by Glen Lipka Thu, 24 Sep 2020 04:59:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 32 32 2075023 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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What do you believe? Tue, 11 Aug 2020 20:51:34 +0000 Continue readingWhat do you believe?]]> My sister made me listen to a Joe Rogan podcast about a guy claiming to have worked in Area 51 on flying saucers. After 5 minutes, I knew the guy was lying about everything. I tried to listen, but it sickened me to my stomach.

There are people who believe:

  • QAnon is a real guy, that he is telling “the truth”
  • Vaccines cause autism
  • 5g causes Covid
  • Jews run the world
  • Other races are inferior to their own
  • The world is flat

We can’t trust audio recordings anymore. They can be faked. Deep fake videos are getting better and better. We can’t trust the news, can’t trust our leaders, can’t trust our own eyes. We can’t trust anything.

Objective truth is what actually happened. Maybe that is a concept that never truly existed. We only see and hear through the lens of our emotions and experiences. YouTube and Facebook are pushing us more and more to the extremes. We don’t know what to believe.

Unfortunately, there is a trait somewhere deep inside of us. We WANT to believe. We want to believe in something. It’s in us so deep that we will pretend in magic and suspend all logic just to support our beliefs. It is this trait at the core of our very beings that may be the death of us all.

If we don’t believe in science and evidence, we will poison ourselves. We will put our trust in dictators and autocrats. If we don’t fund schools and educate our children, they will grow up and believe in the worst ideas. It is likely too late. We are sliding down a slope that may have no return.

On the bright side, we may all be living in a simulation, so none of this really matters.

I believe, without any evidence to support it, that we will emerge from this haunting period better and stronger as a species. I believe that we will innovate our way out of climate catastrophe. I believe we will not kill ourselves, but rather improve the lives of people decade after decade. I believe in a brighter future, despite all of the bad things I see. If I didn’t believe in this, I imagine I would succumb to a deep depression. So I maintain hope.

What silly thing do you believe in?

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Unsafe at Home by Just Jared Thu, 06 Aug 2020 17:32:39 +0000 Continue readingUnsafe at Home by Just Jared]]> My seventeen year old son just released his second music album. It is a big step forward from his original Album. He has been upgrading his home studio and learning more about mixing and music theory.

He is planning on attending college for music, but because of Covid is going to take a gap year. Hopefully, he will continue to evolve and improve as a musician and producer. Take a listen and see what you think.

Many of the songs and the title were inspired by the murder of Breonna Taylor, the BLM movement, and other current events.

Spotify Preview
Cover Photo by Jared with some manipulation in Figma


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Government Sponsored Design Tue, 04 Aug 2020 16:33:09 +0000 Continue readingGovernment Sponsored Design]]> I was listening to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell about a 20th century U.S. General named Curtis LeMay. He is a fascinating and influential character by the way. In the episode “May the Best Firebomb Win” Gladwell tells of a contest for our nations elite universities (Harvard, Yale, etc) to design the best incendiary bomb. Napalm was the winner.

In the book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes (amazing book!) he describes how the nations elite universities again were enlisted to design the most destructive force ever unleashed. The first atomic pile was created under the football field at the University of Chicago.

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Proejcts Agency) has sponsored the design of amazing technologies over the years including the computer mouse, the Internet, GPS, self-driving cars and drones.

All of these things are government sponsored design projects. Usually the reason for the development of all of them was either offense or defense for war. We spend an enormous amount of money designing machines of war and defense. The internet upon which I am publishing this post is built completely for the purpose of defense against a nuclear attack. All of these projects would not have been designed at all if not for the money and inspiration of the US Government.

So my question is: Why doesn’t the government sponsor other kinds of design? Maybe projects that have less to do with war and more to do with our society at large? When I say invest, I mean invest BIG. LIke spend trillions on this kind of research. I have some ideas:

A Better Battery

Requirements: Less than 10 minutes to charge. Stores 10x current battery storage capacity. Recharging duration 10x. Safe and can’t explode or catch fire. Made of easily accessible materials. Disposable.

Electric cars for EVERYONE is not that far away. We need a better battery and you could go across the country on almost a single charge. Smog would disappear over cities. Greenhouse gases would diminish.

CO2 Removal Systems

A synthetic tree that would remove 1000x the times of CO2 from the atmosphere as normal trees. We can reverse climate change. We need to design a better tree.

Climate change is going to kill more people than Covid by alot. It’s going to cause the largest refugee crisis in history. It is going to be an epic disaster unless we get to work.

Voting Systems

It drives me crazy how bad the voting user interfaces are. it makes me even more nuts when I think about their security (or lack thereof). Why do different states all have wacky voting systems. We need a federal project to design usable, secure, accessible voting systems.

Our elections are under attack. Why in the world would we continue to leave our most sacred institution and governmental foundation undefended. I can’t imagine a better use of our elite institutions than to design and test the perfect voting system. I would be happy to help design it.

Better Solar and Wind Generation

These have been getting better and better in the last few years. But we need to design a roof that looks like shingles but is solar and pay to have every house in America generate energy. They need to stay cooler and generate more electricity. Maybe they could be made so durable that every road and parking lot is made of them. We can be energy neutral with the proper effort.

The middle east is a hotbed of violence and terrorism in large part because of the economics of the region. They are completely dependent on fossil fuel sales. If we (and other nations) are energy independent, then the middle east ceases to be generating so much money which is used to make people’s lives miserable.


They called it the Manhattan Project when they funded enormous sums of money to build the first atomic bomb. Now we call Manhattan Projects anything that the government spends alot of money and brings the finest minds of our country together for singular goals.

We have the money. We spend it on nuclear submarines that don’t help society or the world. We spend it on machines of war. We should be spending it on machines that benefit society in more direct ways.

Government has a role to play here. The free market does not create Manhattan Projects and never will. Government has in the past done amazing things this way. We can do it again.

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Personality Test 2020 Thu, 30 Jul 2020 20:16:14 +0000 Continue readingPersonality Test 2020]]> I take a Myers Briggs quiz every year or two. I am having my design team do the test for a remote bonding exercise. Here are my personal results from the past:

Results map

I think these two personality types make sense for me, especially when I play different roles in an organization. When it’s just me and I am the primary designer, I tend to be more focused on doing the work and being the Architect things. When I am a manager, I spend most of my time talking with people and helping them align as a Mediator.

Mediators have a talent for self-expression, revealing their beauty and their secrets through metaphors and fictional characters.

Also, Mediators are the most likely personality type to enjoy an afternoon nap from time to time.


This is a bullseye for me. I talk in metaphors more than anyone I know. Plus a nap? Are you serious? YES!

The strengths they list for Mediator are:

  • Idealistic
  • Seek and Value Harmony
  • Open-Minded and Flexible
  • Very Creative
  • Passionate and Energetic
  • Dedicated and Hard-Working

On the flip side are the weaknesses:

  • Too Idealistic
  • Too Altruistic
  • Impractical
  • Dislike Dealing With Data
  • Take Things Personally
  • Difficult to Get to Know

Although I am sure that both the strengths and weaknesses are applicable to many different people, they feel relatively accurate for me.

Some of the stuff on these descriptions feels like Astrology. I haven’t read through all the other personality types, so I don’t know if some of the others may be applicable to me as well.

Personalities and Recruiting

Should we use personality tests in the recruiting process? It’s an interesting question and I am not sure of the answer. Sometimes, I wish I knew more about a candidates personality while interviewing. However, I don’t want to miss great people because of some personality type bias.

As usual, I would vote for transparency. Everyone should have their personality type on their LinkedIn profile for all the world to see. What are we hiding this for?

Do you use personality types in your recruiting thought process? Do you even think they are at all accurate? At minimum, I find them fun to do once every few years.

Side note: The visual design style of the 16Personalities website is quite good. I love the illustrations and the text is easy and friendly to read.

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Roadmaps Thu, 23 Jul 2020 21:24:10 +0000 Continue readingRoadmaps]]> Roadmaps are funny things. In my cynical experience, their whole purpose is to make people feel confident that things will go according to plan.

The Dark Knight, 2008

This might be controversial, but in my experience roadmaps are deeply flawed documents. Here is a partial list of some of the common problems:

  1. They are jumbled compromises that don’t usually reflect a strategic product vision.
  2. They are inaccurate, usually optimistic sometimes by 1000%.
  3. Often things on the roadmap never get accomplished
  4. The audience is unclear and contradictory
  5. Naming is all over the place
  6. Updates are irregular and poorly communicated

Despite my cynicism, I think roadmaps can serve an important function. I like to think about product development like a chess match. There are pieces on the board and you are playing against your competition. Sometimes, you will want to sacrifice a piece (feature or market or price) in order to gain advantage on a more important piece.

Over the past 10-15 years I have grown to prefer a different approach to roadmaps. Here is a short list of what I think is better.

  1. Only 3 months long
  2. Have a row for every single developer
  3. Do it in a spreadsheet (not a fancy tool)
  4. Audience is internal team only
  5. Naming should be short. Don’t just tack 2.0 on the end of words.
  6. Update every 2-4 weeks
  7. Have fun release names

#7 is a personal one. I liked naming releases even if they were short. At Marketo we used Elements. Hydrogen, Helium. (In order) It was useful for figuring out when we would release functionality, but also it was amusing to have periodic tables on the walls. At Engagio, I used underwater creature names. Anchovy, Betafish, Crab, Dolphin. (One per letter A-Z) Again, it was fun and it helped conversations.

Roadmaps can help teams plan their next few months. A marketing team can schedule a webinar. Docs and QA can prepare for the upcoming functionality. Design teams can think ahead.

I know there are external roadmaps that are useful for analysts and investors. These should be other documents that focus on that one audience. Trying to have one roadmap that solves everyone’s problems is never going to happen.

Alignment is the key principle that roadmaps are supposed to solve. They shouldn’t be a locked in a concrete document that can not be changed. It is supposed to be a framework to get people talking about decisions and their implications. Disagreements often happen when working on these. (See post about disagreements) Many organizations have roadmaps, but not that many use them on a daily or weekly basis to guide their decision making.

Here are a few roadmaps I found lying around.

Marketo 2009
2011 Marketo
2017 Engagio

This last one was fun because I could animate the bubbles to the left with each quarter that went by. It was meant for external consumption.

Maybe I focus too much on having fun. Maybe not. Your call.

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New Host: A2 Hosting Wed, 22 Jul 2020 19:26:05 +0000 Continue readingNew Host: A2 Hosting]]> I have been hosting with (ASO) for 6 years now. They were a decent host for the most part. I was using a simple shared hosting package. However, in the past year I became a bit disgruntled and disappointed.


Complaint 1: Free SSL

Google has long said that they will optimize for secure website. ASO did not provide this service. It would have cost too much hassle for me to do it on my own. When I researched other hosts, they provided it for free.

Complaint 2: Up to date PHP

PHP is currently on version 7.4. ASO would not let me up upgrade past 7.2 which is several years old. WordPress has been complaining about the version and that bothered me. Other hosting services provided up to date PHP.

Complaint 3: Cost

All hosts have the same program. They give you 3 years for a steep discount and then double the price. Some of them will give you the same 3 year discounted price to renew. ASO would not. So there was a cost savings involved.

Complaint 4: Service

As a customer for 6 years, I would have thought they would want to keep my business. I am a low traffic personal site that doesn’t complain much. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t meet me halfway. Therefore, I decided to switch.


There were a few decent sites that seemed objective. The choices are all similar, and I tried chatting with many of them. I really liked Siteground alot. Their representative was friendly and well informed. Unfortunately, the way their package was setup, I could only host ONE site. I have 2 that I host; and (He is a young musician and needs to post his music online) I would have gone with them except for this one problem. My suggestion to them would be to have a mid-tier package that allows 2 or 3 sites, not just 1.

I tried Dreamhost for a little while. They came in 2nd place on my spreadsheet. They lacked a built-in CDN, but otherwise was good. Bluehost was highly rated, but their PHP only went up to 7.3. Greengeeks were OK but were slightly more money. I feel guilty about that one, their pitch was carbon neutrality.

A2 Hosting

A2 Hosting’s website is pretty awful to look at. Honestly, it almost made me go somewhere else. They had a good price and the rep was helpful on chat. Additionally, they had a complete migration package that meant I wouldn’t have to do a thing. They took care of all of it without me lifting a finger. SSL configured and ready to go.

This is my first post at the new site. I am paid for 3 years and hopefully I will not need to relocate again for a long time.

It’s stressful to change things and certainly something could go wrong. However, if you stay still, then nothing will get better. Change is a good thing. Worst case scenario, you will learn something.

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