3^3

Grant is three, and he’s our third kid, and boy howdy is he three times the fun and three times the hard.

They say that three kids is the most stressful amount. After three kids, you can have practically any amount (…that you can afford), and it’s not more stressful. Probably this doesn’t include quad parents, but for the most part it feels true for us. He’s unbelievably stressful.

Grant is the happiest, go-luckiest kid. He’s been a big smiler and laugher since he first figured out how to do those things. He wants to draw you into the fun, too. He gets out of a lot of trouble by having the right attitude.

Until he doesn’t. He’s the busiest of all the kids. He can be unreasonable and demanding. He acts like an only child (and he also acts like a cat, meowing a lot and sitting in boxes). As you can tell, it’s hard to describe Grant without describing both sides of him in the same breath. He’s amazing, and amazingly frustrating.

Grant gets portrayed a lot on this blog, on Twitter, and on Instagrant as a joyful, huggy little fart. And that’s mostly true! But he also makes me want to tear my hair out (which is going white thanks to him), and bang my head into a wall. Then he hugs me and says “hey mama, I luff you, mama.”

He’s more complex than any one descriptor, and he’s strong-willed, and he can certainly be defiant. He’s got more energy than the other four of us combined. He’s not hard because of any specific behavioral problem; he’s hard because he lives with intense gusto and needs to share with one of his parents all the time. Of course this is wonderful, but it’s also like taking care of a third entire human who thinks you are his twin. I’m tired a lot.

I thought I’d share a photo of the other side of Grant, taken at the park today. He got mad at me for taking pictures of him on the swing. He was shouting “no cheese mama! No cheese!” Which is how he says he doesn’t want me taking photos. I don’t always listen, because I too have a strong will. So he decided to escalate to trying to kick me.

After swinging he got down and gave me a hug. And that was that.

Three

Today this little potato turned three. He got a lot of Cars merch, and he couldn’t be more thrilled! We just got back from camping all weekend with our friends, Nora and Brendan, and the number of times I caught Grant singing “Happy birthday a me” under his breath was slightly unreal. So pleased to have this little beast in our lives 💕💕💕

Blog branding

Last week I indulged in a little design work for myself. I decided to go with strictly typographical branding for this blog, because I don’t have access to Illustrator and Photoshop any longer (I never use them, it doesn’t make sense), but I do still have a large library of lovely typefaces.

So I set myself these constraints – I’d create the new branding (logo and site avatar) using just typefaces, it had to match my own sense of style (well, the site’s, such as it is), and there had to be some kind of tie-in with my content.

Because I have no designery programs whatsoever, I just used Keynote (I cringed the entire time, don’t worry), but it worked perfectly. I ended up with 15 or so slides with probably 40 logos and about as many avatars. Before I started I pushed some ink around on paper to see where I wanted to get started. Without any access to a program where I can easily manipulate bevels and cut here and slice there, I wanted to be able to look at negative space, which I can more easily do on paper.

Aside: I enjoy sketching my way around a typeface. My grandfather had several lovely old typeface books, and I flip through them from time to time (since they’ve made their way into my library).

So, the blog is named Revelry Reverie, which I picked out 9 years ago for the reasons we all pick out names on the internet – alliteration! I still find the lyrical, parallel sounds deeply satisfying. Anyway, double Rs. I first looked up the Rolls Royce logo, because I didn’t want to come near to that, and I sketched it at the very top of my notebook so I wouldn’t be tempted to replicate it.

I decided early on that I liked making the Rs just the far side of recognizable. When I switched to the computer, there was always a distinct point where you could see two Rs, but one pixel over, they were a single shape. I liked exploring that line. It isn’t exciting work, but I enjoyed sitting hunched on my couch, tap, tap tapping the little arrow key to move one R or the other pixel by pixel to the left or right.

For the logo, I started by looking at the Rs rotated 90 degrees and reflected on a Y axis. Many capital Rs have a leg that kicks straight out from the bowl, so when you put the R on it’s back, you get a hill and a less-than symbol ( o < ). When you put those reflected together, you get something like o<>o (but flat on the bottom). I found some very interesting shapes, mainly a house between two hills. Neat, but didn’t really match my style or the content of my site. There are a few capital Rs who have a curvy leg, however, where the leg either descends from the right edge of the bowl itself, or it matches the curve of the bowl before descending to the baseline. The shape you get when you match those up is also pretty interesting, and I started to see a perfect connection – three little heads, one with a bow on top. I did a few sketches and then switched back to the computer, and soon enough, I felt I had it:

If you know it’s a pair of Rs, you can see them. But you see the shape first. Coupled with the header image, you are lead to believe you’re looking at three little heads. You could also imagine you’re looking at two boy heads and a girl head, but I would challenge you to think of it as twins flanking a little devil. Just alternative ideas!

So, I needed the image to be a PNG with a transparent background, and I’ve honestly never done that without Photoshop, but I know that Preview has a magic wand mask grabby tool thinger (I can’t remember what these things are called, I just know how they work, ok?), so I used Preview to select the negative spaces and delete them. It took 2 seconds and worked mostly ok. I created a white-on-black version and tried that out, and you could see the anti-aliasing around the curves especially once the logo was placed:

Since my header image is black and white, I decided that a midpoint grey background should work better to blend those edges in. Lo:

It’s hard to see a big difference here, but the edges are softer enough that it works. This isn’t professional work, folks. You can see them if you care to look closely, but otherwise, they don’t grab your attention. This was a good completion point for the logo.

Next, the site avatar, which used to be a photo of Eleanor smiling under a hat, needed updating. I spent 3 pages (27 takes) on capital Rs until a lightbulb went off and I switch to lowercase, which opened up so many interesting shapes and configurations. Ultimately, I kept coming back to inverted Rs in a serif. I generally keep the site typefaces a mix of serif and sans serif (I like a serif for the body copy, and a sans for the titles — I don’t always stick to this, but it’s a classic that I prefer), so choosing a sans serif for the logo and a serif for the site avatar felt appropriate. The site avatar had to fit nicely within a square and had to be distinctive at a tiny size.

No hidden shape on this one, I just felt this one was “right” in a way that isn’t very easy to define. Which is how you know I’m not a designer! However, since I was my own client, I can get away with that.

Finally, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the repetition of Rs matches the volume of Rings that are featured in the blog (well, there are 5 of us in total, and only 4 Rs used technically but think of the two visible Rs in the avatar, then the three little heads in the logo, and it all comes together).

So there we have it! A new logo and site avatar made from typefaces and using the programs that came on the computer. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Profusion

A post about mindset, believe it or not.

9 years ago, in 2010, I registered with WordPress.com. I have had 2,012 posts on this site in that time — in part because I merged an old site into this one when it was time to evolve it.

I’ve spent most of the past two years chasing a perfect 365-day streak. Never hit it.

I am fine with back-dating posts or scheduling posts to cover missed days, but I eventually got to a place where I found the quality of each post was decreasing. Most were just photos (which is fine!) but they weren’t particularly interesting or engaging (and the site is for me, and the photos are more or less my own children, so that’s really saying something).

Over time, you can see the ebb and flow of my blogging activity in this chart:

The thing is, how do you measure what’s ebb and what’s flow? Word count? Maybe. A picture is worth a thousand words, which is a hard fact that is incontrovertible. Engagement? Perhaps. But I like this blog for me, for thinking through things and remembering things I’d rather not forget. What does engagement look like for myself rather than not-me? Likes? Possible. Although any year I had a baby is skewed. Something I find fascinating about stats like this is that my intention at any given point in time determines the landscape. Like a tidal estuary, there’s a robust ecosystem to this blog (and probably to many blogs) that changes depending on when you look at it.

The timing of this milestone (I can’t really call it an achievement) is propitious. I’ve been thinking about mindset a lot lately. I wrote a post to our internal leadership P2 about how every opportunity you have to teach someone is really an opportunity for you to learn. Your responsibility is to try to find the thing to learn! My advice was to give yourself credit to believe that you will be better at your job next week than you are today, so you should be changing your approach and figuring out what someone else does better and shamelessly adopting that way. The way I phrased it was “strong processes, loosely held.” More recently, Matt (our CEO) shared this post internally to everyone in the company, and it gave me more food for thought.

When I applied to Automattic, one of the questions was “do you think you’re the best in the world at support?” And I thought “no, but I’d sure like to be.” So I applied. For many of us, I think, “the best” is perceived as an end state. But that’s not so. Or, shouldn’t be so. Think of it from the other direction; if I’m the best 7 years ago, what am I now? Bester? Maybe T.Jefferson can get away with phrasing such as “a more perfect union” but most of us need to recognize that rather than a bettering of best, there is a plurality of improvement; a profusion of progress.

Evolution is opportunistic entropy. No doubt shocking to everyone, I’m not a physicist, but hear me out. Evolution is not a reduction of entropy, and entropy is not a restriction to evolution. Rather, we move to what we next need to be (evolution) because everything is always changing (also evolution), so we optimize for the state we are in now (entropy).

People who optimize with an eye towards the state we’re not in quite yet have what I call a profusion mindset. You do the best you can with the information you have (even if that means purposefully not being perfect), and plan to change (even if you don’t know what that change will look like). You are comfortable with accepting new ideas, even if they’re contrary to what you’ve thought to that point, and you accept that good ideas can come from any direction. Including past you. I had some boss ideas as a kid (admittedly, many most were unicorn-related). You don’t know how revisiting ideas (or discovering new-to-you ideas) can affect how your own ideas will evolve. I’m not sure if this needs to be true, but I think that you likely need to have a fairly high degree of comfort with chaos. Or at the very least, a comfort with a non-hierarchical profusion of ideas, with no end state.

You could lump “if you aren’t embarrassed by your v1, you waited too long to launch” in with this (and they’re very similar), but take it just a half step further and think of it from the other side – “push out that idea sooner so you can improve it faster.” Try not to be embarrassed by your old ideas, just be excited about where they can lead you. You don’t have to follow every path that an idea presents at the same time, but you can go back and revisit those paths.

Anyway, as far as my blog stats go, it’s all ebb and it’s all flow. I don’t look at my stats anymore (today notwithstanding), because the stats don’t affect my relationship to the blog. I don’t find them validating, but as a data point they’re certainly interesting because they could say almost anything. The nice thing about that complete lack of directionality is that they are almost a thought exercise on what to do with the blog next. If I want to increase X, how will that affect Z and Y? I can come up with lots of ideas on what I want to focus on next and see what happens.

Here’s to the next 9.

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Soggy bottoms, dry sponge, and flavors all wrong

The criticism on The Great British Baking Show.

A crucial component of The Great British Baking Show/Great British Bake Off (depending on where you live) is criticism. It’s a show that intends to separate the custard from the scrambled eggs by determining the best and worst baker each week, until only 3 remain. In order to do that, the judges engage in continual feedback cycles with each participant, as well as public judging of every single bake. In that regard, it’s not unlike art criticism, which is almost always public. Participants also are constantly critiquing their own work and their own skill level, and they critique each other (although this is generally always positive).

After watching all the episodes on Netflix several times over, some thoughts have bubbled to the surface regarding the criticism on the show.

Everyone expects the feedback culture, but may not be prepared for it

Something you hear from participants in the first episode of each season is “I didn’t expect them to judge the first bake that harshly.” Most people who are coming into the tent are not used to being critiqued by professionals on their bakes (why would they be?) and are therefore not often ready to hear negative feedback. There is an unacknowledged chasm between the feedback they’re used to, and the feedback in the tent.

Participants’ attitude towards criticism affects their chance of success

The people who hear criticism and are then motivated to improve in specific ways are more likely to last longer on the show than people who can’t move past the criticism itself. Both types of people may be initially affected to the same degree (that is, they may be devastated), but there is a subtle difference between people who are mortified to have done less than their best, and people who are at a loss for how they did so poorly. Some bakers say “I didn’t get it right,” and others say “it’s [the bake] not what they wanted;” the first is someone taking personal accountability, and the latter is avoiding accountability.

The feedback given is consistent throughout the season…

The judges approach to criticism doesn’t change throughout the season. The briefs typically get more complex, and the technical challenge relies more and more on the bakers’ skills rather than written instruction, but the feedback at its core is the same. Bakers are expected to complete the brief (the viewer doesn’t always know what’s in the brief), they are expected to bake competently, and they are expected to use their baking instincts to interpret ambiguity.

…even though not every misbake is judged equal

As the season progresses, bakers are expected to become increasingly competent in their baking and time management, so reverting to earlier mistakes or making basic errors is typically judged more harshly than a new type of mistake or error. As the participants are whittled down to those who are consistently better bakers, the overall skill level on the show increases. As that happens, the judges fine-tune their critiques.

Criticism is given with context and an intent to improve

The judges only give criticism with context. They always explain the error, and why it’s a problem. They give possible solutions or ways to avoid the same error. Their intent is to help the baker understand their baking flaws and improve on them. The participants who go the furthest listen to the feedback and apply it to their future bakes. However, that doesn’t mean that good bakers avoid doing things that failed for them before. Often a fairly advanced baker will circle back around to an element that they didn’t execute well the first time. They have taken the criticism into account and it’s given them the confidence to try it again.

The judges separate person, personality, and criticism

The judges (Paul, Mary, and Prue in various seasons) all have different personalities and different approaches. Paul presents himself as a straight-talking, no-nonsense man-from-the-trenches. He’s been baking apparently since he was 3 or 4 in his family bakery, so when it comes to instinct with baking (particularly breads), Paul is seen as an expert. He’s seen as strict and of the highest standard. Mary is the firm, but loving, nan on the show. People tend to adore her and feel mortified if they disappoint her. Mary is something of an institution to these bakers, so her gentle attention is like a soothing balm to their souls. She also wins people over with her love of booze and cheekiness. Prue is inexorable, like a glacier gliding through the tent. Her experience and unerring taste make her a formidable judge, although she doesn’t present as intimidating.

Paul has little patience for repeat mistakes, or for foolish mistakes, but if he likes something, he says so. Mary tends to find something nice to say about most of the bakes, even if she also has many critical things to say; it can sometimes come across a bit comic, but I suspect that for the baker in the moment, it’s a kindness. Prue doesn’t wait to deliver critical feedback. You know how Prue feels about a bake immediately, because she says what she means and what she thinks.

When each judge is going through the tent, they do make an effort to understand each baker and their motivation. They appreciate the different bakers for their different approaches and styles, and don’t hide that. However, when it comes to the judging itself, they judge the bake, not the baker. To add a check to their potential bias, one bake each episode is judged blind — the judges don’t know who baked what.

Criticism is both shallow and deep

In the technical challenge, since the judges don’t know who has done the bake they dive deeply into the technique and execution. They don’t compound the criticism with the bakers’ past wins and fails. However, when they judge each piece in front of the baker, they take the baker’s individual strengths and weaknesses at baking into account. They give feedback and advice based on what the baker is good or weak at. Each face-to-face judging gives the baker the most depth on their overall baking skill, especially when considered alongside all their other criticism. The blind judging gives the baker a sense of how their baking relates to their peers’ baking, but doesn’t necessarily build on their previous feedback. The most successful bakers find the value in each kind of feedback, and use it to move forward.

Not all highly competent bakers win

Every winner is highly competent, but not all the bakers who are highly competent win. To begin with, the show styles the bakers in the tent as the 12 best amateur bakers in Britian (for that year). So the bakers are all of a high standard from the outset. One bad weekend of baking can exit an excellent baker from the show. This is especially true once the semifinals begin. Because the judging is public and consistent, the outcome of each show feels accurate, even if it’s not predictable. Generally, you have a good sense of who is in trouble and who has done quite well even before the private tent discussion between the judges and the hosts. You may not accurately guess who exactly is star baker and who is going home, but you aren’t usually surprised — even if a favorite seems like they are in trouble. The build up of the critiques over the three bakes gives even the viewer at home the ability to feel part of the process.

The criticism is worth the gain

This show is so ridiculously pure. The bakers compete for bragging rights, a bouquet of flowers, and a cake stand. Bless their wonderful hearts and their soggy bottoms. I absolutely love that the official prize has practically no monetary value. Unofficially, bakers are on a (potentially) twelve-week crash course in hyper-accelerated baking improvement. They all go home better than when they arrived. The people who leave in the first two or three episodes obviously get the least benefit, but they still are exposed to high-pressure baking and are critiqued by professionals, at least three times. What they take home from that is up to them, but they are given the feedback fairly. The real gift the bakers win is highly individualized and priceless: the personalized criticism they recieve along the way.