient young female warrior bent on galactic revenge with the help of a muskrat named Myau and a wizard named Noah.

Side note: I thought Zelda was generally considered an RPG. According to my research (clicking a few links on a Google search), most people don’t consider it an RPG. And get pretty passionate about it not being an RPG. Anyway, I guess that further helps the case that Console Wars has one single mention of an RPG.

Searching the book for “Final Fantasy” returns nothing. In America, RPGs might not have had as much an impact on the 16-bit console war as, say, Mortal Kombat. But Final Fantasy III should get at least one mention. (The book ends before Chrono Trigger’s release, so there’s at least some explanation.)

RPGs make up 6 of the top 20 best selling SNES games.

Anyway, if RPGs were mentioned I would’ve had a better excuse for writing about a top–3 life achievement of mine…

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I grew up in Japan on a U.S. Navy base. Which means it’s not really like growing up in Japan and not really like growing up in America, either. Families would go off-base at night or on weekends. And you’d also live off-base while you were on a waiting list for on-base housing.

On these weekend trips out, my and I would wander around the videogame section of a department store (Daikuma or Da’e) while our parents got groceries. On one of these trips, we noticed people gathered around a spinning wheel and walked over.

After watching a few times, it looked like you paid 2000 yen, spun the wheel, and got to pick from either 1, 2, or 3-game packages. Anyway, our mom let us spin and we got the 2-game choice. We picked the package with Super Smash TV and… some game with a bird on the cover. My brother had heard of the game but we were mostly in it for Smash TV.

The other game was Final Fantasy V. I was extremely bored any time I watched my brother play it. Then one day I tried it out and it didn’t make sense at all. Literally. It was in Japanese, after all.

I started out wandering aimlessly. Then I continued wandering around aimlessly. For dozens of hours. And just memorized the menu location for some useful potions (mostly just elixir and HP recoveries).

A main character blinks away, teleporting somewhere. Some girl joins the party for unknown reasons. Then I realize the guy teleported to heaven because guess what actually he died.

Dozens of hours turned to dozens and dozens of hours. Memorizing the +100HP potion became memorizing the +1000HP potion. Then I beat it.

I still have basically no idea what the story is about.

So, you know, don’t make your UX like that.

Trying to make it to (For a better UX article based on Final Fantasy, check out Final Fantasy’s Guide to Onboarding.)

Mortal Kombat II behind the glass case

“Let me show you something.”

I stepped aside and an older kid—picture young John Connor—took the joystick. A few moments later Sub-Zero ripped someone’s head off with their spine attached. Awesome.

This was my first time seeing a fatality in Mortal Kombat. Apparently some parents didn’t think this was great, so the first Mortal Kombat had sweat instead of blood. Except for the kids with a Genesis.

“Some sort of blood code,” Garske explained to Kalinske. “So when you buy the game, it comes without any of that over-the-top gore and violence. But then all you have to do in order to get the game to look just like it does in the arcades is enter a code. A combination of buttons and then boom—blood everywhere.”

So on the SNES when I’d try to rip a spine out, instead I’d see this:


“As long as the shattered body parts aren’t red ice, we’re Gucci.”

I made the last quote up. My point was going to be that the SNES had watered down fatalities. But… this seems pretty brutal too. But these seemed much tamer as a kid.

I remember being really aware of how the first game had sweat. Nobody was buying the SNES version and most of my friends were Nintendo kids. And that it was a big deal that the sequel would have blood without a code.

I have cloudy memories of going to an AAFES store with my brother and our parents to get Mortal Kombat II. And it was behind this glass case with a rating on it. (Though it wasn’t one of the ESRB ratings that would eventually come out.)

Anyway we got it and then played it. A lot. I remember seeing MKII the first time at an arcade in an airport. And someone (again, an older kid) had what looked like a strategy guide but it was just a bunch of printouts.

And these printouts had all the moves and fatalities. That might have been my first exposure to anything related to the internet.

Console Wars talks about the different approaches toward violence that SEGA and Nintendo took.

See the forest for the other forest

Flash Boys also shows the perspective of programmers in finance. I’ve been a programmer at a fashion company where technology is a means to an end. The relationship in finance seems more nuanced. The programmers care about the trees, of course. Details are important. They also care about the forest, but they don’t get a view into that other forest. That one over there. Yeah the one with trees that have dollar bills for leaves.

Talking to a programmer type about the trading business was a bit like talking to the house plumber at work in the basement about the card game the Mafia don was running upstairs. “He knew so little about the business context,” one of the jurors said, after attending both dinners. “You’d have to try to know as little as he did.” Another said, “He knew as much as they wanted him to know about how they made money, which was virtually nothing.

What do programmers do, anyway?

[…] the entire platform had as many as 60 million lines of code in it and fifteen years of fixes to it had created the computer equivalent of a giant rubber-band ball. When one of the rubber bands popped, Serge was expected to find it and fix it.

Spot on. There’s the phrase “spaghetti code” for things that are getting out of hand. Rubber-band ball goes a step further. The older the root of the problem, the deeper you need to go to fix it. And you need to keep the other layers in order.

Something that might be hard to explain is lines of code. I don’t have a good idea of how many lines of code is equal to what. Staying abstract I don’t know how many lines would be in 1 KB, not to mention a MB. How many lines of code is jQuery?1

The size of code comes up in the chapters following Sergey Aleynikov (Serge). He sent Goldman Sachs code to himself before leaving his job. Most was mostly open source, but with modifications to work with their system. Why would he take it?

“In Serge’s case, think of being at a company for three years, and you carry a spiral notebook and write everything down. Everything about your meetings, your ideas, products, sales, client meetings—it’s all written down in that notebook. You leave for your new job and take the notebook with you […]”

You’re not going to read through a notebook word for word, but it’s good to have for reference. How much code was it all anyway?

Most were surprised by how little Serge had taken in relation to the whole: eight megabytes, in a platform that consisted of nearly fifteen hundred megabytes of code.

Not much at all. Or is it? Without looking it up I don’t have a good sense of what 8 MB is. I can try to break it down:

  • 8MB of 1500 MB is 0.5% of the code base
  • 0.5% of 60 million lines (estimate above of entire platform
  • 300,000 lines of code

Which sounds like a lot, but I imagine it’s mostly libraries. But I also just have no idea. And I’ve been paid to program. Guess who was supposed to build up some sense of what this was then decide Sergey’s fate?

The jury in Sergey Aleynikov’s trial consisted mainly of high school graduates; all of the jurors lacked experience programming computers. “They would bring my computer into the courtroom,” recalled Serge incredulously. “They would pull out the hard drive and show it to the jury. As evidence!”

I’ve done jury duty and it reminded me that everyone goes. Your coworkers. Your barista. Their mom. Their doctor. I can convince my parents that technology can do anything or nothing. They’d almost certainly be swayed by someone waving around a hard drive.

  1. “One line if it’s minified!” Go back to your brainteaser book. ↩︎

Milliseconds Matter

Flash Boys has been on my to-read list for a while. I’d seen it referenced in passing as if everyone had read it. Michael Lewis writes about high frequency trading and the start of IEX.

I finally bought it after listening to the Joe Rogan podcast where he had on Andreas Antonopoulos who uses Bitcoin exclusively. Rogan mentioned the importance of physical location to fiber lines. That sounded like  a reference to high frequency trading. In the same week, IEX was finishing up their transition to an exchange.

I knew little about finance prior to reading Flash Boys. Now I have a better idea of how little I know. A lot more happens than people might think when they submit a trade online.

The importance of milliseconds
How long is a millisecond? Michael Lewis explains a lot of technical things in simpler terms. There are a lot of metaphors.

Lewis describes Brad and Ronan on their campaign to bring awareness to high frequency trading:

They never created a PowerPoint; they never did anything more formal than sit down and tell people everything they knew in plain English.

Lewis may as well be describing himself. I have no financial background but now understand the basics of high frequency trading. Humans aren’t great at thinking of numbers at scale, but Lewis does a great job describing tiny numbers in sensible ways:

…from Chicago to New York and back in roughly 12 milliseconds, or roughly a tenth of the time it takes you to blink your eyes, if you blink as fast as you can.

I played Counter-Strike in high school. LAN parties and all. And one of the things that LAN parties took away was latency. When we were on the server my friends played on, ping varied around 70ms (DSL) to 250ms (usually on a 56K modem, virtual god help the virtual you). Everyone begged their parents for DSL lines. Milliseconds mattered.

Milliseconds, microseconds, either one may as well be instant. Even seconds seems fast enough for a lot of things. What difference does it make?

There were one million microseconds in a second. It was as if, back in the 1920s, the only stock market data available was a crude aggregation of all trades made during the decade.

I like this stretching out of time to describe resolution. It reminds me of zooming in on the timeline in a video editor from 1 minute to 1 second.

Never before in human history have people gone to so much trouble and spent so much money to gain so little speed. “People were measuring the length of their cables to the foot inside the exchanges. People were buying these servers and chucking them out six months later. For microseconds.”

Ego is the Enemy

Tim Ferriss often asks guests what book they’ve gifted the most. I never had an answer for that question (not that he’ll be asking me that personally any time soon). I can say now that I’ve gifted Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way to multiple people. Holiday took Stoic philosophy—already written in relatively plain language—and showed how the lessons apply to modern life.

Holiday gave a good description on a podcast episode: The Obstacle is the Way teaches how to approach external challenges, and Ego is the Enemy lays out the internal challenges. We’ll face battles within ourselves during all phases of life.

I want to write full notes for Ego is the Enemy and its other sections: Success & Failure. I didn’t set time aside to finish that yet, but I want to make sure to include Ego is the Enemy in this 100 Posts, 100 Days project. So I’ll focus on the section most fitting to my current phase in writing: Aspire.

Posting daily for this stretch of time is a step toward my bigger aspirations of improving as a writer. If I listened to my ego, passion would be enough to get me there. It’s not. Passion doesn’t make you an outlier. It’s the work. It’s luck. Plenty of people have ideas. Plenty of people have passion. Having passion, ideas, and luck makes for a good mix. Putting the work in will make you successful. You can’t control the luck. So resolve to focus and appreciate the work.

Everyone would love to play a game for a living. Game day isn’t the work, though. That’s the flow state. That’s the fun part. A smaller percentage would love doing the practice it takes to earn the right to play a game for a living. It’d be great to send an audience into a ruckus with a comedy set. By most accounts, it takes night after night of bombing to get to that point. There’s almost always work to do.

The work won’t be easy, and that will be good for you. That’s how you identify what could be worth doing. If there’s something nobody wants to do, you can always start there. Doing the gritty work might be the cost of entrance to be around top performers. Being in that environment will accelerate your learning. The ticket in often looks like hard work.

So I’ll resolve to do the work. I’ll write these posts read by a handful of people. If that. I’ll earn the attention of my first ten by doing the work. The first thousand will be found on the same path, years down the road. Incredible success would require a few lucky breaks. In the meantime, I’ll get my reps in. I’ll be satisfied with the work. I’ll aspire.


I’ve been reading through Sprint. I remembered how much I enjoy reading things by the Google Ventures design team.

Book notes were the most valuable thing from this 100 Posts, 100 Days project.

  • Writing notes helped me think through what I learned from each book I read.

  • Notes gave me some built-in structure to follow. It was easier to get going on these posts.

  • Books provide thoughts from authors who have much more expertise on topics. I can pass on their knowledge as I learn to develop my own ideas.

I want to take my book notes posts a step further—with my own thoughts being a little deeper and with some designed layouts to make them more fun to read through. I was inspired by an answer in the Wait But Why mailbag:

5) While you’re experimenting with your writing, keep your mind open to all creative possibilities. The first 290 of the 300 blog posts I wrote in my 20s had no visuals. Only towards the very end did I try drawing something one night. And only then did I realize how much I liked combining hand-drawn visuals with my writing. That could have easily never happened, and if it hadn’t, Wait But Why would be an all-text blog today.

I’ll start with some kind of prototype. There’s a section in Sprint going over examples of different prototypes. Many aren’t constrained to a screen.

  1. You Can Prototype Anything

This statement might sound corny, but here it is. You have to believe.

At orientation at one of my old jobs, we were shown a 60 Minutes segment from 1999. It highlighted the design process at IDEO and how they prototyped a better shopping cart. A lot of ideas in Sprint have roots in IDEO and Stanford’s Reading through the case studies of design sprints reminded me of something I read in Bill Buxton’s Sketching User Experiences:

It is much easier, cheaper, faster, and more reliable to find a little old man, a microphone, and some loud speakers than it is to find a real wizard. So it is with most systems. Fake it before you build it.

Buxton expands this to a chapter called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. He provides examples of prototypes going beyond digital prototypes on screen. One example involves a giant cardboard screen with people playing out a potential video.

Any of my success with writing things online started with this post about a personal design sprint (2014). Thousands of people read it. Not billions, or even millions, but it’s still cool to me. I’ll be thinking more about why that post was successful. A lot was luck (Jake Knapp shared it then Smashing Magazine shared it). But the content had value and for once I can take a few lessons from myself.