Two things that were reinforced today about something you create. The first is that the best ‘marketing’ you can hope to achieve is creating something worthwhile. Creating something people care about and find value in. The second thing is that any form of success can take a long while to achieve. Don’t despair. The road is long.

A year without a MacBook

Since around 2007, nearly 12 years, I have relied on a Mac to get me through my projects. During that time I have used a Mac Mini and two 13” MacBook Pros. They are machines that have served me very well during these times. Last year I had the first motherboard problem on any machine I have owned. To be honest it was 6 years old at this stage and had taken a considerable beating being in a household with young children.

Luckily I had invested a year earlier in an iPad Pro, in the hope of one day relying upon it as my portable device and hopefully getting an iMac for the desk. For the most part that plan is still on track as I have found my iPad to be more than capable for 80% of the tasks that I want to get done. My biggest limitation being the reasonably poor front end web development tools available on the iPad. The most glaring omission being the lack of a web inspector backed into any of the browsers.

Another reason I opted not to buy a replacement was that I was waiting for an update to the infamous keyboard. This came relatively quickly along with news of new Apple silicon towards the end of the year. While others may have just bit the bullet and gotten a replacement, these are COVID times and my iPad Pro was perfectly capable of handling most of my computing needs, something it was even much better than a MacBook.

The experience wasn’t rosey the whole year. For weeks I was plagued with poor bluetooth connectivity to the keyboard. It just made for a frustrating experience. The killer blow to me was a little over a month ago. I upgraded to 13.6 and ran into a battery drain bug for my iPad which actually derailed my production for several weeks as I spent far too long trying to resolve it.

It remains unresolved.

I jumped into iOS 14 Beta in the hopes that this will go away. It didn’t.

Tomorrow iOS 14 comes out of beta. Honestly I have little to no hope that this will get resolved until I take it in and pay again to get it ‘fixed’. A year of using the iPad as my sole machine has left a seriously bad taste in my mouth. I got into Apple products to not have to worry about this sort of thing. I’m also not alone. I found myself angry at the Apple keynote today rather than being happy.

First scratch on the swatch. Totally forgot that this was a thing for watch wearers. Quick search online reveals that Polywatch might be the perfect solution for this type of thing. Imagine I will be using the hell out of this thing.

🎬 Finally finished Roma. I barely watch any television these days, so when I do I want to make sure that there will be some connection. This movie was super powerful but in a magical way. Transported me to a time and place I have never lived, which oddly was familiar. Beautifully shot.

Taking long walks on a Sunday has become a bit of a thing for me. It lets my mind wander a little. My body gets a little bit of exercise at the same time. Part of this is down to a general sense of anxiety. The soundtrack for this week is Tori Amos ‘Gold Dust’ album. Life is a collection of choices we make and then living with those choices. Everything we experience is down to a choice. To move or to stay. To take action or to wait. To buy or to abstain.

📚 I don’t typically like to give up on a book but Essentialism by just could not keep my attention. My cardinal rule when reading a non-fiction book is that it has to inform me and delight me by stretching my brain. Not in its prose but rather in the message and thoughts it is trying to convey. In this instance, even though I read 50% of the book it just isn’t very well written. It lacks a confidence. It lacks a unique sense of style.

This one is a day late but issue 034 ‘On Bridges’ of my newsletter In Abeyance is out. This issue equals the same number of issues sent out last year. As always the subject crept up on me but I ended up learning a lot about bridges over the last few days.

So let me get this straight. The UAE no longer has diplomatic ties with Qatar, yet it is establishing them with Israel and in doing so has given the tangerino a nobel peace price nomination. Serious 2020, you are the worst.

📚 Currently reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown. While the thesis found inside is fine (although not particularly earth shattering), I have found the writing to be less refined when compared to the writing of Cal Newport or Seth Godin. In fact as I am reading things in a more concentrated manner these last few months I have been able to compare styles of writing when comparing similar topics. Even Ryan Holiday’s style meanders a little too much into what seems like superfluous examples.

It took me weeks. It got to the point that Yasmine was sick and tired of me looking at watch websites. Endlessly navigating between different styles, then checking them out on YouTube in the hope that I would be convinced. It didn’t all finally fall into place until this morning. A watch I may have looked at before in passing.

For weeks now I have been trending towards the Certina DS-8, a more beautiful and understated timepiece you probably are unlikely to find. My problem with it wasn’t the price, it was the very fact of its appeal. It was steel (and there had heft) it was large enough to make it presence felt. I went for utility instead.

The Swatch Skinera offers me the function over form that I was desperately seeking.

A life worth living. That is the ultimate goal that everyone aims for. A life they can look back on and say that it was worth it. Sure it was difficult. Sure it made you mad, angry, happy, frustrated or any other emotion., but crucially it was worth it. Sometimes its hard to separate this worth. Sitting in a cemetery surrounded by dead Danes I’m reminded that we all have one life and that we should all remember that fact as often as we can.

For the last few weeks I have been spending a stupid amount of time trying to choose a practical daily watch. With my iPhone relegated as a tool I use on occasion and for very specific things, I find myself wondering what time it is more regularly with no instant way of knowing this most basic of information.

Truth is I am struggling with the incredible sea of choice that is available. Getting into the watch game is very similar to getting into anything with a rich history. The options and things you need to get your head around is legion. That is the problem. You cannot find that one watch that satisfies all situations. You likely need a small collection. So the hunt begins.

Over the last 3 months it happened. The thing that I have been wanting to do for years. Recognise that reading long form articles is difficult inside a browser. Now I send it to Feedbin and then at some point send them to my Kindle where I am actually reading the damn things, rather than pretending to read them.

It doesn’t happen very often, once every few years probably, but new Smashing Pumpkins songs are the only music that I will buy without even waiting to hear it first. It doesn’t matter. The Corgan tickles my music funny bone. Every. Single. Time. The latest song Cyr is certainly no exception. The official website is equally cryptic but in a fun Pumpkins way. I guess they are releasing a new song every 2 weeks?

Jake Parker Plagiarized My Book. This is heartbreaking. I have participated in Inktober several times now and think Parker has created something many of us aspire to. However I owe so much knowledge to Alphonso Dunn, probably one of the best art instructors or teachers anyone could have. He is also exceptionally composed even on the end of pure theft. I’m not surprised that someone would steal from him, but I honestly did not think it would be Parker.

In the latest issue of my newsletter I shared the almost complete cover for my upcoming book, the Built Environment Compendium (or BEC for short). Its something I am really proud of and is the very first publication in a book format for Stet.Build. While still work in progress (things will likely change), I wanted to share a little bit about the process of designing the cover. I will be sharing a lot more information in the coming weeks and months.

I did not expect to like Ted Lasso as much as I have. Great writing, very clever in many little ways.

Newsletter Dos & Donts

So you want to write and publish a newsletter? Based on my admittedly limited experience (when compared to the torrent of newsletter out there), it seems that the first 100 subscribers is a battle of attrition. Having said that, it is also the single greatest thing I have done online since coming online. In every respect I wish that I had started my letter 10 years ago (when I had the original idea). So here are 5 dos and 5 donts for those thinking or at the start of their journey:

Dos

  1. Do have a clear overarching theme you want to talk about, week after week, month after month. The time between newsletters creeps on you surprisingly quickly.
  2. Do have a schedule. If you’ve never done this, start with once per month. Then ramp it up to twice. Only when you know you have the process under control, switch to weekly if you dare.
  3. Do remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
  4. Do have an opinion. People are there for your voice and your thoughts. Developing this will take time. Embrace it.
  5. Do enjoy the process. You’re more likely to last.

Donts

  1. Don’t be afraid to start.
  2. Don’t be discouraged when days, weeks and sometimes months pass and you get no new subscribers.
  3. Don’t get discouraged when someone unsubscribes.
  4. Don’t be discouraged when nobody forwards your email on - this rarely happens. I don’t think anyone has ever forwarded on my newsletter.
  5. Don’t worry about the final look. Email design is an exercise in futility. You could try but there will always be cases when the shit breaks in the worst possible way. Keep it simple, text based, with a few images probably is best.

Issue 033 of my newsletter In Abeyance is out. This issue has a decidedly Japanese flavour and touches upon circular architecture, the Hobonichi Techo, Perskovite and some vertical agriculture.

I barely watch any movies anymore (the thing has to be pretty spectacular to get onto my radar these days), but I am a total sucker for all things Batman. Surprisingly ‘The Batman’ teaser trailer is actually very, very good. Using the Nirvana song is inspired.

For nearly 6 years I used a bullet journal for my entire professional life. I found it provided me with the exact structure for the plethora of tasks in front of me. The last year and a bit I have wandered away. I haven’t been very happy with what I was left with.

I have come back to the fold only in a slightly different manner. I have multiple buckets. Each bucket is a single page. Each page can have notes (if they are super important), but really it is for tasks that I need to finish. By having clearly defined buckets I am able to muster up the necessary courage for the next step with the full knowledge of what I have to do.

Once I have everything in front of me, I want to block when I am going to carry out each of the buckets. This is the difficult part. Which task do I do first and how long will it take? Which task am I paralysed with because I am waiting for a response or input (the biggest killer).

Its a small step to take in what is no doubt going to become an incredibly busy period ahead of me. I’m glad to have been allowed the time to consider and reflect and read and adapt things, processes and thoughts that many others also struggle with.

41

Took a long walk this morning to take stock and review the year that just passed. It has been a real transition year for myself and the family. A rebuilding year. New country. New office. New language. New everything. Then Corona happened. We struggled in the beginning, like the majority of the world. We are now in a better place. Things are not as extreme as they were 6 months ago of course. Summer is officially over, with the weather changing here in Denmark.

Frankly, the change of the weather is not the only change happening around me. I am focusing on things that I am in control of. Very much of life is beyond your control. Remembering what you are able to control every day is super important.

Health wise, I’ve been on the No S diet for 4-5 months and have lost nearly 10kg in that time. It has not been particularly difficult (except the very start of things) and now when I get to indulge in things (like on my birthday) I don’t feel guilty about it all. Rather I know that tomorrow will be back to my 3 meals, no snacking, no sugar, no seconds. At this rate, I will be back to my pre-marriage weight by Christmas. For all those looking for a way out of their bad eating habits, this is one I can honestly stand behind 100%. It works, when nothing else came close.

From a creative perspective this year has been one of the most incredible in recent years. The readership for my newsletter In Abeyance continues to build, slowly but honestly in a very purposeful manner which I am very happy with. I’m also about to release my the first collection of the first year of the newsletter. Over the summer, the intention was to finish putting together the package. Its 90% there. Easily the most time consuming element being the cover that I have been drawing for a month — I am this close to finish this mega project off and its surprisingly met my original vision. Which I will go into more detail at some point.

Around 10 months ago my MacBook failed after a healthy 2 year run. At the time I lamented this fact, but was incredibly happy that it was my MacBook and not my iPad, as the latter offered me the use of drawing artwork and I would have to learn to manage my way around the limitations that iOS offered to do all the other stuff. A couple of weeks ago I upgraded to 13.6 and that was the beginning of the shit show. I got the battery drain bug, and no amount of resetting, restoring, contacting Apple, recovery mode (although not sure how long it lasted for).

Now my iPad is always plugged in as I don’t want to stress the battery in any way until this shit gets sorted out. What a shit storm iPadOS is turning out to be.

The Switch

It turns out that one of the things that I have struggled with over the last few years is called ‘context switching’. You’re doing this thing over here, your brain gets bored, distracted or wanders and now it wants to do this thing over there. The switch comes at a price, your time. You’ll get there eventually I’m sure, but it might take you hours rather than minutes. Months, rather than days.

The first step out of this loop is to recognise that this is happening and also stop yourself as it happens. From there you can start to put the mental pieces in place to prevent it from happening. Traditionally I would just let my brain do its thing. I have started to find the incredible benefit of actually focusing on one subject and bringing my brain back to centre to let it complete the task at hand.

The switch usually happens when the hard part of the task you are doing presents itself. Your brain just gives into something easier. However if you fight the urge even for a fraction you are rewarded pretty quickly. I’m not advocating to eat through a wall every time, but I am saying to keep the pressure up just enough to let your brain flex.

It’s humid and muggy in Copenhagen tonight.

One of my fondest memories growing up in Greece, was early September. We had just come off a usually 2 ½ month break. We had gotten our stationary in order for the new school year. The first signs of winter had begun. In each of those cases, I was the student.

For the first time, I get the winter feeling combined with the start of school, but now its for my son. We got him an awesome Dakine backpack and pencil case - a brand I have never heard of before, but I’m certainly going to be looking into more in the future. Then I filled his pencil case with Viking and Staedtler pencils - what else right?

Our neighbours packed their house today and left Copenhagen for good. They have decided for a more quiet life elsewhere in the country. With kids very similar in age to ours, we were able to compare notes with each other. They offered us some form of guidance through these strange times in a very foreign country. I’ll miss their carefree nature and wish them all the best in their future adventure.

It has been several years since I worked so long on a single piece. The features available to me in Procreate allows me to experiment in a way I have never been able to do before. Looking forward to sharing the full piece eventually.

For all the time that I have had my iPad it has worked flawlessly. I have mothered this thing, considering it is my primary tool. However in the latest update, iPadOS 13.6, I stumbled onto a nasty battery drain bug that I cannot resolve. Now the thing drains even when it is not doing anything.

I have AppleCare but its not worth the money I paid for it because AppleCare is not international, it is tied to the country you bought it in.

I’ve restored this thing from or without a backup, I’ve factory reset from recovery mode (going to a store because my work computer refuses to recognise the ipad when it is connected). Just at a loss as I depend on this thing for so much.

📚 Just finished reading Fortunately, The Milk (the Scottie Young edition). This interview is a great ‘directors commentary’ and the reason for writing it.

Not every day you see a bunch of balloons gliding above your head.

First days of school and my heart is in my mouth. In a country he knows little about, with a language he does not understand he’s been thrown into the deep end. He will swim very soon I am sure (at least everyone tells me that, and I have grown to believe this), but it doesn’t make the act any less difficult to watch.

Sometimes you need things to focus your attention on to keep you centred.

Since the blast, I’ve not really spoken very much. Yasmine has obviously taken it particularly hard, considering she was on the phone to her mother during the explosion itself. Shattered glass and rubble is a familiar sight in Lebanon. I would have hoped that this type of news coverage was over for the country, sadly it will never be over. I am slightly heartened by some of the support that is coming from the world, you know that things would have been different if we were not going through Corona. Fuck off 2020. Seriously, just fuck off.

Every year on the 1st of August, the peeps over at Hobonichi start their month long ‘festival’ leading up to the release of the new planners. This is the 20th Anniversary of the product line.

Last year I decided that these were not for me after having spent several years trying to use it as a journal. The format and size has not worked for me. However I have found that this type of notebook can enter my professional life.

For years I have depended on an A5 bullet journal style notebook. As I meander my way in my working life, what I do day to day has changed. Having adopted the Working Memory method, this Hobonichi Weeks would be how I would capture my thoughts and ideas in paper form, when I am away from something electronic (which surprisingly is happening more and more often).

Daily Lynchpin Tasks

Following reading Digital Minimalism, I’ve found myself circling around Cal Newport and his way of thinking. His podcast has made my digital detox cut. Even though he sends out two episodes a week, I find the information and discussion to be super useful in a practical sense.

I have been trying to refocus my mind in the little pockets of “free” time that I have available to me. One of the key takes from this week’s episode has been to identify my daily lynchpin tasks that over time build in a way that is important to me. Identifying these tasks is only part of the solution. Defining exactly when I want to do this will hopefully help me maintain this task. Each task has an elastic timeline, from 5 minutes to 1 hour tops.

I’ve settled on five separate tasks:

  1. Journalling - The plan is to begin my night time routine at my journal. 10-15min daily.
  2. Reading - I have been reading a lot more since the 21st of May, my current log is found over at kaa.bz/library. My subscription to The Economist remains, although I want to read finish reading this over the weekend over breakfast. 15-30min daily.
  3. Writing - My mornings are sacracent. This is where I do my deep work. This is my 30min to 1hour of writing that I allow myself to write by hand or in iA Writer to create the words that I am keen on doing. 30-1hour daily.
  4. Drawing - This is actually an exercise of relaxation. Doing this after I’ve had my dinner (the kids take an hour to feed, I take 15min, might as well doodle while they procrastinate about eating their veg). 15min daily.
  5. Exercise - Interspersed is some weekly exercise. 2-3 times a week I’ll be riding my bike. I’ve also started taking some 30-50 minute walks around the neighborhood, solving a problem I might be struggling with and clearing my head from things. I might add a little bit of basketball in there to loosen up as well. Depends.

Maybe doing more than I can chew to be honest, but some of these items I think I will be able to do daily, other items I might find that I miss a day or 2 a week. That’s fine, it’s not a sprint, its a marathon. Over time I hopefully will be more consistent.

Issue 031 of my newsletter In Abeyance is out. This is an important issue for me as I am changing the format a little bit to allow me to finish my book (currently finishing off chapter 07 of 12).

Ditching Mailerlite

For 26 issues I have been using Mailerlite to publish my newsletter. For the most part the experience was perfectly fine except the friction between moving from Markdown into the final email.

I switched over to the rich text editor (which admittedly in beta) and while the output was better, the friction has become unbearable. The interface in Safari iOS also does not work, by their own admission. Simple things like adding a link or deleting is just broken. Its been months of literally no improvement. The few times I have sent a support email, I’ve not had my issue resolved. Again I’m not a paying customer, but what I was reporting were bugs that could be fixed.

So what to do? I think I’m going to be moving back to Buttondown. The time spent on formatting a newsletter or wrestling with it could be better spent doing something else entirely. I am trying to reduce the friction in my life and my projects and this certainly qualifies as an important step.

What about the design? I’ve decided it doesnt really matter. Not really. What matters is that my readership get a well formatted email, that is typographically rock solid with a few minor items elements of flair. It’s likely too late for this issue (which comes out on Wednesday) but from next issue for sure.

Mohammad El Sharif

I lost my uncle.

My mother’s face crumbled on the call. She couldn’t hold back the tears. Neither could I.

He was by and large a towering figure in my life. To understand the reverence that I held for this man is to understand my mother’s own upbringing. My uncle was the same age as my father, they were in the same class - small town Lebanon. My uncle however couldn’t finish his schooling. He had to shoulder the responsibility left by his own father. My grandfather died around the ages of 50 (heart attack) and left behind him his wife and eight children. The oldest barely in her early 20s. The youngest barely a child of 4 years old. I remember considering the weight that was on his shoulders. Yet for most of his life my uncle was a jovial character. His smile always warm. Natural.

My favourite memories that are seared into my memory however are as a child he held a special place. He loved kids. So much so that even after raising his fathers, he had seven of his own. During the years of war, he would pick us all up from the airport, an arduous journey, with a smile on his face. The best welcoming committee anyone could hope for. Optimism always shining, even when the country had fallen apart.

In that same mini bus/van he would pile all the cousins (there must have been 10 of us at a time) up and take us to the beach. Then we would go and get the best ice cream in the world (I made sure we had the same at our wedding). When we got home his work was not done, he would line us all up, hose us down from all the sand and salt water before sending us off to our mothers.

Sharp. He was a do-er. He would get shit done. I remember my mother telling me about the times her brother would come back exhausted from work after most of her family had gone to sleep. My mother would make him something to eat and off to bed. Only to wake up again before the family had woken up and repeat the cycle all over again.

He wasn’t a flamboyant character. A man who always lived in modesty. A man who lived two lives. One before and after his stroke. Things changed. There was a brief time where his mind wandered. Then there was a time where he was obsessed with the family tree. Something was lost. In life, you get one body and one mind. Sometimes parts of one fail before the other.

My mother had seen him a few days earlier. They’d talked for 20 minutes (a rarified feat), but he was getting hungry so he had to excuse himself and go. You’d get a few minutes from him here and there. Always in a seeming rush. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll catch up soon.’

My uncle Mohammad died yesteday.

I could have given him my old iPhone 6, but I decided to go a little less digital. Zane is fascinated by animals and creatures and nature in general. One of the ‘annoying’ habits he’s developed is asking us to ‘take a picture’ of bugs and beetles and ants. After the 200th fly or whatever it gets a little tiring.

Instead I gave him our last point and shoot Canon I bought 12 years ago. The experience is not great but for a 6 year old it has enough buttons and complexity to allow him to fiddle while taking one picture after the other.

Sometimes you need a good old think, a piece of paper and a pen to solve the difficult problems. Today I ‘solved’ two issues that relate back to the work I am doing on Stet.Build. The first related to the format that will unlock a bunch of things for me. The second is in how I use Twitter.

On our bicycle ride to Valby park, Zane asks me ‘Dad, what is the M-sign for?’. That son is for McDonalds and its an amazing feat that you are 6 years old and we have managed to shelter you from what that establishment provides.

It also goes to shows the strength of branding, considering that intersection had plenty of other symbols, the m-sign stood out from all the noise.