2 weeks with the Fuji X100V

When we went to Disney World in 2019, wanting something other than my phone to take nice vacation photos, I bought a Sony RX100 VA, a great, pocketable compact camera with a solid Zeiss lens. (During Covid, I’ve been using it as my video conferencing camera.)

But when we went to Cape May two weeks ago, I wanted something a little closer to my Leica Q in size and quality, but less stealable and more resistant to sand and water.

I’ve been intrigued by Fuji’s X100 lineup for a while, and a couple of weeks ago I got the new fifth-generation Fuji X100V as my new vacation and street photography camera.

Fuji X100V camera with lens cap and strap

DPReview has a good summary of the basics of this camera, which they call “the most capable prime-lens compact camera ever.” For me, the interesting bits are the fixed lens, the mostly manual controls, the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, and Fuji’s signature “film simulation” modes.

Almost every digital camera I’ve used has some special picture modes, like “vivid,” “soft,” or “B&W,” applying some basic color grading or effects in-camera for folks who aren’t going to edit or process their shots later. When shooting in JPEG, Fuji’s film simulations are like that but patterned after classic Fuji film stocks. For example, the camera’s “vivid” mode is called Velvia, designed to emulate Fuji’s classic Kodachrome-alternative color reversal film. However, when shooting RAW, the film simulations are set up as different camera profiles — and, unlike with JPEG, you can apply or change them post-shoot in Lightroom.

A seagull flies over the lawn at Congress Hall Hotel in Cape May, NJ. Shot RAW with Fuji X100V Velvia profile applied in Lightroom
Maplewood, NJ’s main fire station. In-camera JPEG from Fuji X100V with Velvia film simulation

But part of the fun of this camera is trying to not spend as much time in Lightroom, and instead just trust what comes out of the camera. One set of black and white modes is patterned after Fuji’s ACROS film stock, and you can set it to be more sensitive to red, green, or yellow, which result in different looks depending on the scene.

My dog Johnny Cash. In-camera JPEG from Fuji X100V with ACROS black-and-white film simulation

I was never a film photographer, so I have no particular nostalgia for classic film stocks. But as part of the Instagram/Hipstamatic generation of mobile photographers, I do like to see nice, opinionated, retro-style color grading, and these film emulation modes work very well for that purpose, especially if you use Fuji’s app to transfer JPEG photos to your phone.

A beach trip seems right in this camera’s wheelhouse. In addition to great color — lots of rich blue skies and warm skin tones — the Fuji also has a fast 1/4000 sec maximum shutter speed and can shoot in burst mode at up to 11 fps, great for capturing decisive moments or kid/pet antics.

Even though I have a perfectly great camera on my iPhone, I like to carry a small camera around whenever possible to capture photos of interesting signs, architecture, bits of light. (Also, in these unusual times, it’s a lot faster and easier to switch on a physical camera than unlock my phone with my masked face.) In the Before Times, I would take snapshots while walking to work in Manhattan.

Nowadays the scenery doesn’t change that often, but when I have a chance to see someplace new I make sure to bring a camera along. A few days ago I had to drive into Newark and got these shots of these awesome, sun-bleached storefronts.

Fuji X100V vs the Leica Q series

My frame of reference for this camera is, as I said, my Leica Q, a camera that costs more than three times as much, with a bigger sensor and a bigger, faster lens. These two cameras get compared a lot because they’re two of a tiny number of compact, point-and-shoot style cameras with professional-grade lenses and sensors, and the X100 series and Leica Q series are by far the most popular of these.

I haven’t tried very hard to compare the two cameras, but I did take one test shot on each one, standing in the same place in town and trying to cover roughly the same angle.

(Almost) the same street scene captured with a Leica Q (left) and Fuji X100V (right)

Honestly, I was expecting more of a difference. But the two photos seem equally well exposed and equally sharp. I know from experience that the Leica has a bit more latitude — a bit better low-light performance, a bit less contrast in bright light — and if you look closely, you can see a few details in the Leica shot that aren’t quite as nice on the Fuji. In particular, look at the twinkle lights and other shadow details in the outdoor-dining tent — they look okay on the Fuji shot, but colors seem richer and shapes more defined on the Leica.

The Q is almost as portable as the X100V — or, put another way, the Fuji is slightly more portable than the already-portable pro compact camera I’m used to. I walk around my neighborhood with a Peak Design Everyday Sling bag packed with hand sanitizers, masks, water, and gear for my dog, as well as a camera. One nice thing about the Fuji is that its fixed lens is slightly shorter than my Leica’s, freeing up a few cubic inches of space in my walking-around bag.

This YouTube review by TheSnapChick compares the Fuji head-to-head with the newer Leica Q2 which features 45 megapixels(!) of resolution and a more weather-sealed design. She ultimately concludes that the Leica is her preferred go-to camera, but I think it’s a strong endorsement of the X100V that it was a close call, given how powerful (and expensive) the Q2 is.

Retro-Style Camera, Modern Features

I don’t buy cameras more than every five years or so, so maybe certain features have been around for a while — I’d have no fucking idea. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Anyway, one of the X100V’s best quality-of-life features is really simple: it has a USB-C port that can charge the battery. Of course, charging the battery with the USB port isn’t new; the Sony NEX-6 I bought in 2013 could do that, though annoyingly, my Leica can’t. But the port being USB-C means I can use the same cable as I carry for my laptop and the same backup battery I carry for my iPad and Nintendo Switch.

The Fuji pairs with my phone via Bluetooth, which allows the camera to synchronize its clock and pull in geotag information when I take pictures. This, too, is a new-to-me feature and probably isn’t a revolutionary one — the Q2 (released in 2019) has it too, and Leica tends to be a few years behind the curve on that sort of thing.

While I like using Bluetooth for time and location syncing, I had to disable Fuji’s “auto-transfer” feature that periodically sends new photos to my phone. The camera will only transfer JPEGs, only over its built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, and if it’s not able to copy everything to the phone, it will keep trying every time you turn the camera off. Annoying!

That said, The X100V’s Wi-Fi transfer feature is nice for getting nicer photos into your camera roll for Instagram, provided you know its limitations and can work within them.


Conclusions? We don’t need no stinking conclusions — what is this, The Verge?

Seriously, my conclusion is what you could get from DPReview, Wired, or Engadget — it’s a good camera, Brent. The X100 series’ reputation as “fun” cameras is well deserved. If anything is less than great about the X100V, it’s that the sheer number of ways to get good images out of it can feel overwhelming.

There are manual controls for every significant setting, plus quick menus, touch commands, and function buttons. You can set the camera up for your perfect workflow, with sensible defaults if you don’t want to do that. I like the Q’s (relatively) minimal design because you have manual control over the most important things. Leica’s design is opinionated — really, the best way to use a Leica camera is to ‘trust the glass’ and just focus on getting a good exposure. In fact, some of my worst Leica shots were taken when I’d fussed with one setting or another then forgot to change it when the lighting situation changed.

This Fuji is similar in that you’ll have a great time if you can avoid getting in your own way with all the switches and knobs. But Fuji also has done a good job of surfacing more controls that are important to capturing great images, especially exposure compensation and ISO, which have their own dedicated dials. I rarely set ISO to anything other than automatic, and exposure comp is almost always -1/3 stop, but when I want to change them, I can do it without a trip to the menu. In fact, it’s easy to change them without taking my eye off the viewfinder, which is pretty badass.

All in all, I had fun shooting with the X100V on our vacation, have continued having fun carrying it around town, and am looking forward to the shots I’ll get over the rest of the summer.

Bird, Caged

yellow and green bird
Photo by REGINE THOLEN on Unsplash

Recently, whenever I’ve felt stressed or down on myself, it’s been after a long (sometimes very long) spree of scrolling through tweets. Years ago at Brooklyn Beta, Naz Hamid said that one of his keys to a peaceful life was not to compare oneself to other people. It’s harder to follow that advice when a lot of the day is spent drinking a firehose of people’s spiciest selves.

Today — inspired by Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in The Atlantic about what Twitter has done to her brain — I’m starting a little experiment: removing the blue bird app (and the blue and pink apps from that other social company) from my phone(s) and tablet. I’m not so naive to think that I’ll totally quit Twitter, but I’m going to try to cut way back in hopes of taking back some of the brain space that internet randoms have been living in rent-free.

The grid was down, but I didn’t feel anxious; that came later. I felt elated, free. I thought of a maxim I’d once read in a book about business: A 99 percent commitment is hard; 100 percent is easy. I was 100 percent off Twitter. Which would have made an excellent tweet.

Caitlin Flanagan, “A Twitter Addict Realizes She Needs Rehab”

One of the most aggravating things about Twitter, especially in the last decade or so, has been that it is both incredibly toxic but also the internet’s de facto town square, or at least its high school cafeteria. I have friends who I literally only know through Twitter; to leave Twitter is to leave people. “The internet” is indeed made of people, just like Soylent Green, and it feels… anti-social to walk away from people. But it also feels wrong to stop eating chips even after eating a whole bag of chips.

Soylent Green Movie Poster - IMP Awards

For me, Twitter’s toxic quality is the desire to be seen and liked, preferably at scale. As someone who has a bit of a public profile, and would like his profile to be bigger, it seems like a sacrifice to stop participating in The Discourse. For now I’m trying to see this as an opportunity — to be more intentional about what I put on social media, and to divert more energy into this here blog.

So, instead of tweeting, I’m gonna also try sharing what thoughts, takes, photos, and links I have here on this site, possibly in the form of a daily diary with occasional topical posts. (Which I’ll probably set up to auto-post to Twitter, so people can find them without me having to look at Twitter.) I may bail on all of this, but I’m going to try to give it at least a few weeks and see if it sticks.

“The right words on climate have already been said” 

Sarah Miller writes about how it feels to talk and write about climate change now that the first wave of climate disasters have begun:

I probably talked for 11 minutes straight. I told her I didn’t have anything to say about climate change anymore, other than that I was not doing well, that I was miserable. “I am so unhappy right now.” I said those words. So unhappy. Fire season was not only already here, I said, but it was going to go on for at least four more months, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I didn’t know how I would stand the anxiety. I told her I felt like all I did every day was try to act normal while watching the world end, watching the lake recede from the shore, and the river film over, under the sun, an enormous and steady weight.

There’s only one thing I have to say about climate change, I said, and that’s that I want it to rain, a lot, but it’s not going to rain a lot, and since that’s the only thing I have to say and it’s not going to happen, I don’t have anything to say.

The editor said, “That’s really interesting.” It was the moment in the conversation with an editor where you have, in your rambling, hit upon the thing that they maybe haven’t heard yet, that they might want you to write about.

When she said “That’s really interesting,” I forgot for a second that I had been talking about my life, and felt instead that I had done what I set out to do. Had I Been Myself but also Made the Sale? It was what I always waited for.

This week it was almost 100º in greater New York City (where we live), over 115º in Portland, OR, and over 120º in Lytton, BC, Canada, which after four days of extreme heat burned to the ground.

On Twitter, lots of people have independently thought of the quip that this summer isn’t the hottest on record so much as the coolest summer for the rest of our lives. I mean, yeah, that is probably true. It’s a horrifying truth. Drought, fire, floods, polar vortexes, the crumbling of what remains of our infrastructure, misinformation, and gaslighting about these facts — that would seem to be our present and future.

It’s exhausting to think about, let alone write about, and yet we seem to lack the language to do anything more than point out the obvious. As Miller says, it may be because every persuasive, interesting thing about climate has already been written, and we’re reduced to cataloging the damage as we try to stay sane.

Embracing ‘Read-Only’ Mode During Covid 

My friend Sally Kerrigan wrote this last year, about accepting that a pandemic is not the best time to be creative, and deciding to intentionally enter a “read-only” mode:

It seems like writing should be the easy thing to do as a quarantine project. I mean, all the ingredients every introverted writer dreams of are right there: no social obligations, mostly sequestered, possibly underemployed. But ideas meander, and while showing up to write every day does help (I’m told), the ideas won’t linger long enough to become realized in a creative work if you’re exhausted on a psychic level. Which, let’s be honest, most of us are.

I’ve experienced a sense of blankness this year, which I took a while to recognize as exhaustion. In theory I know how to have a writing discipline; I’m a word person. Shouldn’t I be writing, like, daily blog posts? Sometimes I’d look at a partial draft, recognize that there was good stuff in it, but my mind would be a total blank and a helpless despair began to roll back in.

If you’re too exhausted to do creative work, you need to find ways to fill yourself up. Yes, this is a self-care thing, but it’s more than that; when you’re in an environment where creative works are able to influence you in a passive way, your subconscious has material to work with. It’s time to take a look at what you’re feeding on.

Even now, more than a year into this, I feel this annoying need to make use of this time somehow, to fill it up and give it meaning. It’s so easy to forget that all of us are actively surviving right now, and surviving a plague is all-consuming while also feeling pretty meaningless, which I guess explains the urge to learn or create.

This idea of a personal, experiential read-only mode is really valuable; I hope it too survives the pandemic.

Apple Discontinues Space Gray Keyboards, Mice, and Trackpads 

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Not that there’s a shortage of black-and-gray computer accessories, but if you happen to like Apple’s Magic Keyboard, Trackpad, and Mouse, and you like things in black, and you don’t mind paying a $20 premium just for the color, you should hop to Apple’s site and grab these while they last because Apple has discontinued them.

It never made any sense that Apple would charge extra for black, other than that they could and they’ve done that kind of thing before. I’m hopeful that they’re cleaning house ahead of a big refresh — maybe one including Touch ID, like the keyboards that come packed with the new iMacs — but it could be as simple as that they’re winding down manufacturing on these alongside the iMac Pro they came with, and it didn’t make sense to keep making them.

Anyway, I’m glad I have some of these around. Apple’s white keys and trackpads can get hella dirty.

Grandstander: A friendly variable font by Tyler Finck 

And it is super friendly—at thinner weights it’s a zany Comic Sans alternative, at thicker weights it’s more like a sign painting font. It seems perfect for your kid’s next birthday or all your passive-aggressive office signage needs. It’s open source (under the SIL Open Font License), has variable weight and slant axes, and it’s available on Google Fonts. (Found via Mark Boulton’s type specimens newsletter.)

Why the Hybrid Workforce of the Future Depends on the ‘Geriatric Millennial’ 

There’s a lot to unpack in this post by Erica Dhawan, and it took me a minute to decide which parts to excerpt. This passage, though, captures both her thesis and most of what’s wrong with it:

For organizations that are divided across generational divides between baby boomers and Gen Z, it’s beneficial to call on your geriatric millennials to help you translate the experiences of both digital adapters (baby boomers) and digital natives (Gen Z). It not only makes for a better internal culture but a happier clientele.

One geriatric millennial and head of HR, Sarah, told me that the new generation doesn’t treat video meetings in the same way they might an in-person meeting and she spends time getting them “up to speed.”

“During video meetings, I am surprised when some junior employees are not as conscious of their video background — it looks messy and unprofessional to me,” she says. Knowing that experienced (and older) team members are accustomed to more formality, even when they’re working from home, she now reminds her younger team members to fix their backgrounds on customer calls and wear clothing that they’d wear to the office. It signals respect, not only to clients but to other colleagues as well. On internal calls, she lets it go, adding, “We have to be willing to understand formality discomforts across channels and be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“Comfort” is an interesting concept to anchor on. The generation gap Dhawan’s concerned with seems to be the one between Boomers and younger workers; the idea that ‘geriatric’ millennials can help bridge the gap seems to stem from them knowing more about what older bosses and owners expect, and being able to teach new junior employees about workplace decorum. But this kinda seems to assume that the Boomers’ comfort should be a priority, whether they’re clients or internal, not the growing number of younger workers who’ve spent the last year working from home during a pandemic.

But does she even know which generations she’s writing about? Take this section:

Adette, a geriatric millennial and the CEO of Tinsel and In Wild Pursuit, addressed this problem on her team. She once hired a sales coach to grow her company. In his late forties, the coach was a digital adapter who kept pushing Adette’s team “to hit the phones and annoy and pester your prospects for meetings.” Adette remained skeptical, especially since she knew that her clients (most of whom were in their thirties) preferred texting, and in all likelihood ignored phone calls.

Someone in their late forties is not a boomer. That is a Gen Xer, and a younger one at that. It’s true that many Gen Xers entered the workforce before texting, chat rooms, and video calls were the norm, but merely pushing people to use telephones — which are still a preferred mode of communication for millions of people, including/especially at work — is not a sign of a ‘digital adapter.’ Rather, this seems like a much simpler case of someone who failed to listen and understand their market. Arrogance, sadly, spans generations. And while it may be problematic for a forty-something ‘sales coach’ to not know that millennials hate phones, it’s equally problematic for a leader to assume that that’s because the person’s age makes them a “digital adapter.”

Lastly, the term ‘geriatric millennial’ can be cute when used once, but as a serious label reflects a serious lack of understanding of what that word means. ‘Geriatric’ doesn’t just mean ‘old’ or ‘hecka old’ — it means ‘decrepit’, ‘outdated’, and in the medical context is used to refer to specialized care for older patients. Forty year olds (like me) are in no way geriatric; in fact, most of us are just hitting our career prime. It’s true that we’re well situated to help coach and lead younger millennials and Gen Z teammates, because we’ve seen some shit. It’s also true that there are more and more of us in C-suites and executive teams, especially in startups and smaller firms. But if a 40-year-old is geriatric, what does that say about someone who’s 50, 55, 60, and still in the workforce?

This is especially annoying because we have terms to describe ‘cusp’ millennials born between 1977 and 1983 — we’re xennials, also known as the Oregon Trail generation or (for the My So-Called Life stans) Generation Catalano. The phrase ‘geriatric millennial’ manages to communicate the same concept in more words, while also being borderline offensive?

Panic Discontinues ‘Code Editor’ for iOS 

This is sad—after nine years, Panic has discontinued Code Editor, the iOS version of their web development app combining a text editor, file transfer client, and terminal. They attribute the decision to poor sales — the app wasn’t selling enough copies to fund its continued development, which was also the case for Panic’s now-discontinued Transmit iOS and Status Board apps.

But they also talk about the work they’d have had to do to make a code editor that might be viable for today’s developers, and how that kind of product is basically impossible on iOS:

The biggest technical hurdle is the inability to run external processes on iOS and iPadOS. There’s just no way around it: this is required for modern web development. For example, the TypeScript extension is one of the most popular Nova extensions right now, and it launches and runs the TypeScript compiler. While we could attempt to build the TypeScript compiler into Nova, we can’t possibly anticipate and include every such tool that might be needed by a developer. We’d need to bundle compilers, interpreters, and language servers for just about every programming language in existence, not to mention tools like linters, JavaScript transpilers, and bundlers. The scope would quickly become unmanageable, and we’d always be lagging behind the latest versions of these tools.

Even if it were viable, we’d likely run afoul of App Store policy as well. Apps on iOS and iPadOS must use Apple’s Javascript interpreter, JavaScriptCore. Although JavaScriptCore is excellent, many developer tools rely on features or behaviors only present in Google’s V8 JavaScript interpreter. Similarly, WebKit is the only allowed web rendering engine on iOS. 

And still, even if we could find some clever technical way around all of these limitations, we wouldn’t know if our approaches would be allowed on the App Store until we’d fully built and submitted them for review. So, we’d be facing a huge investment of time with the possibility that it would all ultimately get rejected.

It is ironic that this app, which made it barely possible to manage a static or PHP web site from an iPad, is getting pulled from sale the same week that Apple ships their fastest iPad Pro models to date, running the same processors as their newest, fastest Macs.

My idea of what makes a good computer is anchored in what I need as a web coder and product manager, but I’m not aware of any pro use case where an iPad Pro is able to replace a laptop or desktop. In fact, I can’t really call out any essential apps or use cases that will fully utilize an M1 processor — Microsoft and Adobe’s iPad apps are stripped-down versions of the desktop ones, for instance, which were already quite fast on last year’s A16X. Code editing on iPad already required any real computing to happen on a server somewhere else — you could use Code Editor to edit your WordPress site, but you could never, ever run a local WordPress environment on an iPad.

And, regarding the economics, Code Editor is yet another casualty of how poorly Apple has supported pro software sales on iOS and iPadOS, pushing many businesses toward subscription models whether they like it or not. Nova, Panic’s newest macOS code editing app, costs $99 for a perpetual license plus the first year of updates, with license renewals for $49/year. Even at that price point, they couldn’t afford to also develop and maintain an iOS app, especially one that couldn’t match Nova’s full feature set.

If Panic could ship a fully-fledged web IDE for iPad, I personally think it’d be worth at least $100/year, but they’d be unlikely to find enough takers to make it viable, and (of course) they’d be at Apple’s mercy to keep the app approved for sale.

So, as always, the question is: what exactly is pro about the iPad Pro, if pro software creators have no incentive to develop the kinds of apps that would make the hardware sing?

The Full Coinbase

One is an incident, two is a coincidence, but three makes a pattern. Following on Basecamp’s heel turn this week, now Patreon CEO Jack Conte has posted a YouTube video announcing the layoff of 36 people from the company, despite things going well financially.

Protocol reports that:

Patreon is offering laid-off employees a severance package including three months of full pay, five months of mental health benefits, and health insurance through September, Conte said. The company also removed some stock option restrictions to ensure they get “the full amount of stock compensation,” Conte said. 

The layoffs come just weeks after Patreon raised a $155 million funding round at a $4 billion valuation. Patreon is doing better than it’s ever done before, Conte said in the video.

The video is uncomfortable to watch, and not just because Conte talks in that first-person confessional “YouTuber style” that I always find awkward and a little bit threatening, like someone has you in their headlights and will not look away.

In a 6.5 minute video, Conte spends the first third talking about how weighty a decision it is, how much he owns the decision, how the company is doing fine financially and the fired individuals are all wonderful, great people. This reminds me of the saying that if someone says something nice followed by “but,” everything before the “but” was bullshit.

I don’t have solid numbers on how many employees Patreon has. Last year, when the company laid off 30 people in response to the (short-lived) economic downturn caused by the onset of the Covid pandemic, The Verge reported that was 13% of their workforce, which would add up to about 230 people. Assuming their headcount either remained flat or only grew a little, today’s layoffs would be roughly 15% of the company.

Why? Conte attributes the change to a shift in product strategy, proposed by the company’s recently-hired chief product officer, saying that the people being let go didn’t have the skill sets or experience needed for this new vision.

What he of course did not say is whether these individuals — who were all designers, engineers, and other tech/product specialists — were given an opportunity to adapt to the new way of working and stick around, or if they plan a big round of hiring to fill their roles. His words seem to say that these people were wrong for the company, but could just as easily mean that they were redundant, making this that other kind of layoff that companies do when they want to improve their financial outlook or shareholder value.

A difference between this video and the blog posts from Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong and Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is that Conte doesn’t bring up politics or culture once — he keeps the focus on, well, himself first and foremost (which is no different from those other dudes), but then on the vaguely-stated notion that the company needs to operate differently in order to be “the best product for creators,” and that those changes necessitate separating 36 people from their livelihoods.

Conte also, I guess to his credit, didn’t announce a big change to how the company works and then passive-aggressively offer an exit package to anyone who dissents — rather, he just fired the people who he wanted to fire, with similarly generous severance and other benefits such as full vesting of their stock grants.

Even so, I would still say that with this video and the changes it discusses, Jack Conte and Patreon have done the thing I have termed The Full Coinbase:

First, start by building your company’s brand on populist or anti-establishment values. Coinbase is a cryptocurrency platform (which not everyone agrees is pro-people, but many crypto proponents certainly do); Basecamp makes software for distributed work and publishes books and podcasts about “better” ways of working. Patreon is one of the leading platforms for independent creators to monetize their work, enabling those creators (or at least the most popular ones) to monetize and thereby focus more on their art.

Second, keep all power at the company centralized in one (or few) people, and even make them synonymous with the brand. As I noted yesterday when linking to the Rework podcast’s 90-second reaction to their bosses’ policy changes, the podcast website doesn’t even list the hosts’ names, but does mention the two Basecamp partners. Jack Conte is not “the Patreon guy” so much as Patreon is “Jack Conte’s startup” — he was a creator before he was a startup founder, and in the video he’s speaking to creators directly as one of them even as he speaks about his employees in the abstract. He owns this decision because (for all intents and purposes) he owns the company and its brand as fully as Jason and David own Basecamp.

Third, having given these leaders both old-timey-tycoon-like power over a company and its operations and a big social media megaphone, announce a highly controversial policy or operating change affecting dozens of people in a way that centers the leaders more than any of the affected employees. This is of course the key one, but to have the forceful stink that makes it a Full Coinbase, you need the first two.

In 2019, when reports of a toxic work environment at Away led to Steph Korey’s downfall as CEO, there were a series of public posts from Korey, first taking responsibility and stepping down, then denying responsibility and coming back. But this was far from a Full Coinbase (or even a partial Coinbase) because:

  • No one expected Away to behave as if it were a social-impact company — even though their luggage is marketed in an aspirational, Millennial-friendly way, it’s still a consumer product, not a new approach to finance or work
  • Reports of toxicity at Away came before any staffing or policy changes were announced publicly, and the dictatorial changes that were eventually made public (such as denying PTO requests from the customer support team) were originally kept private.
  • Obviously, while Korey and co-founder Jen Rubio (who has recently, finally, taken over as the new CEO) enjoyed tremendous power and ownership, someone (e.g. on the board) was in a position to eventually hold the CEO accountable. At the Full Coinbase companies, either all of the senior leaders and board members are on the same page, or no one who disagrees is empowered to do anything about it.

Lastly, to really land a Full Coinbase, you need to never bluff, and never, ever fold — either stand pat or double down. Brian Armstrong stood firm; he did some business-press interviews in the first week or so after announcing an end to “politics” at Coinbase, mostly sticking to the story he’d put out in the blog post. Fried and Hansson have doubled or even tripled down — they didn’t originally offer an “agree or leave” severance package to their employees, but they added one after the initial backlash, and subsequently, they’ve given interviews and posted tweets denouncing their critics.

It’s unclear whether Jack Conte will face a similar backlash, and if so how he’ll respond. But if the video is any indication, just as Armstrong, Fried, and Hansson responded to critics by complaining about them to friendly audiences, we may see follow-on videos where Conte talks to “creators” about how he’s doing all of this for them, regardless of who it hurts.

Three is a pattern, but why this, and why now?

Marco Rogers speculates that these founders know something we don’t — maybe it’s concern about workers organizing (as someone suggested in his replies), or they’re aware of some coming shift in the market and want to get ahead of it, or they want to rehire at lower salaries/benefits to try to reset comp expectations for tech workers.

Those are all plausible, but my guess is that it’s even simpler than that. There are two big forces I see here.

First, like all of us these days, these CEOs all live in their own self-reinforcing idea bubbles — but they differ from the rest of us in that their bubbles not only reinforce a set of beliefs but also give them power and money to make reality conform to their beliefs.

These white dudes (and they are all white dudes) are part of a growing backlash against the last century of worker-friendly policies in both the public and private sectors — they’ve now aligned themselves with the libertarian notion that businesses need not exhibit any loyalty to anything but themselves, and nobody is owed anything by anyone. When companies say politics is a distraction, or that individuals aren’t a good fit for a new way of working, the common thread is that the needs of business trump any obligation to individuals who helped build those businesses, and/or that those obligations can be bought out (via severance) like the remaining months on a lease.

In other words, it’s not that these CEOs have some inside scoop about the future that’s forcing them to act preemptively. It’s more like they’ve been clued into the use of severance packages as a Get Out Of Uncomfortable Conversations Free card, and who wouldn’t play that card if they had it and knew they could use it?

Another factor here — and the reason why this is playing out publicly — is that these CEOs are leveraging public opinion, possibly to make themselves feel better about hard choices, but also to kickstart controversy to make unambiguously dickish moves seem, well, more ambiguous. In Conte’s case, he’s getting love from his deeply loyal YouTube fan community:

In the other cases, it’s a mix of pro-business fellow travelers and longtime allies — Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, who’s known Jason Fried for a long time and been a 37signals/Basecamp proponent almost since the beginning, has posted multiple links that (vaguely, like subtweets) show support for Fried and dismiss the haters.

But, lastly, I think it’s easy to imagine all of this is happening as a result of Covid, and lockdowns.

It’s impossible to overstate the ability of in-person offices, and the communities that form there, to paper over problems in company culture and working conditions. For one thing, when micro- (or macro-) aggressions happen in person, there’s no chat history to screenshot, and people can go complain around the coffee machine rather than stewing on problems in their spare bedrooms between Zoom calls.

You can’t separate “politics” or “operating conditions” from the state of the world when everything is on fire, and it’s unreasonable to ask people to leave the world at the door when work has been an unwelcome guest in all of our homes for more than a year. Conversations that might have played out in micro-kitchens and break rooms are happening on group chat and comment threads. Informal groups of underrepresented or marginalized employees are becoming more formalized, because when 100% of the office is virtual, everything has to be more organized and visible than it was. One might imagine that it’s not that teams are engaging in more “political and societal” discussions — it’s that managers and owners have to see and know about it now.

Giving Conte the benefit of the doubt, and taking him at face value that Patreon’s layoffs were about product and not politics, I can easily imagine that WFH was a factor there too. Remote work puts more onus on individual workers to organize their days and their working conditions. You can’t simply tell everyone to show up at the office by 9 and be in a conference room by 11 — your needs have to balance against their lives, and everyone has to do more administrative work to keep it all flowing.

At a minimum, this all makes organizations less nimble (or seem less nimble) because there’s just more discussion involved in making any of it work. CEOs are used to a world where they say “get this done by Monday,” and the next thing they know it’s Monday and it’s done. They aren’t equipped to be on Slack seeing how the sausage is made — how teams coordinate with each other, complain to one another, how hard it is to get anything done. What to employees is just a normal day at work can look to executives like inefficiency, or worse, like dysfunction.

FWIW, a lot of my job as a middle-tier leader at a big company is carefully managing what my execs hear about and how, because the wrong thing surfaced the wrong way can prompt “concern” or, worse, “help” that ends up causing disruption and stress. This isn’t to say I mislead my bosses — never, ever do that — but I do try to package information with an eye to their POVs and attention spans, because busy leaders are constantly inundated with stuff without context and expect their teams to do this for them. This is why there’s such a thing as an “executive summary.”

That’s all to say, in summary, my guess is that CEOs going Full Coinbase is a function of the following:

  • Seeing far more of what’s going on in the day to day operations of their companies than they are used to
  • People’s lives being on fire, because the world is on fire
  • CEOs feeling personally implicated, even attacked, by all of this, and in these cases being a little too empowered to react to it
  • Those same CEOs closing ranks and seeking validation when their reactions make them main characters on Twitter

The bad news for those of us who like to see companies be nice to their employees is that, as a tactic, this seems to be working. Basecamp will probably lose some of its squeakiest wheels, and no matter what the future workforce will be smaller, cheaper, and less squeaky. Similarly, Patreon has established that they can simply solve skill or temperament misalignment with cash, and that’s a hard bell to un-ring once it’s been rung.

They’re the latest to go Full Coinbase, but they won’t be the last.

Glitch Adds Support for Generated Sites 

I’m a big fan of Glitch for quickly and easily spinning up a website or little toy app. Right now I have a little API for generating image tags for assets in my Cloudinary account, and a number of Next.js apps for things like generating tonal color palettes or telling me how many days I’ve been in Covid “quarantine.”

Today, the team rolled out some new starter projects with new and improved support for generated static sites. Up to now, you could host fully static, hand-crafted HTML sites for free, but any kind of code (including a build step for the HTML) would require running a server, which would either go to sleep periodically or cost money. With these changes, Glitch will let you run build tools like Eleventy (for blogs and websites) or Vite (for JS & CSS assets) to generate your site, but will still host it 24-7 for free.