Why Atom Can’t Replace Vim

Learning the lesson of vi


1976 was a good year for text editors. At MIT, Richard Stallman and Guy Steele wrote the first version of Emacs. And over at Berkeley, Bill Joy wrote vi (though it wouldn’t be called that for a few years yet).

It’s reductionist to say that these two editors were each built around one big idea, but what the hell, let’s be reductionist. Because what stands out in 2014, looking at modern editors like Sublime Text and Atom, is how Emacs’ big idea has been thoroughly learned — and how vi’s big idea hasn’t.

Emacs and Extensibility

Emacs’ big idea was that it could be modified and extended cleanly. The functionality of the editor is defined in a library of commands, which are then bound to particular keystrokes. So there might be a save-buffer command bound to C-x C-s, a kill-region command bound to C-w, and so on.

If you don’t like those key mappings you can change them — go ahead and make kill-region be C-k if you want. And you can do more than just change mappings: If you want additional functionality, you can just write your own functions in the same language as the built-in functions (Lisp, in the case of GNU Emacs). The editor’s UI is almost infinitely malleable, and can be mutated to any purpose you desire.

If this sounds a bit commonplace, it’s because Emacs’ big idea has been widely influential and extensibility is today a standard feature in any serious editor. Sublime Text uses Python instead of Lisp, and Atom uses Coffeescript, but the fundamentals of commands and keymaps are built in to the core. Even Vim has absorbed Emacs’ extensibility: Vim script can define new functions, which can be mapped to command keystrokes.

Vi and Composability

Vi’s big idea hasn’t been nearly as influential.

Vi is fundamentally built on command composability. It favors small, general-purpose commands that can be combined with objects to compose larger commands. By contrast, Emacs and its philosophical descendants (including Sublime Text and Atom) use monolithic, special-purpose commands.

Let’s say that you want to move the cursor forward a word, to the end of the line, to the end of the file, or to the end of the paragraph.

Emacs has commands for these motions: forward-word, move-end-of-line, end-of-buffer, and forward-paragraph, respectively. Atom has commands for three of them: moveCursorToBeginningOfNextWord(), moveCursorToEndOfLine(), and moveCursorToBottom().

Vim’s got commands for these, too: w, $, G, }. Those are weird function names, a heritage of vi’s non-programmable past (where keys and commands were inextricably bound), but fundamentally we’re in the same ballpark.

But now let’s look at delete commands. Let’s say you want to delete a word, delete to the end of the line, delete to the end of the file, or delete to the end of a paragraph.

Emacs only has two of these functions: kill-word and kill-line. Atom has the same two, more or less: deleteToEndOfWord() and deleteLine().

Vim, though, is different. Vim only has one command: d, which is “delete.” What does it delete? You name it, literally. The d command gets combined together with those commands for movement: dw deletes to the next word, d$ to the end of the line, dG to the end of the file, and d} to the end of the paragraph.

This is where Vim’s composability leads to its power. Emacs and Atom don’t have commands for deleting to the end of a file or a paragraph — even when they have commands to move to those places. But in Vim, if you can move to a location, you can delete to that location.

And composability is about more than just power, it’s also about learnability and consistency. The command for copying text in Vim is y. Do you know how to copy to the end of the line/file/paragraph? Of course you do: It’s y$, yG, and y} respectively. The command for increasing the indent is >, so you instantly know >$, >G, and >}. Convert to lowercase is gu, so… sure enough: gu$, guG, gu}.

This works both ways, of course. If you go on to learn that t= means “move until the next occurrence of the = character”, you now know what dt=, yt=, >t=, and gut= do. The composability of Vim commands means that every command you learn can act on any target; and every motion/object you learn makes every command you know more powerful.

This philosophy of minimalist commands that can be composed together is the fundamental originating philosophy of Unix, and Vim exemplifies it like no other editor.

Vim Forever?

But of course, Vim isn’t perfect. Vim script is nobody’s preferred programming language; the out-of-box experience is terrible; you need to install a half-dozen third-party plugins (and a third-party plugin manager at that) to get basic functionality working; its modal nature makes it difficult to approach; and there are some fundamental limitations to its extensibility (particularly visually).

A new, shiny, modern editor could one-up Vim by fixing some (or hopefully all) of these issues. But before an editor can replace Vim, it needs to learn everything that 1976 has to teach — not just the lesson of Emacs, but also the lesson of vi.

Next Story — The Apple-Google shift
Currently Reading - The Apple-Google shift

The Apple-Google shift

In the last couple of years, two very distinct things have happened — or, to be more precise, been happening — in the world of consumer tech, in my opinion. A shift has occurred: Apple, once the definition of innovation, has become stale, content to rest on its laurels; while Google, once ugly and disparate, has continually pushed forward with new and better products that are a delight to use.

The result is two-fold: firstly, from a software perspective, Google-authored apps have all but replaced Apple’s defaults on my iPhone; secondly, for the first time ever, I find myself potentially choosing a Google phone over an Apple phone — a choice that represents not just a one-off hardware purchasing decision, but a first tentative step outside of Apple’s ecosystem and, as a result, a break in unashamed Apple fanboy-ism.

Okay, so I’m considering a switch to Android. No big deal. I’m following in the footsteps of many, many, many others. But what I find interesting outside of my own personal decision is that there seems to be a growing discontent with Apple — especially amongst former so-called fanboys/girls — and, at the same time, a growing appreciation of what Google have been doing, especially from a design perspective. In many ways it’s unwise to compare these two companies alone, but few would disagree that these days they’re the two sides of one coin.

So I thought I’d try and pick this apart. What’s actually changed?

It’s not that Apple no longer creates great products, but there’s just not that spark there anymore, is there? Remember when a new MacBook or iMac would launch? Or the iPhone? Or pretty much any new product? The buzz was palpable; the hype almost always justified. For years and years, Apple constantly innovated, whether it was with entirely new product lines or updates to existing ones, but recently everything has just felt a little… well, meh, hasn’t it?

Could this feeling because Apple is now so ubiquitous, no longer the underdog? Possibly. And could this be down to some very shrewd business decisions, with Apple deciding to refine and hone rather than experiment, as evidenced by the longer life cycles of designs for their phones and computers? Very likely.

But that doesn’t excuse recent product launches that have (again, in my opinion) fallen flat by their past standards. The MacBook? Well, it’s a lovely little machine (and I’m typing on it right now) and I even took a whole set of photos to capture its beautiful form, but time has revealed it to be irritating in many ways (the keys repeatedly get stuck, for instance, and the removal of a magnetic power connector is genuinely irritating). The Apple Watch? After the initial magic wore off, I came to the conclusion that it’s essentially useless — as did almost every other Apple Watch owner I’ve spoken to. The new Apple TV? A total lack of innovation — both from its previous version and the numerous offerings from competitors. New iPhones aren’t even exciting anymore.

In many ways, I wonder if this all started with the launch of iOS 7: although I was originally one of its supporters when it came out and enraged half the Apple-buying world, when I think about it these days, iOS still doesn’t really encourage interaction. It’s not about flat design versus skeuomorphic design; it’s more about how Apple laid the groundwork for what a great, minimal, mobile operating system could be… and then never really built upon those foundations. The same could be said of their camera technology. The iPhone camera’s noise reduction algorithm has ruined many a photo that would have benefitted from not being put through a paint-like Photoshop filter. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Apple Music. What a mess. Sure, it’s not a total failure from an interaction design point of view, but it’s a sub-par effort from a company that should really be far, far, far better than any other steaming music competitors. That Apple Music has been so successful is only down to the ecosystem they’ve cultivated — not because it offers a superior experience.

Then there’s just all the douche moves Apple has made again and again with proprietary connections — their decision to remove the headphone jack on the forthcoming new iPhone being the latest. All of this has added up to make even this most ardent of Apple fanboys start to question his allegiances.

And all the while this has been going on, Google — which, with each new product launch, whether software or hardware, has become even more of an Apple competitor — has continued to innovate; to make better versions of Apple’s own apps. (I don’t even need to mention Maps, do I? No? Good.) And from a design perspective, Google has well and truly grown up: Material Design offered a lot of promise when it was first announced, and in the time that’s passed since, it’s proven itself to be a strong framework for unifying a the company’s multiple software offerings. Sure, there are times when its incarnation feels a little templated and dry — Google Play Music, for example — and perhaps it’s easy to praise Google for their grown-up new looks when, until recent times, Google web apps were so damn ugly. (Remember how Gmail used to look? For a reminder of that less graceful era, look at the browser version of Google Calendar.) But the difficulty of creating a system that works in so many instances, both in terms of aesthetics and interaction, should not be underestimated.

Beneath all of these apps and interactions and aesthetics, there’s another layer of Google that has become so trusted: its infrastructure. Yes, I get the fears about our data being mined to show us more relevant ads, but who do I trust for reliable cloud syncing: Apple or Google? Who do I trust to backup and share my photo library: Apple or Google? Whose infrastructure do I trust for my emails, documents, calendars, and more: Apple or Google? Granted, the latter could be any service provider vs. Google, but the point is that Google’s infrastructure underpins so much of the internet and our daily lives, it often just doesn’t make sense to let someone else handle what we know Google can handle so well.

(At this point, i’m going to refrain from delving into lengthy praises of particular Google apps and services, but I do want to give a quick mention to the Google Calendar and Google Photos iOS apps. They’re so radically superior to Apple’s equivalents, I’d question anyone’s need to ever open those defaults again.)

All this is to say: if Google can be this good on a competitor’s operating system, how much better can it be in its own environment? This is the question that’s been gaining traction in my head recently.

Android used to be a poor man’s iOS, but it’s obviously grown a lot since then. Unfortunately, fragmentation is a problem that’s plagued Android from the very beginning and is probably the primary factor that’s never allowed me to take switching seriously, but here’s where it gets interesting: with Google making (via OEMs) its own Nexus hardware, it’s possible to use a vanilla version of Android, free of bloat from carrier-installed software. It also removes that weird you-can-only-use-this-particlar-version-of-Android thing that plagues Android phones made by other manufacturers, and, in doing so, puts Google on an evening playing field with Apple: control the hardware and you control the software.It just works.

So it’s this vision of Android — a Google phone in its purest form — that’s making me, and others, consider the switch. And with new Nexus phones rumoured to land (or at least be announced) very soon, the opportunity to do so might be just around the corner.

Or maybe not. The new iPhone is also due very soon. Maybe it’ll be amazing. Maybe it’ll be the best hardware and software combination that exists in the world. Maybe Apple’s core apps, services, and experiences that underpin the entire iOS / macOS / tvOS ecosystem will up their respective games and I’ll look back on this post as blasphemy.

But — sadly — I’m not sure that’s something the Apple of 2016 is capable of.

Next Story — The State Of JavaScript: Front-End Frameworks
Currently Reading - The State Of JavaScript: Front-End Frameworks

The State Of JavaScript: Front-End Frameworks

A few preliminary results

I’ve been very impressed with the success of my State Of JavaScript survey so far. After barely three days, the survey already has over 3000 responses. So I thought it’d be interesting to see what preliminary insights we can extract from that data.

I say “preliminary” because I‘m hoping a lot more developers end up filling out the survey. Not so much to get a bigger-sized sample, but to get a more representative one. After all, these kind of survey tend to reach a population of early adopters first, and that can easily skew the results.

Incidentally, this is also why I didn’t try to advertise the survey to Discover Meteor readers. If I had, Meteor might very well ended up as number one in all categories!

So with this in mind, let’s see what the data tells us!

The Contenders

In this first look, we’ll focus on front-end frameworks. The six choices were:

Obviously this list is not complete, but I decided from the start to try and keep the survey’s length down even at the cost of being less exhaustive.

I did also provide an “other” option asking people to provide any additional frameworks I might’ve missed (more on that later).

For each framework, people could pick one of the following answers:

  • I’ve never heard of it
  • I’ve heard of it, and would like to learn it
  • I’ve heard of it, and am not interested
  • I’ve used it before, and would use it again
  • I’ve used it before, and would not use it again

Awareness

The first thing I wanted to figure out was how many people were aware of their various options. I’m sure (almost) everybody had heard about React and Angular, but what about Vue and Ember?

No need for a complex chart here, awareness was above 97% for every option except Vue, which had “only” 77%.

It will be interesting to see if these results change as more people take the survey, but for now at least it seems clear that apart from newcomer Vue, front-end frameworks don’t really suffer from lack of awareness.

Interest

The second thing I wanted to figure out was what image people had of the frameworks they didn’t use: which one did they want to learn, and which ones failed to generate interest?

As expected, React takes the lead. It certainly seems like everybody and their dog wants to learn React these days (on that subject I recommend the excellent React for Beginners class, and you can get $10 off with coupon code METEOR).

The surprise for me was Vue. Not as many people might’ve heard about it, but those who have must’ve heard good things, because it’s even more popular than Angular 2.

And speaking of Angular, few people want to learn version one anymore. But I didn’t expect Ember’s percentage to be equally low. Maybe a sign that the trend is going towards lighter-weight, single-purpose libraries?

Satisfaction

Finally, I wanted to know how happy people were with the frameworks they had used.

This would seem to confirm that React and Vue are not all hype: they genuinely provide good developer experiences.

You’ll notice I didn’t ask how many people were actually using each framework. Part of it is because I wanted to cut down the survey’s length, but it’s also because I’m not sure how useful raw usage stats would be.

For example, I’m willing to bet Angular’s market share is still huge, but would that be reason enough to pick it for your next project, especially knowing that 56% of Angular developers wouldn’t want to use it again?

Other Frameworks

Like I said, my list of frameworks wasn’t intended to be exhaustive, and I was curious to see which other frameworks people would suggest.

As you can see, many people mentioned Aurelia, which took me by surprise as I know very little about it.

Quite a few people also mentioned either Meteor (or Blaze, Meteor’s built-in front-end framework), which I had left out of the front-end section since it was already included in the “Full Stack” part of the survey.

Knockout seems to still be relatively popular despite its age, as is Cycle, which I’m also pretty unfamiliar with. And I seem to remember Polymer getting a lot of hype when it came out, but it was mentioned fairly rarely.

Other observations: the Riot people generally seemed pretty positive about it (“Riot.js — Absolutely will use it again”), and Mithril’s complex spelling might be the reason it’s not higher up in the rankings.

Also there’s apparently a thing called Choo now? Protip: if you want to anticipate 2030’s hottest baby name trends, look at JavaScript frameworks!

Conclusions

My main goal with this survey was to make it easier for developers to decide which frameworks to learn and use.

Based on the current data, I think it’s safe to say that you can’t really go wrong with React, since it’s extremely widespread and has an above-90% satisfaction percentage. And although currently much smaller, Vue also seems like a good bet.

Finally, these results only represent a tiny fraction of the data I accumulated, so stay tuned for more observations and insights coming very soon!

Help Spread the Word

As I said, the more developers take the survey, the better the data will be.

So please help spread the word if you can by sharing, emailing, or retweeting. It’ll be worth it!

Next Story — Terrorizing Ourselves?
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Terrorizing Ourselves?

I was in Terminal 1 at JFK, and scared at how easily we terrorized ourselves

Imagine receiving a text like this:


The Experience

I was traveling to Malmö, Sweden to give a talk at a conference on “Building an Empathetic Company” by way of Norwegian Air via Copenhagen. It was a red-eye flight scheduled to leave at 9:55 PM.

Since it was the first time I had flown Norwegian and I couldn’t check-in online, I left for the airport with plenty of time. At 7:30 PM on a Sunday night, Terminal 1 was busy but not hectic. Norwegian had a long line and a shorter one for passengers with no bags to check. I had a duffel, so I went to the short line, got my ticket, and made it through Security quickly.

I stopped at a restaurant in-between Gate 4 and Gate 6, had dinner, and read. When 9:15 came around, I paid my bill and walked to Gate 7 to board my flight. The crowd loitered, waiting for instructions, until the gate agents announced the flight would be delayed an hour. So I walked around looking for a seat that didn’t feel claustrophobic.

I’m telling you this, because where I ended up sitting made a difference.

I chose a seat to the far left of the terminal in the last aisle of Gate 8 where there was nothing but open space and a food stand. I figured I should do something productive, and started to write out goals for the upcoming week to share with my team. I was immersed thinking about the week ahead when a piercing alarm filled the terminal.


Lights above the terminal gates started blinking a long pronounced floodlight warning, and lights on the ceiling darted in a hurried blue and white whir. I realized the alarms had been going off as I typed and that they had gotten louder, or it wasn’t until others around me began to notice and react, that their message reached me.

People started to scream.

“What is happening?” I asked myself.

I watched as people darted through the terminal towards me. I put my carry-on on my back and grabbed my duffel with my free hand. Phone in the other, I tried to open the camera app as I backed up against the window a few seats away.

The screaming became deeper, and echoed through the terminal.

I remembered thinking, “Men are screaming too” as I managed to swipe to video, bent down behind a row of seats and began to film.

I did this for exactly 16 seconds, before I realized something was wrong. Very wrong.

Still from the video I shot. You can see the full one on Twitter @MsSapone

The video shows dozens running for the emergency exits. What it does not capture is the scale of what happened next.

I think so few videos were shared from that night, because people were too afraid to even think about filming


As I dropped my phone, a stream of people came at breakneck speed through the terminal.

There was another wave of piercing screams and the echo of people running.

It was a stampede of people. It was like the terminal had been lifted vertically and people were falling like checkers on a Connect Four board, slamming into a pile at the exits.

I let my duffel fall and surveyed the room. I could cross 100 feet to a door where people were crowding, or another 200 feet to either corner of the terminal where dozens more were pushing their way out.

It registered that the last two exits at the end of the terminal were better. They had bigger doors.


Another wave of screams filled the terminal. I dropped to my stomach and slid underneath the aisle of seats. To my right, many people were doing the same. To my left, I watched as a woman hid behind a waste bin. She was bigger than the square recycle/trash canister, and as she banged herself into it, it skid and reverberated.

It was the same reaction a caged animal has when a trap slams down. It wants to get out. Every cell in its body moves at an incredible speed to fulfill this desire. It cannot feel pain as it hits against metal.

I looked down at my own hands. My right hand gripped my phone and my left was shaking. “Was I afraid?” I asked myself.


Interrupting this thought a sound filled the terminal.

“POWH. POWH. POWH. POWH. POWH.”

Gunshots.

Or was it clapping for Usain Bolt’s gold-medal victory?

Or was it the sound of line separators that direct traffic at Security, falling in cacophonous succession (all the way back before the gates began)?

Or maybe the sound of joints exploding off a door?

None of these media-suggested alternatives occurred to me.

It was gunfire. To me. To many others.


My brain searched furiously for an explanation. “Where is Security? Where the F#&*! is everyone?” Lying flat on the ground under the seats, I locked eyes with a Filipino man and his young daughter. His eyes were bulging and he uttered one statement on repeat.

“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God,” as he pulled his screaming daughter beneath him.

I looked at his daughter and whispered, “Shhhh… It’s Ok…Shhhh.”

A cacophonous scream erupted in the terminal moments after the shots fired. I looked with others out onto the empty aisle of the Terminal.

We were waiting for the person that had fired to emerge, a group of people even. To make demands, or maybe no demands at all. Maybe just make a point.


People have asked me what it felt like. I think this is the first time I understood what the word “terror” means to so many people who have really experienced it.

Yes it was scary, but that’s not good enough. Imagine being in the desert and a wild animal is chasing you, hell-bent on ripping every limb off. It’s that, and the realization that this animal is not acting on basic predatory instincts. This animal is a human, and it wants to hurt you.

It’s a deeper level of fear because your mind can not comprehend it. It is in complete disbelief. A state of terror.

Your mind goes to 9/11, Orlando, Columbine, what your Military buddy must have felt in Afghanistan. In the moment, you reference these other events.


No security came. No announcement. Just chaos. I had no doubt at the time that in that moment, my life was in my own hands.


Quiet overcame the terminal for a moment. I became aware of the feeling of my stomach against the ground. I surveyed the three exits again and not consciously, but with my feet, made the decision to run for the far right doors. I ran across dropped food; a giant soda cup; ice avalanched; Coke all over the floor. There were hundreds of things everywhere, computers, bags, shoes, jackets. Things were still spinning from the wave of people that had just kicked their way out.


Why did I run? There was an overwhelming feeling of being trapped. There was a window of opportunity, and since I could not see the perpetrator, there was still ambiguity on the outcome, and maybe the opportunity to escape. We were in danger. I felt like a deer bounding across an open field, hoping the hunter was looking the other way.


I ran 150 feet, did a running jump over a row of chairs and ran other 20 feet through open doors.

I ran with others into a wide, cement stairwell. A pilot and two flight attendants crowded in the corner, staring at the running crowd in nonplussed, confusion. They grabbed their wheelie bags close, seemingly unsure what to do as people whizzed by them.

“Go down the stairs!” my brain told me.

I watched a man help another man hop down the stairs, limping and jumping down the steps as if he had sprained a ankle.

Their faces communicated fear, “We are not moving fast enough.” The exit stairwell was wide and people rushed down, toppling, getting up again and running.

Now one floor down, I had a choice. “Get out on this level? Get out here? No. Keep going. Get outside.”


I ran through the doors out onto the airport runway into a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of people. People around me darted across the tarmac. Hundreds of people huddled along the terminal walls as planes landed. I looked around for Security. “What are we doing? What is going on?”.

More people raced onto the tarmac from behind me. I watched people hide in luggage trolleys, under cars, by the wheels of planes. Most of us kept moving, some with rolling bags, many with nothing. Shoes were missing. People were running in torn tights. We made our way in fast procession to the farthest corner of the tarmac near what would have been Gate 1.

The crowd seemed to be asking the same thing, “Are we safe?”.

There were men in yellow, reflective vests who were unsure what to do — “Stay right, keep moving” — one said quietly.

Near the Arrivals door under Gate 1, Port Authority police screamed into their walkie talkies. They gestured for us to wait. I turned my face to my phone and opened Twitter. I had bad reception, but I tried to share an update.

Then the quiet. People crowded. One man near me opened a pack of cigarettes and lit one. People around him jumped at the sight of flame. I took a picture. We waited. Then the cops announced, “Ok, out these doors”.

A crowd waits on the tarmac outside Arrivals in Terminal 1

The crowd started to move forward slowly. It didn’t feel safe yet.

Security had expressly not said, “Everything is under control”. They didn’t know. And this was being communicated in what they said, and what they hadn’t. Letting children and their parent’s go first, I stood next to the man smoking a cigarette; he dropped it to the ground, darted forward, and ran to the top of the line.

Without warning, screaming erupted, and the crowd that was exiting peacefully into the airport, exploded. There was a quick shoving match between a frantic outgoing crowd and the ingoing procession and then instantly, everyone changed direction.

OUT!” People stampeded out the doors, terror on their faces. A woman fell, her knee gushed open. The crowd dispersed along the sides of the tarmac.

Security ran too.

I hid behind the back of a van in the corner. Others huddled around me. A few minutes passed. Crowds started to descend from planes 500 feet away. They were standing and sitting in orderly squares. Slowly, people started to stand up near me as two security guards emerged and told us — once again — to make a line to leave the asphalt tarmac to the ground floor of the Terminal into Arrivals and Customs.

A woman from Sweden with her son, asked the police — “How do you know it’s safe?”. She had just watched people stream out in terror.

Still behind a large Homeland Security van, I stood on the bumper to watch what was happening. People started to file into the terminal.

“Ok. I can go too.” I thought. I jumped off the bumper to the right of the van and began to make my way to the door when screaming erupted and for a second time, dozens came running out the door stampeding into the exiting crowd. I hit the floor again, and shuffled under the van.

Others would ask me why I choose to go under the van. “Was it smart? What if a cop suspected me?”All I can say is in that moment, I had watched people run for their lives in five separate waves.

There was no feeling of calm, or evacuation.

This wasn’t a fire drill.

I remember looking down and watching a large ant walk past me. I stretched my feet and lay them flat on the ground, pressed my hands against the gravel like a pose in yoga, ready to push out from under the car. It still wasn’t safe — people ran around me. It got quiet again, and I sent texts to several people including a friend who was a Navy Seal inside the terminal, who would later be quoted in the the New York Times as saying:

“I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve never been in this situation where you’re in a massive crowd and there’s nothing you can do.” -NYT

and in his own blog he wrote:

I was confident that I was in charge of my own destiny at this point. -SOFREP

Many minutes later, a cop flashed a light under the car and asked me to come out. I obliged, and sat on the curb with others.


I went to Twitter to look for any answers on what was happening. No statement issued seemed to reflect what I was experiencing. Twitter trolls were out and active.

It surprised me that as I was currently still experiencing what was happening at JFK, people continued to tweet at me that “there was was no event”. Another twenty minutes went by before we walked through the doors of Arrivals. Baggage Claim and Customs where mobbed.

Who knows how many people went through Customs without showing their passports? Passengers would later recount watching a stream of people, at least 40 people, running through Customs to the curb of Arrivals. This is significant, but not reported.

Bags and shoes were scattered throughout Baggage Claim. People started to line up again, but there was no real order, or clear direction. One guard asked me what flight I was on and led me to the front of the line at Customs. The white-faced security guard asked my name. He typed on his computer, seemed to look at a manifest, and waved me through, not making eye contact.


Inside the terminal

It seemed like we were free to leave. The Navy Seal texted me that he was already home in the city. My bag was still in the terminal, and passengers whispered to each other that flights were still leaving. Eventually a guard asked us to stand in line to go through Security.

Terminal 1 TSA stared the crowd down. They spoke amongst themselves, and cracked a joke or two to release the tension. They tried to ignore passengers asking them what was happening. An airport security guard or gate agent told us to form a line. I waited in one line or another for four hours, waiting to retrieve my bag from the terminal. I would get home from the airport at 5 AM.

Exhausted. Adrenaline. Waiting in those lines, I watched Twitter and the media form a perception of what had happened.

There was no mention of Terminal 1 — as if everything you just read was a figment of my imagination. Passengers were exhausted. I think most people were too in shock to exchange experiences. The terminal was very, very quiet.

Many of the media reports that night and in the following days used the word hysteria. I would describe the feeling differently.It was a feeling that did not end until 11:48PM for me. More than 90 minutes after this all began. Internalize that.

For 1 hour and 30 minutes, I and others in this major American airport, in 2016, were in a true state of terror.

Did We Terrorize Ourselves?

If you saw the news, the headlines and message communicated “no big deal, move along”. That was not my experience. It was a big deal to me and hundreds of fellow passengers at JFK that night.

I shared my experience because I think it’s important to put it out there. It should make people uncomfortable.

And not because it was scary, but because it’s scary how much of a discrepancy it is to what was officially reported.

At the end of the day, I went home and then got on my flight the next day — exhausted and a little shaken — but just 24 hours later, I was back to living my life.

We live in one of the greatest, safest places that’s ever been and it’s our responsibility to uphold that greatness and safety.

We do that by demanding better journalism — real stories. Reading long form. Opting out of pablum, and listicles, and puffery on blog sites. The cursory reporting that came out on this event simply wasn’t good enough, and people didn’t ask enough questions before playing Monday morning quarterback on the social sphere.

We are our own editors these days and if we only read “How to Launch a Startup in 3 Easy Steps” we start to lack empathy for the world as it really is.

In fact, I believe our reactive behaviors on social media — drowning ourselves in opinions, knee-jerk reactions, insults, and trolling even by would-be-presidents — are eroding our safety more than any single bad actor can.

We can’t let feelings, unsubstantiated by true facts, grow into into a toxic force that pulls the fabric of our society

We must learn together. We have to set a higher bar for ourselves and our institutions.

We can’t let fear stop clear and transparent communication from authorities to the public. Suppressing, downplaying, or avoiding isn’t the safe or smart move. We can be thoughtful and positive. I do not expect our institutions to be perfect, but we need to learn. Let’s make a plan to fix the clear failure in the response.

The media should not let the story fade away.

How is it possible that with so many people in the airport, no account like this has been shared outside of the New York Magazine piece?

Reporting is a noble job — I hope it continues to attract great people to take on the challenge.

Finally we have to be better humans, please.

Get off the junk food diet of cursory reporting, PR masked as news, and non fact-checked opinion threads. The people that control the news, control perception. In many ways we are more in control than we’ve ever been. The papers of yesterday may not be able to afford deep reporting, so we need to do it ourselves and demand better with our attention and wallets.

There is a raw, exposed nerve in the public from the divisiveness of our discourse. America is great, when it acts greatly.

And to take it full circle. We all need to practice a hell of a lot more empathy for others and ourselves.

We have to be active in our society. We have to vote. To stand up for what is right. Next time it could be life and death — as it easily could have been this time.

If we don’t learn from this experience, we have in fact terrorized ourselves.

You can find me on twitter @MsSapone

Next Story — Unlimited vacation is a dark-perk and you should use that to your advantage
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Unlimited vacation is a dark-perk and you should use that to your advantage

Ask the tough questions during the negotiation portion of your next job interview

Unlimited vacation time is a “perk” that companies have figured out works in the US. Some countries protect employees from their employers by making shenanigans like this illegal but in the US we get freedom.

Unlimited vacation time, sounds great right? Yeah, that’s what friends in SF thought when their companies one by one added the latest greatest cost-saving-mechanism-disguised-as-a-perk to their compensation packages.

Here’s the rub. People don’t use it. I know, I know: you won’t be one of those people, you’re going to take advantage and use more vacation time than you would have before. You’re wrong, chill. Everyone thinks they are an outlier. I do, you do, we’re all outliers. A few questions:

  • Are you going to get your work done and still take advantage of the unlimited leave? Do you ever get your work done? I don’t. Of course, I finished the thing assigned to me but I’ve never worked at a company where the work finished. There is always more work, always a next thing, always an important thing that would have started already if only that last project hadn’t gone late. You’re not going to take more vacation.
  • The person sitting next to you hasn’t taken leave in six months, who wants that promotion more?
  • Who is counting the leave? Someone is and you know it. What’s the limit? How will you know? Will you know before it’s too late?

The game is rigged and honestly, you should have seen it coming. Suddenly vacation time is restricted socially instead of by policy.

Frankly, it’s surprising to me how many people underestimate the material value of unused vacation time. Not the value to themselves as humans, the material value. The value to the company; The red ink at the bottom of the balance sheet. Adopting an unlimited leave policy is a cost-cutting measure for a business. Cost cutting? Yes, they no longer have to pay out unused vacation when someone leaves the company. They no longer carry debt to every single employee who hasn’t taken this year’s two, three or four weeks of paid vacation.

Negotiating for compensation at a company with an unlimited vacation policy.

Say this with me: “What is the average number of vacation days taken by employees in the last twelve calendar months?”

That’s your question to the recruiter who mentions the unlimited leave policy. I can tell you from experience that most recruiters freak out. I mean they freak out in their head, you won’t see it on the surface. “Must be professional!” It’s fun and telling all the same time.

We’ve already established that someone is counting. The recruiter’s willingness to share the numbers depends on the company (which I happen to believe is a reasonable approximation how they treat their people). Information asymmetry is the recruiter’s biggest gun in salary negotiations and let’s be clear, you are massively outgunned. Asking questions that they aren’t willing to answer is the most effective way of exposing and leveraging this asymmetry for yourself. It’s time to push.

Imagine your annual salary, your monthly or weekly rate. Now break that number down into a daily increment, your pay-per-day rate. In a company with a static amount of leave where unused leave is paid out when an employee leaves, this is basically the rate at which those unused vacation days would be paid out. Under an unlimited leave policy however, no leave is paid out. I also happen to believe that my leave days are more valuable than a regular day. After all, I get to do whatever I want with my time, not what someone else wants me to focus on.

My advice is that you take this pay-per-day and multiply it by the average number of vacation days that you would have expected to come in the compensation package. In the US this is generally something along the lines of fourteen days: per-day*14). If you’re like me and value your vacation time more highly you might use: per-day*1.5*14, meaning vacation days are worth 50% more than regular working days.

Now you’ve got a little bit of leverage and you’ve got a number. Ask for it. It’s not that hard, something like: “Given the benefits on offer, I think my total package should be x amount higher.” Keep in mind, the person on the other end of the conversation is a professional negotiator. You won’t surprise them, this is literally the bread and butter of their employment.

Other dark-perks

Warning: Some of these are personal opinion. In some cases, there are two maybe three exceptional companies actively practicing and proselytizing these ideas. For truly exceptional cultures these things may work to that culture’s benefit.

  • Open plan offices
    You’d think that noise canceling headphones being a standard part of the dress code would be a sign that something is wrong.
  • Many (but not all) “flat” org structures
    Any company with more than 300 employees that is “flat” usually means leadership doesn’t have their act together or hasn’t been able to recruit truly great management talent. A red flag at best. Soul crushing culture problems at worst.
  • “You decide what to spend your time building”
    There were two technology companies that actively promoted this way of working and both had significant and public fallouts that were directly associated with the culture that arose from this way of working. Unfortunately, without leadership setting focus for a company and mandating that focus, companies tend to devolve into a more professional version of Lord Of The Flies. I honestly wish this worked but I just don’t think it does.
  • Dinner
    This is actually great for a fairly narrow but over-represented group. That a company is spending this much money catering to said narrow and over-represented group should be a call to look more closely.

But I want the job

The point is not to call-out companies or insinuate that they are awful because of dark-perks. Unfortunately, there are truly great companies among dark-perk practitioners. Additionally, there are companies that have perks that I would assume to be “dark” that are actually legitimately perks of those because the leaders have been careful about building a culture that affords for those perks to be used properly.

No team is perfect and if after meeting a few members of that team you’re convinced that it’s a great place to work, go for it. That being said, the natural information asymmetry of salary negotiation will always work against you. If you believe that you’ve interviewed well and have convinced them that you would be a valuable hire, I kindly suggest you take advantage of any leverage that you can find while negotiating.

Don’t get screwed. Keep your eyes open and investigate the package.


Wesley Walser is the founder & CEO of askinline.com which automates the painful parts of collecting and actioning customer feedback. You can follow him on Twitter or on Medium.

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