Res Extensa #1: Roam & Readwise, the Tour de France, Meetings, and the Mother of All Demos

The first issue in a new experiment

Welcome to the first issue of Res Extensa, a starting-out-biweekly newsletter companion to my website,

I've maintained a website and blog since about 2010, posting on a wide range of things I'm interested in. In October of 2018 I decided to try to induce a new habit by posting something on the blog every day. For those familiar with investor Fred Wilson's AVC blog, this was inspired by his habit of doing the same. The initial objective was simple: I'd post 1 thing per day, article, link, video, anything really. The bar was low. The main purpose was to build a level of comfort for writing and thinking on a regular basis.

After starting on the project I crossed the 2-week mark, surprised at how easy it was if I made the time for writing and had the daily goal in my head. After a month or two I had a pretty solid cadence going. With the simplicity of a once-per-day pattern and no criteria for what was in or out of bounds, the regular writing practice has forced me to be thoughtful in taking notes, deliberate about reading and study, and to be continuously generating drafts of new ideas. Unlike this time 2 years ago, I'm much more productive now at getting ideas on the page quickly (and coherently).

With this newsletter, I'm going to approach it the same way. I think of the website as the primary "system of record" for my writing, but many readers don't want to visit on a daily basis to find new stuff. And RSS (even though I still love it) isn't as widely used as it was a decade ago. Now that we're in the Newsletter Renaissance, people are comfortable with their inbox becoming a place to read content. In the past I tried out the RSS-to-email model, where each post is sent to your inbox, but I like the idea of a less-frequent digest of recent content. And it'll give me another slightly different space for updates. Onto the first issue.

Readwise and Roam

Readwise and Roam are two products that have become every day tools in my personal productivity suite. I wrote this overview a couple weeks back on Readwise's new Roam integration. This has gotten into an excellent flow for me, and the synchronizing is rock-solid stable so far. A great duo for knowledge management.

The Tour Wraps Up

I started following UCI cycling heavily around 2014. Ever since the Tour has been a mainstay of mid-summer sports consumption. My daughter was born in July (on Bastille Day!) and I have fond memories of watching the race each morning with her while I was on paternity leave.

This year's race was different, since it's almost 2 months late with the racing season's delay from COVID-19. The organizers were able to put together a phenomenal event that (remarkably) made it through the 3 weeks to Paris unscathed, at least by the virus.

22 year old rookie Tadej Pogačar took the race on the penultimate day in a beastly performance during the individual time trial. Slovenia, a country of 2 million people, produced the first and second places on the podium.

Check out this excellent analysis into the economics of the race and the business behind how UCI teams work.

Meetings: Despised, but Important

Steven Sinofsky wrote this epic breakdown on how meetings work in corporate environments. Some fantastic stuff to digest here, from someone seasoned in all shapes and sizes of corporate meeting culture from his years at Microsoft.

A few choice snippets from his "universal truths":

No one likes meetings except the person who called the meeting. This is just a given, but it is important to remember that you too will someday call a meeting that no one will like.

Very few opinions/minds will change at a meeting in real-time. Expecting people to come around to your point of view in the meeting is almost never a winning approach.

If you’re at a meeting and you present the group with two potential solutions to a problem, you will leave the meeting with a third potential solution to investigate and that idea will have the best attributes of each of the two proposed solution and magically none of the tradeoffs.

When you don’t know what to do, don’t call a meeting. Stereotypically (according to asking engineers) when product managers don’t know what to do they call meetings. The worst thing you can do is waste everyone’s time meandering towards a problem, not a solution. If you don’t know what to do, spend some time formulating a problem and proposals by walking and talking.

Make sure to read the "Peak Meeting Function" section on how to maximize what you get out of meetings.

"The Mother of All Demos": An Oral History

This is an interesting oral history of the famous Mother of All Demos, wherein Doug Engelbart unveiled a half-dozen technologies including the mouse, screencasting, the NLS, hypertext, windowing, and more. It’s an excerpt from Adam Fisher’s Valley of Genius.

You can watch Engelbart’s original presentation on YouTube:

Excerpts from the Archives

Each issue I'll share a quote from my book library, which I'll try to tie to the week's topic.

A pertinent one this week comes from Mitch Waldrop's The Dream Machine. Doug Engelbart, in his work to augment human intellect, described the nested hierarchy of neural activity:

In exactly the same way, wrote Engelbart, human capabilities exhibit a whole hierarchy of levels, ranging from the neural routines that are wired into our brains before birth all the way up to the high-level impulses we absorb from the surrounding culture—the commitment to liberty, equality, and fairness, for instance. Indeed, he suggested, this hierarchy is what we’re actually talking about when we use that mystical word intelligence: “If there is any one thing upon which this ‘intelligence’ depends it would seem to be [the hierarchy’s] organization.” And of course, that elaborately organized hierarchy was what Engelbart proposed to augment.

As a concrete example, he offered the office memorandum. To create it, the author has to engage in a variety of standard subtasks such as planning, composing, and dictating, each of which is composed of even simpler subtasks. But by the same token, the memo itself will be just one component of some higher-order process, such as organizing a committee or changing a policy. Like everything else in human life, Engelbart wrote, the simple office memo is embedded in a vast, tangled hierarchy of activities.

Thanks for reading! As I get a better idea for what I want to do with this format, I'll be playing with new ideas here over the next couple of months. I want it to become a nice companion piece to the blog, something that adds to what I write there and also serves as an alternate window into what I'm working on.