Evening Pages: July 13th, 2020

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I've been locking myself down until I think it's safe to go out again. To alleviate fear and stress, my writer's group has put together a daily "morning pages" get-together on Zoom in order to touch base before starting the day. Here's some of my brief thoughts.

Man, it's been a while since I've written here. Hence I'm trying to find the cutest animal picture / video from this week, instead of just from today.

And here you go!

I wonder whether cat toys are made not because cats enjoy it, but because people do. That has to be why, I don't think I've seen a cat enjoy a cat toy more than a human.

I'm pretty frustrated with myself. I think I say this usually, but today and recently I've been feeling the heat much more. My sabbatical kind of went off the rails, and I'm not sure what to do about it. So my day project for my sabbatical turned from working on a CRM for software engineers, to working on a data layer for event-driven clients, to a Firebase-like framework for BI + personal life management tools, to a database-backed spreadsheet tool (that I never really got started on...), to a consulting agency thing that hasn't gotten off the ground yet, to building out a demo SaaS that I'm having trouble with because I can't get a friggin' side menu bar to collapse properly.

The kicker? I haven't shipped any of these. Besides throwing up a landing page, an email address, sending out some cold emails (that haven't gotten returned), and maybe doing some amount of development (plus a lot of devops), I don't have too much to show in production since...late January.


I don't think this just happened. I think one goal of mine was almost this exact situation, to exhaust myself against the impossibility of doing everything myself so that I can come back into the workforce a bit more humbled. But now that I'm applying to jobs again, this "victory" (if you can even call it that) rings very, very, very hollow. I think what I really wanted was freedom. Freedom to do what I wanted, on my own terms, and that's not really a freedom you get to enjoy frequently unless you have financial freedom, which in our world comes from (smartly) doing things other people want in a way that most benefits you. Like building a company and answering to customer's needs.

If I had to do my sabbatical over again...what would I do differently...? For starters, I think I'd be a bit more liberal on spending money on Heroku. Seriously, not having to worry about devops is the best thing ever. Ship a demo, get money in the bank from pre-orders or sales or what-not, then iterate on customer demands because not even I know what I want for myself (I really have only inklings of ideas, and I don't dream full project specifications). I think after I had realized what a travesty AWS Elastic Beanstalk really was, and the horror of what it's like to configure everything from scratch, I should have pivoted instead of going neck deep into AWS.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this, but I realized maybe two days ago that AWS does not allow ECS containers to talk to the public internet, unless they're on a private subnet with a NAT gateway. A lot of technical gobbledygook, and what it means is that you're looking to spend about $50 / mo. on AWS if you want to "do things right" (follow generalized devops best practices). Which is far out of budget for me. Whereas Heroku would cost $15 / mo. and have services up and ready to go. Heroku is price-competitive with AWS, in fact Heroku is priced even better than AWS, for Internet-facing services. I don't think I could have believed that statement just a few months ago. The vendor lock-in isn't real, if you have a container. How can it not be real??

If you have a public API, and you can't use CORS in order to limit who can ping your API, you'll have random pings from random crawlers just trying different things. And who knows, maybe one day they'll get through to the admin page and hold your data ransom. So you need something like AWS Web Application Firewall, which charges $5 / mo. for one web ACL rule. When I see what the true cost of hosting is like, it makes the value proposition for a managed service much, much more attractive.

I think I also need to stop being afraid of letting myself write bad code. This is a fear I haven't overcome yet, and maybe it's because I just haven't written enough code in general. It's a Catch-22. I'd rather not write any code at all than write bad code, but writing good code means writing a lot of bad code first. So yeah, I have to write a small quantity of "good" code (the definition of which changes every so often), only after doing compulsive research on what good and bad is.

I think it's dangerous to get into a spiral of negative thinking, so what are some good things that came out of this sabbatical? Hmmm...

I learned many things the hard way. I learn things best the hard way, because while the higher-order mind forgets things (I think stack ghci is one of the few commands I remember from earlier this year), the simian mind does not (that awsvpc meltdown will stay with me long after I forget most everything else...). So I guess in a sense I've learned where to assign my priorities in developing side projects, and I can see much further on the horizon (e.g. scaling a product and what that will entail) than I could before. So that's good.

I think it's also nice learning a good deal of DevOps. I think DevOps is recession-resistant in a way other software engineering disciplines might not be. So I can always pivot to that in case, you know, next job doesn't work out or something. And since I made sure to learn everything from the base layer up, it works for pretty much any cloud. ACLs, routing tables, and DNS records exist everywhere. It's also great because since I can control my pipeline to production, I'm not so scared of the big bad vendor lock-in anymore. Come to think of it, I'm not sure what I'm really afraid of. Probably security-related issues, where if I do something wrong not only is it a silent failure but I can get hurt really, really bad. I guess it's nice to learn infrastructure-as-code stuff, I can deploy a landing page in less than a day now without being locked into a proprietary vendor of some sort, and then only need to worry about SEO.

What else is nice. It's cool learning things people need. I'm much less terrified about finding a job this time around than I was previously. Mostly because I've kind of stopped giving a shit about finding the "best" job, but also because I know I can kind of stand my ground on some things. I've gone out, I've made a little money on my own doing some contracting, and you know what? I have a base level of self-worth, because I'm fundamentally sick of being stepped on. So I'm going to ask for what I want, and I'll allow myself to want what I want (and I don't even want all that much). I think I have a leg to stand on for that kind of assertion.

Sigh. It's not the suffering Olympics, because if it is I wouldn't win, and so I think things are a bit hard at the moment, even for a privileged guy like me. It's difficult to plan for the future, and even more difficult when you know just how hard things are going to be. I wish my sabbatical aimed more squarely at that point, because now keeping those thoughts at bay keeps me up at night.