The past year has included a number of professional milestones including a significant amount of fundraising and related activity, bringing in a major new product to the Automattic family, the maturation of Gutenberg in the WordPress ecosystem, launching the Distributed blog and podcast, and a growth in the breadth and depth of the Automattic team.
Partially because of the schedule those milestones required, this ended up being my year with the most travel ever since I started tracking: I flew over 515k miles, to 124 cities in 24 countries. I was able to incorporate a good amount of running in my routine, started picking up musical instruments again, and learning more about sound and its impact on our lives. I found small daily habits, like a little bit of exercise or stretching first thing in the morning, to be sustainable and high-impact.
What suffered in 2019 was my book reading time and making a dent on the top 50 list. I still check tech news every day, but I had to unplug from daily non-tech news because it was just too hectic — I’ve found a lot of value in weekly publications like the Economist to make sense of what’s going on in the world with the benefit of a little distance and time.
Personally my main goals this year are for the health and wellness of my family, incorporating more playing music and photography into my life, and strengthening my meditation practice. If you’re reading this, I hope to run into you online or in person and this year let’s do our best together to leave the world a little better than we found it.
All birthdays: 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35.]]>
What’s interesting is that if you were to purchase every single one of those books, it would be about $349. You could get them all for nothing from your local library, even on a Kindle. The money I spend on books is by far and away the best investment I make every year — books expand my mind and enrich my life in a way that nothing else does.
All years: 2017, 2018, 2019.]]>
That anonymous comment led him to an important breakthrough on the Collatz Conundrum, as Quanta Magazine reports. If you want great comments, you as the author have to participate in them and Terence is incredibly active in engaging with the commenters on his site.
I’ve always said that comments are the best part of blogging, but this is a particularly cool example. Here’s Terence’s latest post on it, with an excellent comment thread following.]]>
I enjoyed this fun video from xkcd’s Randall Munroe on different ways you could power your home, illustrated. Check out his book How To for more in the same vein.]]>
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“When you work in a distributed company, every time that you interact with your colleagues via text… you are taking out of your social bank account with them. So when you get people together, that’s when you have the opportunity to see each other face-to-face, and remind everybody that you’re all human beings. And fill that social capital back up because it’s so hard to communicate via text.”
“We needed it as a talent hack, as a talent arbitrage. Hire the best people wherever they happen to be, figure everything out later, hire them quickly, get them in the ship as early as possible and start seeing results. How can I just hire the best people no matter where they are?”
“I have believed from a very young age that every single one of us has a moral obligation to use whatever resources we have — time, money, knowledge, skills, emotional energy, access to physical resources — however that might be defined — that we each have a moral obligation to use those resources in service of justice, and fighting against injustice and oppression and violence in all of its forms, structural and individual, subtle and overt.”
“I was going into an office but not seeing anyone or interacting with anyone except myself. So it almost was this zombie-like walk to the office every morning where I’m going to the office because I go to work, but I don’t see anyone who I work with. [laughs] And so I actually started waking up and just working on my computer at home. And then I said to myself, ‘Well, why am I even working from home?'”
“You can do things that are very commercial, but a little bit intellectually boring. And it tends to be the case that you’re doing a lot of rinse-and-repeat stuff if you want to grow purely commercially, so to speak. Or, you can do things that are wonderful intellectually, but the world doesn’t happen to value them and you can’t make commercial sense that way. And I’ve tried to navigate something in between those two where it’s where I’m really intellectually interested and where it’s commercially successful enough to sustain the process for a long time.”
“I like to trust people and give them autonomy. But I keep in touch with them very regularly and I think it becomes clear pretty quickly if somebody is not doing work. We look at performance, and we look at communication at a distributed company. Communication is oxygen.”
“To work at a remote company demanded great communication skills, and everyone had them. It was one of the great initial delights. Every corporation has the same platitudes for the importance of clear communication, yet utterly fails to practice it. There was little jargon at Automattic. No ‘deprioritized action items’ or ‘catalyzing of crossfunctional objectives.’ People wrote plainly, without pretense and with great charm.”
“A senior engineer makes the whole team better, but we don’t want to be prescriptive about how people made the team better. That was up to them. There were options, but that was the expectation for everyone on the team. You come in, you’re an experienced engineer, we expect you to be making the whole team better in some way, and what that looks like is up to you.”
“I started to feel like I was hitting a wall. This thing that I always dreamt of, to have a profitable company, to be financially secure, to have a team… I felt that having that success, having some of that financial security — it left me unfulfilled in a lot of other areas. — in the sense of deep lasting connection and also a lack of emotional resilience to deal with the ups and downs that startup life comes with.”
“My point is blogging is good for you. It’s mental health, it’s expression, it’s sharing your process with the world. And when you relate to the world, your standard of quality floats to that value of the world. It’s a market economy of ideas and by putting ourselves out there, you become relevant.”
“We really want to encourage empathy in general. And so a key part of empathy is being able to try to see the other person’s point of view. And in an organization as distributed as ours where people come from all around the world, we view it as an essential ingredient to developing deep and meaningful collaboration.”
“That means saying, ‘Okay, our entire organization will connect this many times a year in this many ways. There will be an all-department meeting once a month, once a quarter — whatever is appropriate — and that we will cover these three priorities and in broad progress and how it’s impacting the business overall.’ And then the expectation would be that the smaller subsets of teams are meeting in this way.”
“Our distributed roots did not come from some grand vision, but instead emerged from cold realities. Colocation (being in the same place, at the same time) is expensive!”
“I think having people come and interrupt you every 25 seconds, as is often the case in open floor plans, is definitely not the most productive situation. So the model I’ve seen work well, or the model I lean towards, is having an office where people are working from, but having private offices or spaces where people can plug in their headphones and just do work alone while still being in the same place as, hopefully, all of their colleagues.”
“The technology forces you to be present — in a way flatscreens do not — so that you gain authentic experiences, as authentic as in real life. People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.”]]>
His book, The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts, has been tremendously valuable to me in my work. So valuable, in fact, that Automattic is now sponsoring the next printing of the hardcover edition. You can pre-order it here, then learn more about the mental models outlined in it.]]>
WordCamp US was a fantastic experience, as always. Thank you again to the hundreds of organizers and volunteers who made it happen, to the thousands who attended, and to the city of St. Louis for hosting us. We’ll be back there again next year.
And special thanks to this next generation of WordPress contributors. So exciting to see KidsCamps continue to expand and thrive:
As you can see, my site is now featuring the new WordPress Twenty Twenty theme. And for more coverage from my State of the Word, check out the recaps from WP Tavern and Post Status. Here’s my full audience Q&A below:
You can see my previous State of the Word keynotes here.]]>
DHH and I have philosophies around work and open source that I believe overlap 95% or more, so that makes where we have differences all that more interesting to mine. Although we would see each other logged into the same server 15 years ago, we haven’t actually spoken directly until this podcast started, but the conversation flowed so naturally you’d think we have been talking since then.
Check out the episode on Open Source and Power on the Rework Podcast, hopefully you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed recording it.]]>
I met Marc Benioff earlier this year, and it became obvious to both of us that Salesforce and Automattic shared a lot of principles and philosophies. Marc is a mindful leader and his sensibilities and sense of purpose feel well aligned with our own mission to make the web a better place. He also helped open my eyes to the incredible traction WordPress and WP VIP has seen in the enterprise market, and how much potential there still is there. I’ve also loved re-connecting with Bret Taylor who is now Salesforce’s President and Chief Product Officer. Bret’s experience across Google Maps, Friendfeed, Facebook, Quip, and now transforming Salesforce makes him one of the singular product thinkers out there and our discussion of Automattic’s portfolio of services have been very helpful already.
For Automattic, the funding will allow us to accelerate our roadmap (perhaps by double) and scale up our existing products—including WordPress.com, WordPress VIP, WooCommerce, Jetpack, and (in a few days when it closes) Tumblr. It will also allow us to increase investing our time and energy into the future of the open source WordPress and Gutenberg.
The Salesforce funding is also a vote of confidence for the future of work. Automattic has grown to more than 950 employees working from 71 countries, with no central office for several years now. Distributed work is going to reshape how we spread opportunity more equitably around the world. There continue to be new heights shown of what can be achieved in a distributed fashion, with Gitlab announcing a round at $2.75B earlier this week.
Next year Automattic celebrates 15 years as a company! The timing is fortuitous as we’ve all just returned from Automattic’s annual Grand Meetup, where more than 800 of us got together in person to share our experiences, explore new ideas, and have some fun. I am giddy to work alongside these wonderful people for another 15 years and beyond.
If you’re curious my previous posts on our fundraising, here’s our 2006 Series A, 2008 Series B, 2013 secondary, and 2014 Series C. As before, happy to answer questions in the comments here. I also did an exclusive interview with Romain Dillet on (WP-powered) Techcrunch.]]>
There has also been a lot of speculation on the purchase price, which I think is missing the real story. I would like to take this opportunity to express my respect for Verizon and how they approached this entire process. They inherited Tumblr through an acquisition of a merger, a few steps removed from its initial sale; it’s probably not a company they would have bought on its own, but they nonetheless recognized that there is a very special community and team behind the product. It’s also worth noting at this point that Verizon is a company that will do over $130B in revenue this year and has over 139,000 employees.
First, they chose to find a new home for Tumblr instead of shutting it down. Second, they considered not just how much cash they would get on day one, but also — and especially — what would happen to the team afterward, and how the product and the team would be invested in going forward. Third, they thought about the sort of steward of the community the new owner would be. They didn’t have to do any of that, and I commend them for making all three points a priority.
Automattic is still a startup — I’m sure there are deep-pocketed private equity firms that could have outbid us, but the most likely outcome then would have been an “asset” getting chopped up and sold for parts. (This is a caricature and there are PE firms I like, but it’s not a terrible stretch of the imagination.) Instead, Tumblr has a new chance to redefine itself in 2019 and beyond. Its community is joining with WordPress’ 16-year commitment to open source and the open web.]]>
Check out Folletto’s blog for another dynamic wallpaper and some of process behind creating it. This would be awesome to have for iPhones as well.]]>
Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four.Neil Stephenson on Why I’m a Bad Correspondent ]]>
I would love to see the WordPress contributor base become more diverse, and training people from marginalized communities to speak at WordCamps is a great way to help that along. Check out that effort if you’d like to get involved.]]>
1885, Budapest. Franz Josef I and his wife, Elizabeth, rulers of Austro-Hungary, are attending the National General Exhibition of Budapest. There is much to see, but the emperor’s sweet tooth is pulling him toward one particular display. He simply must taste this new cake he’s been hearing about. He must find the Dobos torte.
It isn’t just any cake. With increased ease in shipping products across the continent thanks to better rail links, Jozsef Dobos had set a goal of getting his cakes into homes across Europe. But while trains were fast they weren’t refrigerated, and fluffy whipped cream-layered fancies would quickly become rancid mush in a hot railway carriage. Innovative delicatessen owner Dobos created the solution: a five-layer cake that took a cue from France with a filling of stable chocolate buttercream, a trend that hadn’t yet hit central Europe. Each layer of vanilla sponge worked with its spackling of buttercream like a well-designed piece of modern architecture, keeping itself cool and dry (but not too dry). For a final flourish — and still more shelf-stability — the whole cake got a crisp caramel jacket.
Dobos, a proponent of open source before it had a name, gave his recipe to the Budapest Confectioner’s and Gingerbread Maker’s Chamber of Industry in 1906 with the stipulation that it must be shared with anyone who wanted it. The cake traveled widely. Now with seven layers, it made its way to America through Jewish delis that sold it as Seven-Layer Cake. Upscale shops like the St. Moritz Bakery in Greenwich, Connecticut, enrobed it in dark chocolate instead of caramel. For its final bit of Americanization, it turned from a round cake into a rectangle.
1933, New Orleans. It was never this hot in Hungary. Beulah Ledner, with her Eastern European blood, was not made for it. Neither were certain cakes, it turned out. During the Great Depression, she earned extra money for her family crafting the German confections her mother had taught her to make.
One favorite was Dobos torte. But despite its Hungarian hardiness, it was not created with sticky Louisiana summers in mind. The wintry pastry needed to lighten up.
Some bakers had ballooned their cakes to 11 layers. Ledner stuck with a more modest eight. But her stroke of genius was replacing the rich buttercream between the layers with airier custard. Buttercream still made an appearance surrounding the cake, which was then covered in a layer of fondant.
“She knew no one in New Orleans would take to an Eastern European cake,” her son Albert Ledner told Country Roads magazine. “So she Frenchified the name and called it ‘Doberge.’” With that, the pastry’s fate as a New Orleans classic, alongside King Cake and beignets, was sealed. Her Lowerline Street bakery flooded with customers who called her “the Doberge Queen of New Orleans,” perhaps not realizing that she had invented both the cake and the name. Her business grew into a new spot on South Claiborne Avenue and a new name — the Mrs. Charles Ledner Bakery. The torte options grew, too. Chocolate was the standard flavor, but there were lemon, caramel, and strawberry versions. The half-and-half cake, which allowed customers the option to taste chocolate and lemon in a single go, became the most beloved version.
Despite her success, Ledner sold the business and all its recipes in 1946, blaming health issues and World War II sugar rations. The purchaser, Joe Gambino, adhered strictly to her recipes. He opened his shop, Joe Gambino’s Bakery, in 1949 and has served the cakes to New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana, ever since.
As for Ledner, part of her deal with Gambino included a five-year embargo on opening a new bakery in New Orleans. But she could only sit still for two, and debuted the Beulah Ledner Bakery in nearby Jefferson Parish in 1948. Demand forced her to change locations yet again and she expanded to Metairie, this time with a bakery designed and built by her architect son. Ledner ran that last bakery until 1981, when she retired at the age of 87. She ate a slice of Doberge for her birthday every year, including at her 94th and final celebration.
Unsurprisingly, the Doberge’s sugary tendrils also made their way into nearby Houston. There are six businesses in Space City that sell either Doberge or the more classic Jewish-deli-style Seven-Layer Cake. But how to know which to buy for your next birthday? I sampled all six, as well as the best of New Orleans, to figure out which should be avoided and which are worthy centerpieces for a special occasion. They are listed here from worst to best.
Johnny Rao opened the original location of his bakery in Beaumont on 1941, almost matching the vintage of Ledner’s cakes. The Champions-area bakery, at the top of North Houston’s internationally varied Veterans Memorial Drive, opened in 2006. Things seemed promising despite the strange spelling, “Dobasche.”
It’s a cheerful place, full of families on a Sunday morning, but the cake didn’t live up to the pleasant experience of the bakery. What made this a Doberge? Nothing, really. The four fat layers of cake alternated between too-light chocolate and white. Though the description on the menu said there were both vanilla and chocolate pudding fillings, I could only find a meager swipe of vanilla buttercream holding the layers together. The exterior fudge icing tasted suspiciously like it had been made by Duncan Hines.
The Ramain family has been running this ladies-who-lunch destination since 1973. Yes, the raison d’être is French-inspired mousse cakes, macarons, and eclairs, but there’s a menu of “American Cakes,” too. The Daubache is served with strawberry filling by default, but is available in a chocolate version as well.
The six layers here were the most uneven, with two thick ones in the middle resembling buck teeth in a sea of average-sized chompers. There was nothing truly wrong with this cake, but it was really just an acceptable, if slightly oversweet, layer cake with nothing to distinguish it.
Cake: Fluffy, vanilla-scented
Filling: Chocolate buttercream
Exterior: Fudge icing
Decorations: Icing swirls and chocolate sprinkles with a cherry on top.
Pick up experience: Placed the order online, and pick-up was friendly and easy.
Flavors: Chocolate or mocha
Sizes: One size, which feeds about 10-12
This is a cake with history. Why not go to a comparably storied bakery? The Three Brothers saga began in 1825 with the opening of Morris Jucker’s bakery in Chrzanow, Poland. The family continued to run the business there until they were rounded up and sent to a concentration camp in 1941. Brothers Sigmund, Sol, and Max Jucker all survived to open their first Houston bakery in 1949.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the brothers adapted to American tastes by raising the amount of sugar in their recipes. The buttercream in their Seven Layer Cake made my teeth hurt. But the fudge icing on the outside was less sweet and deeply chocolaty, enhanced with a layer of chocolate sprinkles. I ended up focusing on the perimeter of the large slice.
So this is history. Gambino’s takes great care in crafting every cake, including baking each of its layers separately, rather than cutting one big cake into pieces. Custard is made from scratch for each specimen. And the half-and-half cakes are still one of the Metairie bakery’s best-sellers. I snapped up a chocolate cake straight from the case.
Ledner’s attempt at Americanizing her cake by adding more sugar is clear. The buttercream crunched with crystals of it. Combined with the fondant, it was unpleasantly sweet, though I liked the earthiness of the coffee in the chocolate custard.
The name Dobash is misleading; this is no New Orleans delicacy. Of all the cakes I tried, this is closest to Dobos’ original, down to the crunchy coating of caramel, now a rarity. The rectangular shape, however, may owe to Jewish owner Richard Jucker. (I also picked up a day-old bag of his varied, not-too-sweet Hamantaschen while I was there.)
Any resemblance to the Three Brothers cake is no coincidence. Jucker’s father was one of the founders of that bakery and the younger baker worked there from 1981 to 1999. But just as he broke away, this cake is very much its own torte. Fluffy, vanilla-scented layers are surrounded by buttercream that verges on too sweet, especially with the addition of the caramel, but never overwhelms as some of the others do. This is a Dobos torte for the traditionalist — and the client interested in enhancing their cake with flavors like pistachio or almond buttercream.
It’s hard to believe that Houston is home to one of the world’s best remaining Jewish delis, but thanks to living piece of culinary history Ziggy Gruber — whose family came to the U.S. from Hungary in the early 20th century and opened New York’s famous Rialto Deli — it has been since 1999. The Deli Man himself designed his Seven-Layer cake to be a cut above the classic.
Instead of buttercream, he ups the ante with intense chocolate mousse. A thick layer of ganache surrounds the outsized square slices of almond-bedecked layer cake. This would be my favorite if not for the too-light cake itself. Just a hint more substance, and this would be close to perfection.
A designer friend described the cakes here, crafted by Charlotte McGehee and Charles Mary IV, as having the concise beauty of a sports car. Each slice is simply perfect. The balance of each precisely even layer of cake to complementary custard filling feels like eating cake in Plato’s cave. The care taken in each detail is evident, down to the soft, uncommonly edible fondant coating on each slice, whether it covers a well-spiced carrot cake or indulgently minty chocolate one.
Is it the best Doberge being produced in the world today? Almost certainly. But right now, the New Orleans company doesn’t ship. (They hope to start again soon.) When it does, this should be the option (smeared) on everyone’s lips. But until then, I’ll fly to New Orleans just to grab a slice of rainbow-striped cake with almond custard and sigh.
The Acadian Bakers has the best Doberge option for a Houston resident; pastry chef Sandra Bubbert has been turning out craveable cakes for more than 36 years. Luminaries from presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to Reba McIntyre and Arnold Schwarzenegger have tasted her treats, earning her a reputation as “baker to the stars.”
I wasn’t treated like a star with the more than hour-long wait for my cake, despite having set a time for pick-up a week before, but once I tasted it, the frustration fell away. This cake is exactly what a Doberge should be. Sweet, but not overwhelming, decadently chocolaty, and sturdy enough to withstand a hot day on the Gulf Coast.]]>
I’ve been meeting with some brilliant people for Distributed, my new podcast dedicated to exploring the future of work. The first episode is a conversation with Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, about how they built a distributed culture, and how flexible work will shape the future of the global economy.
Unlike Automattic, Upwork does have an office in Silicon Valley (albeit one with a remote receptionist!). It was interesting to hear how Stephane’s teams balance in-person culture with inclusiveness for all employees, no matter where they live. Read more about Stephane’s work at Distributed.blog, and subscribe at Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
We’re a more connected world, so it makes sense that global business wouldn’t be confined to just one physical space. I often use Google as an example because I’ve been in meetings there where people were one building away from each other but still using video chat because of the time required to walk between meetings on their campus.
With that in mind, the team at Automattic has decided to start sharing our expertise and the technology that makes it all work. Introducing Happy Tools:
Our first product is Happy Schedule, which helps teams manage flexible schedules across time zones. Right now we’re rolling it out in a consultative way with just a few early customers to make sure the team can be totally responsive to their needs. We’re excited about this and other upcoming tools, because we believe that this is the future of work. We’re excited to have other companies give it a try.
Keep an eye on this space: There’s an entire suite of tools that make up the operating system of what has helped Automattic scale so effectively over the years. I’ve always believed it’s important to invest in your internal tools, and I’m excited to release more of them. If there’s something better in the market, we won’t release a tool for it—I’d rather use something external than have to build things ourselves—but where the industry still has a gap after such a long time, we’ll throw our hat into the ring.]]>
“Vague, but exciting.” Thirty years ago yesterday, Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted his original proposal for an information management system to his boss at CERN — what would later become the World Wide Web (and, it turns out, a huge influence on my life and career).
To help celebrate, I tweeted WordPress’s contribution to the web’s grand timeline (above), and I got to participate in The Economist’s Babbage podcast looking back at the pioneers of the early web. Listen to the whole episode below:]]>
All years: 2017, 2018, 2019.]]>
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.— Thich Nhat Hanh in The Miracle of Mindfulness ]]>