On Saturday, I sent my MacBook Pro in to get its keyboard repaired. Because my Hackintosh died late last year and I decided to keep things simple, I will be without a computer for two weeks for the first time in my professional life.
Boo hoo, right?
Ten or even five years ago, this would have been a big problem, but in this age of advanced mobile devices, it should be okay, at least in theory. I have a first-generation iPad Pro 9.7 with keyboard and Pencil, and I enjoy it very much. I use it a lot for sketching (via Paper) and writing (via Bear and Ulysses). Because my iPad does not let me multitask as easily as on my laptop, I’m able to focus more, which is great for reflecting and writing. Everything syncs to the cloud instantaneously, meaning I can access this data on my laptop immediately.
The iPad has limitations that make it difficult for me to replace my laptop entirely. For example, G Suite does not play that well with the iPad. I can’t ALT-TAB between different documents, the mobile versions of the app have limited functionality, and I haven’t figured out how to easily use the desktop versions of the app via Chrome.
It’s all good… until you no longer have access to your laptop. I timed my repair (which will take 1-2 weeks) to when I figured it would be least inconvenient, and I’m making a go of using my iPad as my primary computing device in the meantime. Here’s what I’m learning so far:
I can’t easily print from my iPad to my 2011 Brother printer. Exploring options now.
I’m not sure how well conferencing via Zoom will work. At minimum, I usually take notes while I’m on Zoom, and I often use its more advanced features, such as screen-sharing and breakout groups. I’m not planning on doing the latter on any upcoming calls, but it’s a good opportunity just to see if any of this is possible.
I was at a dinner party last night where a friend was talking about his Google Maps Timeline year-end report. Another friend asked:
Do you find it interesting or valuable?
This is a very good question to ask about technology in general.
Personally, I find Google Maps Timeline interesting, but not valuable. It’s generally interesting as journal. I’d love to import a static copy of the data automatically into Day One or other journaling software. (Lazy Web, has anyone done this already?)
Using it to track movement is interesting and potentially valuable. In 2018, I traveled 27,711 miles total, about one time around the world. I walked a bit less than a mile a day averaging 2.25 miles / hour — not as much or as fast as I would have liked. Tracking this data more regularly might encourage me to move more, but fitness trackers provide this same data in less creepy ways.
More valuable is the transit information. In 2018, I spent over 21 days on some sort of ground transportation for a total of 9,575 miles, about 26 miles / day. This was surprising for someone who works from home at least twice a week and sobering from the perspective of someone who cares about carbon emissions. That said, I don’t know that trying to optimize these totals further is very valuable. I already take lots of public transportation, carpool when I can, and drive a Prius. I could lower my carbon footprint much more dramatically by changing my diet.
I’m not sure whether Google Maps Timeline will ever be valuable for me individually. However, I do think Google makes this data valuable for me in aggregate. For example, Google is able to tell me the average wait time at my favorite coffee shops and restaurants. I could imagine this data in aggregate could be very valuable for urban planning. I would like for it to be used this way, and would be happy to give this data to someone if I trusted they would use it in useful and also ethical ways.
And there’s the rub. We still don’t have good, trusted agreements between organizations and individuals. I don’t trust the government to handle my data competently — to anonymize it appropriately, to store it securely, etc. — or to put it to good use. I trust Google to put it to good use, but I am very skeptical that they will use it ethically. That said, I trust Google a lot more than most companies, which is also potentially misguided.
Way back in the day, I did some work on these kinds of issues in community with good folks like Phil Windley, Doc Searls, and Identity Woman. Aman Ahuja and his friends at the Data Guild have also done a lot of good thinking around ethical guidelines for using data. I’m heartened by the work they’re all doing. If you know of others doing great work in this space, please share in the comments below. Be specific — what is the problem they’re tackling, and how are they going about it?
The other day, I visited the Western Museum of Flight with my friend, Ed. It’s a tiny, volunteer-run museum next to Zamperini Field in Torrance, California, and it boasts several original prototypes of some iconic fighter jets, which I enjoyed seeing. But the surprising highlight of the visit for me was sitting in the cockpit of an F-5.
I was largely apathetic about the F-5 at first. It’s an older jet (first deployed in the early 1960s), and it was mostly an export and training plane. However, it was the only plane where we got to go into the cockpit, and I had never sat in the cockpit of any fighter jet before.
My first reaction was surprise at how comfortable it was in there. Much better than my office chair! (I need to get a new office chair.)
My second reaction was overwhelm. Take a look at this instrument panel:
Here’s a more dynamic view:
That’s a whole lot of dials and buttons and levers to track, all while flying at the speed of the sound and dogfighting with other fighters. I felt awe and appreciation for the pilots, who somehow were able to monitor all of this complexity in real-time.
After I got over my initial overwhelm, I took a closer look. To my surprise, everything seemed to make sense. Dials and buttons were clearly labeled. Color-coding helped me quickly figure out which buttons I should avoid. The buttons and switches felt good when I pressed and flipped them — not enough resistance to be hard, but enough to feel solid and high-quality. It doesn’t hide the complexity, but it makes it manageable, even enjoyable. Look more closely at the weapons panel on the lower left:
Notice the diagrams and descriptions. Notice the spacing — dense, but comfortable.
When you think about it, of course the inside is well-designed. A jet is a high-performance device, and the pilot’s life literally depends on their ability to process massive amounts of complexity in real-time. Still, I found the design inspiring. I wish all of my dashboards were designed as well.
Here’s a more zoomed out look at what it’s like to sit in the cockpit, along with some additional commentary:
I updated my website look-and-feel for the first time since 2010, which is when I migrated it from Blosxom (!) to WordPress. The overall architecture is the same. I just wanted to update the theme to something more modern — responsive on mobile, more photography-friendly, support for the latest WordPress features including the new Gutenberg editor, etc.
I built the new theme on top of CoBlocks, which saved me a ton of time, gave me a bunch of things for free, and will hopefully future-proof me a little bit better than last time. (My previous homegrown theme lasted over eight years, so it did well all things considered.)
Still, the update took a long time. I had to get clear about what I wanted and research the available themes. I had to experiment with different themes to see which ones worked best. I had to brush up on CSS and the wonders of responsive design so I could create a homepage that looked more or less how I wanted it. I had to go down many ratholes, because that’s just what I do.
My impetus for all of this was that I missed blogging, and I want to do more of it this year. Updating the site was akin to buying a new outfit — not strictly necessary, but feels pretty fresh.
What do I miss about blogging? Becoming less dumb by chewing on half-baked ideas and having others help bake them further.
When I first started in 2003, blogging was like exchanging letters out in the open. The act of writing things down (especially in public) forced me to slow down, reflect, and crystallize my thinking in whatever state it happened to be at the time. The act of curating links helped reinforce the lessons learned from others (and myself), while also giving me a chance to acknowledge them publicly. Doing this out in the open meant anyone could jump in, which helped me get out of my silo and discover wonderful new voices. All of this helped make the web a more useful, humane place.
I’ve done pretty well over the years, but the tenor of it all gradually changed. Social media has cannibalized a lot of people’s attention (including my own). Because it’s not a slow medium, the nature of how I engage with others (not just where I engage with them) has changed. It’s more frequent, but it’s also more shallow. That’s actually a nice complement when I have a face-to-face relationship with people, but it’s not generative otherwise.
Last year, I only wrote five posts on this blog, my fewest ever. It wasn’t for lack of material, and it wasn’t even because I didn’t have enough time. I did lots of journaling and drawing, I just did most of it in private.
Some of it was an unexpected professional side effect, one I’m actively trying to counter. Most of my current colleagues don’t blog, and when they do, it’s rarely half-baked. (I have lots more to say about this, which I’ll probably share on Faster Than 20 in the near future.) This had the effect of lowering the bar for me, which is not what I want. I want to raise the bar for others.
Because of how I blogged when I first got started, I have about eight years of archives of a lot of my early thinking about collaboration. It’s so valuable for me to be able both to mine and to share this with others. Unfortunately, that’s not true of a lot of what I’ve been working on and thinking about for the past eight years.
I want to re-adjust. I’m inspire by my friends, especially Alex Schroeder, who have kept it up consistently over the years. I want to think out loud a lot more, especially about my work, while also still sharing the occasional personal tidbits. I’ve worked hard to balance my life so that I have more reflection time, and I want to make better use of this time by sharing more. I’d also love to experiment more with mining and making what I’ve already written more visible.
I’m sure the experience won’t be the same as it was in the early days, but I’m going to keep at it. I’ll continue to share what I write on Twitter and maybe Facebook, but the better way to track is to subscribe to my feed via your favorite feed reader (I use Feedly) or via email below. As always, I welcome comments below (or on social media), but I’d especially encourage you to try commenting the old-fashioned blogger way — by responding in your own blog with a link to the original source. Either way, would love to hear from folks!