What Is Code?

Paul Ford and Bloomberg Businessweek collaborate on a 38,000-word essay meant to answer the big and small questions of what it means to be a coder: how programming works, why it matters, and whether you should start learning yourself.

Author: Paul Ford
Published: Jun 11, 2015
Length: 152 minutes (38,000 words)

How Paper Magazine’s Web Engineers Scaled Kim Kardashian’s Back-End

An in-depth look at how publishers on the internet prepare for an explosion of traffic.

Author: Paul Ford
Source: Medium
Published: Jan 22, 2015
Length: 14 minutes (3,500 words)

Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

What happens to frozen embryos that aren’t used during the in vitro fertilization process? Ford reflects on his and his wife’s experience having twins and questions about how to handle the remaining frozen embryos:

“The first option we considered with our remaining embryos was to do nothing. Just leave them on ice and make a decision later. They can stay frozen for a long time—in 2005 a child was born from an embryo frozen 13 years earlier—though our clinic recommends waiting no more than seven years. We asked, ‘What happens if we don’t pay?’ The doctor shrugged. ‘Would you destroy them?’ The doctor shook her head. In my experience fertility doctors shrug a lot. There’s a lot of guesswork. Of course they keep billing you.”

Author: Paul Ford
Source: Elle
Published: Sep 30, 2013
Length: 10 minutes (2,700 words)

A Shit Writing Day

All of a writer’s fears, in one place. Ford reflects on writing out of a hole, and what keeps him from “going full-bore bananacakes” with his work:

“I have dug a number of limbic trenches, mental pathways that lead to stress and anxiety. I have a mixed (but steadily improving) record on substances, especially food. And if I allow the book and my writing to become a proxy for myself, as a sort of external version of my identity, I’m in trouble. But if I let these things be products, if I let them exist outside of me, don’t worry how people react to them, just let what wants to happen, happen—well, then I stand a chance of doing good work, without having to disgorge that work from myself seppuku-style using a rusty sword with a hilt of guilt and a dull blade forged from procrastination. That is, I need to make writing something besides a daily referendum on my worth as a human. Which it has become, for reasons.”

Author: Paul Ford
Source: Medium
Published: Sep 21, 2013
Length: 10 minutes (2,547 words)

10 Timeframes

The past, present and future of how we perceive time, and which units actually matter:

“The time you spend is not your own. You are, as a class of human beings, responsible for more pure raw time, broken into more units, than almost anyone else. You spent two years learning, focusing, exploring, but that was your time; now you are about to spend whole decades, whole centuries, of cumulative moments, of other people’s time. People using your systems, playing with your toys, fiddling with your abstractions. And I want you to ask yourself when you make things, when you prototype interactions, am I thinking about my own clock, or the user’s? Am I going to help someone make order in his or her life, or am I going to send that person to a commune in Vermont?”

Author: Paul Ford
Source: Contents
Published: Jun 7, 2012
Length: 11 minutes (2,765 words)

How to Say I Love You

100 ways to say the words to that special someone:

“(36) She stands on the unpaved road with your newborn son on her breast. Even though she can’t hear you over the sound of the helicopter, you’re screaming the words. Six months and you’ll send for her. You promise.

“On a rainy midspring morning 26 years later your son appears at the electronics store where you are senior sales. He’s been looking for you for 15 years, since his mother brought him to the States. He asks to buy a VCR. All you can see is that he’s a young guy, good-looking, but nervous. That’s normal; even at $200 it’s still a big-ticket item for a lot of people.”

Author: Paul Ford
Published: Feb 14, 2012
Length: 9 minutes (2,277 words)

The Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Three years of waiting. Everywhere around us there are waves of bouncing sons, bounties of daughters, stroller wheels creaking under the cheerful load. Facebook updates, email messages, and Christmas cards arrive with pictures of tots, their faces smeared with avocado or cake frosting. Babies on rugs, babies in hats. Invitations to baby showers with cursive script and cartoon storks. Over a beer an expectant father—another expectant father—gives me the news, tells me that his wife will soon have her second or third. Am I happy for him? What else can I be? Once again I put out my hand, close my eyes, and wish them joy.

Author: Paul Ford
Published: Jul 11, 2011
Length: 9 minutes (2,322 words)

Nanolaw with Daughter

Why privacy mattered. “On a Sunday morning before her soccer practice, not long after my daughter’s tenth birthday, she and I sat down on the couch with our tablets and I taught her to respond to lawsuits on her own. I told her to read the first message. ‘It says it’s in French,’ she said. ‘Do I translate?’ ‘Does it have a purple flag on it?’ ‘No,’ she said. ‘You don’t actually have to worry about it unless it has a purple flag.'”

Author: Paul Ford
Source: Ftrain
Published: May 16, 2011
Length: 8 minutes (2,031 words)

The Web Is a Customer Service Medium

The web was surprisingly good at emulating a TV, a newspaper, a book, or a radio. Which meant that people expected it to answer the questions of each medium, and with the promise of advertising revenue as incentive, web developers set out to provide those answers. As a result, people in the newspaper industry saw the web as a newspaper. People in TV saw the web as TV, and people in book publishing saw it as a weird kind of potential book. But the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It’s its own thing. And like other media it has a question that it answers better than any other. That question is: “Why wasn’t I consulted?”

Author: Paul Ford
Source: Ftrain
Published: Jan 6, 2011
Length: 10 minutes (2,603 words)

Real Editors Ship

People often think that editors are there to read things and tell people “no.” Saying “no” is a tiny part of the job. Editors are first and foremost there to ship the product without getting sued. They order the raw materials—words, sounds, images—mill them to approved tolerances, and ship. No one wrote a book called Editors: Get Real and Ship or suggested that publishers use agile; they don’t live in a “culture” of shipping, any more than we live in a culture of breathing.

Author: Paul Ford
Source: Ftrain
Published: Jul 20, 2010
Length: 7 minutes (1,929 words)