Scenes from the New American Dustbowl

Similar to the previous link, novelist Alan Heathcock made a visit that provided real perspective about the climate problem:

“I feel badly, not just because others don’t care, but because I was reluctant to care, too. It’s hard to make people care because there’s a general mistrust of desperation, as if a desperate person has replaced logic with emotion, truth with exaggeration. Each night I’ve gone through my notes and fact-checked the farmers, doubting what they told me. Even after seeing the land and meeting the people I second-guessed their claims and statistics, only to find, time and again, they were telling the truth.”

People tend to write off climate concerns as something that only affects poor people in faraway places, too distant to be concerned about. But it's happening right here, right now.

Even if you're not one of the insane people who deny climate change entirely, you must understand this isn't just a problem for your great-grandchildren to deal with. We will likely feel its effects within our own lifetimes. Our children certainly will.

Think about that the next time you decide to write about how you didn't like your huge iPhone.

Meet the Real Victims of Climate Change

Brooke Jarvis visited Papua New Guinea and was confronted with the issue of climate change more directly than even she had anticipated:

“Elias had heard that ice was melting, but hadn’t heard why. No amount of reading or writing about climate change can really prepare you to look into the face of someone who will soon flee her home and explain the greenhouse effect.”

As if by cruel joke, my cigarette-smoking, motorcycle-obsessed neighbors across the street decided to rev their engines SUPER loud and peel off down the street just as I reached the end of this piece.

Awesome iOS 8 App Updates

Over on The Sweet Setup, we spent all day compiling a list of the most interesting iOS 8 app updates. The sheer number of new things our iPads and iPhones can now do is overwhelming. It's going to take a few weeks to fully absorb it all.

Here are just a few of my own favorite new things:

Notebook Tagging

Notebook Tags

Adam Akhtar shares a clever tagging system for physical notebooks:

“[...] notebooks are hard to organize your ideas. You either split your notebook into several sections for each 'category' and end up wasting valuable pages in the quieter sections or you just write your ideas as they come along making them hard to find later on.

If this sounds familiar then you are going to love this little hack I was taught here in Japan by a friendly salariman. It's a little messy, and not something I'd use all the time but for the right subject could come in handy.”

May implement this idea in my own notebooks soon.

"Like a Bubble Surfacing in Water"

While doing research for this Tools & Toys post about the 2015 Hobonichi Techo planner, I came across this quote from Shigesato Itoi, the guy who created it (emphasis mine):

“When people are alone, they have this hazy, blank period of time they can’t put a name to.

The nameless feelings experienced during those nameless times make up a major element of a person. And one day, like a bubble surfacing in water, something will emerge in the form of words. I hope the Hobonichi Techo can serve as a means to keep those words.

I’d like the Hobonichi Techo to be a fishing net to catch all the things you think and feel during your unnameable times. Of course you can use the techo as a scheduler, but there are already other tools you can use for that. I get the feeling there’s never been a container to keep things that surface during unnameable times, unimportant things that stick with you, or things that resonate with you when you don’t know why.

This translates well to how I think about and use Day One.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

I just stumbled on this Tumblr and already love everything about it. As the author describes, it's “a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.”

His definition for sonder—which he also produced a video for—is the sort of thing I think about all the time:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

This site speaks to me in so many ways. Such a wonderful concept, beautifully written.

Big Morning in My Little Corner of the Web

I woke up to all sorts of good news today:

There's probably even more I'm forgetting but man, this is one of those days when it's awesome to be a nerd.

Pennaquod—The Pen Blog Searcher

I don't profess to be much of an expert on fancy analog writing tools, but I do enjoy drooling over them now and again. I typically rely on internet friends like Brad Dowdy and Patrick Rhone for information and tips about such things.

Pennaquod, a Google search tool put together by Ian Hedley, allows you to search over fifty (!) of these pen blogs at once. If you've ever wanted to know about particular fountain pens or notebooks or even typewriters, bookmark this super-handy site for later.

Fair warning: that site is a gateway into some deep, deep rabbit holes for even the most minor of pen nerds. Tread lightly.

For a More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef

Dwayne Lipuma of the Culinary Institute of America, while being interviewed for an NPR piece:

“The world is a giant gerbil wheel right now. I think if we just became a little bit more organized, a little bit more mise-en-place, understand what we really need and only do what we really need, I think we'll have more time for what's important.

You'll be able to sit down at the table with your kids and actually cook a meal. Get up a little bit earlier so you could breathe. You want to greet the day.”

The timing of coming across this article is funny to me, because there's an article about mise en place and other such concepts sitting in my drafts folder at this very moment. I should really finish it sometime. I think it's going to be a good 'un.

In the meantime, you can read more about mise en place here.

Let's Talk About Margins

Craig Mod writes about the power and character of well-designed books (bold emphasis mine):

“On the other hand, cheap, rough paper with a beautifully set textblock hanging just so on the page makes those in the know, smile (and those who don’t, feel welcome). It says: We may not have had the money to print on better paper, but man, we give a shit. Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence. Giving a shit is the best feeling you can imbue craft with. Giving a shit in book design manifests in many ways, but it manifests perhaps most in the margins.”

"Don’t write email that people can respond to."

NPR Creative Director Liz Danzico, being interviewed by web magazine Technical.ly:

“As far as Inbox Zero, I’ve tried a few things, and even now I use a modified GTD approach where I transfer all to-do-like email content into a to-do app. But basically those all pale in comparison to this simple approach:

Don’t write email that people can respond to.

If you ask questions in an email, people will respond. If you don’t answer their questions, they’ll ask again. If you write charming email, they will want more. Don’t do those things. Write an email that is impossible to respond to. Answer every question. Tie up every loose end. Write a complete and completely un-respondable email.”

I like her style. (h/t Patrick Rhone)

The Future of Iced Coffee

Alexis Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic, got a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing process for Blue Bottle Coffee's New Orleans iced coffee cartons. As an iced coffee fanatic myself, it's fascinating to see how they're trying to tackle the problem of mass-production now that they've mastered the recipe.

One particularly interesting fact in the article: Blue Bottle's sterilization process requires machines that generate six times the amount of atmospheric pressure as one would find at the bottom of the Mariana Trench—you know, the one from that movie—which itself is 1,000 times more intense than what we experience here aboveground.

Talk about hardcore.

Crave

Chase Reeves, writing for The Sparkline:

“I think our buddhist friends would say something to the tune of, “all cravings will eat you up from the inside out.” Maybe they’re right.

But I have cravings.

[...]

I see [Robin Williams] sweating and manic and quick and sharp and brilliant and dynamic and feeding, feeding, feeding on the relationship with the audience… and I see a fable about myself, a hole in the center, a vacuum, always on, sucking, searching, hungry… for this moment, laughter, friends, me in the center of it… not wanting the moment to end.

The things I create come from there. That hole, that insecurity is an engine of creation.”

I love this piece. Sometimes I forget that Chase is just as great a writer as he is a web designer. For more stuff like this be sure to check out his personal blog, Ice to the Brim.

The Clues to a Great Story

Andrew Stanton of Pixar, during a 2012 TED Talk in which he shares some of the storytelling secrets he's learned over the years (timestamps included):

[6:22] “Storytelling without dialogue. It's the purest form of cinematic storytelling. It's the most inclusive approach you can take. It confirmed something I really had a hunch on, is that the audience actually wants to work for their meal. They just don't want to know that they're doing that. That's your job as a storyteller, is to hide the fact that you're making them work for their meal. We're born problem solvers. We're compelled to deduce and to deduct, because that's what we do in real life. It's this well-organized absence of information that draws us in.”

[12:19] “And it just went to prove that storytelling has *guidelines*, not hard, fast rules.”

[16:27] “And that's what I think the magic ingredient is, the secret sauce, is can you invoke wonder. Wonder is honest, it's completely innocent. It can't be artificially evoked. For me, there's no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling -- to hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder.”

If there's anyone I trust when it comes to guidelines for good storytelling, it's the director of Finding Nemo and WALL•E—two of my all-time favorite films. Definitely set aside twenty minutes to watch this video.

How to be Polite

Paul Ford:

“Sometimes I’ll get a call or email from someone five years after the last contact and I’ll think, oh right, I hated that person. But they would never have known, of course. Let’s see if I still hate them. Very often I find that I don’t. Or that I hated them for a dumb reason. Or that they were having a bad day.

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.”

After this past week, where most of the news stories I've read portray people treating each other horribly in one way or another, I think a little refresher on politeness is exactly what the world needs.

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Robin Williams

“You're only given a little spark of madness. And if you lose that...you're nothing.”
~ Robin Williams

I've often looked down my nose at people who get overly worked up in the wake of a celebrity's death. All too often, we place famous people on pedestals they don't deserve merely because of their fame or fortune.

This one is different.

This morning, Robin Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide. He was 63. An incredibly sad loss.

His death will touch the hearts of many, because he was more than just a comedian or an actor. He was an artist and a master of his craft, never one to hold back or shy away from taking risks. He was an integral part of our cultural fabric, someone who made us laugh and cry and laugh all over again. He used his success to help those in need. He impacted more lives than we can ever know.

The world was a better place for his talents, and it just won't be the same without him.

Rest in peace, Robin.

Relay FM

Brand-spanking-new podcast network/syndicate/collective (take your pick) started by my buddies Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett. Shows they used to do on 5by5 have been renamed and rebooted—The Prompt is now Connected; CMD+Space is now Inquisitive; etc. If you'd like to know more, Myke wrote about the changes here.

I'm looking forward to what Relay FM has in store. Congratulations to Myke and Stephen (and everyone else involved) on the launch!

A Desk of iPad

Ben Brooks shares his thoughts after spending a day working from an iPad:

“When I have my Mac in front of me I am doing a lot of things, but not focusing on a lot of things. With the iPad only I felt that was reversed—I did a bit less, a bit slower, but what I did do was more focused and therefore carefully done. [...] That’s not to say that I won’t benefit from a laptop, or that an iPad is the best tool, but that the iPad did everything exceedingly well. I loved it. Not enough for everyday just yet, but when I know I have a busy day in meetings, I’m now going to leave the laptop behind.”

I enjoy seeing other people try these sorts of experiments. As many of you may know, I don't own a Mac and thus my primary device is an iPad (4th-gen). For me it's not an experiment or something I do for giggles, but a way of life. With that said, my verdict is the same as Ben's.

Just about anything I need to accomplish on a daily basis—writing and publishing articles, editing and uploading images, etc—I can do from an iPad. I never feel hindered, creatively or otherwise, by the iPad's size or OS limitations. In fact the opposite might be true. As the saying goes, constraint breeds creativity. Because it's so light and thin, I take my iPad out of the house far more often than I ever did my clunky old Gateway laptop. And as Ben points out, having only one app on the screen at any given time helps my productivity immensely.

Are there things about my iPad-only workflow that I wish were better? Absolutely, and maybe I'll write about them sometime. But at the end of the day, I feel very satisfied having the iPad as my primary device.

If you don't think it can be done, try it out for a day or two. You might be pleasantly surprised.

My Aeropress Brewing Method

Aeropress — by Casey Klekas

Photo credit: Casey Klekas, because it's a much nicer shot than I can produce in my ugly little kitchen. I do have that same kettle though.

I don't listen to many tech podcasts these days and thus I'm not subscribed to John Chidgey's show, Pragmatic. (Sorry John. It's not you, it's me.) But when the latest episode—in which Marco Arment guest-hosts to wax scientific about coffee—came up in my Twitter feed, I couldn't add it to my Huffduffer queue fast enough.

It's a great listen if you consider yourself a coffee nerd, and quite educational if you're a newbie. I particularly liked hearing Marco discuss why he doesn't fuss over his brewing process anymore. His method is similar to my own, but mine is even simpler in some ways:

  • I add about 1 (U.S.) cup of water to my kettle and bring it up to 195°F.

  • While the water heats up, I scoop some freshly-ground coffee—the most important factor, really—into my inverted Aeropress, up to the "bottom" of the #3 circle (the plunger having been inserted just enough to touch the #4 circle). I don't have a kitchen scale to weigh my coffee, but over time I've found this amount works nicely for me.

  • When the water's ready, I pour just enough to coat the grounds and let them bloom for 45 seconds to let out all that trapped carbon dioxide. Marco derides this very practice on the podcast, and maybe it is just placebo, but I do it anyway.

  • At the :45 mark, I add water to just under the top rim of the Aeropress, stir the slurry mixture around a bit, and let it steep another 45 seconds. At this point I typically run just a little of the hot water through the Aeropress filter/cap, not because I've ever detected any paper flavor in my coffee (I haven't) but because it helps the filter adhere to the cap when the time comes to flip it over.

  • At the 1min 30sec mark, I twist the cap on, flip the Aeropress onto my trusty coffee mug, and plunge. I try to finish before my iPhone timer reaches the 2min mark, and I always stop as soon as I hear any hissing noise coming from the Aeropress. Again, this might be placebo, but I've read that plunging any further will extract the more bitter flavors into the cup.

And that's it!

If this seems like a lot of details to remember, just know that writing it all out like this is severely more complicated than the actual brewing process. It takes me about 7min from start to finish, and most of that is waiting for the kettle to heat up.

The point I want to get across here is that I don't worry much about exact measurements, and I bet you don't need to either. Like any recovering coffee nerd, I've tried experimenting and being fussy and even emulating Aeropress championship recipes, but again, the most important factor by far is using recently-roasted, freshly-ground beans. If you start with good beans and a little practice, it's hard to screw up the end product.

As for the iPhone timer, I don't use any fancy coffee apps. I've tried a lot of them and always come back to the stopwatch bundled with the built-in Clock app. It's simple and it works fine.