The Liked List, 2020

Instapaper has this concept of publicly-viewable profiles of everything that you’ve liked via the read-it-later service. Mine is here. They’re good for seeing the kinds of reads I’m “liking” from around the world wide web, but the problem with them is that there’s often no context about why I liked a particular piece. Did I think it applied to my particular circumstances? Or did it strike a chord and resonate with a certain part of me? Or was it simply well-written?

Three years ago, I started a thing where I posted a dozen or so of my favourite reads of the year, out of all the stuff that I liked in Instapaper over the course of the year. The idea is that they’ll give you a little extra context about reads I think are worth your time, that you may not have discovered yourself via your own organic sources. Blogging may be dead, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find extremely compelling reads on the internet. So without too much more preamble, I present to you: The Liked List for 2020. In somewhat reverse chronological order of when I liked it, and excluding extremely popular stuff you’ve probably seen elsewhere, or stuff that I don’t think is noteworthy enough to write about…

  • How to let go of a lifelong dream
    This piece from Pysche isn’t so much about giving up your dreams, as it is about aiming for something more realistic. It’s about asking yourself the hard questions: if you haven’t already achieved your goal, how much longer is it going to take? How much longer are you going to be unhappy, consumed by an ideal that may not ever eventuate, but not through a lack of trying? It talks about the difference between obsessive passions that consume you, and harmonious ones that fit well into your life, as well as the most important part: re-focusing that energy and passion into something else.

  • The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millenial
    I’m so glad I didn’t write this year’s Liked List too early, otherwise I might never have read this piece from 2017 about premium mediocre. Yes, it’s very 200-IQ stuff about superfluous features that are, a lot of the time, more for show than serve any real purposes. Premium mediocre discusses how at the core of it, outward appearances are now just as important, if not more so, than the core thing itself, and how that has given the middle class a new level of upper-middle class to strive for, while they’re striving to be upper class.

  • What Really Makes Us Happy
    Although we may sometimes desire the premium mediocre, this article says that if we want to maximise happiness, we need to prioritise experiences over appearances. I feel as though we’re altogether too quick to judge on appearances alone, and while they’re important, they’re often not the be-all and end-all. That run-down house on the hill might have serious character and charm inside, and the bland-looking meal might be just as tasty, satisfying, and filling as the one that looks good. Oh, and go and watch Soul on Disney Plus.

  • What if friendship, not marriage, was at the center of life?
    This one from the Atlantic raises some interesting questions about relationships. Traditionally, people have gravitated towards marriage as being the number one relationship, because there’s no closer bond between two people. But what if that weren’t the case? After all, don’t you have to be friends before you’re married? And yet we seem to hold marriage as the highest possible level of friendship, even though it doesn’t have to be.

  • The Nine Billion Names of God – Arthur C. Clarke
    I was introduced to this short story while calculating the number of possible permutations of the new Stripes watch face in watchOS 7. If my calculations are correct, you could have a different watch face every second until the end of time and never see the same one twice… which seems like a lot.

  • The ‘Batman Effect’: how having an alter ego empowers you
    If it seems like I read a lot of self-improvement pieces these days, you’d be right. After all, there’s plenty of wisdom to be found from other people. Even if I’m not going to take it all on board and follow every self-help piece to the letter, there’s still plenty of food for thought, like this one from the BBC about distancing yourself from your own life for a moment and adopt a persona that lets you perform to the best of your ability.

  • The law of leaky abstractions
    In 2002, Joel Spolsky penned this piece about leaky abstractions, and I’ve been thinking about it, on and off, ever since I read it earlier this year. The idea is that no matter how perfect your abstraction seems, if it is non-trivial, then there will always be some edge case that throws its toys out of the cot and goes against the grain.

  • Good times create weak men
    …at least when it comes to software development, anyway. As the XKCD comic tells us, everything is built on top of everything else, and at the bottom of the pile, there’s this one thing that everything else relies on to be 100%, all of the time, otherwise nothing will work. That’s how a lot of software happens today, and that’s less than ideal, to put it mildly.

  • A Steve Jobs materclass from a decade ago
    This one is for all the Apple criticism I see online. It’s a reminder that no matter what you think of Apple as one of the world’s largest companies, no matter what you think of Steve Jobs as a person, or leader, or whatever, there’s absolutely value in learning from him.

  • Flirting for morons
    An… interesting thing happened this year with regards to many Dota talents. I won’t go into the details here (there’s a post on Reddit if you want to know), but suffice to say, multiple careers were ended. Kyle’s post is a good read for what not to do, in case you needed some clarification.

  • Utopian for beginners
    If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to create your own unique language, look no further. It’s no mean feat, to invent your own language that’s “maximally precise” but also “maximally concise”, especially when those two axioms seem at loggerheads with each other. But it’s a fascinating look into the how and why.

  • You don’t need to work on hard problems
    I think about what I want to do with the rest of my life with alarming regularity these days, and it’s pieces like this that ground me in what I’m doing right now. You know, maybe the grass isn’t greener on the other side, and it’s the devil you know than the devil you don’t. What do I find meaningful? Perhaps more importantly, what can I live with?

  • Problems, not solutions
    When you become a product manager, your priorities change from “what solution can I provide for this problem?”, to “what are the real problems here?”. Things often aren’t as simple as renaming buttons, or re-arranging various UI elements. But by digging a little deeper and finding out why buttons need to be relabelled or why the current positions of on-screen elements aren’t ideal, that’s when you can discover problem that your customers weren’t telling you about.

  • A deep dive into the Apollo Guidance Computer and the hack that saved Apollo 14
    Really good, only slightly technical read about the tech that went into getting men on the moon.

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