Subscribe to 💌 Tiny Improvements, my weekly newsletter for product builders. It's a single, tiny idea to help you build better products.

Chase your interests to build something useful

Explore the power of hyperfixation on the internet, from tech enthusiasts diving deep into topics to engineers creating innovative solutions. Discover how curiosity can lead to expertise and groundbreaking tools.

If there's one thing I appreciate about the internet, it's people who find themselves fixated on a topic, and go really deep to research and find the answer to a question. It's a helpful reminder that the internet puts huge power at our fingertips, and the connections available to us are truly incredible. There's something really special about watching people become experts on a topic, and then watching experts do their thing.

Is hyperfixation a good thing? Maybe. Not always. But it's a good thing when it leads to something useful.

There is a similar pattern I see in many of the best engineers I know - a simple need or curiosity will lead to something much larger. Chasing down a solution is often just a series of small questions that need to be asked and answered in order, rolling up to a larger goal.

A few examples from the tech world:

  • My friend Charlie found herself wondering about the jets she could see from her apartment window in Seattle. One thing lead to another, and she built a javascript app that gives her real-time information on the planes whizzing by her window from live, public radio signal broadcasts.
  • Curiosity about modifying the generator command in Ruby on Rails led my teammate CJ deep into the weeds of the RoR source code to figure out how it all works, and how to make it better - his work will likely find its way upstream into core parts of the rails ecosystem before long.

My own hyperfixation

A friend recently recommended a 3-hour long podcast about Costco to me from the show Acquired - and while it is an incredible deep dive, it also requires a huge time commitment to get through. I listened to the show, and wanted to chat about it with my teammates, but I knew that it was unlikely they'd have the time to listen the entire 3-hour show.

So, I did what any good engineer would do, and I figured out a way to summarize the show's transcript for each of my teammates in a way that was personalized and relevant to them. I built a little tool that would take the transcript, and then use a series of natural language processing tools to summarize the transcript into a few key points.

In a short amount of time, I found myself learning about:

  • The Podcast RSS feed format, which contains audio files and metadata about individual episodes. I used this to grab both a show mp3 and transcript to use for summarization.
  • OpenAI's Whisper API, which can be used to quickly transcribe audio files into text.
  • The GPT-4 API Playground, where I could play around with different summarization models to see which one worked best for my use case.
  • LLM Prompt writing for summarization, and ways to ask the model to summarize an episode for a specific listener's perspective, like our head of growth or a software engineer. Clearly, these two personas will have different interests in a show about Costco -- so I wanted to make sure the summary was relevant to them.

I ended up with a tool that I could use to summarize any podcast episode, and I learned a ton along the way.

Read summaries of the Costco episode generated by AI

Sounds cool, right? I published a few sample summaries of the episode in an article on my site here for you to check out.

Is this something you'd a small amount for? Drop me a line or shout at me on threads - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

These are a few incredible examples of people who have gone above and beyond to pursue answers to non-technical questions:

The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge

The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge may be the single most interesting article I've read this year. It shows how a seemingly simple question about the built environment can uncover a long and winding history of civic action, economic change, and a bridge that doesn't seem to go anywhere.

Finding Michaelsoft Binbows

YouTuber Nick Robinson's 42-minute long vlog titled I flew to Japan to visit "Michaelsoft Binbows" in person is actually a follow-up to a previous video where he tried to find the real-life inspiration for the Microsoft Binbows logo. Don't know what the hell that means? Neither did I, but I watched both videos and I'm glad I did. The internet is a weird place.

Build your expertise with some of my favorite resources

📰 API Specs, Schemas and Standards

In the latest edition of the APIs You Won't Hate Newsletter, my pal Alex goes deep on API Specs, Schemas and Standards - what's the difference between JSON Schema and JSON:API? Find out here.

🎙️ The future of HTTP - software engineering daily podcast

I did a super in-depth interview about The Future of HTTP with Nick and Roman, two engineers from Nginx working on a standard that is one of the most basic building blocks of the web. I genuinely had to study up on HTTP basics for this one, and learned a ton. I hope you do too!

🧬 Your Resume Sucks

The gang over at Polywork liked my recent newsletter on resume writing so much that they reposted it on their blog for the world to see. I'm happy to see that it's resonating with people, and I hope it helps you land your next job!

note: Cover photo for this newsletter by C D-X on Unsplash

Chase your interests to build something useful

Explore the power of hyperfixation on the internet, from tech enthusiasts diving deep into topics to engineers creating innovative solutions. Discover how curiosity can lead to expertise and groundbreaking tools.



💌 Tiny Improvements: my weekly newsletter sharing one small yet impactful idea for product builders, startup founders, and indiehackers.

It's your cheat code for building products your customers will love. Learn from the CTO of a Y Combinator-backed startup, with past experience at Google, Stripe, and Microsoft.

    Join the other product builders, and start shipping today!