Justin Owings, Googler [Deprecated]

It’s been a shade under seven years working here at Google in Atlanta; the longest I’ve worked anywhere.

Today is my last day.


The Canary in the Coal Mine and Leaving Dysfunctional Groups

The expression “canary in a coal mine” originates from coal miners using canaries as a kind of early warning system. The miners would take the birds into the mine and periodically check-in on their status. The delicate canaries were more susceptible to gases like carbon monoxide, so if they suddenly stopped moving, miners would be alerted of dangerous air conditions.

Hence, the expression “canary in a coal mine” is an idiomatic way of talking about events that portend negative things to come.


Casey Neistat and Success by Doing (Plus Stochasticity)

If you aren’t familiar with Casey Neistat, allow me to remedy the situation.

Casey Neistat is likely the most burgeoning YouTube star of 2016. Here’s his channel. I’m approaching a year having subscribed to his daily vlog videos and to my eye what Neistat is doing on YouTube is a testament to the democraticization of video content.


Questioning daily defaults: what’s the job I need done?

Channeling Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done frame, I’ve started thinking about my daily default decisions. What is the job I need done by [fill-in the blank]?

It’s a useful exercise.


Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done Theory

I have written much more about Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done framework over at the FullStory blog:

Clayton Christensen (along with a few other co-authors) is soon releasing a book called Competing Against Luck that will go more in-depth on Christensen’s “Jobs-to-be-done theory,” which is a way to reframe product design and product selling away from fallacious, post ergo hoc propter hoc data and towards first principles.


The System is Down

I read a book about five months back by John Gall called Systemantics: The Systems Bible. The book goes through a derived (by the author) set of principles or axioms about systems of all types, why they get created, how/why they don’t work, and much, much more.


Dunbar’s Number, Broken Social Networks, and Back Scratches

My brother passed on an article in The New Yorker from a couple weeks back titled The Limits of Friendship. It’s an exposition on Oxford anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s discovery that humans organize into social groups that tend to range from 100-200 people, with the average—150—being an optimal rule of thumb. This is known as Dunbar’s number.

The discovery was made through observing the correlation between the size of an animal’s frontal lobe whereby the larger the frontal lobe (or smaller), the larger the social group size for that animal. Applying this understanding to human brains, “Judging from the size of an average human brain, the number of people the average person could have in her social group was a hundred and fifty.”


Digitally Isolated

I keep thinking about being digitally isolated.  What is “digital isolation?” In a nutshell: today we are more connected to anyone/everyone than at any point in history yet (paradoxically) we feel ever more alone. Stranger still, it seems we have chosen this as our preferred mode of existence.  There’s even a joke about it: there are nine ways to reach me on my phone without talking to me; pick one of those.

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Raw Milk Safer than Salad

A little background

Some of you know that when we our second daughter Raya was around 5 or 6 months old, I started “homebrewing” her formula based on a recipe for raw cow’s milk based baby formula I found at The Weston A. Price Foundation website.  I made this formula for Raya for about six months before we just started giving her straight raw cow’s milk.  Today, and ever since (some seven months later), both our girls continue drinking raw cow’s milk.  I’ll circle back and talk more about that in a minute.

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Why I Didn’t (And Don’t) Vote

Folks who know me know I don’t vote. Many roll their eyes at this decision. Others awkwardly skirt around it preferring to avoid asking why I don’t vote (I don’t usually go into why unless prompted). And most people just assume I do vote.

I don’t.

Why? Well, I’m going to take the easy route and borrow on something on this subject that resonated with me. It’s over at Strike the Root and written by Carl Watner (and was pointed out to me by Patri Friedman) and starts with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, followed by Watner’s main four points on why he chooses not to vote:

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it . . . . What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

— On The Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849), Henry David Thoreau

[Watner on non-voting]

• Truth does not depend upon a majority vote. Two plus two equals four regardless of how many people vote that it equals five.

• Individuals have rights which do not depend on the outcome of elections. Majorities of voters cannot vote away the rights of a single individual or groups of individuals.

• Voting is implicitly a coercive act because it lends support to a compulsory government.

• Voting reinforces the legitimacy of the state because the participation of the voters makes it appear that they approve of their government.

While these thoughts all hit on key points to narrate why I don’t vote, I’ll add one more: I don’t vote because I want to stand apart from the circus of the American political scene today. I don’t want to be engaged in the tribalism of choosing sides, shouting down caricatures of others, and generally dehumanizing views other than our own. I don’t want any part of it.

And you’re right: This hard-nosed stance of mine puts me in some kind of elitist position … one I don’t care for, either.

Not voting is pretty uncomfortable. There was a moment when my three year old daughter was being taught in daycare about the importance of voting. She admonished me for not voting. She’s much older now but the admonishment stands. I told her I don’t vote because I don’t like controlling the lives of other people. I asked her if she liked being told what to do … we didn’t really get into it as you’d guess.

The time is coming to revisit this question. It comes around every few years. It’ll be time to revisit Watner’s list.

If this is the kind of topic you care about, I’m open to re-opening it with you.

Last updated 2020.