Find Boredom

Iain Broom’s newsletter is a pretty good one. This tidbit from this week is something I’ve been thinking a lot about … or at least, meaning to find the time to think about: 

Writing tip: find boredom. I spend most of my life in front of a screen and I bet many of you reading this do too. It can be stifling. It can make us feel like we are doing something useful when we are not. It fills our time. We don’t get bored.

Give yourself time to think about your work away from a screen. Mow your lawn. Wash the pots. Build a bookcase. Drift away. Find boredom. Think your thoughts. Write them down. Do your work.

I spend a lot of time shoving content into my head. In between meetings and running around taking care of kids and family business and work, social media has oozed into the cracks like some awful time-mildew. I feel bad about the amount of time that I spend with it. But I don’t stop.  

Then there’s the digital media that I feel bad for not immersing myself in enough like RSS feeds and my ever-increasing backlog of articles in Instapaper.  

Then on top of all of that, if I’m doing any sort of work that doesn’t take much thinking, like emptying the dishwasher or commuting to work, I’ll usually have a podcast streaming through earbuds. 

What I’ve realized is that I’m shoving other people’s ideas into my head like commuters on a Japanese subway.  

The long and short of it is that I’m hardly ever bored anymore. And when you’re not bored, you’re not processing life. And when you’re not processing life and drawing connections and achieving that state where you’ve suddenly taken a step back and can see the matrix, as it were, then you’re not going to be as good as you want to be at your job or whatever other creative pursuits you’re involved in. 

And when I’m referring to “you” in the above paragraph, really, I’m referring to myself. I’m now publicly lecturing myself in the form of blogging. I’m pretty sure this is what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind for this whole Web thing.  

In a post he called On Creation Without Consumption, Brett Terpstra wrote about his struggles coming from the other side of things, about actually being bad at consuming content because his mind is constantly trying to interject his own ideas. 

I’d like to actually try and find the happy medium between where I’ve driven myself and where he’s trying to push away from. Meet in the middle, drive a golden spike into the ground, and never look back. 

Though I don’t think it’s ever going to be that easy. The reality of having all of this media in our pockets means being ever vigilant to behavior. Catching yourself in the act when you’re reaching for Facebook at a stoplight or checking Twitter while your kid is in the bath. 

In fact, delete Facebook from your phone for a day, just to get an understanding of the hold that thing has on you. I didn’t quite understand until I caught myself constantly reaching for one more effing hit.  

Choose life, as the drug addled Scots used to say.

Weekending for the Work

Josh Ginter writes one of my favorite sites right now: The Newsprint. The presentation is always beautiful, and his writing is always thoughtful. What a jerk.

He wrote a post a while back reflecting on his recent graduation from his masters program and and entry into the working world. This bit about time off and enjoying what you do is spot on:

So many people talk about work as the bane of life. We trudge through our 8 to 5 job so we can head home to our families. We value our weekends as though each week is a race to the finish line. And we better take our vacation because we deserve it.

Maybe we do deserve vacation time. Batteries need to be recharged to do our best work and vacation time is necessary from time to time.

But viewing time off as some sort of reward is a flawed paradigm. It certainly won’t make that 8 to 5 job any easier. If anything, it pushes us away from the moment and the job at hand. The allure of leisure time puts us in auto-pilot — unable to focus and find meaning in our work.

I'm very lucky to do what I do for a living. It's something that is always interesting, always challenging, and despite the frequent nonsense and over-importance placed on the least important bits of the job, I really enjoy it.

In fact, it's only been recently that I've learned to enjoy having time off from work. It was a hard earned lesson, involving the somewhat violent shift in work life balance that happens when you have small children at home.

It also reminds me of something that we all know yet mostly ignore: creativity requires a mind that is able to rest, process what's already in it, and refuel with new input.

Grinding all of the time is only going to burn people out.

On the Aeropress

AeroPress is just a simple plastic tube and plunger. It looks like something you'd find on the coffee table of a stoner who's into extreme sports. But since receiving one for Christmas this year, everything has changed. I am now making the best coffee I've ever made. The coffee is so good that it's possible to drink black. Though I still prefer cream and sugar. I'm no monster.

Aeropress.jpg

People began condescending to it from the moment I opened the box on Christmas morning. Coffee is an ancient craft. It should be made with tools that people are familiar with, from materials with integrity like metal and glass. AeroPress looks like a novelty. You'd expect to find it on a shelf at Brookstone. in-between the Bluetooth grilling tongs and shiatsu meat thermometers.

Brewing coffee with an AeroPress is a craft. It gives you control over everything: water temperature, courseness of the grind, length of steep. Use it right side up, as God intended, or flip it over and use the inverse method. Layer on some piano-laden 60s-era Miles Davis and become Mr. Rogers, if just for a moment.

Longer than switching out a K-Cup and pushing the button on a Keurig, faster than using a Mr. Coffee, your brew will be ready in about 5-minutes ... and the difference in quality over those methods, as Larry Miller would say, is the difference between shooting a bullet, and throwing it.

Patronizing doubters become aspiring owners in a sip.

May their conversion be instant.

Without mercy.

— Ancient AeroPress War Prayer

Coffee is something my wife and I came to relatively late. We didn't drink it every day, and we didn't need to make it at home until a few years ago. Kids change things. But after trying to smile with a mouthful of bitter Keurig coffee for a few years in the name of utility, we've finally found a better way to stop the voices screaming in our heads.

Hero and Cystic Fibrosis

My friend Gary Moore is the only person I've ever met who has written, shot, and released his own movie. Now he's written his first book, Hero:

Hero follows the story of Dudley Lockwood, software engineer, and two FBI agents as they fight a cyber-terror outfit bent on installing their guys into the American Presidency.

And if you buy it on Amazon on March 19th, you'll be helping to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation:

All proceeds from sales of Hero on March 13th will be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The author royalty for books sold through Amazon is about $4 for both paperback and Kindle versions.

So, if you buy my book, $4 goes to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and you’ll receive my everlasting gratitude... and also my novel.

If you buy the book on March 13, I’ll match my author royalty from the sale. That means a total of $8 will be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

If you leave a review of the book on Amazon at any time during the month of March, I’ll kick in another $1.

So, buying Hero on March 13 and leaving a review means $9 will be going to a fantastic cause that is near and dear to my family. And you still get a book! It might even be good! Who cares!

Abandon All Hope and Make the Clackity Noise

David Sedaris answering a question in the New Yorker about how he's so prolific:

Also, it helps to abandon hope. If I sit at my computer, determined to write a New Yorker story I won’t get beyond the first sentence. It’s better to put no pressure on it. What would happen if I followed the previous sentence with this one, I’ll think. If the eighth draft is torture, the first should be fun. At least if you’re writing humor.

Then there's this bit from Merlin Mann about making the clackity noise to make stories fall out of your keyboard:

Your keyboard will have different things in it than mine does, of course. But, it’s impossible to know what’s in there until you’ve made the clackity noise for a few minutes. You think you know what’s in there. But you don’t. It’s not your brain that makes the clackity noise, it’s your fingers.

Your brain helps you to breathe and to buy beer and to pretend to understand Kant and to use Spanish to ask the hot waitress for “mas salsa,” and, thank God, your brain is a boon companion at helping you avoid deadly attacks by bears, monsters, and SEO marketers.

But, your brain’s a piece-of-shit writer. I know this, because mine is too. So, let me assure you that there’s no point in waiting for your brain to start making the clackity noise for you. It can’t. That’s all on you, and on me, and on each of our extant fingers.

Weird thing is I still have to relearn this every single day. Hand to God. The only way I can tell I’m relearning this is I notice that the keyboard has been making the clackity noise for several contiguous minutes. I see that words have started to come out and sometimes they’re good and almost always they’re not and increasingly I’m not all that worried about it either way.

I’ve learned that my job is to just sit down and start making the clackity noise. If I make the clackity noise long enough every day, the “writing” seems to take care of itself. On the other hand, if there’s no clackity noise, no writing. No little stories. The stories may be in there, alongside God knows what else, but there’s no way to know. You must make the noise.

I've been trying to write more lately. I'm still not posting as much as I'd like, but I am writing most mornings these days.

The trick to it wasn't in some software workflow or in getting different apps on my phone ... the trick was to actually make time for writing. For one hour every weekday morning, there are no kids awake, I don't allow myself to look at email or our bank account or Twitter or anything else that could derail. I just sit down with my cup of coffee and make the clackity noise.

Certainly not any groundbreaking genius insight, but the clarity of this eluded me for a really long time.

In the saddle with a lance and a gasmask

I’m well into the second episode of Hardcore History’s series on the First World War. I can tell you about the second all day long, but I’ve never spent much time on the original.

What’s striking about the war itself is watching as 19th-century gentlemen-soldiers, with frilly 19th-century uniforms and a romanticized 19th-century outlook of war, run headlong into a 20th-century machine gun fire. It wasn’t the first time that industrialized technology saw battle, but it was the first time that major powers faced each other using these technologies. What happens when 19th century people have to solve for a 20th century battlefield?

The French rode off to war wearing metal breastplates, white gloves and red pants. It was honorable for officers to stand and wave their sabres around during firefights. It didn’t take long to learn that charging calvary at machine guns presented some problems. Thousand year old tactics suddenly made obsolete, the entire war becomes a series of experiments. Lose a few hundred thousand troops using one tactic, switch it up.

While it’s easy to condescend to generals sending hundreds of thousands of people armed for Waterloo to a front line of drum artilary and chemical gas attacks, I get the feeling, a century later, we are at a similar crossroads. People are going to look back and see 20th century people dealing with 21st century technology. An estuary between ages.

Governments are still using the word “cyber.” The hacking and data collection that we hear about is only a fraction of a percentage of what is really going on. ISIS uses video on the web successfully, the US learns from that and begins to counter with videos of their own. Modern warfare is as much about communication, data, and ideas as it is about troops on the ground.

On the civilian side, we’re using the most disruptive technology ever invented as a new way to watch television, read books, listen to radio and send mail. We're using 21st century technology for 20th century ideas of media and interaction. If you need any evidence that marketing hasn’t figured out what to do with the internet, look no further than the continued use of display advertising, despite overwhelming evidence of its ineffectiveness.

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to think that being born before the Internet was widely in use isn’t all that different from having been born before electricity. When people look back, they’re going see us just as we see that German on horseback, carrying a lance and wearing a gasmask.

Telly on the Internet

Russell has written a great post about the BBC being innovative with storytelling on the Internet before iPlayer enabled them to become lazy:

If you really work at it, you can always make the internet fit the business model you understand.

I'm not saying this to carp. (Except a bit.) I'm saying this because the biggest challenge in Digital Transformation is not in the initial refocusing on a new organising principle, it's in resisting the steady drift back to the old one.

Or, worse, to something that looks like the new one but is, in fact, the old one.

The BBC did strong, important refocusing work in putting 'online services' right up there in their charter alongside 'television and radio' - with equal weight and status. The inevitable drift back towards telly has turned online services into 'telly on the internet'.

I'd argue that the Cannes Cyber Lion has created an entirely new and innovative way for telly to win Cannes Lions.

Mobile Shopping or No Shopping

Emarketer released a report in which mobile was shown to be augmenting, not replacing, retail stores:

Even as many retailers dawdle, consumers continue to change their shopping behaviors. They still head to stores to actually purchase, but they shop continuously on their devices. Smartphones aren’t replacing stores—they’re augmenting them. In 2015, for the first time, the majority of sales in stores will be influenced by digital media, according to Forrester Research.

Mobile has been a part of how I've shifted my shopping habits. I still expect to have my wrist slapped when I'm in-store and scanning barcodes for Amazon reviews. But I've been doing that for a long time.

The bigger shift over the past year or two, for me anyways, has been less about mobile and more about the elimination of shopping in the first place. When sites like The Wirecutter and The Sweethome do such a fantastic job of pointing readers towards best-in-category products with an accompanying link to buy on Amazon, why would I browse the aisles of a store?

The new assumption is that anything on the shelves at a Target or Best Buy is going to be subpar. It won't be good enough. A mistake. Even if I get a recommedation online and I want to buy at a brick and morter, the chances of finding exactly what I'm looking for are slim.

So yeah, retailers need mobile. But then what?

The Answer is the Unchanging

Jeff Bezos' advice for anyone running a business:

If you want to build a successful, sustainable business, don’t ask yourself what could change in the next ten years that could affect your company.

Instead, ask yourself what won’t change, and then put all your energy and effort into those things.

Reminds me of Bernbach's thoughts on the unchanging man:

It took millions of years for man's instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary.

It is fashionable to talk about the changing man.

A communication must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.

There is a fundamental nature to things, ambivalent to the steady march of shiny technologies and data of various sizes.

It doesn't mean those things can be ignored. They just can't bear the weight of the long term.

Yesterday was tax preparation day. It was also Super Bowl Sunday.

I'm not much of an NFL fan. I've never had a favorite team. I thought that the Dallas Cowboys were my team when I was a kid. But that was because my dad is from Fort Worth and I had an officially licensed pillow-case.

Wearing Dallas Cowboys gear in the DC suburbs, at a time when the Redskins were winning Super Bowls, at an elementary school that considered the Redskins fight song essential curriculum, didn't have me running to sign-up as a fan. I was an insurgent, deep in enemy territory, on the losing side of a cause I wasn't fighting for.

I didn't follow football until college, where fandom is grafted onto your bones like Adamantium. Your body in constant pain as it tries to heal itself for the rest of time. It's an intense experience that causes people in the deep south to shoot at each other if things don't go their way. NFL fandom seems a little boring in comparison to the white hot passion and stray bullets of college football season.

I don't think it's as simple as just picking a team and leaning-in. No, you can't have it all, ladies. If Saturday is full of college football, you can't possibly make Sunday all about the NFL while also having a house, kids, and oxygen in your blood. And if you haven't grown up with a local team to go nuts about, choosing one is an arbitrary exercise, like picking a favorite mineral to follow.

Which is all to say that I've been doing my taxes on Super Bowl Sunday for the past three years. Yesterday included. Super Bowl Sunday makes a fantastic annual tax day. It's far enough into the year that you have all of your various W2s and 1099s, but it's not so far that you can't find a tax guy to figure out if you've screwed up, or if you really have to leave the country.

The best part is that while the rest of the US is 7-layers deep in store-bought dip and dumfounded at the best that the advertising industry has to offer, you're earning the right to act smug and write a blog post on the following Monday.

Responsive Logos

As the browser gets smaller, the logos lose detail and become more abstract. By the time you get to the smallest screen width, you're down to just the Disney "D" or Nike swoosh or Heineken red star, aka the bare minimum you need to render the logo recognizable, if only on a subconscious or emotional level.

The original site with more examples is here

Band Of Unicorns

My friend Barrie, who was a planner before moving into recruiting for strategy/planning types, has been writing about recruiting on her new(ish) blog: Band of Unicorns. It'll be a good read for anyone that works in a creative industry:

I’m just a former planner who has been recruiting for the last few years. Why? The simplest answer is this: I love people and the industry and I really love the people in this industry. We’re a lucky crew of weirdos. (Mean that in the most complimentary of ways.)

Being on this side of things I have been fortunate enough to meet a lot more of you...fascinating folks with great stories, creative hearts, big imaginations who are also haunted by some fears and concerns. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic. Let’s say you worry sometimes. And in this position I hear many of the same questions and concerns, and see consistent patterns of behavior, yet many of you believe you’re the only ones. Trust me, you’re not. There are lots of other unicorns.

I often think about how lucky I am to do what I do. The job itself is interesting, but the collection of marvelous lunatics that I've met along the way is something that is unique to this business, and something for which I'm thankful.

Come Fly the Intentionally Miserable Skies

The New Yorker wrote a piece on air carriers and their take on UX Torture: Calculated Misery.

Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.

The necessity of degrading basic service provides a partial explanation for the fact that, in the past decade, the major airlines have done what they can to make flying basic economy, particularly on longer flights, an intolerable experience. For one thing, as the Wall Street Journal has documented, airlines have crammed more seats into the basic economy section of the airplane, even on long-haul flights. The seats, meanwhile, have gotten smaller—they are narrower and set closer together. Bill McGee, a contributing editor to Consumer Reports who worked in the airline industry for many years, studied seat sizes and summarized his findings this way: “The roomiest economy seats you can book on the nation’s four largest airlines are narrower than the tightest economy seats offered in the 1990s.”

It's a shame to see JetBlue giving in. I guess public companies gonna public.

The Rise of the UX Torturer

The UX Torturer is a new and emerging role in the field of UX. Whereas the typical UX Designer is a one-trick pony who can only improve the user experience, the UX Torturer specializes in degrading the user experience to maximize profit.

New and emerging?

Marketing people have been ruining user experiences for decades.

It's called advertising. And you're soaking in it.

Life is doing: Remembering Mike Hughes

It's been one year today since Mike Hughes, one of the guys that built The Martin Agency, passed. I didn't know him well. We shared only a few conversations during my time in graduate school at VCU and later when I returned to Richmond to work at Martin. But he nevertheless made a lasting impact on my life.

He was a great many things to an awful lot of people. For me, he was living proof, at a crucial time in my career, that there were people in advertising with integrity. That there were agency executives who value the people in their employ. That there is room for both creativity and humanity in the same person.

We had a small gathering to mark the occassion today. In the announcement, Joe Alexender included an excerpt from a longer piece that Mike had written to him a few months before he died.

I always enjoy his writing. But his perspective on embracing and engaging with life, even while nearing the end, has found itself firmly lodged in my brain ... it's something that I hope to continue drawing from in my own life.

I haven’t yet figured out how to do it, but I want to do something that means something. I want to help society address its big problems. I want to help righteous journalism maintain its integrity and its robustness. I want to figure out how to stop governments and politicians from getting in the way of progress. I want our schools to be better. I want scientists to learn how to talk to the rest of us so that all of us can get a firmer handle on the truth.

I don’t fear death, but I am incredibly frustrated by its prospect. I don’t want to have to stop what I’m doing.

Life is measured only superficially by heartbeats, breaths and brainwaves. Life is doing. It’s learning and it’s engaging and it’s thinking. It’s having at least a minimal capacity for joy.

I want to live forever and then die quickly. I want to learn. I want to be part of stimulating conversations. I want to understand the wisdom that inspires some people to see things differently than I do. My whole life I have felt that I had nothing to teach anyone. Now I think maybe I do.

This is what my life is now. Except maybe to get rid of this damned cancer, I wouldn’t change any of it.

M

The Christmas Catalog — Tools and Toys

It's become a cliche, the whole Christmas is a difficult time of year thing. But while it's mostly full of great moments, it also forces ugly choices:

  • Who gets a Christmas card?
  • Isn't that Christmas card good enough?
  • Do we have to keep discussing Christmas cards?
  • Do we need to send a thank you note for the Christmas cards?

Though gifts give me the most trouble.

When giving, I like to try to find something that people didn't know they wanted, but will be excited about. Something with a tad more meaning than "that sweater that we saw" or an Amazon gift card. That's not always easy. It takes time and gumption and a good deal of luck.

When it comes to receiving, I have an incredibly hard time giving people a good answer when they ask what I want. Partly because I rarely think about it, partly because I really hate to be a bother for people, and partly because everything that I can think of offhand is usually beyond the price point where aspirational meets extraordinarily rude.

Which is where the Tools and Toys 2014 Holiday Gift Guide comes in handy:

We have done our best to avoid listing out a vast array of crap that has found the inferior sweet spot between impractical, unaffordable, and meaningless.

Instead, we have put together a list with short personal reviews of few items which meet certain criteria: they are products we own and use; we personally vouch for their quality; and they are useful and enjoyable.

Also, a portion of anything bought through the Amazon links on the guide will go to one of three charities, including the incredibly cool App Camp for Girls.

Unread: A tale of trying to make a living in the iOS App Store

Unread for iPhone and iPad is one of my favorite apps ... I use it everyday. So I was disappointed to hear that the developer hasn't seen enough sales to continue developing for it. He wrote about his experience in a revealing blog post (that I ironically read from within his app):

Unread for iPhone has earned a total of $32K in App Store sales. Unread for iPad has earned $10K. After subtracting 40 percent in self-employment taxes and $350/month for health care premiums (times 12 months), the actual take-home pay from the combined sales of both apps is:

$21,000, or $1,750/month

Considering the enormous amount of effort I have put into these apps over the past year, that’s a depressing figure.

Voyager’s Vintage Tech is Amazingly Vintage

If Carl Sagan was so smart, why did he send a bunch of technology from the 70s into interstellar space? It's fun to be on this end of such an epic mission. Seeing what is essentially an Atari 2600 with a tape drive escaping the heliosphere while still communicating with the Earth, is amazing. According to Wired:

The computers aboard the Voyager probes each have 69.63 kilobytes of memory, total. That’s about enough to store one average internet jpeg file. The probes’ scientific data is encoded on old-fashioned digital 8-track tape machines rather than whatever solid state drive your high-end laptop is currently using. Once it’s been transmitted to Earth, the spacecraft have to write over old data in order to have enough room for new observations.

The Voyager machines are capable of executing about 81,000 instructions per second. The smart phone that is likely sitting in your pocket is probably about 7,500 times faster than that. They transmit their data back to Earth at 160 bits per second. A slow dial-up connection can deliver at least 20,000 bits per second.

Though technically we're still at the beginning. Expected to last for a few billion years, these two robots and the golden records they carry might be the last evidence that humanity existed at all.

Carl does a better job of illustrating their significance:

Source: http://www.wired.com/2013/09/vintage-voyag...