№ 6: On Email, or, Not a Sponsored Post

This is my tiny blog/newsletter. No one is sponsoring me, or would be interested in sponsoring me. This is not to make a request for, or even to express a desire for, sponsors.

But doing the 100 Days to Offload has me writing more, and so I naturally wonder what it’d be like to do this professionally. People do, to one degree or another. Maybe one day (or not).

Anyway, as I say, this is not a sponsored post, but I wanted to write about a product I use, just because I like it: HEY. HEY’s pitch is essentially “what if we designed the email experience from scratch, but using the lessons of the last 40 years? (and also blocked tracking pixels)”—and, just one man’s opinion, but I think it really does live up to the hype. It’s not free ($99/year as I write this), but I much prefer being a customer to being the product.

I don’t feel like I can do a better job than their own site does of showing off its features, so check it out there.

№ 5: A Rating Scheme, or, Spoilers Are Good, Actually

A few days ago, I had a conversation with my older kids—who, like me, are fairly voracious readers—about books, and one of the things that came up was how to think about the relative ranking of what we read. I can see myself using some of these posts to review or talk about things I’ve read, so before I do that, I want to give some context.

My contention is that the measure of a good book is how well it rewards rereading. Sudden plot twists and excitement are all well and good, but when rereading I often find they are, actually, cover and distraction for suboptimal writing or plotting. And it works! “Why didn't I notice this plot hole the first time I read this!?” has come out of my mouth more times than I like admitting. But a good book, I think, should be enjoyable on the third or fifth or twelfth read as well as the first—perhaps not quite in the same way, of course. But then, on the twelfth read, you’re probably not quite the same reader, either.

A corollary to this is that—contrary to what the Internet at large appears to believe—spoilers are good, actually. I don’t necessarily suggest that you go around telling the endings of things to people who don’t want to hear them, to be clear. That seems impolite. But a not-terrible heuristic for whether to keep reading a book is “Would I still read this if I already knew the plot?”

So, for what it’s worth, and in the hope that it would be useful to anyone else considering the media they consume, here is the rating scheme I use—and I’ve concentrated on books above, but (though I rarely watch anything) the same applies to movies, mutatis mutandis, though with movies the concerns are also more multifaceted. It is perfectly reasonable to, for example, thoroughly dislike the plot of a movie, yet still find it worth watching, and even rewatching,because of the acting, or the cinematography, or the sound design, and so forth. Substitute “watch” for “read” as appropriate.

  • ⭐️: I either did not finish this, or could tell without beginning it that I would not like it.
  • ⭐️⭐️: I finished this, but in some measure I regret doing so. It is unlikely I will ever read it again.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️: I finished this, and do not regret it. It is unlikely I will ever read it again.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: I finished this, and will probably read it again if the opportunity presents itself.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: I finished this, and will definitely read it again. I want to own this, so I can read it whenever the mood strikes me.

Interestingly, I rarely find myself classifying something in the last category on the initial read: it’s much more often that I rank something as 4 stars—and then realize on the third or fourth read that it was actually 5 stars all along. Likely that says something about my self-awareness.

№ 4: Snow Day!

As I write this, it’s 14°F/-10°C, there’s snow on the ground (a little bit, anyway), and both my driveway and the road in front of my house are iced-over and impassable. I know this is business-as-usual for January in many parts of the world, but for Mississippi, this is very much not normal. We laid in a cord of wood in preparation—experience has shown that at these temperatures the front room can be made bearable, if not pleasant, with a fire in the fireplace—but the power has so far stayed on (fortunately).

The school district has cancelled classes, as has my wife’s employer. I, however, am still working today, provided the power continues to hold up.

№ 3: Continuation

Despite there being no rule about posts being on any sort of schedule in the 100 Days to Offload manifesto, I had good intentions about establishing a Tuesday/Thursday cadence for these posts, just to provide a bit more structure for myself. But here it is, Wednesday nonetheless, as I write this.

As I mentioned in № 1, my children went back to school this week, to their likely relief. But with them going back comes a daily flurry of all the irritating text messages the school district sends out about transportation issues and reminders about assignments or tests. The ones about transportation—i.e., such-and-such a bus route is starting late, or will be driven by a substitute driver, or will be consolidated with an adjacent route, and so forth—are, individually, unworryingly practical. Their frequency does mildly concern me—but I suspect buses are like tanks in their need for maintenance, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that some one (or more) of them needs work on any given day.

I am more irritated by the ones which say “Don’t forget such-and-such assignment!” or “Testing coming up!” These schoolkids already have district-issued iPads and Macbooks bombarding them with notifications and reminders; enlisting their parents seems a little unfair—or at least liable to encourage helicopter parenting and a default of making the adults responsible rather than the kids. As Proverbs 23:6 says:

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

And frankly that’s for good or for ill. So mostly I try to ignore these reminders unless it’s particularly egregious or impactful, and I feel like I need to bring it up. (The way to teach children responsibility is to give them responsibility and, therefore, consequences; but that doesn’t mean we can’t remember that they are still kids and cut them some slack sometimes.)

Incidentally, I learnt today that Proverbs 23:6 is one of the differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text. It simply isn’t in the LXX. I don’t have a point here, I just thought it was odd.

I signed up for HEY email today for one of my domains. After going through some of their website and videos, I realized that they’re doing out of the box some of the things I have been trying to make happen manually with email rules—do this if the email is from this sender, or that if it has a this subject, and so forth. I don’t care for the fact that it’s a proprietary system, but I see why it is: obviously (as I have found) the kind of things they’re doing aren’t well-supported with existing protocols and applications.

№ 2: Leadership and Its Discontents

It’s been another full day. I got the formal confirmation at work from the VP over me of both a raise and a promotion, the latter meaning I’ll have to manage people again, something I’ve—well, avoided would be too strong a term, but which I’ve pointedly failed to advocate for during the last several years, let us say. Today, purely coincidentally, I also listened to an episode of the podcast The Holy Post from 2019, in which Skye Jethani did an interview with Dr. Eugene Habecker on the subject of leadership.

So naturally, I’ve been thinking about leadership off and on the rest of the day. There’s been too much said on the topic, both good and bad (Habecker was pretty good, I thought), for me to have much to add. But one thing I think doesn’t get talked about enough is that to be a good leader—in addition to requiring humility, transparency, honesty, dedication, and so forth—just isn’t very much fun. It’s a lot of work! Worth it, often, but still not easy or—again, often—enjoyable.

№ 1: New Year Thoughts

I meant to write this earlier—before New Year’s Day, in fact. But in days full of church, children, family, and work, I didn’t set aside the time. And now it’s January 3rd: not quite New Year’s Day, but close enough for rhetorical purposes, I guess.

It’s hard to escape the cultural conviction that a new year’s beginning means a reëvaluation of one’s life and a rededication to living better—or maybe to just do the things one ought to have been doing the whole time. Like many people, I have good intentions for the rest of the year: pray more, eat better (or at least, plan out meals better), exercise, engage more with family and friends, read good books, and so on. But of course, I’ve had good intentions in previous years too: the track record isn’t looking so hot.

But one thing evidence shows I can do is talk—my mother has told me several times I could argue with a brick wall and win—and by extension, that means I can write; though whether you’ll want to read it is another question. So while I’ve chosen to set the 100 Days to Offload challenge as my goal, fortunately, the rules—such as they are—provide that “Posts don’t need to be long-form, deep, meaningful, or even that well written,” nor do they have to be posted on any particular day or schedule (though I’m aiming for twice a week). You’ve been warned.

This is the last week of school holidays. The kids are tired of sitting around the house, with mom and dad grumbling at them to pick up and clean up after yourself and don’t do that to your sister and be nice to your brother and use your inside voice—and all the things parents say and have to say to their children. Even though next week will bring the end of staying up late and sleeping in, I think they’re ready to get back to classes and homework. My wife too is already looking towards what her own semester will bring: in addition to the usual crop of students, yet more travel for recruiting, and continued work on the department’s accreditation and all the administrative tasks that go with that.

As for myself, I’ve been considering my own working life in 2024. This year will mark a full decade with one employer. There aren’t many things in my life that I’ve done longer. I have to admit, there’s a part of me that’s restless and chafes a bit at that—“Move on! Find some place new!” it growls. I’m not completely opposed, I suppose. But I like my coworkers and the work I’m doing; there’s no sense in doing the same thing somewhere else. A move would have to be both quite different (and, frankly, equally lucrative) to attract me.

I’ll end here. I’ve got 99 more posts to fill, after all!