Links and Notes - May 4th 2021
Chess as a refugee
Do you want your heart warmed? Here you go.
My hunch is that you'll need to go to Twitter to see the image. In any case, the tweet is connected to a small thread well worth reading. It's a heart warming story of a Nigerian refugee child who also seems to be a chess prodigy. A combination of talent, hard work, and kindness has set him on a path towards one day possibly becoming a grand master. I need to set myself an annual reminder to check on his progress. His family is currently in the process of seeking asylum; I hope that goes well for them in the future.
What's most striking about this story though is laid out in the next Tweet in the thread (which is also a quote from the article):
When people ask me "why aren't there more people from X background in activity/sports/business Y?" I tell them that almost always, it's a problem of under representation. Based on everything I read in the articles, I can say that no matter what talent is possessed, a small amount of difference in luck may have hidden this amazing talent away from us permanently. The balance is delicate and that's exactly why we need to put so much effort into creating equity. I like the idea of a meritocracy, but not until everyone's on equal footing and at the same starting line.
This is an essay about product development and making small changes that have a large impact. The article goes into describing a workflow for possibly discovering where these small wins are hiding in a product that's being used by others. It's all good advice and I think anyone who does any kind of software product development should read this piece. But, I don't know if the idea of a workflow is going to help anyone consistently discover the small wins.
Let's back up. What's a small win here that the author is talking about? A tiny win, to be precise. The author gives 2 examples. In the first, they made it so that the status of a deployment/build pipeline was reflected in the favicon of the tab. This way, instead of having to open a tab to check the status of a build, engineers could now glance at the tab instead. That's a lot of mental overhead saved across many hours and multiple days of work. In the second example, they made it more clear which branch is being merged into which by using a directional arrow instead of the dots that was being used at the time. This small change turned out to be one of those "oh my god, so I wasn't the only one who needed this" kind of solutions and it was received with much love from the community.
You can think of the aforementioned changes as shortcuts. The intermediate steps (randomly clicking through your many tabs to find the source of your pain, or racking your brain for which git branch merges into which so you don’t accidentally break your company) are small paper cuts, but they add up. These changes get rid of them.
Getting your personal pet peeve fixed is powerful, often more so than new, more substantial features. Think about all that cumulative impact resulting from such little effort.
This is what I call a Tiny Win.
The thing with tiny wins is, they aren't things that show up on customer feature requests. This isn't my assumption made in a vacuum either. It's part of the premise of the article.
Now, your first instinct might be to open up your user feedback channels and start prioritizing issues. I’d caution against this.
I noticed something weird about the issues we solved with these changes. They were almost never reported.
The problem with these problems is that they are so tiny, that users simply learn to live with them and they don't get reported. Here the author makes the case for working with as many of the product development team as possible to discover painful flows which require someone to build some kind of shortcut. What the author doesn't really address that I wish they did, is just how intuitive this process is.
The problem with intuition is that it comes only by being intimate with the product and its real life usage. The author themselves makes it clear:
Fresh eyes are extremely useful when it comes to answering these questions. I’d only been at GitHub for a few months when I added the arrow to the PR page, and I did that because it just didn’t make sense to me.
Basically, the author happened to be working on a product where he happened to be a target user of the product as well. This is a rare intersection to have. It's more common to see people whose relationship with the product is purely that of a developer. Construction site management software for example might be written by software developers who'll never manage a construction site. Which is perfectly alright, but to these developers, the intuitive discovery of tiny wins feels impossible.
Basically, I love the idea of tiny wins. I also love the idea of making the discovery of these wins an intentional part of the product development life cycle. I just harbour doubts that it's something that can truly happen without the intimate connection to the software as both developer and everyday user.
Indie game kickstarters
During the conversations that came up after writing the super meat boy post I discovered two indie titles that are currently on kickstarter. One is in the final stages of the kickstarter. The other is in the "about to drop" stage. Both look great and I thought it would be worth sharing them
The first game, Unbeatable, is a rhythm game.The kind where you have to move to the rhythm/beat to score the points to beat the levels. I've seen a lot of these games and frankly speaking, this one looks just gorgeous and unique in many ways. Here's how the game describes itself
UNBEATABLE - A game where music is illegal and you do crimes
An anime-juiced rhythm adventure with a heavy focus on music and Emotions.
I've embedded the kickstarter video below:
Everything about this game looks so good. From the gameplay, to the anime style animation, to all the "outside of the main quest" stuff that can be done. And the music! The music sounds ridiculously good. And... I can also say that the gameplay is super fun to experience because they've even included a demo of the game that's available to download right now. I tried it out and was pretty darn hooked. Took me a few tries but once you get the hang of it, being able to hit the beats right when needed is such a rush especially on the more challenging songs.
Do yourself a favour and try it out. And probably get in on the kickstarter too. Or mark a date for December 2023 which is when the game comes out (yes. It's a long way away. I'm investing).
A game which describes itself as "A supernatural game about blasting evil spirits, saving your hometown from gentrification, and Asian diaspora culture", Midautumn is a "hades like" game where the rougelite gameplay is enhanced by an evolving storyline. Back when Hades came out, I actually wrote a review and said that this idea is good enough to create its own genre, and right now I feel pretty validated. I also feel pretty darn excited. Trailer is below
The artwork on this looks incredible. Pixel art has always been a love of mine and this game creates such an amazing aesthetic. The artist is on Twitter and you should definitely check out their stuff. It's good! Anyways. Apart from that, the voice acting also sounds incredible AND the storyline looks good enough to warrant many replays when it finally comes out.
The only "problem" is that the kickstarter is still not ready to be announced so like me you'll have to settle for being notified when it comes out.
I think it's pretty exciting to see two indie games with such a fresh feel. I'm putting money into both of them and I can't wait for them to come out as soon as they are ready.
In other news
- I'll have more words on this tomorrow, but if you haven't read the story on how basecamp blew up, you should. It's a jaw dropping and infuriating look at how David and Jason just purely mismanaged the people because they failed to realise that that's their real role at the end of the day. Not just building cool shit. And as a result, they've tainted anything attached to the Basecamp name going forward. Gah!
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Posted on May 04 2021 by Adnan Issadeen