A Real Cool Hand

I'm Craig Sturgis and this is a web site.

Slack Is the Future of Team Communication, but It Won’t Make Your Team Communicate

We’ve been using slack at Haven since before I made the first commit to our code repository, and it is a revelation. It deserves every glowing bit of coverage it has received. Given the opportunity, I would invest in them, even at their headline grabbing valuation.

The way they’ve stood on the shoulders of IRC and even HipChat to bring group chat from the super technical crowd to the rest of people who mostly work on a computer is inspiring from a product perspective.

In previous situations where I needed to collaborate with others to do my job, I was often frustrated by important information getting buried in email threads with too few or way too many people copied, or locked in conversations in meeting rooms that might as well have vanished into thin air after they happened.

After struggling to try to bring group chat into previous teams, I figured out a shortcut- founding a new company with like minded people who also despised the way email could get in the way of collaborating effectively. As a bonus of starting fresh, nothing would get in the way of finally have the correct tools for the job.

Of course, once freed from the shackles of internal email everyone in our slack team has communicated 100% perfectly from the start, from when it was just the 3 of us working part time all the way up to 10+ full time employees and external contractors and interns.

That is of course not true. No matter how we choose to share information, unless suddenly all parties can read minds like Professor X, collaborating with other people involves working with human beings, all of us imperfect.

Putting valuable information in searchable channels where anybody who might need it can access it is a huge leap forward. But, that will not get everyone to put enough detail or context into what they write, or stop incorrect assumptions, or even guarantee that a crucial piece of information won’t be lost in the shuffle of too many of those incredibly useful messages from integrations.

Team communication is hard. Doing it well takes discipline and constant reinforcement, and it’s so easy to get comfortable and assume understanding or even that the words I typed actually convey the correct set of ideas and not something close but very different. That degree of difficulty only goes up the more people you add to the mix.

Writing is thinking, and chat is immediate. Sometimes the immediate thought is not always the most coherent, so establishing ways to make sure everyone is not overwhelmed and is encouraged to layer on additional context via give and take is just as important as getting people to use the right tools.

Our team has had a lot of communication success and failure, but we’re always looking to build the discipline to make it easier, and the first step is not deluding ourselves that it is easy or automatic even with the best tools available.

P.S. – These are probably separate post(s), but I can confidently say slack is not a wiki replacement and it is definitely not a task management system, no matter how tempting it is to try to use it in those ways

The Learning Stops When the Writing Stops

It’s really easy to give or listen to advice. I’ve given plenty of mostly unqualified advice to people who didn’t really ask for it most of the time. I’ve read a lot of advice and taken really useful things from it- I’m a good chunk through a book1 that would qualify as just that right now. I have a drive to learn about great new ways to do things and a too healthy fixation on finding the perfect set of tools to help me and everyone around me do things the right way from now on.

Coming off of a week of vacation and stepping back, it’s funny to reflect on all the lessons and habits I find the most valuable in my life and in my career to this point were things I read or was told about or even talked about myself ad nauseum, but didn’t really absorb until I really tried it myself instead of talking about it or researching 10 different tools to find the perfect one to do it.

Recently at Haven we announced our arrival to the wider world2. I’m immensely proud of what my team and our whole company have accomplished so far, but I know how much more we need to do and how much better it can be as we try new things, find ways to test our results, and improve upon them. I want our company and products to be better, and most of all I want to be better, so I am going to commit to doing more things both professionally and personally with the bare minimum of prerequisites, because looking back that’s how I learned and discovered most effectively- by doing.

I’m also going to commit to make time to write about my experiments whenever possible, because writing is something I miss, and because I need to take my own medicine. I talk a lot about how writing is thinking but as you can see by my post history I’m either not thinking much or I’m doing it in private. I am to improve upon that as much as I can. Always bet on text.

I have some ideas. I may write a series3 about my ongoing experiments in product management coming from developer world. I may write about the classic movie I just watched for the first time tonight. I might write about the book I read on vacation that should be a movie. I might write a super technical post about code that should probably be a question and answer on stackoverflow. I may write a review of a grape Mr. Misty4 12 years after I said I would. But, I am setting a goal to write weekly, and I am going to challenge my inner critic to lay off a bit before obsessing over each thing I write, because the result of thinking more about what would be a good enough post to write vs. just writing so far is that I just stop writing publicly. I hope if I fall short whatever peanut gallery exists finds ways to remind me to do what I said I’d do. As previous posts to this site now show in the footnotes, future me will probably chastise current me regardless.

Coach Sellers used to say “the learning stops when the writing stops.” I’ve learned a whole lot without writing about it afterwards, but I feel like had I done so I would consider those ideas more carefully and have more clarity and understanding around them. I hope in the process to throw off some artifact that is useful or at least makes someone else crack a smile, but otherwise I am going to write to think, and to hopefully learn. An object in motion stays in motion.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

  1. About 60% of the way through I’m finding some of the thinking to be really useful and a lot of the specific content to be dated and very much “do what I did to get rich!” seminar kinds of stuff. Still worth the read so far.

  2. Or at least the wider Indianapolis metropolitan area.

  3. Inspired by series from Brent Simmons and David Smith among others, which I enjoyed even without knowing much about the surrounding material

  4. I think a Mr. Misty is called an Arctic Rush or something now. Some people are unjustifiably mad about Pluto not being a planet, I am unjustifiably mad about this.


Many people at times had difficulty understanding Grandpa when he spoke. Not necessarily because of his accent, but also because he had a knack for saying things people had to think about a bit.

There’s a famous story in our family in which before a birthday celebration he shared with my sister Jessica, he rose to speak and began simply saying “Today is the day…of 100!” Seeing some confused looks I explained that we were celebrating his 78th birthday and her 22nd birthday and those together equaled 100- it made sense to me.

It was clear to anyone who got to know Grandpa that he was a different sort of person. His relentless curiosity about the world and everything in it was evident. From working with countless mechanical things in his workshop to learning a new language to add to the many he spoke fluently so he could better understand people from other cultures than the many he already knew, his thirst for new knowledge was unending. His taste for adventure took him from Switzerland to his new home in these United States, and then with Grandma by his side to exotic destinations around the globe, and yet those great adventures did not diminish even the small adventures to be had such as trying out my brother John’s skateboard or even getting on horseback at 89 years old.

His acts of kindness and charity were frequent and not small. He gave to a wide range of charities, especially those that help the less fortunate and of course preserve the environment he remained fascinated with until now. His generosity and love allowed us to have a family vacation every year on a beautiful island that many of us call home now.

Looking back, it’s funny how nobody else I knew when they went to visit their grandparents was graded on how well they made the bed or was pitted against their cousin in an amateur olympic decathlon including such events as swimming, running, and indigenous blowgun target shooting.

But, nobody else I knew helped put together a water sensing vent closing mechanism. Or flew down an underground tunnel inside a box pulled by a lawn tractor. Nobody else I knew had a Grandpa who wanted them to build him a computer with a “video telephone” years before skype was a thing. Or shot targets with a blowgun.

The list goes on and on, and all those experiences helped encourage and inspire so many of the passions I hope to continue on in my life and share with others as he did. I can only hope to match his kindness and constant adventuring. On the other hand, we might think that we all should hope not to be as stubborn, but I do think there was a lesson in his famous story about there being “no such orders in the Swiss Army.”

Today we miss Grandpa, and we love and remember him. But we also celebrate- not the day of 100, but the day of the number of all the years combined of all the people across the world from Aarau to Tide Pointe who were enriched by his kindness, curiosity, love, and zest for life.

Later during your dinner I hope you all raise a glass, and “Prost” to Willi, whom we will not forget.

Schneier: The Value of Privacy

I recently came across a link to a post from 2006 from security writer Bruce Schneier that is very relevant to the recent NSA news, and probably puts forth the best succinct argument against the first sentence of this excerpt:

“If you aren’t doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?”

Some clever answers: “If I’m not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me.” “Because the government gets to define what’s wrong, and they keep changing the definition.” “Because you might do something wrong with my information.” My problem with quips like these — as right as they are — is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It’s not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Two proverbs say it best: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? (“Who watches the watchers?”) and “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The whole post is not very long and very much worth reading.

It seems to me that most people aren’t really that concerned with the recent revelations or are fixated on the man who leaked them instead of their contents. I think though that if people really understood just how much about someone can be figured out with even basic analytics, much less huge volumes of searchable private data and what the implications of that are, they’d be much more concerned.

Git Your Ass to Markdown

By nature, I’m pretty restless to learn new things, especially in the nerd realm. This can be a huge asset: the pace of change within the world of technology, especially software, is lightning quick and driven by countless people constantly working to release interesting things to experiment with.

The balance I always struggle to strike is between chasing a moderate number of new shiny things while still spending enough time sharpening my current skills to the level I want to achieve. I admire people with the passion to immerse nearly their entire waking lives into doing both, but while software is more than just my job, I also have other interests I like to pursue. So, something always suffers.

Of course in many ways that’s a false dilemma. Most things in the software world are just tools that any skilled practitioner can learn and use to build on their more general knowledge. But, more recently there have been two major areas where I felt like I’d fallen behind many of my peers1: the proliferation of Markdown, and the use of distributed version control systems like Git and Mercurial.

With Markdown, it seems like services I use every day have either added support, or had it baked in from the start. 50 Million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. And while my job as of this post still primarily uses svn for source control, it seems like the rest of the development world has moved on to Git or Mercurial2. Now, I enjoy reading a technical book here and there, but what really helps me is applied learning, so I devised a new plan and decided on…you guessed it…yet another website migration!

I host and manage two low traffic websites where I am the only (semi-)regular creator of content. Wordpress was super easy to install on my shared hosting provider when I launched those sites, but it was not only overkill, it had plenty of hidden pitfalls and internet janitorial work associated. After seeing it mentioned around the web and doing some research, I decided to give Octopress a shot. There are other great low maintenance blog hosting options now like Squarespace and the soon to be launched Ghost looks incredible, but I really wanted to dive into the details and force myself to learn to use what has so far impressed me as a really simple3 but still really powerful publishing tool that produces a completely baked4 website.

Now that the initial oddyssey of setup, previous site content conversion, footnoting of all my old posts, theme tweaking, and completely unnecessary hosting changes has been taken care of, I can now write Markdown content in my favorite text editor or live preview tool, manage it all in a git repository on my various computers and on bitbucket / github, and deploy it all with a few command line tasks.

Once again I have no good excuses not to do all the writing I’ve been thinking about doing for months! Oh crap.

(This post contains an affiliate link.)

  1. I refuse to say things like “the cool kids™.” It smacks of insecurity and nerd on nerd violence.

  2. Git by and large seems to have “won” between the two, due to its ubiquity in the open source community and the incredible platform available on Github.

  3. For those of us comfortable in a terminal.

  4. Yeah I hear your Beavis and Butthead laughing. That’s not near as bad a tech term as sharding.

Quoth Sir Charles

“I used to care what people thought about me. But then I realized that when I tried to make the people who didn’t like me, like me, the people who did like me didn’t like me anymore. So I just said screw it.” – Sir Charles, as relayed by Clay Travis

Review: Diastar Head Massager

Oh. Man.

I recently had a momentary lapse of self control and bought a silly frivolous add-on product along with a recent amazon order because that happens to me often. In any case, this thing arrived today and here is my review:


This contraption is amazing and should be owned by everyone. Recommended in the biggest way.

 (This post includes an affiliate link.)

Who Am I (What’s My Name)

I made a decision recently that coincided with the “relaunch”1 of this website that I would stop posting things under a pseudonym. Over the last few days I have added my full name to my twitter page, imported all of my posts from my previous site2, and decided that even though I was only superficially trying to be harder to find, that I’m not going to be doing that anymore. I’m also glad I never got a tattoo because every time I pick something like a website name to identify myself with I tend to think it’s stupid only a few years later3.

I still think most of the things I wrote in this post4, but recently I had the realization that it’s silly to hide behind a not very effective barrier. I’m comfortable being in full view attempting to do a decent job at being a human being complete with opinions, with varying levels of success in that endeavor. I’m now convinced that there’s no good reason for me to try and keep some alternate friends only online persona, and that being fully up front and genuine should actually be an asset to one’s professional life, not just one’s personal life. And if at some point it isn’t an asset, then maybe that’s not a situation one should be in professionally. Unless you’re a jerk I suppose, but don’t be the kind of jerk that tries to hide it.

I plan to expand on this idea in a post related to politics soon, but one of the things that has become central to my personal philosophy over the past couple of years is that people are going to have different ideas and it is OK to disagree. It’s also possible to discuss these disagreements without getting angry or shutting down, even if it’s not possible to settle on a solution- not just with politics, but with any topic.

So here I am- to expand on the tag line of the site, I’m Craig Sturgis and this is a web site where I write the things I think at the time they are posted. It also links to social media pages where I post things I think and experience. Engage away.

  1. Now, this site was never really launched in the first place, but that’s beside the point.

  2. The now defunct craigtsoandso.com

  3. My Senior yearbook quote is the worst.

  4. Has it really been almost 4 years since I wrote that?

I Want My…

I Want My MTV

Cue that sweet Dire Straights riff with the fixed wah sound.

I finished the book I Want My Mtv, the oral history of MTV during its original golden age. Its target audience is obviously the people who lived and breathed the channel as it became a cultural phenomenon during the 80s and early 90s, but I still enjoyed the book as somebody who completely missed the boat on the era the book covers.

I definitely am not a Gen-Xer, and took even longer than a lot of my peers to become aware of pop culture.  I was 10 when the grunge wave hit, but even then the first time I actively remember hearing Smells Like Teen Spirit was actually hearing the Weird Al parody at a friend’s house.  However, the book is packed full of the stories behind the pop culture touchstones that I absorbed via osmosis or experienced well past their day, either first hand or via innumerable references  by people I know and in other media I’ve seen.

Either way I found almost all the stories about the start of the network and its evolution to be pretty great, especially given the conflicting perspectives of the people who were involved and what their version of events were compared to the generally agreed upon version of the story line.

The most interesting takeaway from it for me was remembering a time when recorded pop music was really the central focus of youth culture and culture at large. I’m not sure if things are better or worse now since that has very much changed, but after reading the book it’s interesting how clear it was even back then that music programming and music videos were not a sustainable main programming choice for a tv network that wanted to stay in business. That’s well before the bottom fell out from underneath the music industry over the last 10 years.

The other thing that stuck out to me about a lot of the quotes in the book is how thin-skinned so many people were about how much credit they got, how much airplay they were getting, or how they were portrayed by things like “Beavis and Butthead.”

As an aside, I wish it weren’t such a nightmare to get all the rights for the clips of Beavis and Butthead commenting on videos, I would pay a decent amount of money to see all of those again, the show itself in retrospect was very hit or miss, aside from the feature film which is a work of genius.  (I say that without irony, it’s one of my favorite movies)

Speaking as a non expert on the era, it seems to cover almost every important aspect of the MTV mega run, so it is worth a read, especially if you were somebody who was a teenager in the 80s. And probably like any oral history, the conflicting stories and memories are yet more examples that make me glad I’ve heard the Radiolab episode on memory, which is probably one of the most interesting and useful ways you can ever spend an hour.


Also, one last thing about the book I loved: it taught me that a key producer of many MTV programs over the years was named Joe Davola, and yes the bit character on Seinfeld was named after him.

(This post includes an affiliate link.)

Crashed Down on the Edge of Town

I’m not sure how common this experience is, but I always forget that when I go on a vacation where I can truly relax, my body figures that out before my mind does. Before my mind can settle down, I crash, hard.

I’ve had this happen to me a number of times even back during school, but it’s still a blindside how much just letting go of stress can hit like a truck. I slept for 10 hours the first night, and it was glorious, but still walked around in a haze that entire next day. It’s only several days later that I’m feeling completely refreshed. But, it has reaffirmed my commitment to taking time away from the multitude of micro-stresses at least once a year even if I can’t physically go anywhere special. My vacation to Switzerland last year was amazing, but it was also a trip with lots of its own little travel stresses. I still plan on taking plenty of those types of trips in the future, but from now on a low key trip is going to have to be in the works to contrast it.

In a somewhat related vein I’ve resolved to try and “multitask” as little as I possibly can in the future. For the most part, I think multitasking is something people have convinced themselves they’re very good at, and sometimes they have no choice but to do it. However I think the people who are actually able to split their attention between two or more things at once and not have anything suffer much are in the extreme minority. I’ve decided I’d rather do my best to focus on one thing at a time and force myself to maintain that focus the best that I can. Hang on, I see something shi