Hello– from the March edition of Mere Being. This is Nat Bennett's monthly newsletter about whatever the hell I want.

Obligate Fire Users

There have been two fires that made the papers in my neighborhood this week.

The first was at Mission's St. John Church. The second was just a block away, two buildings and several cars in an alleyway.

Last week, I got woken up by the sound of a chainsaw outside my window, late at night. Turned out it was the Fire Department cutting into the side of the building. A pile of trash in the alleyway had caught on fire.

A few weeks ago, I woke up to the sound of a fire alarm. Not in my building – somewhere outside. The sound kept going, so I went out to find out where it was and report it. Followed it behind the building and was trying to figure out which building the sound was reflecting off of when I noticed – there, on the street, a fire alarm. Someone had made a little pile of wood and shredded paper, set it on fire, and left a fire alarm next to it.

A couple of months ago I passed a guy on the street who was bent over with a lighter, trying to set what looked to me like nothing so much as a chunky candle with a pom pom dangling off of it on fire. The group chat couldn't make sense of it, but did declare it "definitely a drug thing."

Last year a friend of mine put a fire out he found on the sidewalk, while he was walking home from the gym.

I don't have anywhere to go with this really. Might be the beginnings of a longer essay – but it felt timely – so I wanted to share it with you.

I think there's something here about humans being "obligate fire users." There's something here about how most of these fires are what we call around here "encampment fires." Not all – the church fire was "just" arson. There's a narrative about San Francisco-as-collapsing-dystopia here that I don't want to feed – most of what you see on the news about the city is a narrative built out of very selective images – but it's true that a lot of people live outside around here. And where there are people, there's fire.

We take it for granted that our cities aren't constantly burning. Rome burned all the time. I live a few blocks away from the second oldest continuously operating saloon in San Francisco. Both it and the oldest saloon were two of only a handful that were rebuilt after they burned in 1906.

Code Code Code

Mostly made progress on the somewhat-secret project this month. Been writing about that work in the other newsletter. It's refreshing, after a month of mostly writing.

If you want a clue to what I'm up to, sign up for the Discourse me and some friends started last month.

Still more to do but this month – taxes. And all the other managerial viscera of life. I expect the next week or two to be mostly paperwork and personal maintenance. I hope to get a few hours of Elixir in tonight, though, after I ship this.

Magic players are lunatics

I have been spending way too much time reading about Magic online. It's what's called preview season in Magic world – the week where we get all the new cards for the set that comes out later this month – and that got me back online, on Reddit. Also been doing a big deep dive into Mark Rosewater, the head designer's podcast.

(Plus – in theory I have the distracting parts of the internet blocked during the day – but I keep discovering new and interesting sites that aren't covered by that block. This week, it's been the Magic official website.)

Everyone who writes about Reddit on social is mad about it, like, all the time. It's incredible. They're mad about the art. They're mad about the story. They're mad that the cards are too powerful. They're mad that the cards aren't powerful enough.

Magic players, largely, aren't mad. Mark Rosewater talks about this occasionally on his podcast. The nature of social media is that angry voices get amplified, and they have more staying power than the people who are happy about things. The people who are having a good time with the game? They're playing it. They're not on Reddit all the time. So the social media picture is skewed.

Something that I think about a lot but haven't figured out exactly how to write about is – Slack social-media-ified the workplace. It brought these dynamics from large-scale text based communication to work. I know people whose experience of being an engineering leader at a medium or large organization was, "Everyone was mad at me, all the time, about nothing."

It wasn't everyone. It was everyone who was active on Slack.


More to say but– next time.

- Nat

Mere Being 011 - March - Fire, Code, and the Madness of Being Online

People keep setting things on fire near me & Slack was probably a mistake.