Friday Links Issue 05

It’s been a bit of an off week. After posting ten things last week, life happened. Meaning summer in New York. I met up with friends. Stayed out later than usual. Slept in. I didn’t make time to write. I returned to the gym after freezing my membership for three months.

Back on the wagon.

Kurt Vonnegut Explains Drama — Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers posted this in 2009. Kurt Vonnegut describes life like a line graph. Movies and books are roller coasters while real life is a pretty straight line.

That’s why people invent fights. That’s why we’re drawn to sports. That’s why we act like everything that happens to us is such a big deal.
We’re trying to make our life into a fairy tale.

Social media is our highlight reel. It gives us a chance to edit our lives for others to view.

“Oh did you see so and so’s picture on Instagram? Always traveling. Do they even work?” A lot of the time they’re traveling because they work so much and need to get away to keep from burning out1. Social media gives us the layers and brushes to hide and show what we want.

Eric Ripert appeared on The Watch podcast

Andy Greenwald had Eric Ripert on his show to talk about 32 Yolks, Eric’s memoir. In building software products, it’s important to keep the user in mind2. The same goes for chefs.

People in love, you can see… even in the street you can see who they are. People in business, you know they are focused on the discussion and so on. It’s our job to notice that. It’s not that difficult but you have to pay attention.

They discuss art and craftsmanship. Chefs create art. Dali needed to learn the craft and how to re-create a clock. It’s learned through repetition. The art is in having the imagination to melt the clock. Ripert doesn’t think anything’s wrong with excelling at cooking as a craft. But the steps beyond that are what interest him.

He’s interested in creating beautiful and imaginative dishes. Then the craftsmanship comes back in re-creating the appearance and taste of pieces consistently. First you make an omelet. Then you mix ingredients together until three stars come out.

Seth Godin on the Beautiful Writers podcast

When Tim Ferriss asked about Seth’s writing ritual, he didn’t quite answer. This time, though, he shed some light on the nuts and bolts.

I don’t think you need to wait until you’re in the mood to write. But I do think having tools that give you a proustian boost that remind you of what it is to do your best work are critical. At least for me.

If I’m starting a new project I go to Muji. I get the big size spiral bound. I get just the right pencil or the pen. It’s only for that. No grocery lists are going in that thing.”

Happy to hear he likes Muji. I bought a stack of their storyboard notebooks in Japan because Muji discontinued them in America. They give me a creative boost. Seth’s answer reminded me of The Creative Habit. Twyla Tharp talks about starting projects:

I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.

For Seth Godin, a lot of his projects require thinking and sharing thoughts through words. His box is a notebook.

For Twyla Tharp, her box is a box.

Looking at design sprints this way, the team has a giant box: the room. The group creates ideas and sketches. They stay on walls in the same room for a week. People leave the box for lunch and breaks. Everything happens in that giant box.

My programmers, a box is a new repo for bigger projects and a new branch for new subprojects.

I’ll continue exploring different boxes for writing. Right now it needs to hold a spreadsheet and some docs.

The Artisan Files: Jeffrey Way

One of these weeks, I’m going to experiment with creating screencasts. My favorite screencasts have been from and Laracasts.

Early on, egghead had a minimal site (HN thread) with a killer Angular demo using Webstorm. I bought Webstorm pretty much right after and still use it. I used Angular for side projects and today I happen to work on a large Angular app.

Laracasts is fairly new to me. Vue seemed to be popping up frequently and I wanted to try it out. I really enjoyed Jeffrey Way’s Vue tutorials.

My audience at Laracasts is a bit different: they’re working professionals (at some level or another), who want to stay up to date on the latest tooling, techniques, and patterns. I think of Laracasts as eight-minute abs: just short bursts of knowledge for you to fit in whenever you have the time.

I want to try creating my own resources providing short bursts of knowledge. I’ll follow some principles Tim Ferriss follows for his podcasts. He based his process on avoiding a pitfall other budding podcasters run into: after a few episodes, they’re overwhelmed with the effort required to edit. Early on, Tim decided to stick to minimal equipment, long episodes, and minimal editing.

I’ve made a couple short screencasts before. Rehearsing and choreographing takes a lot of time. I want to try recording my screen for half an hour, pulling clips out, and skipping audio. Instead I’ll write text to go with each video clip. I think it’ll be easier to follow along, but we’ll see.

  1. I also know a couple people that actually do mostly just travel and are very happy.

  2. Writing it out, this seems so completely common sense. The hard part is following through on the principle when other solutions would be more interesting to make.

Sunday Journal Issue 01

I’m experimenting with a writing journal. Maybe if I have a decided place to put these thoughts on writing, I won’t litter the rest of my posts with them. Also, I’d like for the other posts to be somewhat evergreen, with these being open to content or commentary on the week’s events. Let’s see how this goes.

Sunday — July 3: I started putting a spreadsheet together to track posts to mark statuses and things to do.

Monday — July 4: My friends did our big BBQ thing yesterday so I had a lot of time to write. Instead I spent it tinkering. I spent way too much time with the Hazel app trying to automate things. I’m happy with the result—I can add images to posts pretty quickly now.

I also had plans to start posting these things publicly (vs. just having them in a local Jekyll installation) around post #75. So that I wasn’t feeling satisfied just talking about a goal. But I realized that if things aren’t public, I never get them to a completely finished state. It seemed like half my posts had one link or image missing that I intended to fill in later. And it just adds up.

Tuesday — July 5: I’m starting to accept that this project—100 Posts in 100 Days (or OPIOD for short, or OPOD for shorter1)—will mostly be about writing. A lot of the material written about writing habits frame it for novelists. Since I’m not writing a novel, I guess my mind wandered until it had something to focus. And that seems to be writing about writing. Lately it seems like everything’s been framed in terms of how it applies to writing.

Also, I spent like 20 minutes making this Cell GIF to represent compacting trash. Well, most of it was just reading DBZ wikis, not actually making the GIF.

  • I just found a backup of my old daily writing app in Evernote2. I will definitely be writing about this. 54 pages of my thoughts from February to June in 2014. I built a small web app to learn Angular and used Firebase as a back-end. I’m embarrassed to say how many results searching for “I will work at Google” brings up. Two years later I was involved in launching Firebase 2.0 at Google I/O.

  • Just saw that underlines get converted to <ems> which isn’t great because all the links get italicized. Gonna go with a CSS fix for now. I might regret it later.

Wednesday — July 6: Yesterday, I wrote at Bryant Park and the New York Public Library (the main reading room was closed, likely due to ghosts). I finished up *book notes for *Save the Cat. I also opened up a new file and started outlining. This morning I’m sifting through that pile of garbage to see what I’ve got.

My math is wrong. I realized this today. I’ve had mid-August in mind. I forgot I started this project and then went pretty much two weeks without writing. So it’s more like 100 posts in 86-ish days.

I have 47 days until I hit 100 days, and I still have about 65 posts left. I’m going to keep the original August 23 goal and push. For the next 17 days, I’ll do two posts each day to catch up.

I think I can step up the book notes. I already read them, and that’s the time consuming part. Maybe I can make screencasts to show some things. Or start doing photo posts. Anything that lets me create posts quickly while having some value.

It’s time to double down on systems and structure. If that creates formulaic writing, maybe it’s fine for now. I’ll have to set up posts. That’s where book notes and the Four Link Fridays can come in handy. Maybe I can think of a third template.

I have an idea. This journal was going to be part of the Four Link Fridays. But it’s getting longer than expected. And the previous Friday Link posts (issue 01, issue 02, issue 03) are already some of the longest posts I have. This journal will be its own post. I’ll think about making it a weekly thing.

Thursday — July 7: This schedule spreadsheet is actually working pretty well in helping me focus on one thing.

Green means it’s done, blue means it’s done but I need to push the changes, pink means it’s today (aka focus on writing this one), yellow means it’s done but I need to do non-writing things, and red means I need to write and edit.

I have an Ideas sheet where I add post ideas, but I also use Google Keep and random Google Docs. I should probably start thinking of a system for this.

Friday — July 7: The links post took longer to write than expected. Through the week, I collected links in a combination of and Google Keep. But putting the post together still took longer than I planned. Also, writing about interesting links means re-reading the content and that takes longer sometimes.

In Keep, I was adding a bunch of links about one topic in a single note3 and I’d open all the links then browse through them. Ten minutes gone, easy. In the future I’ll try creating the excerpt there with enough context to write my thoughts without jumping around to different sites.

Saturday — July 8: I tried writing with UFC 200 in the background. Pro tip: don’t do this. It makes watching not as fun and writing not as productive at all. So I stopped writing and enjoyed the last few fights. I haven’t felt that invested in a fight event since Mayweather/Pacquiao. I knew I liked wrestling but I didn’t know I cared about Brock Lesnar that much.

Sunday — July 9: I’ve mentioned that I use Focus@Will for different sounds for focusing and lately have been using Spotify to play ambient and classical music along with some white noise. This week some of that showed up in Discover Weekly. Not ideal.

A friend and I have a shared playlist called “edm novices” to try and share what we think kids are listening to these days. It’s probably way off. But I’m listening to it right now and it seems to be good for workign without ruining my Discover Weekly.

Right now I’m at La Colombe. We have good iced coffee at work but I can’t make a drink as good as this and I should take the time to learn. I can probably get 80% of the way there.

This week I got away from outlining and giving myself structure before sitting down to fill things in. I’m trying to learn a couple things that can sort of be separated: improving as a writer and posting regularly.

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Grit by Angela Duckworth. I just finished a chapter focused on deliberate practice. It was a good reminder that regular feedback is an important element of effective practice.

  • Improving as a writer: I’ll need feedback on drafts and finished things. First, I’ll need a body of work for people to read. Then some people better at writing than I am. (Narrowing things down 0%.) The harder part is getting them to read my writing and be willing to give feedback. I’ll cross this bridge when I get to it. In the meantime, I’ll just keep trying to find out what pens people wrote with.

  • Posting regularly: Now here’s something quantitative that I can measure from my cabin in the woods/Dunkin Donuts. I can track how long it takes to write each post. And I can find where I’m distracted or wasting time.

This 100 Posts, 100 Days project will help me improve on the process and being consistent. Establishing that is a good step toward improving as a writer in a “gotta get the reps in” sense. Eventually I can combine quality and quantity and end the day by pulling my dentures out and sitting down to a chamomile tea.

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep working through that spreadsheet a few scrolls up.

  1. Or 💯PI💯D, for uncool dads.

  2. I thought this was lost forever. All this while trying to find a freaking rsync script.

  3. For example, I searched for creative projects involving a 100 day timeframe. There’s a bunch.

Friday Links Issue 04

Here we go. I’m approaching 40 days. Posting every day is feeling more and more routine. I really look forward to writing every day now. There few days where I have to squeeze it in between the margins. With some focus on scheduling and tracking things, that kind of day is becoming a rarity.

I started a writing journal that I’ll post on Sunday. Some of the meta dispatches that I would include in previous Friday link post we’re getting pretty long so I made them even longer and moved them out to their own post.

How writing 1000 words a day changed my life — Srivinas Rao

I would wake up every morning and I would just put my fingers on the keyboard. Most of what I wrote was garbage. It mainly still is.

But when I powered through the garbage(sometimes the first 200 words), I ended up with gold. I figured if I was willing to produce enough garbage, I would come with just enough gold to meet all my deadlines and expectations.

I’ve been listening to The Unmistakeable Creative podcast lately, hosted by Srivinas Rao. He’s mentioned that he writes 1000 words every day, and this post explains what he’s learned through that routine.

Writing seems to be powering through garbage and then cleaning up the garbage. I’m not even at where I’m finding gold yet. I believe following the process will pay off. If I stop posting, then I probably have stopped believing that. But even forty days in, I’ve learned enough to know that something good is coming out of this.

In another post, Srivinas discusses the planning, organization, and tools for consistently writing 1000 words a day. He uses MacJournal for his distraction free writing tool. For the most part, I use Google Docs. Other times I’ll use iA Writer. I looked at some MacJournal screenshots and it seemed familiar. Turns out I own a license from a 2009 MacHeist. I’ll have to give it a go.

Timequake excerpt: Swoopers and Bashers — Kurt Vonnegut

Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter anymore, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done. I am a basher.

Now I’m forgetting where I heard this concept mentioned. I have a feeling it was a podcast. So much for my memory. I’m trying to be a swooper. But I do notice that I can fall into a basher mode. I’ll work on sentences too much. There’s something to just getting things down. I’ve found that setting a timer is really helping.

It reminds me of something that Addy Osmani says about Programming: first do it, then do it right, then do it better. That mirrors closely writing systems wehre the first draft should just get ideas on paper as fast as possible, the second draft should fix organization and mechanics, and third draft should be where things sound nice.

*Writing it Down *— Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson has posted every day since 2003.

As all of you know, I write every day. It is my discpline, my practice, my thing. It forces me to think, articulate, and question. And I get feedback from it. When I hit publish, I get a rush. Every time. Just like the first time. It is incredibly powerful.

I’d like for writing every day to be my thing also. I also don’t really have a system for feedback. Which is currently fine because I also don’t happen to have any readers. When I hit publish, I then go through 5 or 20 posts to make sure Jekyll compiled the site correctly. And that I didn’t mistakenly upload a draft with [insert good story here] notes to myself.

Also, the post I excerpted is one of the few where Fred mentions writing daily1. I admire his restraint in this. I would probably start my post in bold letters calling out the consistency and raw determination I have. Actually I can do it right here: “For my first post today because by the way I write every day…2

Argentina On Two Steaks A Day — Maciej Cegłowski

The classic beginner’s mistake in Argentina is to neglect the first steak of the day. You will be tempted to just peck at it or even skip it altogether, rationalizing that you need to save yourself for the much larger steak later that night. But this is a false economy, like refusing to drink water in the early parts of a marathon.

I love steak and this article made me want to visit Argentina almost strictly to try their beef out. But I’m linking to this mostly to point to all the things Maciej makes. He’s the sole developer of pinboard, which I collect links with all the time. I’ve enjoyed Maciej’s dry humor when responding to people on Hacker News. I learned that he has a pretty extensive blog where he writes mostly about food and travel and doesn’t write very much about programming at all.

I didn’t start this project thinking I would write about writing so much. Something I’ve really enjoyed is noticing all the people who write regularly who who don’t consider writing their first job.

I poked around the site more and was surprised to find out that Maciej is the person who put together a talk I had seen before: The Website Obesity Crisis (transcript with slides). He also speaks about more serious topics. (He threw a joke in at the very end and it absolutely killed me.)

  1. However, the posts where he discusses his routine are excellent.

  2. And now I’m realizing I actually do mention this in just about every post. Just gotta start bolding it.

Friday Links Issue 03

Here’s a set of four links from the week. When I started this 100 posts in 100 days project, I knew I’d need some recurring posts to fill in some blanks. These link collections are supposed to be straightforward to write. Attacking my fear of using ‘ironically’ incorrectly head-on, they ironically take longer to write than other posts from the week. Here we go.

Stephen King & George R.R. Martin

I want to write something longer about this conversation between Stephen King and George R.R. Martin, but I thought it’d be good to write something now while it’s completely fresh in my memory. They take turns asking each other questions for an hour. Nearly all questions are answered with a great story from each author.

Martin: How do you write so many books?

King: When I’m working I do six pages a day.

Martin: And you usually hit six pages a day?

King: I do.

I admire them both even though I haven’t read a lot of their work. I love On Writing. Recently I read A Knight of Seven Kingdoms. It’s excellent, and now I have a sense of why the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so popular with readers. (Beyond the sense I got from being a loyal Game of Thrones viewer/wiki reader.)

Cal Newport: Monday Master Class (2008)

In this article, Cal Newport lays out actionable steps to taking the time to think and organize thoughts before a single key is pressed.

You type a little. You add a quote that makes sense. You glance at that little page count number in the lower left corner. You type a little more. Eventually you hit your magic page count. A couple quick editing passes and you’re done!

Basically my current writing process. Lately I’ve been thinking about things that go into writing that aren’t writing. Typing is the easy part. Similar to Gladwell saying most of the time spent writing a book is in thinking and organizing. At the start of this project, I’ve been focusing on the typing part, and I think that’s fine. I’ll slowly shift to thinking more deeply about subjects, but establishing the writing habit is important to me right now. Maybe I’ll try a few walks home from work without a podcast or audiobook, just trying to organize thoughts to write about. Then I can dive into transferring those thoughts to different boards when I’m home. Anything I can do to stay away from a text editor.

In the morning, I’ll wake up and fill in the blanks. It will be blissful.

How’s that for an affirmation1?

Ten thousand, one thousand, but first, ten

Maybe these Friday Five posts can be summaries of future posts that I’ll expand on. This week, I’ve run into a few links about the number of people looking at your work and how important they are.

I’d love to further compare and contrast the concepts behind these messages. Maybe that will help me find my first ten.

Five in my Four

Bonus content that nobody was asking for. Again, this weekly post is inspired by Tim Ferriss and his 5-Bullet Friday newsletter.

Person I’m enjoying following

This week I’ve been going back through Cal Newport’s books and his blog. There’s a lot of posts about writing, though they’re about writing term papers. A lot of it seems applicable to the types of things I want to write.

When I lay it out, it’s not exactly the next great American novel: I want to write blog posts with links. But I want them to be good. I want to practice organizing thoughts into narratives.

After all, I found Cal’s blog post interesting enough to write about and share 8 years after it was originally posted. And 8 years later, he’s still publishing books and churning out interesting blog posts. Cal doesn’t use social media, but I’ll continue trying to follow his example.

Purchase I’m loving

Amazon has a white Kindle again. It looks great in person (that picture is my girlfriend’s). I also started using a big sketchbook with post-its to have a portable board. It’s a good size for planning posts.

Oh yeah, I also picked up a bunch of Muji storyboard books on my trip to Tokyo. I’m still sad they discontinued them in America. There’s a scene from Silicon Valley showing fake accounts being made in a computer farm. Can I pay them to send Muji emails requesting the return of the storyboard book? “It took me all day, but I got the ten signatures I needed.” — George Michael Bluth

What I’m listening to

I’ve been listening to a lot of random “mozart piano” results on Spotify. Just to have something on when I’m writing or reading. I used to use Focus@Will, but I can’t if I’m on the subway. By view count, my most successful writing was about design. A good portion of it was written while listening to various sounds coming from Focus@Will. The Spotify + Bit Timer combo has been serviceable lately.

Most popular post on instagram

I only posted one photo on Instagram. I’ll re-post here:


I’ve been going through photos from recent travel. This one is from Sensoji Temple. Lots of beautiful lanterns. I shot this shortly after receiving a lukewarm fortune. Above is the full crop instead of the 1:1 version I posted to Instagram.

And here’s a bonus picture for the 4th of July weekend.

Quote I’m Pondering

From one of Steven Pressfield’s ad copy mentors in Nobody Wants to Read Your Shi* (currently free to download!):

“Kid, it’s not stealing if you put a spin on it.”

Well, I certainly stole these link headings. I hope everything under the headings is enough of a spin.

  1. Also this has a 2008 Ramit Sethi comment with his updated avatar. Ramit was out there just commenting on blogs. Ramit, just like us!