September 9, 2015


Originally published on my LinkedIn Pulse under title “Something a little less serious”

Following a cycling accident, I found myself forced to take it easy while recovering. This was both strongly suggested by the medical staff, and physically enforced by the sheer difficulty of trying to ignore said suggestions the first couple of weeks.

That meant taking naps, buying a BRĂ„DA breakfast-in-bed tray from Ikea (brown, with 60’s style white polka dots) and using it to hold my laptop for many hours of internet browsing, discovering the riveting selection offered by my Netflix Canada subscription (something I had, for the most part, neglected to nurture for years), taking different naps than the first set of naps, and many hours of internet browsing on my iPhone 6 Plus (an awkward phone/tablet/hand-stretch-exercising device). I also did my best to exercise, cook & eat well, and be a useful human person to my family and my work.

With my bustling hoity-toity corporate daily routine swapped for a more primordial one, I started noticing things that had previously gone unnoticed by my James-Bond-like senses. For example, our cat tends to yelp throughout the whole motherf*@&#g night. I’m certain this used to happen before, but with liberally-sprinkled naps throughout the day and some physical restrictions at night, perhaps I’m sleeping a bit lighter than usual. Another example of things that had previously gone unnoticed is the fact that we have a swarm of bees or wasps, currently of unknown size, living in our attic without the necessary paperwork nor authorization. I’ve also discovered that, while you can carry things when you’re using crutches, you shouldn’t.

Trying to describe why these things are unpleasant is like trying to describe why you shouldn’t instruct a classroom full of special-needs third-graders to write a threatening letter to the Mexican government, using capsaicin-laced spring-loaded gag fountain pens, to convince them to pay for a wall between the Mexican-US border. While each detail is individually unpleasant, the aggregate sum is a proverbial fountain of brackish water that stains your very being each time the wind flicks some of its droplets in your general direction.

But I also noticed many positive things. For example, I noticed that my young kids relish in opportunities to be genuinely helpful towards others, and that I qualified as others. I also noticed that I wasn’t busy: When I came across something interesting, I could afford to spend the time exploring it further. While I caught up on tech frameworks and languages I wanted to play with, I was able to play games, read news, watch movies etc… without the guilt that todos weren’t being completed, value wasn’t being created, or that not an acceptable amount of carp was being seized.

One of the less serious things I spent time on was a primitive web game. It was the default black font on a white background with a text box and a couple of sentences. The person running it picked a random word for a day, and you tried to guess it. For each guess, it told you where your guess was in relation to the word in the dictionary (think Hot-Or-Not without the pictures). Now, if you happen to fancy yourself a cunning linguist as well as a fan of O(log2(n)) average lookup time exhibited by a binary search reduction (and really, who among us doesn’t ?), something about this game grabbed your attention. Unfortunately, you couldn’t play again the same day - and forget about trying to get today’s iPad-encumbered youth to even give it a shot. While I genuinely thought it was fun, thinking about introducing it to others brought visions of recurring voluntary dentist appointments, restraining orders and semipermanent bad juju.

Over a Saturday I built an alternative with what I think is a more usable interface and wider appeal. I built the back-end, the front end, and the middle end. I spent time tweaking the CSS and googling (not for the first time either) how to get that thing that I wanted centered to be centered. I spent some time in photoshop, some time in code, some time in the web server config, some time setting up a domain and DNS - and by Sunday, my young kids and I were having a lot of fun playing it together on the iPad during breakfast. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this project, and while it was inescapably tech, it was distinctly for-fun scratch-an-itch type of tech - and that’s a great thing.

Oh yea, the site is: MidWord! The world’s favorite word guessing game. If you discover that you enjoy that sort of thing, you don’t have to tell anyone. Actually tell a couple of people, but you don’t have to pretend to like it. You can tell them you sent them the link by mistake, or that you built it yourself and you’re flying out tomorrow to meet some Silicon Valley venture capital guys to close series A financing at a valuation 3x that of Facebook with almost zero dilution - because the English language is really big - I don’t care.

Either way, do afford yourself some time to do something you genuinely enjoy - and if it’s not totally serious like increasing shareholder value, eliminating malaria or figuring out which KPI is best KPI, that’s still okay.

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© Mina Naguib