Category Archives: Personal

Redesigning Penn Station

Earlier this year I wrote a post about indie podcasting and the mistake of centralized publishing, comparing it to the lesson from the demolition of Penn Station in New York City. That train station can never be returned to what it was, but the city hasn’t given up on updating it. Here’s the New York Times with an idea to turn it into a beautiful space again:

Just as the new Amtrak train hall for Farley, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, reuses the catenary structure of the building’s original trusses to bring in natural light, this plan foresees a sunny public space, open to the street, framing views of Farley, its height dwarfing Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse. It reclads the arena’s facade with double-skin glass, doing away with doors into and out of the building, letting commuters, long lost in the existing warren, know where they are and see where they’re going.

It’s a nice article with photos and diagrams. I hope to see something like this new Penn Station on a future trip to New York City.

Paying for web content

I subscribe to a lot of web applications for my indie business, from hosting to invoicing and reporting services. But I also pay for web content when it’s compelling enough. Here are some web sites with writing and art that I think are worth supporting directly:

New York Times. Still the best reporting on the 2016 presidential campaign. While I usually use RSS for news and blogs, I check the New York Times manually each morning to see what is happening in the world. $10/month.

ESPN Insider. Extra articles to supplement what I read during NBA season. Seemed easy to justify as an expense for my podcast Technical Foul with Ben Thompson. Also comes with the ESPN print magazine. $39/year.

Club MacStories. I’ve enjoyed reading MacStories for years, and the club subscription adds a bunch of great content in a weekly newsletter. You also get occasional book downloads such as for Federico Viticci’s new epic iOS 10 review. $5/month.

Six Colors. Jason Snell wasted no time after leaving Macworld. Seemingly overnight, Six Colors has become an important site for Apple fans. Jason and Dan Moren talk informally about current work, travel, writing, and tools on their secret podcast for subscribers. There’s also a monthly email magazine. $6/month.

Stratechery. Thoughtful analysis of current news and trends from Ben Thompson, delivered Monday through Thursday via email or RSS for subscribers. Great depth to stories about tech company business models and where the industry is going. Helps pay for his NBA League Pass subscription. $10/month.

Craft. An archive of sketches, rough animation, and preproduction artwork from animated films. It’s like an expanded version of behind-the-scenes DVD extras and art books. Initially subscribed for the rough animation for the beautiful film Song of the Sea. $6/month.

Before the web dominated all publishing, it was normal to pay for the newspaper and maybe a few print magazines. Then we entered a period where everything had to be free. Now, paying for content is useful again. The sites above have figured something out about building an audience and creating good content.

Email archiving with Evernote

For a long time, I’ve struggled with having important email archived in one place. I’ve switched between several clients over the years, from Eudora and Mailsmith and even Cyberdog, in the very early Mac days, to more recently the fairly reliable Apple Mail. Yet I still occasionally lose old email when switching between machines and not handling the migration properly.

Last year I set out to fix this. While I didn’t do an exhaustive search of archiving options, the main solutions I considered were:

  • Switch to Gmail. There are plenty of native clients for Gmail, but I fundamentally don’t like the idea of an ad-supported email service. I’m very happy with Fastmail and want to continue using it.
  • Local archiving with EagleFiler. This gets the email archived in a central place outside whatever mail client I’m using, which is great. However, I’d like something that is focused on cloud search first.
  • Save to files on Dropbox. All of my notes are stored on Dropbox, so why not put an email archive there too? But Dropbox doesn’t seem well-suited to accessing and searching easily.
  • Save to Evernote. I’ve never actively used Evernote for notes. Using Evernote for email would keep the email separate from normal notes on Dropbox, and Evernote already has excellent support for forwarding email into their system. I’d be able to search the archive from my Mac, iPhone, or the web.

I’ve settled into a pretty basic workflow of using Evernote to save any email that looks moderately valuable. This is usually a handful of messages each day, not every email I receive or send. By picking and choosing what gets archived, I can ignore everything else, letting it sit in Mail’s archive indefinitely or deleting it.

Here’s an AppleScript I currently trigger in Mail for any selected message I want to archive. It’s set to command-shift-S via FastScripts. If I’m away from my Mac, or I want to preserve HTML and inline attachments, I can save an email by forwarding it to a special Evernote email address. (I also pay for Evernote Premium.)

Now that I’m about a year and thousands of archived messages into this setup, I’m declaring it a success. I plan to continue using Evernote in this way for years to come. Let’s just hope they’re on the right track with their own business.

Spurs at the Olympics

I’m watching Spain vs. France basketball right now, and later today is Argentina vs. the United States. No question the United States are the favorites for gold, but there are some really good teams, most with great NBA players.

From the double-overtime win by Argentina a few days ago, to Boris Diaw sipping an espresso in his room, I’ve been more engaged in following basketball at the Olympics than usual. And I love that so many Spurs players are everywhere.

Spain has Pau Gasol; Argentina has Manu Ginobili, who helped defeat the United States in 2004; Australia has Patty Mills; and France has Tony Parker. Gives me something to root for throughout the tournament.

Libraries for 30 days wrap-up

After trying to work from a new coffee shop I had never been to before, every day for 30 days, I loved the routine of getting out of the house so much that I set on another challenge: visiting 30 libraries. This proved to be more difficult, mostly because of the extra driving required, but I wrapped it up yesterday.

I’ve put together a web page of all the libraries, with photos and links to the microblog posts for each day. The posts are also tagged with #newlibraries.

After wrapping up libraries, I thought I’d make it a trilogy of 30-day endeavors, with a final 30 days of working from city parks. This was a suggestion from Daniel Hedrick, who had worked from parks before, tethering to his iPhone since there’s usually no wi-fi. I loved the idea right away because it fit so well with the goal of getting out of the house and discovering something new in my own city. I even spent a couple hours earlier in the month researching parks and planning out whether I could do it.

But now that it has come to it… I am really burned out on commuting. Finding new coffee shops and libraries has been a great experience. There are several wonderful places that I know I will return to again, and I never would have found them otherwise. I just need a little break from the forced routine of driving somewhere new each day. Maybe I’ll pick up the parks idea next year.

Get one thing done today

Natasha the Nomad has a post about prioritizing the “one thing” that has to be finished today, even if everything else slips:

When I wake up (or the night before), I think “What is the one thing that I can do today to feel like I had a successful day, even If I nothing else gets done today”. No matter what, I end up getting that one thing done.

I find this kind of approach really useful. Saying you’re only going to finish one thing is admitting the reality that for many days, if you’re unfocused or juggling too many tasks, there’s a lot of “work” but nothing gets done. When I work out of the house in the morning with my iPad Pro, my goal is equally simple: publish a single blog post. If I can take care of email, edit other draft posts, work on planning notes for a project, etc. — that’s great too.

30 days of libraries, week 1

After wrapping up 30 days of new coffee shops, last week I started visiting a library every day to work. Libraries and coffee shops don’t have that much in common, but they do share a couple basic traits that are necessary for working on a laptop or iPad: wi-fi and tables. In fact, I’ve found that it’s even easier to find an open table or couch in a library than in a busy coffee shop.

So far, so good. In the first week, I’ve visited Cedar Park Public Library, Wells Branch Community Library, Little Walnut Creek Branch, North Village Branch, Old Quarry Branch, Howson Branch, Westbank Community Library, and Yarborough Branch.

I also heard from readers who wanted to see more than the text microblog posts I did for coffee shops, so I’ve been trying to take more photos. These photos are tagged with #newlibraries too, so they’ll show up together with the library text posts. (Photos can be browsed over the web, but they don’t show up in the default RSS feed. The microblog posts also have their own feed.)

As I mention on episode 15 of Timetable, working out of the house in the morning helped provide some structure to the work day. I’d use the morning for writing blog posts and catching up on email, and the afternoon to focus on code. For libraries, I’m going one step further and only bringing the iPad Pro with me. This means that I’m using a small range of apps — Editorial, Mail, Safari, Slack — and reinforces the idea that I’m supposed to be writing.

What’s next after 30 days of coffee

Yesterday I wrapped up my endeavor to visit a new coffee shop every day for a month, making sure it was a place that I had never been to before. Every day I published a short microblog post about my visit. As I was nearing the end of the 30 days, I felt a little bummed out that it would be coming to an end. It was a lot of fun and gave my day a good structure.

I knew right away that I wanted to fill the next 30 days with something else, but probably not with drink or food again. I had a few ideas, including one outside that will be be better when the weather gets warmer. For this next month, though, I’ve decided to work from libraries.

So that’s where I am right now. Day 1 of 30, sitting in a comfy chair typing on my iPad at the Cedar Park Public Library. It’s a nice space and they even have an “internet cafe” outside the main books section. I’ll be trying to follow the same routine as before: morning out of the house for writing, afternoon usually back at my desk for coding. And as before, I’ll blog each day and tag all the blog posts. Here we go!

Electric Beetle

As I’ve written about here, I have a Nissan Leaf and it’s the best car I’ve ever owned. When the lease is up in a couple years, I’ll reevaluate whether to buy a new one or switch to a different make of car, but there’s no question that I’m never going to buy another gas-powered car for myself again.

In addition to the obvious benefits to the environment, how quiet the car is, and being able to “fill it up” at home, the Leaf is also shockingly reliable. No oil changes, no random weird noises or parts failing that seem to regularly happen with every other car we’ve owned. Simpler is better.

We’re crossing the point right now where electric cars are not only better in a novelty way for early adopters, but just actually better. Every year there will be more electric cars on the road, from more manufacturers, and every year they’ll chip away at the traditional problems of cost and range.

And there’s even fun stuff like Zelectric Motors, which I discovered via a great video from The Verge. I always thought that if I ever had $60k to blow, I’d get a Tesla. I may need to consider these retrofitted classic VW Beetles instead. They look beautiful. (Although probably helps to live in the San Diego area just in case it does need the occasional trip to be serviced.)

Is this even possible?

When I tell people that I’ve started going to a new coffee shop every day for a month — and importantly, one which I’ve never been to before after living my whole life in Austin, with no duplicates or separate locations from a coffee chain — they usually ask: are you going to run out of places to go? At the beginning I didn’t know. And that has made it a particularly fun challenge, because doing something that you know is possible is boring.

I’ve never been interested in building an iOS app that someone else has already done. I’ve never been excited to write a blog post that is just a rephrasing of someone else’s idea. Starting a new project with a unique twist, even a minor one, is what makes our job as developers and writers fun.

And it’s easy to take a simple idea and build it into a more advanced project. On the latest Core Intuition, Daniel continues to suggest ways to add layers to my coffee trips, from adding photos, to publishing future locations ahead of time so that anyone can stop by and join me for a coffee. (I’m going to be doing this.)

Now at day 10, I can more easily answer the original question, though. I have 16 suggested coffee shops in the queue, so if I visit all of those, I’ll only need 4 more places to hit 30 new coffee shops in 30 days. A few of these might seem like borderline cheats — a donut shop, or a food truck to pick up a Thai iced coffee — but being exposed to new places I would never otherwise go is the whole point.

New coffee shops, week 1

I’ve now wrapped up the first week of my attempt to visit a new coffee shop I’ve never been to, every day for a month. To track the progress, I’ve created a web page with all the visits so far, the coffee shops I hope to try soon, and also a bunch of places I’ve already been over the years (and so which are disqualified from this endeavor).

This has required a little more planning than I expected. I’ll be going to all corners of the city to not repeat myself for a full 30 days. Even then, I’ll have to broaden my search to include more traditional cafes and donut shops too.

I’ve also realized that I need to do a better job of ordering something unique when it’s on the menu, or asking for a recommendation. After all, the point is to get out of the house more often — to take a break from the isolated work-from-home environment, be exposed to something new, even if it’s just a simple drink or view outside, and get back to my current projects refreshed.

Lowline Park

Nice write-up at The Verge on the proposed Lowline Park, an underground park built in an old trolley terminal in New York City. The space has been relatively untouched for over 50 years:

“Not that the abandoned trolley terminal, which opened the same time as the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, is a neighborhood blight. In fact, it’s in pretty decent shape right now. The station served elevated lines and trolley cars from Brooklyn, but closed in 1948 when trolley service was discontinued, and has been empty ever since.”

One of the highlights to our trip to New York City a couple of years ago was the High Line, a park built from an abandoned elevated freight train line originally scheduled for demolition. As a train fan — I did a podcast episode about trains and animation 10 years ago — I love to see any of these historic lines preserved in a new form.

Back from Europe

After blogging every day for a couple weeks at the end of July, I decided to take a break while my family and I took a vacation to London and Paris over the last 10 days. Instead we kept a private-ish travel blog of the trip. It’s similar to what I might post in a private journal (handwritten or Day One), but accessible to family in a richer “own your own content” way than just Facebook photos.

I also posted 7 photos throughout the trip to my Instagram account. I like to use Instagram to capture just the very best photo from something, so the timeline never feels overloaded. Of course we took hundreds of photos overall. Some went to the trip blog, some went to Instagram and Facebook, some went to Snapchat (teenagers!), and the rest we’ll sort through as we have time. We had wi-fi in the apartments and so I made sure everything was synced up to Dropbox at least once a day.

I worked a little while traveling, but could only be so productive without getting in the way of enjoying the vacation. I’m catching up on some email and client work this morning. Feeling fairly rested despite a very long travel day coming back home.

Starting over

“Am I always starting over
In a brand new story?
Am I always back at one
After all I’ve done?”
— Always Starting Over, from the broadway show If/Then

Daniel said on the latest Core Intuition that it’s important to celebrate major work milestones, like shipping a new app or quitting a job. I didn’t think I’d be celebrating right away, but as it turned out, my wife met me for lunch on Friday and we had a beer to mark the occasion. She snapped this photo:

Some things just work out. I couldn’t have picked a better t-shirt to wear if I had planned it.

When 5pm came around I made a final comment on Confluence, replied to a couple emails, and then signed out of HipChat. But I didn’t have time for much reflection. My son and I were busy packing up to head to a campout with Boy Scouts. Then as soon as we arrived back the next day, I turned around again to take my daughter to see Idina Menzel.

The concert was incredible, somehow including both Wicked’s “Defying Gratify” and Radiohead’s “Creep” — and yes, of course Frozen — to make a show with both the occasional explicit lyric and little kids pulled up from the audience to sing. It was only while driving home from the concert that I had a moment to think what I need to do next. Idina’s lines from If/Then at the beginning of this post kept coming back to me.

I’ve worked a long time on a few things, and they were pretty good, but now it’s time to start over. I turn 40 in a few months. It’s time to figure out what the next 10 years of my life should be about.

Austin rain

I think it has finally stopped raining in Austin. Starting to look like summer again:

10 days

Contrast with this video we took on our street last week. We get our fair share of thunderstorms, but I had never seen anything quite like the rain we got last month.

Jordan Breeding

Last week at NSDrinking we had one of our biggest turnouts yet. At one point, we’re talking about programming jobs, meetups, and Apple, and Jordan Breeding was mentioned. Not in the context of having passed away, but just in remembering something he had said or done. A stranger listening to the conversation would have no idea that Jordan wasn’t still a member of the community.

This struck me as exactly right. I think anyone would would want to be remembered as who they were, not how they left us.

Like many in our developer community, I’ve thought about Jordan Breeding at certain moments over the last couple months. Patrick Burleson shared a story about his close friend:

“For those that knew Jordan, they know that he was a incredibly generous and caring person. He did so many things for so many people, it’s a wonder he ever got anything else done.”

Episode 135 of the iDeveloper podcast opened with a segment remembering Jordan. Scotty and John did a great job of capturing what he meant to the community. Scotty says:

“Everybody has said really the same things about him. Firstly, how clever he was. He was an incredibly intelligent person. But secondly, how generous and humble he was with that intelligence, and how he shared with people. He always made you feel like you could be better, and do better, and was always having a laugh about things.”

Guy English also dedicated episode 60 of the Debug podcast to Jordan. On his blog he writes:

“Good guy. I didn’t know him well but he always struck me as someone I’d like to get to know better. I lost out on that and too many others did too. Those who knew him universally loved him.”

Kyle Richter worked with Jordan and had this to say, echoing Patrick’s quote above about how Jordan went out of his way for other people:

“We were having dinner with some friends in California and my iPhone was acting up. Jordan volunteered to break away from the pack and come to the Apple Store with me. You rarely get to pick your last time with a friend, my last time with Jordan was him fighting with the Apple Store staff on my behalf. That was Jordan, even with everything he was going through he never thought of himself first.”

And finally, a collection of tweets via John Gruber. You know when reading any of these that Jordan will be remembered for a long time. He accomplished a great deal and went far, quickly, and that progress is a personal inspiration whenever I consider accelerating the change in my own career. Carpe diem.

Nimoy’s last tweet

Over two years ago, I carefully planned my final tweets so that they would serve as a proper closing to that chapter of being active on Twitter. But mine were nothing compared to Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet, posted days before he passed away. It’s been a month now but I’m still reflecting on it:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

Beautiful. He left behind much to be remembered by.

My new electric car

10 years ago, when everyone else had cable, we were sick of the monthly bill and the mindlessly infinite channel list and cancelled it. I was happy to never have to deal with Time Warner again. But a couple years ago, we subscribed again to keep up with some of our favorite shows. Finally things are changing, and I expect we’ll cancel again before too long.

This on-again, off-again relationship with cable is also how we treat having a second car. Working at home for the last 13 years, even with taking the kids to school and various errands, my wife and I rarely need to be in two places at once. So we downsized to one car long ago, then got a second car for a few years, then downsized again a couple years ago. With my daughters to high school, I knew we’d need another car soon, but it was nice not having an extra car payment and even better to have an excuse to bike to coffee shops.

I promised myself and my son, who is already living in the future, that our next car would be 100% electric. I kept up with new Tesla models and their growing Supercharger infrastructure, but realistically Tesla is out of reach. There’s no way to justify the price for just driving to the elementary school a mile away, a nearby coffee shop, or around town every couple days.

So three weeks ago we picked up a Nissan Leaf. Because our needs (and battery technology) keep changing, we’re leasing it and we’ll decide at the end whether to pay the difference and keep it. It’s a fun little car, so quiet and effortless to drive, and the kids love it.

Obviously our “normal” gas-powered car will remain the primary family car and the one that we take on road trips. The Leaf goes about 85 miles fully charged and plugs into the normal outlet in our garage, as if we were just plugging in Christmas lights. I’ve also used the charging stations at Whole Foods, where I usually go for coffee and work once or twice a week. (We skipped the recommended 240V home charging kit for now, which charges significantly faster. For comparison, Tesla’s range is closer to 250 miles.)

While I’ve always been pretty good at hypermiling, the Leaf has made me even more conscious of it. I drove to my daughter’s basketball game in Georgetown last week, 30 miles away on the toll road. Sustaining 75mph is the worst and dragged my miles/kWh down a notch. On the way back, I drove the more direct, non-toll route and got significantly more efficiency at respectable speeds with some breaking.

But cruising down the highway it’s easy to see that this is the way the world should be, in time. Good new tech always reminds me of that first feeling we got when using the original iPhone, how it felt like the whole thing was from 5 years in the future. It’s not that extreme with the Leaf, but I still see a little of that, a glimpse that it’s more advanced than it should be. I think this may be the best car I’ve ever owned.

No way to live

Two great blog posts yesterday from Brent Simmons that I think are related, though I read one early in the day and the other catching up on RSS feeds late at night. First, on quitting his job to work full-time on Vesper:

“A year ago I was a designer for an enterprise app I didn’t care about — or even like in the least tiny bit — and which you’ve never seen or heard of. That’s no way to live.”

It reminds me, of course, of the famous Steve Jobs quote:

“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

And then, Brent says about Twitter:

“The 140-character stream is where things not worth saying, and not worth reading, thrive. It’s where things actually worth saying get over-simplified and then get lost, if they get said at all.”

In other words, do something you care about, write something lasting. The older I get, the more both of these resonate with me. And even though I haven’t posted to Twitter in over a year, I think I needed to read that post to focus back on this blog, where my writing should live.

Aaron Swartz

I met Aaron briefly at SXSW, maybe 8 or 9 years ago, when the conference was still so small you could run into everyone. He wouldn’t remember me, but I followed his work and linked to him a couple times here. He was so young and already doing great things.

Lawrence Lessig:

“He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think?”

Brent Simmons:

“He’d gone on to do cool things — and make some mistakes, and get in trouble for them. But I knew he was extraordinary, and I expected him to grow up to become an American hero.”

Cory Doctorow:

“Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so.”

Daniel Jalkut:

“After witnessing a small extent of the struggles Aaron fought, I choose to commemorate him with gratitude for the many bad weeks when he resisted drastic action, and gave us all more time to appreciate and share his contributions.”


“You’ve honored Aaron Swartz by acknowledging what he did before he died. Now honor him by doing what he might have done.”

Such a loss. For more links, I started a collection of tweets when my timeline woke up to the news of Aaron’s death.