1500

I must have imported around 500 photos and posts from Instagram and Tumblr, which leaves around 1000 posts over a 2½ year period. At first there is a question as to the reason for posting. Simply, it is primarily for myself. My site is one of the first sites I visit every morning. I head on over to the previously page and relive and remember my life from 1, 2 or more years ago. I don’t publish my deepest darkest thoughts (those I chuck into my journal), rather it is fun milestones that I would otherwise not record.

Today for instance was the first time that I took Zane on a long bike ride. It was a little bit stressful at the start as I needed to set some ground rules and make sure he kept close by and didn’t get in the way of other cyclists. Once we were inside the park it was a pure joy of just riding our bikes and exploring a park filled with trees towering above and around us. Its a moment in time, captured for me to see and relive in the future again and again.

In Denmark, kids draw things as big as their imaginations allows them, with massive sticks of chalk. Temporary graffiti. Also might use that as a self portrait.

Kinda annoyed by the smudge…but only just. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t exist in the digital world. Cmd+Z and its gone.

A small update about Affinity Publisher for iPad right at the end of this article. They cannot make this fast enough as far as I’m concerned, but I would say beginning of next year is the earliest we’re likely to get our hands on it.

From earlier today. I’ve missed playing with watercolours.

For years I have been buying art supplies and notebooks and all manner of stationary. Over the last 6 months as we have settled into life in Denmark I have the time and mental space to use all this stuff. They are like small gifts my previous self gave to my current self.

Danish summers. First you give me glorious sun. Sun like I’ve never seen before. Crisp. Pure. Clear. Then. Then you rip my heart out with changeable and non stop drizzle for 2 weeks. Begone foul deamon. Begone.

Shapr3D looks incredible. I was looking for something like this a few years ago when I was developing my very first side project. It kinda faltered around the 3D modeling stage. Maybe I can revive this project…

Also working on something else which has been burning a hole in my head for years. The year of consolidation continues. If it wasn’t for fucking Corona, this year would/could have been awesome on so many fronts.

Working on something which has been burning a hole in my brain for a few months now.

I have wondered about whether to use stock photography in my articles on Stet.Build and have decided to add some photos where I think there is something really appropriate. The surprising thing is the quality of the photos that are now freely available from places like Unsplash.

Issue 029 of my newsletter In Abeyance tackles architectural glass. This issue marks the halfway mark of the newsletter. Like everyone else on the list I’m always interested and excited to find out what the next subject is and what I will learn.

Not sure if he’s too young (he’s six), but I started reading The Hobbit to Zane as a bedtime story. Partly inspired by the latest two episodes of Revisionist History, which you should totally check out, if only for the Smaug references and music.

After nearly 4 years (maybe more?) on my Kindle, I finally finished The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero. I found a lot of his words can be applied and spread across any design practice really. It’s now available in a beautiful online edition and in a gorgeous paper package.

Love this post by Justin Duke (of Buttondown fame), The luxury of atypical success. This is kinda of how I see my work on Stet.Build. It’s something I am incredibly proud of, I’m having a ton of fun doing the work itself. The cherry on top is the amount I am learning in the process as well. Find that little project and let the moss grow.

In September iA Writer turns 10 years. Easily one of my favourite tools (digital or otherwise). Ramping up, iA have refreshed their site. As with the best ‘redesigns’, they’ve taken all the good from before, but added refinement.

Out of Corona

There was much said and discussed as the world gradually went into lockdown. The one idea that resonated with me was that we should aim to be better coming out than when we went in. For me this happened in two distinct ways:

  1. Going on the S-diet that I have managed to maintain for nearly 2 months now. Slowly I have seen my overall mood and general face look a little healthier. I don’t think about sugar (except that spoon of honey I might have with my oats). Beer intake has dropped off to a couple a week maximum and snacking has been eliminated (save for a few almonds on occasion).
  2. Reclaimed my attention from my phone and internet.During that time I was able to read multiple books and continue to do so on a regular basis. I have writing on a regular basis. I have had soo many excellent conversations with friends and family that I had also not really done in a long while.

These are two major elements of my life that I have felt had gotten away from me. The most encouraging element is that I have been able to maintain.

The very last element that I am now slowly starting to dip my toe in cautiously is social media. That is Twitter and Micro.blog. I am also in no rush to reintroduce this back into my life. For example on Micro.blog I have added Manton and Jean to my RSS feed and that is it for now, as though I was starting from zero and building the list in a very slow and purposeful manner. I don’t ever want to go back to that phase in my life when I was basically scrolling mindlessly. The signal to noise ratio has to be maintained at a point which is giving me joy and value.

On the road towards the culmination of 2 years work. Super excited.

The Flying Gherkin is a series of children’s books by Fosters & Partners. It’s funny to see a building I spent several months on during construction be used in a children’s book.

Dribbble has been a source of inspiration for a while now. More importantly however is that I enjoy looking back at the work in the same way I enjoy looking back at my photos and previous posts. So I’ll try and post something new from my work in progress on a more regular basis.

Un-hijacked

It’s now been 4 weeks into my digital detox, so its time to review how that’s been going.

The Problem

I have said this before and it absolutely remains the case but 4 weeks ago my attention was completely hijacked. I had fallen into a trap that I had enabled and partially built for myself.

  • I had 50 podcasts that I wouldn’t listen to.
  • I was subscribed to sites that would collectively pump hundreds of posts every day.
  • I was subscribed to email newsletters and services that would constantly spam me.
  • I was part of a few social networks that stole minutes from me throughout the day.
  • I found myself incapable of concentrating for a sustained period of time.
  • I would take my phone with me to bed (with the lie that it was acting as a clock, but it really wasn’t). My sleep was terrible as I would wake up in the middle of the night and I could not get back to sleep.
  • The same phone would be taken with me as we played with the kids and I would let my attention focus on this thing (even if it was for seconds or minutes).
  • I would visit ‘news’ websites that were blasting bite sized pieces of information that added nothing to my life in the interest of ‘staying current’.
  • I was texting people, thinking that this was enough for us as communication. Sadly it was nowhere near where it should be.

Sadly this had been going on for years. What is even sadder, is that looking around me, I know that I am not alone. If any of the above has resonated with you, then I honestly encourage you to try and read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and start thinking about how you want to manage your life.

Life

Like a switch that had been turned on, I was finally able to be more present around people around me. I have also been more present to people away from me having phoned a number of friends and family that I used to only text.

Sure that number could be a little better but this is barely the first month. There will be plenty of time to review.

Writing

One of the things that I implemented pretty early on is to write, on paper, every morning for about an hour. For sure the amount of writing notes I took in this month far exceed what I have done in a very very long time - if ever.

Reading

This has been one of the biggest joys that I have gotten back. In the space of this time I have managed to read 4 books, 3 issues of the Economist and several mega articles on the internet. Wait, what?

Drawing

Somehow I have also been able to get some actual drawing done as well. Not just for In Abeyance but also randomly. Its a slow start but one that I have wanted to include as part of my daily routine for years.

This has been the greatest gift that I could give myself. My evenings are now filled with reading and the occasional show.

I know I am very, very late to the party but I can’t get enough of Wait But Why. So much greatness on this site. I know I’ve stumbled on this site in the past, but it hasn’t really clicked until yesterday?

I have wanted to keep a sketchbook that I actually use on a daily basis for years. I would keep these books and use them sporadically. This meant books got filled over several years. At the rate I’m going that trend will hopefully change and for once I will actually use all the stationary that I have bought over these years.

Re-seeing the Tree

Something felt off.

I put the final touches on the latest issue and then we went downstairs for the kids to play in the park. I normally take a small notebook with me and just try and collect my thoughts for a few minutes while the kids play in the sand (I hate playing in the sand). Across from me was a tree. I looked up and just thought to myself ‘I can actually see this tree. Why can’t I draw the thing?’ I could see the values, I could see details. So I went back to my favourite teacher, Alphonso Dunn. The man is arguable the best art teacher I have ever had. I recommend you buy both his books and subscribe to his channel. Its all gold.

Issue 028 of my newsletter In Abeyance is out. This one was different. The tock issues are usually a lighter affair, but with my renewed attention and focus I was able to expand on several subjects. Also updated the design of the email itself.

Week 3 of digital declutter…and it has been properly quiet. Both in my head and in my online world. I haven’t disconnected completely, because frankly that just wouldn’t be practical.

I have let in many newsletters into my life, and unlike before I am reading these in their entirety, rather than skimming. This has meant I am actually loving email now. because it’s all good.

In terms of news, I read through my issue of The Economist and if I want an additional fix,…I read some more of the issue - the beauty of this publication is that it is dense. I have reached for the online websites out of habit (& likely some boredom) but I have managed to stop myself every time.

Another pillar that fell this week was podcasting. I had a very rough idea of what I wanted to bring back into my life. I limited it to seasonal series (Revisionist History, 13 Minutes from the Moon, Against The Rules), sporadic podcasts (On Margins and Hello Internet), and bi-monthly (Erasable Podcast). The only weekly podcast I have allowed is Akimbo, although this is a 30 minute show. I might also bring 99% Invisible back.

I’m also playing a game with myself which is to keep driving the average amount of weekly screentime down week on week. The big margins happened a while ago, but now 10% or 15% is surprisingly meaningful.

Every day after work we take the kids downstairs to the various parks around our house. It is one of the main reasons we chose this particular location when we moved as it afforded us not one but close to 7 parks for the kids to play. These last few days Zane has been obsessed with bumblebees. I will happily admit that I did not really appreciate the difference between a bumblebee and a regular honeybee (except maybe that they were bigger and don’t die if they sting you).

Living with a 6 year old nature obsessive will enlighten even the most uninterested 40 year old. Today I go to spend a good 15 minutes look at a tree in bloom covered with all sorts of insects. Honeybees, bumblebees, caterpillars, ladybirds and a magpie. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have spent a fraction of that time if this was 3 weeks ago. Every time I see someone engrossed in their phone missing such life around them I feel a little sad, in the same way that I would feel for someone who could not kick a smoking habit.

The last pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place.

I was following around 280 people on Micro.blog, 200 people on Twitter and 200 odd on Instagram. All three services do an equally poor job of creating an environment for reading. You go to your stream and its a long list of posts from these hundreds of accounts. Nothing really tying them together. Mixed in are @replies. There is no visual cues to help you see when someone has written a long piece, compared to shorter thoughts. Crucially, all services draw you in (whether it serves them, like Twitter and Instagram) or not (as is the case with Micro.blog).

So I decided to unfollow everyone1.

My thinking is that by resetting everything, I only allow certain people into the circle and in a controlled manner. You get access to my attention in the manner that I want and on my time. The gatekeeper to this attention is Feedbin, which has gotten more powerful over the years. Spending some time to organise what goes into Feedbin will allow me to spend targetted amount of time there. It used to be a daily affair, but I imagine I can likely spend an hour total on a weekend and catch up on what every one is doing (and then engage if that is what I want to do).


  1. Micro.blog was the worst at doing this. It took me an hour and 11 minutes — interestingly most of those I was following hadn’t posted in over a year. Twitter took around 18 minutes — it was a two clicks affair as I had to confirm I wanted to unfollow every time. Instagram took 8 minutes. Tap. Unfollow. [return]

Having the mental space to do other things than wasting it on the internet introduces previously difficult tasks. Tasks that you may have needed a lot of energy to accomplish become somewhat more plausible and achievable.

This week I spent four and a half hours on my phone. It wasn’t scrolling Twitter or in Safari or watching Youtube. Rather I was in the Finances app, easily the best of it’s kind and there are many, sorting out our budgets for the rest of the entire year. I’m using the ‘envelope’ method that is achievable within the app (a feature I only recently found out about). Previously I was using a spreadsheet, which while did the job, wasn’t as easy to maintain, and didn’t give you the same insights.

Putting the effort in now reaps multiple benefits moving forwards. For a start the mental overhead is vastly reduced - a subject I intend to write a lot more about in the coming year. You make decisions and you can either stick to them, or knowningly go in a different direction. While life is typically unpredicable we can however put some plans together and manage through things as best as we can.

Not sure when it happened, but the best way to read and experience The Economist is on the Kindle. First of all there are no ads. Each article has a small bar at the bottom to show you how far into the article you’ve gotten. It gives you the number of words in the article right at the start (so you are aware of what you’re getting yourself into). You can check the meaning of those clever little words that pepper the articles straight away. Getting through sections and sub-sections is really easy from the top (rather than flicking through pages and pages). And importantly I don’t need to recycle something that has been flown across borders to get to me.

My favourite thing however is the balance in the stories. It doesn’t try to sugar coat things. The whole experience is just so much better for my mental health if I’m honest. I will eventually supplement additional news sources, but it certainly won’t be in the manner that I consumed it previously. For the foreseeable future this magazine gives me an awesome overview of what is going on across the world in a manageable and enjoyable way.

The only area that I wish was done better was better resolution and size of the graphs. The Kindle does not do a very good job with these.

Reading the indepth interview that Miyazaki gave for My neighbour Totoro and today was transported there with a brief visit to Fredericksburg park. 10 minutes from the house and absolutely breathtaking.

One of the things that my digital declutter has allowed me to do is re-evaluate how I consume and collect my news. I used to think that news coverage from the BBC or even CNN would be sufficient for my needs. Every once in a while I’d venture over to the Guardian on occasion (but that paper annoys me more often than not). I would lament the fact that I could never carve out the time to read a whole issue of the Economist every week and carry on scrolling something else.

So to be more purposeful with how I consume my news, I’ve subscribed to The Economist (there is a four week trial period on the Kindle). My news coverage will be a week ‘old’, rather than minutes or even days, but hopefully that will mean that someone has provided the necessary thought and nuiance into the coverage itself. I also like how The Atlantic presents itself, however I think that this is too America focused for my liking.

Writing is often messy business. At least in those initial stages when a piece is not fully formed. You have the various threads. The ideas are relatively clear in your mind. They’re just all in the wrong place. Paper doesn’t judge. It doesn’t care for such things. I’ve ‘relearnt’ the importance of staying on paper for as long as possible. The text in the photo became the introduction of my latest issue.

Two weeks into my digital declutter and this is what my mornings are now starting to look like. Spend as much time on the paper before moving to digital. I’m also now starting to think about how I begin to introduce media back into my diet. It won’t be the free for all that it once was. That person is long gone and I honestly have no intention of bringing him back.

We were talking about sleep yesterday (something we have talked about regularly for 6 years now since our first was born and decided to destroy that most fragile of things). One of the incredible gifts that I have gotten since relegating my phone to a distant tool (probably my 5th or 6th favourite piece of technology at the moment, a thought I would have considered madness 2 weeks ago), is that my sleep has been noticeably and vastly improved.

I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to get back to sleep. My brain would start working at 100%, ideas, thoughts flashing into my head and there to feed me something was always my phone at my bedside. Part of the reason I let this happen is because I love the internet. Its an incredible resource and one of my favourite human inventions…when we use it correctly.

I do however feel completely disconnected from the world, having not read a headline in 2 weeks. I have no idea what is going on in the world. I don’t know how well or badly Corona is going. I have not followed along with Seth Meyers and Trumps latest antics. Rather I have been getting into the head of Seneca and a 50 year old Hayao Miyazaki.

Issue 027 of my newsletter In Abeyance is out. This one is all about wind turbines and easily the most fun I have had writing an issue. I attribute this to the manner in which I am now writing these pieces, which I’ll go into in future posts.

That was the most captivating 40 minutes we as a family have had in a long time. I wasn’t alive when NASA was at its peak, so I was only aware of it’s past successes and its decline. With SpaceX, a whole new generation of space geek can start a new. Also Florida to Ireland in a matter of minutes is pretty cool. Also, while I liked the space suits, not so sure about those space boots. Also, I thought the new (old) NASA logo was going to be used on this? Instead we got the meatball everywhere?

One of the things about being hyper aware of where your time goes on your machine (because it’s not all that common), is that you can actually analyse what you are spending time on. In this case I spent 2 hours on a single chart for the upcoming newsletter. Why? Because AmCharts. While super powerful is also pretty hard to understand what the 2000 options actually do. I am thankful that the service exists, I do wish that there was a simpler option available. I’ve considered just making things in numbers and publishing images. Whats stopped me is that the interactive charts are delightful and can contain a lot more information that is digestable.

It’s very strange to have any colour in iA Writer but the new highlight feature is a really welcome addition and goes really nicely with the flashing blue cursor.

While many swear by Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations. My favourite philosopher is Seneca. Something about the way he frames his arguements. The topics he chooses, resonate best with me. I’m currently reading On the Shortness of Life, which is incredibly apt for this new path of reclaiming my time. This line comes early on:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it…So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.

While the whole book is filled with so much goodness, this one also resonated:

But learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.

I used to be a voracious reader. That seems to have been at least 10 years ago. Before my attention was hijacked. I let it happen. It was easy. Click. Tap. Swipe. Swipe. Swipe.

Five days into my digital declutter and I have read two books (amongst a range of other activies that don’t involve the internet). In the last decade this act would usually have taken me 2 to 3 months.

I remember reading once how one of Stephen Kings advice to new writers was to read. Read widely. Over 50 books a year. I also remember thinking to myself that this is fantasy. This was impossible. This was never sustainable. At my peak I could barely finish 1 book every 3 weeks.

I don’t think I’ll reach 50, but I intend to reclaim my reading habits. I think I have around 30 unread books in my little library and on my kindle.

As much as I love Ben Elton’s books, they have such shit covers. I mean, don’t judge a book by its cover is best used on his books. They are soo poorly designed. I wish someone would do them more justice because they really are all excellent.

For over a year now I have written my bi-monthly newsletter exclusively on a computer. On the odd occasion I might write a few notes down. A couple of sentences. Maybe sketch some ideas. I never would write very much before quickly jumping back onto the screen. When I needed to FAQ check something, I would jump online and search for it,sometimes returning back to base to continue writing, sometimes not.

The latest issue has been written by hand first. The thoughts and ideas, structure and points that I want to make written by hand. It’s a decidedly different way of approaching the same thing, but I feel that this is a very purposeful approach. The words and structure is not fully formed. Things change from the written word to the typed word, but much of the meandering is carried out on paper first. When it then comes to typing, the act is oh so much easier. Direct.

Two thoughts. I’m not going to dwell on the past. That is done. I write these things to remind myself never to lapse. Its much better being in control even if it’s a little bit less convienient. The end result is better for it.