Ben Brooks on Negativity

Speaking of Spoken (hmm), I have to give Ben Brooks kudos for sharing this story about the impact of negativity on his life and work, and how he's still recovering from it. It's one of the best things I've heard on Spoken yet.

I've transcribed my favorite bit (it's about ¾ the way in):

There might be different people reading my site now. I'm sure there are, and I hope there always will be. But those people simply replaced the people who left because the negativity left, and that, I am fine with because I'm happier now, and I think that shows in my writing.

Typography in Ten Minutes

Matthew Butterick, in his online book Butterick's Practical Typography:

This is a bold claim, but I stand behind it: If you learn and fol­low these five ty­pog­ra­phy rules, you will be a bet­ter ty­pog­ra­pher than 95% of pro­fes­sional writ­ers and 70% of pro­fes­sional de­sign­ers. (The rest of this book will raise you to the 99th per­centile in both categories.)

All it takes is ten min­utes—five min­utes to read these rules once, then five min­utes to read them again.

A short, concise ruleset that can make any website look more professional. So often I come across blogs that would be 10x more readable if they accounted for rules #3 and #4 alone.

If you end up reading through Mr. Butterick's typography guide in its entirety, consider paying him a few bucks (or more) in thanks. He did a wonderful job with it. (Tip: hyperlinks throughout the guide are indicated by prepended diamond symbols.)

A Note on Blockquotes

Spoiler alert: in this post I will explain why I am changing the way I write blockquotes.

I fully expect 99% of readers will file this into the “why on Earth are you sharing this information with us, literally no one cares” category, and rightfully so. (If you consider yourself in that 99% and would rather leave right now, might I offer this cute video of 5-year-old kids making espresso instead?)

This one goes out to the other one percent—the writers who obsess over stylistic details and think way too much about this stuff. I love you wackos, you know who you are.


Working for the Man Should Be a Last Resort

David Cain:

“According to my critics, even if you find your standard weekday boring, painful or unfulfilling, you ought to embrace it, simply because a third-world coal miner would kill for your benefits package. When so many have so little, attempting to escape a situation in which you can reliably feed yourself and fund a retirement could only be an act of the utmost ingratitude.

A minority of us believe the opposite is true — that escaping from an unfulfilling mainstream lifestyle isn’t a moral failing, but rather a moral imperative. It’s precisely because we have all the necessary freedoms at our fingertips (and because others don’t) that spending our lives in the stable isn’t just foolish, but wrong. To remain, voluntarily, in a life where your talents are wasted and your weekdays are obstacles is to be humble in all the wrong ways.”

I discovered this article and its author thanks to my friend Álvaro Serrano, and it resonated with me in so many ways.

When I was fired from my awful corporate stooge job, the temptation at the time to rush out and apply for other full-time desk jobs was enormous. There was a mortgage to think about and a family to support, not to mention our dreams of traveling the world together.

Thankfully I had enough support from friends and my wife, who all encouraged me to try making this writing gig work out. And here I am now, more than a year later, still putting words on the internet.

Does it make me a ton of money, you ask? That's cute. You're cute.

But! That's a tradeoff I'm perfectly willing to make, given the benefits:

  • I get to do work I actually care about, and collaborate with a group of people I respect and admire.
  • I get to spend every single day with my wife and son. Whenever I'm not writing and she's not teaching dance class we're free, as a family, to do things that used to be reserved for evenings and weekends—visiting the library, zoo, or science museum; playing at the park; going for walks or bike rides; grabbing lunch and/or coffee together; I could go on.

    I often think about how much of my son's childhood I would have missed thus far, how many experiences we wouldn't have shared as a family, had I continued doing the "normal" 9-5 job thing. It's a constant reminder that I never want to go back to that life, even if it meant making more money.

  • Despite our relatively low income, we still manage to travel two or three times a year (and more than that, if you count my wife's dance school's trips to competitions in other states). We usually even manage to squeeze in a Disney trip once a year, whether it's to one of the parks or a cruise ship. It takes a lot of careful budgeting and planning to pull off, but it's so worth it.

  • I can wear pajamas all day if I want. I might be wearing some as I type this. You'll never know.
  • Last but not least, I no longer have to wake up early every morning to commute to a job I hate.

So yeah, I agree with Mr. Cain up there: escaping the unfulfilling mainstream lifestyle (even if it wasn't of my own accord) was one of the best things that ever happened to me.


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.

Big Update to Shawn Blanc's eBook, 'Delight is in the Details'

Delight is in the Details — v2

My buddy Shawn Blanc has published a huge update to his ebook about creativity, Delight is in the Details. Everything that made the original version awesome is still there, along with a ton of new content and refinements:

  • The ebook has been upped from 75 pages to 88 thanks to the addition of two new chapters
  • Two new audio interviews (Matt Alexander and Jared Sinclair), bringing the total to 10
  • All of the audiobook and audio interview tracks have been remastered
  • There are now transcripts of all the interviews, in case you’d rather read than listen
  • A new Makers Q&A section
  • References to iOS and OS X have been updated
  • Three short videos about creativity and design, all with high production value. You can watch one of them right now: “The Creative Life”

If you already bought the first edition of Delight is in the Details, you get this update (and all future updates) for free. A Gumroad link to the new files will be emailed to you, so keep an eye out.

As for the rest of you, now is the perfect time to get in on a fantastic book that will spur your creative work and show you why sweating the details is so important.

Introducing: the Spark Journal

So, I have an announcement to make. Nothing world-shattering, but worth mentioning all the same (and those of you who visited the site over the weekend already know about it anyway).

Henceforth, this site will no longer be known as Unretrofied. Instead, I welcome you to The Spark Journal.

Let's go ahead and get the admin stuff out of the way:

  • The new domain is Please update your bookmarks accordingly.

    (Theoretically, if you visit any old links (or, say, you still have the old URL bookmarked), you should still be directed to the proper destination. At least, it's worked with all the links I've tried so far.)

  • There's also a new RSS feed. Again, subscribers to the old Unretrofed feed shouldn't have to do anything because I've switched the feed URL on my end. If you do run into any issues, try unsubscribing from the old one and resubscribing to the new one. I apologize for any inconvience.
  • New Twitter account: @thesparkjournal
  • New account: @sparkjournal (for those of you still clinging to the dream, maaaaaan)
  • New contact email:
  • I've created a weekly email newsletter containing all of that week's posts. If that sounds like your thing, you can find the subscribe form on the About page. Goes out every Saturday morning.
  • The site has a new look! If you're reading this in RSS, click through and check it out. I tweaked a lot of CSS this past week and finally settled on something I'm happy with.

    The most obvious changes involve updated typography, a new overall color scheme, and a slightly nicer layout (I finally figured out why the entire blog index was shifted slightly to the left rather than centered, despite having margin: auto !important; configured in CSS: I was missing one teensy little Squarespace-made selector that controls the so-called "blog list").

  • Along with the new name, The Spark Journal will exist within a different "blog" on my same Squarespace account (i.e. It will look as though the old Unretrofied content has disappeared, but you can still find it at and

Feel free to skip the rest of this post if you don't want to read a long-winded story about the change. Enjoy the new digs! —Ed.

* * *

So why the sudden name change? Well actually, this decision has been a long time coming. I remember emailing Shawn Blanc a year ago to ask what he thought about my idea to burn Unretrofied to the ground and starting something new. I couldn't quite articulate why I wanted this, I just knew it was time for a change.

He gave me lots of good advice, particularly this:

“It's the content that matters, not where it lives.”

And he's right, a new domain and CMS won't make me a better or more dedicated writer. If I wanted to change the editorial direction of the site on a whim, I totally could. Wouldn't be the first time.

Even so, I haven't really identified with the Unretrofied "brand" (blegh) for a long time. The site started as a very Apple-centric blog, and I honestly don't care much about that sort of thing anymore. And despite my own feelings on the matter, many readers still see me as a purely tech-oriented writer. If you want proof, look at the names of the Twitter lists I'm a part of.

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy (and will continue to write about) nerdy things like apps and using an iPad as one's primary device. Even as I write this, the big review I've been writing about Day One is calling my name from my drafts folder. It's just that my interests have expanded beyond the tech world and it's about time the site's name reflected that.

What I care about are the people who make things, and I care about helping people who struggle to make their thing. I want to write in a way that inspires others to do awesome stuff rather than drifting through a dreary rat-race life. I want to tell better stories. I want to try new things. As Chase Reeves might put it, I want to do things that are matterful.

This brings us to where the "spark" in Spark Journal comes from. Many months ago, I started keeping a list of my favorite words in Drafts, thinking I could maybe turn one or two of them into a new site title. Lots of good combinations came from this list, but "spark" was always the one that stuck in my mind most.

When people speak of inspiration or creativity or genius or adventure or love, they often refer to the spark of that thing. It was the best possible word I could think of to describe where I wanted this site to go.

The journal part of the name is merely a natural extension of my love of journaling and my rekindled interest in handwriting and notebooks and such. Plus I just like the word :)

I'll stop rambling now, and I hope you'll join me on this new journey. I have lots of ideas and things I want to do here, and couldn't be more excited about what's to come.

“A computer will make something perfectly square, perfectly spherical, and that’s just ugly and boring. All of your time is spent kind of messing it up, which is the opposite of most people’s jobs…the real world is a big old mess and most people’s time is spent tidying it up.”

Suzanne Slatcher, former technical director at Pixar