Articles

Form Factor

Since my digital detox from 2 years ago, I have been looking for a good source of ‘news’. Most news websites don’t offer the type of coverage that I crave and never in the form that I want it. I subscribed to The Economist for a few months but the regularity meant I could read nothing more. What I wanted was a dense version published less frequently that let me get into a specific topic more than superficially. Turns out form factor and package matters.

Yesterday we went to a bookstore. In this post pandemic world that is a novelty and something many members of the my family have not done. It wasn’t the largest bookstore I have been to but it was several orders bigger than anything in Copenhagen. I unabashedly fell in love. I could have spent the whole day there.

Because of our imminent move to Canada, I refrained from buying more than a single paperback tome of American Affairs, and with it I think I have found my source of ‘news’ and commentary in a vessel that I can absolutely get behind. Put together like a novel, the ‘magazine’ is 99.5% text (with the occasional graph or image). The articles are dense and let you delve into the subject. The paper is emasculate. The cover stock is sublime. The typography outstanding.

Best of all, it’s quarterly. One of the instant subscriptions when I get a permanent place in Canada.

Being An Indie Publisher

Now that I have completed putting my book up for sale (in all the places I intend to sell it in) thought it would be good to record the experience and what I learnt (in case others might be looking to replicate the journey).

Editions

All in all there are 4 editions across 4 stores:

  1. Digital Edition. This is hosted on Gumroad. Comes in two flavours, pdf and Epub3.
  2. Paperback Edition. This is a print on demand copy and honestly my favourite version - but I am very old school like that. The only difference for this edition is the lack of full blue page blue insert at the start of the book. I found that this page impacted the binding. This edition also comes with an index at the end (more on that in a bit).
  3. Amazon Kindle Edition. This does away with the double page photo images that break the chapters. The graphs and tables are images and does not have an index.
  4. Apple Bookstore Edition. The exact Epub3 file. This one is coming soon, as it’s being reviewed by Apple.

Pages

Nearly 3 years ago I lost my Mac. At the time there were rumours of Apple silicone on the horizon and it didn’t feel like the right time to make a purchase that would least me at least 5 years. My only machine was my 2018 iPad Pro, a device with hardware that was (and is?) way ahead of it’s competition. All that was missing was suitable software.

My original hope was that Affinity would release their desktop publishing app, Publisher, on the iPad relatively soon. We’re still waiting for that release. What I found was the incredibly capable Pages app that could do just about everything I wanted. It did take a while to get used to understanding how some of these things were setup, but being able to edit things across my iPad and iPhone allowed me to iterate at a much faster rate.

Being able to share comments and update a file between myself and Mike (my editor) made the editing process seamless. This space could be better in keeping the comments history (after you’ve accepted the comments), but honestly it’s a nitpick at this stage.

The one feature that I hope Apple adds is the ability to create an Index. This was by far the most time consuming and painful exercise - and which I had to do manually. What is encouraging is that Apple continues to update this app several times a year and continues to make it even more capable with every iteration.

Formatting

For Gumroad, creating a pdf and an Epub was trivial. As was uploading to the Apple Bookstore. The web interface for iTuneConnect is ok. You can tell which parts are still legacy from before Apple decided to take the web more seriously but overall no complaints.

Reformatting for Amazon was painful but hopefully worthwhile. For this edition I had to move off my iPad Pro and onto a Windows machine I have access to. Export from Pages to Word. Import it into Kindle Create and then go about formatting everything to suit the different format (ePub2?). Sadly I feel that this is a lesser edition than the others on account of not being able to provide some of the native elements that I have included in the other versions (full page images, native tables and graphes). Having said that everything looks sharp on both my Kindle Paperwhite and my iPhone.

I gave up on Draft2Digital pretty quickly because the final version was asking for too many compromises. My text and supplementary images don’t marry well with the type of book that service is catering towards. If you have a ‘novel’ type of book (a cover and then text), then this system will work a charm for you. Everyone else, it’s probably an exercise in frustration.


This has been a really incredible journey for me. From my original ideas of creating these concise books, I now have my first release across several stores and formats. The barrier to entry is exceedingly low, considering that apart from using a windows machine for a day to format the Kindle edition, everything else was done on an iPad (including all the illustrations). Creatively this has been one of the most complete things I have ever worked on. I have 3 more in the tank, although none have gone through the editing process yet. Now that I know the process, hopefully the next ones will come out faster.

Amazon Kindle Create

Spent the entire day formatting my book using Kindle Create.
What a collosal pain in the ass of a programme.
I mean seriously Amazon, sort your applications out. You’re a technology company with a leading role in the book industry. Their tool is piss poor. A few examples:

  1. You cannot format numbered lists or tables.
  2. Certain images cannot be moved around (you have to delete and start again)
  3. Full page images are not possible in the app.
  4. Don’t even bother with graphs.
  5. You can’t format the style of the contents page (not in any meaningful way).
  6. Covers are uploaded separately, so you don’t get to see the entire thing.

I have read a lot of books on my Kindle and yet this lack of finesse is only apparent to me with books that you can tell were not originally intended for this type of format. I have tried my best to create a great Kindle book, but I know it could have been even better, if Amazon had sorted their application out to make best use of their own readers.

It’s About Salad Dressing

What a ride.

It’s been just shy of 3 years in Denmark. We arrived in the autumn of 2019, filled with enthusiasm and optimism. Fast forward 3 months and we were in lockdown. Being a husband and father during these times was incredibly taxing. Fundamental ideologies between people in the same household would clash. Mine was no different. The common ground for us was fear for our kids. Some would untangle themselves from this mess relatively quickly while we would take years.

I really underestimated the difficulty of the language and it’s overall importance to being able to integrate into the society. This is used as a test really. As a means of separating the wheat from the chaff. Clearly my family were chaff. For all those considering a move, go listen to some Danish and see if it triggers the right happy receptors for you. It’s an important litmus test.

What I will miss about Denmark is the scale. Generally everything is on a human scale. I will miss riding my bike in a country filled with bikes. My work and office which I really felt a part of. I’ll miss the team.

Throughout all this upheaval, we were trying to get to grips and understand this decidedly different nation. Denmark is different by choice, not by accident. Proudly different and incredibly protectionist. There is no Amazon. A handful of MacDonalds (I think 3). Starbucks is not a thing. There are instead local brands and a few (emphasis on few) non-Denmark brands. This lack of choice is by design.

At first I loved the simplicity, but then after a little while I also started craving things that I did not have simple access to. Being part of the European Union means that most of these things are within reach relatively easily, mostly online. But you’re not going to buy chocolate online. Or Franks hot sauce. Or different types of crisps. Or tea. Maybe coffee. A choice beyond a single school for the kids which you might or might not be able to get them into. This lack of choice was something that Mindy (friend from work) would talk about. For her it was salad dressing. Sometimes you need choice. Sometimes it’s about getting more than 2 types of salad dressing.

Mondaine Helvetica GMT

Turns out I like creating my own yearly traditions. Every year, for the last 6, I have changed the colours of my site (this is the first year that the design was also changed, more on that in a future post).

Every year, for the last 3 years I buy a new watch. These are not crazy priced watches, by any stretch of the imagination, but modestly priced watches with a function . The collection grows steadily and I get to spend a good amount of time enjoying what I purchased.

For a great part of the year I was sure my yearly purchase was going to be a red dialed Orient Kamasu. Then I was convinced that it was going to be a blue faced automatic watch of some description. I was seesawing between a Christopher Ward Sealander and a Seiko Baby Alpinist. Honestly I can think of any number of others things I can spend $1000 on - maybe in the far and distant future.

Alas, like last year (when I opted for a Vaer Field watch), I went for a brand I was aware of but the cost and function won me over. In this case a Mondaine Helvetica GMT. Moving to Canada means that my parents are in a completely different timezone. Sometimes I do the mental arithmetic needed, sometimes I pull out my phone and check out World Clock (one of my favourite apps that has an excellent use case of haptic feedback). I wasn’t looking for a GMT, but when I saw it, I thought this might actually come in a little handy, glance down, what time is it in Europe/Middle East? Got it.

I’d never seen this particular model before - although I do not pay a great deal of attention to what Mondaine have been up to. Obviously I loved the Erik Spiekermann designed watch faces but this one hit all the right notes for me, except of course it’s not an automatic. I think this is another functional watch for me to enjoy.

Jamal El Labban

I wake up. It’s 5:10am.
I’m a little late in getting up but know that we’ve done most of what needs to be done the night before. It’s our first holiday since 2019, when the world was a very different place. We’ve been preparing this trip for what seems like years, but in reality it’s been a few weeks only.

The phone rings. It’s 5:30am.
It’s Sharron, probably to say good luck on the trip. I can barely hear her voice. She asks if we’re at the airport. I say we’ve just woken up and just getting ready and about to wake up the kids. I pass the phone over to Yasmine.

We never made it to the airport.


A death doesn’t become real to me until I write about what this person meant to me. Sadly family ‘obituaries’ have become a familiar subject for me to write about. I write them to help me remember and celebrate the life of those that have just left us.

My relationship with Jamal started as my oldest brother-in-law, over the years however I came to see him a little differently. Coming into my wife’s family I would be their ‘fourth’ brother. The age difference was a little jarring but amusing at the same time. Jamal, being of my mother’s age, told me a joke that my mother had told me 20 years earlier.

When I was still in Lebanon, in what seems like several lifetimes ago, I remember a conversation I had with him before we decided to leave. I ended it by saying something to the effect that ‘Lebanon was no longer built for its people, it was built for foreigners.’ He clearly agreed because a couple of years after that he had migrated his entire life over to the United States.


Memento Mori. Remember you will die.

Nobody better embodies this concept as a cautionary tale than Jamal. His passing was both shocking but also not so shocking. I knew his wanton disregard for improving his health was shortening his life, but I had no idea (nor did anyone else) just how much shorter that was going to be. Jamal struggled with his weight. This was one of his weaknesses and from there it would spiral into any number of issues that plagued him throughout his life. I’m (slightly) angry at him because he left us exceedingly early. Time and memories were taken away from us.


Shortly after he had moved to Florida, I visited him in his new house and spent a tiny bit of time with him. It was brief but he relished showing me around and his then setup. What I liked about him was his energy for entertaining others, for being around others. Jamals barbecuing was legendary. He was a master storyteller, sometime stretched a little (but always entertaining) and sprinkled with just the right amount of Lebanese bullshit.

He possessed a child like enthusiasm, which is probably why he loved interacting with kids. Maybe because he looked like Santa, white hair and beard, that kids loved him as well. He didn’t have any grandchildren of his own, but my kids were probably the closest he got to that feeling.

From time to time he would send me little videos and jokes. A small little curated collection of his humour. Every time I received one, I would just imagine his laugh and understand why he would send these over to me.


For my part I will miss the big bear.
A lot.

On Seasons

I write and draw because I absolutely love it. I do it because I find tremendous value in the research, writing and creation process and hopefully you find value in receiving these missives as well.

I don’t however have a team of people doing things for me. I am the sole person responsible for everything around these parts. Doing many things, which I enjoy, takes time. Having an infinite weekly deadline doesn’t really work for me now that I have to split my attention across multiple channels (the newsletter, the books, the website).

And so my In Abeyance newsletter is moving to a ‘seasons’ model.

My intention is to give myself the summer off. Write season 5 and release it in the autumn. The size of each season will depend, but I imagine between 6 and 12 issues. Each season will have a theme, with the next season concentrating on ports. Airports. Shipping ports. Spaceports. Their history, economics, design and future.

Paperback & Pricing Changes

The Built Environment Compendium, while the work of three years, is actually the very start of the journey with all things Stet.Build. I am incredibly excited about how the first book turned out - even more so now that physical copies are available.

I am however still learning what works and what doesn’t work in the indie self-publishing world. Pricing was something that I did agonise over a fair amount. I loved the idea that Derek Sivers uses however it didn’t really work for me.

I’ve decided to change the pricing model for the books, but only after I took care of the super early (and incredible) supporters by sending them a paperback version of the book as well (these are now all in the post and on their way). They now have all the versions for roughly the same price as the new pricing:

The final version I am currently working on is the Kindle version. This will likely be priced the same as the digital version and will hopefully drop sometime in the summer.

For all those who have bought it already I want to thank you for the support and would love to hear back from you. For those still on the fence, consider buying a copy (or 2), it’s a concise package of goodness about how the world is built.

An Affordable LifeBook

The Hobonichi Techo is marketed as a ‘LifeBook’ and for several years I bought into the marketing. The biggest issue I had with the product was the sheer number of wasted space on all the peripheral ornamentation that adorns each page. Fast forward a few years and I went and got myself one of the cheapest Muji A6 blank notebooks, an impulse buy but realised that this is my LifeBook.

What I’ve appreciated is the blank canvas that allows me to use it whenever and for whatever. Everything goes into here. Random thoughts. Email. Ideas for presentations. Ideas for blog posts. Todo lists items. How is this different to a number of Field Notes? Cost ($2.90) and pages (144 pages!). Great value. Highly recommended.

Printing Defects

That was disappointing. Just got a printed copy of my book from Lulu.com. A little over a year ago I got a similar print which I thought came out really well.

Fast forward to today and the results are not the same. For a start the binding is worse and the cover has separated already from the front page.

There are issues with the printing alignment - checked the pdf and everything is fine at the source.

The colours have been printed in CMYK, even though previously they would be done in an RGB palette. I’m pretty sure this is a different printing house (the book came from France rather Spain).

Also, so far noticed one small error which I am correcting as I also pull together the Kindle version as well.

Sensible Defaults / Chapter 02

Understanding Collecting

As human beings we are constantly accumulating and collecting - information, data, objects, memories, scars, pain, email, experiences and so on. This explains why there are so many methods, courses, apps and products designed to help you categorise, manage, store or replace items within your collections.

You will never cease to collect until the day you die. It’s part of being a human. The intention of Sensible Defaults is to start making you more mindful of the existing items in your life and allow you to consider any new ones that you choose to add. The intention is not to achieve the perfect equilibrium, as this will likely be a fools errand. Your needs will change throughout your life and constantly reviewing the items in your life in this manner is exhausting.

The aim rather is to allow you to arrive at a moderate point along your journey whereby most of your surroundings blend around you and where everything has it’s place and provides a specific function in your life.

There will be outlier elements that will likely need to be considered separately. Don’t get bogged down with these items to begin with. Turn your focus to the low hanging fruit first.

The Physical, the Digital & the Mind

Most people’s world is occupied across three distinct containers, the physical, the digital and that vast expanse of the mind.

This does not define every human being on earth. There are people in this world with no electricity, much less internet access and for those millions a digital container is irrelevant. However the other two containers definitely remain relevant.

Each container plays an important role in defining many aspects of our lives. Left unchecked, the containers have the potential to add infinite amounts of weight and baggage over time, like weeds in a garden.

The physical world is the most readily apparent, as everything associated with this container ultimately surrounds us, in plain view. While the digital world can be infinitely larger and potentially more dangerous if not taken into account and understood and managed. Finally, the mind has the absolute biggest impact on everything, as it will impact the way you interact with each of the other two container and has the most power over you.

The first step is to accept the concept of trying to divide your life into these three spaces and then providing the necessary maintenance to each one throughout different phases of your life.

You Call That A Knife?

We were in Italy and my dad got me my Swiss army knife. It was part of being a Cub Scout. Fast forward some 30 years and I still have that knife. It works, but it’s received no maintenance in that time. It’s squeaky. The knife is blunt. The scissors don’t work. The vibrant red plastic is covered in scratches and the logo has been worn away completely. Trying to open some of the additional features is playing roulette with your fingernails. But the thing works. And I have used it for the odd job for decades.

I’m all about buying purposefully. So I decided to get a pocket knife upgrade. Down the rabbit hole I went. Everything has a passion group around it. Knives is no different. The sites celebrate knife designers. Materials and terms I have never heard. The costs escalate quickly as soon as the country of origin moves away from Asia. I think I will go for the Fox Baby Core in blue…although I am categorically a n00b here, so someone might tell me that I have got this all wrong.

Bookmark Trigger

I have heavily relied on things like Feedbin for my staring of important links I stumble across (after all that is likely where I read about them in the first place). Although I have had a Pinboard account for a long time. I decided to call bookmark bankruptcy and just deleted everything. I’m sure there were plenty of gems there, but somehow it didn’t really matter to me. I hadn’t used the service as anything more than a graveyard for links. Although my brain was telling me that all I needed was a nice list, in practice I need something different. Sometimes the tool creates a mental hinderance.

Raindrop.io, might be a better way for me to collect and organise my links in a manner that I actually use them in the future. The main difference is that it can be as visual as I want it to be, allowing the happy triggers in my brain to fire. I decided to centre around collections (rather than tags) and just be purposeful at the addition of things in here. Lets see if this works better for me.

Wild

Today marks four years on Micro.blog today. One of the best internet services that I subscribe to. What’s not to like?

  • It’s not run by a faceless corporation.
  • It gets updated constantly.
  • It’s hooked up to a number of text editors (I subscribe to Drafts just to post to my site).
  • It gets beamed everywhere. WordPress. Tumblr. Twitter. Email newsletter (which needs some TLC).
  • I use it to track my book reading. This one is an outlier feature, but I love it.
  • It transports me back in time every day to past years and what was on my mind that day (one of my favourite features and that’s a plug-in).
  • Gives me an excuse to take photos of things.

Like I said. Wild. Bring on year five.

Year of Momentum

2021 was the year of learning. What I have learnt is that in fact I want this to be a constant part of my life. Every year should in some form be the year of learning. This year is when I would say that I finally learnt how to cook. Gaining confidence in the kitchen is an amazing superpower and one I hope to share with my boys. I learnt how to ride a cargo bike. I learnt how to juggle. I learnt about coffee beans (the last space in the coffee world that has eluded me while I learnt brewing techniques).

For 2022, I have decided it shall be the year of momentum. I have put several things in place that I need to continue to build more and more momentum around. Things that I started 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 3 years ago are all on the cusp of bearing fruit. I will persevere through these and make sure I give it my very best. Central to all this is the understanding that you can only control your own actions and reactions. The rest is either a direct consequence or outside your control or ability to influence.

Purchases for 2021

I don’t typically do this, but I thought it would be useful to consider the major items I bought this year. Since moving to Denmark I am increasingly more aware of the purchases we make, because frankly they are limited compared to our materialistic lifestyle in Dubai.

Røde microphone

This was the first piece of electronics I bought this year. Excellent build quality. Great size. I never used it beyond a couple of test files. This isn’t to say that I won’t, just that I didn’t incorporate this into my life in 2022. In 2022 I would like to release a single episode at least once a month.

Vaer Watch

While not electronics, this was the first major purchase of the year. I have decided that I want to generally pace my watch buying to a single timepiece a year. This is a marathon not a sprint. The intention is to slowly build up my collection with purpose. While this watch does not have the heritage of many other watch brands, what I liked about it is that it fit into my yearly sub-theme, which is trying to get sensible defaults in place.

AOC screen

For the start of the pandemic I was using my little laptop screen as my primary device. There was a beauty to basically closing my laptop screen at the end of the week, leaving my desk clean for anything I wanted to do. When it became clear that we are in this for a while longer, I bought myself the largest screen that I thought would be compatible in our tiny little apartment. Its a 4K job. While nowhere near the density of my iPad Pro, it offers a huge step forward from everything work provides, while also setting me up nicely for one of my primarily purchases for next year.

Kindle Paperwhite

This was a replacement after 8 years with the previous model. A real upgrade. Glad that I waited as long as I did for this upgrade. At this rate I will get the next one at the end of 2029.

Soundcore Q30 earphones

This is a downgrade from my Sony WX1000, except they are not really. They function excellently, they just don’t feel premium, because they are not. I bought these because I also got the next item as a replacement. These lasted me a hair under 4 years. The issue was a bit of plastic. Tried to fix it but alas it had to be replaced. At 1/3 the price of the WX1000s, my thinking is that as long as these current ones last over 1.5 years then I am winning.

Jabra Elite 75T

Last year I lost one earbud. After many months of looking at the alternative, I decide to bite the bullet and re-order these. What I realised is that the case is super important. The overall design and how this thing fits into your ear is super important. The noise cancelling is super important. Jabra hits all of these at a reasonable price (when compared to the alternatives).

Ikea Modular Couch

We tried to keep using the makeshift Ikea day bed we brought with us from Dubai. It lasted a little under 2 years. It has been a wonderful addition to our living space and adding the lounge section was essential.

Babboe Cargo Curve

We went native with this one and got ourselves a cargo bike. When in Denmark and all that. This is probably Ryan’s favourite thing in the world. He loves vehicles and I can’t wait to use it in the spring and summer to take them all over the city.


Looking at the coming year, the three items I am looking at buying is a Mac Mini, the next watch (looking closely at the Seiko SPB157) and possibly an ivory Pro Gear. Of course I imagine there will be some unscheduled items I will be forced to replace…

Stet.Build v2.0

It has been years since I designed a completely new website. My toolbox of tricks has remained mostly the same - still using Skeleton, which I absolutely love. What has been fascinating is the scope a modern website now needs to serve. Now you have to effectively design four websites in one - desktop, tablet, mobile and dark mode.

Desktop

Version 2.0 of Stet.Build, which has seen very little love since it was launched 3 years ago, is a huge leap forward. I’m glad I took the time to make this the best it can be. I always recognised this was a major project and this has taken me around 6 months to complete (not full time of course).

The mock-ups were done in Affinity Designer - probably over a decade since I have used a vector app to design a website. For the most part I was able to replicate these. The annoying part was loosing some of the mock-ups half way through the design process due to some random name saving error. Top tip, save your work outside the Affinity system.

One of my favourite features of the new site, is the archive feature. A little bit of javascript and filtering the table like magic.

Mobile

When it came to the mobile version, I left it to serendipity and let the pieces fall. I could have spent a little time on this during the mockup stage, however I think that it worked out well in the end.

Dark Mode

This was (and remains) the biggest hurdle. This issue was that the individual artwork looked completely out of place in its native form with the bright white background. The only way around this is to recreate 51 drawings that are more suited to the darker background. This is going to be a work in progress as it is not a top priority - but will get to it all eventually. Issue 50 shows where I am heading with this.

Coding

Finished the mock ups months ago but needed the space (mentally) to dive into the coding. Certainly rusty, I leant into my constraints. My primary machine is my iPad Pro. I lost my MacBook a couple of years ago, and due to all the Apple laptop keyboard fiasco I never pressed the button. I began coding this on the iPad, but it really was an exercise in misery. Forget what they say, the iPad does not have the versatility for something like web production. Until Apple bring the Dev tools over with Safari, its all counterproductive.

The overall Blot system also made it super easy to work on the site while everything else was live. Probably the best setup for developing a website I have ever worked one. Local files that I save and see the impact direct on the site. Genius implementation.

Sleep Techniques

Its like having a super power. For my entire life I have been one of those really annoying people that could fall asleep pretty much instantly. As soon as, or often just before, my head hits the pillow I am comically out. The drawback has always been getting back to sleep after I have been woken up. I will only decide to pick up digital media after tossing for an hour or more in bed trying desperately to get back to sleep.

I saw a quick post on Kottke, which ultimately is explained in this link. Breathing exercise to help you go to sleep. I didn’t follow this exactly, but remember the hold your breathe part while you inhale/exhale. Have been trying it for several days and it works! Easily one of the most important things that I have learnt this year. The Year of Learning continues to rock on.

In Abeyance Vol.3 No.051

Latest issue of my newsletter In Abeyance is finally out. Over the last year I have fallen out of my routine for writing in the morning. Part of this has been due to my regular work creeping outside it’s time boundaries.

I have considered making the newsletter easier to write (by writing less) but that defeats the whole point of this endeavour. What I have settled on is accepting that sometimes I will be late but (hopefully) worth the wait.


Surrounding your desk.
Around your television media area.
Across your kitchen (over and under the counters).
Deep inside your walls.
Running under your feet.
They deliver power and signals.
Cables are ubiquitous.

Yet even for an electrical engineer like myself, it would be difficult to argue that they are great to have around. They get tangled up. They fray. They are a necessary evil.

What a glorious place it would be if all your appliances and devices where always charged and ready to go. Wireless power. An idea nearly as old as electricity itself.

Read issue 051.

Sensible Defaults

I have a new form of obsession, finding my own sensible defaults. I am tantalisingly close to getting most of the way there for a number of aspects of my life. The more defaults I can add, the easier life flows and opens up the opportunity for me to explore beyond the mundane. Although this year was originally intended to be the year of learning, it really has turned into the year of sensible defaults. From clothes, to technology, to the house, to my thoughts and ideas, to what I need.

Every item that is allowed entry into my life has to enhance it in a meaningful and long term manner. Short term gains (such as the euphoria of having purchased something) is very much a thing of the past for me. Impulse buys are not allowed. Every item in my surroundings has a target on its back - unless I have some use for this item, it’s days are limited (sometimes it does take me a little while to get there but get there I do).

Cargo Bike

I thought it would be fine. We would take it nice and slow. It’s a straight line, soft downhill with a a few turns at the very end. The thing is it really has been pretty stressful these last few days taking and bringing Zane from school on his bike. Every jut out in the road I see as a trap. Even though it is only 10min on the bike, his concentration meanders. I occasionally see him where he shouldn’t be, so I slow down. I raise my voice. Sometimes he listens. Sometimes he doesn’t. He’s only 7 after all.

So I’ve decided to remove this stress from my daily life. Gonna bite the bullet and buy myself an overpriced cargo bike and go all Danish on the situation. The reason it’s taken me this long is down to need. I haven’t really needed this until this week, but I imagine it will be a very important addition to the family. Ryan will no doubt learn to love going on rides for the fun of it. Not decided which one to go for yet but aim to have that resolved by the end of tomorrow.

Mise En Place

These last few days have been exhausting. I decided to tackle the house in every single manner. When I began this process, I just knew that we had too much ‘junk’ around us. We certainly were not using everything and in a small little house, it all becomes more apparent as things tend to pile on top of each other. So I began the process of Marie Kondo-ing the house. Be ruthless, but remember to be kind to yourself throughout the process.

I have done this before but in a different time and place, during transition periods between country to country. This is the first time I review the situation within the confines of our lives as they exist now. For the most part, I was able to remove a large amount of things however there were a few things also coming in - either as necessary replacements or omissions that became clear after the clutter was removed.

While it might seem wasteful to dedicate such a large amount of my holiday time to sorting out our house this process actually frees my physical and mental space to focus on what is important. The greatest feeling I have had post this exercise has been the fact that there is now a specific place for everything. The joy of Mise en place, in a small family of four, is liberating. I highly recommend taking the time, no matter how much of a chore it feels like. Your future self will thank you for it.

On Email Pixels

And like that war on the email pixel has been declared. I’m not going to say I will miss it. The only useful aspect of this technology for me is to see who has or hasn’t opened an email in a while. Truth is even then I haven’t used this feature to cull addresses.

I imagine that this then becomes an issue only as a newsletter grows. There will have to be new solutions adopted to address this. This could be as simple as a yearly poll that asks you to confirm you still want to receive the email, otherwise you will be removed. This might get annoying if everyone adopts the same technique (think that GDPR shitfest from a few years ago).

What people click on is even of less interest. I’m just just happy they found it engaging. I guess in the new world of newsletters, the only thing that matters is if someone signed up or removed themselves. If they sent you a response. Nobody ever seems to forward on an email so no need to worry about that.

2 Micro Brand Watch Releases

As I dip my toes into the world of watches, I have decided to play around in the micro brand side of things and slowly move into more expensive options as I build my collection. There are two brands that seemingly have cornered this market as far as I’m concerned with their offerings are Vaer and Sternglas. What’s great about both is that they are not targeting the same styles, however they are approaching things in a very similar manner. One is based in the U.S and the other in Germany and both released a watch this week.

The interesting things relating to watch materials and colours are happening in the micro brand space. These new manufacturers do not have heritage to rely upon and so they have to provide a compelling reason to buy them over more established brands (that are likely to be here, 10, 20 years from now). These two brands don’t skimp on the specifications and have stayed true to their chosen design aesthetic.

Modesto

Sternglas has just released the Modesto, a very enticing watch with the option of a very simple black or white dial design. This naturally appeals to me on several levels, however if I think their very first idea, the Naos a better distillation of what they are good at.

D4

I am definitely not on the market for another Vaer watch (considering I just got one a month ago), but this is a real beauty. The D4 is their entry model dive watch. What I love about these dive watches is how the naming directly relates to their faces. I would have loved a Tropic version of the D4, however if I was to go for one of these D4s it would be the Atlantic version.

Pre-order the Built Environment Compendium Vol.1

When I set to work on Stet.Build, I knew that this was a longterm project. That the many pieces that I was putting in place would not really find their complete form until many years later.

Now three years later I am edging closer and can finally share some of the very original ideas that got me excited so long ago. The very first book, the Built Environment Compendium Vol.1 is complete and is now ready for pre-ordering. I am still in conversations with my editor for final edits to the text, which should hopefully be done within the month.

This is the first time I use Gumroad and I am actually pretty excited to see what this platform has to offer to digital content creators. Overall I like the simplicity of the platform.

Publishing Streams

It took a while but I finally reached an understanding of how to go about the self-publishing route. The truth of the matter is that one size definitely does not fit all. In this case my strategy seems like it will be split across 5 separate channels. What I also didn’t anticipate is the fact that the order in which each one is put online also plays an important role in all of this.

First and most importantly is to get your very own ISBN. Handily leaving in Denmark you are given the first 10 ISBNs for free. Not sure what happens after that (I think you just have to ask for more. For those looking to go down this wild route, here are a few key points that I have settled on:

  1. Your own site. Digital goods can get sold on your own website using Gumroad. Simple and customisable. The percentage take is pretty reasonable for the convenience factor. I think Gumroad is a solid option for selling digital so that you can continue to create things that matter.
  2. Amazon / KDP. This is the big gorilla because it is the big player in this field. Go here first. Set things up accordingly so that they are pretty exclusive to Amazon themselves. Forget about Global Distribution. This is for those who want to buy things from Amazon and are hooked up into their ecosystem.
  3. Lulu. This is to offer a print alternative from your website. This is not for global distribution, rather simply to allow those internet savvy people that want a physical copy. They will have to go via the Lulu press website to finish off the transaction. The financial incentive to the seller is actually pretty low, however there is something truly magical about having your creation appear as a high quality physical object for a reasonable price. I have much more to
  4. Draft2Digital. This is for everyone not on Amazon. I can’t tell how big a market this is but it will include Apple.
  5. IngramSpark. This is for the global distribution to anywhere but Amazon or the internet.

Each channel has a very distinct strength. None of them are ideal, but the beauty of it all is that they exist and someone with an idea and an iPad can put together their ideas into this world and offer it in a number of ways. My view is that I will begin to offer each of these distribution options in the sequence above. Launching them all on the same day is not possible but I don’t think it matters either as the work itself is not particularly topical, rather can be read now or in 5 years time.

Analogue Rabbit Hole

In the spring of 2020, the world was going through unprecedented upheaval. Many across the world descended and depended heavily on the digital realm. It took a hold of our lives; our mental space was covered by a warm glowing digital blanket. Many of us embraced this new reality as we all tried to get away from the reality happening around us. We looked for escape. Years of conditioning took over, it could never have happened otherwise.

I was certainly not immune to this way of life. My attention was completely hijacked. Enough was enough. I confronted this new numbing reality. I consider how I wanted technology in my life. Rather than letting technology entertain me endlessly, through unlimited steams of content I would control how the digital realm would be allowed into my life. It was a difficult transition. A digital addict needs to step away from the things that have a hold over him.

At first I would leave my phone at home when I went out. I would take a notebook and a pen to try and make sense of the world around me. I looked to reading physical books again. I was transported back a decade, where these computers in our pockets did not exist. This was a slow, steady transition back to a more analogue world. The final piece of the analogue puzzle came when I looked down on my wrist. Empty and bare. I looked again and decided that it was time to finally get back to wearing a watch. That was when I fell face down into the rabbit hole.

Tone

100th episode of the Micro Monday podcast is up. Great overview of the short past and hopefully long future of the platform. I agree that getting all the things that currently exist in Micro.blog more refined and faster is the correct focus. The year of refinement.

The part I didn’t completely agree with was the suggestion by Patrick to add a tag into the profile. My site is random. Sure there are plenty of sites with a singular focus, most personal sites however do not fit this limitation. One, two or thirteen tags would not be enough or representative of my site - depends on how granular you want to get really. That is the charm and need of our digital gardens. We can plant anything we want in them.

So how do you make discovery better? That is a difficult one when everyone’s thoughts are so random. I think we need to move away from topics and concentrate our efforts elsewhere. Maybe the reasons to discover anyone should be more about tone than topic. How you quantify this tone is a tricky question to answer. I do think that understanding how often someone publishes is key to this equation as well.

Sensible Defaults / Chapter 01

We all need a system that aims to reduce the noise and clutter that manifests in our lives, be it physical, digital or mental. We all have a great deal on our minds. We have too much stuff. We all need a better system than the one we’re currently using. Fundamentally, the issue with humans is that we are natural hoarders. Although it seems to takes considerably less amount of effort in accumulating as it does to discard. We seem to have more difficulty letting go. To reduce our mental overhead, the journey begins by defining those elements that are essential. This is then followed by carefully assessing what can be considered enough to our overall wellbeing, with as little excess as possible.

Any system seeking to define a universal approach to life is going to fall far short for all people. When it’s too broad it becomes harder to tailor to everyone’s unique situation. I’m a teacher. I’m a father. I’m an Engineer. I’m a mother. The intent in this sporadic series of articles is to try and find a common an implementable school of thought, such that anyone can gain something of use and merit.

Once you are able to see the elements of your life for what they truly are and what they actually mean to you, then you can decide on what to do with them. The challenge with the things that we all collect is that their status in our lives shifts in importance the longer they stay with us. They also shift in importance depending on where in your life they appear. Being able to understand these shifts and react to them is an essential skill that needs to be developed in all of us.

Our lives are complex, with a number of moving parts that are all competing with each other for attention and oftentimes supremacy. As we carry these parts around with us, they occupy physical, conscious or subconscious space. The issue being that each one of these parts contributes overall to our mental overhead. Becoming aware of these parts, then being able to categorise them and place them, first into main categories and then into smaller compartments. Once these categories and their compartments are clearly defined, managing them is the next step. Once you understand the pieces in a defined format, the enormity of the task becomes ever more apparent.

Why is this even important? Why change the way you are doing things? Being able to reduce and understand will give you agency. Agency over the world around you. Agency over your belongings (be they physical, digital or mental) that oftentimes you are beholden to. Many (most?) of us where never give clear direction on how to manage these pieces. They were just given to us and we were tasked with understanding and managing them. They called it experience. They called it life lessons. While much of this is true there has to be a better way. Others have tried in part to address this, but there are flaws in their systems. The flaw is trying to distill everything into something you can hold in the palm of your hand. Something simple. Most importantly something that can reduce your mental overhead. You need sensible defaults.

On Marketing

I have struggled mightily with working out how best to use Twitter. It is a tool with infinite connections. The main issue is that it has never clicked with me. I struggle with finding people to follow and what to post on a regular basis.

The reason I keep coming back to the platform is down to reach. Now in my second year of publishing my newsletter, it has expanded considerably since those initial steps, but it is a long journey.

I keep coming back to this quote from Seth Godin:

Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem. Marketing helps others become who they seek to become.

What problem am I trying to solve? Trying to help people understand the built environment and what we are doing to destroy or protect our planet by way of construction, architecture and policy.

Coffee

I always knew there was an entire universe surrounding coffee. A bunch of coffee nerds talking about grind, water quality, grams per litre, percolation, pour over. You needed to have all the gear to make something half decent. You needed beans (sustainably sourced) from Guatemala. And on and on.

Honestly, you can go as deep as you want, like with anything attached to any industry. I’ve had a reasonably varied relationship with my coffee. This year however is when I take it up a little notch. No, not going to be buying an espresso machine any time soon, but will be building my coffee making collection purposefully.

I have been using the v60 almost exclusively over the last year to make pour over filter coffee. The first enhancement has been the introduction of a small kitchen scale and a Bodum milk frother. Its a surprising purchase that actually makes a decent milky based coffee at home. I am going to be (re)buying an Aeropress next (I lost the filter a while back and never bothered to replace it). One of the coffee nerds guiding me on this journey is James Hoffmann. Definitely recommend his videos on the subject. Suitably snooty about what he is doing, but actually comes from a factual and scientific angle.

Fall of Democracy

On a personal level, nothing that happens in American politics has any direct effect on my life. Not really. It’s no different than what happens in Australian or Russian politics. In fact what happens in Belgium or Germany is likely more important to my life and I certainly don’t pay them any attention.

I have a bipolar relationship with America. I consume a lot of culture that is produced there (from books, to shows, to music, to software, to electronics). I mean the ultimate endorsement is that my wife is half American. Yet I certainly don’t believe in the rhetoric and I can see many of the social issues that the country has to manage (systemic racism, rampant gun control, undemocratic electoral system, etc).

One of the best books I’ve read about America’s future is called Fall of the Empire. Its not talking about the British one, that fell long ago. No this was published over a decade ago by the same guy how predicted the fall of the USSR, then at the peak of its power and the reasons why, back in the 70s. In this book he described the reasons for the fall of the American Empire. Many of the topics he covers were played out yesterday.

So why am I glued to watching what is happening? Part of it might be that its a well documented car crash. This week has shown just how much of a sham the whole system is. Sure you might argue that the system will get rid of the bad players eventually, proof that there are some checks and balances. The thing is I want to try and remember when an angry mob stormed another parliament building in a first world country? Seriously. The fact that it got this far shows how poor the system in place is. Hell, even countries like Lebanon, with governments soo incompetent they kept a nuclear bomb in the center of the city for over 10 years, is able to control it’s population from entering the parliament building.

More broadly however I think from an early age I realised that the American machine touched many of our lives but in an indirect way. Democracy is in decline. I am someone raised in a democracy and enjoy the freedoms that comes with that. I certainly don’t want to swear allegiance to any ‘dear leader’ nor do I want to operate under the watchful eye of a ‘party’, communist or otherwise. I believe in democracy.

Year of Learning

Having released a number of projects in 2019 (it was after all the year of release), the focus of 2020 was the year of consolidation. The intent was to focus my mind on these projects and make them better - implicit was the fact that I was not to add any new projects.

What I didn’t expect was that in 2020, I would also start my personal learning journey.

  1. I learnt how to draw trees, which really laid the foundation for my artwork to take a step forward.
  2. I had never made sweet potato buns, now these have become a regular staple in the house and have seriously elevated my burger-fu. I have become ever better at making eggs in a number of ways (omelettes were conquered early on, but now boiled and Korean-style egg sandwiches are normal for us).
  3. I finally understood how to make a better cup of coffee (I was 80% of the way there, that last 20% really makes all the difference).
  4. I dove deeper than I care to admitt into the world of watches, which I hope to expand upon one a year until I have my collection where I want it to be.
  5. I spent hours working out my clothing style (and working out where to buy what), which I hope will come together more in 2021.
  6. I discovered digital minimalism and time block planning. I still suck at both, but at least I know what I need to do.
  7. I finally consolidated my notes into a Zettelkasten built around Obsidian and 1Writer.
  8. I was able to loose about 10kg using the No-S diet. I fell off the wagon a little bit in the last few months (mainly due to work pressures and just being a little bit mentally exhausted).

For 2021, the year of learning I want more of the above. I’m not sure what exactly I want to learn specifically, but I know that I really have enjoyed the process of getting better personally at certain things and understanding the reasons why.

Productivity Methods

Since I read Digital Minimalism earlier this year, I have been on a bit of a journey into more purposeful productivity methods, which can be attributed to a couple of reasons - the work itself and the place of work.

I have been listening to Cal Newport talk about Time Blocking for months now, but not really been able to implement it because there was another piece of the puzzle that was not available to me, the configure part of his method. This week I was finally able to find the solution to the configure section of things.

He would alway suggest using Trello and I did honestly try a couple of times. Turns out the man is very smart but his blind spot is Trello (we all have one). This overtly complicated software with fiddly (and silly) options, themes, templates, bloat. Just terrible advice really.

Enter Basecamp and TeamTime.

Two apps that work together to complete the configure circle. While it may seem limited at first, the free Basecamp Tier is incredibly versatile, because you can have an infinite amount of individually named todo lists.

Basecamp gives you three ‘projects’. I would offer you to think of these as contexts instead. I have three contexts:

  1. Personal
  2. Internal
  3. External

Within each context I then have multiple projects, each with its own todo list. What is great about the Todo lists for Basecamp is that each todo list can have a general discussion attached to it, each item can have a general discussion attached to it. I can add files if I want, but I tend not to (usually adding links to files instead).

Under personal I have also added categories such as housework, to get a general feel for how much time I actually spend on household tasks. Eventually I will also add how much time I spend on walking, reading and writing.

At work the external context gets the most action, however increasingly more time is spent elsewhere. I needed an ever more accurate way of tracking the plethora of channels so that I don’t context switch and keep that to a minimum. I think I finally found it as long as the free tiers remain.

Reading & Interacting

Earlier this year I semi stepped away from the Micro.blog community. It certainly wasn’t anything the community did to me. The truth is I enjoyed many of the interactions and the people I ‘met’ on the platform. The problem was that I didn’t like how I was using the service as a crutch for boredom.

This is a service that doesn’t really gain much from me constantly checking it. There are no advertisers involved, and yet I found myself checking the feed. Maybe it was a muscle memory, built across a decade that will be hard to break after a few short months? So as part of my digital detox I cut everything out.

A little while later I thought I could be an adult about this and decided to try and introduce it back into my life. Sadly, I found I was falling into the same trap as before.


I love the service for my hosting and the near limitless ways of publishing. It works perfectly for me. In fact this year I am going the full premium. I don’t like it for reading. So what to do? I created a new tag in Feedbin. Slowly I am pushing everyone’s feeds in there and now i have a dedicated place that I can go and access in a more purposeful manner.

What is missing is the interaction. I wish there was a way to interact with these posts directly from Feedbin, or at least be able to go to the site and somehow leave a comment. My comments made to a post in Micro.blog is then displayed on a persons website. I don’t know what the easy way to leave a comment on a persons website is.

Typed Writing Modes

Spent some time sorting out through my various text editors and how I want to organise my typed words. Taking inspiration from the system for my notebook, once again I realised that a single app for all the different threads and channels is foolish. By dedicating an app for a specific task, you are signaling to yourself that this is what I want to get done right now. This is where this type of work lives. Also different apps have different strengths - play to their strengths.

Drafts

This is where all my blogging happens. The direct publishing to Micro.blog is exactly what I want. I open the app and can get writing straight away. If I want to have something with a title, it’s also there. No constraints or worrying about length. Just type and publish.

I set this up with two specific managed workspaces. Default is unpublished and therefore publishing ideas. The second is just an archive of everything that I have written and published.

iA Writer

This is where the projects live. I have synced this up with iCloud. I have individual folders for each project and so when its time to work on any on project I know where to go.

1Writer / Obsidian / Software Agnostic

Finally this all clicked for me. This is my second brain. Using the Zettlekasten method, I am able to start collecting and writing information knowing that it is a single folder of text files. Lives on Dropbox and honestly I can’t wait to have hundreds of thousands of notes in there. The more the better as long as they are tagged and interlinked with each other

Simplenote

I decided to also add Simplenote to the mix. This is really just a place to brain dump. Sometimes I like to work something out. It doesn’t really fit into any of the above modes. Sometimes its clearing out junk from my head, when I don’t want to write things down, I want to type them out. Its not a major part of my routine, but I have found that these random text files find their way into different places. Why not create a dedicated space for this. I have called this my Brain Cleanser.

There’s a notebook for that.

Its taken a really long time but I have finally settled on my physical notebook situation that I use on a regular basis. I originally was trying to fit everything into a single book, a Hobonichi. Foolishness. No instead, what I actually needed was 5 distinct notebooks, plus a bunch of little pocket notebooks. Lets unpack that.

1 / The Sketchbook

I wish I had stumbled across this concept earlier in my life. Keep a sketchbook for exploration. Use one notebook and fill it with all the sketches, rough, finished, try different mediums, give yourself room to explore. What you might find in those pages is your style moving; shifting; growing. A visual playground of your own creation. What’s interesting about this is the first few pages are going to be poor even to your eyes. Don’t feel discouraged. Persevere and you will see yourself slowly but surely getting better.

My notebook of choice for this type of notebook is a blank A5 Midori MD.

2 / The Journal

Your thoughts are like water.

Now in my 5th year of regular journalling I don’t do this as often as I want (twice a day), but I have been carving some time out every day to go through it. This is your mental dumping ground. This is where you letter your mind write whatever it wants. The paper is not going to judge you. Better for you to write it down than let it float and bounce around your head.

For this, I have settled on the excellent sized B6 Cafe Note from Nanami paper. I’ve got a Gfeller cover that will last me years and years to come.

3 / The Writer

Turns out the best way to write articles, books or anything is to get it onto paper first. While my online writing can be captured pretty quickly in Drafts or iA Writer, when I want to work something out, the sequence of thoughts and ideas, there is nothing better than paper. For stringing these thoughts into cohesive sentences I go digital, but for working things out, I go analogue.

Although I am currently using some Muji A5 notebooks, I have a massive Seven Seas Nanami notebook waiting to be used just for this purpose. Once my current notebook is finished (probably end of the year), can shift over to the book that will last me a whole lot longer.

4 & 5 / Meeting Notes & Taskmanager

For years I employed the bullet journal method to get shit done at work. It was invaluable to me. However one of the issues is we live in an increasingly digital world and there are far to many channels. I found myself breaking the mould and away from some of the basic things that make the system useful (put the date at the top, collection of tasks for a topic, bullets for notes). It was all getting messy again. I also found the A5 notebook wasn’t getting filled out very well.

So I decided to split things a little. I have two A6 notebooks. One dedicated for just notes, ideas, whatever. The other is just to capture all of my actions into individual buckets. Every page is a channel. Whenever a task pops up I put it into one of the channels

My go to are the Hobonichi A6 notebooks. Blank and beautiful. No eccentric Japanese quotes or sketches of foxes or whatever else they have added recently to the Techo. I know this is probably part of the charm, but to be honest, I want that 20% lost paper per page to be mine.

6 / Pocket Notebooks

Finally I have been using pocket notebooks for over a decade. These go with me wherever I go. Its a practice that has served me well and even if it’s one note, its one note less bouncing in your head or worse, lost forever. I hate that.

A lesson in Wabi-sabi

One of my many flaws, and one that I have struggled with the most, is my general nature to maintain my stuff like new. Its a character trait that I fully inherited from my mother. We get upset when something gets a scratch, or a tear or a dent. Sadly I see that this trait has been passed onto my eldest. I know how heartbreaking it feels when something you cherish breaks somehow but I also recognise that this is not the way of the world. So when Zane had a moment of recent madness over a tear in one of his drawings, I decided to explain the beauty and acceptance of Wabi-sabi. It helped that I had the perfect prop to explain it to him.

When he couldn’t have been more than a few years old he took a liking to my navy blue Kaweco fountain pen. Coming home one day I saw that he had totally done a number on all the edges as he frantically was trying to use it as marking tool. At the time I was super upset as Kaweco had stopped making pens in this rich blue colour. I now look at the pen and it reminds of a curious 2 year old and all the times it would write all over the house with anything he found. Every ‘flaw’ tells a story which becomes even more important than the object itself. Surprisingly it didn’t take him very long to start looking for wabi-sabi in all his own posessions.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Squaring a Round Peg

Today I ventured into the office for the first time since the 1st week of March. A little over 4 months has passed. I took my bike for the first time. The ride there was mostly pleasant. Birds chirping. Sounds of church bells in the distance. The city was waking up slowly. Sun was shining in my face.

To look at Copenhagen, is to look at a city that is not going through a pandemic. Nobody is wearing masks. People are in Cafes and restaurants and bars partaking in ‘normal’ activities. I look outside my office window and I see a swarm of people outside Tivoli waiting for the doors to open.

It is very difficult to square what is going on in this country against what is happening across the world. Its not that Denmark doesn’t give a shit, its just that it sees a different threat because of this. Maybe its down to the size of the country? Maybe its how people generally respect the rules here? I expect to make more regular trips into the office to get a new perspective on life. Talk to people other than my wife and kids. Make new connections, but at a slower than usual pace.

Hopefully a second lockdown is not imminent. It took me this long to start to come out of the first one.

Micro Constraints

Its funny how things click into place.

2½ years ago, I’d all but given up on having an online presence. Then Micro.blog came along and gave me a limited framework from which to build something. Similarly I have been wanting to draw more regularly. The process makes calms me, but starting off a drawing was always a challenge. I didn’t make the process easy for myself and every time I would sit down, it was a chore to start. In a similar way, I think I have found a way to make entry simple

I have settled on is focusing on urban sketching. The idea is that this will help me understand how buildings and the built world is put together. I’m also going to be using photo reference. Not to replicate the photo as a drawing, but rather to allow me to travel the world and discover interesting details. I’m also limiting the amount of time I spend, to between 30 min to 1 hour every morning. The drawings don’t have to be a particular size, they just have to be fun. I hope to fill many, many books with tons of sketches.

I guess that is the one thing I would tell me 20 year old self. Provide proper constraints. Make it as easy for yourself as possible. And most importantly pick a time of the day and do it again and again and again.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Looking outside my window is a reasonably busy road (by Danish standards), I think there might be at least 10 cars passing through every hour. Cyclists however travel on this road in their 10s in the same time. One of the things I have noticed is the fact that oftentimes I will see people cycling while checking their phones. On the other side, is one of the busy parks in my community. It’s home to three trampolines in the ground and kids are always playing here with their parents in tow, who are checking their phones. I used to be one of these people. Oh sure I tried to keep the damn thing in my pocket, but I know I failed to do that on many occasions.

We should not be slaves to our devices and technology. Technology should be our tools. Yet our monkey brains finds the appeal of something shiney to strong to resist. It feeds on our base instincts of not wanting to be bored. Of being entertained. Of trying to be more ‘productive’ with our time. The technology is so pervasive, it quickly becomes our comfort blanket.

They really should have a mental health warning whenever you buy one of these things.

For over a year now I have watched Seth Godin publish to his blog every single day. What struck me the most about these posts was the endless well that he was pulling ideas from and giving them form and pressing publish. What’s even more impressive is that he has been on this train for years. I always wondered what his secret was. He attributed to not having a television. I barely watch television, except specific shows that I watch with general intention. So why couldn’t I focus? Why couldn’t I do the same?

What was missing from the conversation was my phone. My phone offered the biggest distraction. It had hijacked my brain. This was then further augmented by how I used my computer. I let it happen to me again and again, even though I thought I was being mindful. While I was able to create and write a decent amount during this time, I did so inspite of being overwhelmingly distracted. It was very hard to focus. I’m now looking forward to seeing what I am able to produce and read and draw and create with this new found attention.

We’re taught a lot of things sadly we are also ignorant of a lot more. While the digital technology can be powerful and liberating, it can also have the ability to hijack our attentions without remorse.

Everyone gets 24 hours. My general perception was that we chose how to use those 24 hours. Sadly for a while now my 24 hours had been hijacked. I knew something was up a year ago, but its taken me till now to finally understand how bad the situation had become. Maybe Corona allowed me to get really bad again before I realised that something was fundamentally amiss.

I remember Stephanos, my friend Stathi’s father, tell me how he quit smoking. He was in his shop shouting to his wife that he couldn’t find his pack of cigarettes. Meanwhile he had a lit one in his mouth, he was holding another lit one and there was a third one in an ashtray infront of him. He swears he didn’t see any of them until it was pointed out to him what was going on.

Everyone should re-evaluate their digital habits. If you’re anything like me, you’re in soo deep you don’t even realise what is happening.

Conversations vs Connections

At the time I genuinely thought that I was lucky. Leaving the UK in 2009, coincided with Facebook gaining popularity. I had a conricopia of communication apps that I could use to keep in touch with my friends. Instead my lizard brain decided not to do that.

What I found was that my conversations with friends and family to have diminished completely. Even connecting was difficult. It didn’t need to be that way. I let the fact that I hadn’t spoken to many people get the better of me. I felt embarassed that I had let the time between conversations slip away. It’s something I have always struggled with.

One of the best chapters in Digital Minimalism is about conversations (talking, phone calls and video calls) compared to connections (text messages & comments). It has really resonated with me. It is a little upsetting that I’ve effectively lost 10 years or conversations, but I think the friendship is strong enough to endure this short passage of time as we all got busy having families.

Digital Declutter

I’m going on a digital declutter for a month.

When I come out of this month, hopefully I’ll have decided what is truely important for me across everything. Podcasts, Spotify, social media, messages, phone calls, websites, RSS feeds, Youtube, Netflix. All this stuff just added more and more clutter to my mind. It wasn’t a lot of time on each either, but it was death by a thousand cuts.

Removing Safari from my phone has enabled me read half a book in the time that I reclaimed from that single act alone. What can I reclaim if I turn off or remove everything else?

Castro was a difficult one to delete, but it’s gone. Spotify is out. Tweetbot gone. The Micro.blog app (and Gluon and Icro) are all gone. Instead I bought Mimi for posting photos and obviously having Drafts lets me post everything.

I’ve added an app called Portal to give me some ambient sounds while I work and have my noise cancelling headphones on. My Pimsleur app now gets a prominent position, along with my Kindle app. Reminders is now on my phone again.

Email apps are off the phone, I only will check these once a day and mostly to get rid of services that have taken liberties with my email address. Before I did that I archived everything in my apps to start fresh. If I needed something then I can always search for it. The

My phone now becomes a place to read my books, learn Danish, or its a functional tool — buy groceries, log activities, take photos, write notes. My iPad is a place where deliberate work is carried out. Writing, editing, drawing, designing.

Drafts for iOS

Some people bake bread. Others collect watches. Some watch birds. I collect iOS text editors. Scratch that, I spend an incredible amount of time considering, testing and playing with text editors on iOS. It all started out looking for a text based nirvana. Ultimately my quest for that perfect editor has come up short as it has now dawned on me that the perfect text editor doesn’t exist. Rather what I have come to realise is that there are several amazing editors that have a number of strengths and weaknesses. The trick is to find the collection that best compliment each other in your quest for capturing and further developing your thoughts.

My collection of apps that I love on iOS are:

  1. iA Writer
  2. Editorial
  3. 1Writer

To that collection I have recently added Drafts as it has become my replacement The Archive on the Mac. My long held belief that the modal design established by Notational Velocity1 was/is the ultimate method for capturing and searching for text. Drafts introduces another way that is equally as powerful, only different.

Getting Over the Omnibar

In The Archive, once you open the app, the cursor is in the omnibar which lets you create or search for a note. In creating a note, you type in some words, which then become the name of the file and the first line of the new file. It’s an incredibly powerful concept that has not been replicated successfully on iOS yet (although there have been some flawed attempts).

Drafts does away with the search. For Drafts, by default, the first thing that you are allowed to is start writing in a blank file. That is where you start. If you want to search, there are three ways, press the search icon in the bottom right hand corner (prime location), press shift+command+f or pull down to reveal the search. The reason this is better for iOS is the fact that this entire app is replicated on the iPhone, with a single exception (that I can find), which is pinning the sidebar (this seems to only be available on the iPad).

Getting Over the Clutter

One of the things that drove me away from using Drafts was that I thought it was too cluttered. I had bought into the minimal aesthetics provided by iA Writer and I liked it that way.

Except Drafts is more function over form. In many ways, this app is the total antithesis of iA Writer. The icon isn’t great (although you can change it). Both the overall graphic direction of the app and the iconography for the groups sidebar leave a lot to be desired. I’ve quickly learnt not to care.

Being able to write whatever I want and then call up a function and publish to my website in microseconds makes the function trump any ugly iconography found within the app itself. That is where I started seeing that there is more to this app than meets the eye. I published exclusively from it for 2 months before realising that all of my thoughts should live in here. Thoughts that need to be expanded upon can get moved over to iA Writer for a more refined experience.

Workspaces

The Archive has a similar feature to this, except it wasn’t graphically implemented as elegantly as this. This feature is available, but it is mostly hidden.

What I love about this particular feature is the fact that I can flip between different frames of mind. I want to write some thoughts about engineering? There’s a workspace for that. Something for this site? There’s a workspace for that. General reference texts? Yup, there’s a space for that.

Deep

Rearranging the text within a file, as per blocks, sentences or lines is an excellent idea that I’ve not encounter anywhere else. The fact that it has a shortcut for just about everything shows that the developer understands what is important. Version history for all your text is there and readily available within the app. And on the list goes. @cm called this app deep which is such an excellent description of what this app has to offer.

Subscription Model

I don’t agree with the subscription model used and would have preferred if the subscription model established by Sketch was used instead. You pay once and continue to use the app that you paid for at that point in time for as long as you want. For 1 year you get all monthly updates. If you want future updates after that year, you have to pay again. Not sure what happens to all my Workspaces when the year is over tbh.

Having said that, there is plenty of room for the app to improve. The aforementioned graphical shortcomings. The selection of themes could be better, maybe something similar to those provided in iWriter Pro. The fact that there isn’t a baked in path to exporting the text as a series of files, which goes against some of what I want (but there might be a pretty easy workaround for that).

These are quibbles in what is otherwise one of the most pro writing app on any platform.


  1. I wish I could find out why that website is still live? It’s not been updated in nearly a decade and from memory the app stopped working years ago. [return]

Routines

Everyone is going through a number of changes in their lives and trying to adapt. It’s now been 4 weeks since this lockdown began for us. At first it was about getting over the shock. Now it’s about settling in and doing things purposefully. As an absolute minimum in Denmark this is going to go on here for another month - although that is on the optimistic side of things. To make the transition even more disorienting, the changing of hours only added to my routine upheaval. Something I’ve not had to deal with for 8 years, I forgot that it messes your brain for at least 2 weeks, until you get your circadian rhythms back.

  • The first month I experimented with a beard. While it was pretty cool not to have to shave every day, it’s not for me. Maybe when I’m in my 50s and really, really don’t give a shit. Now I give half a shit.
  • Working from home has shown me what it would actually be like. With young kids. I have found that there are plenty of hours where I am super focused on what I am doing and the time genuinely flies. However it has come at a price. The price of my own time. Where previously I had very distinct lines that I managed, these lines have now been blurred.

For the next month, I’m going to try and be more purposeful with our new reality.

  • While some exercise has made it’s way into my day, I want to be a little more purposeful with this. There is a time of the day this happens, just need to extend
  • I’d like to write more regularly, both in my journal and online. To do something you have to set an actual time of the day that you do this. Journalling happens when I first wake up and when I go to be. Online writing can happen at any point in the day.
  • I want to get through some more books. Rather than checking the same damn websites again and again. Then open my emails. Then back to my RSS reading. Then lets check Micro.blog…hmmm I wonder what is happening on MySpace these days…RSS is awesome….oh time for bed. I honestly have a ton of books that I really want to get into but the amount of easier distractions has overcome me.
  • There are some awesome shows I’d also like to get into, with Better Call Saul coming to an end (for this penultimate season). Maybe watch See or Stranger Things or The Mandalorian. There are a few Pixar movies I’ve not watched including Coco, Toy Story 4 and Outbound.
  • I want to make sure I do my Danish lessons while doing the dishes every single day. This was going well for a few days, before it stopped. Need to get back on that wagon.

Humans Build

Like many I am currently grappling with what is going on around the world. Trying desperately not to keep refreshing my newsfeeds to get a glimpse of even the tiniest piece of information. In a constant loop that is breaking my head if I’m honest.

When does civil society break down exactly? This is a question that is not too far away from my mind. We live in such a precarious time at the moment. Where a virus can kill thousands of people by touching them. Nobody is prepared. Everyone is either scared or should be.

Then I remind myself that we are humans. We build. It’s what we do. We build airports. We build homes. We build schools and museums and mausoleums. We build aeroplanes and rockets. We build systems. We build hospitals. We build our future.

So looking to that future, here are two wishes:

  1. I hope that when we come out of this, hopefully soon, we are able to enforce change. We now understand how fragile this world we have built truly is.
  2. I also want to hope that this virus will ultimately bring us closer together as we all come to understand that in this life there are no Chinese or American, Russian or Syrian; there is only human.

iPad Revelations & Misery

I really miss my MacBook. I’m a firm believer that using the right tool makes you happier and is therefore more sustainable in the long run. Since September, I have been relegated to using my iPad Pro exclusively for all my needs. In some ways, it has been both a revelation and joy to use. In other respects, it has been abject misery.

Protability

Where the iPad shines for me is it’s portability. This thing is incredibly light. Solidly built and has an incredible battery that keeps on going and going. The fact that the pencil is magnetically attached to the top means it’s always charged and ready to go. All in all, it is definitely the road warrior that I imagined it to be. I opted for the 12.9” version, which is right for me, in most cases. It gets a bit big when I write notes, but this is mainly a mindset thing that I need to get past and work into my routine.

Keyboard Support

While this isn’t perfect, I use this with two keyboards. One by Apple and it’s perfect and the other by Logitech and it works great at work as I need to flip between a Windows machine and my iPad. The only issue I’ve ever really had is that sometimes support across various apps has been pretty buggy recently. Most notably with iAWriter, the keyboard goes haywire if I switch between apps. Its restored only when I restart the app.

Apps

Apps like GoodNotes, Procreate, iFontMaker, Stop Motion Pro, and PDFExpert truly shine on this machine in a way that other apps cannot. There are the apps that have been adapted exceptionally well. iA Writer. Soulver. Drafts. Affinity’s Photos and Designer work surprisingly well but they falter by the limitations of the iPad’s poor support of a mouse which is where these types of apps shine.

Then there are the apps that don’t exist on the platform. The Archive. Affinity say that they are working on a version for their Publisher app, but until then, creating books isn’t really all that possible - sure there is Pages…but I mean, c’mon guys. It’s called an iPad Pro. No Web Developer tools of note. The ones available are barely ok, but certainly not as powerful as what already comes with desktop safari.

Buggy Software

This is something that I have noticed a sharp addition of bugs for iOS13. It’s not been great. Everything from dictionary support to weird and wonderful bugs with the keyboard support. As this is my main machine for production, it’s frustrating.

Fonts

Yes, you can have your own fonts installed, except for some reason, it’s only through third party apps (none of which are very good). Why the hell isn’t this baked into the OS?


Fixing It

I know it’s fashionable to pile onto the iPad at the moment. The truth is that it wouldn’t take very much for me not to pine over my macbook.

  1. Add the Safari Developer Tools.
  2. Give proper mouse support to the OS.
  3. Design a nice interface for font management.
  4. Sort out the bugs related to the keyboard support.

Moonshot

The thing that would be the real game changer for me is if the 3rd party developers are enticed to actually develop real productivity software for the platform. I’d love to see ports of Mac apps on iOS. Make it happen Apple. It’s the sort of crazy shit Steve Jobs would ask for. This would allow me to have The Archive, Hemingway, Highland, Marsedit and any number of other great Mac apps that I have already paid for and currently have no way to use.

Two

Back in 2014, feeling that Facebook was not making me happy and after the initial euphoria of ‘connecting’ with old friends and family wore off, I decided to leave the platform. Knowing all too well that Instagram was part of Facebook, I reluctantly stayed on the platform because I liked my grid of photos. I knew that it wasn’t going to be a sustainable solution for me.

Thankfully I didn’t need to wait an exceedingly long time for a better solution to come along. That solution was Micro.blog, which today marks two years since I first started using the service.

As the platform and it’s tools, have developed the way I use it has also changed, from mainly on the desktop to mainly on mobile. This year I would like to contribute something more to this service (I have a couple of ideas). Needless to say that I heartily recommend you consider it as your place on the web.

2020 Theme

Following the Cortex podcast idea of yearly themes, 2019 was my year of Release. I think overall the theme served me well as I tried to keep releasing ideas, projects large and small throughout the year, regardless of what was happening around me, which admittedly was a lot.

Did I release everything that I wanted? In some cases I actually released more. In other respects I didn’t achieve everything that I was hoping, but that is the point of the yearly theme. It’s not a resolution, it’s an idea to guide me through the year.

2020 is the year of Consolidation and will not have major new releases. Rather it will be building upon the blocks that I have established already - namely all things Stet.Build and everything on kaa.bz. I’m excited for the coming year.

11

No idea why I keep doing this to myself. I’ve finally upgraded my phone from a 6S, which served me very faithfully for 4 years. This last month has been exceptionally rough as the battery on iOS 13 has made the phone practically unusable.

I went for the iPhone 11, as I am likely going to have to drop some more cash in the new year for a MacBook to replace my 6 year old brick with a broken logic board.

The size of this screen will take a little getting used to, but I’m sure I’ll get through that hardship 🤣.

So many great little features to appreciate, but to be honest it’s all about these cameras. It kinda reminds me of my beloved Kodak camera from over a decade ago. That camera was way ahead of its time. Hopefully this means I’ll start taking photos again.

Two Gifts

I’ve seen a great number of people struggling with finding their voice online. They clearly want to have a presence online but don’t know what to say, or more over they loose the momentum for themselves and end up reposting things or being passive clients scrolling and reading.

I know I had that exact same problem and I honestly think it’s a missed opportunity. So here are two reasons why you should publish your voice online.

A Gift for Your Current Self

The gift for your current self is really to help you develop a new skill. A skill that shows up regularly to do something for yourself. That lets you gain some clarity to your thoughts and your writing that is not meant for your own consumption. The most basic of skills is being able to write and communicate ideas. These skills are needed in every single walk of life. Having a personal site allows you to develop those skills day in and day out. Over time you will be able to get your point across faster and more succinctly.

A Gift for Your Future Self

You might think that you are writing this website for others, but actually if others engage with it that’s just a bonus. That should not be the reason you do this.

Rather, think of your personal site as a present you’re giving yourself 5 years into the future. 10 years. 20 years. You are cataloguing events that meant something to you. Thoughts that were important to you at the time. It’s a time capsule that you wrote and documented. You won’t get to really enjoy and appreciate it till a little later.

One of the questions that is then asked is, why publish it at all? Why not just put it in any type of app for journaling. Different bucket. You fill every bucket differently. The type of things that you write on your site are thoughts, ideas, that you can enjoy in the future. Your journal are is there to try and help you work things out in your daily life. It’s a fine line to walk, but once you have worked it out you’ll appreciate that they are two different things.

Ryan, Age 2

It’s Ryan’s birthday today. He’s turned 2. I realised that I may not have written how he was born. Having only experienced his brother’s birth 3 years earlier, I was somewhat expecting a difficult affair. The hospital sent us back home a few times. When Yasmine was officially and totally done, we drove at a reasonable pace to the hospital where we were informed that she was really at the end. I ambled downstairs to the car, called my brother to tell him it was all about to begin and went upstairs.

Yasmine was getting in more pain very quickly. We were discussing epidurals (I was all in favour). Yasmine, as she is want to do, was questioning it all. The nurse patiently told us to wait as the doctor was around and she would come take a look and advise. Doctor came, she was 8cm dilated (i.e. very close). No time for epidural, the baby was coming out very soon. 20 minutes later he was out.

It’s been a different adventure than what we went though with Zane but Ryan’s been a great baby, now a proper toddler. Here’s to many more little guy.

Micro Fiction

Writing The Mark was a really interesting and unfamiliar process to me. First of all it was written as a narrative, while all my previous works of fiction were written as scripts intended for being made into comics. This was obviously a very different muscle that I had to use. For example I didn’t know how to format dialogue (even though I’ve thousands of line of dialogue), I ended up referring back to this page time and time again throughout the month. Apart from the mechanics there is also a question of flow and structure. Two elements I really only considered in the most superficial manner. I will be revisiting the story to see what I did wrong and how I can improve.

One of the limitations I included (constraint is the mother of all creativity), was to the daily word count to around 50 words. This constraint allowed me to peck out the story predominantly on my iPhone. Every night after work I would take 5-10 minutes and just type something out. Having the bar so low meant that I was able to do achieve my goal every night, even when I was busy, or tired or had a headache.

As the process moved forward I finally realised that this was the perfect way to move several fiction ideas that I have had serious brain crack over. So that’s what I’m going to be doing. As an experiment I’m going to see if I can move a story that I’ve had in different stages, 50 words at a time. The thing is I also think that my site isn’t really the perfect place to show the work as it progresses, rather to showcase completed chapters. So I’ll be writing it on a service I’ve been looking for the right project to try out. So I’ll be running a new newsletter that has nothing in it but text (eventually a little logo) that I will hopefully publish to on a daily basis. Once a chapter is written then I’ll publish that on the site.

Why publish it at all? Part of it is building accountability and movement behind something that I otherwise won’t touch. It’s also a break that my creative brain needs in addition to the work that I carry out over on Stet.Build

Copenhagen

I’ve now been in Copenhagen for a week and have had a tiny bit of time to get a feel for the city. The closest city I can compare this to is London. However I keep reminding myself that this is not the UK, things are decidedly different here. The best example I can think of was when I was walking, I take a turn off the main high street, onto what looked like a simple residential area, and there at the end of the road I could see the wind turbines1. It was just another reminder, things are different here. However, the biggest difference that I can gather is the city’s approach to transport.

Transport

The truth is though the city’s layout is different, the streets are wider. They have very distinct lanes for the different modes of transport. The lack of total dependence on the car is absolutely evident here. Every form of transport has been catered to in one form or another. Walking, cycling, scooters, boats, metro, train, buses and even the ‘humble’ car. The first few days I spent walking. That’s because this simple act of taking a long walk and watching what’s going on in the world has been an exercise that I have not been able to do over these last decade(?!). The Gulf is many things, but a haven and promoter for walkers it is not.

Most telling for me is that I’m about to have walked more in the month of October, than any other month over the last year (according to my iPhone, which is missing a great deal of steps I know, but I’m using it as a loose indicator).

I’m now also looking very closely at buying a Segway Ninebot Kickscooter as a fun and simple way to get around town. While there are scooters everywhere for hire, the cost adds up really quickly (by my calculation use the scooter for 140 trips and you’ve paid off the scooter). That’s the other thing about micromobility, it’s generally really affordable, even if you have to replace the scooter relatively regularly - it’s a utility cost more than anything.

Local Not Global Country

The other element that is clear here is the fact that this is not a Global city. There are no Amazon Prime trucks running around. There isn’t a MacDonalds or Starbucks on every corner (although these two staples do exist here). There is no Apple store. Vodaphone doesn’t operate here (at least I haven’t seen the Vodaphone logo anywhere). And so it goes. In this regard, it feels like a place caught in time…with it’s own home brands, made by and catering it’s own people. Some companies I’ve never heard of before, others have actually made the leap outside these borders.

Over the last 8 years, the word ‘local’ was seen as a bit of a derogative term. Somehow, local here is celebrated, as it’s the main part of your every day life. It’s another part that I will need to recalibrate my thinking.

Food

Since arriving in Copenhagen, I’ve eaten at one restaurant and it was a magnificent. The one thing that I do have to say is that the produce here is exceptional. I knew that strawberries here have a good reputation, but I didn’t expect that. Bringing the shopping into my apartment, I could smell them straight away. I haven’t smelt a strawberry in so long.

Buying local chicken, local tomatoes, berries, have all really elevated my meals considerably. I’ve been getting more and more into Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube channel as well and have been really loving it.

Language Barrier

I knew that this would be a thing. I’ve not gotten into a habit yet for listening and doing my Danish lessons but I do intend to do incorporate into my life very very soon.


  1. I know I’ve spoken about this before, but they always take my breathe away. I love them so much because they signal progress. They signal the future married to the past that I was walking through. [return]

Micro.blog Feature Request

This is the second edition of the Micro.blog feature request post. Last year, I reviewed what I hoped Micro.blog would add to the service. @Manton and co have had a very, very busy this year, so this isn’t to diminish all the work they’ve done. Rather these are a list of features that I would like to see included into the platform at some point.

Canonical Website

All these features unfortunately haven’t made it into the service. Although we’ve drafts have been added, I do have one additional feature I wanted added:

  1. Let me filter the type of posts from people I follow. So if I want to see everyone’s photos then let me do that. Let me see everyone’s podcasts. Sure you can do something similar from the discover section, but that’s everyone (?) on the platform.
  2. It would be nice to see how many responses have been made on any individual post. Could be a small little number next to the ‘conversation’ link.
  3. Allow more than one photo to be uploaded at a time.
  4. Highlight the emojis that are supported on the platform directly underneath and allow you to insert them from there.
  5. Once drafts are saved, they can’t all be found in a single list, they become part of the entire stream. Also drafts don’t show up in the official iOS apps.

Photos

Totally nailed this feature request.

Photos should be showcased on a grid of three squares across. Ideally this should be another standard page found at mydomain/photos.

Stats

I’ve asked for this before, I’ll ask for it again. I want to know how many posts I’ve written. How many photos. A histogram of my posting to get a feel for when and how often I post. How many replies have I made?

I would love to see a yearly view of the number of posts I’ve made on a month by month basis. Each month could have two bars showing how much stuff gets posted to my site and how much stuff is interaction with others.

Better theme control.

A year ago we were limited to tweaking CSS. Now we have a LOT more power behind us. So the initial request was completed…however I’ll be that guy. While I’ve sorted my design for the foreseeable future, apart from the occasional colour tweak, I don’t intend to change my design while I’m on Micro.blog. Partly because I’ve spent a ton of time on it as it is. Partly because the manner in which I make these changes is pretty cumbersome. It should be easier than it is, especially for someone not technical.

Bonus related feature: I don’t think that theming in general is easy on the web. A proper feature changer is to be able to design your site in a block type editor.

I initially used to love the fact that I was limited in what I could do which was to play around with the CSS and that was it. Since then the addition of updating the footer has been added. A great additions for sure, but I want full control of my site. I’m paying for hosting, eventually I’d like to be allowed to control the whole look of my site.

Subscription

Yup. Sorted.

This is finally being offered, but not officially (blink that reply and it’s gone)? I’d like to see a yearly subscription to the service become official.

Two Streams

Not yet, but something tells me that this is on the docket very soon.

Micro.blog by it’s nature has two streams. The first is your website stream, and only includes your posts, while the second stream is the social one that includes everyone you follow and your posts starting with an @ symbol. As a user both are important, yet they are given wildly different treatment.

Categories

There has been some movement on this, with the addition of new icons. However it’s not as granular as I would want it.

There are currently 9 categories that you can contribute towards. It’s a good start, but hardly what I’d call comprehensive. I’d like to see a great deal more categories. Architecture, Engineering, Comics, Stationary, Country-specific-categories, and the list goes on.

Faster Updating

I use Blot for my other website, Stet.Build. What I’ve noticed is that updating anything using that system is instant. That includes posts, css design, etc. I’d like some of that updating speed on Micro.blog if that’s possible (maybe I’m asking too much).

I recently had to update a few things on my CSS (it was for this post actually) and it actually seemed to me that Manton has sorted the original slow gremlins that impacted the design control, so scratch this item of the list as well.

Forced iPad Lifestyle

This is interesting. I’m now being forced into living the iPad lifestyle as my main computing device (until I can revive my Mac or worse replace it).

Let’s see if Federico is onto something with his commitment and enjoyment of the iPad as his favourite device. I haven’t really had to do this on account of having a Mac. I found what I believed the iPad was ideal for - everything involving the Apple Pencil.

It’s going to be interesting to write, research, edit and draw several issues of my newsletter on this device. Unfortunately I’ve still not switched to iPadOS, so the experience does feel somewhat hindered and limited at the moment.

Funnily enough, the only app that doesn’t have an iOS equivalent has a web version available, everything else I use has a fully functional iOS app.

40

40 today.

I spent the first 20 years riding my bike. Listening to grunge. Learning how to draw. Reading comics.

The next 10 years I spent learning about graphic design, the web and talking about make comics.

The last 10 years were spent actually making some comics and learning to be both a husband and father. At some point I gave up on putting my energy into comics.

Instead I’ve embraced putting all my energies into an endeavour that brings together all of the things that I love under one roof. The work on Stet.Build has only really just begun. For the first time in a long while I’m really excited to see what the next 10 years brings.

Denmark

It’s official, we’re moving to Copenhagen in October.

Living in the Gulf has provided us with a safe and comfortable environment to start our lives as a young family. Given us some stability during these early years. However, there comes a time when you have to move onto the next adventure.

It’s been over a decade since I lived in Europe. We can now look forward to all the things. Cold weather. Winter clothes. Snow. Clean air. Hot chocolate. Long walks. Cycling. Discovering little cafes. Visiting galleries. The original Legoland. Lakes. Parks. Contemporary architecture. Danish design. New Nordic cuisine. Hygge. Tivoli Gardens. Farms.

Old Notebooks

I’ve amassed over 60 Field Notes sized books, 15 Muji/Midori A5 notebooks and several A6 Hobonichi books.

I’m having a real hard time letting go of my completed physical notebooks. They capture different parts of my life. Thoughts and ideas. Shopping lists. Sketches. Projects. Things I was struggling with. Things I was contemplating. Things I wanted to get done. Things that never got done.

I’ve scanned several of these (maybe half), but really don’t have the heart to part ways with them. I know that I likely will never look at them again, except maybe as an exercise in nostalgia. Knowing that, do I keep them in a digital form only? Or will I get upset 10 years from now that I didn’t keep this physical record of the stuff that I made?

The Moon

Yesterday my youngest and I turned off the lights and looked up into the sky at the moon. Ryan is completely fascinated by this changing object in the sky. I’m even considering buying a telescope just for him to experience it in a whole new way.  Not sure how ambitious it is for a 1½ year old to grasp what he’d be looking at.

With only 1 week to go before it’s been 50 years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon, I’ve been slowly immersing myself in all things moon related. Really looking forward to the Todd Douglas documentary,  here’s the trailer. The 13 Minutes to the Moon podcast has been an incredible audio journey. Meanwhile the amazing Lego sets that have been released for the Saturn V and Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) are top of my wishlist at the moment.

Finally, here’s a really old (and pretty rough) cartoon I drew 6 years ago now, when Neil Armstrong died. Moon Racket 08 Neil

Federate or Connect

6 years ago I wrote a post, There was a time. At the time the web was looking like it lost something important, because frankly it had. With the ascension of (anti-)social media in the shape of Facebook (and others), I felt that the magic from 2004 was lost forever. I’m glad to report that 6 years later we’re slowly clawing back that control.

Taking back what we lost to something being easy or free, because easy meant limited control, while free was a lie. If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. If you want to share your ideas online, you absolutely should. Keep them under your own name and if you feel like you want to interact with others, then federate or connect to Micro.blog.

1000

1000 posts

I consider my life online across three distinct stints. The first ran been 2004 to around 2010. In that time I wrote around 1800 posts, many long form articles. The second stint was across 2010 and 2017, which I refer to as the nomad years. I meandered from platform to platform, changing the reason for writing with every move. The third stint began last year and with it brought much needed focus.

I’ve managed to publish 680 new posts (the rest where stuff I imported from Instagram and a handful of posts from Medium). During this time, I was rediscovering my writing muscle. Rediscovering how to write online again. And most importantly, rediscovering why I should post online. I’ve been writing more consistently online than ever before - usually it seems that I don’t go more than a few days before getting the itch. Going forward I really hope that I start writing more about the process of writing and drawing for my online publications over at Stet.Build.

Powered By

I’ve been writing online in some form or another since 2001. Around 2004, blogging really took off and there was a period in time where the system was more important than what was written. Over the years I’ve meandered from one system to another. What I’ve now realised is that the system has a major influence on the type of things that I end up posting. Micro.blog is a truly excellent system for posts that run around the 200-400 word range. It’s great for posting single images. It’s likely pretty good for podcasts and a single video as well (I don’t have any experience for these types of posts yet). Where it fails is anything beyond the confines of those walls 1. The reason? Friction.

If you wanted to write something a little longer, the system lets you. It even allows you to add a title if you want (you may not want, Micro.blog doesn’t judge). You want to add an image to that post? Go ahead but you have no say in where that image gets added (until after you publish). Friction. You want to add multiple images? Sure, but go to the upload section and then copy paste the link and add your image tags around it all. Friction. You want to edit something? Sure, but it takes a while to load Posts > Edit. Friction.

I’m not saying this is wrong, I’m just saying it’s a thing to bear in mind. What all these little friction points do is allow the software to set a tone. You want to do anything more taxing? You’re going to need to work a little bit harder. Which more than likely means that you won’t. The system plays a part, consciously or subconsciously.


  1. Blot on the other hand is unparalleled at allowing you to write and edit long form posts. Where it fails is where Micro.blog excels. [return]

The System

5 months and 2 weeks into the year and I’ve just completed 16,000, written and edited, words. I’ve published 8,500 of those words as part of In Abeyance.

This could only have been possible using the show up every day and do maximum 30 minutes at a time method. My aim was to carry out at least one session every morning as a bare minimum. If there was more juice in the tank, I’d do some more. I may not have hit my mental goal but the system is clear. I’ll get there eventually, one day at a time.

A Year of Stet.Build

A year ago today, while fighting my own demons from a professional disappointment earlier in the year, my mind was searching for a project to put my energy behind. I’d sleepwalked through evening and was feeling a little deflated. After grabbing a shower, I put my head on my pillow and like a bolt of lightning the idea was in my head. Formed. Galvanised.

I looked excitedly at my wife. Fast asleep. I quickly rushed back to my room and started scribbling the very first ideas in fear that when I wake up the next morning it would be gone. There was literally no chance of that happening. The force was strong with this one.

Over the next month I would be using a wall to throw as many ideas as possible on there. The crux of it all would be a vehicle to allow me to do all the things that I loved to do and that I’d spent the better part of my adult life doing. That is engineering, graphic design and illustration.

I began sharing the starts of this journey at the start of 2019 over at Stet.Build. The first output being my monthly newsletter In Abeyance. It’s been an amazingly productive year to go from that initial idea to something a little more tangible.

Stay Micro

One of the things that I’ve done regularly (and seen other do themselves) is trying the macro thing before having begun the micro thing. As though it’s a given that you can sit down and bang out a novel, draw a graphic novel or run a marathon. You can’t.

Start micro in everything that you do. When something becomes overwhelming for you, revert to the micro. Make it small and insignificant. Make it easy. The eventual output will absolutely surprise and delight you in ways that doing the same in smaller sittings won’t. The reason is that you do it with very little effort. It was easy. And because it was easy, you can conceive of the future where you continue down this same path.

If you want to write, sing, exercise, draw, read, then do these things, in laughably small chunks, as little as 2 minutes. Every single day. At the same time. Stacked against something you already do.

You go to sleep every day? Great, 5 minutes before that make sure to read one page of a book. Drive to work every day? Great, when you reach work, pull out your journal and write for 5 minutes.

It’s the greatest lesson I learnt from reading Atomic Habits and has really been a revelation for me. You should try it yourself.

K380

I recently bought the K380 keyboard from Logitech. Originally intended to be used as a replacement for the generic Dell POS that is supplied at work, I can certainly see a place for this keyboard elsewhere in my life. The keys have weight to them. It has gravitas. A satisfying thumping sound that I am usually not used to on my MacBook Pro. It’s not that the MacBook Pro is a bad experience…far from it. It’s just that this Logitech keyboard offers a different experience that I really like.

Of course one of the annoying things about a wireless keyboard (as least the really minimal looking ones) is the fact that they are typically not backlit. Once you get used to that kind of feature, it’s actually pretty difficult to get used to living without it. The only other area that I would comment on is the fact that the key markings are not seamless with the plastic of the buttons. They are trying to meld into the keys, except they really don’t.

If you’re in the market for something relatively cheap that feels more expensive than it actually is, and that you’re touching all the time, the K380 is an excellent choice. Also it comes in a range of pretty funky colours, so as a minimum it will add colour to your desk.

Disconnect

Disconnecting from the internet until such time as it suits you is empowering. Just because we can have the internet at our fingertips doesn’t mean we should use it. unfortunately most of us will succumb to the defaults. A browser, an RSS reader, social media, our websites. All these things contribute to noise in our heads. Some noise is good but under our terms and when we choose to give away that attention.

I’ve found the last few days without these distractions on my phone incredibly enlightening. My phone has gone from a tool of consumption to one of predominant creation.

In fact the only thing that I consume is books on my Kindle. An app that has unfortunately languished in a folder to be opened ever so sporadically. I’ve also dusted off my actual Kindle and have been using it more often as a consequence. Reading and writing more on any device is a step in the right direction.

I also find myself more in the moment with my kids. My wife would forever complain about me not ‘being there mentally’ and she was probably right. By contrast, these days, most evenings I don’t even know where I put my phone when it’s time to go to bed (usually at the entrance from when I came home).

I honestly encourage everyone to give it a go. You’ll be surprised how little you actually miss out on.

Tool Phone

Yesterday was the first day that I put my phone in tool mode. Effectively everything that is a stream (including Micro.blog) has been deleted. Reeder? Gone. Safari? Gone (ok hidden but nowhere to be seen). Email? Gone. Notifications? Gone.

The upside is that I now pick up my phone 50 times less on average and 1 hour less.

So what do I use my phone for now? As it turns out, a fair amount.

  1. Podcasts
  2. Mifit tracking
  3. Camera
  4. Calculator
  5. Scanner
  6. Timezone clock
  7. Kindle
  8. Music
  9. Text messaging

Now I go to my apps and it’s with purpose. I’m not going in for the sake of going in. Doing so means I’m more available in the moment. When I check my emails, I go in, have a look and then move onto something else. It was a pretty scary feeling at first, but now that I’ve done this, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long.

On This Day, One Year Ago

⭐ A year ago, on the 16th of January 2018, I wrote:

It’s always hard to start something new. The main question is whether or not you’ll see things through and actually find value and continue to use it as the initial shine wears off.

It was my first post on Micro.blog. 475 posts later, I’m glad to say that I have derived incredible value from the service.

I think the main reason can be attributed to it’s frictionless posting. The box doesn’t judge - you decide how short or long you want to write, add a title or not it’s up to you. It doesn’t offer any complications - no categories, tags, dates or URL naming. Just write and hit post.

Most importantly, the service has helped me take complete control of my online presence. Everything is now funnelled into kaa.bz.

Editing

In 2019 I plan to finally start sending out a newsletter that I’ve been working on for around 6 months now. The start of this idea actually extends much further back than that, but I suppose now is the right time to ship.

The Hemingway app has been a true revelation to me.

The app gives me the tools to take control of my editing. My original document captures my raw ideas and thoughts. When imported into Hemingway, the document becomes refined and hopefully, more pleasant to read. What I love about this approach is that it’s a puzzle I’m trying to solve, one sentence at a time.

If you have any long form piece of writing, I highly recommend this app.

This is best illustrated by comparing the summary sections of the same document.

Missing from Micro.blog

I don’t like to write about the system I’m using but I thought it would be good to check in a couple of times a year and see the lay of the land.

Micro.blog is a personal online publishing platform with a social layer built in. It differs from other publishing platforms in a few key ways:

  1. It actively encourages you to use your own domain name.
  2. It’s simple to publish.
  3. For some it is a paid service.
  4. It provides you with some stats.
  5. It provides you with some control of what your site looks like.
  6. The social element is managed.

I think that Micro.blog handles many issues in a wonderfully elegant fashion. However there is plenty of room for improvement. While I’m aware that @manton is but one person who is already doing a lot, it’s important to recognise that the sustainable thing is to have more than one person involved in the ongoing development of the platform, dare I say multiple people. To help him get to that ideal, the hosted option needs to become more appealing.

The Canonical App

I’m not going to focus on any of the apps that have been made for Micro.blog (official or third party), as I see these as nice to haves. For me the canonical view is the one presented at the website. This is the view that everyone on the platform shares (regardless of operating system). I think overall the simplicity of this interface is what makes things work.

Items that I would like to see included at some point:

  1. Let me filter the type of posts from people I follow. So if I want to see everyone’s photos then let me do that. Let me see everyone’s podcasts. Sure you can do something similar from the discover section, but that’s everyone (?) on the platform.
  2. It would be nice to see how many responses have been made on any individual post. Could be a small little number next to the ‘conversation’ link.
  3. Allow more than one photo to be uploaded at a time.
  4. Highlight the emojis that are supported on the platform directly underneath and allow you to insert them from there.

Photos

Photos should be showcased on a grid of three squares across. Ideally this should be another standard page found at *mydomain/photos*.

Micro.blog already is able to distinguish photos pretty well. Let me see my photos in a gallery. It’s one of the feature that made me stick with Instagram for as long as I did.

Stats

Micro.blog does not, by design, show the number of users that follow you. My view on stats is that as this site is focused on my words and pictures, then my stats should also focus on this output.

I would love to see a yearly view of the number of posts I’ve made on a month by month basis. Each month could have two bars showing how much stuff gets posted to my site and how much stuff is interaction with others.

Additional stats could highlight the total number of photos, posts and interactions. What is the number of people I am following (I can see this in the iOS app but not on the web).

The reason for this is simple. It’s gamifying the experience. Except I’m now in competition with my previous self.

Subscription

This is finally being offered, but not officially (blink that reply and it’s gone)? I’d like to see a yearly subscription to the service become official.

Two Streams

Micro.blog by it’s nature has two streams. The first is your website stream, and only includes your posts, while the second stream is the social one that includes everyone you follow and your posts starting with an @ symbol. As a user both are important, yet they are given wildly different treatment.

Your contributions to the conversation are still your words. These are currently only found in micro.blog/yourusername. I would say that these should either be allowed to be ‘published’ to your blog as part of your stream or captured in a separate page with a link back to the original conversation.

Design

I initially used to love the fact that I was limited in what I could do which was to play around with the CSS and that was it. Since then the addition of updating the footer has been added. A great additions for sure, but I want full control of my site. I’m paying for hosting, eventually I’d like to be allowed to control the whole look of my site.

I recognise that this is likely a much more involved design change, but it’s one that I think is important to provide as an option, so that there isn’t a pretty fundamental reason to go self host and attach an RSS feed in.

Categories

There are currently 9 categories that you can contribute towards. It’s a good start, but hardly what I’d call comprehensive. I’d like to see a great deal more categories. Architecture, Engineering, Comics, Stationary, Country-specific-categories, and the list goes on.

Clearly part of a much larger project, which may require the recruitment of moderators in this space, but again it needs to expand to allow people to huddle around the digital campfire.

Expectations

I absolutely understand how things have improved over the last 10 months since using the service and that I’m effectively providing some ideas/thoughts about how the service would become even more enjoyable for me.

Podcasts for November

🎙️ Seeing as I’m in the car for many hours of the day (travelling up and down to Abu Dhabi), I’ve been listening to a ton of podcasts recently….a metric ton in fact. Here are some of the highlight episodes:

  1. Unfiltered interview with Sir Nick Clegg - essential listening if you’re looking to understand Brexit more.
  2. Serial Season Three - I missed season 2, but this season has been very good.
  3. Song Exploder - John Carpenter Halloween Theme - Was made even better as we drove in pitch darkness on a moonless night.
  4. Broken Record - Hey, it’s Malcolm Gladwell.

Phones and Cameras

After listen to The Minimalists on the Kevin Rose show, I came to a realisation. In my persuit to determine which iPhone I should be buying this year, it turns out I really don’t need to get one after all.

The reason for upgrading isn’t because the phone is slow, lacks some essential feature or that certain apps don’t run on it. Rather the only reason to upgrade is for the camera.

Except I already own a pretty decent camera, the NEX-F3. I bought it just before Zane was born (so a little over 4 years ago now) and seem to have stopped using it 2 years ago. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe I bought into the whole ‘the best camera is the one on you’ ideaology?

A quick read of a Wirecutter article I bookmarked in 2013, led me to circling onto several Sigma lens that will help me get better photos. The bonus to all this is that they’re at a pretty reduced price point at the moment. And while we’re here, we might as well talk about one of my favourite article about photography to brush up on some things.

Plastic

The plastic I use in my life is really starting to grate on me in a bad way. To me it signals a lack of progress, in many ways, for a race who excells at creating problems and then solving them. The latest episode of Hello Internet highlighted that we still have a long way to go.

In it CGP Grey claims that the UK government reviewed the impact of plastic bags when compared to other kinds of bags and that the cloth totes require 20,000 uses to become more sustainable. The document he was probably referring to was this one here, from the executive summary a very handy table is given:

Type of carrier HDPE bag (No secondary reuse) HDPE bag (40.3% reused as bin liners) HDPE bag (100% reused as bin liners) HDPE bag (Used 3 times)
Paper bag 3 4 7 9
LDPE bag 4 5 9 12
Non-woven PP bag 11 14 26 33
Cotton bag 131 173 327 393

Sure, still a decent number of times that each type of bag needs to be reused, but a far cry from 20,000. I certainly use my bags at least 100 times a year, and have had them for 3 ½ years so far….they could last for many many years to come.

Shouf Biosphere Reserve

On the weekend we drove up to the Shouf Biosphere Reserve. The only regret I have is that we didn’t even come close to experiencing the true majesty of the place.

I’m writing these things down to make the most out of any future visits as the human brain will forget everything eventually.

For Kids

Unfortunately I had shown Zane a picture of the ‘supposed’ turtles that can be found in the reserve…as a complete lover of animals (I’m pretty sure he gets this from his mother), the poor little guy spent his entire time trying to find one while he was there. So top tip, don’t show pictures of animals.

My baby boy Ryan loved being surrounded by trees. Like absolutely loved it in a way only a baby can feel excited about something new and natural and pure, because it’s the closest thing to him in that sense.

Graphics

I think the people behind the reserve have done a great job of the website and the overall information provided. The Shouf Cedar website is probably one of the best site’s I’ve seen in Lebanon. Sure it’s a WordPress affair, but it’s done in a tasteful manner. Make sure to take the time and run through all the information on the site to make the most out of your trip.

I genuinely liked the logo for the whole reserve and really loved the tickets you buy at the entrance to the reserve.

Entrances

We ended up going through the Barouk entrance. While a lovely entrance, clearly not the main entrance, which is the Massar. However, there are no less than six entrances:

  1. Maassar El Chouf
  2. Barouk
  3. Ain Zhlata/Bmohray
  4. Mrosti
  5. Niha
  6. Aammiq

Here’s a handy map, that if you squint hard enough you’ll think is Lebanon, don’t be fooled (like I was the first time), that’s a map of the reserve itself. Once you get through the entrances, you have to travel around 5km into the reserve, park your car/bus and then you get to choose your hiking trail.

Eating

Obviously don’t expect to be able to eat anywhere in the reserve. I honestly didn’t consider this clearly. My suggestion is to basically either bring a good old honest picnic with you and eat at the entrance of the actual reserve (there are picnic benches) with a great view.

Signal

Don’t expect any 3G/LTE signal while you’re up there. If you’re going to be dependant on technology to get you to places, make sure that it can work offline. The website lets you download GPS maps as well.

For yourself

While it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re writing on your website for the ‘internet’, the truth of the matter is that you’re actually writing these things and obsessing about it’s design primarily and sometimes exclusively for yourself.

These words are a snapshot in time. Of where you were and what you were doing. They might be reflections on what happened in your day or what’s currently captured your imagination.

Why not just write this in a journal you say? Because ‘publishing’ something on a site provides a level of finality. A level of accomplishment that a mere text file in a folder, or a journal entry in your notebook doesn’t provide. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those approaches, rather the online published version is different.

One of my favourite new feature/plugins on Micro.blog is ability to create an ‘on-this-day’ page that collects your past posts that happened….erm, on this day.

The reason it’s so great is that it’s another clear tool, made for you. It’s made to allow you to reflect on what you’ve written in the past and what you were thinking 1, 2, 3 or more years ago. If you’re not using this feature, then you’re missing out on one of the joys about blogging, which is reflecting on what you’ve written.

An Ode to iAWriter

Since April I have been working silently and diligently on my little project. I’ve still got a long while to go before I’m happy to share what’s been going on with me but I wanted to share my absolute recommendation for iAWriter as one of the best tools for writing projects ever made.

Of significant value to me is the ability to link in multiple text files into a single document. This has allowed me to reorganise the entire project several times over, as though it was a simple deck of cards.

This feature alone would be enough for me, but that is just the start of things. It’s super lightweight and opens instantly. It doesn’t have any font features (except choosing between a single font) and that helps me from wasting type. Although there arent’ many templates to choose from, the basic ones included with the app do an amazing job of typesetting the work in a fashion that I can read/markup and edit freely.

Sure I would like a few features found in the Highland app, such as sprint timer, native fountain support, and actual comment support within the document, but this app provides me with so much and I highly recommend you consider it for your next project.

Consistent & Incremental

One of the single most powerful things that I hope to teach my kids, is to understand and appreciate the concept of consistent & incremental. This applies to aspects of themselves and in everything around them. As long as you increment on a thing you’re working on and consistently show up every day you will eventually see results.

The hardest part is to percevier in the face of no visible improvement and keep moving forward. Set your course because you know it is true and try and remain on it.

Who's Next?

It’s been 3½ years since I came to Lebanon. I’d like to say that things have changed here, but they really haven’t. The poor and tired infrastructure has been left in complete disrepair and it’s crumbling. Creaking under it’s own weight. The lack of town planning and proper governmental checks and balances continues to produce…ugliness.

The situation has been exacerbated by the influx of Syrian refugees. The sectarian wars that used to be played out in Lebanon have now achieved a much larger platform in Syria and the evil has spread far and wide. 12M displaced people and a whole generation of children being raised in poor conditions.

My fear is that if the situation doesn’t improve in a meaningful way, this region will only get worse and wars will eventually play out on an even larger scale. The region has been ripped apart for over 60 years, one country at a time (Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have all fallen). Who’s next?

Fitness

I’ve now been wearing the Mi Band 2 for a couple of months. The data has given me the agency to try and change my nature tendencies.

Unsurprisingly the most useful metric I’ve found is sleep logging. When did I go to sleep? When did I wake up? How long was my deep sleep for - that’s the good kind of sleep right? Right?

Sleep or the lack of it definitely is what affects me the most throughout my day - I might eat more or less, I might have a headache or not.

The behaviour that I was hoping for the most influence is the amount of exercise I carry out. This is still an ongoing project as I need to carve the correct time in my schedule to do the exercise. Operation summer is going to try and finally get into shape.

Manhood for Amateurs

📚 I finally finished a book this year, Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. The book was written back in 2009 (which I believe is now being followed up with a sequel of sorts) and was the right book to read, as the words have resonated with me, as a newly minted father of a second son.

I started it around the time my Ryan was born and it’s taken me 6 months to complete these 300 pages. I love to read, but clearly I don’t carve enough time to carry the action out. My reading has been pretty scattered across multiple books that I never seem to finish. I’m hoping this signals a return to a more regular reading pattern.

What I also realised was that I’m not happy with how I’m reading. Or more accurately, the lack of taking notes or capturing the most interesting parts of books I read.


Here are some key quotes:

Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted - not taught - to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?

Why else had they done it - built it all up so they could then knock it all down? After a marriage breaks, there is nothing more pointless than the child, to that child, of that marriage.

The song has to take you by surprise, catch you when your guard is down, when you aren’t expecting it - ideally, when you aren’t even listening to the radio at all. A bright little piece of your life passes you by in a car with the windows rolled down, wells up in the pain-relief aisle of a Rite-Aid. That kind of chance encouter can’t happen as readily on an iPod you’ve programmed yourslf.

Kickstarter & Me

I thought it would be interesting to run some numbers on all the Kickstarter projects that I have backed over the years.

I started contributing to crowd funded projects back in October 2014. I’ve spent around $1300 over 3½ years and 19 Kickstarter projects.

Breaking all the projects down by loose categories, it’s clear I go through waves of interest. Currently I’m in a book and software buying phase and over the stationary phase.

Category No.
Accessory 7
Stationary 5
Books 4
Software 2
Video 1

Diving a little deeper into each project:

No. Project Name Type Notes Usefulness
1 Bullet Journal Stationary Still in the plastic bag. I’m happy to have helped Ryder on his journey and own a piece of ‘stationary history’ in the meantime.
2 Takumi Pen Stationary This was the first version of this pen. I was disappointed. It was too light and overall the execution was flawed. Some of these flaws were rectified in the new version.
3 A leather belt to last a lifetime Accessory I grew fatter and never wore the belt. It’s not the product’s fault, I’ve just never used it…yet.
4 Memobottle Accessory I live in the Middle East. I need cold water. This is a plastic bottle, doesn’t keep the water cool enough. Maybe I will get some use out of it in the future. Well executed project.
5 Bomber Duffle Bag Accessory Use it when necessary. Excellent product. Highly recommended.
6 Precision Coffee Grinder Accessory Took years to get to me. Then I learnt how to make cold brew and this was too much effort. Useful to have in the house, but not essential.
7 PENXO Stationary Love the design. Doesn’t get as much use as I’d like.
8 TIO Accessory Nice concept. Too difficult to re-order in the UAE. Used for 6 months and that was it.
9 Tactile Turn Slider & Glider Stationary Loved the design. Totally disappointed by the fact that it’s too thick and the nipple falls off regularly.
10 Sento Towel Accessory Does what it says on the tin. I love these towels and use the every day.
11 The Pen Addict Live 2017 Video Video was fine, except it didn’t really add very much to the overall experience. I would have wanted more stuff around the actual convention itself, and maybe some interviews. Alas the boys limit it to the actual show itself only.
12 Indie Microblogging Software Can’t believe how little I paid for this initially, but it’s been great value for money, as all of my writing is being filtered through Micro.blog.
13 Illustrated Classics by Pope, Shimizu & Sienkiewicz Book Still waiting. -
14 Single Edge Razor 2.0 Accessory Use this every other day. It’s not transformed the way I shave, but it’s provided me with a nice alternative.
15 The Electric State Book Great looking book, but I’ve not read it yet.
16 Change Is Good Book Still waiting. -
17 Krama Pens & Pencil Stationary The metal version arrived, and it’s excellent. Still waiting for the plastic version.
18 Inspire Book Still waiting. -
19 iA Writer for Windows Software Very useful. Use it in work nearly every day.

What’s not on this list is the plethora of projects that I did not end up backing and a couple of projects that I ended up buying things directly after the kickstarter project was already over.

Taking the last column and summarising it a little shows me that it’s generally been a positive experience and I’m either using the products or aim to use them in the future:

No Regret Some Regret Jury’s Out
10 6 3

Going forward my plan is, with regards to Kickstarter, to be a lot more discerning and selective in the projects that I back. Where I see something truly unique and special, that is where I should concentrate my efforts.

Perspective

You may have noticed discontent amongst some Micro.blog users, in reaction to the latest iOS app addition, Wavelength, to the Micro.blog ecosystem.

The “argument” goes that 3 iOS apps and 1 Mac app later with no love for Windows, Linux or most glaringly Android is a sure sign that the network is doomed (or something else equally as dramatic). Then the knives started coming out, calling the apps suboptimal, which I feel to be insensitive and insulting. Manton’s actually handling this pretty gracefully, which is exactly the attitude I believe is necessary to shepherd the nerds without upsetting them.

I think it’s important for everyone to maintain some perspective. The Kickstarter ended a little over a year ago (back on the 1st of February). The actual service didn’t start opening up to register for a few months after that. This service has only been live for around a year. Lets review what’s happened in that time:

No. Project/Update Date
1. Micro.blog released1 29 April 2017
2. Jean MacDonald announced as Community Manager 21 March 2017
3. Micro.blog iOS app goes Universal 21 June 2017
4. Updated Markdown Support for Web 14 August 2017
5. Custom Web pages 25 August 2017
6. Overhaul of Web posting/editing 22 September 2017
7. Mac App released 17 November 2017
8. Micro.blog opens up past Kickstarter 19 December 2017
9. Sunlit iOS app 07 March 2018
10. Multiple Accounts 26 March 2018
11. Wavelength iOS app 12 April 2018

Clearly the guy is a complete slacker. Clearly.

I can understand people being ‘upset’ about not having an Android app, but my view is this, if there is enough request then it will make business sense to officially support this platform. However, give the man some time to get there!

I would like Manton’s to spend time and complete the book. The reason for this is so that he can close last year’s Kickstarter and look to having another Kickstarter to maybe bring someone else to help him full-time with the development cycles.


  1. I received my invite on this date. It was only 6-8 months later that I actually started using Micro.blog in any meaningful way.
    [return]

Consolidate

I feel like I need to quantify that previous statement, because I might not be alone.

Over the last 14 years that I’ve been online I’ve meandered from platform to platform: Blogger, Moveable Type, Wordpress, Habari, Scriptogram, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Flickr, Instagram, Blot and now Micro.blog.

Listing them all like this it makes me wonder why I’ve had such a haphazard affair with something as simple as writing your thoughts online.

Throughout this journey I have either kept the words that I’ve written (or have clear access to these). The plan is to bring everything under one roof. The biggest challenge is deciding what to keep (what is really worth keeping). Will write a bit about my process once it’s all done.

Writing on the web

While going through my Twitter archive, I realised several things which are going to greatly inform the way I write on the web in the future:

  1. While linklogging is fun, easy and in many ways the fabric that makes up the internet, it’s existence is fleeting. Maybe that link will remain valid for 10 years; or maybe it will last for 6 months. The value is the commentary, opinion or observation and what was important at the time rather than the thing itself. What caught your attention, why should you care, etc.
  2. The mundane rituals of your life now will seem facinating in 10 years time, because likely those same rituals will have changed, or you’re with someone else, or in a different country. Take a moment to capture your life as it’s playing out now to help trigger some nostalgia further down the road.
  3. Own your stuff. It’s important because you ultimately control the format that they’re in, now and in the future. I’m looking at you Twitter/Tumblr and your shortening links.
  4. Once you’re 80% happy with the way your site looks like, move back to writing, photographing, drawing, whatever. Leave the final 20% for slow, purposeful and incremental enhancement.
  5. If you’re wondering what type of style you should write, take some advice from one of the guys doing it the best (kottke), write as though you’re writing to a friend in an email.
  6. Who cares about categories and tags.

How to keep going

I’ve been struggling with thoughts and issues on how to keep going (for a number of aspects in my life). This talk by Austin Kleon tackles this topic head first. His answer is found across 10 points ; you should watch the video to get a proper explanation on each:

  1. Every day is Groundhog Day
  2. Build a bliss station
  3. Forget the noun, do the verb
  4. Make gifts
  5. The ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary
  6. Art is for life (not the other way around)
  7. You are allowed to change your mind
  8. When in doubt, tidy up
  9. The demons hate fresh air
  10. Spend time on something that will outlast them

Soundgarden & Kids

Last night was the first moment shared by myself and my two boys. And a glorious moment it was.

Since Ryan’s been born, the activities shared by the boys has been somewhat limited. One is a 3 ½ year old, while the other is 3 months old. Ryan though clearly has his father’s taste in music. To calm him down I’ve taken to singing to him alternative music from the 90s. We’ve just finished our Smashing Pumpkins phase and I started singing Fell on black days.

Having not heard the song in 10 years I thought it would be great to blast it out. I mean that’s why I have music subscription right? I’m holding Ryan and we’re dad-shuffling to the music. A which point Zane decides he wants in on the action as well, so he grabs his massive Ikea shark and starts moshing (I put the link in because I have no idea if this is what it’s refered to these days, wait…they’re calling it slamdancing? I’ll stick with moshing thank you very much) with it. And it all escalated from there.

Although different in an infinitely number of ways, the whole scene did remind me of that time Stathi and I were 18-19 and went to this club in Athens who either had an alternative night on, or the DJ is hoping to get kicked out. Anyway he was playing our music, which by this stage had fallen out of favour in place of some other pop shit. Towards the end/middle of the night there we were literally the only 2 people on the floor slamdancing.

I think my 18-19 year old self would be super proud of these two.

Krama Studio Rollerball

The Krama pen I mentioned 10 days ago, arrived today. I’ve not had much time to play with it yet, but my initial impressions are that the reasons for me backing the Kickstarter were valid.

The first quality that jumped out at me were the subtle details that show the manufacturers knew what they were doing. Having seen (and backed) enough Kickstarter machined pens, the quality of the coating on this pen reaches for the heady heights that a Rotring 600 provides, which is high praise indeed. No other Kickstarter pen has the same quality of coating.

It’s an exceptionally slight pen, no thicker really than a standard 6 sided pencil, so if you like heft to your writing experience, this really isn’t the pen for you. Having recognised the dimensions at play here, I ordered a brass version, which I definitely think is the correct way to go, using a different material would basically have changed the balance of the pen.

This is a simple pen, and that is where it’s beauty lies. The mechanism is a bit different to what I’ve seen for simple pens (like the Squire or Retro 51), but it’s done very well on this pen and the refill has no wriggle. Part of that I think are the tighter tolerances but also the fact that the back of the pen screws directly into the refill. I did not know that this was an option, but the fact that the pens are machined to consider these tolerances on a standard Schmidt refill is even more impressive.

The pen comes in a unique leather wrap, with a couple of brass rings that hold everything together. What I like about this approach (and yes I understand that I’ve paid for the packaging already) is the fact that there is no plastics involved.

From my brief interaction with the pen, I would certainly recommend this pen to anyone looking for something unique but truly functional.

Down a Rabbit Hole

Seriously fell down a rabbit hole yesterday.

  1. First was buying FlowState.
  2. This then led me to discovering The Most Dangerous Writing App, and I loved the font.
  3. Which turned out to be Merriweather.
  4. Once I realised it was on Google Fonts I then went and spent 5 hours putting it to good use on the site.
  5. Hopefully I’ll keep these transgressions down to a minimum in the coming future.

Internet Lizard Brain

It does feel refreshing to be back online and actually enjoying the process. I’m enjoying writing on a regular basis. I’m enjoying the conversations I’m having online, as people share links and thoughts that I might not have considered or known about.

The downside to this interaction is that my internet lizard brain has certainly kicked in full gear. What happens to me is that I end up going down rabbit holes and tweaking my site over and over again. I end up wasting an inordinate amount of time.

The saving grace for Micro.blog is the fact that I can’t tinker with the HTML and once I finally settle on the aesthetics of the site, I can revert to concentrating on more important aspects.

To try and combat this, I’m going to set aside no more than 30 minutes a day in the pursuit of these frivolous but fun moments. My capping that time, I’ll then be able to focus my attention on things that actually move me forward.

Welcome to RMO

One of the fundamental challenges I faced towards the twilight years of my original stint of writing and publishing on the internet (that was nearly 10 years ago now) was the very fact that I didn’t have a singular focus. As my focus meandered, it became a challenge to continue writing meaningful words to capture those ideas with any regularity.

I remember trying very hard to find a focus, even started writing exclusively about Tesla, before I got bored of it all and annoyed people by cluttering up with Facebook feeds with re-posted articles I’d written. By trying to shoehorn myself and the little audience I had, I effectively lost the drive to continue.

This time it’s different. Very different. There are several reasons for this:

  1. To provide me with a location to collect all my thoughts on the subject of reducing mental overhead.
  2. To provide everyone else with a resource that might help them achieve something important in their life.
  3. I’m now clear that I don’t care to heavily about what the site looks like. Thankfully Blot (and David) have me completely covered in one of the best hidden secrets on the internet.

For the last year and a half, I’ve been working in the background on capturing these thoughts and putting them into a coherent document. At the time I thought that the best way to get the ball rolling would have been to buy a domain name that I liked and then start a website — no matter how crude. This was the first version:

It didn’t work. It sat there, unloved, for an entire year, which is just as well. Last year was by all accounts a tough year for me, but this allowed the idea to bounce around in my head. To learn about Stoicism, to regroup and rebalance my thoughts on these ideas that started back in 2016. Sometimes time and space are an essential partner for letting thoughts mature.

If you’re interested in learning more about RMO, head on over to www.rmo.life

Micro.blog Initial Thoughts

Now that I’ve kicked the micro.blog tires for a few days, I can safely say a couple of things:

  1. I like the fact that this is a paid service. It means you have to get it and want to be involved in it to keep paying. The internet would be a different place if it didn’t make everything free.
  2. Loading the timeline is slow (on the site and certainly on iOS and the Mac). It perfectly usable but it doesn’t go unnoticed either. Not sure if this is something that @manton you have your eye on to improve in the future?
  3. Information isn’t located discusing the map for the development of the site (and therefore the core service). I understand that if something is good it will grow organically, but I would hope that there is a vision of where this connection is headed towards?
  4. Love being able to use Markdown in my posts.
  5. Shame no #hashtags. Not sure what the reasons for excluding it from the design were?
  6. Because it’s small everyone is talking to everyone else. The experience is only enhanced for the better because of it all.
  7. Love how it doesn’t matter how much or little you want to write, everything is welcome, it’s just displayed a little differently.
  8. I’d like to be able to edit my text from the site itself (as long as I’m logged in).
  9. I’d like to be able to download all my posts as single .md files, rather than a WordPress (???) export of some description. If not single .md files, then at least 1 single .md file. I’m currently using IFTTT to append my words to a text file via the RSS feed. The only problem my glorious Markdown is converted in the HTML.

Internet Life

It’s been a super interesting week for my internet life. After pulling away from it all for a significant amount of time, I now believe I’ve found the necessary tools to get something out of it. This micro.blog is my therapy of sorts (some of the more deeply personal stuff is bound to stay hidden somewhere in my journal), and RMO is pretty much my ideal setup for writing and editing long form (mainly due to the control the app affords me over the layout).

So for now my internet output is really split across 3 main locations, each with very specific goals:

  1. kaa.micro.blog - Digital Drawer
  2. rmo.life - Capturing all things related to RMO
  3. pinboard.in/u:kaa - Links you should remember

Everything else can either be syndicated or deleted when the time is right.

Pinboard as Linklog

As I start to rekindle my love for writing and publishing online again (I’m still trying to decide on another word to blogging, a term I dislike the sound of), I’ve decided that I actually don’t want to clutter up my feed with a linklog - even if this link log has some exceptionally witty commentary. I’d like to keep this particular site dedicated to my more thoughtful digital explorations.

What I hadn’t considered was the power of the system that I actually have in place already in my Pinboard account. Interesting links already exist there. The only part of this system I’ve not really been using is the description or notes section. You can subscribe to the RSS feed here.

What is really annoying to me is that I’ve had this Pinboard account for 6 years and never thought to invest the time in it before now.

Supply Shaving

I finally got my Kickstarter backed ‘Single Edge’ razor handle from Supply today. This is actually the second time that the package was sent to me, as the first set was lost in the mail. This usually doesn’t happen to me, but thankfully the guys over at Supply were gracious enough to hook me up with a full replacement.

The packaging did completely take me aback. It’s unashamedly aping Apple’s packaging. I know one is offering high tech gear, while there other is a razor handle, but I do wonder if the “homage” was taken a little too far in this instance. From this videos, an alternative packaging seems to have been made (possibly for the previous version?), which I actually prefer as it calls back to a time when these injector blades were widely used. I think the ‘heritage’ should be celebrated more.

The first thing you’ll notice about the handle itself is the sleekness of it followed by the sheer weightiness of it - this thing is heavy. The other thing that you’ll notice is the lovely little manual on the inside that goes through a bunch of interesting aspects that you should consider. Patrick and Jennifer are effectively trying to re-educate us on a style of shaving that went out of fashion, only to be replaced by electric razors and 5 blade disposable garbage from the supermarket.

Having shaved with it, I can say it does give you a very close shave. I’ve been using double edged safety razors for nearly 5 years now and while those shaves were infinitely better to what I was using before, this makes my skin much smoother. The draw back however is that in order for it to do this, it might irritate the skin - maybe only until my skin gets used to it?

To complete my pledge, I also opted for the marble bowl. It has ridges at the bottom. My shaving cream of choice is Taylor of Old Bond Street, Sandlewood, which was first introduced to me by my brother in one of our care packages - I’ve been hooked ever since. The combination of the two created an amazingly smooth and thick rich lather.

It’s not every day that one enhances their daily routine of shaving. If you’re going to do it, go all in.

Apple

Over the years I have bought a slew of Apple related products (for both myself and my wife). We are an Apple family.

  1. iPod Mini
    2nd Generation, Silver
    Won in a coaster competition at the time.
  2. Mac Mini
    mid-2007, 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo/80GB HD/1GB DDR2 SDRAM)
    My very first Mac.
  3. Mighty Mouse
  4. Apple Wireless Keyboard
  5. iPod Shuffle
    2nd Generation, Light Blue and Dark Blue versions
    Hey it was London, I was in my 20s. I lost the first one.
  6. iPod Shuffle
    3rd Generation, Black
    Rubbish version. Apple being to clever for it’s own good.
  7. Macbook
    13 inch, Aluminium, late 2008
    Still going strong 5 years later. A few dents but apart from that rock solid.
  8. iPhone 4
    Black, 16GB
    My first iPhone.
  9. Time Capsule
    3rd Generation, Late 2009
    Still in constant use, nearly a decade on.
  10. Macbook Pro
    Retina Display, 13inch, late 2013
    My current Mac. Still strong.
  11. iPhone 5c
    Green, 16GB
    Was working fine until a November 2018, when the wife smashed the screen. Her second in a single day.
  12. iPhone 6
    Spacegray, 64GB
    My second iPhone. Totally destroyed this phone. Been using a case ever since.
  13. iPad Air
    White, 64GB
    My wife’s iPad. She’s wreched this bad boy 4 years into it’s life.
  14. iPhone 6s
    Spacegray, 128GB
    Replaced by Apple as they screwed up a screen replacement for my iPhone 6.
  15. iPhone 7
    Gold, 128GB
    Wife smashed the screen on this twice.
  16. Apple TV
    32GB
  17. Airport Express
  18. iPad
    9.7” 2018, 128GB
    A replacement to her smashed iPad Air. Funnily enough, this is pretty much a like for like replacement.

My Grandmother

My earliest memory of my grandmother must have been when I was a little older than Zane (my eldest), I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old. It was just the two of us, my parents where elsewhere. She offered me a cheese ‘ashkawan’ sandwich, which I hesitated but accepted. What she produced was a mature cheddar cheese sandwich of such epic flavour, I can still taste it 34 years on. After demolishing the first one, she could see I wasn’t done and so she asked me if I wanted another. I remember how happy she looked at being able to offer such a simple thing that could elisit such a reaction — like she’d discovered my route to happiness and was going to use it. She was a master at giving genuine happiness from the simplest of things at her disposal. She would offer this happiness throughout her life and to everyone she came into contact with. And lemonade. Lots of lemonade.

The way I see it, my grandmother’s job was to spoil me (and to a lesser extent my brother). To that end she did an outstanding job. When she found out that I liked the peanut M&Ms, she made sure she had a complete box for me. I ate so many peanut M&Ms that summer, I still can’t bring myself to eat them any more.

She would hand us an endless stream of toys with alarming regularity, and would take great pains to get something different and special. Sometimes I think she worked on these present ‘projects’ all year, in anticipation of when we came to visit.

She was into shisha before it became fashionable — and did it the right way, in the comfort of her own home, after a meal to pass a few hours while looking out onto the sea and watching the world go by.

Fiercely independent (she learnt the very hard way and very early on that she had to fend for herself) and with twice as much energy in her as other ladies her age (as experienced by the fact that she walked everywhere). Her favourite holiday destination was Syria (back before it was completely ravaged by war).

Even though I’ve not had a two way conversation in over a decade with her, she was available to me during some tough times when I was in Lebanon. She helped me through them by being a willing ear.

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of my wedding (there were many that day), was seeing my grandmother attend — she was bedridden for several years by that stage, so her attendance never even crossed my mind as a possibility. It took a lot for her to be there, and thankfully her nurse made it a reality.

My grandmother at my wedding

A patient wife, a great neighbour, a dedicated aunt and a loyal sister — my grandmother was all these things and so much more.

After 9 hard years (being bedridden and paralysed), she finally laid her head to rest and left this world behind her. I loved my grandmother. She died today.


Nohad Abou Alfa, 1930–23rd December 2017

Stoicism

Every once in a while you stumble upon an idea that resonates with you. An idea that captures your imagination. It’s a unique idea that asks for action, that calls to be implemented and put into action and to become part of your daily practice. The latest such idea is Stoicism.

Although my brother had mentioned it in passing a while back, the information washed over me like someone telling me all about Bitcoin. I paid it no heed and carried on about my daily business.

In one of the latest episodes of the Kevin Rose Show podcast, Kevin Rose interviewed Ryan Holiday and what he said made a ton of sense to me, so I decided to take a deeper dive.

I jumped straight to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and bought two versions. The first is the Gregory Hays translation recommended by Holiday. The second is The Emperor’s Handbook) which my brother recommended.

I have since followed it up with Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic as a good way to allow the ideas and ideology be digested in small bite sized nuggets. Of note is Holiday’s website dedicated to spreading the Stoic word — subscribing to his newsletter gives you a decent sampler to know if this is something you’d like to dig a little deeper into.

The one exercise that I have taken to heart straight away is daily journaling twice a day. 10–15 minutes in the morning to capture what I want to achieve out of the day and 10–15 minutes in the evening to review and reflect on the day that passed and ask myself what I learnt and what I could do better.

Then and Now

The truth is that I can’t help myself and keep coming back to these characters. I’ve honestly tried to get into another project, but it’s clear that there is a whole world that needs to be explored, developed and discovered.

This process is both therapy for me and I see it as a way to hone some of my skills to tell a story, develop a world before I take my mediocre skills into something more serious or demanding.

What’s also clear to me, is that there is really no rush with these characters. This August marks 5 years since I first started working on Moon Racket! The below three images were created on an iPhone 4 as a way to use the Brushes app along with a really shitty stylus.

Evolution of Corgan — Created on an iPhone 4

Over time the characters have evolved significantly. The general ideas remain, however the details have changed and hopefully will continue to evolve.

Cast of Characters

This crept up on me to be honest. I started off with a grand total of 2 characters and little else. Over the course of the 5 years I’m now the proud owner of 10 characters and counting (I actually have a further 8 characters that I’ll be showing off sooner or later, but more on that in a bit).

Continuous Change

What I continue to be surprised by, is the fact that every time I create a new image, it adds something new and interesting to this world. I’ve only created two full images this year, but they basically added the orange colour which ties the art together, a new character (in Ison the rocket) and established a new vernacular for the type of buildings that I’d like to see throughout the Moon Racket! world (till now, I’d not shown the guys in the context of an actual physical place). Not bad for two images.

Black & White artwork for header


Completed colour artwork for header

Onomatopoeia

I’ve always felt that one of the main ‘characters’ in Moon Racket! should be the onomatopoeia. I’ve not really utilised this very much and kept the general use of the text and fonts to a minimum. That’s one aspect that I would like to explore a little further in future iterations of these characters.

This is also the first time that I use a new font for signage. I’ve chosen ‘Phosphate’ as one option at the moment, although I also recognise that something more stylised might be necessary down the line.

The Future

Moving into the future, there is a children’s book that I am writing now — probably why I’ve not been drawing very much. It’s certainly taken a lot more out of me than I would have wanted. The concept is simple, but having read a considerable amount of children’s books over the last year, I would say that doing it in an exciting and fun way is a real challenge.

In an attempt at creating a new story, what I am looking into is to try and find a way to slowly create a story that is developed 1 panel at a time. The intention is to continue to draw on a regular basis and just build the story slowly and organically. I’m reasonably comfortable with the art side of things, that I’d like to flesh out these characters a little bit more and start to explore ideas and thoughts that I wonder about on a regular basis.

Hamzi Abou Alfa

At 7am, on Thursday, 27th of July 2017, one of my father’s uncles died. You see my father’s uncles really were more like surrogate fathers than uncles. To think of them as only uncles is to do a disservice to their relationship.

It’s not that hard for me to express my affection for Hamzi. A softly spoken man, with the warmest smile and fiendishly clever wit. His house, always an exceptionally warm place for me.

My fondest memories however of him are his interactions with my own father. My father could never say no to Hamzi. If ever he had a real weakness to his uncles, it was for Hamzi. Every uncle embodied a different lesson in life, from Hamzi he learnt kindness.

Sometimes Hamzi would frustrate my dad in a way that I could instantly relate to, as I would oftentimes experience that very same frustrations with my own father. Those frustrations melt away when you understand that you are completely powerless to do anything, just smiling and get on with, knowing that this person has stood by you in thousands of big and small ways throughout your life.

The hardest part of today however was the thought of his daughter Farah rushing through the airports, through the traffic to try and get to her father’s funeral. I don’t know why this mental image just destroys me — maybe because it’s the image that made the whole situation real for me. The moment you realise that he’s physically gone.

Of the many legacies that one can leave behind, memories of those you touched feed the fire and keep the person’s spirit alive in your mind — in that way he’s never gone. Another legacy would be in the children you helped raise. In that regard Hamzi and his wife Ouhayla, have left an incredible legacy in their children who have the same humility and kindness, as their parents before them.

I checked the last time I wrote about death in my family was for my dad’s other uncle Ahmed, who passed away 9 years ago now. I wrote that eulogy when the wound was still raw. Ahmed wasn’t the last gentleman of Saida, he was but one of the last. Hamzi, like his brother before him, undoubtedly belongs within this elite group.

My thoughts on Brexit

So I honestly didn’t think that the first series that I would be writing about is Brexit. I thought I’d be talking about something simple like waste in the house, energy efficiencies and creativity. No instead I get to delve into what happens after the referendum of 23rd of June, 2016.

Before we get to that, a little personal history is in order. I feel that it’s important for me to write some of my thoughts on Brexit and the referendum, mainly for myself, so that I can review in a few years time what it is that I was actually thinking, and partly for my son when he asks me in the future why Britain is not part of the European Union.

I grew up in Greece, which against all odds remains as part of the European Union. My formative years were lived in the UK (started my life in Nottingham before moving down like many to London). For the last 6 years I’ve lived outside the UK. That’s a long time and I’ve missed out on some truly amazing things. The referendum on the 23rd of June 2016 however has to be one of the most important things that I wasn’t really a part of. Something that will both affect my future and my son’s future.

The reason for my leaving the UK are generally that even being an Engineer working for one of the most respected consultancy firms in the world, life in the UK is built around the concept of at least two income per households — everything else is a bit of a struggle for survival or an incredibly miserable grind.

My single biggest issue with Brexit, apart from the fact that it’s an ill conceived reaction led by a bunch of buffoons with little to no understanding of the damage that it will do to millions of people, is the fact that overall it’s a clear sign of people and humanity moving in the wrong direction. Rather than being inclusive of each other, we are pushing each other away and building boundaries between us — whether artificial or real.

Frankly the whole situation has broken my heart and my spirit a little bit. Growing up in Athens, but with no European Citizenship, I know what it feels like to be out of the union. In a few years time, I will have this feeling all over again.

Starts

You have to start somewhere. Creativity is borne oftentimes of constraint. While this is something that has been talked about, finding your own constraints is actually much harder to do in practice.

I’ve always wanted to maintain a voice on the internet. Back in 2004, blogging and the community that surrounded that activity on the internet was an extremely exciting and vibrant. I desperately wanted to be a part of what was happening. The problem was that after I exhausted the initial ideas (which to be fair took years to exhaust) I didn’t really find my voice. The options available to me were limitless…and that was the problem.

What’s in a name

This isn’t the first time I’ve used the term Cerebral Interviews. In my first website, from back in 2004, it was the very first category or tag that I used to describe the general noise that was flowing in my head.

I then tried to use that same term for a newsletter that I ran for a year. The newsletter had a bunch of links and commentary that would be published once a month. It was mainly sent through to my friends and family and received approximately 0% engagement from anyone on the list. Hardly a roaring success but it allowed me to get somethings off my chest.

What I’ve realised is that actually although I love design in general, it distracts me from the actual creative work. I will miss the fun that I’ve had learning HTML/CSS/PHP (I could never wrap my head around Javascript for some reason), but I need to add enough constraints that will allow me to produce more regularly.

Design can now be constrained to the images and stuff that surround the work that I publish, rather than the vessel in which they’re delivered to. Medium has my back.

The Product

Which brings me to the actual content at hand. What’s the point of my existing online. Why not limit my output to links and commentary on my Twitter and Instagram accounts? There’s also all the work that goes into producing Moon Racket!?

Twitter doesn’t allow me to craft an article, or publish comics with the inherent presentation that is available at my fingertips on Medium. Having a platform ready to go will allow me to concentrate on the task at hand and actually just finish pages and publish them is an important one for me.

By publishing here, the amount of fiddling available to me is constrained and that will hopefully help me to focus on the final products.

Giving Up

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the way, I just gave up creating and giving a shit about creating for the internet. I gave up following comic books in a semi-religious manner. I gave up playing basketball every single week. I gave up watching movies regularly. I gave up writing to my various website.

My aim has always been to create a small library of stories that I’ve written and drawn that are available in a multitude of formats (from digital to paperbacks and hardcovers). It’s a reasonably modest aim, but with the option of becoming greater depending on scale.

Do I think that this library of stories will provide me with a living? Probably not, unless I have some serious success somewhere and hit on the zeitgeist in a way that I can neither predict nor anticipate. So I’ll be content to having a series of books with my name on the spine and that finally put to paper the ideas in my head.

Little strokes fell great oaks

I’m clear that for the time being I will not have hours and hours to my name. I can however carve 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening and effectively do 2 pomodoros. High burst sets of 30 minutes pieces of work. That’s 7 hours a week. That’s 364 hours a year. If I spend 10 hours per page that equates to 36.4 pages of story and art. If I manage to do a page of art a week, then I’ll be able to do around 50 pages a year. The size of a European album.

The numbers don’t lie. It all starts with 2 pomodoros every single day. The issue however is life getting in the way. Sometimes you’re extremely tired. Sometimes the boy doesn’t sleep. Sometimes I have a business trip or I’m not feeling up for it. This is only natural. The difficulty is finding a way to get back into the routine. Routines are hard won and easily lost.

Deadlines

The last piece of the puzzle. I have about 8 projects that are not really linked with each other floating at different stages of development. I need to stop the braincrack from spreading and destroying my flow.

So I’ll be dedicating 1 year to any of these projects. That gives them enough time to mature. Of course if I’m close to finishing any of the projects then I’ll continue till I finish, but if I’m completely off, then that one gets parked and I move onto the next one.

So as a way to keep track, 2015 was mainly Moon Racket! and will extend to the end of 2016. After 2016, I will stop work on this series (unless it’s exploded) and then move onto the next project.

This all begins tomorrow morning - I’ll be back regularly to discuss progress.

2016

5 months. That’s a really long time between updates. The truth is that I was creating things until at least the very end of september, it just so happened that I wasn’t really in the mood to talk about them.

The main reason for the radio silence over the autumn and start of winter is down to the fact that I’m relocating to Dubai. That’s been a huge drain on all of my ‘free’ time and drawing and creating has been relegated to the too difficult to deal with drawer.

I have decided to take this time to reflect on what I want to do with my creative output once things have settled down a little bit more.

Moon Racket!

I’ve got 10-15 new strips of Moon Racket! to publish and then I’d like to stick to the routine of publishing something new to Moon Racket! at least once a week for the entire year of 2016. Obviously I’ll likely fail, but I want to at least try.

The main focus moving forward will be to improve the strip with actual backgrounds. I’m painfully aware at the general lack of backgrounds and environment that is missing (or at least that could be better defined than right now).

However I won’t be publishing 4 panel strips. It’s not how my brain works. Rather I’ll be writing stories that will take up several panels, maybe entire pages with these characters in them. I have the first story roughed out, so just need to get cracking.

Chroma

The real push in 2016 will be for me to finally draw and start publishing Chroma. This is a very long time coming and I feel that if I don’t do it now, I’ll likely never do it. After multiple attempts at starting this project, I’m now of the mind that it’s better to get it out there, in whatever form it comes, rather than trying to get it perfect from day one. It will never be that so I should stop worrying about it.

Creative Output

If I’m able to publish 1 page a month of Chroma and the weekly Moon Racket! page, then 2016 is likely going to be a MONSTER year . I’m fully aware that this is an ambitious programme for me (considering what goes into moving to a city like Dubai), but this is work that I’ll be carrying out first thing in the morning. The intention is to carry out 1-2 hours of creative output a day, every day, every morning.

Adventure in Stationary

For years I’ve been exceptionally content with my choice of pen, the Muji 0.38mm gel ink pen, in black. The main issue with the pen was the cheap plastic enclosure that held that wonderful refill. I grew exceptionally bored of it and I was willing to splurge some money on something that was better.

Previously I’d splash money on stationary related to my artwork, but never for my work related stationary. My hunt for a better enclosure made me look at all of my stationary in a decidedly different way and led me down a rabbit hole that I am yet to emerge from (listened to all the episodes of the Pen Addict podcast). Thankfully the situation is a lot more under control than when I first started on this journey. After a year of buying a wide range of pens, I now know pretty much what will appeal to me and will fit into my rotation pretty much instantly.

I intend to go into a decent amount of detail but rather than writing everything in one single shot, I’ll highlight the main takes for now:

  1. I’m likely not going to be expanding my fountain pen collection past a Pelikan M205 in the future. It stops here at my Sailor Pro Gear Slim.
  2. Midori MDs are the only choice of sketch notebooks that I will likely ever use. These are perfect. The A4 version is next on my list.
  3. Nothing beats my Muji 0.38mm pen for quick sketching and inking - the Pilot Juice pens come in a close second. I’ve still to find my ideal holder - the original Takumi pen was a massive disappointment, hopefully version 2 goes in a better direction. Might have to design one myself.
  4. I’ve enjoyed using my Hobonichi Techo (although not as often as I would want to and not with the type of content I was hoping for) - will be trying out an A5 version this year., maybe that format suits me better?
  5. I will be getting a Nanami Seven Seas Standard notebook in the future as well.
  6. The Penxo is one of the best conceived and delivered Kickstarters that I’ve ever used - even though they fucked up my order and gave me the wrong leads.
  7. I will be getting a Field Notes subscription in November. I like the fun of seeing what these guys come up with and have been enjoying collecting these notebooks.
  8. I’ve still not found my ideal EDC pen. I still have time to back the EDK, but not sure if that’s the one for me.

Hobonichi Techo 2016

It’s been a year already? The latest lineup for the Hobonichi Techo 2016 (in Japanese for now) is online. Unlike last year, where I was completely taken by the buzz and the excitement of something new, I now know what to expect and more crucially what I like and need.

The A6 size hasn’t worked out for me as I would have liked. I found myself running out of space on occasions, or ended up looking to complete my thoughts elsewhere. That’s going to have to change if I’m going to use this book as my catchall for everything. I am a huge lover of the A5 size, and while the ‘Cousin’ version of the Hobonichi planner is in fact all in Japanese, it’s functional enough to not be a problem.

The biggest draw for this notebook is the paper, which is without equal. I’ve tried many different papers this year, but the Tomoe River paper has stood out as the undeputed champion when it comes to making the most out of inks and pens that I use.

The Hobonichi Techo will remain my notebook of choice, where I dump all my thoughts and ideas into a single place. The only bad thing is that I now need a new cover - the new ones are a big disappointment, so I’m looking to Etsy for some alternatives. Top of my list are these covers from StrideRidge - and they’re actually affordable unlike some of these ‘official’ covers on offer.

6 Bullet Points

I’ve been following the Greek situation with keen interest - being the country in which I grew up in, where my parents currently live and where my brother just this morning went to an interview for his citizenship.

It’s been pretty interesting to see Yanis Varoufakis in action and read the words he’s been posting over the last 6 months. He’s chosen arguably the worst job in Greece at the moment but this latest 6 short bullet points is an interesting stake in the ground. His latest post Why we recommend a NO in the referendum – in 6 short bullet points is an interesting idea to summarise their government’s thoughts on the subject.

While everyone is saying that a NO vote would effectively mean that Europe ejects Greece out of the Eurozone, Varoufakis is claiming that this would not happen. Why it will not happen is still not clear to me however. From an interview (with a less the eloquent minister in Syriza) on the BBC earlier today, it appears that they think that European law excludes such a thing from happening. Honestly when the money and stakes are this high, I doubt new rules cannot be rewritten.

Sunday is only a few short days away and we’ll see how the Greek people will vote.

Four Dials

Recently I’ve started listening to the podcast Hello Internet - if you’ve not had a chance i recommend you listen and actually try and stick through it as its a pretty good conversation between two interesting hosts.

Just finished episode 3 (although I’ve also listened to a few of the later episodes, and then jumped back) but the concept of 4 dials or light bulbs in ones life was discussed. The concept stuck with me however what I realised is that actually my dials are different due to my physical location. So to recap the original four dials:

  • Family
  • Work
  • Health
  • Friends

What I’ve realised is that while the first 3 items remain relevant in my life, the last one however has dropped effectively to 0%. In its place my comic book work has taken its place.

When we moved over to Doha the idea of starting fresh with no support network to start from was a daunting one. The truth is, we’ve not actually really developed this support network in any way since we moved here 3 years ago. Apart from the guys in the office, I’ve really not ventured very far in this realm. I try and maintain my connections with my friends, but seeing as they are far away, this was one aspect that I knew was going to take a hit. The concious decision was that we didn’t expand that circle at all.

By the Numbers

This is effectively what my percentages look like at the moment:

  • Family: 30%
  • Work: 50%
  • Health: 5%
  • Comics: 10%
  • Downtime: 5%

Will I ever become a professional cartoonist? Not when I only am dedicating 10% of my energy to the task, it’s really at best, a hobby, a simple side project. My job as an engineer isn’t going away any time soon and my family time and health time are as low as I’m going to go at the moment.

The only part that I could take away is the downtime (watching movies, television, surfing the internet, reading a book or magazine). Those things however are important to keep you sane.

The problem I have with this breakdown is that the reality of the situation is such that I am actually using that 10% and doing wonders with it. I’ve been able to create multiple websites that I run quasi-regularly. I’ve been able to create a web comic that I’ve invested an incredible amount of time to write, draw and now publish. I do acknowledge however that this has been at the expense of other things, and that’s fine for the moment, but it’s not going to stay like that for very long.

Moon Racket! on Medium

I’ve decided to use Medium as an additional platform from which I publish the new season of my comic, Moon Racket! Multiple factors coalesced to make this decision.

In the past I have used 3 different platforms to publish and distribute my comic strip:

  1. The official website, hosted on Tumblr
  2. The newsletter, powered by Tinyletter
  3. Tapastic (at least in the first season).

Moving forward I’ll be publishing on Medium, Moon Racket! and through the newsletter. So what brought about this change? To answer that question, I think I should answer another question, how have the other platforms been faring?

The truth is that each of the above platforms provided very specific (detrimental) restrictions on the artwork itself, but also allowed for a potentially wider distribution. The problem is that this wider distribution never manifested itself in a meaningful way.

Tumblr

Moon Racket! is hosted on Tumblr, a platform usually suited for rectangular posts that fit within the stream that is present for eveyone. The restrictions on images are therefore made to suit their platform. The maximum size of image that can be posted is one that is 1200px wide. On a retina screen that’s the equivalent of a 600px image. The effect of this restriction is that my comic always appears blurry.

While this is a nitpick, for a perfectionist like myself, it’s a deal breaker.

Newsletter

If I thought that Tumblr provided restrictions, then I was in for a rude awakening with my newsletter experience. This one can only be typically shown in a 600px wide image, otherwise it will break most inboxes.

My experience with Tinyletter has been mixed. But ultimately my question for a beautiful experience was wrecked by that platform’s constraints. In mitigate I’ve moved things over to Mailchimp, which I’m hoping will offer better options and experience.

Even then, I’m still not showcasing the art in the best possible way.

Tapastic

This platform holds promise, but once again there are size restrictions to the images that can be uploaded. While the platform as a whole does allow for a plethora of things aimed at comic content creators, I don’t believe that I would be able to reap many (any?) of those benefits.

It’s also being lost in the sea that is being published there. Some of which is aimed at a very different audience.


Which brings me to Medium.

The editor provided on Medium is without question the best editor on the internet, have tried a very large number of them.

The other instant win for Medium is how the platform chooses to deal with images. They’re not just first class citizens, they are allowed to exist in a manner that makes them shine. In fact the more I write about this, the more convinced I am of what an idiot I am for not considering this platform earlier.

The biggest question I have is whether I can connect with an audience for an all ages comic strip about a robot (Corgan) and his worm friend (Alfie) that live on the moon, that’s made of cheese on Medium.

That’s a journey I’m happy to take, because if nothing else I’ll take it in style.

Moon Racket Website Update

Ever since I ‘relaunched’ the Moon Racket! website I’ve not been particularly happy with the footer. I always knew that it would have to change. My initial use of the footer was to effectively send people to different parts of the net that related to all things Moon Racket! - the Twitter account, the facebook account, the newsletter and this process blog. All of these links have now moved to the very top of the website, in a nice menu bar, that’s out of the way, but fully accessible if needed.

I received some negative feedback, when I publishing the first season, that sticks in my mind. It was from a woman that didn’t really understand what was going on in the series. On reflection I totally get that. At the time I couldn’t do anything about it, as the stories and art had been created. I knew I had to do better with the second series.

In an attempt to make the series more accessible, the stories have been written to not be as presumtive, but also the website should be first time reader friendly. To address these two issues, I’ve decided to use the footer as a What You Need to Know section, complete with character head shots and names, using those sketches from the previous post.

Routine & Constraint

Routine is everything when you’re trying to develop and build something. To aid the routine from happening and not being taken off the rails, constraints are typically added into the mix.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to publish something new every weekday on this here process site. While I definitely don’t want to go meta (and blog about blogging), I thought it was important to note that I’ve come up with a way to help guide me through this publishing schedule. Each week I’ll aim to publish a post in one of these categories:

  1. Marketing
  2. Design
  3. Character Development
  4. From my Desk
  5. Tools of the Trade

The reason for publishing is that it focuses my mind to always be creating. It’s also a great way to help me work things out. Publishing something online is somehow more concrete that writing a bunch of words either in notebooks or in random text files that live in my Dropbox folder.

Marketing

What kind of audience do I think Moon Racket! is intended for and how do I reach them?

I’ve been struggling with this question a lot recently, in the lead up to releasing the second season. This then brought up a series of other questions.

  1. What are the topics the series tackles?
  2. Where can I find an audience and declare to them the genius that is Moon Racket!, while not appearing like a complete douche bag pimping my shit like a second rate car salesman?
  3. Can I focus on a niche group of people with a specific interest, that would appreciate Moon Racket! and what it has to offer?
  4. Is this series even worth promoting?

My intention has always been to create a great strip, that I would like to see myself and I never honestly even considered these questions when I created the strip. I foolishly expected that between Facebook and Twitter there would be an easy way of marketing my wares. The reality of course is far different and that achieving any traction via social media is reasonably limited (at least for my little webcomic).

In order to try and find different answers and solutions to this question, I’ll be tackling this topic in more detail over the coming weeks, reporting on how certain avenues have actually helped the cause.

Good Citizens

There is much to like about Tumblr and publishing on Tumblr. There are however some constraints that I have been trying to work my way through. High resolution images on Tumblr are constrained in size to 1280px for normal high res photos and 2560x500px for panorama photos.

The problem is that Moon Racket strips don’t really fall into either category. I could potentially use the panorama photos setting, but that would mean making things fit into a 500px height (which isn’t great). Here’s a look of what the panorma would look like using the latest weekly (which dropped yesterday):

Panorama

Alternatively I could upload the image as 1280px. On a retina display that works out to be a 640px image (which honestly is tiny). My website allows for a 960px width - on a retina display that’s 1920px. If I do let Tumblr do it’s thing, then my crisp black lines that I’ve worked long and hard on, become this blurred mess.

The only other solution I’ve found is to host the images on Flickr and then link them over. I get to post the image that I want in any resolution that I please. This solution does not make for very good Tumblr citizen but it makes for a better web site.


The irony of course is that both Flickr and Tumblr are owned by Yahoo! - so the image is hosted on their servers anyway. The whole thing is just annoying and you end up loosing out on some of the cool features that are inherently a part of Tumblr - for the sake of a few measily pixels.

Ephemeral Life Diaries

You know what I miss? I miss daily blogging.

5 years ago, the last time I was blogging on any regular basis, there was a rhythm to my publishing madness. Every morning would bring with it the promise of writing something new; sometimes it would be trivial, other times it would be ‘important’. The trick was to show up every day.

The last year has honestly stripped me of very little personal time as I juggle being a husband, a father and an engineer. What little spare time I do have, I try and relax by drawing, inking, reading or watching a little bit of television as time permits.

In that respect my online worlds are effectively extensions of a life diary that I’m creating piece by piece. I might own the content, but it’s hosted by someone else.


When I sit and consider what I’ve created over the last several years, my online endeavours are not high on that priority list. I’ve created countless websites, written at this stage thousands of posts (large and small) and while it did provide me with an outlet, none of it will last very long. Maybe none of it will matter except as a marker from a different time in my life.

My online space has now become somewhat diluted across multiple platforms (an Instagram, several Tumblrs, a couple of Twitters, a Dribbble, a Flickr, a Tinyletter). What happens is that I end up not generating as much content for each platform but what I’ve realised is that this might not actually matter. What matters is work that I find meaningful that will last.

Which then leads to be to start questioning my general output. What work can I look back on objectively and be proud of? Over the last 4 ½ years my output has been limited to all things Moon Racket. This was a pretty concious decision on my part. Focus on a single project allows it to grow it’s potential. This is the work that I have devoted my free time for, and this is the work that I hope will blossom over the coming year.

Momentum

I’ve been drawing Moon Racket for several years now. You wouldn’t know it, as I’ve only released around 23 images in total. The truth is that I’ve got hundreds of sketches, doodles and even strips that have not been released (apart from the odd snap on Instagram). There are two resons for this:

  1. Quality. The creative process and the quality in the first few years really wasn’t that great. When I look back at Season One I cringe (and that was the art I was ‘happy’ with at the time). However if I didn’t persevere, then I wouldn’t be in the position I am now, where I am comfortable enough to draw the characters in a few short minutes.
  2. Schedule. This one is actually a self imposed reason. My thinking being that I cannot really predict how often I’m likely to finish a drawing and do all the necessary post-production work. So instead the idea was to bank an entire season before I started publishing. The problem with this decision, is that nothing gets published (in my case over a year) and any momentum is lost.

That is actually an issue that I would like to address. The simplest solution is to publish things as they become available and ignore the whole issue of schedule. As a companion to this solution I’ve also decided to create small single image strip (created in my favourite notebooks of all time, the Midori MD A5 notebooks) that takes a few hours to draw and ink to provide stop gaps between more involved strips.

Here’s the first image.

Season 2 Gang

Amazon Comment

How often do you read a comment to a review on Amazon and can’t stop laugh? This comment for the Zojirushi SM-SA48-BA Stainless Steel Mug is one of those.

I bought the 20-ounce Zojirushi SM-SA60-BA the week after I got married so that I could keep my coffee warm on the commute to and from my new job downtown. It is literally the world’s best travel mug. I could put steaming hot coffee in it in the morning, and if I forgot it in my truck I would still have steaming hot coffee for the drive home. No kidding! It’s incredible. This was an exciting time for me. My time with Jennifer was limited but boundless in its glory. When I wasn’t working, Jennifer and I would go hiking at the park, take road trips, sit up late and watch the stars. And, of course, have long nights of passionate love making. And through it all, my 20-ounce Zojirushi SM-SA60-BA provided me with hot, fresh coffee and a sleek, ergonomic feel. It’s amazingly well designed and made to last.That was seven years ago.

He then follows it up with this:

These days, Jennifer is as cold and emotionally distant as an uncharted asteroid. Now the most passionate conversations we have involve either our fiberoptic internet bandwidth or Your Damn Mother. At work, I am merely a shadow defined by once-authentic ambition. Original thought at my office is as pointless as a Libertarian vote, and my commute is like a scene from Walking Dead. I’m writing this on my iPhone as I sit behind a third-world chicken truck on I-35. I’m numbing myself to waste another eight hours at The Bad Place and fantasizing about replacing the painful vacuum of affection from She Who Cannot Read Oil Change Reminder Stickers with that new girl from logistics.

And ends strongly:

But now that I think about it, the one constant source of warmth and comfort in my life is still the 20-ounce Zojirushi SM-SA60-BA. Buy one. Buy one now, or feel only the chill yearning for an early grave that poor life decisions and emotional complacency can reap.

Also bonus, read the followup comments which give the actual truth, which is a lot more heartwarming.

Progress Report #1

It’s been a while since I checked in on progress for Moon Racket Season 2. My original deadline for this season has shifted somewhat, but my plan was somewhat flawed in that I thought I could finish off the art the same year that Zane (my son) was born - I am that hopelessly optimistic. That was never going to really happen. The good news is that I made incredible progress while I was on holiday and thankfully I am still riding that momentum. When I left in December I had 6 strips fully completed. Now a little over a month later I have over 20 strips that are in varying degrees of completness. In addition to that I was able to work through the thumbnails for the remaining 10 strips. That’s right, unlike the first season (which was 20 strips in total), Season 2 will be expanded to 30 strips.

Frictionless Creation

I attribute the fact that I’ve been able to create anything at all to the fact that I’ve made a concerted effort in trying to remove as much friction in the creation process as possible.

  1. Make sure that each script has the thumbnails worked out for the entire page. Doodle, change the script if necessary.
  2. Do all the lettering. I use Sketch for this as it’s my Freehand alternative. This gives me the word placement so that I can taylor the art accordingly (make sure the character’s head isn’t covered by a balloon).
  3. As I’m drawing all the artwork on A3 board, I need to cut them down the middle. I then also drew all the panels in, so that I have one less excuse to actually getting started on the art (ie doing something without actually doing anything).

Hopes & Aspirations

One of my desires for this strip, is that as I continue to draw it in the future, I’ll always be able to look back and see a progression from the previous year. It means that I’m trying to make the strip better and make myself better at the creation process. What I didn’t anticipate was seeing a fluidity in the characters between the very first strip I drew and the recent strips.

This poses the question of whether I should go back and rework the original drawings to meet that fluidity or leave them as they currently are as a marker. My initial reaction is to leave them as they are. This is an ongoing strip, rather than a finite graphic novel. Things don’t actually have to look consistent (nor do they, when you compare the very first season even).

Deadlines

I know I shouldn’t really tempt fate and declare a deadline, but I want to be able to start publishing the newest season in the spring some time and feel that this goal is completely within my reach. The next massive hurdle that I have to start considering is how I promote the hell out of this series once I’m finally ready to actually publish. More on that in future posts.

The Wind

The wind outside is howling

It’s 4am in the morning and I can’t sleep. Having a new baby will destroy this fragile thing called sleep. It doesn’t exist for me in the way it did a year ago - maybe it was longer than that, I can’t remember.

The house is creaking with every movement of the wind. 

Of course it’s the hour of the wolf. I’m still amazed on how little sleep one can function on. 

The windows rattle with every major gust that blows.

At this time of the night, when everyone else is asleep your mind wanders to nothing in particular and crazy details that will be completely forgotten in the harsh light of the new day. You’re alone with your thoughts and they mean nothing because they are not letting you find your sleep. 

The wind outside will not relent. If you listen carefully, you hear the city bend to it’s will. Metal against concrete, the screech of a cat, a car alarm (idiots still use those?).

Distractions

I’m currently on holiday, which typically means that I have enough time to consider various aspects of my life. For this trip I decided to leave my computer at home.The reason for this were two-fold.

The first reason was really about my general transition over the last several months away from the digital and more into the analogue. As a more pencil, paper and pen inclined man, I wanted to disconnect a little bit more.

The second reason is the big one, distractions. With a fully capable computer, my possibilities for wondering into a different world, creating something else, or ‘researching’ is near infinite. I know this of myself and I wanted to limit that access.

Instead I took my new iPhone 6 and a bluetooth keyboard bought over 7 years ago now (Apple doesn’t build shit). Ideas would begin life on paper first and then would move over to the digital world. The digital is the final destination (at least at the moment). It is the final product, how ideas and art is shared others - a delivery medium many take for granted because of it’s ubiquitous nature.

Overall, this process has helped me focus greatly on Moon Racket (I’ll have more to discuss about this on my process site) and allowed my mind to engage more with my family which has grown by 1 this year.

One of my goals for the year is to try and write more (promise this will be the only time I write about writing more, I’m as jaded about these types of posts like you are). I enjoy the process of writing something a little more longform. There are plenty of places for me to capture my banal and personal musing (that’s either in my Hobonichi Techo or within Day One). This site will be a way for me to work some things out. Once a week. The length and format isn’t as important as the mere act of writing and exercising this muscle that was used on a regular basis some 10 years ago and which has gone dormant over the last 5 years.

Opens Flat

If you enjoyed my last couple of posts, then you’ll love my new tumblr, Opens Flat, dedicated to stationary & accessories.

I’ve been on Tumblr for several years now, but this is the first time that I feel as though I’m using the platform in the way I believe it was intended to be used.

Podcasts

When I moved to the Middle East at the start of 2010 I used to listen to podcasts usually in the comfort of my home and from my computer. This meant that I actually consumed the programmes sporadically at best and wasn’t a particular follower of any except the odd comic book related podcast.

Sometime around 2011 all of that changed when I got my first (and so far only) iPhone. It’s getting seriously long in the tooth and will be getting an upgrade pretty soon but one of my primary uses on a daily basis is downloading and listening to podcasts.

Two things have come together that have really made the process seamless for me. Background downloads and bluetooth integration with my car.

The last part which is possibly the most important part to come together is the general high quality, diversity and format that many of these podcasts have adopted. Here is my Top 10 current favourites (in actual order of preference):

iPhone 4

Without a doubt my single most favourite piece of technology of the last 10 years has been my original iPhone 4. It’s lived by my side, every day for 4 years straight and been with me as I’ve transitions from bacholor, to husband, to father. I created Corgan and Alfie on there as well. It’s travelled with me to Lebanon, England, Malaysia, Qatar and Greece.

However these last 6 months have been pretty rough. My home button stopped functioning very well (sporadically at best) and as was going to happen eventually, the apps became more optomised for newer hardware which effectively slowed them down on the older hardware.

Having said all that I still use the phone very single day for the following tasks:

  • Alarm Clock
  • Podcasts (using Overcast) every morning before heading off to work. My phone connects to my car via bluetooth of course
  • Reeder for when I’m waiting for something
  • Whatstapp and Messages
  • Receiving and making phonecalls (I know shocker), both the stock app and on Viber and Skype
  • Safari
  • Checking my emails (currently using mail.app)
  • Checking photos of the boy
  • Sound Sleeper to put the boy to bed
  • And I’ll even throw in a game or 3 (rediscovering the classic Radiant recently)

Not bad for a 4 year old phone. However sometime after the 9th of September that’s going to change, following the release of the new iPhone. It honestly could not have come sooner.

The truth is, that while I’m still using my phone consistently every day, I’ve stopped enjoying using it and one fundamental aspect I have stopped using entirely, that of taking photos. 4 years on, it’s really showing it’s age in this respect. The camera interface takes a good long time to load and even when it does the pictures are just not that great when compared to my wife’s iPhone 5c and certainly not my Sony NEX-F3.

So while the phone has served me incredibly well and for a great long period of time (more than any phone I have ever owned), it’s time to say it’s swang song and be relegated for the newest and greatest from the minds of Jony Ive and the fine folks a Apple.

Greetings with a smile

A while back (must be over 6 years ago), I remember asking Christos how things were going with his then newborn child Amelia. I’d noticed that this tiny little human had mellowed my friend a little and instilled a sense of patience that I had not known him for. One of the take backs from that conversation was him explaining how much work it really was but how the smile and recognition he received from his baby when he arrived home always made his heart melt and washed away all the difficult times.

I remembered this conversation because all these year later I’m now experiencing this very thing myself. Sure Zane is little less than 3 months old and he’s only recently started giving us his best smile, but it’s enough to put all those sleepless, difficult nights, all the nappy changing and scream fests into the rose-tinted past - it wasn’t that bad right? Right?

No of course it wasn’t…

Redesign

Sometimes a design comes from behind you and actually surprises you. I knew that I wanted to have a unique design for this site, however I wasn’t sure what form it would take or how long it would take me to get there.

One of the main design points is that much of the Tumblr specific posts are ‘hidden’ (they can all be accessed in the archive section), as I wanted the front page to be more about my personal writing rather than the larger image posts. This means expect a great deal more posting in the near future.

If you’ve not visited the site, come have a look.

A Lesson

It’s not every day that you get a lesson handed down to you via the internet, while you’re still drinking your morning coffee.

Yesterday was a reasonably tough day for me. We finally took Zane out of the house and into the big bad world. We got all the gear, took the nursing cover with us in case he needed to eat while we were out and off we went to the mall (yeah it’s August in Qatar, there’s precious little else you can do at 2pm in the afternoon).

Everything was fine, until we went into Mamas & Papas. After being nursed in the changing rooms for 20min I was tasked with burping and holding him, and he went MENTAL. Usually pretty good at sorting the boy out, yesterday was not meant to be. After having walked back to the car TWICE, I had to go back a third time to return something. Baby continued crying and I was just tired at this stage.

Come home and my arm was seriously aching because I’ve been holding him looking outwards and my arm is his seat. Mentally, I was tired of this for today. I needed a bit of break, thankfully sleep came easily to both of us.


This morning I saw the trailer of the Theory of Everything and it just completely smacked me in the face that I should be genuinely thankful for every single moment I have with the boy and never take it for granted. Ever.

To be clear, I have many examples in my life where fathers cannot be there for their children in one capacity or reason or another - this trailer just gave another example, but reminded me clearly of this fact.

Pencils

I posted this image on the Moon Racket! twitter account (you should follow the account, I talk all things comics there, not just Moon Racket!) yesterday, but I thought it was important to elaborate a little further here.

Basically what you have there is two panels. The first is actually the last panel found in Season One, while the second panel is the first panel for Season Two which I am currently in the process of drawing.

To me the difference couldn’t be more stark - it honestly feels like two different people drew these. The difference of course is confidence in the characters, but I’ve also changed my tools and the way I’m approaching the art in general.

Tools

While tools are not the reason for art to be rubbish, the wrong tools can’t help the process either. The first thing that’s changed is the paper. I’ve gone from a reasonable rough yellowy paper in a perfect bound art book to individual cut “bristol board”-thick A3 sheets. The difference is liberating in that the final panel is hanging off a thick stack of paper underneath it (as it’s not part of a book).

The second thing that I’ve done is move away from my trusted Copic markers and have moved on to the much cheaper and much better Uni Pin black pigment pens for the thicker pen sizes. I still use my trusted Muji Gel ink pens for all the inking of the standard lines.

Size Matters

The last part, that as far as I’m concerned has transformed the artwork for me and allowed me to move up a level, is increasing the size of the individual panels. Suddenly I have soo much room to breathe and stretch my artistic muscle.

Time

Although Season One was never rushed, I didn’t give the pencils enough time to mature. Like a fine wine, pencil work should sit there for a little while to develop in your eyes and allow you to see and correct all the little mistakes. Don’t be afraid to redraw entire panels if they’re not right. While moving to ink is exciting, leave it for a day, come back to it. Do some more penciling instead.

Typography

Although many will claim that there is still a great deal of work to be done to bring the level of typography in the graphic design and online world forward (and in many respects I agree), I honestly do believe that we live in the start of a golden era for type and the fonts that enable it.

Over the weekend I bought the sublime new font Sanelma from Finnish designer Mika Melvas. The font itself inspired me to start actual work on a little project I’ve had brewing for a while - which is all you can ask from a font before you’ve begun using it really.

This led me down a rabbit hole on all things typography. I realised that a lot of what I enjoy doing and creating relates back to typography in one way or another. My website work is mainly typography, my comic work hangs on the frames created by typography, my day job is revolved around drawings and design which also is very closely related to typography.

Although I was extensively using Source Sans Pro on all of my three websites, I’ve since transitioned things over to Libertad, as I felt it gave my sites enough of a unique feel to warrent this transition. The main problem has been in how these fonts are delivered to my Tumblr powered websites (as Myfonts doesn’t provide a hosting service like Typekit or Typography do).

That’s the one gripe I have with Myfonts. If you’re going to make me pay you for a license to use an online font, then provide a service with the cost/overhead of that font. Typekit I believe has the right model, with the basic paid version coming in at a very reasonable $25/year. The main font that I would consider using is Proxima Nova. Without fail, every time I see a site using the font, I always instantly go, wait, what’s that font? Of course it’s Proxima Nova. Just because I don’t use it right now, doesn’t mean I won’t in the future. It is ubiquitous for a reason, it’s that good onscreen.

Proxima Nova Banner

The thing with Typekit however, is that you don’t get any of the Hoefler (& Frere-Jones) fonts, which I would love. Their fonts are much more expensive to license at $100/year. If I was making $100/year off my websites I would consider it, but alas that’s an additional cost I’m not that comfortable paying. However I would love to use Ideal Sans.

Take heart, there is now a growing collection of fonts that are amazing to use and either at great prices or for the great price of Free. On my windows machine, Clear Sans from Intel has honestly been an eye opening experience. With no retina-type displays at work, typography is more painful to appreciate. I’ve found that Clear Sans helps in a lot of ways.

Clear Sans Banner

And I haven’t even touched upon the great work that is carried out by Comicraft. Most of my comic work uses their fonts, although I do dip my toe into Blambot territory as well.

Website Relaunch

When I released Moon Racket! I was never happy with the website, as I felt it wasn’t a particularly good showcase of the work. While the general presentation of the same exact strips on both Facebook and Tapastic was marginally better, I’ve wanted to make sure that I addressed this issue before starting to release Season Two.

After many months of the final mockup gathering dust in the project folder, I was able to buckle down over the weekend and put the site together.

The main aim for this design was to make sure that the focus of the site was on the strips themselves. This explains the gradual grade from the top and bottom bars to white and focusing on the strip. Not everything is perfect (It’s not a fully responsive site or at least not in a meaningful way), however improvements will be ongoing now that the base is established.

In addition to the new window dressing, you can finally read all the Moon Racket! strips in high definition - I re-uploaded high resolution versions of all the images to look good on a retina display.

Concerto

During the last 9 months leading up to Zane’s arrival, Yasmine decided it was good necessary that we listen only to classical music when travelling in the car. As she is also against Bluetooth (and technology in general), we actually bought several CDs for the car.

The outcome of this antiquated method of listening to music basically meant that we were listening to the same CDs on repeat. Earlier this evening Zane was a little upset, so we put on the CD.

The first track is J.S.Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins, BWV 1043. Within seconds of the first note being played, Zane’s face honestly lit up and he smiled in a way we’ve not seen since he was born. They really can hear everything in the womb.

Zane

1 week ago today that’s Thursday 29th of May, I arrived home and Yasmine is faffing around telling me that we’ve got to sort out my bag for the hospital and that she’s got several errands that she wants to run over the weekend (cut her hair, pop into Mothercare for some last minute items). I nod my head, not registering everything after an excessively long week at work.

A few hours later, while sitting (and trying to decompress) on the couch, watching something completely irrelevant, Yasmine calls me from the bathroom. I drag myself to the bathroom to see what she wants.

Honey, I think my water has broken.

In a moment of Hollywood weakness I tried to show that I wasn’t worried.

We’re about to have a baby!

I knew that labour was going to be tough but my god I was NOT expecting the drama that would unfold over the next 20 hours. Obviously I now have a much deeper appreciation pregnant women and what they have to go through. For the course of 9 months they endure morning sickness (stupid and incorrect name, it should be called all day, at any time sickness but maybe morning was more catchy?), pains, aches, heartburn, funny bowl movements, general discomfort when you’re hauling around an extra 16kg of weight.

You’d think that was enough right? Wrong. After they’ve endured all of that, they’re treated to MANY hours of torture. After that is done, then you get the discomforts associated with healing and a messy hormonal system. In my engineering mind I kept thinking, there must be a better more efficient way right (that didn’t involve cutting a woman open for a c-section)?

The 20 hours of labour tested my resolve completely. Seeing your wife in excruciating pain for HOURS is hard when all you can do is wait, pace, loose some sleep and worry. The last 30 minutes before Zane was born was easily one of the most difficult times in our lives together or apart.

However…

I can’t even begin to describe the elation one feels when you see your first born child. It’s a feeling unlike one I’ve ever and will probably ever feel again - for those that have experienced it you know what I’m talking about, for those that are considering it I highly recommend it. I stayed at the top of the bed and when the doctor raised Zane he was blue and red and yet instantly my eyes just became completely overwhelmed with tears. Those tears didn’t leave for several hours. In fact nearly a week later I still can feel the tears starting to come back to me as I write this.

So I sit here 1 week to the day and I marvel at our son and the long journey to bring him here. How did 1 week go by already?

Get Organised

It’s the quiet before the imminent arrival of little Zane. We’ve bought all the gear, gone to the antenatal classes and now the waiting game begins. So I’ve decided (belatedly I’ll admit) to take some time and get my digital house in order.

I decided to take a step back and reviewed what software solutions I have at my disposable and start putting the correct kind of information into each bucket.

Dropbox

Previously I had relied almost exclusively on Dropbox to provide me with all of my synced document needs. Dropbox is amazing for so many things but it’s become clear that the folder structure keeps things hidden - to the point that I don’t even remember I had certain files and it’s definitely not the most secure of places for the more sensetive documents.

Active Projects - I’m using Dropbox as both a backup tool and a versioning tool as well (sure I should be using Github for that, but this works for me).

Sharing Documents - I share a great deal of files at work with different people in different companies. Dropbox has been a lifesaver for this sort of task.

Backups - Photos from my iPhone make their way into the photos folder in Dropbox. I’ve created a backup folder that collects my social media output (Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr) into one place. To do that I’m using IFTTT, which is a great little service for this sort of thing.

1Password

All sensetive information gets put into the vault. The feature that galvanised this solution for me is the ability to add multiple attachments to any account or item. As such all of my bank statements get added in there, fully encrypted and ready to be accessed on the go if necessary.

Evernote

Evernote is the latest addtion to my organisational workflow. I have to wonder why I didn’t try this suite before. Actually scrap that, I did try this suite out years ago but I just couldn’t get into the version at the time. The biggest advantage for me is the fact that multiple types of data can be combined into a single note. I can have a pdf, with a link, a note and a zip file all in a single note for easy review and access.

It’s going to take a while to get everything in here, but I have faith that once it’s done, I’ll be able to access things much faster.

Simplenote

This is my scratchpad. Simplenote is used for all those pieces of information that are not sensetive in anyway but that would be useful being accessed quickly.

Changes

There was a time in my life where I remember that I resented change. It was something that I later came to understand was actually a major component of life. Major change can either come in regular doses, or can wait dormantly, in the shadows for years.

Change is everywhere at the moment.

We’re gearing up for our first baby’s imminent arrival, which has honestly completely consumed our every free moment.

At work, yesterday was Naresh and Max’s last day onsite. I sat next to Naresh for the last 2 years as we saw the building go from a hole in the ground to something much, much more. We’ve effectively been in the ‘trenches’ together (at least the engineering/construction trenches) and while we’ve not come out unscratched, I think we’ve both learnt an incredible amount, from each other.

Don’t fight change. Embrace it. Life will be easier that way.

Focus and Freedom

I missed this.

For 10 years I’ve published to the internet through Broken Kode. These last few years that site has meandered a great deal, but has now finally settled down to a very focused topic, which ironically is what is was always intended in the first place, namely a process site for my comic book and creative work.

Although I intend to rebrand it (and therefore discontinue the name that has held up for 10 years), I think the change will be a positive one.

This site (khaledaboualfa.co) is wearing it’s heart on it’s sleeve. There will likely be little focus, which is actually by design. My intention is to give myself the room and space to express myself and my thoughts freely and comment on any topic that happens to capture my imagination at the time. Hopefully I’ll get some people to stay for the ride.

Like I said I missed this.

Process

A few months after publishing the last episode of Moon Racket Season One, I’ve now finished writing the second season. If the first season was all about seeing a project through to completion, the second season is taking the idea and adding some polish.

One of the things I’ve always enjoy watching is the natural maturing process a body of work sometimes goes through while the creative minds behind the work hone their skills. Although I can only dream of reaching the lofty heights reached by a series like The Simpsons, an apt comparison in one regard would be how the first season looked compared to what we recognise as the characters now. There was a maturing process and this is something that I aim to achieve for Season Two, both for the writing and the art.


I’ve already spoken about the proposed increase in paper size (and therefore Panel Size) of the coming season. One thing I realised very quickly was just how important the initial scripts were. The first season had a bit of looseness in the scripts. I would often times rewrite the thing as I was drawing it - sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

For this season I decided to really pour into the details of every script. I would not go on to the next one until I actually had completed the one I was working on. If I got stuck on any one strip, I would remove it from the document I was working on and paste it into a second document that acted as my ‘graveyard’. This allowed me to focus on one strip at a time. What I realised was that some ideas took days, weeks to mature or develop in my head and other ideas effectively wrote themselves. What I also realised was the last 5 episodes were extremely difficult to complete, which might have been a mental block on my side, or the fact that I had a lot going on in my life at the time.

Panel Sizes

Moon Racket started out life on my iPhone 4. It was a method for me to actually use my latest ‘computer’ to create content, rather than just consume on it.

The obvious limitation was the size of the screen, so I decided to use this as the panel size (or at least the same aspect ratio 3:2) with the idea that eventually when I release the series digitally, it will already be formatted for this screen size.

I realised pretty quickly that although I was getting the benefit of colour and I was using my iPhone, the creation process was stifling and the end result wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked. I decided to take the strip back to the physical world and made the investment in an A4 hardcover art book with thick paper - no idea what the grade is, but it was reasonably smooth (not bristol board smooth). It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. All of Moon Racket lives in this A4 book.

Traditionally the newspaper industry and therefore the artform itself, comic strips are typically 4 panels, 4 inches by 3 inches. In an attempt to grow, Season Two will be framed with the typical 3:4 ratio panels. I’ve had to get some American sized paper, 11x14 inches, which frustratingly is slightly larger than A4 but smaller than A3 - and means I can no longer use my A4 book.

Hopefully this change will mean that the art will breathe more and therefore should allow the strip to better shine.

Season One Report Card

Today marks 20 consecutive weeks that I’ve published a new episode for my online comic Moon Racket, so I thought it would be nice to take stock and review the experience.

All 20 strips in a nice overview image.

Rather than being completely harsh (which would come easily for me when reviewing my own work), I think I’ll first highlight some of the things that I thought went well.

Firstly, the strip never missed a ship date. All 20 episodes were released every Sunday for 20 weeks. Secondly, the general reaction on both Facebook and Tumblr have been really great and I’m grateful to everyone who has liked, shared or read the strip. I’m still debating whether or not Tapastic is worth it, but I do it for the 3 that have subscribed and hopefully enjoying the strip.

Overall, I give the strips an overall 5/10. There are some stories that I think worked out better than others but the truth is I could have written better stories and could have developed the characters better.

One aspect that I am genuinely happy with is the evolution of the artwork. I still think it’s ok and only the errors jump out at me, but at least I can see a proper improvement over the life of the strip.

With that in mind the series is going to take a break for a few months while I write better stories (currently I have 10 in the bag) and come back stronger with Season Two.

Inking Tools

In early 2012 I started work on my first iOS app with my cousin. The trip was long and meandering (one which unfortunately we never completed).

One of the things that I made sure I did was keep all my notes and scribbles in a single notebook. This was a bit of a departure for me, but one that I have maintained for all my future projects. Each project has it’s own notebook where most things can be found.

One sketch that I attribute the inking of Moon Racket to, is the original icon sketch for the app.

The importance of this sketch was in making me appreciate the Muji 0.38mm black gel ink pen as a tool for clean inking and providing the correct thickness of line that I was originally looking for - but couldn’t really achieve with my Copic pens.

While this pen isn’t completely suitable for the clean lined artwork of Chroma, it still has it’s uses for all the cross-hatching required. Sometimes you stumble on a tool that elevates your art, for me it was my Muji gel ink pen.

2013 in Review

When you reflect back on a year, the hope is always to find a number of moments that put a smile on your face - thankfully these last 12 months have given me with a lot to smile about.

Getting the news that I am going to become a father was the definite highlight - a fact which I’ve honestly not wrapped my head completely around, but I’ve started preparing1.

Creatively this year is one of my strongest in recent memory. I drew an entire season of Moon Racket, a slew of additional promotional images and designed the website - although it’s going to get some redesign love in the new year. Surprisingly the comic work didn’t end there as I completely rewrote the script for Chroma (my upcoming comics project) that has been many years in the making.

I redesigned this here site for the umpteenth time, however I do believe that this iteration is by far my most mature attempt and probably one that I will likely not change fundamentally for many years to come. The aspects of the site that I am most happy with are the colours and the typography, which is the first time in many years that I am ahead of the curve in certain respects (small caps only valid in certain browsers, surprisingly not Safari/Webkit proper).

Finally I started work on two iOS apps. The first one, we’ve scrapped and shelved, the other I hope we get some traction in the new year and we finally ship something, because as we all know:

Real Artists Ship.

Steve Jobs

Here’s wishing everyone a great 2014.

  1. This year I started getting into photography a little bit more. I want to make sure that I am capable of capturing my son or daughter’s life in the most beautiful way - like every self respecting geek father should. ↩︎

Chroma Script

Earlier this year I completed rewriting the script I have been working on for many years now. I originally conceived of the idea in my 20s. Now in my early/mid-30s I’ve finally completed the works in a fashion that I believe I can actually start making some progress on this idea by drawing it and eventually publishing it.

Although it’s never the tools that make the end product, the right tools remove unnecessary friction. In this regard, Highland has been an irreplaceable solution for creating scripts. I thoroughly recommend it to all script (and non-script) writers.

Lettering

In creating Moon Racket, it was very clear to me early on that the lettering would have to be a character in itself. My initial attempts at lettering involved hand lettering, in the end I opted for some great fonts from the Comicraft library.

Codanauts

In early 2012 I was working on an app for iOS with my cousin. The second company name we came up with was Codanauts. I loved the name and came up with this logo over a weekend. 2 months later my cousin found out about Codenauts. There is a subtle difference if you missed it: Cod-a-nauts vs Cod-e-nauts.

Oddly enough they seem to have stopped their operation and our operation never took off. I still love the similicity of this logo and hope to use it in the future.

Fresh Starts

Earlier this year I contemplated shutting down Broken Kode, a site that has been part of the internet landscape since January 2004, a total of nearly 10 years online. In a last attempt to keep the name and the site alive I tried changing things around to see if I could maintain my enthusiasm for it.

My first attempt was to try and focus on all things Tesla Motors. However I quickly realised that actually I was writing to an audience of one (myself) and that I wasn’t enjoying the process all that much. My next idea was to use the site as a simple Tumblr, a digital drawer for things that others created. My attempts can still be read here.

Ultimately I felt that the site deserved better treatment. In the last few months I have started publishing my comic work, on Moon Racket and I have several other projects in the pipeline as well. So this site will be used as a way to log my ideas and showcase the creative process, in the attempt to better understand what I am doing and how I could be doing it better. The posts on this site will be more limited, however each and every one will be infinitely more personal.

Weight

Since I got married (nearly 3 years ago) I’ve put on around 10kg (around 1.5 stone or 22 pounds). Yeah that’s a lot. I don’t blame my lovely wife for this additional weight, but rather a combination of my lifestyle in the Middle East (very little required movement) and my body’s very slow metabolism.

Earlier this year I decided that enough was enough and that I would do something about this situation. Apart from general health issues associated with gaining the above weight, by wardrobe is useless, which then affects my general comfort/confidence levels as well.

Proof of Concept

Like any self respecting geek, I turned to my trustiest device to help me out, my iPhone 4. I tried several fitness apps, but settled on the Pacer app. While not the prettiest app, it gave me basic information, the number of steps I was making and calories burned, in graph form, mapped over a week.

I realised that having this information drove me to be more active. I have yet to achieve 10,000 steps a day. I average anywhere between 6000-8000 steps per week, however I realised that the exercise that I was doing was not being logged properly. My gym machines indicated a much higher level of activity, that my phone wasn’t capturing.

All the Gear…

I decided to get a little bit more serious about this weight loss malarky. There was one thing to it, buy more gadgets that would help me achieve my goals, obviously.

The first accessory that I bought was a pair of sweat proof earphones - I cannot tell you how many Apple earbuds I’ve destroyed due to my excessive sweating over the years. The Sennheiser OCX 685i Sports headphones came highly recommended (and they are great).

The next purchase was my Fitbit One. The truth is I didn’t jump into this world quickly. I used the Pacer app for a solid 2 months before making the jump into the Fitbit world. I’m still getting to grips with the website and the app (although syncing with my current setup isn’t as smooth as it could be 1 ), but I like what I see so far.

The last part of my gear was a new set of scales. Actually, I’ve not owned scales in 3 years, which probably explains a great deal for the general decent into obesity. So here’s a tip kids, make sure you own scales and get on them once a week. If anything it will highlight things that you’re generally scared of.

I hope that the data that I compile will help me make better decisions in the kitchen (after all a diet starts in the kitchen) and that it will motivate me to be more active, more regularly, even if only a little more every day.


  1. The biggest bummer is that my trusted iPhone 4 since it does not support wireless sync with the Fitbit One. I’m therefore relegated to using the little dongle connected to my computer - hardly the biggest hardship. ↩︎

Perseverance

Maintaining focus with your side projects is a difficult task. Life doesn’t always give you all the time and space to do this at your leisure, then again life doesn’t owe you anything and it’s up to you to use the time that you do have available wisely.

Currently I am publishing Moon Racket weekly and have finished writing the script for my next project. Work on the new project is going well, as I’ve also managed to draw the first couple of pages of this series, with the hope of actually publishing it at the start of the new year - also on a weekly publishing programme.

I sometimes lament the time that’s come and gone that I could have used to create the art and words; however the main problem was understanding that sometimes you have to take the plunge, create something (even if it’s not up the standard that you want it to be), with the understanding that the more you do something, the better you eventually become at it.

The new Instapaper web beta

When the betaworks team sat down with Instapaper’s creator, Marco Arment, back in April to get a download of his ideas and to-dos for improving Instapaper, the first thing on his list was to update the Instapaper website. Well we’ve done it, and it’s now ready for you to check out and test.

I like what they’ve done for the main view. I’m not so keen on the sidebar with most of the categories hidden though.


The new Instapaper web beta

Priorities

The main function of a website such as mine is for me to collect things and share them with like minded people.

This year has seen many changes in my life online. After 9 years, I moved my self hosted website away from Dreamhost and onto Tumblr. This was all in service of my removing unwanted distractions. Distractions that would take away from my actually creating something more meaningful.

For nearly 10 years Broken Kode has had it’s own custom theme that I’ve developed one line of code at a time. This proved to be yet another distraction. It didn’t matter what the hell my site looks like. What’s important is the content. The custom theme that I’ve chosen is extremely servicable and much better than anything I have time to create at the moment.

That isn’t to say that I’m not creating new websites, just that my personal website is more of a basket for me to put things into. What that basket looks like, ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is what I put in that basket.

Bound

Bound is a service that lets you create custom journals. Personally I have finally found my preferred notebook of choice (the simple A5 Muji notebook), however I can’t help by smile at the possibility of a Broken Kode ‘X’ on a journal.

Shiori

Is a Pinboard and Delicious OS X client. It’s free and it’s pretty amazing. There are tons of features that I would love to have (like being able to edit the links and tags) but this is an excellent utility on it’s own.


Shiori

A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary

While listening to the latest episode of the New Disruptors (one of the best podcasts if you’re not already listening), I was introduced to the works of Erika Moen. What I find truly beautiful about this comic, which is true about most online comics series, is how much better they get from the first page, to the last page.

The transformation is one of the most encouraging things to see as an artist myself, because it humbles you and reminds you that Rome was not built in a day and needed perseverance and that an artist needs to learn and actually maintain their craft.


A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary

Back

So the hiatus lasted about a month. I’ve had some ideas on what I want to do with the site. This is where I collect things, mainly for myself, however you might find them useful for your own purposes as well.

I have found that when I write something brief about a link, I tend to remember it better, which means I might actually use that information, or revisit that link, rather than it collecting cyber-cob webs in Pinboard (which is a great service) and usually never seen again (which is a great shame).

Longform writing will be happening on Medium.

The Fifth Mode

Always start with a name. A good name.

We have planes, trains, automobiles and boats. What if there was a fifth mode. I have a name for it, called the Hyperloop.
— Elon Musk

Hyperloop.

Imagine a world where travelling from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes less than 30 minutes. A method of transportation which is meant to be 4 times as fast as a train, and 2 times as fast as a plane. Now imagine this method of transport is available to you as soon as you arrive — no waiting for everyone else to get there. That’s the future that Elon Musk is proposing with his hypothetical high-speed transportation system. Details for this system are extremely thin on the ground. In fact, apart from the name and a few choice quotes (by Musk himself) nothing substantial has been published or released about the concept;

Although Musk was meant to publish a paper on it back in December 2012. That has now been pushed back to the 12th of August 2013, according to this tweet by Musk. The Verge has an interesting article on how they believe the system could potentially work.

However until Musk releases his Alpha design documents, there is no real engineering to review.


The first time Hyperloop was discussed was in this interview on Pandodaily, with Sarah Lacy. Based on the little that has been shared, one might think that Musk’s idea will be akin to something like the ‘tube’ transportation system in Futurama or The Jetsons. Many of the ideas (commercial space travel, commercial electric cars) that Musk discusses could have been taken straight out of science fiction novels. The reason you should take these ideas seriously, is because he makes those ideas a reality.

Musk’s idea doesn’t appear to be completely unique (as opposed to the science fictious world). Joelle Renstrom, (who teachs at Boston University) has a good breakdown of the realities of this technology. One such reality is the Aeromovel. The other is the Evacuated Tube Transport a system that has been proposed by the ET3 consortium. The main question is therefore how does his proposed system differ.

As if the potential of this idea wasn’t intriguing enough; the way that Musk’s idea could become a reality is equally as intriguing.

I’m considering just open-sourcing. Describing the idea, saying this is what would be done, if someone wants to do it then they could do it. Maybe I should patent it and open-source the patent to anyone who can make a credible case that they can do it.
— Elon Musk

I think it’s safe to acknowledge that Elon Musk sees the world in a different way to most people. Probably one of the best articles I’ve read about him, is unsurprisingly on Bloomberg. Between commercial space travel, electric cars and pneumatic transportation, he is building the future that we were expecting. The future we dreamed we would be living in, when we got older.

Hiatus

I’ve been thinking that it’s important to take a step back from the site. There is a better way. Unfortunately I have no idea what that is.

I will be back for sure (and hopefully better for it), however I feel that I need to take a break, regroup, come back stronger.

So as of now (but not for ever) Broken Kode will be on hiatus.

Chris Moneymaker

Several years ago when I went to Japan, Gordon would spend a great deal of any free time we had reading Poker books and watching Youtube videos of Poker tournaments. At the time I had no idea why he was so obsessed with it all…I think it was a couple of years after Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series Poker tournament.

Fantastically collected article on Grantland, the Youtube videos really drive the story home and the illustrations and side notes are both essential and excellent compliments.


Chris Moneymaker

GrabLinks

While I love me some Terpstra, I typically can’t use much of the things that he creates and shares on a regular basis (not because I don’t want to but because most of the stuff flies completely over my head). Having said that GrabLinks is easily a bookmarklet I’ve been looking for.

Grab all the links on a page, ready to use, as formatted Markdown links.


GrabLinks

Own your Digital Image Comics

Image Comics is now allowing you to keep the digital copies of the comics you buy from them - about bloody time. What’s also incredibly interesting however is the percentage of the sales that the digital copies account for the overall sales of the publisher. Last year it was 12%, this year they’re projecting 15%.

Will the digital percentage ever surpass the actual physical monthly books? I think this is inevitable and actually a great thing for the creators. The main point is to put the books in the hands of people that want to read them (and pay for them) regardless of the format.

I stopped buying monthly comic books years ago. However I would definitely consider buying digital comics and then a trade collection if the art, story and overall package warranted it.


Own your Digital Image Comics

Write under the influence

Sober writers love to use fancy shit like semicolons. Nobody likes to see a semicolon. I see sobriety stains all over writing these days. I think, “Damn, this piece has a chance to be good but the author is too busy looking at their pompous smile in the mirror.”

Damian Sowers

Ever wonder why old time writers like Hemingway seem so much better than the 21st century crop? It’s because they were plastered out of their mind and kept sentences short and passionate. Also, no fucking semicolons.

M.G. Siegler

What a load of bullshit. The semicolon is one of the most elegant building blocks in the English language.

via parislemon


Write under the influence

The New Vertigo Comics

When Karen Berger left Vertigo comics it honestly felt like the imprint was in the process of being closed down for good. The months that followed (with little to no new work being announced) only further enforced this view. Today (by way of the New York Times), Vertigo fans around the world have reason to rejoice, with the announcement of 6 new series rolling out towards the end of the year.

The stand out books for me are Suiciders (written and drawn by Lee Bermejo), Hinterkind, The Witching Hour and the new Sandman mini series.


The New Vertigo Comics

There Was A Time

There was a time in the early 2000s, before Twitter was a thing, before Facebook was open to anyone but University students, when the Internet was a smaller place, or at least if felt like it.

There was a time when communicating was easy, and your voice could be heard (amongst the cacophony around you), even if it was faint and fleeting.

There was a time when blogging was being part of a community. There was a time, which now is gone.

Readers

Google has officially killed off it’s Reader product. Like many others, I have been using Google Reader for many years now and so have been forced to look for an alternative. Thankfully developers all over the world responded to this (stupid) business decision(?) and provided a slew of alternatives. There really is a great deal of choice, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

My preferred solution is probably a reasonably popular one, in that I’m using Feedbin as my backend. This connects to Reeder on iOS and Readkit on my Mac. One of the main reasons for choosing Feedbin however is linked to the excellent implementation of the website which is incredibly slick (I need this, as my work machine is Windows based).

The thing that definitely made me smile however is just how quickly the developer community moved to provide good alternatives that lost nothing from the features provided by Google Reader and in fact held more promise than the stagnant Reader.

Although the RSS feed reader market is ‘old’, it’s a completely nascent one - which means that the best is yet to come.

The Road is Long

Having not had a chance to play with iOS7 (yet), I can only go on what others who have tried it are saying.

From Michael’s post it’s clear that the road is long before the final release of iOS7 in autumn.


The Road is Long

Byword 2

The latest version of Byword was released yesterday for all devices. The most exciting addition being the ability to publish to Tumblr directly from the app itself. I’m not completely convinced by the new yellow accents this new version brings however (mainly found in the radio buttons).


Byword 2

It's me, not you

This week I learnt a very clear lesson in what appears to work on Tumblr.

I ‘relaunched’ Broken Kode with an all new number 1 post, around 3 months ago. I decided to keep a razor sharp focus on Tesla news and engineering in general. The model I was trying to on Daring Fireball - not a terribly original idea admittedly but I thought that as time would go on the site would evolve or die based on its own success and failure.

In those 3 months I honestly saw extremely limited traction of people visiting the site, reblogging or liking a post. In fact a total of 3 people actually follow the site - hi guys, thanks for following. Then earlier this week I posted my first image. That single post has generated more action than the entire site has had in the 3 months since the relaunch.

It’s an 'event’ that I can’t ignore, as clearly I’m not reaching the desired audience on Tumblr - which I know exists. What I’m saying it’s me, not you. Tumblr knows what it is. The users know what they want out of Tumblr; I however thought that I could use the platform in a different way. The platform is clearly suited to a specific kind of content, one which isn’t text heavy.

Comparisons

Coda Automotive filed for bankruptcy.

Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know who they were either. What brought the company to my attention was the fact that their name was mentioned along side both Tesla and Fisker, as an equal in the electric vehicle revolution.

I looked around to try and understand the reasons for the company’s demise. A quick search online and found a picture of its flagship product, the Coda. Yeah, exactly what I thought, pretty damn fugly. Clearly I wasn’t alone as the company sold 100 cars in total.

What amuses me about the comparisons to Tesla, is how misguided and wrong those comparisons actually are. Sure they both make (or in Coda’s case, made) electric cars, but that’s as far as I could see the similarities ending.

People who’ve never seen a Model S in real person, lust after it. Tesla make a single vehicle at the moment. They’ve stopped production on the Roadster and the focus is on a single product. They are focusing on this model and increasing it’s appeal - through continuous initiatives such as it’s leasing programme and expanded supercharger network. Companies like Coda, made 100 lemons.

10 Minutes Per Year

Fascinating post by James Allen which gives more details on how the Formula E series (debuting in 2014) will address the issue of range for the all EV racing series.

The proposed solution for the limited range the batteries will offer is to have multiple cars per driver, per race. Each race lasts for 1 hour. The first car is used for 20 minutes, a second car is then used for the next 20 minutes, before returning to the first car (where the batteries have been recharged) for the final 20 minutes. The hope that 10 additional minutes are added per year to the range of the vehicles.

Formula 1 is the pinnacle of Motorsport. From this racing series, hundreds of (small and large) innovations have been added to road cars, as the teams fight for a competitive advantage and therefore innovate like crazy. Hopefully the Formula E series can do the same thing for Electric Vehicles and battery technology.

Tesla refines their finance markerting

They were right, so we are fixing it and, moreover, upping the ante by providing the best resale value guarantee in the automotive industry.
— Elon Musk

Tesla refines their finance markerting. Rather than digging their heels in, they’ve adjusted the prospective monthly payment value to include the buy back guarantee but exclude all the more contentious items included in the previous offering (avoiding the gas station, shortening your commute and the business tax, which are still available but opt-in).

Projects


An all-ages comic strip about Corgan and Alfie who live on the Moon .
Moon Racket!