Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Meetings, Again

2023-03-19 — Michael Haupt

Meetings are a pet peeve of mine (you know that by now). My buddy Mitch Wyle (we know each other from eBay) summarised a Twitter thread on meetings in his blog and thought I might like it - well, yes and no. The suggestions amount to putting hard boundaries on the number of, and time spent in, meetings, and to enforce some rigour around scheduling them in the first place.

I'm skeptical about any approach that tries to address the meeting matter from an angle of time spent and then does things such as applying quotas and rules that all amount to putting an upper boundary on time spent in meetings. This often cumulates in simplistic takes such as that "meetings are bugs" (Shopify, 2023).

People shouldn't care so much about time spent in meetings, but about value derived in them. Consequently, optimisation attempts should target not time, but value.

I also strongly suggest that everyone, before taking any stance on meetings, should read Patrick Lencioni's "Death by Meeting".

Everybody hates a bad meeting. Knowing how to love good ones is surprisingly hard.

Tags: work

Meetings Aren't Bugs

2023-03-19 — Michael Haupt

At Shopify, the year began with a clear declaration on meetings: “meetings are bugs”. (Here’s a pointer.)

I say that’s nonsense, and retort with a hearty “oversimplifications are bugs”.

In all seriousness, corporate liking for catchy phrases bear the risk of painting a picture of reality that has nothing to do with what’s healthy and good. So, to put it all in context, here goes.

Granted, there are too many bad meetings. Those should be taken care of, either by getting them right, or by cancelling them. Those meetings have (not: are) bugs. This is a truism, no reason to make a big fuss about it.

The move at Shopify consists of several components. First, cancelling, for the time being, all meetings with more than two participants. It’s good that the value of 1:1s appears to be acknowledged. But imagine a team that uses a flurry of 1:1s, or some other contraption, instead of a daily standup to synchronise. The communication overhead would be maddening. Also, leadership meetings at the team level should typically involve engineering, product, and design leads - that makes three. Leave one out, risk the respective function to lose touch, with consequences for the product (and customer). And how exactly is the Shopify CEO going to run his staff meeting and ensure alignment in his leadership team? This move is so obviously nonsensical that I will boldly bet those three-plus person meetings will sneak back into the calendars in a short time frame. (Does anybody know anyone at Shopify whom I could ask?)

Second, no-meeting Wednesdays; and third, placing all meetings with more than 50 participants (shouldn’t those be cancelled, actually?) in a 6-hour window on a specific day. These moves make sense, because they help ensuring uninterrupted focus. That’s a thing everybody benefits from - engineers and managers alike.

Let’s be serious: some of the work we do at companies happens in groups of people. That’s called a meeting. If meetings get the right attention, they’re good tools to get things done. Eliding all nuance from the matter with a punch line like “meetings are bugs” is nothing but putting up a show. Whom are they trying to impress?

Tags: work

A Minecraft Board Game

2023-02-27 — Michael Haupt

Knowing I love Minecraft, friends gave me the Minecraft: Builders and Biomes board game for a past birthday. The family and I gave it a try. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures. The review I linked to has some.

Basically, the game is about - you guessed it - mining resources, building, and knocking over hostile mobs.

I’ll start with the end. Your choices for what buildings to build (and where to place them) as well as what monsters to fight have considerable impact on how many experience points you score (the player with the highest score wins). The built contraptions are evaluated thrice: in the first round, larger biomes get you more points; in the second, larger groups of buildings crafted from the same material; and in the third, larger groups of buildings with similar purpose. As you can place buildings atop one another, some planning ahead is advisable. Similarly, some monsters enable you to make additional moves once slain, but others get you additional points in the end, so here too, it’s important to pick your enemies wisely.

Mining is done in a particularly nice way. Each resource item is a wooden cube. 64 of those are stacked into a 4x4x4 cube that players can take apart when they mine. Mining away the first, second, and third layer of the cube will trigger one of the scoring rounds, and the third will also end the game.

Cards with buildings to build and monsters to fight, and weapons to pick up for the preceding purpose, are all laid out in a 4x4 grid of 4-card piles. In addition, 4 weapon chests are placed on each side of the grid. All cards are initially placed face down, and are revealed as players walk around exploring the grid.

You fight monsters by drawing, at random, three cards from your weapons pile. Each player’s default deck has three poisoned potatoes serving as blanks that you can toss at monsters, but they’ll just bounce off and cause no damage. Collecting some diamond swords and TNT from the weapon chests is recommended.

The gameplay is fast, fun, and the rules are simple. Yet, the strategic aspects of the building and monster slaying make it more interesting than it may sound at first. The graphic design of the cards is great; especially the building cards are very detailed and beautiful.

Overall, this is a nice adaption of the computer game, and many of the original’s aspects have been brought into the board game setting in a way that makes sense. The game has a nice mix of strategy and luck, and the materials are nice and well crafted. Fun. Warm recommendation.

Tags: games


2023-02-19 — Michael Haupt

In May last year, I’ve started using Logseq for my note taking - both personal stuff and at work. I got interested because some people whose judgment in such matters I trust were quite enthusiastic about Logseq. Giving it a look couldn’t hurt, I thought.

Today, I’m still using it, and have already transferred some of my larger personal note collections to it. I keep discovering new features and possibilities, and let’s just say I’m hooked.

What do I like about it? A random collection:

  • At a high level, Logseq is a lightweight note taking and organisation tool with lots of pragmatic and sensible features.

  • Logseq keeps all the data on the local drive, in Markdown format, unencrypted, accessible.

  • The editor has built-in features for very swift linking from text in a page to external resources, other pages, sections in pages, and even down to single paragraphs (“bullets”).

  • Recurring structures can be easily reproduced using templates.

  • Pages can have alias names, making for nicer linking.

  • Logseq adds, atop the plain Markdown files, an index that allows for extremely swift searching. There’s a powerful advanced query and filtering capability, too.

  • It’s available on desktop, iOS, and Android.

  • There are numerous ways of synchronising across devices, including iCloud and git.

  • The tool is open source, and the monetisation model (yes, it has one, to sustain services and community) is extremely forthcoming: you pay as much as you want in a mode of your choice if you think it’s deserved. (It is.)

Logseq also has a graph visualisation of the page structure - I have yet to discover its true worth but it sure looks nice. A cross-device sync feature has been added and is available in beta mode for paying customers - I'm one of them, and it's pretty usable and stable already.

I have barely scratched the surface. There’s a plugin API allowing for all kinds of power-ups, automation is possible to a considerable extent, and so on, and so on. I believe Logseq is a true power tool.

Tags: the-nerdy-bit, hacking

Guidance for Quick Decision Making

2023-02-19 — Michael Haupt

It's a healthy philosophy in engineering to be quick at decision making and then sticking to that decision, properly following quality guidelines and best practices. This sports a strong sense of agility, focus, and quality. A while back, a past manager of mine with whom I’m still talking frequently pointed me to an interesting thinking tool that can help with the precision of the “quick decision making” part. It’s about viewing decisions as one-way or two-way doors.

Simply put, a decision that’s a one-way door can’t be easily reverted, making and implementing it will have some sort of definitive cost to it. Conversely, a decision that’s a two-way door can be reverted without too much cost. How we go about making decisions then considerably depends on their nature.

For example, a new variant of a feature can be rolled out in a way that allows it to be switched off quickly in case anything bad happens - an undiscovered bug, or bad user response. Feature flags are what’s normally used to enable that. The decision to roll out the feature can be made very quickly, as long as the criteria for rolling it back or keeping it are clear, and a way to roll back is built right in.

As another example, a big initiative that moves the infrastructure from one cloud provider to another is one that can’t be easily reverted: contracts are signed, database architectures changed, and applications wired in different ways and sometimes even rewritten. Such a decision needs to be prepared carefully, and risks need to be analysed.

The article offers some ways of looking at the nature of decisions to carve out two-way door segments in decisions that look like big one-way doors. Perhaps one way of framing the difference is in terms of learning. What can I learn after making this decision, and how much actual pain will the learning involve? The greater the pain, the more one-way.

Tags: work


2023-01-22 — Michael Haupt

Gadgets are fun, and even more so when they can make someone’s day.

Back at my previous job, one of my teams (named R2D2) had been working on a long and hairy project. Essentially, it was a complete rewrite of the core piece of Babbel’s language learning experience, the so-called “lesson player”. The project had started well before I joined (that was in August 2020), and was technologically involved. It took the team quite some time to deliver, and the "Universal Lesson Player" has gone live across web, iOS, and Android.

Before leaving, I really wanted to celebrate and acknowledge the success so far by giving a little token of appreciation to everyone who had contributed. It being me, that needed to be appropriately nerdy. I came across a device named Badger 2040: a Raspberry Pi Pico powered little thing with an e-ink display that’s programmed in MicroPython and can be configured as a name tag. Of course this was the right thing.

So I got some 35 of those, and went on a fun ride to prepare all of them until they looked like this (for the technically interested, there’s also a photo of the back):

It’s e-ink, so the display just stays like that. But if a user so desires, they can connect a battery pack and augment the code on the device to, for instance, react to pushing one of the buttons by displaying a QR code with contact information instead of an image. After all, it’s a programmable computer right there, and it even has a variant of the Raspberry Pi’s infamous GPIO capabilities. The possibilities are “endless” once one knows a little Python.

I was able to hand over most of the Badgers at a little release party, and needless to say, people loved it.

Tags: work, the-nerdy-bit

The Perfect Manager

2023-01-06 — Michael Haupt

John Cutler has a little piece on “the perfect manager”, wherein he notes that one key trait of such heroic figures is to shield their teams from bullshit from above. He goes on to question why that would be the norm, because it would imply that BS is the norm.

Obviously, part of my job is to represent the company to my teams, which may involve such shielding, and which more likely involves translating messages from “above” and from stakeholders. Notably, another part of my job is to represent my teams to ”above” and to stakeholders, which may involve translating as well.

Ideally, there is no BS that people need to be shielded from. Ideally, there’s clarity about priorities and their rationale. I would even go so far as to say that ideally, no translation is needed at all. In such a perfect world, people speak the same language and are on the same page about what needs to happen because clarity is established early and with the necessary amount of repetition.

In such a setting, I could just contribute to the work going on at my level, which involves such beautiful things as thinking about and implementing an organisational vision, and caring about people’s growth trajectories.

Patrick Lencioni calls the state in which this is possible because everyone operates with optimal clarity “organisational health”. I really believe it’s worth working towards.

Tags: work

Musical Languages

2023-01-03 — Michael Haupt

I like languages - human and programming languages alike. And I have a sweet spot for “constructed” human languages, such as Esperanto. (I don’t speak any Klingon or Quenya though.)

One interesting niche in the constructed languages corner is the one where the languages are musical.

Olivier Messiaen (one of my favourite composers) used a “communicable language” wherein he mapped letters of the alphabet to note pitches and values. He later added patterns for grammatical aspects and certain frequently used words. The principle of mapping letters to tones, however, only goes so far: essentially, the language heard when playing the notes is still the language in which the original text was written - the musical notation is “just” a different writing system. A sophisticated one, granted, but a writing system.

François Sudre did a more consequential design when he came up with Solresol. Here, patterns of notes represent linguistic concepts. The first note of a pattern denotes one of seven categories; repetition adds topicality; and so forth. There are also rules for grammar. Now there’s a language.

Texts in Solresol don’t sound particularly melodic, but mostly harmless because they only use the seven tones of the scale that are on “white” keys. If I was to give a critique, I’d raise the concern that Solresol doesn’t make use of all twelve tones, making it lack in expressiveness somewhat.

My old colleagues at Babbel have a nice article on Solresol.

Tags: music, the-nerdy-bit