Letters: January 2023


Letters is a ongoing project by Jason Becker that I was involved in for this month. The what:

Letters will involve me corresponding with someone else on the internet over the course of a month. Each week, we will each write a letter to each other. There are no set topics.

The why:

I was thinking about how much of our history (in the West at least) comes from important figures having extensive private correspondences that were saved, catalogued, and released after their deaths. And while I’d love some private pen pals, it just got me thinking that public letters are a rich way to discuss complex issues.

Jason posted that in November and I thought it sounded like an interesting thing to be involved in. While I don't think we hit the heights of "historical figures discussing complex issues", we did have conversations about taking stock, finding time for personal projects and hobbies, and of course my Topic of the Year™ 2022: DIY. Below are the four emails from me with Jason's responses (and links to the posts on Jason's site).

Jason is doing this for the rest of the year which I'm looking forward to.

Week 1: 2023-01-01

Hi Jason,

We have only interacted briefly on Micro.blog so I figured I should start by introducing myself. I’m a 30-something developer working on software for the property industry. I live with my partner, Jess, and two cats in Portsmouth on the south coast of the UK.

We have spent the past 12 months decorating and redoing every room in our house - the previous owners lived here since it was built in 1971 and hadn’t done any work to it since then. This involved me learning a whole set of new skills like floor laying, wallpapering, and fitting new skirting boards (baseboards for Americans).

In July we found out my partner was pregnant with a girl and she is due in March 2023. This accelerated the timeline of getting the house finished but we are now ready for her arrival at least in terms of furniture and the nursery. Mentally ready? I’m not so sure.

Look forward to hearing from you, Robb

Hi Robb,

First of all, congratulations on pending fatherhood! I’m glad we were able to slip in our month of correspondance before the pending sleep depravation.

What an exciting and busy year. Even though we moved into our home 5 years ago (and it was new construction), I still feel like we need to keep decorating and redoing. Our work has been less skills-based and more “accumulating more stuff than I am comfortable owning”-based, since our new(ish) home is much larger than the 700 square feet we lived in previously. I have always found that I have ambitious of being handy in theory, but mostly fail when it comes to applying that ambition. At this stage, my partner Elsa just pays people to do things before telling me they’ve gone wrong or haven’t happened.

I am curious, what room or project are you most proud of? I’m not quite “done”, but pretty close to having my office set up how I’d like. It was a big pandemic project since we got rid of the company office right away. Having my own space has changed my whole relationship with my home.

I took a peek at the work you do and it’s fascinating. I have actually discussed this area (home management, focused on home inspections in the US followed by “asset management” and warranty support nad the like) with my work partner multiple times as an idea to pursue{^tech]. The intersection of home-renovation and your work must have been an interesting exercise. I’d be curious what you’ve learned managing your house that suprised you or changed your perspective on the work you do day to day.

Thanks for your participation in Letters. I’m already enjoying this project, and I hope others will as well.


Week 2: 2023-01-10

Good Morning Jason,

what room or project are you most proud of?

The office was my top priority (my partner had different ideas) as I spend 3-4 days a week working in there and I’m very proud of how that turned out. I built the desktop and matching shelves myself from scaffold boards because finding something in the exact size I wanted turned out to be fairly difficult. This was a project that took a few weekends of lots of sanding, glueing, and staining but the final results is something I’m very proud of. Here’s an in-progress shot and the final result in situ. I also did the faux wood-panelling in our bedroom which we’re both very pleased with.

The work I do is primarily focused on property reports for tenants (inventories, fire risk assessments, etc) so there isn’t much crossover with renovating the house but I what I did learn is that planning is key. We wish we had spent a few weeks planning what we wanted to achieve before jumping into the renovation. There were definitely things that made our life a bit more difficult because we did some work when we should have waited for another job to be finished first.

That sounds like an interesting job but it must be difficult to work with organisations like schools that can be slow and unwieldy to get new tech implemented. How long have you been doing that?

I saw you posted yesterday about being ill, hope you’re feeling a bit better today?

Speak soon, Robb

Hi Robb,

Luckily, I am feeling better. Note to self, when you order a steak medium and it comes out just barely rare just send the damn thing back. The day of suffering that followed was not worth it.

I've done some more work in my office since this last photo, but this is a not-terribly-inaccurate representation of where things are. I also use the IKEA pegboard. I did not quite get as fancy on the desk itself-- which is an IKEA Karlby 98" top that I had a friend cut to 80" and then added some really cool metal legs from an Etsy shop. When the pandemic hit we went 100% remote, which meant tha this room got transformed into an office. I probably have 6-10 scattered blog posts about the process that landed on the setup linked above-- most of the changes by now are additional plants and things hung on the wall (plus some equipment changes).

I think it's pretty natural for the office to be the place you're most proud of-- it's one you get to call your own and the spot you're probably stuck spending the most time in.

We've been thinking about doing a similar paneling look either behind our bed or possibly behind our TV. Maybe that'll be a project for when we return home. It's hard to have a big wall behind a TV-- it looks bare without anything, but most things we could put there would be distracting.


I've been working at my current company nearly 9 years. Before that, I worked at a university research center working with school districts on early warning systems, and before that, I worked for the state department of education. I think what's most challenging is that everyone is well-established. There aren't new school districts popping up building their systems and processes from scratch. The people, organizations, culture, and work processes are all fairly fixed. So we have to do things much more completely and better than most companies to even get in the door. Then we have to get a large set of folks on board so that we can deliver on our promise. We're a small team and we're supporting billions of dollars of budgeting and monitoring. There's a lot of technical/systems and cultural debt that we have to work with to succeed.

That said, the opportunity for improvement is huge, and it's very satisfying when someone gets it and we can make their work so much easier and more effective.

Looking forward to next week Jason

Week 3: 2023-01-19

Hi Jason,

A late reply this week - I completely forgot about this until very late last night.

Your TV setup looks very similar to ours but we're lucky enough to have two wall lights behind it so the wall looks much less bare but you're right it's hard to put anything to garish there otherwise it's distracting.

With 10 weeks to go, I've been thinking a lot about technology and how that will affect my duaghter. This post in particular made me think about how much I'm going to share about her online once she's here. I don't think there's any right answer but it has occupied my mind the past few days. Come to think of it, the impending birth is basically the only thing I can think about at the moment. I'm sure that we'll be fine but I can't help but worry that we won't have enough clothes or nappies, or something I haven't even thought of will go wrong.

As for non-baby things, I've been having fun messing around with the omg.lol API building a CLI to interact with the service and I'm working on add a /now page to my website (as well as the new omg.lol now pages). How has your week been this week?

Speak soon, Robb

Hi Robb,

Easily excusing the "late" reply (rules are once per week, doesn't have to be right at the start), with a later reply of my own. This week has been incredibly busy at work as the post-holiday break, post-three day weekend, we're really back at it and in it, started to kick in. It's been long but rewarding-- one of those weeks where you're exhausted, but I'm doing the kind of work I do well bringing the energy and attention I need to.

In particular, I've recently reorganized our team so that I have slightly smaller set of direct reports that are more "coherent" structurally-- I am managing directly one person who leads each function below me. It's too early to say if this is working better for the whole team, but this week made me feel confident that it works better for me, which is really important for avoiding burn out.

On the TV side, wall lights were another thing we considered-- a sconce on each side just to give it something. It just feels strange to have so much blank space above the TV as well. I need someone to, I don't know, share a Pinterest board or something with me so I can figure out what people actually do. The entire dilemma of what to do behind the TV reinforces a personal frustration of mine. It feels wrong that our "living room" is oriented toward a television. I would like for things to be different, but I don't think my partner or her mother would be sufficiently on board to make that change. It's more aspirational, really, to make sure that all television time is appointment time and not casual watching.

I cannot imagine the stack of worry that comes with being just weeks away from being a dad. It's good to work with fun new tools right now while you can-- a good distraction before side projects get put aside for a while. My gut is that it's not worth worrying too much about online presence. I'm not a parent, and I'm not facing that decision, but my gut is that it's easy to overthink the consequences (or lack thereof). Short of straight up exploitation, which is rare, these things seem to work out ok for parents and kids regardless of the choices they make. That's not to say the choices don't matter, but it seems like there aren't wrong choices.

I'm a big fan of /now pages (I really need to update mine). I really value the narrative of a Now page. For me, it's a time I get to think about what matters that gets lost in the series of smaller posts or dripped out updates. I have resisted adding any "automated" elements-- it'd be easy to add the book I'm currently reading, for example, or maybe something like starred articles from my RSS reader. Something to think about.

We're coming to the end of our time in Mexico. I'm thinking a lot about what makes home, well, home, and what I've learned about where I want to live and what I want my life to be like from 2+ months away. It's a different kind of taking stock than becoming a parent, but I find myself taking stock nonetheless.

Looking forward to next week, Jason

Week 4: 2023-01-28

Hi Jason,

Another later-in-the-week reply for our last week of this project. To what you said about taking stock, I think a break or a big life change is an excellent time to think about these things. We found ourselves doing that when we moved into this house and once again when we knew we were having a child.

Onto which, the final preparations are now taking place: washing the clothes, organising the nursery, and prepping the hospital bag (a long with many pregnancy and post-pregnancy products I'd never realised even existed). I've gone past the worrying stage now for the most part and I'm focusing on things I can control.

Mexico sounds wonderful and I hope you've been able to relax and enjoy it - spending an extended time away from home in somewhere so different sounds lovely.

Now to get a little bit meta about this project of yours. Having done this for four weeks now I'm struck by how difficult I've found being committed to writing something every week - it's certainly a good job I suggested early in the year pre-baby else I'm not sure it would have gone quite as well. Despite having ideas here and there for little projects or blog posts something about the somewhat stricter schedule I've struggled to do it "on time" (despite the loose rules).

I have, however, really enjoyed being part of this project and I'm looking forward to reading in the coming months.

Speak soon, Robb

Hi Robb,

It’s funny, because here at the beginning of this project, while taking stock, I’ve had two contrary reactions. First, it does take a surprising amount of discipline to sit down and write to someone. It’s certainly harder than just shooting off whatever is at the top of my mind. Second, it feels so feeble to just write a letter once a week while I see all the progression you’ve been making on several side projects, while preparing for the baby, during this same month.

You’ve been automating your now page, released a widely celebrated set of icons, built a CLI for omg.lol, and a host of other small projects. Based on chaosweb.space, I think you’d like mavica’s work.

It’s generating that itch in me again to figure out how to leave some energy at the end of the day to do the things I love on the computer after doing those things at work all day on the computer. Part of my taking stock is realizing that I have to find a way to push over that activation energy hump so that I can just work on small tools for myself all the time.

I’m glad this first month felt like just writing letters to a friend about what’s happening— it feels like an easy introduction. Maybe they’ll all go this way, but maybe some folks will want to really dig into a specific topic. I’m glad that I am not responsible for writing the first letter, because I think that makes it more likely that each month will be a bit different based on who is participating.

Thanks for helping me kick off this project. Jason