I’ve had a love hate relationship with watches for my entire life. I remember saving up money to buy a cheap Walmart brand as a nine-year-old. The watch was everything I could want. It told the time and looked cool. The problem, though, came with the destructibility. The connection to my strap broke, and I scuffed the screen within a few weeks of use. I was not a gentle kid; I was clumsy, and unaware of the strength or length of my arms and legs. Attaching a watch to my body seemed to throw off my balance, even though that sounds impossible. I went through several cheap watches, and have memories of changing batteries, fixing broken straps, and repairing pins.
Fast forward to my teen years, and I wore an expensive (by my standards) digital watch with water resistance, alarms, and a few other fun features. It was sturdy and held up to the damage I inflicted. The features were hard to figure out though, and I spent far too much time trying to take down tiny notes, or set the three different alarms. Then there were the straps. I was a tall, skinny kid, with an even skinnier arm. The strap wrapped around my wrist, and then slipped out at the end, far from the two loops meant to hold it. No matter how much I adjusted, the straps always felt off; bumping up against things, or looking unseemly. Even as a teenager I had some sense of style, though my wife would disagree on my clothing choices. Having that strap hang out made my wrist look like a stapler with the bottom hinge floating loose. I didn’t like it. I also didn’t like the strangeness of an object attached far down on my arm, swinging around with my long limbs, at risk of bumping into something.
And so for various reasons I stopped wearing a watch by the time I’d turned 20. In my twenties I avoided watches, and resorted to pulling a cellphone out of my pant’s pocket to check the time. I tried, a few times, to pick up a watch, but never liked the bands; let alone the watch face. Then there was the Fitbit. I bought a few different devices: the Charge HR, Fitbit Versa 2, and maybe another one somewhere in the mix. I tried them, synced them up with my phone, tracked my steps, and attempted to bring each into my lifestyle. They never stuck. It just wasn’t useful enough to put back on after recharging. And there was that ever-present problem with my long arms, I’m still not 100% in control of bumping them around, and sometimes my wrist swipes a hard countertop a little too hard.
Now, in 2021, I’m looking around and trying to decide what a watch would mean for me. My friends own Apple Watches, Garmin, Nike, and a host of other interesting devices. I’ve thought about this for far longer than seems necessary, imagined the uses, the value, and what I’d do with the device. I’ve never worn an Apple Watch for more than a few minutes, and I haven’t been sure if the use case was there for me. What I’m looking for with a watch seems simple enough. I’d like a device that allows me to leave my phone at home. Watch and AirPods, and I’m gone. I head out, can make calls as needed, review my list of to-dos, check my calendar and email, and in a pinch take down notes. Those are all doable on the Apple Watch, and it seems the device would match perfectly for those use cases. But that’s not all. I’m also looking for an extension of my audio habit. If I’m not actively talking to someone, I’m probably listening to music, podcasts, or a book. From what I can tell the Apple Watch and Audible do not play well together; syncing has been a problem since its inception.
I like to listen to Spotify, Audible, and podcasts. And, until recently, each of those were better suited to the iPhone. Based on my research – but not firsthand knowledge – getting audio through the watch is challenging, and requires syncing to your iPhone.
Apple Watch is my most likely go to moving forward; but I’d love to see some more of a disconnect from the phone, where it fits in my device lineup as an equal partner, and not subservient to another computer. I wonder if Apple will separate the watch from the phone, and if the limitations are technical or more related to keeping users within the ecosystem. Given the power of WatchOS, and the yearly leaps in silicon technology, I’m guessing that we’re fast approaching a world where the watch can live on its own. I hope that’s the case.
I’m pretty sure Apple solved the problem with bad wrist bands. I should probably just bite the bullet and try one for a while. It’s hard to justify that much money on something I might like, so I’ve held off. This has been a pattern of mine throughout my life. I think like an early adopter, but don’t buy most products until years later. Even though I’m an Apple enthusiast, I only got the iPhone with the 4th model, and my first iPad was the Pro model. My first MacBook came in 2010, years after working professionally on Windows devices.
I am excited to see how watches continue to evolve. As a gadget enthusiast from a young age, I dreamt of something on my wrist that captured notes, told time, and acted as a bit of a second brain. We’re in that era now, I’m just not on board yet. I might end up with a tech watch and an analog watch, both with beautiful materials and an aesthetic that’s elegant but not bold. That’s part of the reason I like GORUCK backpacks. They are useful, sturdy, and simple, without being gaudy or annoying.
Bluey is the most delightful children’s show I’ve watched, by far. Over the past few months my wife and I caught up on nearly every episode, including Season 2 on Disney+. I must caveat this by adding that I have two small children. I don’t generally sit around and watch kid’s shows on my own. With that said, I’ve watched a lot of shows and movies intended for a younger audience. Sometimes I like the shows, and sometimes they leave me confounded. Bluey is in a special category. It’s a show that I enjoy, and my kids also love. In fact, judging by my random outbursts of laughter, I might like it more.
The writing is perfect. The show creators have a great sense of humor and they add a realistic element to what it’s like to be a parent. Each episode is just 7-8 minutes long, and most of the stories revolve around time together as a family. In that short time the audience can connect with the parents and children, and understand their unique struggles. It’s pretty special because it helps me remember children are just smaller versions of adults, they’re not a separate species – even if it feels that way sometimes.
We’re not all fully patient or checked in, or completely wanting to do what our kids ask at every moment. That doesn’t mean we don’t care though, we try, and we want to be there for our kids. Bluey presents that in a realistic way, and encourages parents they’re not alone. It also reminds us of the value of play. My wife and I have taken lessons from the show and tried to apply them in our own lives.
Puffin Rock is another great show that we’ve enjoyed. It’s written in a way that kids will like, but also adds the odd reference that only a parent will pick up on. This isn’t subliminal messaging, or even anything inappropriate, it’s just slight bits of context that you learn with age.
There a host of shows out there that are nowhere close to this mark. Several kid’s favorite shows feel like time fillers, with no extra effort placed on making them special.
Great shows offer inspiration in how great content can bridge the gap between generations. Pixar is a master at this. I loved their movies as a young child, and have a deeper appreciation for them as a parent. In recent years almost all of their movies will bring me to tears by the end. Stories like this are special, and it inspires me to create things that offer that inspiration and education for others.
I’ve used video conference calls a lot. In fact, on some days I’ll spend up to six hours on back-to-back calls. In 2015, I joined a remote team that made use of Zoom and Google Hangouts (later Meet) for communication. Since my work has been 100% remote in the last six years, I’ve had a lot of hours on video calls. The previous year in the pandemic was little different from the years before, with one notable exception. I’m used to flying out and seeing my teammates throughout the year at conferences, client onsite, or company meetups.
Having that face-to-face time together helped to bridge the gap between long periods of online only communication. There’s something special about eating dinner, having fun, and sitting in a room in physical space. I’m hoping that things can change soon, and that I’ll soon be able to connect with my colleagues on location. However, other than that one, albeit major factor, my life has changed little.
Zoom fatigue is real, and I feel it. Staring at a screen for hours on end, and seeing the faces of others staring back at you is not a natural feeling. When I go to hangout with friends in real life, I don’t look into their eyes for an hour at a time, making direct contact. That’d be creepy, and I’m pretty sure I’d lose all my friends. And yet, this is exactly how video calls work. You look at a screen, stare straight into it, and your colleagues stare straight back at you. It gets tiring and drains energy as time goes on.
I’ve found a few ways to resolve it, and while everyone is different, these little methods help me throughout the week.
First, I turn off my camera. I disable it and join the call with audio only. As an introvert, this helps to lower the temperature of the call, and allows me to pace, look down from the screen, or even go on a walk in nature for an hour. Video calls aren’t natural to the human conscious, so trying to re-enact a meeting in a 1-1 ratio doesn’t really work, at least with current technology. Besides turning off the camera, I also try to minimize whatever screen I’m on; I don’t need to always see the faces of my colleagues, I can hear them just fine.
In situations where it’s not practical to disable the camera, I try a second technique. At work I have a 28 inch monitor. It’s huge, and having a browser up with a dozen faces staring back at me can feel intimidating. Or a single person can loom larger than real life. Often I’ll shrink the window to make the size of others on the call more realistic. I wouldn’t sit in a room with my face two feet away from someone else. Again, that’s creepy. Making the screen smaller tricks my brain a bit, and it feels like they are further away. If I had to guess, having someone’s face right up against yours triggers the fight-or-flight mechanisms in the brain.
Remote work is here to stay, perhaps not in the same way as we’ve seen it in the last year, but it will continue to iterate and become part of our society. It’s important that we adjust and reduce the strain that technology can bring. Video calls, screen sharing, audio calls, and all the other communication tools that come with it are amazing. I couldn’t do my work without them. I enjoy being able to get on calls and see my teammates and friends; it makes a vast difference. However, limiting the artificial tension that arises from a video call can help us all to feel a little less tired at the end of the day.
We’ve all run across them, and in more recent years a word is used to cover things in our life that just feel – wrong. I’m speaking about dark patterns. Things that force us, as humans interacting with the design, to use it in a way that feels unnatural and goes against the grain. You know it when you see it, it just feels wrong somehow, even if you can’t quite place words on it.
Whether it’s a used car salesperson trying to force me to pay more at the last minute with an upsell that I neither want nor need, or something less obvious, these patterns sit all around us and are pervasive in our everyday life.
Software is all too guilty of this, and I run across it in my everyday work. The biggest offender is canceling a subscription. If you’ve signed up for a newsletter, news subscription, monthly shipped product, or even the New York Times, you’ve come across this. It drives me nuts. I will raise hell to get out of anything that obfuscates my ability to leave. The moment I feel stuck with something, I want out, even if it was a wonderful service.
Earlier this year I had a bit of a scare where I thought I was losing my hair. I developed a bald spot at the back of my head. Completely bald, no hair, nothing. At 33 years old, it was the time for these sorts of things to happen. Instead of accepting my fate, I ordered a hair product online from an ad. The design of the website, the box, the subscription service; everything seemed perfect and good to go. I tried the product for a month and saw results. And only time will tell if I’m right. I realized that the hair loss was not a result of balding, but a case of alopecia; likely brought on by stress. Alright, glorious news.
I went to cancel the service and found that I couldn’t. Whether through malice or ineptitude, there was no way to use the website to cancel; the software ran me through a series of loops leading from one part to another, with no way out. I tried, the software would not allow me to cancel. Then, in a twist of irony, I didn’t feel comfortable complaining on their social media account. Would I want to admit hair loss? That’s embarrassing. Hopelessness washed over me, and I got mad; furious, in fact. Several months later I can still feel the emotions running through me at feeling misused.
I emailed customer service, got a standard reply that I was “holding it wrong”, I needed to go to the website. After another response or two, they agreed to cancel my service. I shouldn’t have had to do that though, there should have been a mechanism to do that from the site. It felt intentional; especially at a scary time that caused a lot of stress in my life.
This pattern exists in software the world over. It’s not just software, it’s everywhere. It doesn’t have to be this way. I find delight in things that let me escape, and come back if I want; that’s freedom, and I love an easy exit path. This hair care product could have been that; there’s a chance that my hoped for alopecia is wrong, and I’ll go bald again; would I care to try the product after that previous experience? Doubtful.
And so we come to maple syrup. I remember a time, back in the nineties, when the big syrup bottle my mom served our family for months at a time. We’d buy syrup and pull it out for pancakes and such. I’m guessing – and here I go into speculation territory, but again, the results are the same for the end customer – that a marketing executive somewhere, or a product designer, decided that the company could move more inventory if they made the opening to the lid wider. It pours out; fast. And so, we come to a situation where – when I go to the store and buy a big thick maple syrup bottle – I dread bringing it home. It’s frustrating.
I have two little children, and they like maple syrup waffles; an entirely reasonable activity. In their eagerness to enjoy the food, they often tip the bottle back; it’s heavy after all, and syrup flows out, flooding their waffles. My children don’t like this. They don’t want that much syrup; waffles shouldn’t float in liquid. And so, again, we run into a situation where they feel helplessness; they can’t serve themselves as a result, I have to help.
I try to remedy the situation by cutting a tiny hole in the seal, instead of pulling it off; that doesn’t work well though. The hole should just be smaller. My kids feel bad for wasting the syrup, and the vast majority of it goes into the trash; they don’t like to consume straight sugar. I’ve fielded apologies from them, when it was not their fault. The moment an alternative comes available, I’ll switch.
Dark patterns are a short-term fix; they don’t bring happiness and don’t bring love from the humans that experience them. I’ll push back and fight against any perceivable manipulation by products I use, and will go out of my way to pick something better. This is an opportunity for those who create things, the designers out there, to stand out with honest products that improve our lives.
Perhaps someone has designed a product to solve this. A lid that screws on, with a smaller opening, would earn its money back in a few months. I’d be down for buying one, even if it cost $5. We easily spend that much on wasted syrup every year. Keep an eye out for dark patterns and call them out when you see them; together we have a chance to make the world a better place.
I’ve written a bit about chairs on this site, their comfort level, ergonomics, positioning, and how I want to use them for work and life arrangements. In the past month I changed things up again, and want to process how that’s affected my time at work.
My small home office has three chairs right now. The first, and primary chair, is my Capisco Hag. It’s weird, and somewhat uncomfortable, but as I’ve written before, it serves a purpose and I’m happy with it.
The second sitting implement is an old IKEA office chair. It’s fine, not bad, but not great either. I picked it up as a Wirecutter recommendation years ago; and for $200 it served me well. This chair sits in front of a small desk, and acts as a second creative space, where I can do my writing each day. Of note, while I recently extolled the virtues of said sacred space, I’ve used it but once or twice a week for a half hour each. It’s not getting the full value that I hoped for. I suspect this is due to the stage I’m at with my writing; where I’m doing a bit more read through than actual writing. Or, I just like writing on an iPad in a relaxed position more; not great, but comfy.
My third chair is a recliner. It’s something small we got for rocking our daughter to sleep when she was smaller, and through the shuffling of kid’s sleeping arrangements, I managed to sneak it away into my office.
There’s a fourth position I use, which is standing at my desk; but since that’s not a chair, it only half way counts.
The challenge I’m dealing with now, through all the arrangement of these seating spaces, is how to account for comfort and creativity. Ergonomics have become more important to me as I age. I want to find situations where I’m comfortable, and not straining muscles and tendons. That’s good, and I’ll keep working at it. The Capisco chair, along with my standing desk, is a pretty ideal arrangement. I can situate myself so that shoulders, neck, wrists, back, and arms, are all at relatively healthy angles. It is not the most cushy situation though. After a few hours I get restless.
Now, as I ponder that previous sentence, I realize that’s not a bad thing. Being in a healthy working position, albeit not the most comfortable, reduces my body’s chance of suffering injury. When I start to feel discomfort, it’s another way of telling myself that I should get up, stretch, and move around. My eye doctor said the same thing, I need to find times in the day to get away from the screen and relax my eyes. Apparently I blink 1/3rd as often when staring at a screen, that’s not great.
The third chair has come in use more often of late. When I’m feeling antsy from sitting at the Capisco, instead of going for a break, or shifting to standing, I pull my laptop over to the recliner and kick my feet up. It’s comfortable, and gets me out of a situation where I don’t have to use so many active muscles. The downside of this, and really the downside of all sitting these days, is the stress I feel on my back. I haven’t investigated with a doctor or chiropractor yet, so I’m just going on a hunch, but there may be muscle misalignment in my core. That means any chair that’s not providing strong back support is likely to bring lower strain.
Standing, or laying on a decent mattress, are the only positions that I can handle for hours on end without discomfort. So, with all that going on, I’m rethinking my seating situation and trying to figure out what will work best for the long haul. More standing seems to be better, and has the added benefit of putting me in a pretty good ergonomic position. That, however, took a long time to work up to, and still tends to tire me out a bit. Standing is just hard, for me at least.
It’s hard to work through design challenges, or spend hours writing up technical requirements, all while standing and feeling the day wear on. On the other hand, sitting at the computer, even on the Capisco chair, brings on strain over time. So I have the trade off of fatigue versus strain. The reclining chair, while comfortable, brings that same strain to my lower back. It also restricts my computer use to a laptop-like-device with a trackpad and keyboard. No ergonomics related to a mouse and screen. This limits me to specific types of work. I need to be at a desk for much of my creative work; whether that’s using iPad, larger monitor, or a Wacom tablet.
Incidentally, and I may write more on this; I’ve been experimenting with the world of manual input for design. I’ve been testing out iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, in contrast to a large Wacom tablet and a smaller one. My goal with each is to find a good ergonomic balance where my shoulders, eyes, and wrist are in alignment. Nothing has been perfect yet, but the desk and standing seems to be the best of any situation thus far. During the day, when I need such an input device, sitting in a reclining chair won’t cut it.
It’s good to think over these things, and try to improve and adjust. I don’t expect that I need a perfectly comfortable situation. That’d be laying down with a couch and propping an iPad up on a pillow; not great for productivity. I do, however, want to find something that keeps me healthy, feels generally good, and allows for a range of motion to use a number of devices for work. I’ll think on this more. My default baseline has been the Capisco being a good device for office space. To date I’ve not used a high quality chair, such as Steelcase or Aeron. I don’t know if they are just hyped up, or make a difference. I also have a friend who swears by a different type of chair altogether. The limiting factor for me is wanting to testing changes to my work environment for at least a week, perhaps longer. I’ll report back if anything changes.
My brain shifted over the past year as I’ve taken to daily writing. Before, I’d sit down to put words on the page, and find that my brain shut the process down before it began. We each have two different parts of our brain that fight with each other during the writing process: the creative brain, and the critical brain. Writing into the Dark, by Dean Wesley-Smith, talks about this; emphasizing the importance of shutting the critical brain out of the entire process.
When I sit down to write I think of my time as practice. I’m not creating a perfect thing, intended for the world to enjoy and sing my praises. Instead, my goal is to get thoughts onto the page and try to share an idea in a way that benefits me, and hopefully helps others.
If I continue on this path of writing at least six days per week, I’m hoping that my brain will continue to adapt for a practice creation mindset. Writing in fiction feels like a different game for me at the moment, and non-fiction is still taking some time to get used to with this method of creativity.
The change has been profound. Where before I’d stare at a page and try to figure out what to say, try to perfect it and create just the right combination of thoughts in my head, now I just start typing and my brain figures it out as I go along. When I keep typing, keep pressing ahead on the keyboard, my critical brain doesn’t have time to cause any problems; it’s just my creative brain flowing and putting all that together.
This is something I’ve also experienced in my design work. Sometimes I need to just put my work onto the page, and stop stalling for more information, details, context, etc. Practicing in this way is rather freeing, and helps to bring anticipation to my work. Knowing that I’ll sit down each day, write out a thousand words, and then move on, removes a lot of weight from the process.
So for writing, I pull up a full screen on my device and start hammering away. I’m fortunate enough to have a device that’s mostly dedicated to this, using Ulysses on my iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard, but in the past I’d just clear out my laptop’s desktop, and open up a full-screen window. It also helps to write in a space separate from my other work. Writing in the same spot as my work desk is a creativity drain. For that reason I bought a cheap desk, put it beside my main desk, and move over to that area during the 20-30 minutes of writing time each day.
I’ve had opportunity to chat with friends about this process, and share how I work; it’s helped to inspire a few, and also cements my thinking. Learning about others over the past year, through books, podcasts, and online discussions, has helped with understanding the different methods of writing. The most important thing for me is to find what works, and adjust as needed. Most styles of fiction writing are along a scale, where writers lean more towards the planning method, or just diving in and figuring it out along the way. On the one hand, we call the planning type of person a plotter / outliner. They want to bring some organization, thought, research, and forethought to their work ahead of writing the manuscript. On the other hand, we have discovery writers, sometimes referred to as pantsers. They move forward with stories, focused on specific aspects such as dialogue, character, or plot, and type page after page until a story forms. Others take this further and write out the complete story in one go, with minor revisions along the way.
Most writers fall somewhere on that spectrum. Similar to how few people are 100% extroverted, or 100% introverted, few writers are 100% on either side of the discovery / plotter scale.
My novels have been on the discovery end of things, where I’ve figured out the story as I go along. That is a lot of fun for me and helps keep the story fresh and interesting as I add to it each day. It’s not for everyone, and some writers prefer the planning, but that daily excitement and motivation drives me forward.
With that said, I may adjust a bit as I continue to write. I want to get to where I feel that I have a basic grasp of the mechanics of storytelling, and can use that to propel my discovery style into an interesting and cohesive adventure. For me, it’s about telling the stories I wish someone else wrote. The other part of this, along with the fun of learning new stories as I go, is the realization that I can continue to learn the craft of writing for years to come. There is no planned end date where I expect to arrive, and believe that I know all there is about fiction, and that’s a good thing. Pushing the boundaries of my work is important, as it gives a reason to continue to learn and be curious.
The natural progression of writing is that I may expand beyond fiction to other areas and bring my experience with me. That might mean other types of books as time goes on, and I’m excited to see what happens there.
Now, to be completely candid, I don’t write fiction every day. Sometimes I feel too tired, or worn out, and don’t want to add to my stories. I give myself a pass on those days though, and bring the true meaning of practice sessions to my writing time.. This blog post is an example of that other writing. I want to just share ideas, but not hold to a specific expectation on every single day; this allows some level of variety.
When I started reading in more earnest as an adult, I developed the habit of setting down books before finishing them. If the book no longer interested me, I wouldn’t force myself to finish. As a result, I read far more books, to completion. Even though I expect to finish the books I start, that experience is something I’ve considered for writing as well. We’ll see how this continues to unfold.
I’ve worked from home for the past six years. In the years prior, my work time was a mixed bag of remote and in-office. Now, living in a small town in Idaho, spending most of my days in a small room, I have a lot of time to figure out what makes sense for an office setup, and what doesn’t. I spend most of my time in the home office, with one day a week in a local co-working space (although more often than not I don’t bother and just stay home). I imagine this will be a work in progress for years to come, so right now I’ll share more of a status of the current state, and less an understanding of the best solution overall.
There are three purposes, well more like four, for trying to tweak my home office setup. First is utility; I need certain things to get my job done. Second is aesthetics. I like things to look good because it helps create an environment where I’m happy to work. Third is curiosity, of a sort; I like to tinker and try out new things and see if they’ll give me some level of gains. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s fun to try. The last purpose is for better ergonomics. As I start to into my thirties, it’s becoming important to take care of myself and have a setup that’s built around me, instead of the other way around. When typing I want to have my wrists, shoulders, elbows, neck, and eyes all setup in such a way as to avoid strain or injury. So with those in mind, I’ll dive into some things I’m using.
Let’s start with my desk. I have an automatic stand-sit desk. There’s nothing particularly fancy about it, and at the top level it’s just tall enough for me as a 6’ 2” human. After a decade plus of slouching, and likely causing some displeasure for my back, I took ergonomics seriously. Right now that involves a combination of sitting and standing. For sitting I use a type of elevated standing chair, which I’ve discussed previously [link].
The standing desk is not new, but it’s only been in the last 18 months that I’ve used it more for its standing features. That came about because of acquiring the chair. It’s an easier transition to just slide off your chair when the desk is already close to the height of standing. I’ve also encountered the previously described issue with my back, where sitting for long periods becomes uncomfortable. It’s easier to just stand; granted that took a while, and I had to work up to the point of standing for 2-8 hours/day without feeling fatigued. Now I prefer to just stand most days. Besides the standing desk, I bought an anti-fatigue standing mat from fully.com. This helps a lot and gives my feet something squishy to move on; I also wear a pair of Santa Cruz convertible slip-ons for comfort. They’re just fancy looking Crocs, but the most relaxing thing I’ve found for long hours of standing.
My computer setup has varied over the years as I’ve both upgraded and downgraded. My current system, and the one I feel most happy with, is an M1 MacBook Air, sitting on top of a Roost Laptop Stand, combined with a 27” LG Monitor on an Ergotron raised arm. Between the stand, the arm, and my desk, I’m able to tweak things to get just the right height for elbows, wrists, and neck.
The laptop, with 7 GPU Cores, and upgraded ram (16 GB), is perfect for my needs as a designer. I can run Safari with 30+ tabs, Adobe Illustrator, Figma, Slack, email, Zoom conference with screen sharing, Local by Flywheel, and 3-4 other apps I’m forgetting right now. That can all be going with barely a hiccup. It’s amazing, and was enough to convince me to switch away from a 2018 15-inch top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. I can’t wait to see what Apple does with their silicon on a real high-end laptop.
Besides the Roost Laptop Stand, I also use an Apple keyboard and mouse, along with Magic Grips for the mouse. I’m not sure if they give real ergonomic benefits, but I like the feel of them. As an aside, the Magic Grips are not intended for travel. If you regularly move your mouse from your desk, to a laptop bag, and to another desk, they’ll likely break down. I’ve had to get several replacements already (which the company was kind enough to send me at no charge). I’m thinking I may want to own two mice, eventually; one for travel and one for home.
I also bought a cheap desk pad for my keyboard and mouse, which allows me to lean over and rest my elbows without hurting the tendons. This happens sometimes when I switch to drawing on my iPad.
For iPad I use a 2020 12.9” iPad Pro. It’s great, and I’m writing this article on its Magic Keyboard case; although I have a nitpick with that, where the cursor randomly jumps to another spot in the editing process and starts inserting words; I might have to get it looked at. Hoping to write an article soon where I talk about the ideal writing setup; hint, the iPad is close, but not perfect.
At some point I bought an LED lamp, which gives a bit of brightness to my desk, and looks decent. I’ve tried several other things, but those are the key pieces that help get work done. My next step is to figure out the best method for a Wacom tablet; I acquired one last year and love it, but the large size (it was an Intuos Pro L) means re-arranging my entire ergonomic desk setup. That’s a bit more challenging when you have to move the keyboard and mouse around to make room for the tablet. I may try purchasing a small Wacom tablet and putting it to the side of the mouse; curious to see how that plays out.
Each of these pieces took time, and I’ll improve as I go forward. The main thing I’m watching for these days is my overall body placement. It’s important to listen to what my body is saying, and adjust accordingly.
I learned to read at a later age than most. For me that came around 8 years old, when I picked up basic books and began to understand the core concepts of reading from my mother. At 9 I was fully in it, so to speak, and reading books on my own. I have vivid memories of reading books under the sheets at night with a flashlight, staying up hours past my bedtime, wanting to just read one more page. That desire, to see where the story would go, along with a voracious appetitive to learn more, continued on for a period.
At one point my brother got a hold of a large volume of Mark Twain’s published writings, all bound in a single book. By memory, and of course that’s a faulty thing to trust. The book was around 2,000 pages. Once my brother finished with it, I picked up the task and devoured the book. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was one such tale that stuck in my mind and inspired a similar book of my own decades later.
That desire to read continued. My mom found some reading software for elementary kids, and we bought it for our family computer. I spent countless hours clicking through the pages, reading tales of The Jungle Book, Little Women, and dozens more that escape me now. Those stories of wonder captured me; allowing a young kid to get lost in the worlds of someone else’s imagination.
Then something happened. It’s not that I stopped reading, but the habits of consuming information changed. Much of my reading got taken up by school work demands; things that I could find some interest in, but not the same level of joy. With few exceptions, The Hatchet being one; I didn’t enjoy reading something as a requirement. The moment I was told to consume something, I no longer wanted to do that; at the same time my brothers and I tinkered with the computer. At some point we understood the possibilities it offered and explored the world of America Online (I feel old). Once we realized we could get games, and explore the internet, the joy of reading took a back seat. There were, however, e a few standout examples of books that still held sway in my early teenage years; such as the many late nights reading Lord of the Rings under the covers.
Fast forward into my early twenties, and something shifted again. I was diving into my career, trying to understand the needs of building software, all that comes with it. My primary work, designing websites and software, required many hours of computer time, with a butt in the seat moving pixels on a screen. While my eyes and mouse stayed busy in building designs, my mind would often wander. That provided a place for something to fill the gap. At that time I discovered Audible. Growing up, we’d occasionally grab Books on Tape from the library; but the format didn’t have the same appeal anymore. Audible though, that recaptured my imagination. I started to grab books, mostly business or self-help, and poured through them. From there it was a natural expansion into biographies and history books; at some point I also made the shift back into fiction. Over the next decade I often found time to listen to a great book, and in many cases podcasts, while also working.
Now, at 33 years old, I’ve come full circle. There’s been, as with anything, some ebbs and flows, but on the whole I’m enjoying reading. My habit is costly, but fun. Sometimes offsetting with library holds helps, but more often than not I’m too excited and want to buy it right away, without waiting.
There’s a realization that struck me a few years back; namely that I cannot read all that I want to read in this lifetime, it’s just not possible. Instead, I have to be selective and put the time into books that matter to me. Sometimes those are religious books, other times self-help or business, other times great biographies or histories, or one of the many fiction categories I’ve grown to love. I have to content myself with knowing that the things I want to read will always be greater than the things I have read. It’s with that knowledge that I still buy more books than I can handle. You could say I’ve reached a place of acceptance, where I’m aware of that limitation, but find joy in the possible, in what I might read, could read.
That then, has evolved into a hobby I’ve been pursuing since 2019; trying to write the stories I want to read. This trip is new to me, and requires so much learning in every possible way, but at the end of the day I like to sit down and make characters do things that are fun and interesting, and hopefully surprising.
Books represent so much possibility. Often it can be the culmination of countless hours, or years, of thought and effort poured into a particular topic; that then becomes available for any of us to open and read.
Reading is a verb I like to apply to any form of books; audio, ebook, or physical copies. I don’t distinguish much, and personally I spend about 90% of my reading time through audio formats.
And so it continues. I look forward to seeing what types of adventures I can find for the coming years, what books pull me in and take me to new places, and what stories I can write to do the same for others. This reading thing is such a wonder, and I sometimes wonder if my delayed entry into the practice, starting my reading at 8 years old, helped to propel me forward. By the time I could read, I wanted nothing more than to do just that.
This has been a long time coming. Years ago someone asked me to compare the Roost versus Nexstand. I ignored the request, and went about my life. Since then I’ve had numerous occasions where the comparison came up. Since I have often worked in coffee shops, co-working spaces, or client onsite, there are opportunities for other folks to see my laptop stand.
If I had to guess, there have probably been as many as 10 times, but no less than 5, where someone asked what I was using for a laptop stand. In each of those cases I told them the name, and sometimes steered them toward buying Nexstand.
Until now. I’ve always used the Roost, and loved it. Recently, I purchased the Nexstand for a second laptop, and tried it out. In the future I plan to write a full review of the two, and compare in detail. However, I can give a quick summary.
If you’re truly short on cash, go with Nexstand. It does what you expect, and will put your laptop at the proper level for ergonomic reasons. Those should not be ignored. I can’t use a laptop for days on end without a stand, external mouse and keyboard.
If you have a little more money, and like something nicer, go with the Roost. The Roost stand, for almost twice the price, has small siliconish (maybe rubber) bits that grip the table top surface, and cradle your laptop. They’re not necessary, since there is nothing wrong with plastic, but they make a difference. You feel like you’re buying something that will take good care of your device. In addition, the Roost is smaller when folded up, probably 30% less volume.
TL;DR – Nexstand is fine, if you have more money and want something nicer, go with Roost.
I’ve been exploring a number of writing methods for fiction over the past year. My learning has been part doing, and part knowledge input. This has included diving into anumberof non-fiction books, tons ofgreat podcasts, articles, courses, and more. In addition, I’ve continued to read works of fiction. All of this input has led to an output, to the tune of a thousand words per day (six days a week).
Right now I’m working on the cover for a book, as well as pushing through another book. There’s so much to learn, and I enjoy this part of trying to figure out what it takes to get a book out.
Since September 2019 I’ve been engaged in the process of daily writing. This writing has been for offline projects, which someday will see the light online. It’s been long enough, so this is an update on a few fronts.
Work – 2020 was a crazy year for many of us, and despite all the chaos around I was able to get work done with a number of amazing colleagues. I’ve been busy with projects at XWP. There’s a lot I could write about there, but at a high level I’m support on projects as a Senior Product Designer, as well as a Senior Product Owner. I’m loving it! Thankful each day for an opportunity to work with a great company.
Fiction – Each day, six days a week, I sit down to write fiction or edit my fiction. I’ve now written manuscripts for four novels, a half dozen short stories, and am partway into writing a fifth novel. All of this has been a length learning process, but one which I’ve enjoyed along the way. I’m now at the point where I need to take my learnings and ship something, and that’s my goal for Q1 of 2021, to publish my first novel. Here’s to hoping for a great update in the near future on that front.
In September, 2019 I began writing a novel. One thousand words per day, six days per week. By Thanksgiving the manuscript was complete. The next day I started a second novel, and completed the manuscript this week.
I stuck to a plan suggested by Stephen King in On Writing, and have found it works well for me.
The process has been a joy for the past six months. No matter what’s going on in my life I know I’ll sit down by the end of the day and write a thousand words. Most days this takes me about twenty minutes.
Yesterday I picked up the first novel and started editing it. This was the first time I’d read it since November. For the editing process I exported from Ulysses > PDF > Apple Books, and began reading on my iPad Mini. Using a stylus I was able to cut out paragraphs, add a few notes here and there, and start reading. It was a lot of fun! Most of what I wrote needs to be removed or changed entirely, but there’s a nugget of a story that I’m coming to love.
To keep up with the original plan I also started writing a third book that I’ve been thinking about for a few months.
This is partially why I’ve been so silent here for the past few months, I’ve been investing a little time each day into larger projects, all of which I hope to share some day.
Writing for me has become a creative outflow to process my thoughts. Sometimes it means taking the time to write something out in order to better understand a thing and process it. At other times it means spending that time to write out the thing I wish I could read, that I wish someone else had written. Or, it means writing the thing I hope someone else hasn’t thought to read yet.
In the last few months I’ve picked up writing with a new interest. This has been writing of a more personal nature, which has been the reason for less writing here.
Writing has also become far more interesting when I have something I really want to share!
When it makes sense I’ll likely share more details.
I’ve found that looking forward to writing each day brings a sense of interest and fulfillment on a personal level, it’s a way for my brain to process and push out some of the thoughts that may hover around throughout the day.
My process for buying a new product is, from an outsider’s perspective, rather slow and uncertain. I often spend months thinking about a product and trying to figure out the best way to incorporate it into my personal or work life. My new office chair was no exception.
For six months I researched chair options, read reviews, watched videos, and scoured sites where various office chairs were highlighted.
Long story short, I landed on the Capisco Chair by HÅG. I may write about it more later, but I wanted to give a quick review of my experience one week in.
The first full day in the chair was a bit challenging. My legs and butt had to adjust to seeing in a chair in a more active upright position. Normally I slouch, or pull a foot up to sit under, and switch between a bunch of non conventional seating options. By the end of the first and second day I was sore and tired of sitting.
However, as the week progressed I found it got a bit easier to sit.
This chair forces you to sit straight up, and also means you’re sitting more directly on your butt. I basically can’t slouch anymore.
This is probably the first time in the three years of working from home that I’ve actually spent a week sitting with a decent ergonomic posture. For me that’s a good thing.
I’m hoping to write more about this as time progresses, especially since I found few detailed reviews on this chair during my own research.
I had a lovely chat today with Brian from WPSessions.com. While chatting we got on the topic of knowledge sharing, as that’s a large part of what he does each day.
One thing that strikes me, time and again, is how much insight each of us have on specific areas of interest. Over a lifetime we’ve learned things that have proven valuable in both our personal and professional lives. Those things eventually become so ingrained that they feel completely natural, and obvious.
However, for those who are starting out their journeys, these things are not obvious at all. I’ll use an example I’m more familiar with. Over the last decade I’ve spent a lot of time doing design of one type or another. As a part of that I’ve developed a number of frameworks or processes for how I get stuff done. That’s become second nature to me, as a result of learned habits, tons of reading, and watching how others do things.
When I try to break that down to share with someone else, it’s tempting to skip too many steps, and not actually be helpful.
What is often more helpful (I believe this was something I picked up from the Calm book), is sharing insights from something you’ve recently learned, as opposed to something you’ve known and graduated from years ago.
For anyone interested I’ll be sharing some insights on the design process I follow for some of the work I’ve been doing on WooCommerce. You can watch the talk for free at WooSesh, or read a similar article I posted on the topic.
TL;DR: My top recommendation for a sketching and drawing app is Linea Sketch. You can stop right now and download it, it’s worth every dollar. If you’re curious about my reasoning, or know that you have specific needs for the type of work you do, then read on and you can learn a bit more about my recommendations and see which app is the best match for you. I’m not paid by anyone to write these reviews. I’ve tried almost every drawing app out there because I use them weekly as part of my work. It’s partially fun to know what’s available, and partially fun to check every year and see if there’s a new app that’s going to be better. You can see some of my previous sketches on Dribbble, if you’re curious about what I actually create with these apps.
Over the last few years I’ve been writing about the best drawing apps for the iPad. You can read the two previous entries from 2017 and 2018.
For me these apps fit into a few categories, depending on what I’m in the mood for.
For my work as a Product Designer, I spend time designing software, and as part of that I’ll do a lot of the initial concept work on the iPad. I’ve found that I’m able to think better when I’m starting something with a pencil in hand (even if it’s an Apple Pencil), versus manipulating a mouse or a trackpad on a screen. So, for the purpose of this post I’ll be sharing about my favorite apps specific to creating initial designs for software.
If you want to learn more about my process as a Product Designer, I wrote twoposts walking through that.
The criteria being, how do these apps help me in my work. The one exception to this is when I create illustrations. The apps I use are sometimes the same, but the tools I’ll need are different. If you’re an illustrator, then my recommendation would change to use Procreate, as it’s become my favorite app for that. The apps I use do have some crossover between product design and illustration, but this review is just focused on the design side of things.
This is an amazing app for creating low fidelity sketches and designs. As I’ll share below, I only started using Procreate a few months ago because Linea Sketch wasn’t working with the beta of iPadOS. If I hadn’t been forced away from Linea, I’d still be using it exclusively for my work. Now that it’s been updated to work on iPadOS, I’ll be curious to see over the coming weeks if it still remains my top choice.
There are a few slight negatives with this app, which I’ll touch on now, but the positives usually outweigh the negatives. The two negatives are: the app only contains five layers per artboard, and you can’t increase the canvas size beyond the default size of your iPad screen size. With the type of work I do these issues can be annoying. There are times where it’d be nice to have up to 10 layers, as it allows you to be a bit more messy, and a bit less destructive. By destructive I mean, the moment you have to combine two layers to make room for another, you lose the separation that your artwork had. Sometimes you need that still, and you have no choice but to make a duplicate of the entire artwork, or just combine layers.
Having the canvas size limited to the size of your device means you’ll need to plan your brush size at the beginning. For example, if your design is of some software with a single screen interface, working with a larger brush size isn’t a problem. It will look great on the device, and you’ll have plenty of room to add details such as components and controls to the design. However if you decide you want to add more screens, such as additional pages for the software, or alternate states, you quickly run out of screen real estate in Linea. This means you need to resize the drawings you’ve done, losing fidelity and quality in the process. Also, by resizing you’re changing the width of the lines in your artwork, which will look strange when you try to find a new brush size to match them. These aren’t deal breakers, but they’re annoying enough times that I’ll hesitate now when deciding which app to start drawing with. If I think I have a lot of screens to create for my design, I’ll probably prefer Procreate because I can have more layers, and the canvas can be larger.
With that said, there’s a LOT to like about this app. If those two concerns aren’t an issue for you, I’d absolutely use it for your design work. The color palettes are helpful, the brushes are amazing, and the layer system is simple to understand and useful 90% of the time.
My one bonus wishlist item would be a watercolor brush, but that’s just being nitpicky. Adding a nice watercolor background to the screens I’m making helps them looking nicer when I’m sharing them around.
One thing that Linea does better then the others is something that’s a bit intangible. It’s delightful to use. The interface is simple, but obvious. While Procreate is unobtrusive, it’s not clear how everything works, and takes a while to learn. Linea is just simple enough that you can start drawing right away, and your iPad screen isn’t crowded with a bunch of unnecessary interface options or an interface that just feels too big (like Paper).
That extra layer of delight is what draws me to the app. I get this feeling when I open it, a feeling of “it’s time to create now, your canvas awaits”, that I don’t get with any other app.
In addition rotating artwork, selecting artwork, cutting and copying, duplicating, resizing, all work really well. Except for one bug I’ve encountered (where duplicated art is blurry, but copy+pasted art is not), I really like the tools for manipulating my drawings.
If you’re a developer, designer, product manager, or team lead, and you’re looking for a great iPad App to create some simple sketches and low fidelity designs, then use Linea Sketch. Full stop. If you have some extra time to learn Procreate, and know you’ll need additional layers and larger canvases, then I’d include it as your secondary option as a backup.
In the past I would have recommended Paper, but I’m hesitant to recommend it because Linea is just better in almost every regard (the one exception being the beautiful lines that Paper brushes create).
So, I personally use all three apps that I’m talking about today. Now that I can finally install Linea again, I’ll likely use it the majority of the time, Procreate will be a minority when I want larger canvases, and Paper 53 will be for those few times I’m still feeling nostalgic, or have an idea I want to make without the trouble of tweaking any settings (which is rare).
This is one of the most advanced pieces of software I’ve ever used on the iPad. It’s amazing in its breadth, especially since its simple interface hides a lot of complexity and power.
Its extra feature that gives me delight is the always on screen recording. I can export a video of my work when I’m done, and see the sped up process from start to finish of the whole drawing. Note: if you keep changing canvas sizes, like I do, you’ll probably find this feature less useful overall. Still, it’s been a delight to play with a few times.
Before this Summer I had only tried Procreate a few times, and mostly for illustration work. However, because I’d signed up for the iPadOS beta, my previous favorite entry (Linea Sketch) wasn’t working, so I had to switch to a new app. This forced me to learn more about Procreate, and actually come to appreciate the extra features it offers.
First and foremost this app is designed for illustration more than the design work I do. However, at the end of the day, it also does that well enough that I used it for several months with few complaints. I’m able to use layers, cut and paste, rotate, resize, etc. This did take a bit to learn, but is fine now. The part that was the most challenging for me, somewhat surprisingly so, was finding a few brushes that I liked. Procreate is known for its abundance of brushes within the app, as well as third party brushes you can purchase. It took me a while to finally get a few brushes that felt simple and flowed well without looking blurry.
So, in the brushes department the abundance of options available is actually its downfall, at least for my purposes.
The one other negative for me is the flow for cutting out part of the image, then moving it deleting it. This process feels slow and less intuitive than Linea or Paper. It’s fine, but it feels clunky and took a little while to get used to.
You’ve probably noticed I like to start with the negatives. That’s so I can get them out of the way. At the end of the day all of these apps really are pretty great though! So, on the positive sides the canvas resizing is probably my favorite feature. The fact that I can start prototyping, and expand my canvas as needed, is a huge deal. It means I don’t have to plan ahead with my brush sizes (as I do with other apps).
Layers also work really well with Procreate, and are such a valuable part of designing something, as they help with working non destructively while drawing on top of existing artwork.
Overall it’s sufficient enough that I can get my work done. Several parts of the interface feel clunky, and even choosing colors isn’t as ideal as I’d like. However, the canvas resizing, layers, and brushes (when I could finally find a few that worked for me) are good.
From an illustration perspective Procreate has become my favorite app, I trust the power of what I can create with it, and having more than just a single or a few layers is a big deal.
Overall I’d consider Procreate a great tool to have if larger canvas sizes are important, and you’re willing to put the time in to get comfortable with brushes. Also, be ready to watch a tutorial or two online about how to do basic things like copy+paste, work with layers, etc.
Above is an example of some work I made with Paper. Really love some of the beautiful designs I’ve been able to do. The downfall (as I’ll share below) is it can be a bit tedious to create something like this, because of its lack of layers and resizing/mirroring/rotating.
This app is extremely simple, and I used to love that. With one exception you can’t layer your artwork, you can’t rotate artwork or resize it, you can’t change the canvas size, and until recently you were extremely limited on brush sizes (that’s been resolved now, which I’m super happy with).
In addition the actual interface is far too large. The toolbar for brushes (at least on an iPad Pro) could be half its, freeing up needed space to actually show the canvas (this is one thing by the way that Linea Sketch solves perfectly, better than Procreate or Paper).
Despite these negatives, Paper has one thing going for it that has occasionally pulled me back. The actual work I create is almost always something I’m proud of. The brush options available are amazing. The watercolor is useful. The marker and pen lay down some of the most beautiful lines I’ve seen on an iPad App. I can’t quite figure out what it is, but something about the way the “ink” transfers to the screen makes it feel real and organic. It’s almost like it has a slight roughness and texture to it. This used to be my favorite app, and I rated as my top choice in the past.
Each app I rate has something it does for delight, and those intangibles really do add up in product design. With Linea is the beautiful toolbars, with Procreate its the screen recording, and with Paper its the lovely brushes.
If you want to just jump into an app and do some quick sketching, and know you won’t be able to tinker or change much, then Paper is amazing. Sometimes I’ve used that limitation to force myself to start sketching out a concept, knowing I couldn’t tinker or change things too much along the way. It’s the app that I started with, and it still has some of my favorite drawings in it.
If the team behind Paper could introduce true layers, and find a way to shrink the UI, I could see myself being pulled back into it. Resizing and rotating would help a lot as well.
A note on layers: I learned a while back that you can use faux layers, where the pen tool will draw on top of the artwork, and the marker tool will draw underneath. However, it’s destructive in that you can’t separate the layers later.
I’ve used almost every drawing app on the iPad, and will cycle through and recheck the most popular ones about once a year. Other than the three listed above, I just haven’t been able to get into any of the other apps. I’ve tried, multiple times, and not without a lot of energy. I wanted to like other apps, but so far none of them have been useful enough to make part of my design workflow.
Notes by Apple – This is an app that wants to be useful for drawing and sketching, but it’s just not good enough. I have tried it many times, but I don’t waste my time anymore. I just go with Linea Sketch.
Affinity Designer – This is a really powerful app, and I suspect it could replace Illustrator someday for me as desktop class software for graphic design. However, it’s not a drawing app, it’s an app for full on vector art and graphic design. For drawing and low fidelity sketching (which is my whole focus right in this article) I wouldn’t use it.
Adobe Illustrator Draw – This is one of those apps that I wanted to like. But it’s just not good enough for the things I need. Which is funny because I’m a huge fan of Adobe Illustrator for the Mac, I’ve used that for 15 years, and still use it for illustration and graphic design. But for the iPad it’s not good enough.
Concepts – This is an app with a great idea. Vector drawing, with a huge artboard. However, the brush navigation tool is weird. I’ve spent a long time trying to learn and navigate the app, but every time I just get frustrated and walk away. In addition, drawing feels clunky and slow, and the brushes don’t flow onto the page like the other apps. I think it’s because the app is vector, rendering your lines takes a few milliseconds longer than the other apps.
Adobe Fresco – I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’ve been keeping an eye on it and will give it a full review once it’s released. The thing that has my attention is the fresco ink, which stays wet and malleable. That’s new for an iPad app, and could make it worth using when it comes to illustration work, or even shading in screens for product design.
I believe inside all of us exists a desire to create. Most of the time we’re merely consumers, passively or actively. For those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to make time and space, we have an opportunity to use our abilities to add something to the world.
The more I slow down and pause on my desire to consume content from other people, the more my mind kicks around ideas for me to make and build things.
Whether it’s creating related to my work (being a product designer), building something physically, writing, baking, crafting, or a million other things; there exists this space where I want to get lost in the craft of making something. It’s exhausting, rewarding, and always challenging.
I shared some brief thoughts on buying a GORUCK GR2 previously. Having just taking a week long trip with it, I have a bit more to share.
For my trip I spent 2 days traveling, and six days in the hotel. Because I knew I could wash my clothes, I packed pretty lightly in that regard. That meant bringing swim trunks, shorts, and pants for bottoms. For tops I brought four t-shirts, a light sweater, and a light rain jacket. I wore the pants and shoes while traveling, and also packed sandals.
The shirts were easy to wash, along with underwear and socks.
The rest of my stuff in the bag was toiletries, laptop and iPad gear, and a few other minor things.
The bag worked well to fit it all, but still doesn’t quite feel like the perfect match. For one I also packed a GORUCK 10L bullet, which doesn’t pack down very well. That meant the overall weight of the bag included roughly eight pounds of backpacks.
While I love the look of the GORUCK Bullets, I can’t quite bring myself to like how their larger bags look or feel while traveling.
I intend to keep experimenting. Maybe I’ll find a much smaller EDC backpack for when I arrive, and keep the GR2 for the travel.
With the way flights work these days, having to fit a roller bag on the plane is getting more and more stressful. Having a single backpack means I can easily fit it overheard, or squeeze it into the area under my feet.
The more I think about it, the more I want to keep traveling with just a 15L Bullet. It would mean bringing a smaller laptop (15 inch MacBooks are too large), and possibly skipping the iPad altogether.