Why write

Over the years I’ve had various motivations for writing on this site. Recently the main reason has been because I have something I want to get out of my system.

Writing can be for others to read, but it can also be for me to process how I’m thinking about something.

So, I’ve begun writing about things that interest me and that I want to formulate into something that’s a bit more structured than fleeting thoughts. It’s a good medium to practice in without much pressure. I don’t know who reads this, and don’t have tracking or comments turned on. Every few months someone tells me they enjoyed an article. And that’s about it. I love it.

if you have questions about something I’ve written on, feel free to email me: joshua@joshuawold.com. I’d be happy to discuss, and it might inspire me to push out another article.

I Am Mother – My movie review

As a post-apocalyptic story, this film explores themes that dig into what it means to be human, and how humanity affects the world around us; all this against a backdrop that isn’t the exact world we live in, but something similar.

I Am Mother begins with a brief text description of an event that has ended humanity, and you soon learn that it’s not safe for anyone to exist outside. I took this at face value, but realized later that, while technically correct, the spirit of what it intended was deceitful. This is a theme that continues throughout the movie.

Mother, a droid, raises a little girl from an embryo to adulthood, and trains her in the ideals of humanity. We later see that this girl, called Daughter, is what Mother considers to be an exceptional human, testing at the top of the charts in all of her scores. The intent for Daughter is to be an example for others to follow as the world is repopulated. Daughter is raised in a secure indoor vault, with all of the resources needed to sustain life. With her are 65,000 embryos kept in cold storage. This vault is the backdrop for most of the movie, and its tight spaces and stark mechanical walls and locks provide tension to the scenes.

The beginning scenes of raising Daughter hit close to home for me. I have two small children, and movies with sensitive themes centered around children affect me more deeply than they used to.

As daughter grows, the droid cares for her in a manner which could be interpreted as sentient and loving, or programmed and and indifferent. In the beginning of the movie I leaned towards caring, but the backdrop of the film, in the vault, didn’t make it feel like a home. If you’re unsure about watching, I highly recommend the film. The ending left me with questions, but I felt it was still satisfying.

Spoilers ahead.

In the beginning of the film Mother starts the process of taking the frozen embryo out of storage and placing it in a large glass sphere filled with liquid, representing an artificial womb. As she does this you see a countdown clock for 24 hours. This rapid process helps the embryo to reach full gestation in a day. As this happens text on the screen appears and indicates how much time has passed since the apocalypse event.

Some quick math helped me quickly realize that something was off. When we finally see Daughter fully grown, she’s a young woman, but not anywhere close to the age needed for the 13,000+ days that have passed. I did a check on the actor’s age to make sure I was right, and realized over 35 years had passed since the apocalypse. This woman we seen grown up is much younger. This intention clue set up tension in the movie as I tried to figure out the 10+ missing years might have gone.

Daughter wasn’t the first child to be raised. Mother had two children before this, but aborted both in a furnace because their early scores weren’t satisfactory. This is not shown, but Daughter finds evidence much later of what happened.

As the film progresses, another woman appears at the entrance of the vault, and has a story of being wounded from other droids. Daughter lets her in secretly, and helps her recover from a gunshot wound when the secret is discovered. As the film progresses the viewer tries to figure out what part of this stranger’s story is true, and where Mother fits into the whole picture. Slowly we realize that bother Mother and this stranger use truth and deception to their own advantage.

At the end of the movie Daughter convinces Mother to let her raise her newly born brother, and allows herself to be killed. Because the Droid has a mind that exists in other machines, she uses another body to kill the stranger. The last few minutes left me thinking about its themes and how the movie would continue past the end credits. Daughter is alive and allowed to raise her siblings.

I wonder why Mother killed the stranger, and why she was allowed to live all this time. I also wonder about Daughter’s motivations, as the ending implies she will take the place of Mother in raising humanity, and may follow the ethical path set out for her from birth. However, as a human she still retains her humanity, so what type of world will she create? Will she be kind and caring to all, or will she also follow the themes impressed on her from childhood that some humans are better than others.

The videography throughout is stunning. Many scenes could be a still photo. Dialogue is efficient when used, and imagery conveys the story as much as talking. In one scene a woman holds an axe and walks through steel doors, reminiscent of the 1984 Apple ad. In another two people walk through deserted landscapes, reminding me of scenes from Interstellar, traveling through another world. As we contrast scenes inside and outside the vault, we see how life and machines have existed, and how one side won long ago. Humanity is supported by the machines it has created, but these machines decided to only elevate the parts of humanity they deem acceptable.

I absolutely recommend this movie. The story is well done, and all three actors (including the voice for Mother) deliver exceptional performances.

Getting a grip on my digital life

I’m too closely intwined with my digital life. I have a problem. At times it holds my attention more than my real life, and some days it’s hard to tell the two apart.

Technology has been wonderful for me. As a teenager, with unknown prospects for where I could take my life and career, technology opened doors for me. It’s been a force for good in my life, and because of that I’ve started to believe any new iteration of technology must be good.

As a young teenager I worked an entire Summer in the scorching heat of Arizona to save up enough money for my first laptop, costing roughly $1,500. Around that time I started to realize that computers weren’t just for gaming or instant messaging, I could also be creative. At that time a battle between my ability to create versus consume began. This was in 2001.

It all started with graphic design. I realized I could take my love of drawing into a digital medium and create things online. And, people would pay me for it.

Years later I added fancier devices: an iPhone and iPad, and had a full arsenal of software and hardware available to pursue creativity. But along the way the battle for creativity versus consumption picked up.

The first problem I faced was gaming. From ages 9-13 I was deeply absorbed in any game I could get my hand on. Entire months disappeared into fantasy worlds. Cracks in this cycle began when I realized I could be creative and earn some money with it.

For a few years things went in a more positive direction, I mostly ignored the consumption side of computer use, and technology became a tool primarily for career growth.

Then, slowly consumption crept back in. Digg, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Gmail, Slack, all of my favorite tech and news sites, and more. Then, when I got my hands on an iPod Touch (and later an iPhone in 2012), the floodgates really opened up. Any information or entertainment I wanted was available to me, right at my the touch of a finger.

I successfully fought against most of it some of the time, especially since had personal and career interests that were more important. However, in all the spare moments between things, or when I felt that I was fighting too hard against learning something, the temptation to take a break and pull at the infinity pool in my phone became too strong.

Other than a few rare respites, my quiet times disappeared. At 31 years old, I’m right at the edge of a generation that remembers life before and after connected technology. I remember times of boredom and play away for screens.

I’ve tried a dozen ways to curb my internet and consumption use. I’ve tried life hacks, minimalism, and sheer force of will. Some days I win, and other days it’s too much to ignore the siren calls beckoning me.

With all of that context I tried something last month. I picked up a new book from Cal Newport called Digital Minimalism. I’m a huge fan of his work. His blog and previous books have inspired me in career decisions, as well as how I’ve used social media.

In 2016, inspired by Deep Work, I quit social media for 30 days. When I came back I realized how little I actually needed any of it. I have since eliminated my usage of social media by about 80%. My trick there has been to unsubscribe and unfollow everyone on all my accounts. It’s made social media mostly boring. However, I still go on to try and find a dopamine hit throughout the day. A decade of habits is hard to break, but I’ve gotten close.

When I saw a new book by Cal Newport, I knew I needed to read it, but hesitated for a few months. I was worried it would hit me over the head with guilt about the way I was too absorbed by consumptive technology. But I was wrong. It was a genuine and heartfelt guide to inspire all of us to live a better way. It offered encouragement and directions for how I could fight back against the tide.

In the middle of reading the book I decided it was time to spent 30 days disconnecting from the sources of mindless input I’ve grown accustomed to using. When I did this in 2016 I eliminated social media, now I wanted to include almost everything else.

At the same time. I was reading Make Time, a book by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. It describes a specific category of activities as infinity pools.

Infinity Pools are apps and other sources of endlessly replenishing content. If you can pull to refresh, it’s an Infinity Pool. If it streams, it’s an Infinity Pool. This always-available, always-new entertainment is your reward for the exhaustion of constant busyness.

This concept resonated with me. I have a lot of infinity pools. Even if the content they offer isn’t great, it’s still comforting to gaze in and try to get a dopamine hit. So, anything with a pull to refresh lever can count.

So, I knew I needed to try something. I also didn’t want to eliminate actual hardware devices, not yet at least. I wanted to see if there was another way.

For the past 11 years or so, I’ve willingly accepted most forms of technology into my life. Whether it’s entertainment, productivity, or learning, I’ve had a habit of trying it all. Now, because of my own attempts at simplifying my life, I’ve been able to successfully moderate a number of these sources of content.

However, I’m a single imperfect person fighting against consumption designed by some of the brightest minds in the world. Trying to hack my way through using these streams of data is a losing battle.

I may try to curb my social media use, cut down on news intake, and limit my time playing games and streaming TV. But it’s not enough. I can resist a few hours or days at a time, but I eventually go back.

So, when I heard about a plan from Cal Newport, I was inspired to try it.

The basic plan is to eliminate all consumption for 30 days. If it’s not critical to maintain relationships or your career, cut it out. There can be exceptions for specific cases, but on the whole this means no social media, no digital gaming, no tv or movies, and no content sites.

So, I wrote my list of things I’d eliminate for 30 days.

I then created a wallpaper and set it as a background on my phone and laptop. To further enforce the habit I blocked all of the domains on my devices.

Here’s the list:

So, how did it go?

For the first two days I felt jittery. I kept pulling out my iPhone to check Instagram, look at Reddit, or read one of my favorite blogs. I even typed the urls to my favorite sites multiple times without realizing what I was doing. It was only when I’d see a blocked site notice that I’d remember my detox plan.

After the first few days I settled into a few new routines. Because most of the sites I would normally visit were off limits, I used a lot of downtime for reading books, listening to podcasts, etc.

At night time, I went to bed roughly an hour earlier than I normally would, since reading a book isn’t nearly as stimulating as watching a movie or browsing Instagram.

In summary it was absolutely a good thing.

I’m now given it some thought for how I can make lasting changes.

As I’m writing this, I logged back into most of the sites I’d blocked, since we’re right on the 30 day mark.

On all of my social media accounts I only found two messages that were folks reaching out. I dropped a quick response back to both, but neither was urgent. On my favorite tech blogs I read through the last month of articles, and realized I hadn’t missed anything important.

Overall this detox was tremendously valuable for me. I still wasted some time on refreshing email and visiting sites that were useless (for example, box office results for Avengers: Endgame), but on the whole this detox gave me control of my time again.

The biggest takeaway is that I don’t need most of the sites I blocked, and I need to find better ways to use my time on the whole. We’ll see how that goes.

My illustration process

Recently I did an illustration for Jonathan Wold for an article he wrote on his site. In this post I wanted to share a bit of the process, and hopefully inspire others with how messy it can be to get from the beginning to the end.

We’ve worked together quite a bit in the past (we’re brothers after all), and we both know how to trust each other to get from an initial idea to the end result. Often Jonathan comes up with the idea for an illustration he wants, and then we have an initial chat about it. From there I try a few things out, and then I’ll text them over for feedback.

At that point he gives thoughts on what he likes and doesn’t, and I’ll keep tweaking. The key factor though, is at any point I’m welcome to disagree with his assessment and push in a different direction. In fact I do that often, maybe half of the time. He trusts that the end results will work out, and prefers instead to give general guidance, but not to push too hard in any direction. Because of that I try not to get too attached to any one idea until I take it from sketches to full on illustration.

First, here’s the final image:

And here’s the most of the steps to accomplish that:

And here are some of the reference images I was using throughout the process. To show that all design is inspired by others.

And finally, thanks to Procreate I can share a video of the final step. Hope you enjoy!

My current setup, 2019 edition

For traveling

If I’m working at a coffee shop for the day (I like to do that 1-2 days/week, even though I work from home), or if I’m on a trip, I’ll likely bring some combination of the following.

  • Backpack – My current favorite is the Bullet Ruck 15L. It fits a 15″ laptop quite comfortably, and since I carry my laptop in a sleeve I’m not as worried about it getting scratched up or bumped around.
  • Laptop – 15″ 2018 MacBook Pro with a leather sleeve. I debated between the 13″ and 15″, but ultimately decided a more powerful computer and a larger screen would be a good thing, especially for more eyes. I’ve started getting tired of staring at small screens. So far (and it’s still quite new) I haven’t had any problems with the keyboard.
  • Stand – For the past few years I’ve been using the Roost Laptop Stand. And, while it looks a bit funny, I’ve found it incredibly useful and compact. It helps me use my laptop with a mouse, and elevates it to where I’m not staring down at the table while I’m typing.
  • Mouse – I use the Apple Magic Mouse 2 with side bumpers from elevation lab. It helps make the mouse feel a bit more wide in the hand, and might make it more ergonomic.
  • Keyboard – Currently using the Magic Keyboard, I like that it has an on/off toggle finally! I can disable it in my backpack so it doesn’t try typing away on my laptop.
  • Mousepad – I have a leather one I picked up a while back, and love it. I’ve started using this less and less, but sometimes I find the tables at coffee shops can feel sticky, and in those cases having a mousepad is a good thing.
  • Power – Right now I have a bit of a problem. My iPad and laptop use USB-C for power, my phone uses Lightning, and my headphones use Micro USB. The way I solve this is by bringing 2-3 cords at a time, as well as power bricks. I also carry a small phone charger with a lightning cable built in. I also carry this power strip along wherever I go. It functions as an extension cord and lets me plug everything into one outlet if necessary. My only negative is that the outlet area is a bit bigger than I’d like.
  • iPad – Wherever I go I typically bring my iPad Pro (2018 12.9″) with an Apple Pencil. I’ve been doing a lot more illustrations lately and love having it around.
  • Timer – This is a new edition to my set. I’ve started using a physical timer to help me focus for 24-45 minute periods of time without distractions. The only negative with the one I picked up is the screen scratches VERY easily.
  • Pencil and paper – My current favorite setup is a mechanical pencil with a Steno Field Notes. I really like having my notes lay flat, and steno pads do that the best.
  • Headphones – For Christmas my wife bought me some refurbished noise canceling headphones. They work perfectly. I love them. I lost my AirPods around the same time, so I’m waiting to pickup some new ones. As a backup I carry some Apple Earpods as well.
  • Jacket – Wherever I go I also bring my Patagonia Puffer Jacket. Never know if it will get cold, even in a coffee shop.

When I’m in town I like to visit my favorite coffee shop / coworking space a few days a week. Since I work for a distributed company, they offer a coworking allowance which covers what I might spend on coffee (decaf vanilla late with caramel and oat milk please), as well as the cost of using the adjoining coworking area.

It’s kind of a funny thing, but at home I’ve gotten in the habit of sitting in a likely unergonomic fashion. I don’t have my legs on the ground, instead I sit on one and adjust my legs throughout the day. When I’m at a coffee shop I keep my shoes on, and tend to sit in a way that’s better for my posture.

The only negative is most places outside of my house are loud, so taking calls can be a bit more challenging.

Working from home

At home there’s a few additional things that makeup my office. I have a standing/sitting desk (which I keep in the sitting position 95% of the time), and an IKEA Markus, chair, previously recommended on the Wirecutter. Planning to upgrade both of these this year, so I’ll post my findings when I do.

For a monitor I’m currently using the LG UltraFine 5K display. I like to have it facing directly in front of me, with the laptop off to the side on the Roost stand.