Creating without a feedback loop

I like to make things, to tinker, to think, to create. However, I don’t think the things I make can really drive me to last very long if I don’t have some kind of external feedback loop. Maybe that’s the difference between something built for a marketplace and being an artist. 

Writing books, blog posts, making podcasts, designing apps, all of that can be a lot of fun; but at the end of the day I crave hearing from someone whether the work I did made an impact. 

As I get older I want to keep learning how to do this, so that I can continue to find the energy to keep moving forward. It’s possible to create for a while in a cave, I’ve done it plenty of times, but eventually ideas need to surface, get feedback from the world, and allow the creator time to tweak and modify. 

Here’s to getting things into the world sooner. 

Manager schedule versus maker schedule

This week we had the privilege of being joined by a fantastic guest, Larry Miller, on Fractional. Lance and I dove into talking about the challenges of being a maker and a manager, ala Paul Graham’s fantastic article

We also talked about the challenges and loss of information with with leaders and individual contributors in organizations. This stuff is hard, and frankly most people get it wrong. I wanted to have Larry on because I’ve appreciated how he approaches management. If this kind of stuff gets your riled up, or you find yourself nodding along, then I’d highly recommend giving it a listen

I had an affinity for you

Canva is buying Affinity. I tried to like Affinity Designer, Publisher, and Photo. I tried so hard so many times. But maybe because I’m getting old I could never work them into how I think and design. These days I do all my design with hand drawing out on iPad (in Freeform), Figma, and occassionally Adobe Illustrator. That’s it. Well, that’s not 100% true. I fire open Affinity Photo or Photoshop 1x/month to crop an image or resize it. At least for my use case, even though I own a license for all of Serif’s products, I could never work them into how I design. I’ll be curious what this acquisition will do for the product line. 

KJayMiller: On personal blogs and AI

“If writing is not your thing that is okay. There are other ways of communication that you can lean on to help. If you are better at talking through a point, then create audio or even video (you can also publish these) and use AI to transcribe your content and then modify it to read better.”

A fantastic piece, and hits at a point I’ve been feeling.

Years ago I set out a goal to write a thousand words a day, six days a week. I kept it up for almost three years; I’d have to check the dates to be sure. In that time I wrote seven novels; and actually managed to publish three of them. I also wrote many words on my blog, countless words in my private journals, and probably a score of short stories. What that helped me do, more than anything else, was start to get a tiny glimpse of my voice in who I am. 

That’s aided me so much in the past few years in being comfortable with writing. Does that mean my writing is good? No. But it means it’s not horrible. And occassionally, sometimes, I’m quite proud of it. I hope to keep improving on my voice and tone for years to come. But the bottom line is whatever I put out is me. 

I tested apps like Grammarly and ProWritingAid years before AI became mainstream. I found them helpful to clear out some of my quirks. However, the thing I’ve noticed more and more with millions turning to ChatGPT is the loss of their own voice in the mix. Turn to it, sure, use it; that’s fine, but add back in your voice to make it yours. That’s what I’m here for, that’s what I care about.

I recently attended an event with two speakers that called out the contrast so clearly. One read perfect words from a script for ten minutes straight (with appropriate pauses for claps). The words were good, but had no meaning, no impact, no punch. I struggled to focus. I don’t know if it was ChatGPT, but it really came off like it was written from a prompt on what that particular talk should be about. The other speaker came up, and spoke from their heart with meaning. There were a few things wrong with their speech technically, but I felt moved, I felt the power coming from their conviction and care, and I tuned into every word. That’s what matters, and that’s why I want to show up to listen to someone.

I’ve been playing with ChatGPT since it came out, trying to figure out how it would work, but at the end of the day I appreciate that the journey of figuring out who I am as a writer started just a bit before its arrival on the scene. I’m curious how this will shape me and others in the years to come.

Save for later

There’s too many books to read, too many movies to watch, too many things to do. And so now I write down what I hope I might do, then forget about it. The things I hope to consume often find a way of bubbling back up. Does that mean I miss out on something amazing? Surely. But it’s a way I’ve found to handle the choas and not feel overwhelmed. 

I deferred reading Brandon Sanderson for several years. At one point ignored his books almost out of spite, because they were so popular with a particular group I was following. Now? I love his books, absolutely a top ten author for me (maybe higher if I was doing a GOAT list). I kind of wish I’d read him earlier, but the method works well. Now if I hear friends recommend a book a few times I’ll often try and push it higher on the list. But it’s ok. There’s far more out there I’d hope to read than is possible, and I’ve grown to accept that. 

Kindness

As a teenager I was struck by the care of a friend when I didn’t deserve it. I’d used anger and been unkind, and in return this friend showed love. It turned my world around. This was someone outside my family, who owed me nothing, and chose in that moment to help me see a better way in how I could deal with frustration. In a small way that changed me, and I want to thank my friend for that. 

Over the years I’ve sometimes succeeded in showing kindness as a default, but often failed. I hope, as I get older, that I’ll find ways to show love when it’s not deserved. 

Having a purpose

Over the last two decades I’ve pushed myself in many ways in business; whether it’s writing seven novels, starting six podcasts, beginning several startups, building teams, honing my craft, reading voraciously, or testing out as many ideas as I could imagine to see what would stick. I’ve always felt the need to try something, to tinker, to play, to explore. Sometimes I look into something because I see a possibility to help pay the bills, but most often—and these ideas last longer—it’s with the intent of just learning and seeing what could happen. 

Now, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m looking toward the rest of the year, and into the year following, without a clear idea of what my next thing is. As a father, husband, and human-on-this-earth-needing-to-pay-the-bills I always look for a way to cover the basics; and through my career that’s been a combination of running my own service based business and at times working as an employee for a company. So, I’m covered and eternally grateful for the day job side of things at the moment. I’m stable on that front, or at least as stable as you can be in this crazy world of tech where things seem to shift in front of us every few months. But, with that said, I find myself uncertain where I want to go, what I want to do next, what I want to explore, where I want to tinker. 

It’s possible, and I’ve been considering this for a few weeks, that I’m merely in a funk related to the time of year. In the northern part of the United States it gets quite dreary in the winter. We can seamingly go months at a time without any real sun. It gets old. So I accept that’s a possibility. It’s hard to feel excitement and curiosity when you just feel tired. 

I’m also not immune to the possibility of burnout. Having gone through a major dip in that area years ago I’m aware of the signs; and thankfully been visiting a therapist on and off for a good while now. As a result, on that front I don’t see myself approaching that particular cliff. So I sit asking myself what it could be. Is it just that I haven’t thought of a great idea that excites me? Or is it something more? I’m aware of the various schools of thought on the pros and cons of goal setting. Sometimes they’ve helped me, and sometimes they haven’t. 

In the past I would have thought that I just need to push harder, work harder, grind through things. Now, at thirty-seven I’m less certain. I can’t just brute force things like I used to. I have to take an idea and fiddle with it, think through it, play various sides and—hopefully if I can figure this out better in the coming years—test it in front of people sooner than I’m want to do. So I’m trying to be as kind to myself as I would be to a friend. It’s too easy to say that I should just get off my back and go do something, it’s easy to think that I’m being lazy; but I know that’s not the case, and that’s not what I’d think for someone I cared for. Now I find myself wondering what else it could be, and frankly I’m coming up empty. 

It’s not like I’m doing nothing right now. I’m having fun with two podcasts weekly, also working on a third one that may or may not be on the bank burner. I’m also playing around with the idea of an app and a service based business model. That’s also not even to mention the energy I put out each day for mt day job, along with all that I’m learning in that arena for improving my skills as a designer. All these things coupled with my desire to understand people better; and frankly, it’s a lot. That’s nothing to say of my personal life, which is full and amazing and for which I’m eternally grateful. I have an amazing family who love me, fantastic friends who I get to hang out with often, and colleagues who are kind and caring. I have people in my life who impact me positively and for whom I hope I can do the same.

And so, maybe that’s enough. Maybe the thing I can do is be at peace and find calmness in the uncertainty, strength in not knowing what’s next, and being ok with that. And, in the meantime, in allowing my curiosity to delve into various arenas as my interest allows, I may find that next thing. 

This is where getting older, at least on most days, is exciting. I feel that every day I get to learn a little more about the world, how I work, how I can interact with people, and how I can help. Those things matter, and I find myself far more confident in who I am than even a few years ago. 

And sometimes syncronous

Sometimes a call really does provide clarity. I’m used to working async and prefer it, but just today I had an example where a colleague and I were able to bust through something in a matter of minutes and didn’t have to spend days going back and forth async. It worked well because we don’t abuse it, most of the time we do work, but we know there are ties we can use Zoom to bump up the fidelity and solve a design issue quickly.

Followup on books I’ve already read

When I read a book (and yes, I count listening as reading), I have different mental spaces for different reading times. Sometimes I want to learn, sometimes I want to relax, and sometimes I want to feel a specific emotion. When I’m re-reading a good novel I want to return a place I remembered before and walk through that journey again. When I’m starting a new novel I’m looking for ways to attach to characters, learn the story, and overall just figure out what’s going. New takes more energy, but is often worth it to uncover gems I’d never expect. Old is tried and true, so I find myself often picking up books to re-read because the ones I go back for have passed the test of time. 

Either way, enjoy reading, and my biggest advice is to stop if you’re bored. Don’t force yourself through, instead pause and pick up another book. Yes, you’ll abandon some, but overall you’ll read far more than if you tried to force yourself through. 

Rhythms

First of all, I’ll never in my entire life be able to spell that word. Something inside of me refuses to get it right and I always Google the proper spelling. 

Ok, with that out of the way, I am coming to the end of this week with an appreciation for the rhythms of work and life. Often after a long and busy day I find myself needing a slightly quieter or calmer day after. If I have a day that things just fell apart and it was horrible, I’ve come to expect the next day is likely to be better. Reversion to the mean is a concept I think about often. If a day is absolutely fantastic I enjoy it for what it is, am thankful, and recognize the next day; taking in the averages of all my days; is unlikely to be as good. Imagine my surprise, then, when I have two great days in a row. I consider those a bonus.

This also works in the opposite way. On days where I have a horrible day, the next day is likely to be at least average. 

Returning to the comfortable

For years I always sought new books, craved the hit from hearing a new story, an unexpected twist, a character I’d fall in love with. Then, a few months ago, something broke in me and I realized the core components of what I enjoy in a good book already exist in the books I’ve read. This isn’t a revelation to most people, but to me it was. Even though I know the ending, I love the journey. And so I’ve gone back and started re-reading over a dozen books I read in the past. It’s so much fun! I realize there’s so many details I forgot and am able to lose myself in the stories again. Highly recommend it. 

Designer portfolios

Designers are such a wonderful group. They have so much emphathy, passion, care, and love for their craft. Often they’ve come to it because they were born with an itch to create, to breathe life into a thing, to see a vision come out of nothing. 

Over the years I’ve struggled with my designer portfolio; and to a person based on my own anecdotal evidence, all designers hate working on their portfolio. We take all the care and craft of what we do and try to apply it inwards; and suddenly everything falls apart. The portfolio is the perfect project, it seems. No constraints, unlimited possibility, a perfect place free from the whiles of others. Therein though, lies the siren call that will pull our ship toward the rocks. 

It’s possible to iterate on a portfolio forever. There’s no end, and it ultimately ends for me in madness every time I’ve tried. So, I stopped trying. I now tell a story as a hodgepodge of things I’ve done, focused entirely on the process of past work. It’s messy, it’s always evolving, and it doesn’t look pretty per say. However, it shows the blood, sweat, and digital ink, involved in creating a thing; and for the kinds of jobs I’m interested in, that’s often enough and leads into the work.

So, what do you do if you’re new, don’t have a ton of case studies to rely on, don’t have years of experience? First, take a deep breath. You’ve got this. You’re amazing. You are here because you care, and you are a creature of empathy for a reason. Be kind to yourself, treat yourself as well as you’d treat your child (or insert cat or dog if you’re such a person). 

My advice to a junior designer is to focus on telling a story. You can do that through a Loom video and walking through a recent project, you can drop in screenshots and text onto a webpage and talk through something, you can even create a PDF and share that. All these methods work, so long as you’re comfortable sharing the process you took to create something. That’s often enough for a junior. If you’re a senior designer things shift a bit, where you need to show results, failures, learnings, and understanding. But at a junior level when I’ve been helping with hiring I often just want to see if the person has a process, and if that process has led to at least two or three helpful projects that are worth sharing. 

Source of truth

One thing I’ve sought in my digital life, whether dealing with Calendars, tasks, or notes, is the importance of having a single source of truth. I don’t want to have two places to check things, where the data could conflict. When I go to add a calendar event I want to know it will be the same on another device. The same is true of a note, or a todo. Because I now use a watch, phone, tablet, and multiple laptops, it’s crucial that all of these be in sync to make sure I can trust them. Part of the reason I’m trying to go native on each app is I’m hoping the source of truth will become more trustworthy. We’ll see. 

Testing reminders

Todo lists, along with calendars, are a crucial part of how I manage my life. Over the years I’ve tried lists of all types. In my early twenties I decided digital was the answer, so I tried out every app I could find. None quite matched what I wanted. At one point I carried around a Field Note which acted as my second brain. It was always by my side, in most cases literally in a side pocket, along with a pencil. Then my toddler son grabbed it and chucked it into the bathroom sink. In an instant I saw days and weeks of my life fading alongside the smeared graphite. I went back to digital that very day. 

In my journey to find the right tool I tested Clear, Remember the Milk, early iterations of Apple Reminders, and every other app I could get my hands on. Omnifocus 3 caught my eye, and I dove into it headlong. I shared it religiously with colleagues and learned every part of it. It mostly worked for what I needed, and became a crucial part of organizing my life for a few years. Then Things 3 was announced and I switched over. The beautiful design won me away from Omnifocus. 

And so, since Things 3 was announced, I’ve been a fervent user. I tried switching from time to time, but stuck with it and built my life around it. That was 7 years ago. 

A great todo app requires a few things for me. I need a way to mark items as due on specific days, and each time I open the app it should be able to filter to just what’s due on that day, while also having an easy way to see what’s due on future days. Ideally this is designed in a simple way, I can easily move items between dates, and it doesn’t feel overwhelming. 

Beyond that core element I’ve come to count on subtasks, notes within tasks, repeating tasks, and a prominent widget on my iPhone homescreen.

Things 3 does all of that, and I’ve been very happy with it. 

However, in the last year or so I’ve been testing default software on device; and in the case of the devices I’m using, Apple’s builtin defaults. I switched from Chrome to Safari, moved from Google Calendar to Apple Calendar, and from Bear Notes to Apple Notes. 

Each time I’ve made the switch I looked at how I used the app, and whether I could make Apple’s equivalent software work the way I needed, or if I’d be willing to change my workflows to match Apple’s design. 

While Apple’s individual apps don’t count for all the use cases I might want, I’ve found they often cover just enough. There’s a lot of reasons why I’m trying this, and I may write on that in the future, but for now it’s an interesting experiment to see if I can use Apple’s apps, and whether the tradeoffs are worth it. Also I’ll be saving on subscription costs over time. On that note, I’m also testing 1Password to Apple Passwords, and will share more on that once I’ve figured it out. 

So, today, after talking to my friend Saadia the last few weeks about the great app migration, I decided to switch from Things to Apple Reminders. I started by moving over every todo item from now till Sunday, and checked them off on Things. That means Reminders is the single source of truth for now. I also put a task on Reminders for Sunday to either move the rest over, or switch back to Things. I’ve found with moves like this that I need to go all in for a period of time to see if it really works for me. 

Right off the bat it seems Reminders has every feature I need. The way I go about using those features is a bit different, and taking some getting used to. But I’m excited to see if it will work. 

Syncronous is hard, and that’s ok

For a while I thought something was wrong with me. I wanted to make myself available for meeting with people everytime someone asked. The world is full of so many kind, interesting, challenging, wonderful, frustrating, curious, loving, people. So I’ve tried, tried to always accomodate people who wanted to connect. Why wouldn’t I? People are amazing, the more time I spend with folks the better. 

Then I realized something. Connection, curiosity, creativity; these three things are the foundation of who I am. I love spending time with people, it fuelds me and feeds me, and I enjoy making an impact in the lives of others. However, I’m only truly me if I’m balanced out with the other two parts of the equation. If I spend all my time connecting with people, then I don’t have any time left to be be me, to explore the things I love, to live, to think, to create. 

So, if I hesitate to connect syncronously with someone it’s because I’m trying to weigh the balance of all three of those. It’s not perfect, and I’m still trying to figure out how to do it right, but too much of connection means not enough for the other parts that make me who I am. 

One trick that somewhat helps is to go asyncronus where possible. I love to record short videos on Loom and shoot them to someone; I enjoy using text, or audio messages. Even Marco Polo has its charms (despite the most infuriating of user experiences). Async is such a gift and I make use of it when I can as a default. I can add time to my week to reach out to people I care for in an async way, without having to plan it directly into the calendar. It’s such a joy and I use it as much as I can while trying to navigate how much syncronous time I have available. 

Apple Vision Pro first impressions

On Friday I got to try Apple Vision Pro for the first time. For the rest of this post I will simply refer to it as the Vision Pro, because that is how I’ve been saying it with friends for months. I’ll be talking more about this in an upcoming podcast, but I wanted to capture a few notes for now. 

First off, my experience was a bit clouded by what I suspect was the lack of a proper fitting.

I’ll be sharing the device with a colleague for work. We knew this was a risk, but few teams can justify the tremendous cost per user without knowing if this device will even work for what we need. As a result we ran into a logistical snag where I only had a few minutes to try it on and experience it. My colleague wears glasses, and the fit was customized for his face, so I’m guessing that may have been the genesis of my problems. During pre-order I ran the 3D scan and found we both had the same sizes of face shields and straps, so didn’t think we’d have an issue with fit. However, once the folks at Apple adjusted for his glasses they swaped out his face shield size. I’ve now debating whether I need to pick up a new face shield, but it’s too early to tell. 

When I first put on the goggles (I don’t know the best one word description to call this yet) the entire screen was blurry. It took me a moment to realize I had to push the goggles up on my face. Even then a slight blurriness persisted for the entire experience. I adjusted the single loop band as tight as it would go, but it didn’t help much. 

I hesitated to share this, wanting instead to start out with my excitement; but I think this is a crucial use case that is not being talked about. Most—in fact I’d venture 90%+—people will first experience the Vision Pro through a friend’s device. That’s how it works. You see someone has an iPhone and you ask to try it for a moment. Just yesterday I saw a friend using the Remarkable tablet. I asked if I could try it out to test the latency. I’ve been considering buying one for years, but never saw one in the wild. Now that I’ve tried it I know whether it will work for my use case.

That’s what’s going to happen with the Vision Pro. Someone will get one, and all their friends will try it. I’ve already had half a dozen friends ask if they can try the one I’ll be using. 

So, coming back to my first experience. The device hurt, I almost threw up after wearing it for 20 minutes; and it was blurry. I’m almost certain this is due to an improper fit. But I suspect this will be the first experience of most people. When I told my wife about the experience—even leaving out most of the negative—her immediate response was that VR goggles make her nauseous, so she’s not interested. 

This is a massive hurdle, and one that I’m nervous about personally. I’m feeling apprehension to trying the device a second time. My stomach turns even considering putting it on and feeling sick for an hour afterward. It feels like I did something wrong as a user, but I’d warrant this isn’t on me, it’s on the device to work well. 

With that massive caveat out of the way let’s dive into my early impressions. 

Bands 

I suspect I’ll be a dual band user. The single loop band hurts too much. Strapping what’s effectively the weight of an iPad Pro to the front of my face is a lot. This thing is just too heavy. 

Darkness and blurriness

I was surprised that I saw (or perceived) pixels in the experience. The entire room I was in felt darker than I expected and a little blurry. I don’t know if this is because of my poor setup, or how the device works itself. When I heard early reviews I expected everything to look like normal, but it looked like how my iPhone records a video of a room when the lighting is too low. You can see things, but it’s not as good as your eyes. 

Centering apps

Throughout the experience apps kept appearing off in a corner, not centered. At one point I got tired of trying to understand why so I just shifted my whole body to look at an app. I learned later how to move apps around, but having them pop up off center is odd. 

Dinosaurs

I’m looking forward to watching movies on this thing. The massive screen taking up the room in front of me was amazing. Just a few minutes with Historic Planet and I’m hooked. It felt real, felt like I was in the space with the dinosaurs; and it even felt a little scary. This is the best 3D experience I’ve ever had, and I want more. 

Navigating

Moving apps around, opening things up, looking, tapping my fingers together, this all worked better than I expected. In a matter of seconds I was doing these things without really thinking. The interaction felt like a solid version 1. With that said, the eye focus wasn’t as perfect as I was hoping. I sometimes was unsure if I was looking at the right area; again this could be due to the improper setup. But I’ll also add that having the perfect setup is a concern. You don’t have to worry about this with an iPad; you just had it to a friend and let them start taping. If the form factor is so finicky it may struggle to become useful to most people. 

Freeform

I had a moment of pure joy when I opened Freeform and started drawing with my hands. It was, of course, a bit gimmicky; I’m not going to spend hours moving my hands around in the air. But it has so much possibility as this is an app I use every day for work. 

Safari

Navgating the web was a bit slow, but extremely doable. I went to my blog and read a post. Things were a little blurry, but again I was unsure of the root cause. 

Two final initial observations. 

First, slight apprehensive nausea aside, I’m incredibly excited to use this device. I want to make sure I get a proper fit and then start using it for work, watching movies, really just tinkering. Then, that will hopefully lead into designing some apps for this experience. 

Second, I felt a little bit blue after taking the goggles off. The world felt a bit dim, a bit normal; it took a while for me to re-adjust. Granted, it was close to sunset in the Winter in the Pacific Northwest; always a bit dismal, but I’m worried that I didn’t want to leave the experience. 

Why we do this

I’ve been a fan of technology my whole life. As a kid I dreamt of watches that allowed me to take notes. I had a small hardware Bible that allowed me to search any verse or word. I tinkered with computers, played around with my operating system, installed everything I could think of. I just loved understanding how electronic things operated. 

Now, on the release day of Apple Vision Pro, I’m just as excited. I’ve seen the videos, read the reviews, listened to dozens of hours of podcasts, and my anticipation is unabated.

Sure, this device may not be everything I hope for; it may even fall on its face in some ways. However, I appreciate that something cool and curious and weird is coming out from a company I’ve admired for a long time. 

2024 iPad dreams

Last year saw a dirth of anything iPad related; unless you count a new pencil. 

I’m excited to see what Apple comes out with this year, and I’m hoping that we get a spec bumped iPad mini. That’s all I want. The mini form factor is perfect, I just need one that’s faster. 

After having tried every iPad iteration out there I’ve finally settled on this tiny amazing little device as the perfect iPad for me. I use it every day for work, sketching out ideas and treating it like a small notepad beside my desk. 

That, combined with a tiny hand strap, makes this feel like an extension of my hand. 

And with Freeform released over a year ago I now do all my early sketching and prototypes on it. All I want, then, is a faster iPad. If Apple releases that it will be an instant buy for me. 

Past its prime

I quit Amazon Prime last month after a decade plus paying member. I might be back, granted, but I finally reached the breaking point with the price increase and (if you want it) ads on Prime Video. Curious to see how the coming years determine which subscription services stick.

Açaí bowls

A few times per week I like to make açaí bowls for the kids. It’s one of their favorite meals, so I’ll share the simple recipe here if anyone is interested.

To serve two people:

1. Blend up 1 banana with 400g (4 packets) of Açai – Put the banana at the bottom of the blender and chop the açai into smaller chunks so it will blend together. I sometimes run it at low speed to get a smooth consitency. 

2. Pour the mix into two bowls and add into each: a spoonful of peanut butter, ½ cup of granola, 1 sliced banana, chocolate syrup, chia seeds, hemp hearts, fresh blueberries

That’s it! Just make sure to eat it right away as it won’t last. The açai blends best with straight banana, adding any liquid will make the consistency weird. You want a thick consistency that has to be scooped out of the blender.