by Glen Lipka Tue, 03 Nov 2020 17:19:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 32 32 2075023 Election Day 2020 Tue, 03 Nov 2020 17:19:31 +0000 Continue readingElection Day 2020]]> I have a serious feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. In 2016, I felt confident in the morning and sadness and despair slowly built up during the day. Today, I am exhausted with all of the 2020 nonsense. I am sick and tired of there being news every single day. I can’t stand Trump’s constant tweeting. I am fed up with the disdain for science that people shout while using the technology that science gave us to do the shouting in the first place.

Bottom line: I need this nightmare to end. I just got back from voting and hope you voted (if you can) today as well.

Best Case Scenario

  • Biden wins. Democrats take Senate and local state houses. Landslide wave election.
  • Trump steps down without riots and violence.
  • States adopt the Interstate Compact and we can finally be done with the Electoral College.
  • Upon inauguration, Biden undoes most of Trumps executive orders and replaces the mid-level employees of the government with people who care about their jobs.
  • Biden leans into national testing and contact tracing programs.
  • A democratic dominate government passes a massive energy overhaul program and gets rid of oil and replaces it with wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources as quickly as possible.
  • Basic science research is funded.
  • Subsidies are massively overhauled to stop giving money to poor industries and start giving it to better ones, like electric cars and wind farms.
  • Education programs are overhauled to stop focusing on tests and start to focus on quality including funding the arts and music.
  • The Supreme and Federal Courts are reformed to make them less partisan. Term limits probably are a good idea.
  • World Peace. Science. Progress. Happiness.

Worst Case Scenario

  • We don’t find out who wins and it turns into a full blown revolution.
  • Trump supporters start rounding up Biden supporters and several high profile democrats disappear.
  • Trump declares martial law and suspends the congress.
  • Russian trumps arrive to support the Trump regime and occupy Washington DC.
  • The Internet is censored and progressive voices are stamped out.
  • Facial recognition and AI is used for Pro-Trump militias to target and eliminate opposition.
  • There is a mass flight of people to Canada and other countries.
  • A nuclear weapon is … I can’t finish this sentence.


I have never been as scared for our future as I am today. This day is way more pivotal than any other day in my lifetime. More important than the 2000 election, which I think massively changed the course of history. Way more important than 9/11.

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I am hopeful. Neither the best, nor the worst case scenario will happen. I will definitely be disappointed with some of the outcome. Whatever happens, we will experience it together. For better or for worse.

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Covid Protocols and Tennis Thu, 29 Oct 2020 18:59:31 +0000 Continue readingCovid Protocols and Tennis]]> There are Rules

My kids (the older 2) are pretty strict about Covid protocols in general. When playing tennis with others, we were following the Official USTA Rules. The rules say “Bring your own can of balls and ONLY touch those. Don’t touch any other set of tennis balls”. The invitations to play tennis also included these guidelines.

Ignoring the Rules

So I show up to tennis and NO ONE is following the rules. Some people have masks on, but there is certainly not 6 feet between people. It’s barely different than normal behavior. I do my best to stand apart, but it feels really awkward.

When I tell people that I want to follow the rules and isolate my tennis balls, I get a few odd looks. Then the match begins and people keep touching the balls I opened for myself. It’s impossible and I start getting annoyed. They are annoyed by me and I am annoyed by the whole situation. I honestly started considering quitting tennis until the rules change.

Political Tennis

Some people think that I am following the rules because I am a progressive. I imagine a chart of political affiliation vs. people who actively ignore Covid safety protocols. Clearly Republicans would be flouting the rules more often, but in my experience on the court, almost everyone (of every political leaning) was ignoring the rules.

I asked one particularly progressive person why they were touching the balls. They said, “It’s just too much. I can’t.” I am not judging them, but I think that it says alot about human psychology.

I think it’s important to avoid politics in situations like this. Tennis is not about your politics. It’s exercise and fun. When it becomes political, then you end up limiting who you play with. In my opinion, there is no place for politics on the tennis court.

I wish that Covid protocols weren’t so political. The virus doesn’t care what your party is. It doesn’t care if you support abortion rights or not. The virus just gets inside you and tries to kill you.

What would make people change?

Interestingly, Covid effects are pretty simple. You get it and experience one of the following:

  1. Nothing, you feel fine
  2. You get a little sick (this happened to Trump) and then recover
  3. You get REALLY sick, but stay at home and then recover
  4. You die

That’s it. One of those 4 things. Imagine if the effects were different. Such as:

  1. Nothing, you feel fine.
  2. You are paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of your life (like Polio)
  3. You go blind for the rest of your life
  4. You have facial scars for the rest of your life (Like PoxVirus)

Imagine that is what Covid did. People don’t fear a small chance of death. They fear a small chance of deformity! Covid isn’t taken seriously, because we aren’t afraid of dying. When did humanity stop caring about death?

This may sound cynical or morbid, but it is fascinating to me how people’s brains work. Right now, the following can easily happen:

  1. You go to a restaurant and catch Covid (with no strong effects)
  2. You go visit your parents and infect them (with no strong effects)
  3. They visit their neighbors and infect them
  4. One neighbor (Sally) dies

You might not even realize that you were the cause of that person dying. Now imagine the same scenario, but when you got to the restaurant there was a sign. “If you eat here, please be aware that Sally will be dead in 10 days because of you”. Imagine you had to hit Sally in the heat with a hammer and kill her just to eat your food.

1,016 people died yesterday from Covid. 227,697 have died so far in the United States. Every one of them died because someone just had to go to the restaurant or bar, or because they wouldn’t wear a mask or whatever they thought was important.

Back to Tennis

Anyway, my oldest son thought of a new protocol for tennis that would make it much easier to play. It involves an insane amount of hand sanitizer. I think I applied it 20 times in one match. But it was a little easier to play and felt less awkward.

I can’t make people follow protocols. I don’t know what I can do. Will this post help? No. But I don’t think it can hurt either.

A Better Future

if we just invested heavily in testing and contact tracing, this national nightmare would end. Other countries have done this. People get tested every day. What the hell is wrong with us that we don’t do this obviously good thing?

We can do all the things we want. We can have indoor events. We just need daily testing of everyone and contact tracing.

Please vote next week. Vote for actual policies that make our collective lives better.

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Tab Groups in Chrome Thu, 22 Oct 2020 17:21:56 +0000 Continue readingTab Groups in Chrome]]> Chrome recently updated their browser and added a much needed feature. It’s called Tab Groups. Firefox used to have it and for some reason lost it. Here is how it works. First, update chrome by clicking the top right kabob (three dots) and then Help → About Chrome. It should pop open a tab where you can relaunch with the update.

Now when right click on a tab, you should see the following menu.

[Add Tab to Group] will let you add that tab to an existing group or make up a new group. For work, these are the ones I chose.

GMail and Calendar are pinned on the left because I use them constantly. After that, I groups all of the applications I use such as Trello and other logins. Google drive and Confluence get their own groups because those seem to be the worst offenders of “too many tabs open”.

If I open them all, it’s too many tabs. But closed, it is nice a neat. A dream come true for someone who likes to keep things orderly. I love this feature. Brava Chrome!

No criticism?

😂 Haha, no, of course not. I have one major criticism. When you expand the tab, it only expands horizontally. The problem with that is that you still can’t see the titles. It would be better if I could click something and see the tabs of a tab group vertically.

Firefox has an add-on to show all of the tabs vertically, but not in groups.

I want to combine the two different modes. I want to collapse tabs horizontally at the top AND see the children of those tabs vertically when I want to. That would be ideal.

Still, a great feature and I hope Firefox brings tab groups back. I wonder how this can influence my B2B application. Good things to ponder.

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Remote Team Bonding Tue, 20 Oct 2020 23:17:02 +0000 Continue readingRemote Team Bonding]]> In the Age of Covid, we are all working in a new way. I spend more time in meetings and less time sitting with people at their desks. As a team leader, I want to make sure we are bonding and developing relationships with each other. We can’t sit and have lunch together or bullshit by the water cooler. Therefore, we have been trying many methods of remote team bonding.

My first attempt was using the movie club spreadsheet. This worked for a little while but then people started feeling like it was a chore rather than fun. What I realized was that team bonding needed to be mixed up. We needed to pick different kinds of exercises each week to keep it fresh.

I used the same spreadsheet template from the movie club and asked each team member to come up with a different activity. Here is our current grading scheme:

Remote team bonding exercises

The surprising standouts are codenames and scavenger hunts. Codenames is a new spin on pictionary. Scavenger hunt is when we have a list and 5 minutes to scour your house for something appropriate. Then people vote on their favorite version of the item. For example:

For some reason, scavenger hunts revealed more about the people’s lives than anything else we have done. We saw elements of their history, hobbies people enjoy, or creative elements of their home. Some items were touching, some were funny. It really surprised me how much we all learned about each other.

Another thing I’ve seen recently is Gather Town. It’s this little multiplayer world where you can move a little avatar around. When you get “close” to someone, automatic video conferencing kicks in. It looks so simple, but there is alot going on under the hood. I truly had a feeling like I was in an office with people. Im not sure if we will continue with it, but it was a lot of fun. On the downside, it is a little incompatible with other zoom meetings and also it felt somewhat distracting.

A designer on my team said that her social circle of designers is collectively struggling to figure out how to bond with each other. There is no magic bullet. You need to put in the work and keep it fresh and different. I work hard to keep the team connected with each other on projects and with each other personally. I hope my efforts are paying off.

How are you bonding with your team? Is it working? How can it be better?

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Unnatural vs Natural Acts of Product Development Thu, 15 Oct 2020 23:32:15 +0000 Continue readingUnnatural vs Natural Acts of Product Development]]> When developing a large product, especially for enterprise customers, it is tempting to do some engineering specifically to land (or keep) a big customer. This, on its face, sounds good, right?

“The customer is always right.”

Marshall FieldWikipedia

I think this makes sense in a department store. However, when dealing with large enterprise software, the customer is sometimes wrong. They will want a feature that might not be good for the business. This happened to me many years ago at Remend. One big customer can derail your whole product this way. Here are a few reasons why it might be a bad idea:

  1. The feature is divergent from your vision and will confuse the market
  2. The feature is hard to achieve
  3. The feature is only is usable by a couple of customers
  4. The feature will delay a different feature that is much more strategic

Additionally, when you do something “quick”, you take on technical debt. Sometimes it makes sense, but often that technical debt will cost you much more than whatever money you got from that one prospect or customer.

Natural Acts

A “natural act” of engineering is when a little feature is:

  1. Already on the roadmap, just lower
  2. Aligned with your vision
  3. Possible to do without too much technical debt
  4. Productized for broad use cases

That last one is a key attribute of a natural act. A single hack feature for one customer can usually be expanded slightly and made abstract so that other customers can benefit. A natural act would be to switch priorities of two features on the roadmap that you were going to do anyway.

Unnatural Acts

An “Unnatural act” of engineering is when:

  1. Development will cost more than the feature earns
  2. Technical debt will be crippling
  3. Morale takes a serious hit
  4. Other priorities experience large setbacks

An unnatural engineering act sticks around for way longer than you expect. It might be years with the same rickety hack that was made to get a customer from ages ago.

Some unnatural acts can be accomplished by professional services in an enterprise capacity. These are sort of good in the sense that they achieve the goal. The downside is that those PS hacks stick around and might be broken by future development. It’s a fine line between professional services hacking together an answer to close a deal or keep a customer vs that same hack causing the customer to be unhappy in the long run.

An example of that is Marketo’s Traffic Cop implementation. This was invented by a marketer to use the system in ways that it was never intended. The implementation was useful and eventually became “nurture programs” when they were built by product. However, until then, the traffic cop made everyone miserable. it crashed the servers non-stop with infinite loops of trigger storms. (Don’t ask – it was a nightmare!) Also, customers complained that they were spending all their time messing with traffic cop and thought the product was “not easy”. I think it hurt the company tremendously even though it was useful to the power users of a few companies.

The lesson is that unnatural acts are usually bad ideas. Make sure to abstract the functionality and support it for real. It takes a little longer, but it will ensure the health of your business long term.

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A Brief History of Me (So Far) Fri, 02 Oct 2020 01:16:17 +0000 Continue readingA Brief History of Me (So Far)]]> Can you put your life into bullet points? Can you summarize and really boil information spanning decades down to its essentials? Let’s give it a try.

  • Act I (Growing up)
    • Born outside NYC in the foresty suburbs
    • Was pretty bad at school, but I read non stop
    • Got into Art pretty early. Loved to draw
    • Went to a local community college and then a bad state school
    • Learned a little about myself
  • Act II (the dot come hurricane)
    • Got my first job as a secretary at Sony and completely automated myself out of the position in 8 months.
    • Started a digital agency in NYC
    • Grew the company up to 35 people and 5 MM in revenue
    • Designed and built Hotkoko, a SaaS precursor to Sharepoint
    • Got married, produced kid
    • Fired everyone after 9/11 and dotcom collapse. Learned alot about myself.
  • Act III (new beginnings)
    • Moved to California, more kids
    • Learned IT administration (Exchange, Active Directory, etc)
    • Learned Project Management (I am not that good at it)
    • Found first job as Interaction Designer
    • Worked a year at Intuit and learned testing from Avinash Kaushik. Spent the year innovating with jQuery.
  • Act IV (design leader)
    • Was first employee for Marketo, wore many hats:
      • Product Management
      • Research
      • Product Design
      • Product Marketing
      • Sales Engineering
      • Training
      • Support
      • Documentation
    • There were years of joy and years of pain, but overall it was an exceptional experience. IPO 2012.
    • Designed flagship system from scratch, built a great team, and secured two patents for marketing attribution.
    • Was 8th employee of Engagio, led product management and product design. Designed several systems from scratch.
    • Joined Treasure Data as head of product design
      • Designed re-think of entire platform UX
      • Built great team (favorite so far) and led innovative Figma design system.
  • Act V
    • Wait, there is more? Nice! How many more acts do I get?

It doesn’t seem like much when I read it quickly, but there are alot of stories baked in. LinkedIn gives you a glimpse into someone’s history, but I wish it was a little less professional. I want to know the stories. I want to see the character development.

Each of you is a fascinating story. I wonder what will be in your next act?

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Covid Decision Making Framework Thu, 24 Sep 2020 04:59:13 +0000 Continue readingCovid Decision Making Framework]]>

I don’t know what the question is, but the answer is a spreadsheet.

– Glen Lipka

I love collecting weird data and making charts out of it. In the last year, there has been a ton of interesting data. Decisions are made often with lots of bad bias. One area my family struggles with are decisions about whether we should or shouldn’t engage in certain activities in an era of social distancing.

Should we go to an escape room? What about flying in a plane to visit Nana? Is tennis a high risk activity? All of these questions and more have led to uncomfortable arguments in the house. So the other night, we constructed a little Covid framework in a spreadsheet to understand how we think about risk and importance. The final chart allows us to compare different activities against Risk and Importance.

See Spreadsheet


We iterated for a while but ended up breaking risk down into three categories. Ventilation, Density, and Stupid People. We came up with a 4 point scale.

  • 0 = No Risk
  • 1 = Low
  • 2 = Medium
  • 3 = High

We allowed a .5 modifier when we thought it was somewhere in between. For ventilation, we wanted to differentiate between indoor and outdoor seating. If there was sunlight or wind, it has been reported that Covid is less likely to transmit. For Density, we were trying to say that more people increased risk. And lastly stupid people was a tough one. We wanted to isolate if people at that activity or place would be following strict protocols or not. An indoor rally with lots of people without masks would be the highest risk.


We realized relatively quickly that we all had very different ideas about how important certain activities were. We started with categories and eventually scrapped it in favor of an individual 0-9 rating that we would average across the family. Interestingly, each family member weighed importance very differently. Some focused on the well being of individuals. Some were more selfish. This was a really contentious argument over how one should rate importance.

We debated as a family why we rated the way we did. Sometimes we adjusted the numbers, but they quickly settled in. When we looked at the chart (above) we thought that it was a good visualization.

How to Decide

There are some no-brainers. Anything bottom-right is high importance and low risk. You should do those. Things in the top-left were low importance and high risk. Seems like a bad idea in general. The lower-left was probably fine since it was low risk. The tricky part was the top-right. High risk, but high importance. These are items that you want to be careful about and talk as a family.

There will certainly be other items in the center. Those are hard as well. We color coded the items based on if it was being done by only one member of the house and used the size of the bubble to indicate frequency (bigger = more frequent). We talked some about how each of us contributed to risk individually.

The basic framework is to put in new lines as new activities appear. We see where it lands in the chart and talk about the relative importance of an item by looking at nearby circles. This helps contextualize the risk and compare apples and oranges without breaking your brain.

We also added an ROI column which helped us see which items has the best risk-importance ratio. We will continue to iterate on the chart, but I think it has helped us have a discussion we had been avoiding. It also helped us see we were saying yes to some and not others even though the risk-reward was the same.

Compared to Other People

I think our family is more risk averse than other families. When I play tennis, I am the only one on the court using the USTA “Don’t touch other players tennis balls” rule. We might be setting our bar too conservatively. Does it matter? Should we compare ourselves to others? These are difficult times, but I know in my heart that a good spreadsheet helps.

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UX: Putting a Chair Together Thu, 17 Sep 2020 20:59:18 +0000 Continue readingUX: Putting a Chair Together]]> My son (16) put together a new chair for his home desk last night. It wasn’t very complicated, but he struggled with it for a few hours. This was his first attempt at putting together any kind of furniture. I didn’t help him because I wanted him to experience the feeling of trying to put something together on your own. At his age, I was doing that with custom computer parts and most people have struggled with an IKEA desk at some point.

He made a few mistakes. To summarize:

  1. He didn’t use an electric drill for the screws
  2. He tightened screws all the way one at a time rather than progressively together (all 75% tight and then tighten)
  3. He missed some key information

The third one is (in my opinion) the fault of the manufacturer and the people who wrote the instructions. Let’s explore the UX they provided him.

Instructions were terrible

Years ago, I took over the management of the Marketo Docs site. It took 2.5 years of hard work, but today it is the go-to resources for anyone learning about Marketo. it generally gets raves from users. I know first-hand how hard documentation can be.

The instruction sheet for this chair, however, was just awful. It was all in one page printed very small. They had two kinds of screws to use, one was shorter than the other. The picture did not help you understand which was which. They were labeled (i) and (j). What kind of sadist would use i and j as the symbols? They are nearly indentical in small font. And believe me the font was tiny.

Additionally, the pictures were so small, it was very hard to understand which holes the screws were supposed to use.

Contrast problems

On the panel that connects the base to the seat, there was a imprinted word “Front” on the metal. There was no reference to the word Front in the directions but if you got it wrong it was a serious error. The problem was one of visual contrast. You couldn’t see the word. It’s black on black.

Poor contrast with important information

He didn’t see this very subtle printing and ended up putting it on backwards. This should never even be an issue. All you need to do is make the screws in a trapezoid shape and it would become impossible to put it on incorrectly.

Contrast is always important for the human brain to understand things. I am watching the great show The Wire right now. They do a masterful job of contrasting two story lines to show how they are different and how they are the same. They will compare rich to poor or black and white and show how different the results can be.

Both the screw labeling (i/j) and printing on the base (front) both have contrast problems. In many products there are different objects that have similar names and mess up contrast that way as well.


I ended up having to help him finish the chair. I grabbed the drill and fixed it all in a few minutes. I think (hope) he learned from the process. He likes the chair and is proud that he built it.

This is the reason I love design. The holistic experience of most products is pretty horrible. It’s hard (still!) to install a simple printer. It’s hard to keep a plat alive. It’s hard to understand mortgage deals. It’s hard to pick the right kind of eggs at the supermarket. Everything around us is difficult. It’s up to the designers of the world to make it better.

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Live anywhere? Tue, 08 Sep 2020 17:19:30 +0000 Continue readingLive anywhere?]]> What if…

What if all information companies and information jobs were given permission to work remotely? Several companies have already announced that their workers can work from home permanently. Each of these workers has to decide, “where do I want to live?” For the majority of my life, I had to commute to work; which meant that I needed to live within a few dozen miles of my office. Now, I could live in the boonies in Canada and still be ready for work at 9am PST.

Look at that listing. 1.2 million for SIX HOUSES and 182 ACRES OF LAND! Look at the houses. They are gorgeous!

Introvert/Extrovert Segregation

If you are in introvert like me, then you will likely want to live in the suburbs or even in the sticks. You will want a small community that knows each other well, but not too many people. If you are an extrovert, you might delight in a tightly packed city with lots of interactions. If everyone could just decide where they wanted to live, I imagine that different types of people will gravitate to different areas. Will that change the political map?


This might be the beginning of a great exodus of the cities purely based on housing costs. It’s extremely expensive to live in urban centers. Moving to the suburbs will reduce cost of living dramatically. At that point natural environment becomes a major selling point. Does the area have nice hiking, skiing, etc or is it boring. I don’t imagine a ton of people moving into rural Kansas. Having been through the area, I can tell you that it is flat, very flat. A friend worked in the Bay Area and moved to Portland and worked remotely. She lives in a huge house with horses now!

Time Zones

Most of Canada and a good portion of Central and South America are in the right time zones for American work hours. I’ve known people to move to Costa Rica and still work in the US. I’ve used contractors in Chile and Peru who worked on Eastern or Atlantic time. There is alot of choice out there. Different companies work different hours and some are world wide. How we have meetings is already complicated. Imagine if we were even more dispersed.

Climate Change Migration

If we don’t fix out climate problems, we will have several major cities underwater within 30 years. This only adds to the pressure to move inland and abandon the coasts. The key question will be “How good in the internet access?” One thing I hope the government does is upgrade our energy grid and internet infrastructure. This change is going to put alot of pressure on all of our wires.

Non Information Workers

Many people will need to follow the crowd. Teachers, Fireman, Medical Workers, Food Workers, etc, will all spread out and follow where the people go. Manufacturers will need to be near the plant, but now plants can be further from urban centers as well. How will their lives change?

or not…

Of course, none of this is absolutely going to happen. I just like to think of the world in different ways. How could it be better? How can we avoid screw ups? What do the winds of time have in store for us?

I don’t know the answers, but I like to think about the possibilities.

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YouTube Commercials 2020 Mon, 31 Aug 2020 17:15:41 +0000 Continue readingYouTube Commercials 2020]]> Recently, YouTube has increased the average length of their commercials. I dont have a scientific study but I had become used to long ads that I could skip after 5 seconds. Now, they are 10-15 second ads that I can’t skip and usually 2 of them back to back. Plus, there are more mid-video ads than before. (An article about the change) They also have started this year asking for a monthly subscription to get rid of the commercials with a service called YouTube Premium.

I don’t begrudge online services from making money. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and free online services gotta sell ads. If you don’t like it, don’t use the free service. Apparently, despite viewership rising, ad revenue is decreasing.

I am not a believer in Ad Blocking. I feel that is cheating. You are using the free service, but you are not allowing them to make money through advertising. No one has the right to a free service.

With that said, I feel there is a line that makes the user experience unpleasant. I currently pay for Hulu, Disney+, HBOMax, Netflix, YouTubeTV, and Amazon Prime. I have lots of places to stream content. I enjoy Youtube in general, but the ads are starting to wear on me. I could pay for Premium, but it’s $18 a month for the family. This would be second most expensive service in my list. How could YouTube premium be more than Hulu (without commercials)?

So I didn’t buy the premium package. Instead, I dialed back my usage of YouTube. I see videos that I want to watch, but I just switch to something else instead. I am not at zero, but I probably reduced my viewership by 60%.

Advertising is a good business model, but there is a spectrum on usage. Too little and you leave money on the table. Too much and you discourage usage. The sweet spot is important to find. Don’t get greedy or you will find yourself disrupted by an upstart competitor.

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