Of books, movies and breaking the rules

I love reading, it was my escape into fantastic worlds since I was a child. I was lucky to grow up in a small town and had the chance to explore the great outdoors, but when I was not playing or exploring I loved to snuggle in bed with a good book. We had a TV but I found books much more attractive, they had something special, the worlds I imagined were more fascinating to me than anything on TV at that time.

Fast forwarding in the present, we have great movies and TV series based on books, with huge budgets, some of them being real cinematic masterpieces. But the vision of the director will rarely match with the worlds I imagined while reading the book so I made a rule for myself to never see a movie based on a book I read and liked.

I broke that rule recently, I was too curious about a TV series and I regret that decision. I won’t name the book, you can probably guess it. The hype around a new TV series can draw a lot of viewers, but there will always be shortcuts and corners cut while adapting a book to the screen, even with large budgets. I don’t usually set new year resolutions, but this could be a good one: read more books and watch less TV shows.

Work satisfaction

This one is about work satisfaction. I planned to write an article about this half a year ago and I hope I will write one again in six months. It’s been half a year since I co-founded dueblo.com and I can proudly say that last week we managed to launch our new website, showcasing work we are proud of.

We managed to achieve our short term plan, focusing on the type of work that we love doing and keeping our financial sanity in the process. Having a portfolio up in a few months is something I did not imagine a few years back, when the projects I worked on could not be displayed anywhere due to NDAs and other reasons.

One advantage that comes from working in a small team is the time that you get to spend in “the zone”. Some days you only manage to work 4-5 hours, but that’s ok, sitting 8 hours in a chair should not be a goal in itself. But other days, when I’m really focused, I can work for 10 or more hours and that’s the benefit of being your own boss, you can push hard when you feel up for it and do something fun or relaxing when you know you’re not going to be productive.

There are other advantages (and disadvantages) of being a freelancer or self-employed, but I think the biggest one is the satisfaction that comes from the hard work and passion you put in every single line of code you write. Everyone knows what they’re good at and the type of work they love doing, I happen to love being a web developer. Having a great designer as partner and clients willing to pay for our work, this is a real achievement.

The feeling of control as a design element

I am not ready for a future where algorithms choose everything for us, this is my feeling regarding the recent twitter timeline update.

We are heading that way at a rapid pace, proof that some services we use already start implementing algorithms that think ahead of us, based on our history using that service. Putting myself in the shoes of a product designer I think that the feeling of control a person has while using your product or app is an important design factor that needs to be taken into account.

Having the power to curate what a particular user sees is something that should be handled carefully, tweak it too much in the quest for a bigger profit and in the long run you might lose users. I don’t know if people will start leaving twitter after this decision, but I know I don’t feel comfortable about it.

About perfection

Most things in life, including this journal entry, are not perfect. But we still strive for perfection in everything we do, in the things we lust for, in the big dreams we dream.

Perfecting a technique in every field takes time, thought, endless iterations, inspiration from totally unexpected situations. In the end we come up with something that might look like pure perfection to someone from the outside, but still not good enough to yourself or someone from your field of work.

But you know what? As imperfect as it might look to you, you know the hurdles you needed to overcome in order to achieve that result and you know you can do better next time. Perfecting perfection, never stopping iterating and improving.

The hardest thing for a perfectionist is to deliver something good, but living with the thought that he could have done a better job. This fact has made me think a little before giving any kind of feedback to projects in my field of expertise. One could easily spot things that might look out of place at the first glance, but as an outsider you don’t know the limitations the artist had to work with or he might have imposed himself.

Today, I struggled to perfect a css technique and I had a moment when I found the perfect solution to my problem. I just stood there, resizing my browser window (I do that a lot, you know) and being pround of myself. But an hour later, it turned out that I could solve my problem in a much simpler way, not needing that solution at all. It all felt bittersweet.

The final product will be closer to perfection now even without my magic solution, but I’ll get to keep that magic potion among my other little concoctions, it will surely come handy in a future project. And I will go to sleep knowing that tomorrow I might encounter the same bittersweet feeling, but it’s alright, as long as it gets me closer to perfection.

A few things about occupational burnout

When I heard the term burnout before, I thought about long hours, stress, no vacation. And apparently I’m not the only one thinking like this, or at least I was thinking like this until a few days ago.

I found myself describing the term burnout in an email this way: “repetitive tasks that don’t represent a professional challenge” and in the reply I got to my email I was pointed out that my definition was not correct because burnout has other causes, mainly extreme levels of stress or overtime. “Good point” I thought, but I had a gut feeling there must be another nuance to this and started a little research.

The first result I got when searching the Internet for burnout was a Wikipedia article and it turns out there are multiple causes and effects of Occupational burnout:

Burnout is a type of psychological stress. Occupational burnout or job burnout is characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and also may have the dimension of frustration or cynicism, and as a result reduced efficacy within the workplace.

That’s exactly what I was feeling: lack of enthusiasm and motivation, lack of control, feeling of ineffectiveness at work. Other articles mention this:

The profile of an employee who suffers from burnout may surprise you. It is often a person who cares deeply about his or her job but hits a roadblock somewhere along the way and simply stops caring – sometimes as a matter of self-defense.

Or this:

Burnout can result from too little stimulus. Workers complain that the job has gone stale. That it’s repetitive, monotonous and simply doesn’t challenge them enough.

The entire article about burnout can be found here, it explains the main causes of burnout and the things you can do about it.

I read all these articles after I took my decision to act on this, but they just confirmed my choice was the right one. I knew I had to do something about it, to get out of the comfort zone and work on something new.

Thinking retrospectively, I encountered this kind of stress before, but now I felt it was the moment to make a change. It was not an easy decision, but I decided to part ways with the company I was working for and start something new, that I’m really passionate about.

I still love the web and my profession, so I started dueblo.com with my brother in law Andrei Bacter, who is an awesome designer and as passionate about design as I am about web development. If you got an idea or project you need help with, we’re open for business and we offer design and web development services.

The best tomatoes in the world

One form of happines is experiencing the tastes of your childhood. Every year, at the end of August I get to taste the best tomatoes in the world, grown with love by my parents in their garden. I am not a vegetarian, but I enjoy eating fruit or vegetables more than any kind of meat.

These tomatoes are special to me, not only because they have an incredible taste, but because they have a story that reminds me of my childhood summer holidays. I remember being 12 or 13 and reading all the books I could lay my eyes on, staying late in the night and falling asleep during a chapter, only to wake up the next morning eager to find out what the story protagonists were up to. And I stayed in bed and kept reading until hunger reeled me back to the real world.

Then I went into the garden and and picked a couple of tomatoes (they are quite large), took a slice of bread and some cheese from the fridge and that was my breakfast. The mixture of flavors, the cold cheese combined with the warmth of the tomatoes which have been bathing in the morning sun, that was heaven, a simple and tasty breakfast that allowed me to get back in the fantasy world of my books.

Yesterday morning, while the rest of the family was still sleeping, I woke up and went reading in my parents’s garden under the shade of a big walnut tree. After finishing a couple of chapters, I followed my childhood routine and picked some tomatoes from the garden, knowing the sweet taste will still be godly as I remember. And it was indeed, the taste of my childhood.

Ripe tomatoes bathing in the morning sun

Ripe tomatoes bathing in the morning sun

A simple security measure

In the light of the Ashley Madison hack, a very simple security measure popped up and it’s something that can be easily fixed by any website owner in order to increase the privacy of their users. This measure is the consistency of the message received on the forgot password page.

Most of the websites return an error message if the email entered in the forgot password page form is not found in the database, or a success message if the email is found, which is a very simple way of finding if someone uses a certain website just by knowing their email address. Sure, people might have multiple emails, but this might still be a disaster waiting to happen if somebody’s spouse checks their significant other’s email address in one of the dating websites.

The simple solution is to return exactly the same message when an email is submitted, and deciding in the backend what action needs to be taken in each case.

Pumped up

I ran 10km this morning almost with no effort, double of what I usually run. That’s the kind of energy I got after spending 3 days in the mountains. Now I’m all pumped up and ready for the week ahead.

Făgăraș adventure

The beginning of March is the time when most people can’t wait to get a glimpse of the spring flowers and a bit of sun. Not for the hardcore people at Lateral, who planned the coolest adventure so far this year, a trip to the Făgăraș Mountains. We had our fair share of blinding sunlight, subzero temperatures and plenty of snow.

Făgăraș Mountains

Făgăraș Mountains

The mountains give you a special kind of energy that keeps your batteries charged for a long while. Each cliff that you climb is a challenge and keeps you focused, you find strenght and energy in yourself you didn’t know you had. Reaching the top gives you a sense of accomplishment that lingers on and makes you mentally fitter for the everyday routine.

Back to basics

Starting from today my website is a single static html page hosted on Dropbox. This article was written in a code editor and as soon as I hit save, my website was updated. I felt I needed to do this, remove as many barriers as possible between writing and publishing.

I told my colleagues about it and some of them laughed at the idea. Here it is guys and since it’s friday, I’m going to hit the pub with my programmer friends and talk web stuff and drink a few beers. Cheers!