Outside Context 6: Social Distancing

Much of the world is now either mentally or physically in the grips of COVID-19. If you don't know what I'm talking about, or think this whole thing is overblown, you can get up to speed quickly here.

I'm currently safe and healthy in Brooklyn, spending an awful lot of time in my room. When I'm not working, reading, or listening to music, I go out for a walk or a long run to Prospect Park or the East River. I have 3 masks left and wear one whenever I go outside. I wash my hands constantly, and try to keep 2 weeks of food stocked in my kitchen.

We're at a critical juncture with Sublime, and dividing our time between on-boarding new users (we recently shipped support for Office 365), and shipping feature requests for those users. We're starting to think about hiring and have posted some basics on AngelList. Fundraising is also in our near future, although we continue to have 6+ months of runway.

If you're at home under lockdown, social distancing, or just WFH, I hope this email gives you some positive things to read. I suspect we could all use a break from stress-reading Twitter and watching the news.


Maker of Patterns by Freeman Dyson. I'm back to reading Freeman's autobiographical collection of letters. I'm finding their brevity and wit a comfort in these trying times. He possessed a clarity of thought coupled with simple yet rich language that goes down like a bowl of warm soup.

The Book of Why by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie. I won't pretend that I'm fully understanding this book, but what I've gathered thus far is fascinating. Pearl and Mackenzie posit that our scientific toolkit lacks a mathematical grammar for expressing causal relationships. In this book, they lay out why this is a problem, and propose to solve it with a novel diagram.

A New Program for Graphic Design by David Reinfurt. I find myself doing a surprising amount of design, or at least design-thinking. I've never read a single book on graphic design, any kind of design, so I'm starting with this one. If you have recommendations, please send them my way.

An historic $2T bailout package looks likely to be enacted by congress. Here's a cogent critique from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and another from a set of MIT Sloan professors.

Streaming is exploding. Sure Netflix et al are getting more popular than they already were, but the really interesting stuff is happening on platforms like Twitch, where there's way less of a content middleman. Check out this feature of one of the world's top streamers to get a feel for the incredible creativity on offer.


I've organized most of the songs below in this Spotify playlist, for our mutual enjoyment. I'll include one of these with every newsletter, because music is an important element of my existence. I won't necessarily talk about all the songs on the playlist in this section, because I don't always have something meaningful to say about all of them.

"Son & Daughter" by Queen. My favorite track from Queen's first album. This is before they developed their own unique sound, but it's a damn good representation of the best that 1973 had to offer.

"Touch" by Cigarettes After Sex. Achingly beautiful, great for leaning into the feeling of crushing loneliness brought on by social distancing.

"A Glowing Light, a Promise" by Makeup And Vanity Set. This entire 2012 album, 88:88, is really fucking good. Other favorites: "Homecoming", "System Override"

Nearly a half million people are jamming to this COVID-19 quarantine playlist. Check it out and enjoy a good laugh.


If you travel or otherwise work out of coffee shops frequently, the Roost Stand will change your life. It's a light, sturdy, and collapsable laptop stand that lets you maintain better posture while working on your laptop without an external monitor. I use this every day and get asked about it 2-3 times a week.

Are you a founder or PM shipping product updates to customers on a regular basis? You should be using Headway. We've integrated their widget into our docs and use it to send product updates to our users. Superhuman users will recognize this widget as the little dot in the top-right of the Superhuman Mac client.

New to SQL? Carrie Tian shared The SQL Murder Mystery, a whodunnit designed to teach you the basics. Humans learn in different ways. If you've found it hard to grok SQL, give this a try.


Oren Cohen founded Zen Educate and they're helping connect educators, institutions, and students. Oren is one of the most focused, driven humans I know. If you're in London and ever have a chance to invest or work with Oren, take it.

A while back I mentioned Amelia Lin's work on Keep Life Stories. They've now rebranded to Saga, and if there was ever a time to get on the phone or FaceTime with your family and record some oral histories, this is it. Check it out here.

Other random stuff

The incredible team at Alto Pharmacy has raised $250M from SoftBank, and rolled out a new brand identity to boot. They're planning significant geographic expansion this year and are hiring across the board. Alto is working on something truly special and I'm thankful for my time there.

The Mortality Chrome Extension turns your New Tab page into a countdown timer for your life. Memento Mori.

Building a man page? Check out TLDR pages.

Security folks use TLP (Traffic Light Protocol) to note the sharing boundaries for communications, documents, and meetings. For example, a TLP:WHITE document can be shared publicly and discussed with anyone, while the contents of a TLP:RED meeting should only be discussed and shared with meeting participants.

The latest Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris focused on remote work, and consists of a wonderful interview with the founder of Wordpress, Matt Mullenweg. Here it is: Making Sense #194 - The Future of Work