Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

I never took swimming lessons. My dad loved swimming and would try to take me out to the pool with the arm floaters and then he’d let go and I’d be yelling within a couple seconds.

Nobody wants to read your sh*t. The title can be backed up by opening up my site’s analytics. I enjoyed Steven Pressfield’s other books on writing: The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro.

They’re sometimes referred to as a trilogy. I’d say this is more like Prometheus than Alien: Resurrection. I think it’s more like, “Ok, you’re doing the work. You’re writing. Now it’s time to get better.”

I sat down at my laptop (again, right in the WordPress editor) to do the work. I knew I had a bunch of highlights from the book, so  I could just grab one and write thoughts on it. Except those highlights and notes seem to be gone after upgrading my phone. (I was highlighting in the Kindle app, but it was a free non-Kindle version of the book. I’m guessing they disappeared when I got an iPhone 7.)

Sometimes I use book excerpts a little heavily and they can be like the arm floaters. Today I’ll write without excerpts from the book.

It’s been a few months since I read it, which is great to gauge what really stuck with me.  I wrote it as a directive in my “Books I Read This Year” recap and it’s the lesson that stuck with me: always tell a story. That’s clear for novels and movie scripts. It applies in other fields, too.

The best ads tell a story in a few words. Even technical posts are more interesting when there’s a clear beginning (what’s the problem), middle (what’s can some technology do), and end (this is how the technology solved the problem).

In 5th grade, I went to the pool with some friends. I wasn’t allowed in the deep end because I hadn’t passed the swim test. Now I’m forgetting how they even knew who passed and who didn’t. I don’t remember them checking before you get in the pool. Maybe you get in trouble for running near the pool but you get in super trouble if you drown and haven’t passed the swim test.

Anyway, it was never great being one of the kids that couldn’t go to the deep end. There weren’t any pre-requisites for the swim test other than being ten years old. One day I got fed up and walked to the gym alone to take the test. First half: swim down the lane once, swim back once. No problem. Under control. To finish it off, I just had to wade for two minutes. I remember rising up as the lifeguard one-armed me to the surface.

Fall seven times, rise up eight, right? Right now I’m going sentence by sentence into the deep end. I’m seeing how far I can go and still keep my nose above the surface. Eventually I’ll be able to wade out there. Maybe I’ll write something worth two entire minutes of someone’s attention. Until then, I’ll write two crappy pages over and over until someone wants to read my shi*.

Body back October

I want to focus on my health in October. It’s just been slipping. Or it’s just becoming thirty. I am not sure. Here’s a list of things to improve on:

  • Sleeping more: Likely the most return on effort. If I can nail my sleep, the rest of this list will be a lot easier. If I do all the others but sleep 4 hours a night, I’ll feel horrible by the end of the month, guaranteed.
  • Workout consistency: I want to work out 3-4 times a week and lately it’s been more like once or twice a week. So I think I need to find a workout I can do every day, knowing I’ll miss a few days each week.
  • Eating less: I eat somewhat clean, but I eat more than is optimal for my goals. Between cleaning up my diet further and just eating less, I think I should focus on eating less right now.
  • Meditating more: I need to just do this. I believe it works. Which might be one of the first steps for it to work. I get less stressed and more focused when I was starting meditation. That also might mean I had less on my plate and felt like I had time to meditate. I’m sure I’m not the first one to say it: maybe I don’t have time not to meditate.
  • Fixing my knee: This is in line with the workout consistency. I need to get my knee checked but the last time I did, my PT suggested a few exercises (clamshells, various leg raises) to do every day. I need to do them.

I’ve read it’s bad to start a bunch of habits at once. A few of these are things that I’ve done consistently for long stretches. I think I’ll be able to make it a productive month. I’ll be sure to keep you updated when the month is over. I’ll even add it to the todos.

Mise En Place

I’m giving the Chromebook another spin. I was so enthusiastic about it initially. Then I finished my 100 posts and shifted over to tinkering more to work on layout and how to present what I had written. I didn’t really share the project widely. I still haven’t.

I’m writing directly in the WordPress editor. Here I’m trying to summon some of what Seth Godin says about writing his posts directly in the Typepad editor. I wrote about this in “Seth Godin and Stephen King’s pencil“:

The significance of writing in Typepad is not that it’s the best editor or anything, it’s that it’s the location where Godin goes and knows exactly what he’s there for and what he should be doing.

I just block quoted myself paraphrasing what Godin said on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. But I shouldn’t ramble so much. Godin is top of mind because he was on Brian Koppelman’s podcast this week, in an episode titled “Seth Godin Doesn’t Believe in Writer’s Block”. 

Godin and Koppelman discuss writer’s block after Godin says it doesn’t exist. I was also happy to hear Koppelman mention But What if We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman. Something from that book is that other explanations will come up but it doesn’t really change the day to day. Whether we’re in this dimension, in a simulation, or in a  multiverse, tomorrow is still going to happen the same way.

Koppelman relates that to writer’s block in that we can say it doesn’t exist or give it a different name, but the feeling is there. He found it helpful to define it as a block to acknowledge that there’s something that can be removed.

Godwin has a request for people with writer’s block: show me your bad work. You would rather be a stuck writer than a writer who is writing stuff you are not proud of.

What I’m arguing is, let’s begin by saying “I am writing work I am not proud of. I would like to to be better.”

While they might not agree on what it’s called, they seem to agree with how you deal with it. Writing a lot. Koppelman is a big proponent of Morning Pages (I’m a fan and always want to do it more). Seth says you just get into a place where you’ve got what you need and you just write. Even if it’s bad.

Mise En Place—it’s its own reward. The chef lines up all the ingredients, pre-cut ready to go. So that when the things are fired up, you just cook.

Well my friend Isaac Asimov, who published four hundred books before he died. Isaac got up every single morning, he used to near the Lincoln Center. He sat in front a manual typewriter and he typed for five hours. And if he didn’t have anything to say, he still typed. And that’s the answer to having enough good ideas. You have to have bad ideas.

Oh I’ve got bad ideas alright. Let’s see if I can learn to get to the good ideas.

I sat down forty minutes ago and thought I wouldn’t have anything to write about tonight. I felt blocked, but I resolved to sit here and type.

I am writing work I am not proud of. I would like it to be better.

In your head, then on paper, then on screen

I guess it’s pretty clear that the programming portions of Flash Boys were most interesting to me.

They had been forced to learn to program computers without the luxury of endless computer time. Many years later, when he had plenty of computer time, Serge still wrote out new programs on paper before typing them into the machine. “In Russia, time on the computer was measured in minutes,” he said. “When you write a program, you are given a tiny time slot to make it work. Consequently we learned to write the code in ways that minimized the amount of debugging. And so you had to think about it a lot before you committed it to paper. . .

I don’t plan as much as I should.

Even with this website (and its previous Jekyll iteration), I open the files up and do some HTML/CSS edits. Live coding! I think there’s a place for it but for laying content out I think the results will nearly always be better by doing it in a graphics editor first.

When I’m designing in code, a lot of it ends up being ready, fire, aim. Then I stop when I have something acceptable. There’s a chance it’s good, but it’s unlikely to be great.

Doing a layout on paper and then in Sketch (or other graphics editor.

On a project with a team, there’s usually some kind of project management. Design and development might be done by completely separate people so this isn’t tightly coupled.

Working on this site solo, I just need to be better about remembering to plan and design before writing any code. I’ve tried restricting my time by saying “Oh I’ll only tinker on the weekend. I’ll write during the week.” The restriction is artificial though, so I’d find myself in a code editor on any random day instead of writing.

This time around I’m just keeping an updated list on a todos page. It gives me the satisfaction of knowing it’s written down somewhere that I might possibly get to down the road. Then when I set time aside to tinker, I’ll have a list of things to better prioritize.

It’s not quite programming on a 1980s machine with a limited amount of computer time. Or programming on paper while in prison. (Like Serge did later on.)

This reminds me of something from Founders at Work. The founder talks about building the site in small pieces over years.

I could come in and look at it, figure out what I’m doing, do it, and be done for the day in 15 minutes. So if I could get one thing done a day, I was happy. A lot of stuff, if I could spend more time, I did, but as long as I could get one or two things done a week total, if I didn’t have time, I didn’t have time.

If I didn’t have time, I… skipped sleep to get it done, stressed over it, got frustrated? Those are certainly options, but a lot of times it might be best to just not do it.

It’s one of the luxuries you can take with a side project. And I’d say it’s a luxury you need to take if you’re in it for the long run.

Todo: break the items in the todos page into smaller pieces.

Sunday Journal: 30 Days, No Tinkering

I won’t edit HTML/CSS until I hit 30 (new) posts in WordPress. How’d I get to this point?

Basically everything I hoped for with WordPress in terms of not tinkering has absolutely not come to light. I tinkered with so much stuff this weekend. I even went back and forth between themes. I went about it pretty poorly. It makes a nice demo to code things live. And is relatively fast. But if I sat down, sketched it out, thought it through, then moved it into code, I would’ve been better off. It’s fine. I think it’s in a good place now for the types of posts I plan to focus on: book notes posts, photo posts, and link posts.

I used WordPress for my blog in high school. Prior to that I tried Greymatter and b2. WordPress has changed a lot in over ten years. What hasn’t changed is my development approach. Change some things. Check it out. Change some other things. See if it works. It didn’t work. Google around for some snippet to try.

You can spend many many hours doing this and I did. I’m going to hit the gym for a mental break, then I’ll try to do these things for a few quick wins:

  • Move more book notes posts over. These are going to be the bulk of what I want to write about. A main motivation for moving over to WordPress is that a lot of times I’m reading and want to write about a passage. But then I think it should be a part of a bigger book notes post that I’ll write after I’m completely finished with the book. Eventually I forget and these things I had a lot of ideas about get lost in the rest of the highlights. I’m betting a collection of 3-5 individual posts as I read will be better than trying to do one long post at the end of reading.
  • Create a to-do page. I’ll write down things to do in the future when I set aside time to tinker.
  • Migrate my 100 Days, 100 Posts page. This will still link to the Jekyll versions of the posts. I’m oddly happy with the collective pile of garbage this is. Because it’s my pile of garbage. This blog will slowly swallow all my other online work as I figure out sensible ways to present them here. The easier part is everything from my Jekyll blog that used to live here. The harder things will be moving my stuff over.

iPhone 7 Plus Sample Photos

Thought it’d be good to share some first impressions of the iPhone. Not sure if the phone is using optical zoom. I can’t seem to trigger it manually. The photos seem pretty great. I think my iPhone 6 photos were good too. (Quality wise not like my photographic ability.) I’d need to do some side by side stuff to really be able to tell the difference and what kind of improvement it provides. I’m not gonna do it. I just want to show what’s possible with an iPhone.








Thirty days of WordPress

I did 100 days and it was a good amount of time to figure out a bunch of things I shouldn’t do. I still want to nail down what I should be doing. I want to write. I want to improve as a writer. That means sharing some work. Maybe not all the crappy pages. Just some of them. We’ll see.

Anyway for the first 100 days I used Google Docs and Jekyll. I was familiar with Jekyll. I love using it for putting sites with some structure together. I saw that it could handle hundreds of posts. Paul Stamatiou has a Jekyll blog with thousands of posts. Ten years worth.

Now he writes great, very (very) in-depth posts every couple months. I think Jekyll is great for that. I also think it’s great for a custom photo blog like he has.

Jekyll sometimes made me feel more like Mr. Hyde. I would just want to post something then a couple of hours of HTML and CSS later…

So I installed WordPress. Something I realized about a lot of people I’m looking at whose path seems to make sense as a writer—they aren’t using Jekyll. Even Paul’s thousands of posts were converted from WordPress posts.

I want to write shorter pieces more frequently. (Taken to that extreme you’ve got Twitter.) Docs and Jekyll allowed me to separate writing from the code. But not always the publishing part. I’d need to finish things in Markdown. It’s too close to code. Keep me in a rich text editor.

I want to be able to go through the entire thing on my phone. (Without setting up a bunch of scripts.) Everyone likes the feeling of completing a post. I’ve had WordPress blogs in the past and there’s something to hitting “Post”. It’s more satisfying than running a deploy script.

While I was a little too optimistic thinking I’d avoid tinkering (trading Ruby for PHP and MySQL—all of which I know next to nothing about).

So here it is. Just another WordPress site. Hello world!

100 Days, 100 Posts

Two crappy pages to two (hundred) crappy pages. And 98 other posts in between. I want to have a place hold the 100 posts as I continue adding more to the site. This page has the posts in categories.

Japan Trip

I started the 100 days by posting twice and then getting behind by about 14 days to go on a trip to Japan with my girlfriend. The trip also gave me a good amount to write about.


A lot of the things I wrote were about writing. And about blogging and this project itself. Navel gazing. Still, I think there’s value because it was at least a small step up from recalling the day’s events. And I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of other people writing about writing and blogging about blogging.

I wrote a couple posts as stray notes. The idea here was that I could write one-off notes as I went along.

Friday Links

Heavily inspired, mostly stolen from Tim Ferriss. I wanted a weekly post that was heavily structured so I wouldn’t have to think. Find four links and this would write itself.

A lot of times, these took the longest to write. The links I gathered were usually good to read through again and then I’d go read other stuff from the author and on and on. I guess a better description would be that these were the hardest to focus on.

I also think they’re a great place to start to get a sense of what topics I’m interested in.

Sunday Journal

I was writing about writing a little too much and it was seeping into every post. Toward the end I tried to be more conscious of this and moved these thoughts to journal posts.

I usually wrote about something I heard in a podcast. Major major navel gazing. When I do send out a newsletter, I suspect it’ll be some mix of Friday Links posts and Sunday Journal posts.


When I started, I wanted to deliberately avoid writing about design. Then I wanted to do some design exercises to see how I could improve this blog before sharing it with others. Then I thought it’d be good to share that process and wrote a few posts.

In all that, I remembered I enjoy writing about design. It’s probably because writing about design process means I can create content by sketching or playing in Keynote instead of strictly writing.


Here’s my second note for Comedy Writing for Late Night TV (here’s the first note). Some meta points: I tried reading this with the tips I linked to about How to Read a Book (PDF).

  • I did a one hour reading session.

    • 6 minutes previewing: I always estimate that I can read 1 minute per page so I marked off the next 44 pages. I also thought of some questions to keep in mind after skimming.

    • 19 minutes reading: For a pomodoro

    • 5 minute break: Ok so this break makes it 65 minutes total

    • 25 minutes reading:

    • 10 minutes writing: That’s when I did the vomit draft of this post.

  • I ended up reading 83 pages in 44 minutes of reading and I felt very focused. I’m not sure if it’s meditation or what. I think it’s meditation. I noticed a lot faster if I wasn’t paying attention to the book so I didn’t need to re-read. I also was reading a hard copy of the book. I’ll see how helpful it is when I try this on a Kindle book.

Okay, enough writing about reading.

As mentioned, I had some questions in mind while reading. I’ll answer those now, for this post.

How can I apply what I learn?

I don’t work for a late-night TV show. I don’t write comedy regularly. I’m not part of a writing team. What I have in common is that late-night TV is the schedule. I’m trying to write every day. Their writers write every day. I’m trying to write entertaining posts. Their writers are focused on entertainment.

This reminds me of Ben Orenstein (developer at thoughtbot) mentioning that a tech talk should be entertaining. It’s not always the underlying point of a talk, but entertainment is the most effective use of the medium. If you want to get your actual point across, be entertaining. Here are some of Ben’s tips and a great talk about this: How to talk to developers (Rails Conf 2013).

The challenge in applying this is that I might not have an actual point.

What are the main points of the chapters I’ll be reading?

The chapters I read were about sketches. Beyond the monologue, writers create jokes for the other segments. Here are the different types of sketches in each chapter:

  • Joke basket sketches: These are collections of jokes built around a theme but without a storyline. Joe Toplyn explains how to create characters for these sketches. I mentioned my first post on this book that I used to catch a lot of The Tonight Show. My dad would watch a VHS recording of it every morning when I was growing up. I really enjoyed seeing Jay Leno’s Mr. Brain as a character example.

  • Story sketches: A story sketch is your traditional comedy sketch. He explains the steps then breaks down a story sketch called “SFX Burglar” on Conan O’Brien, showing how each step is applied. It was really cool to read his step-by-step explanation, read the raw script, and then finally watch the sketch on YouTube.

  • Parody sketches: Similar to a story sketch but based on existing things. He does another explanation and breakdown. This time it’s the “Oil of OJ” sketch on Jay Leno. I thought everything was on the internet but I couldn’t find this clip. The explanations are detailed. Joe Toplyn even shows example lists of associations that lead to the combinations used in the “Oil of OJ” sketch.

I’m really really enjoying this book. And I liked the results of this hourly reading breakdown. I have about 140 pages left. I might be able to finish the book in a couple hours and have a couple drafts of book note posts to share.


I’m trying the following breakdown that fits into three 25-minute time blocks (5-minute breaks in between):

  • First block: Six minutes of pre-reading. I mark an estimate of what I’ll read in the session. This time I marked off 80 pages. That was aggressive—I ended up reading 63 pages. I skimmed the chapters and wrote the names down. Then I wrote a couple questions down (How can I apply these techniques to writing and blogging?). Then I read for the remaining 19 minutes.

  • Second block: Read for the entire 25 minutes.

  • Third block: The old vomit draft. Trying to get from beginning to end. First an outline then filling in what I can. I’ll get better at this.

The chapters I’d be reading were about semi-scripted pieces and semi-scripted field pieces.

Live semi-scripted pieces

An example of a semi-scripted piece is a stunt piece, like David Letterman’s velcro suit. I mentioned in the first book note post on this that Joe Toplyn writes particularly straightforward for a book about humor. He saves that for the sidebars. I enjoyed the story he shared about developing the suit of Alka Seltzer:

A staff member tested the suit in rehearsal and, sure enough, as soon as the Alka-Seltzer started bubbling he began to suffocate.

The book also shares another principle, “Don’t literally kill anybody.” (The staff member lived.)

Semi-scripted field pieces

Everyone had their different file sharing means in college. “Back in my day…” Ok yeah actually back in my day we used DC++. One of the things that got around pretty quickly freshman year1 was this folder of Conan O’Brien clips. One of them was Triumph, the Insult Comic at the premiere of The Phantom Menace.

So I was happy to see it as an example in the book. Joe Toplyn deconstructs punchlines from the segment and explains associated pairs that could have led to it.

Triumph tells one of the only young females he found among the crowd of males, “You can choose from all kinds of guys who have no idea how to please you.”

A female fan + Star Wars fan association (“sexually inexperienced”) = “All these guys have no idea how to please you.”

Reading this, it made me realize that while some jokes may very well be ad-libbed on the spot, many were likely written ahead of filming. It’s cool to see how a segment like this could be planned.

Directives from the book

Here are my key takeaways from the book:

  • Write a lot: Writing teams probably write ten times as many jokes as appear on the screen.

  • Pick an angle: Take something real and recognizable then add an angle to it.

  • Use association lists: Association lists are the basis of getting to all of those jokes.

Cranking out jokes day in and day out doesn’t happen without some kind of structure. I found this really encouraging:

This process may seem formulaic […]

Professional writers juggle the formulas in their heads—automatically, instinctively—but that doesn’t mean the formulas don’t exist.

Now I just need to practice for twenty years.

  1. Association list: things that get around quickly + freshman year of college

He is Late-Night

I liked the format of writing separate notes for Grit. I’m giving that another shot. I write better book notes posts when I write as I read. When putting longer book notes posts together, sometimes I worry that excerpts are all coming from the same chapter. If I write while reading, I can cover sections while they’re fresh in my head. Diving back into a book’s highlights weeks or even months after reading the book means overcoming a good amount of inertia.

Comedy Writing for Late Night TV1 is by Joe Toplyn. He knows Late Night TV. In The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise asks if one of the leader’s knows the samurai well and he’s told that “he is samurai”. Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show, Late Show with David Letterman. Emmys. Everything. Joe is late night TV.

Joe distills that knowledge into straightforward breakdowns of writing techniques. It makes it clear that writing jokes can be mechanical. And if there’s a system, it can be taught and learned.

The only jokes are the jokes themselves, all pulled from jokes that aired on TV shows. He doesn’t punch up the explanations with humor. It’s straightforward. He lays out the underlying concepts, explaining how each concept is applied to all sorts of segments you see on comedy shows. The same concepts are used on the monologue, headlines, desk pieces, sketches, prop pieces, and on and on.

When I was a kid, my dad taped2 The Tonight Show. While I got ready for school, my dad would be drinking coffee and watching Jay Leno3. There’s an interesting morning ritual. Years later, my dad lost The Tonight Show and the Sonics in a very short, very rough span.

I’ll continue writing a couple notes posts as I read through the book. And sometime down the road I’ll try writing a few jokes. It’s gonna be very rough.

  1. It’s not available on Kindle so it’s the second physical book I’ve bought this year (the first is Ego is the Enemy).

  2. If you don’t know what “taping a show” is, then you probably weren’t alive when my dad was taping The Tonight Show.

  3. I’m part of a generation that seems to hate Jay Leno because of the whole Conan O’Brien feud. Whatever, I like him.

No internet, no laughing

Klosterman writes about starting his career as a writer without the internet.

It allowed me to have an experience that is not exactly unique, but that will never again be replicated: I started my professional career in a world where there was (essentially) no Internet at all, and I’ll end my professional career in a world where the Internet will be (essentially) the only thing that exists.

Not that I want to go back, but I’m glad I have some memory of a time without the internet. I’m also happy I could see it evolve to what we have today.

I read But What if We’re Wrong on a Kindle on the iPhone app. Highlights and notes are available at all times. I could switch to different books. I could switch and text friends for a few minutes. I could switch and watch the TED talk on the multiverse. I could switch and decide what food to order for 20 minutes.


Klosterman points out the rate of change for different activities. TV viewing in 2016 is totally different than 1996. Further back, TV viewing in 1976 is also very different from 1996. He contrasts that with the experience of going to a theater, which hasn’t changed all that much in the same span.

The movies themselves have changed. I walked by a Jurassic Park 20th anniversary poster a few years ago. That didn’t seem right but of course it was. Then I thought about 1993. Star Wars wasn’t even 20 yet.

Then I started thinking through other things on this 20 years back, 20 years forward scale.

Food: Yesterday I scrolled through options on Seamless for 20 minutes. If I was heading out, I’d probably do the same but on Yelp. In 1996 I feel like you went to like 5 places and those were your places. I was also ten so this exercise might not be perfect. In 2036 I’ll look up etiquette for tipping the robot car.

Talking to friends: Yesterday I texted friends in New York, Florida, California, and my brother in Washington. In 1996 this experience would be somewhat replicable with a desktop computer. Again, I was ten and had no access to the internet. But instant messaging existed so this is a surprisingly static experience. Text isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so 2036 might look kind of the same.

Talking to friends, pt II: In 1996, I could call them but it’d cost a lot of money. Klosterman talks about this:

as a college student in the early nineties, I knew of several long-term romantic relationships that were severed simply because the involved parties attended different schools and could not afford to make long-distance calls, even once a week. In 1994, the idea of a sixty-minute phone call from Michigan to Texas costing less than mailing a physical letter the same distance was still unimaginable.

Yesterday, as mentioned, I texted my friends and didn’t call. Because nobody calls anymore. Our hand computers happen to have phone apps. I don’t think this will change much by 2036.

Talking to friends, pt III: I do have a few video chats through FaceTime or Hangouts every week. If we’re going to take the time to set up a call, we may as well sort of look at each other’s faces. I don’t have a good sense of if I do this more or less frequently than others.

VR is advancing. In 2036 I guess I would put VR glasses on to talk to them. But I’ll probably still text first to tell them I was calling.

No laughing allowed

Just a short note because this seems like it should be a widely known thing but I asked a few friends and got plenty of huh I guess that is true:

When the rom-com series Catastrophe debuted on Amazon, a close friend tried to explain why the program seemed unusually true to him. “This is the first show I can ever remember,” he said, “where the characters laugh at each other’s jokes in a non-obnoxious way.”

Other characters just don’t laugh. Klosterman says it’s an “unspoken, internal rule”. No laughing, even if Joey has a turkey on his head.

If you enjoyed some of the ideas here, it’s probably worth checking out the rest of But What if We’re Wrong.

Klosterman did the rounds on different podcasts around the book’s release.

Simulation or multiverse? Doesn’t matter

Chuck Klosterman talks about consciousness and our place in the uni…multiverse. He explains the multiverse and has answers from Brian Greene, an expert in the topic. (Who has a TED talk about the multiverse.)

After a few more pages, another big idea doesn’t matter again. He describes traveling at the speed of light but manages to make it seem slow. It would take lifetimes to get to the edge of the galaxy. Forget about the edge of the universe. Even if we confirmed we were in a multiverse it wouldn’t matter.

Ok, another idea: what if we’re in a computer simulation? This was popularized by The New York Times in 2007 and it comes up once in a while when people like Elon Musk are asked about it. Musk talked about the advance from two rectangles and a dot to online multiplayer games in 40 years:

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.

“Either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.”

So what if we’re right about this? You might be able to stop at “So what.” Multiverse or computer simulation, we still couldn’t interact outside of it. It doesn’t affect day to day life.

Such a realization wouldn’t be like Jim Carrey’s character’s recognition of his plight in The Truman Show, because there would be no physical boundary to hit; it would be more like playing Donkey Kong and suddenly seeing Mario turn toward the front of the monitor in order to say, “I know what’s going on here.”

He can’t step out. We can’t stick a crane game arm in there to pull Mario into reality. If we verified that we live in The Sims 28728, the person playing can’t pull us out and into base reality.

So it might not matter. And that’s okay because it’s still fun to think about. Klosterman establishes that and describes some approaches to life, including testing boundaries like it’s GTA.

Klosterman seems to be a magnitude smarter than me. And he interviewed people he’d describe as a magnitude smarter than himself. And he contests that even they probably don’t have it all sorted out.

And that’s fine and leaves some fun things to think through. But What if We’re Wrong has Klosterman guiding readers through these topics. Whether it’s all real or not, I enjoyed the journey.

We’re probably wrong and that’s okay

In But What if We’re Wrong, Chuck Klosterman looks at the present as if it were the distant past.

In one chapter, he tries sorting out which modern writers will stand the test of time.

You need to write about important things without actually writing about them. I realize this sounds like advice from a fortune cookie.

He uses 9/11 as an example of an important thing. Down the line, though, whatever stands as representative of 9/11 probably won’t be something written directly about it.

One thing that’s stuck with me from listening to Serial is how poor memory is. Without looking it up, I couldn’t tell you details about 5 Thursdays ago. Klosterman brings up the inaccuracy of same-day eyewitness statements. Stretched over centuries, recorded history can’t be very accurate. It’s also missing a lot of pages altogether.

So maybe the past doesn’t matter, because we don’t really know what it was like. What about the future?

Well with computers we’re able to have accurate records of everything. True, but it really means everything. Who’s gonna go through that? It’s not like people hit up day to day. It’s usually a deep dive into one topic.

On a time scale of centuries, many things end up being winner-take-all. We can debate a Mount Rushmore of basketball players, but 500 years from now it’ll probably just be Michael Jordan in one full body mountain sculpture.

One takeaway from But What if We’re Wrong is that a lot of things won’t matter in the far future. Books take years to write. Most won’t be remembered a century from now, much less five centuries from now. Writers can only add a few pages to a book every day.

On an individual level, anything we do in a day or even in a year probably won’t matter in the (very) long run. It’s grim or freeing, or both.

Chances are, aiming to be remembered in the far future isn’t a great goal. Especially because the people who remember you don’t care in the first place:

To matter forever, you need to matter to those who don’t care. And if that strikes you as sad, be sad.

Basketball nerds can debate whoever else is in the top-4 with him, but Jordan will be in there. Of those 4, he’s the one with a global brand. There’s a culture with a foundation built around the popularity of his shoes.

A lot of the kids standing in those lines never watched a single game he was in live. They can’t care about Jordan as much as a Bulls fan in the 90s1. Their emotions aren’t tied to how well Jordan performs in a playoff game.

So the past doesn’t matter and now maybe the future doesn’t matter either. Bringing me to where we’ve always been and always are: the present.

For me, being present was the important thing this book was about that it wasn’t really about. I’m guessing it’s not even on the list of top 1,000 points Klosterman was aiming to make. I only made the connection because it’s top of mind for me right now. I started meditating recently, beginning my transition into the lifestream. Maybe it’s the way out of the simulation.

  1. I may have just talked myself out of this. It might be LeBron. More people worldwide have probably followed his hero’s journey. In a 24-hour news cycle. So it’s gonna be Jordan, unless it’s LeBron. It just won’t be Kobe. You can’t go long thinking about Kobe and where he ranks without thinking about Jordan.

Getting familiar

One of the patterns is called “Familiar Tools” talking about the tools programmers use.

Write down a list of your familiar tools. If the list has less than five items, start hunting around for tools that will fill the gaps in your toolbox. This may simply be a matter of identifying a tool you already use but don’t know well enough, or it may involve finding new tools altogether.

I’ve written some in-depth posts about learning the basics of prototyping tools like Form, Origami, and Framer. The “Familiar Tools” pattern reminded me to take a look at my current toolbox.

There are a lot of different tools out there, and if you’re just starting out it can be overwhelming to pick some out to learn. You might even be frozen by all the options.

As far as a hard-skill toolbox goes, here’s what I’d recommend to a new designer. Learn a different tool in each fidelity well.

Pen and paper for lo-fi thinking: Sometimes completely overlooked. Tools for animating microinteractions are fun to use. They’re fun to play with so it’s tempting to jump into super high fidelity and work with motion.

If you’re designing in high fidelity and not testing with actual users, it’s probably too early. Pen and paper can take you a long way when thinking through ideas on your own.

Static mocks for going through flows: Sketch. It’s become pretty standard. At least as far as the echo chamber goes.

High fidelity prototypes for mobile: A good old “it depends”. Just try them out and see which ones click for you. Framer and Origami have great communities and that goes a long way toward the usefulness of a tool. I still want to try Principle.

High fidelity prototypes for desktop: The advantage of the mobile interaction design tools is that they let you try things out without learning Swift/Objective-C or Java and learning the respective development processes.

HTML/CSS is more approachable than any toolset for native development. Right click in the browser, click “Inspect”. Tinkering around, changing values, and seeing the changes might be the best way to start learning CSS.

Get proficient with Chrome developer tools. Or the equivalent in the other browsers. Sit with a developer you work with and have them show you around the inspector and console. It’s a great investment of time.

Visual design: Here’s my biggest gap. Illustrator seems to still be the tool of choice of digital illustrators. I’d love to learn.

As far as soft skills go, they’re harder to sit down and practice. A lot of it comes through experiencing different situations firsthand. (I’d recommend actively avoiding the soft skills such as getting offended about interchanging UX/UI/interaction/product designer titles and thinking up UX analogies.)

We’re talking about practice

Apprenticeship Patterns has a pattern called “Practice, Practice, Practice”. Adewale and Dave talk about having a place where you’re comfortable making mistakes. Again, I’ll connect this apprenticeship pattern to something I read In Deep Work. A lot of the ideas in Deep Work also overlap with the idea of deliberate practice:

Its core components are usually identified as follows: (1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.

Many designers already receive plenty of feedback during the design process. (If not, check out my book notes on Discussing Design. It’s a great book by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizary about giving and receiving good critique.)

Deep Work is more about the focused-attention component. If you’re going to spend deeply focused time on something, you’ll want to make sure it’s the right thing. Apprenticeship Patterns provides some guidelines for picking exercises for practice:

Make sure that it’s just a little harder than one you know you can easily solve. You should have to struggle to solve it the first time. Solve this exercise from scratch once a week for the next four weeks, and observe how your solutions evolve. What does this tell you about your strengths and weaknesses as a programmer?

Day to day design work might not always stretch those skills. If that’s the case, sit down and identify areas you want to grow. Then find or create exercises of your own for practice.

When I started learning Framer, I learned a lot by trying to re-create animations from different apps. These exercises were usually scoped to a single interaction. I tried re-creating pull-to-refresh animations, I tried re-creating parts of the Material Design launch reel, I tried re-creating examples from the Framer docs.

The great thing about Framer is that the source code is available for a lot of things you’ll want to do. You can always attempt and then compare your approach to a working example and see where you can improve.

It’s a little different for Sketch and the other interaction design tools. It might not be as easy to find source files to learn from. This is where it’d be great to have a mentor to look at your work. You can share your approach to different things and they can explain where you can improve. I seem to always learn some sort of technique when I watch others using Sketch.

Retreating into competence

Apprenticeship Patterns talks about going deep into new subjects as a good way to learn. The risk with going in the deep end is that you’ll sometimes get in hairy situations. Competence can be the edge of the pool: something familiar that you can grab onto. They discuss applying the “Retreat into competence” pattern:

short-term fix while you gather your strength to bounce back. Set a time limit (or “timebox”) for yourself, such as “I will spend the next 10 minutes refactoring the JavaScript validation for this page before I optimize the SQL queries that provide the data.” Or “I will spend the next four hours implementing the command-line interface for this tool before I learn how to call this third-party SOAP API.” Or “I will spend the rest of today improving our test coverage before taking on the job of optimizing our code that is affected by Python’s Global Interpreter Lock.”

I tried thinking about how this could be applied by designers. A lot of the apprenticeship patterns have you looking at how you can stretch your knowledge. You look at valuable tools and techniques you’re not familiar with and deliberately practice with them.

As a side effect, you’re thinking through tools you are familiar with. These comfortable tools are the ones you can retreat to. That might mean taking a break from the latest prototyping tool to retreat into Sketch. Or taking a break from thinking through multi-screen flows to focus on some motion interaction with Framer.

Open the firehose, don’t drown in the shallows

(I’m trying to write book notes compilations one section at a time. One excerpt per day with the goal of filling one iA Writer screen up. About 350 words.)

This week, I’m focusing on Apprenticeship Patterns, by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye. Dave and Adewale talk about software as a craft and give guidance on how you can improve as a craftsman. It’s targeted toward developers, but a bunch of it applies to designers. (And even beyond that.)

One of the patterns is called “Expand your bandwidth”:

Expanding your ability to take in new information is a critical, though sometimes overwhelming, step for apprentices. You must develop the discipline and techniques necessary to efficiently absorb new information, as well as to understand it, retain it, and apply it.

They discuss setting up Google Reader to consume RSS feeds. They discuss one of the pitfalls that seems all too common today:

It’s possible to become obsessed with gathering and consuming new information, particularly as it becomes easier and easier to get at up-to-the-second thoughts on the most prolific thinkers in our industry. Some people could become lost in the sea of interesting information, and never come back to actually crafting software.

The book is from 2009 and there’s no mention of Twitter for keeping up with the latest information. That said, I was a pretty heavy Reader user and was just as addicted or even more so I ever was of Twitter. Reader made a lot of full content readily available.

One day, I remember stepping back and thinking, “Do I really need to see basically the exact same news from Engadget and Gizmodo?” That started the culling and then I was able to really cut things down and then eventually accept that I don’t need to read every. single. thing.

Because there’s value in all the available information out there, it might seem like a good idea to seek out as much of it as possible. Cal Newport discusses this in his book Deep Work:

This argument, however, misses the key point that all activities, regardless of their importance, consume your same limited store of time and attention. If you service low-impact activities, therefore, you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities. It’s a zero-sum game. And because your time returns substantially more rewards when invested in high-impact activities than when invested in low-impact activities, the more of it you shift to the latter, the lower your overall benefit.

It’s important to remember that time taken by shallow activities could be applied to more important activities. Having taken extended breaks from different social media, there’s major FOMO. It goes away once you realize enough times that you never really miss much.

Over 500 quotes

I started a refresh for this site. I want to continue writing regularly. However, I don’t think it will take the form of long articles about design sprints and design tools. I started writing newsletters to experiment with shorter writing, but even those took longer than I expected each time. I still want to send something out. For the next issue, I’m going to try writing a short post each day and collecting those to send together bi-weekly.

I would write the newsletter and then re-write over and over and try to make the whole thing coherent. Sometimes things got a bit forced because links just don’t always relate. And I was finding myself putting it off because I was looking for very large chunks of time to work on it. And of course, I wasn’t finding those large chunks of time.

Writing seems similar to working out in that you’ll see improvements through consistency. You can’t work out for 8 straight hours to make up for 8 individual hour-long workouts.

I’ll share links and book quotes and share some thoughts to how they can relate to different stages of a design sprint. Sometimes. Other times I’ll share how they relate at least to design.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Last week, I read Apprenticeship Patterns by Adewale Oshineye and Dave Hoover. I picked it up after seeing Ale Muñoz (designer/developer working on Sketch) recommend it as a resource for learning how to teach in a response to Koen Bok (Framer co-founder).

It’s about improving as a developer and looking at programming as a craft. A lot of it can be applied to improving as a designer. (Not to mention a ton of other careers.) One of the patterns discusses the importance of writing down what you learn:

When Dave was Reading Constantly during his apprenticeship, he kept a text file in which he transcribed all the quotes that shaped his learning. Over the years, that file grew to contain over 500 quotes, and Dave eventually decided to upload it and share it online.

(And “Reading Constantly” is another pattern I’ve been trying to apply.) Over the years, I’d like this site to have over 500 quotes. This is one of the first.

User testing

One of the bigger threads through Console Wars is the competition between advertising agencies to get Sega’s business.

One of the agencies—Goodby, Berlin, & Silverstein—really got inside kids’ heads through on-site user research. They’d visit families and observe kids playing video games in their bedrooms. Their biggest takeaway was the universal knowledge that adults don’t know anything. That’s captured in this passage describing a kid’s reaction to one of the Sonic 2 commercials:

“That footage you showed wasn’t even from Sonic 2!” said one of the teens. “It was from the original Sonic, and it was from level two, which isn’t hard at all.” From another: “Those commercials look like they were written by adults.” And from a third: “The guys who made it weren’t even good enough to get to the difficult parts.”

Kids instantly recognize these things. Back then, I could tell you a screen is from Mortal Kombat I or Mortal Kombat II no problem. Less than a glance at most. Same with Mega Man X and X2.

Kids of the 90s: cut those moron adults some slack. They were competing for your attention against the latest technology of the era.


Fun note: GB&S, now GS&P, still does some work with Sonic and it’s way more tasteful.