A Year of Zoom Genitals, Bourbon Bottles & Child-Rearing

Five Memorable URLs from COVID Season One (aka the last 12 months)

March 11th was “COVID Day One” for many folks, or at least when it crossed from “will this be a big deal?” to “this is a big deal” for America. While much of Silicon Valley was already curtailing travel and starting to work from home, zeitgeist watchers note a perfect storm of the NBA suspending their season, Tom Hanks being diagnosed as positive, WHO declaring a global pandemic and He Which Shall Not Be Named implementing a travel ban (actually a good idea) as the starting point for “this isn’t just the flu.”

Reading Maya Kosoff’s ‘Lost Year’ essay as part of Medium’s Pandemic Reflections made me consider my own past 12 months. Because of my love for this thing we call the World Wide Web, I’m going to do my own reminiscing via Five Links.

The COVID Tracking Project

An oasis in a misinformation desert, the COVID Tracking Project started very ad hoc but was always authoritative and reliable in trying to understand the illness’ spread. Good data helped put so much in perspective: that this thing was running wild, that it was disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities and geographies and that outside of vaccines, the spread *could* be managed via safety practices.

As the numbers got larger and we almost numbed to the milestones, I stopped focusing on the quantitative and transitioned to the qualitative, namely how to emotionally support my family and my community. The COVID Tracking Project will discontinue updating on its first anniversary (March 7, 2021) but it was one of the URLs that defined my first year of COVID.

When Casey Newton & I Got Zoombombed

Early on this whole WFH thing was kinda silly and fun in the tech industry. People were adjusting to a life of video conferencing (remember when dogs and babies jumping into the frame was novel!), and along with my friend Casey, there were two weeks we ran 5pm Zoom Happy Hours with guests and fun and surprises.

One memorable happy hour involved a Zoombombing where, because we’d left the event link public, some troll took control of the screen and started showing really graphic porn videos. Subsequently Zoom ended up changing a bunch of meeting defaults to prevent this sort of misbehavior and I turned down all the news requests to come speak about our experience. My mantra is “control your first page of Google results” and I wasn’t sure I wanted my above-the-fold vanity search to produce evergreen dick pics.

Now a year later, it’s clear why virtual event platforms, gathering spaces like Clubhouse and other social apps have boomed. We’re primates and we need to be together!

Raising a Kid During COVID

This is my own post from last April, about what lessons do I want my daughter to learn from this last year vs what do I not want her to overlearn. We’ve been so fortunate to have resources and be in a personal situation that supports the flexibility to work from home relatively easily. And while I know this has protected our family from certain hardships, I don’t pretend that it’s an impervious shield against socio-emotional distress. When a quarter of her school-age existence has been spent in lockdown it would be nuts to assume there’s no impact. So we focus on resilience, and expressing our feelings, and being kind to each other. And being very excited for when she can act upon the desire to see and hug her friends without flinching and stopping herself.

The K-Shaped Recovery

“The stock market is not the economy.” I heard this a lot in 2020 when trying to reconcile the overall growth in the public markets, and hypergrowth in tech, compared to the pandemic reality for so many Americans. I got to say things like “I’ve never ordered so much Goldbelly!” while others lost paychecks and family members. My friend Nikhil summarized so many of my thoughts in his essay A Widening Gap.

A widening gap. A gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” between those with disposable income and those that don’t have jobs. A gap between fact and fiction, between those that have access to the truth and those that are fed lies non-stop. A gap that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, certainly, but also by the forces of technology, media, and politics, not just in the last four years, but for the past decade.

It will take considerable work, across technology, media, and government, to reverse this course. There isn’t a simple solution that will be the next big thing in 2021; instead, it’s going to take years of effort.

What I appreciate about Nikhil’s blog post was that it’s not just about tech’ing our way out of this dynamic, but about empathy, caring and even some sacrifice. “Do Things That Don’t Scale” is classic startup advice and I feel the same way about the beginnings of what it takes to reverse these inequality dynamics. Beyond structural change, if we each just cared for a handful of other people in a way that extended beyond our immediate circles, we’d make so much progress. It’s why I love direct action nonprofits such as Human Utility.

My Virtual Drinking Buddies

For years when people asked what my hobbies were I’d kind of shrug my shoulders. There were activities I enjoyed (movies! friends! work!) but nothing that I’d consider a ‘hobby.’ Maybe I’d been overly influenced by the people around me who, when they pursued something, did so with a focus that turned “jogging” into “complete marathons on all continents” and “cooking” into “I’m spending the summer in France as an apprentice pastry baker.” If a hobby equated to something you spent too much time and money on, then my only hobby was therapy!

But I’d gotten tired of not having an answer and started telling folks my hobbies were coffee and notebooks (the paper note-taking kind). These were honest answers as I do enjoy researching, purchasing and consuming both of these, but there’s only so far you can go with notebooks and on the coffee front, I cared more about good beans than necessarily experimenting with every prep method, which meant the subreddits were a bit too much for me.

Fast-forward to the beginning of 2020 and the whiplash we all experienced with travel stopping, restaurants closing and our homes becoming work, play, live 24/7. We’ve all adopted new coping mechanisms and found new aspects to our relationships. Some even used the time to reconsider where they work or move to new cities. Me? I got into whiskey.

Before sharing more I want to acknowledge that alcohol as a “hobby” can be jarring for many. People close to me have dealt with various addictions, including alcohol, and many more have removed it from their lifestyle in the interest of health, mental clarity and other benefits. Fortunately I’m not prone to over-consumption and my interest has been as much about the history, business and people around the spirit as actual consumption (I’m basically a 1–4 oz type of guy — for reference, the average 750ml bottle is roughly 25 ounces).

I’d previously been whiskey-curious, buying a bottle every now and then, trying different bourbons in a bar and so on. But about a year ago I joined a local Bay Area whiskey group that I’ve enjoyed learning from, sharing with and doing virtual tastings. It’s fun to have a space that’s not about tech, not about politics and just about guys and gals with a passion. Thanks also to Caroline and my daughter for giving up some shelf space in the basement for my “hobby.”

Ok, so those are five links that have been important to me through the first 12 months of COVID. Here’s hoping all the graphs continue to head in the right directions and we’re able to help and celebrate one another in-person soon!

Notes and More

The first two months of 2021 are gone! I’ve tried to be very intentional, greeting my family and friends with statements like “welcome to the third Thursday of February” (or similar). 2020 was such a weird blur of speed and slowness that I’m trying this year to be more aware. Probably as a coping tactic!

📦 Things I’m Enjoying

Etta + Billie soapsSmartSweets Sugar Free Gummy Bears. Taylor Swift’s re-recordings.

🏗 Highlighted Homebrew Portfolio Jobs

Plaid is a developer-first company making it easy for financial data to move between apps. They’re hiring in a variety of roles across US, Canada, Europe and Remote.