Looking for work

TL;DR – I’m looking for a new product design opportunity. 😀

2022 has been a dream year for me in learning and growing in my career. For the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of amazing teams on products within enterprise and the small business space. It’s given me the chance to learn and grow, and to continue to push my curiosity as a designer. 

Since December I’ve been supporting the team at Greg as a Senior Product Designer, focused on the mobile experience of the app. I’ve been able to learn about the ins and outs of mobile design in the consumer space, and loved picking up on all the small nuances that make up an amazing iPhone app. The juggling that’s necessary between product, design, engineering, and working runway was such an eye opening experience. 

Monday was my last day at Greg, and now I’m looking for a new opportunity. As sometimes happens, teams need to shift to adjust for the changes in the marketplace, in particular finding product market fit amongst headwinds in the consumer mobile space. 

I have full confidence that the Greg team will solve this, and will be watching from the sidelines, cheering them on. What Alex Ross and team are building is phenomenal, and I’m thankful for getting to work together this year. They’re trying to solve an amazing problem, helping people grow and build plants within a community. We need more apps like this, focused on improving the quality of life of everyone who joins. 

Right now I’m looking for new opportunities. If you’re hiring for a product design role, my background is primarily in enterprise software development, with a recent, and amazing, journey in mobile design. I’d love to chat, and am working on some ideas of my own in the background. Thank you!

SwiftUI Curious

For the past year I’ve been listening to some awesome podcasts and hearing updates from developers as they describe their transition, or in Marco Arment’s case, dipping their into SwiftUI.

I started my career as a web designer and frontend developer. Learning CSS and HTML was a challenge for me at the time, but I figured it out and stuck around long enough to understand the principles of responsive design, media queries, and all the little tinkering that comes with understanding how stuff fits onto the browser. From there I turned my attention to WordPress, customizing sites at a holistic level and helping businesses build enterprise level plugins for the WordPress space. Things got more abstract and I focused on the user experience overall, less on the code.

Focusing on design is important, but there’s tremendous value in understanding the structure of how a thing gets built. I allowed things to get too abstract without realizing the nuances of what my fellow engineers were building. For the last eight months I’ve worked alongside an awesome mobile app team, building out the experience in Greg. As things are starting to shift toward SwiftUI (or at least that’s the statement Apple made, we’ll see what happens in reality) it felt like the right time to give things a try.

So I bought a Udemy course and dove in. I’m shocked. There’s something about how SwiftUI operates that just clicks in my brain. I understand it. This doesn’t mean it will be easy, or even that I’ll really figure it out. But something about the mental model between Swift and SwiftUI appeals to me; perhaps this goes back to my HTML/CSS roots. We’ll see. For the first time in a long time I’m excited about code again, and bringing my designs to reality.

Lovely MacBooks and changing contexts

Choosing my device

I’ve been saving up for a new MacBook since February. Based on the rumors I suspected we’d see a new design for the MacBook Air in the Spring or Summer. So I saved, sold some stuff on Facebook Marketplace, and planned my purchase. Then Apple announced the Air, and it was everything I could have hoped for, minus the lack of an HDR display. I went back and forth on specs, and finally sprung for the 512GB model with 16GB of ram, midnight blue.

I listened to about a dozen hours of podcasts and scoured review sites trying to make sure I was making the right decision. 24GB of ram sounds amazing, but at that point I’m starting to get into MacBook Pro pricing territory.

I woke up at 4:45am on presale day and secured my order by 5:01am. Then I waited. I checked the status of my order a few times a day. No, that’s not true. I checked it many times a day. The wonderful package arrived this Monday morning. I was so excited.

Now, let’s back up for a moment. I bought a MacBook Pro last year, and have absolutely loved it. I went for the M1 Max 14” model and maxed out its specs, other than hard drive. It’s a dream machine and handles everything I throw at it. I don’t even know if I’ve been able to turn on the fans yet. It’s a beautiful device, small enough to take anywhere, and has an amazing screen.

Why I want two computers

The main challenge I had was not any limit to the MacBook Pro — other than its limited battery — but rather an issue with contexts.

For the past three years I’ve pushed to always do something on the side, regardless of what job I have. That’s important. As a product designer I spent a lot of my day expending creative energy to help build fun products. I love it, and I don’t want that to change. However, there comes a time where it’s important to make sure I’m investing some time into things on the side. It might be a hobby project, writing a novel, learning SwiftUI; it doesn’t matter. The point is I need to always do something for myself every day. Practically speaking that means taking 15-60 minutes and putzing away on something.

The challenge I’ve had is a lot of the things I’m interested in require a computer screen. If I try to do something creative, for myself, on the same work computer I’ve used for my day job — well, that’s doable. I’ve done it, I’ve spent most of my career with a single computer. But it’s not fun. It’s not delightful. There’s something about picking up a separate machine, with a just different enough screen, different colored keyboard, slightly modified browser and desktop space. Those things help trick my brain into a new context. It tells me that it’s time to do something fun for myself.

That was the idea behind getting a second computer. This week has been a rather tumultuous one, a fact I may write about later. For the first few days after the MacBook Air’s arrival I didn’t really feel any extra energy to try and enjoy the device. However, by the middle of the week I was pulling it open at the end of the day and spending some time putzing around on it.

This has brought me an unexpected amount of joy. Last night I dove into a SwiftUI course and lost track of time. Over two hours later I came up for air with a tiny app on my iPhone. This is therapeutic. Now, I don’t know if I’ll keep doing the two computer thing forever. Due to some changing circumstances I may have to sell one of them. But if I can I’ll hold onto both and use one to push my work and the other to push my hobbies.

I read about this a year or two ago from an author I admire. He stated that he has two different computers, one for writing and the other for the work of running his business. I love that.

Writing to think

For years I failed at becoming a regular journaler. My longest stint was a couple months with Day One, years ago. It was fun, and I liked reviewing the pretty graphs over time. But it didn’t stick, it didn’t have any real value for me.

Since December I’ve been journaling almost nonstop. Before that I was writing fiction, and loving it. Over the past eight months, because of a few factors and partially related to my creative energy, I’ve just been journaling.

The effect has been a good one. I can’t say yet that it’s had a profound effect on who I am, but it forces me to take a few minutes out my day and write. In that time I force myself to write a thousand words.

Because I type fast, that often doesn’t take long, especially since I do zero editing. I just type whatever comes to mind.

A funny thing happens when you write for a thousand words. In order to keep going I have to dig deep and start to think while typing. It’s a function that feels meditative. It’s like going on a walk without any devices and just having time to think. Only, it’s more active than that. I’m putting my fingers to the page and pushing out ideas. Most of it is complete rubbish, not worthy of reprint. But occasionally, and more often than I’d have thought, I am able to generate clarity in my typing. Ideas crystalize as I type and help me decide what I should do next.

Writing has changed how I think, it’s altered my brain in profound ways. The journaling has helped. A daily habit such as this has become a way of life for me, three years later. I love it, and I would have a hard time without this form of processing at the start or end of my day.

Now, as I’ve shared before, I want to do more than just journaling, I love to create and share ideas; and that will take more than just a few minutes of smashing out letters on a keyboard. It’s a start though, and

I’m thankful for that. I’ve kept up the habit and found that it’s much easier these days to push out my thoughts without self-editing along the way.

If you’re curious to try this I recommend a number of words that’s a little higher than you’re immediately comfortable with. A hundred words a day is too little for me, and would allow me to cheat, so to speak. The longer word count, lets me take a bit more time, and encourages digging deeper into my brain.

Sometimes I start with a retelling of what happened in my day, focusing on the emotions, the struggles, the big wins, and essentially going through a retro of the previous hours. Closing my eyes helps, and often I don’t bother with all the details, just enough to force my brain to concentrate for a moment. As Field Notes likes to say on each book, “I’m not writing it down to remember later, I’m writing it down to remember now.”

Back to writing

Yesterday I got a bug in me and sat down to write. I began the day like most other, with a journaling session. That normally takes me about 7-8 minutes to write a 1,000 words.

Most of these sessions are just a brain dump of the day’s activities, where I like to process how things went. It’s useful and I enjoy doing it.

Later I had another time slot where I could do so some more writing. In that time, I busted out another 2,000 words, half of which was fiction. It felt so good to be back, to work toward creative writing again. I resumed a novella from last year and added an intro chapter to it. 

Today I was excited to continue and thought about what I’d written, looking forward to seeing if I could start a streak again. 

I sat down to write this evening and pulled up Ulysses. Now, in the past I’ve had some issues with syncing between Mac and iPad; namely that it is effectively a no go. Something happens between the two where it seems to just keep re-syncing forever. That’s a waste of time, so I leaned into just writing on the Mac. 

When I pulled up Ulysses again to write, I had a moment of shock. The 1,000 words from the previous day disappeared. After nearly a half hour of searching, and going through all my options, the words are just gone. That has shaken my confidence in the app. I’m now considering other options, IA Writer and Scrivener are top of the list. To have finally to back into creative writing, and run into a snafu on the first day, is a bit of a bummer.

I didn’t let that stop me, though. I channeled that frustration into a short story of a writer being frustrated that his fiction writing got lost. Yes, meta, I know. 

We’ll see how tomorrow goes, if I’m able to keep the streak going. Hopefully, I can recover those thousand words, but if not, I’ll try to just learn from it. 

Update: I put the note in the trash in Ulysses. All is well!

Finding a great author

Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed jumping around between enjoyable works of fiction. I like finding a great book, then spending time reading other books from the same author. For a few years it was Stephen King. So far I’ve read about ten of his books. He’s such a talented author, and I hope someday to be able to understand his ability to make characters interact with the proper tension and meaning. Other amazing authors have included J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Jeff VanderMeer, Max Brooks, Andy Weir, and a half dozen more.

I love falling into the world of these authors.

So it was with some interest that I picked up Brandon Sanderson a few months ago. I’d heard him mentioned for the past couple of years, highly recommended as one of the best fantasy authors writing today. At one point my barber sang his praises. On the recommendation of two friends I started out with his Mistborn series, all on Audible.

I was hooked immediately.

Within a short period of time I poured through the first three of those books. The world he created drew me in and filled my imagination. I often paused the books to contemplate the secrets I’d just learned, or to appreciate the literary genius of making a certain scene come together.

From Mistborne I started on The Stormlight Archive. This one took a bit longer to get into, but I enjoyed it even more than the Mistborne series.

Something I love about Sanderson, a bit in contrast to King, is his ability to handle mature topics without delving deeply into salacious details. The way characters interact with each other feels like more like Lord of the Rings fantasy, and less like Game of Thrones.

I’m excited by this, and wondering about the implications for my own writing, to tackle important themes while keeping the books available for a wider audience.

It’s so fun to find great books and to be inspired by other authors.

WWDC 2022 hot takes

I really enjoy watching Apple events. It’s been a joy of mine to tune in and catch up on what’s new. I don’t have all the Apple hardware, but I have integrated quite a few different devices into my daily life over the years. A change in software across their various platforms can have a decent sized impact on my day to day productivity. I haven’t had a chance to watch the entire keynote yet, but I’ve skimmed through a few sections and caught up on a number of highlights.

Following are a few of my hot takes. The angle I’m taking for each of these is a mix of my personal time using Apple devices, as well as my time as a product designer working with a team on a mobile app.

Freeform

This is one of the most exciting announcements for me. While it won’t be out for months, and I haven’t had a chance to actually play with it, the general idea is fantastic. Live sketching and white boarding with others. Amazing.

I’ve used just about every iteration of iPad apps for sketching and collaboration. Each have their pros and cons, and I’ve written about them on a few occasions.

Having great collaboration for realtime users to sync across a network is key to my work. Figma has changed how I work as a designer, being able to work directly with other team members in a live environment. Its limited though, to hi-fidelity designs; when we’re further along in the design process. I’ve struggled to find an exact match for the more lo-fidelity aspect of my job, when I want to think through rough ideas.

The real-life counterpart is a whiteboard with markers (not chalk, I cannot stand the feel of chalk). A physical whiteboard is perfect in a room with others, but over the internet it just doesn’t work.

So I’m quite keen to test this out and see how it works with several of my team members. Currently we use a mix of Miro, Linea Sketch, and a few other things, but all are imperfect for live collaboration.

Continuity Camera

Amazing. I want to use this. Webcams on Apple desktop devices aren’t great. They’re passable, but not anything like the quality of camera on a recent iPhone. I’ve been thinking about some of the third party software to hook my iPhone, or even buying a digital camera or webcam, but all of that feels too complicated (and potentially expensive). Being able to use my iPhone in meetings for a great camera experience sounds perfect.

Stage Manager

This looks pretty sweet. I will have to try this first to see how it feels. Having this new window application tool across Mac and iPad OS could help to bridge the gap between the two operating systems.

Dictation

I haven’t looked into this enough yet, but having dictation on device with improvements could help pull me back into my workflows. I’ve tried to dictate for writing, but working live doesn’t work because of the timer limitations set by Google and Apple. At the moment I record via voice memos, then pull into Otter.ai. I’ve even been thinking about re-using my physical Sony recorder. If on-device dictation has improved, and is without limits, it could be perfect for my writing use cases.

Making it personal

There’s so much more I want to talk about, but I’ll keep this short for the moment. I am struggling with a decision on how I’ll move forward. The new MacBook Air M2 is perfect; it’s exactly what I’ve been hoping for, and it’s within the budget I’ve saved for this year.

I’ve been planning to buy a second laptop for a while now, in hopes of separating my creative writing from my work life. After spending all day as a designer, I often want to close my laptop and not use it again until morning. However, I also really enjoy creative writing. If I had a second device, preferably one that looked and felt different, and only used that device for personal things; well that might help with my motivation for pushing my writing forward.

I thought the iPad could be that second device for me. But it just doesn’t handle multi windows the way I want, and the writing software I use isn’t as good as the Mac equivalents. Now, with the iPad getting some much needed window management, as well as true external monitor support; it’s looking more tempting.

However, the M2 is exactly what I wanted. I’m likely going to keep forward on my plan for the new laptop, but it’s exciting that the iPad has become interesting again.

Book sampling

Recently I’ve hit a weird spell where I’ve struggled to write fiction. There are a few factors for this, and I’m working through them in my mind. I might share more on that later.

During this time I’ve continued to journal daily, and continued to pour myself into books. Since my early twenties, I’ve noticed a pattern with my reading habits. If I stick too long in fiction, non-fiction, history, self-help, etc, I burn out. So, as a force of habit, and also following my own instincts, I shake things up a few times a year.

For several months, I poured myself into the Mistborne and Way of Kings series from Brandon Sanderson. These have been an amazing read, and kept the flame alive for my desire to build stories and fictional worlds. 

The important thing for me, though, when it comes to reading, is to not make it feel like a homework assignment. If a book starts to drag, I’ll pause it. If the topic meanders in the wrong direction, I’ll just stop. I don’t want this thing that I do to become a drudgery. It has value and helps me grow to become a better person. But that shouldn’t happen at the expense of the pure joy of reading. 

I’m trying to ensure that not every aspect of my life feels like it’s leading to something. Some things we do should be for the thing itself, and not for the hope that it will help us capitalize on it at a later time. 

So, after a multi-month fiction stint, I pivoted to a handful of books (and podcasts) on other topics. I’ll probably come back around to the fiction in a few weeks, especially since I’m excited to see where the next Brandon Sanderson book takes me. 

Note: Almost all of my reading is through audio. I still the wrong verb intentionally, as it rolls of the tongue better.

Private and public thoughts

I’ve taken to private journaling in the last six months. It’s a rewarding experience. This is the most consistency I’ve applied to capturing my thoughts and documenting them on paper. I love it. I’ve learned some things about myself, and used this practice to process. When I reach the end of the day, I spend a few minutes typing out my notes, and that often helps give voice to my emotions. This is a worthwhile effort, and at some level I want to keep it up going forward. 

However, I’ve also used this as a crutch to avoid pushing my work out into the world. On a recent podcast interview with Joanna Penn, Derek Sivers shared his desire to create in public. He jokingly mentioned the reason: ego. While it sounds shallow on the surface, it’s worth some additional thought. Austin Kleon and Seth Godin share about shipping things to the world and not holding them to ourselves. 

Because I’ve gone private and pushed my notes internal, I’m holding all these thoughts inside and not providing an outlet to share them, to learn from the feedback I receive, and hopefully to help someone else dealing with the same issues. 

I don’t know what this means for me long term, but it’s enough to give me pause. I want to write to capture thoughts, to process my own way of thinking, and to use words to understand who I am. That can happen in private, and should. However, there’s an inherent value in packaging things up in a format meant for consumption. It forces me to coalesce all these divergent threads and put them together in a way that makes some kind of sense. 

A recent book has gotten my brain back into the train of processing the importance of the things I try to tackle. So much of my default is to think about the past or future, and not focus on what I have in front of me. I love books that help bring that point back around and help me appreciate what I have. 

Nearly three years ago, I committed to a daily habit of writing a thousand words a day, six days per week. I’ve kept to that since, even when writing in private. The practice has become a part of me. I don’t question whether I can write, because I do. There’s probably less value in hammering away at the words within seven minutes, versus taking some time to process and think through a coherent flow. Still, I’ve found so much value in writing and in the identity that comes with knowing I can transfer thoughts onto the page. It’s helped to break through some fears I’ve held and sharpened my ability to confront problems with words. 

I’ll keep at it, and see what breaks through; public and private.

iPad drawing late 2021

The iPad is a lot of things, but for me the number one purpose is using the Apple Pencil. Over the years I’ve tried the larger iPads, mainly the 12.9” Pro, and put them to the test as full computing devices. But, and again I’ll state that its specific to my needs, it fails at being my primary device.

And so I enter the awkward state of needing both a laptop and wanting an iPad; a large one at that. This beautiful piece of aluminum and glass is useful for a lot of things, in theory. But in practice it functions best as a pen inputing type of device.

Software for the iPad is not great; at least in comparison to the things I like to do on a Mac. Whether I’m using JIRA, Github, the entire Google suite, Slack, or web browsing, all of those experiences are subpar compared to working on a Mac. Sometimes I’ve tried to ignore that fact and go iPad first. The turning point for me was thirty minutes of wasted time trying to get a specific type of document to my banker via their custom portal. True, that’s a unique circumstance, but it highlighted my constant challenges with not having the right tool for the most common jobs I run into.

Writing on the iPad has been another job I’ve attempted. As a writer I like the idea of a separate machine; something different from my work device, so that I can have a mental shift in context. For several months I used the iPad, but got stymied time and again. At first it was the lack of ergonomic options. I like to write with elbows at a ninety degree angle, and wrists straight on. In addition I prefer the screen at eye level, and without bending my neck down or up too much. To date these things are near impossible to accomplish on an iPad. The Magic Keyboard isn’t enough, although it has some great benefits, and the whole iPad stand ecosystem is severely lacking when it comes to any contraptions that can get the screen close to eye level. It’s ridiculous, and I’ve often pondered how I could make a stand myself. There’s plenty of great laptop stands, such as the Roost, but nothing like that for the iPad. I digress.

Next up, and the nail in the coffin for me with writing, is the bad software. I like to use Ulysses for writing that extends beyond a few thousand words, it helps organize my thoughts and keep things running forward. Ulysses on the iPad is okay, and looks great from a design perspective; however the syncing is severely flawed. Each time I load the device, even if Ulysses on the iPad was the last time I wrote in the app, it feels the need to re-sync my entire database of content. In practice that requires sitting around for a few minutes waiting for everything to load, then checking for conflicts. That doesn’t work when I only have about 15-30 minutes per day for writing.

None of these problems exist on the Mac, all of them have been solved long ago.

The iPad is amazing, but for writing or working my day job, it fails.

Now we come to the reason I like the iPad, and why I keep the largest size around at my desk, and in my laptop. When it comes to drawing the iPad is king. And a bigger screen is better. A friend has got my interested in trying the iPad mini again, but for now I’ll stick to the largest size.

I love the Apple Pencil as an input device, and bad palm rejection not withstanding, the act of putting lines to a digital page is a delightful experience.

And so we come to the point of this post; Linea Sketch’s latest update.

Linea is an amazing app for the iPad. It’s almost perfect. Over the years I’ve shuffled between a number of drawing apps, depending on whether I’m illustrating, sketching, drawing, white boarding, or painting something digitally. Each has their strengths, and many have weaknesses. Despite some of the setbacks with Linea, which I’ve highlighted elsewhere, I keep coming back to it for work. When I need to ideate through a software idea, or new feature, I’ll jump to analog paper and pen, or pull up Linea.

Apple Notes, Procreate, Moleskine Flow, Miro, and a dozen others (I need to check out a recent recommendation from a friend for Vectornator, so the jury is still out there), all have their place; but Linea keeps hovering between my favorite and second favorite.

A recent update solved one of my biggest requests. Before I get to that though, let’s go through my wishlist.

Better syncing – iCloud on Linea Sketch is a nightmare. Similar to Ulysses I often have to wait several minutes to get my previous drawings loaded up and synced to the device, even when that iPad was the only place I opened up before. It’s ridiculous. Last month I disabled iCloud entirely on Linea, a huge risk in itself, and the app became usable again. It’s fine – so long as I remember to manually copy my designs to the Mac.

Larger artboards – The artboards in Linea are too small. At the moment its limited to the size of my screen, which forces me to open up new artboards or shrink things down to fit. I’m not asking for unlimited canvas sizes, but wish there was a method to go bigger, even 4x the current size would be a huge help.

Better palm rejection – Lately I’ve been getting a lot of errant scribbles from my palm, it’s not a deal breaker, but it’s annoying to have to erase them. This is a hard bug to track though, so I don’t know how it would be fixed.

Better resolution zoomed in – Because of the small artboard I often zoom into the designs, which shows off the horrible pixelation of my pen strokes. This could be solved by larger artboards, or just doubling the resolution of the current screen.

With those concerns out of the way, I’m really excited about a new feature announced in the 4.0.1 update: Watercolor brushes!

This is a specific request I had in the past, and it may win me back over from Moleskine flow. Though a lot of my design work is simple and sketch like, watercolor brushes help to quickly make things come alive. I haven’t tested this fully yet, so look forward to a new post soon with my thoughts.

Note: I’m not sponsored to say any of this. I have no affiliation with Linea other than thinking they’re awesome.

Not knowing

It’s okay if you don’t know everything. For many years I’ve understood this in my head, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to internalize it at a deeper level. Not knowing doesn’t mean that you’re intentionally ignorant, nor does it offer an excuse to play dumb all the time. Instead it means that you’re willing to speak up and say the parts you understand, but pause right at the cliff; right at the point where you want to speculate and look smart to the room. Instead, take a breath, call out the uncharted territory that you’re about to enter, then step forward.

This happened recently in a critical meeting with several team members. I presented on a topic, one which I’d prepared for and understood well. However, during the meeting questions came up outside the happy path I’d planned. At first I was tempted to push forward and speculate, to cover up and pretend. However, I had a reminder floating around in the back of my head, telling me everything was going to be fine. I took a deep breath, called out to the team that I wasn’t sure about the questions, since they were an area I hadn’t thought about or explored. However, as a fast followup, I then shared some ideas that came to mind in the moment.

That both allowed me the room to be candid, to be vulnerable, and also opened up the space to move into unknowns, to speculate. That balance is critical, and building trust with your team can lead to transparency and openness.

At times I’ve been criticized for not knowing, for admitting I didn’t understand something. However, those times are very rare and I could likely recall them on a single hand. It’s possible that I was self-ingratiating, and my attitude in the situation showed through. Or it’s possible that the person I admitted vulnerability with didn’t know how to handle that, and based on their own insecurities used it as a weapon against me. Those examples though aren’t worth the walls that I’d be tempted to throw up just to protect myself from a few uncomfortable situations.

My recent call helped to further cement in my brain the value of not knowing; when combined with doing your absolute best, bringing everything you have to the table, you may be able to open doors to new opportunities.

No spoilers

I don’t like having a book or movie spoiled. If there’s an outside chance that I’m going to watch or read something I don’t want to know ahead of time any major plots or twists. In fact, telling me that a great show has an unexpected twist – even without revealing details – is itself a spoiler. It’s quite endearing when someone is trying to share details about something and realizing they can’t share the reason why.
Because of my sensitivity on this front, I’ve started to convey why I liked a thing without explaining what happened. It’s a bit tricky, but it gives me the chance to share about interesting stories without giving away the plot.
This is a great challenge in a way. If I want my friend to watch a show that I loved, but I don’t want to spoil it for them, I need to figure out a method for explaining why it’s worth their time based on what I know about them.
The biggest tip I can suggest, if you want to do this yourself, is to focus on how you felt about a story, rather than explaining what happened.
For me this often comes down to whether I thought the ending of the movie was satisfying, or if the mood of the book matched my interest level.
Sometimes I get lucky, and I forget the spoiler by the time I read the book. That happened with the red wedding; I knew something was going to come up in the books, but didn’t know who it would happen to. The shock was still just as strong as if I knew nothing.

Magic Grips for my Magic Mouse

Several years ago I stumbled across Magic Grips, a fascinating silicon accessory to the Apple Magic Mouse. For those who prefer more ergonomic mice, or are used to a trackpad on a computer, the Magic Mouse probably looks like a weird contraption that is more form than function. After many years of use I can attest to the absolute value of touch functionality on a mouse. I love it. I can’t go back to manual click buttons, and I just don’t like the trackpad for my precision design work. However, I like to find ways to protect my hands over the long haul, so I’ve sought a compromise.
The Magic Grips are amazing. They help to make my mouse feel more hefty in my hands, more sturdy in a way. Each time I’ve installed the grips – we’ll get to that in a minute – I’ve preferred the larger size and found that usage of the mouse just feels better. My hands can hold onto the silicon bits and movement is more comfortable in my hand. That, combined with an awesome mousepad from UgMonk, makes moving across the screen a near delight. Pro tip on that point: I like to increase the speed of my mouse to whatever max the system allows.
The problem though, is the adhesive. About two days a week I travel into a Coworking space. That helps me switch things up a bit, and not always work out of my home office. I put the mouse into my backpack each time, inside a specific compartment. I’m pretty sure that the stress of movement is a problem for the grips. After about a year of doing this the adhesive starts to come off. I’ve tried to figure out a good way to fix this, and asked the company if I could just buy replacement adhesive strips. So far I haven’t had any luck on that front. However, to their credit Elevation Labs has been awesome on customer service (their absolute lack of any help with my adhesive problems on the DraftTable V1 notwithstanding – but that’s another article), sending me full product replacements several times. That gets tiring though, and makes this product less than perfect for my use.
Going forward I’m going to need to live without the grips, buy a second mouse just for travel (sans grips), or find an adhesive that I can more readily re-apply whenever the grips start to fall off. The last option, and I have spent a small amount of time looking, is to find a case designed for the Magic Mouse + Grips. No luck on that front yet.

M1 Max battery update

The reviews and analysis have started coming in for battery life on the New MacBook Pros with the M1 Max and M1 Pro chips. I feel partially vindicated in that I wasn’t going crazy, but questions still remain. The 14” Max model is the worst of the entire M1 line in terms of battery life. In every other regard it’s an absolute beast, and a joy to use; no matter what I throw at it, the computer doesn’t even break a sweat. However, the thing I was used to, not thinking about plugging in or needing to be aware of a charging location throughout the day, is no longer an option.

At one point I switched to low power mode for a cycle, and tried that out. It helped, improving battery usage substantially. However, and this is a deal breaker for me, screen scrolling became worse. I noticed it after an hour or so, and had to switch back.
I haven’t learned the exact reason, but I think power usage is related to the higher performance chips sipping battery regardless of user activity. Some folks speculate that Monterrey, the operating system update that shipped with the new devices, is responsible for some problems as well. If that’s true then there could be resolution to this in the near future.
As mentioned before, it’s also interesting to use a device that gets warm. The MacBook Air stayed cooled all the time, and in the Winter it offered little support in warming my hands. Now, I’m reminded of the old days where the device is capable of heating up my legs when I’m using it as a laptop device for several hours. It’s a minor point though, since it doesn’t reach the scorching – burnable – levels of my 2010 MacBook Pro.
All things being equal I’d be tempted to try an M1 Pro chip, but the process of switching devices – especially since I already sold my Air – is not an easy one. This is supposed to be my three year laptop, at least, so I’ll be curious how I feel when the M2 chip starts to ship in the redesigned MacBook Air. Either way, I’m glad that battery is the only thing I’m talking about now. My one year with the Air may just have been a wonderful anomaly.

Divergence and convergence

A few years ago, Leo Postovoit, shared a concept with me. While we were chatting I remember being surprised and not having a mental model for applying the ideas to my work. It’s not that I’d never done it, but I hadn’t consciously thought of it the way he described. The concept was divergence and convergence within design, or really within anything that requires gathering of information. Divergence means going wide, and convergence means coming back to a narrow point.

As a product designer, it’s my job to help solve a lot of problems for my clients, the products, the wonderful teams I work with, and ultimately the folks who get to use what I make. There are quite a few mental models I’ve developed over the years for doing my work, and this one stands as an important pillar.

When I start a project, I try to keep things wide open for divergence. Practically, that means taking in all sources of information about the thing I’m working on. I collect data via scraps of paper, typing things into Bear notes, capturing to-dos in Things 3, Google docs, JIRA tickets, Github issues, screenshots with Droplr, Miro boards, Figma boards, and more. I love this, taking crazy chaos from everywhere and trying to make sense of it all.

This divergent, collective part of the project is messy, and can take a lot of time if I don’t put a constraint on it. Going wide, receiving new ideas, is necessarily an unlimited task. You open up to all the things that could apply to your work, and follow rabbit trails across the digital and analog spaces. This is beautiful, a lot of fun, and often immensely frustrating. Often you’re digging around in areas that don’t even feel tangentially related to the project in front of you, hoping for some kind of parallel example to bring back to the problem at hand.

Sometimes I’ll go on a walk and stew over the problem. Other times I just need to take a break and sleep through it, coming back fresh in the morning.

If that was the only part of a project, I’d likely finish nothing, and it’s caused problems at times in my work. My sense of perfectionism can kick in here and I’ll think that I need more research, more time, more data.

However, and this is where convergence comes in, at some point I have to switch mental modes and start culling the information, sorting the signals from the noise, and pulling out the relevant parts. This part looks a bit less messy from the outside. It’s the part where I cross items off on my digital boards, start checking to-dos in my task managers, and begin striking out text in areas. I take all that data and sort through the pieces in my mind.

After that point, I’m often ready for feedback; whether from my team or from customers in the real world. I’ve now taken in a bunch of stuff, sorted it, and spit out an editorial opinion on that stuff. This is where unique creativity comes in. There’s not really anything new in the world in terms of ideas. I can just hope to bring my own spin to something, taking inspiration from all those who came before. It’s a lot of fun, and it doesn’t require true originality, rather it takes wisdom to sort through what applies to the project and what I can toss.

This convergent phase can, in theory, be the end of a project. However, in reality, it’s often just the middle part. Going back to the client, the rest of the team, or our customers, and showing this convergence of information, often reveals flaws in the thinking. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to embrace those flaws. I get excited when someone points out an error in my mental model, or a misstep in where I’ve landed. These are opportunities to correct and improve and continue to editorialize the information.

Sometimes minor tweaks are enough. I can change my direction and iterate a bit and ship to the world. Other times, though, my approach to thinking is off, or the direction we took had a flaw from the beginning. This happened recently with a small project. We planned a specific direction based on the design brief, and I went divergent, thinking up ideas and trying to understand the brief. I went back to the team with my insights in a Google doc and shared some concerns about the design direction. That gave us a quick opportunity to pivot and switch things up, to try something new. From that meeting I dove back out, continued to spread out and look for things, then came back to earth and converged on a new direction.

This continual process of divergence and convergence, when appropriately timed, can help to move a project forward, and often conveys the pulse, or heartbeat, of the team. Anxiety, happiness, concern, euphoria, and a dozen other emotions all get bound up through the rhythm of the work. I love it, and this is a tiny piece of what gets me up each day and inspires me to continue to learn and grow.

Instead of being worried about this process, about being wrong about things, I embrace it, enjoying the natural flow of things, and use this opening and closing as a tool. As with any tool, there are limitations. You can spend too much time going wide, or focus too narrowly on a problem and stay stuck in that rut. With experience comes understanding of when to apply each, and therein lies the rub. That’s a thing I’m still learning and tweaking on every single project; trying to find that balance and understand where I am in the cycle. There’s more than this, of course, to being a great product designer, but it’s a start, and when uncertainty abounds, I can come back to this model and find a reset point.

Thanks Jonathan for inspiring me to write this, and for those following along this counted as my 1,000 words for the day.

My writing goal for the year

From September, 2019 – December 2020 I managed to write four novels. The process was long and messy, and one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever undertaken. Those four books may never see the light of day, as they were a process of learning and understanding, and it would be hard to publish them now. One book, my first, is sitting in Ulysses with iteration number 17; meaning I’ve gone over the darn book 17 times. It’s a mess at this point, and I don’t know how to finish it, but that’s oaky.

As 2021 kicked around the corner I set a goal for myself to publish four novels in this calendar year. That was far different than the previous months where I wrote books, rewrote them, and toiled in obscurity. The new goal meant getting something out the door, being vulnerable with my work and letting the world see it.

So many doubts crept in with that goal. Is the quality of my content good? Is the subject matter good? How do I create book covers? What do I do about editing?
Those all remain to this day, and I have spent countless hours trying to learn how to handle these and hundreds of other questions.

Still, as of November 10, 2021, I’ve published three books, and, I’m 19,021 words into my fourth novel for the year. It will top out at about 40,000 words. I’m starting to cut it a little close, but I’ll get it done. That knowledge, knowing I’ll get this fourth book out and meet my goal, is motivating.

Does it mean these four books are great novels? Well, I’ll leave that up to my readers to decide. I’m continuing to learn from each one and striving to improve my writing as I move forward. Pushing my books out into the world is part of that process, and it’s rewarding.

There’s still so much to learn and figure out, and it’s nerve racking at times, but I’m glad for it. I’m also wondering about 2022 and starting to think about goals for the new year.

Growing a voice

Writing has been a thing I’ve done for most of my adult life in one form or another. I’ve tried out a few blogs over the years and attempted ways of putting out regular content. The problem with a lot of my writing was the inability to make anything stick. I don’t mean the amount of people reading, but rather the consistency on my part. The things I put out didn’t really interest me, and were being done as part of an obligation of sorts. That might have been a desire to hit a daily goal of creating posts, or a scheme to monetize my words.

For anyone who has followed along the past two years, you’re well aware of my writing fix. Six days a week, one thousand words a day, starting around September, 2019. It’s been a wonderful habit and brought about many unexpected benefits. I’ve written a few books, journaled more than anytime before in my life, and put out an exponential increase in blog posts.

Another benefit, and I think the one that matters far more than any other, is the start of finding my inner voice. I define that voice as the ability to say things in a way that’s unique to you.

I’ve noticed this voice from other writers over the years; whether in fiction or non-fiction, books or blog posts. I’ll pick Gruber as one example. He’s written for years, put out countless articles and bits of content, and has a comfort level with stating his opinion and building content in a way that invokes interest from his readers. It’s something I notice listening to his podcasts. When he sits down to review a piece of Apple hardware he seeks to find the angle that’s interesting and new. He doesn’t want to write words that will feel like copies of all the other product reviews, and finds joy in discovering a unique take. Does that mean everyone will agree with him, or find his words relevant for them? Not at all. But it does mean that a subset of readers, myself included, enjoy the nuance he brings to a given topic. If something happens in the tech world I want to know what John thinks about it.

Finding a voice in content creation takes time to cultivate, and therein lines a joy for me. I don’t like to pursue something when I perceive it’s too easy to accomplish. There’s an interest that comes in pushing my curiosity and challenging my abilities. Writing is one such activity. No matter how much I write I still see mountains in front of me. I may get better, bit by bit, but a few minutes immersed in words from my favorite authors helps to inspire me to do better. That’s exciting and motivating. I see my own skills increasing over time and, some day and in some specific pieces, matching the quality of what I love to read.

My voice is starting to grow. I’m getting a sense for the things I want to write, and the specific angle that applies to those topics. If this is what two years of solid writing brings, I can’t wait to see what things look like in the future. That, tied with an understanding of why I write – because I have a unique take on something that is often different from others – keeps this whole exercise interesting.

This ties in with a growth mindset on this whole topic. The world is a better place when more people create. I read more than I write, so encouraging others to become writers helps to make the whole pie bigger. In an odd way this is the only pyramid scheme that works. I may put out a thousand words or so a day of content, but I can easily consume far more than that.

If you’re curious about your own voice, and want to cultivate it, I encourage you to find a way of creating that works for you.

MacBook Pro M1 Max battery life

I’m now going on a week of using the new MacBook Pro, and in almost every regard I’m happy with it.

There are some issues on software, but I don’t know if that’s because of Monterrey or the trackback and keyboard. For instance, one app I use for time tracking, Harvest, keeps jumping up into the top left corner of my screen. That could be the connection with my external monitor, or something else. Restarting my computer fixes it, but that’s annoying.

The other issue is the tap to click mechanism. Something about this trackpad is more touch sensitive. Normally when I tap to click I use a soft touch. After a number of failed attempts to open links in new tabs (command+tab+click) or selecting multiple objects in Figma (shift+click), I realized the settings needed to be adjusted. I think I’ve got it figured it out now.

Beyond those small things I’m mostly happy with the new laptop. The keyboard itself feels chunkier in a way, like there’s more travel or I have to press harder. That’s okay, I’ll adjust and get used to it. The large Touch ID button is a joy, going back to the 13″ shows how tiny the function row was.

The biggest gripe I have though, is with the battery. The MacBook Air M1 battery was better, plain and simple. My workflow hasn’t changed, I’m still using the same apps. The Air handled those apps like a champ, battery or no. Now, I’m chewing through the battery much faster. I haven’t done any specific analysis yet, but my sense is that the M1 was about 25% better. I tried to take a guess at hours, but I haven’t timed it yet so don’t have a true idea of what kind of battery I’m getting.

The bummer is how I use the laptop. For the past year I pretty much ignored power on my MacBook Air. I used it plugged in, I used it on battery, and I rarely got a warning to connect to a power source. That’s happened once already in the last week, well after the initial indexing completed, and now I’m checking the battery constantly. Maybe that was a blip in regards to my Mac usage, the one glorious year where battery was king in 2020; the one year where travel didn’t matter. Now I feel like I’m just back to the norm with Apple laptops, where I need to keep an eye on a power source. That one consideration alone has made me consider returning this beast of a laptop and keeping my M1.

MacBook Pro M1 Max initial thoughts

When Apple announced the new MacBook Pros I knew immediately that I was interested. Throughout the year I saved up a budget for the device, and each subsequent announcement during the event increase my certainty of purchasing the new laptop.

My laptop arrived today, and I couldn’t be more excited. The configuration I chose was a 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 Max maxed out, except keeping the storage at 512 GB.

Over the past few weeks I’ve listened to numerous podcasts and read a number of great takes on the device. Following are a few thoughts from holding this new laptop in my hands for the past few hours.

Function keys

The full size function keys are a welcome addition to the keyboard. I must add though, that coming from a MacBook Air for the last year, I am taking a little bit of time to adjust my fingers to touching them. The first time I reached up to press the Touch ID button my finger rested in the wrong area. These changes aren’t a big deal though, and I except I’ll be okay with the changes in the near future.

Keyboard size

Adding to keyboard thoughts. I love the black behind the keys. It’s a change, and looks sharp. The size feels a bit different from my Air, although I can’t place the exact difference. My fingers keep hitting the wrong edges of the keys and my typing accuracy is a bit lower than normal. With that said I except I’ll get used to it soon enough.

Overall fit and form

As a product designer I love how something feels in the hand, how it looks on a desk, and how it fits into a backpack. Thankfully, on that last front, it still fits fine into my GORUCK GR1 laptop slot. Incidentally I might need to write on backpacks again in the near future. Working out a new configuration for how to keep all my electronics safe.

The laptop looks and feels more thick, considerably so relative to my Air. That’s not a bad thing though. I bought this with the intention of it being a Pro device, and it feels that in every way. My wife’s first comment was on the overall shape, saying it reminded her of the a Mac from 10 years ago. I took that as a compliment.

Notch

Only one podcast mentioned a specific problem that I have with the notch. I’m a full screen user. I keep the menu bar and dock hidden at all times, and only access them by reaching my cursor up to that area to grab something. The notch forces a change in one of my habits, and that’s a little bit frustrating. I tried at first to make the menu bar hidden by default, but it looks weird when a window won’t go up all the way. I’m currently keeping the menu bar visible, but finding some challenge with seeing all the items at the top of the screen. I realize this is a very specific thing that few will run into. Over the past five years I’ve lived with the menu hidden so this will take some getting used to.

Speed

I have nothing to comment yet on the performance or speed of this device. My MacBook Air was great for all but the most strenuous of tasks. Only on a few occasions in the past year did I even have a hiccup, where it needed to take a second to load something. I’m very curious to see what this feels like after pushing the device through its paces.

Brightness

I was excited to switch from the MacBook Air to this new laptop for a brighter screen. So far, though, I’m not feeling a great difference. This may be do to eye strain late in the day, and I’m curious how I’ll feel tomorrow; from my perspective a screen can never be bright enough, especially in dark mode. I tried switching to light mode and did notice a difference, but my general use case is a dark screen.

Overall

This is a device that I’m happy to own, and expect to become a utilitarian part of my workflow for years to come.

Update: Warmth

This is going to take some getting used to. My Air does not get warm. The metal stays coolish to the touch no matter what. This device is warming my hands and lap, which is a surprise after holding a cool aluminum device for the past year. So far it’s not a problem; nothing close to the scorching heat I’ve dealt with on MacBook Pros of old, but I wasn’t expecting it.

Food inflation

All around us we see patterns of products and software designed to influence our habits and purchasing decisions. As mentioned before, I’ve got a pet peeve with syrup containers. A while back I read a great book on the topic of habits and getting connected with the products we use, explaining the cycle we run through when we become a user of something.

Apart from syrup containers and the over-sized pouring spouts, another thing that’s bothered me to no end is yogurt containers. I’m a huge fan of soy yogurt from Silk, the blueberry flavor in particular. I steer towards non-dairy when possible, so this is my favorite yogurt on the planet. Granted, the sugar has something to do with that. Still, opening up one of these yogurt containers, cleaning off the inner foil lid, and diving into the thick creamy contents is an amazing experience. This is one of my favorite snacks. It seems we can never keep enough of these around. Something’s happened though, in the years since I started eating these. The containers themselves have changed. As far as you can tell from the outside things look the same. It’s still the general yogurt shaped object I grabbed from the refrigerated section as a teenager. However, on the inside the total quantity of food has been reduced; I’m almost sure of it.

I haven’t dove in yet to research the extent of the problem, but the false bottom of the yogurt drives me nuts. Based on my completely unscientific research, I’d estimate that the yogurt containers are designed to look close to 8 ounces, or a cup in American measurements. That’s a decent size amount, and worthy of enjoying on its own; or with the granola of your choice sprinkled in. However, because of the oversized false bottom on the container, the actual amount of food you’re getting to consume is far less than it appears at first glance. The total food inside is 5.3 ounces, a travesty in my opinion.

Whether rising food prices, inflation in general, or a number of other factors, Silk has chosen to keep the perceived size of the container the same as a dozen years ago, while pushing up the bottom on the inside. It frustrates me to no end, and I wonder if this is a way of hiding the cost of food inflation without consumers noticing.

There are far worse things in the world to be stressed over, but this is a little thing that just bothers me, and I wish Silk would sell a standard cup sized yogurt, without resorting to what I perceive as dark patterns. This is no way reflective on them in particular, I just complain because I like their food so much. This happens across the board with so many food products, and some times to a point of being ludicrous.

Anyway, enough ranting on that. I’m going to go buy some more yogurt.