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Paul Ford on Reply All

Two of my favourite things are now in one place: Paul Ford on Reply All.

It turns out that you’re not as important as you think you are, nowhere near as terrible as you think you are and actually fairly ridiculous.

Reply All is the new show from Gimlet Media, created in part by former Planet Money & This American Life producer Alex Blumberg. Paul Ford is one of the best technology writers on the internet today. His writing is always poetic, human and sometimes hilarious. On this episode, Paul talks about his anxieties, how crippling they can be & how he decided to manage them. In short: he built himself an anxiety box. I won’t spoil it for you, just listen.

If you’re into podcasts and the internet (hello? is this thing on?) you should go subscribe right now. Alex also hosts a remarkably good podcast called Startup, logging his journey into the world of internet businesses. At first I scoffed, then I listened, sat up and paid attention. Both shows are very well produced, never longer than half an hour & always worth the listen. Reply All is particularly good.

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Gamergate finds new depths

Yesterday, ArbCom announced its preliminary decision. A panel of fourteen arbitrators – at least 11 of whom are men – decided to give GamerGate everything they’d wished for. All of the Five Horsemen are sanctioned; most will be excluded not only from “Gamergate broadly construed” but from anything in Wikipedia touching on “gender or sexuality, broadly construed.”

Mark Bernstein, Infamous

All is not well in the wiki.

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Friends don’t let friends look out of date on the internet

Content on the internet can be frighteningly fast-paced. You don’t need to look much further than twitter or Facebook to notice the deluge of content being posted daily. It’s overwhelming – blink and you miss it. Yet websites often fall into the trap of hard-coding content into less-obvious page elements and forgetting all about it. One excellent example of this is the Copyright text appearing in the footer of many websites. You’ll often see something that looks like this:

© 2015

Obviously, the content on jasonmcdermott.net is not © Marco Arment.

This innocuous piece of text doesn’t only lay claim to copyright protection, it also clearly displays the year in which the website was ‘last updated’. It dates the content you’re currently reading. It plants a flag, sending subtle signals about how fresh your site happens to be. It might be dead-right, but then again it might be way off. Like, several years out of date.

Now why is this a problem? Well, most bloggers and webmasters tend to think about these things very infrequently. You might look at the footer text when setting up a new theme, or changing plugins, but that doesn’t happen very often & chances are that your web footer text is now a whole year out of date (© 2014). If you run a website, I’ll pause here to let you go check your footer text. No really. You’ll thank me for it.

Ok, so now you know. Is your footer text up to date? If not, I’ll bet you just changed it. Job done, right?
For now, yes. But what happens 12 months later, when 2016 rolls around and you’ve forgotten this piece of sage wisdom? You’ll be back where you were today, before you read said piece of wisdom. There must be a better way.

updateyourfooter.com is here to help.

updateyourfooter.com is here to help.

Well, there is. Computers are fantastic at doing things without even requiring human thought. Automatically. It’s great. Here’s my special tip that will save you literally seconds, once a year, every year from now until your website dies.

Just use software to automatically update the date. It’s that easy. Set it and forget it. If you run more than one website, you may never need to think about checking your footers (feet?) again. Let the computers keep track of the date, you can get back to the business of writing killer headlines & splitting long articles up into separate pages.

It’s called software and it works. One change and your site will look fresh and new, every year, for as long as you like.

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Bringing the progressive calendar to Australia

David Malki (creator of the insanely great web comic wondermark) recently posted a progressive calendar PDF that he’d produced for printing & hanging. I’ve long thought that this kind of calendar is so much better than calendars with months separated by white space, but never thought about creating one of my own. When I saw David’s calendar, it was a no-brainer to download it for my own use.

But there was one small problem. David’s based in the USA, so some of the details of the calendar are US-centric. The Daylight Savings dates, for instance. Or all of the holidays. These aren’t deal-breakers for me, but wouldn’t it be so much better if you could have one with Australian dates?

Well, now you can. I downloaded and tweaked David’s calendar PDF to reflect the correct Australian dates for 2015.

You too can now download the Australian Holidays 2015 calendar.

Thanks again to David Malki for the idea & the heavy lifting on the original calendar.

[Update: David added this page to his download section on wondermark!

João Paulo Bernardes has also made a Brazilian version! Spread the love..]

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Being too popular for a day

Two weeks back, Marco Arment (creator of Instapaper, development brains behind Tumblr, creator of Overcast, founder of The Magazine..) published a typical Marco-style post criticising Apple’s recent software quality;

I suspect the rapid decline of Apple’s software is a sign that marketing is too high a priority at Apple today: having major new releases every year is clearly impossible for the engineering teams to keep up with while maintaining quality. Maybe it’s an engineering problem, but I suspect not — I doubt that any cohesive engineering team could keep up with these demands and maintain significantly higher quality.
Apple has lost the functional high ground on marco.org

Which then spread like wildfire;

This morning, my words were everywhere, chopped up and twisted by sensational opportunists to fuel the tired “Apple is doomed!” narrative with my name on them. (Or Tumblr’s name, which was even worse.) Business Insider started the party, as usual, but it spread like wildfire from there. Huffington Post. Wall Street Journal. CNN. Heise. Even a televised CNBC discussion segment.
What it’s like to be way too popular for a day on Marco.org

Which might seem like a blogging dream-come-true, but you’d be wrong. Fascinating.

See also: Marco went into more detail on both ATP and The Talk Show, both of which are equally long and worth the listen.

Image Credit: Marco.org

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How to overcome entrepreneur loneliness

Curse this modern work-lifestyle. At first it seems too good to be true, the freedom to work wherever you want, the autonomy to dictate your own hours, the liberty to create the work environment most likely to see you flourish as a professional. And yet, despite having this expanse of work place luxuries, you feel a cold, dark emptiness which gnaws at your subconscious. You’ve made the leap into the new workforce, the empowered remote professional, the cafe-dwelling urban nomad, but something just doesn’t quite feel right.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

This is actually a big part of the problem, though you won’t understand it until you’ve taken the plunge and gone solo. The work life of a freelance professional (consultant, photographer, designer, developer – you name it) can be remarkably isolated. Beware, the grass is always greener, especially when you’re stuck in corporate-land and dreaming of a life outside of the 60 hour commute-toil-commute nightmare. Solo work can seem like the solution you’ve always longed for, but never found. The elusive silver bullet.

That’s what makes the reality of solo work so much more of a shock once you do take the plunge.

The truth of it is that solo work – startups, freelancing, passion projects – can be a lonely endeavour. There’s a reason why two-founder startups are more likely to succeed compared to solo-founder projects. It can be remarkably isolating to leave the corporate team and go it alone. Gone are the basic infrastructural luxuries of an office, the camaraderie of the team, the water-cooler politics, the pleasures of explaining why you’d do things differently if you had the power. Life as a solopreneur (yes, it’s an awkward term, I’ll admit) can unlock a whole range of beneficial life habits, opportunities and experiences – but it does come at a cost. The solo life is, in a word, lonely.

There are other pressures you’ll face, but let’s focus on this one issue for now – isolation. It’s the single biggest emotional challenge I’ve faced, working on my own. Being so disconnected from people on a daily basis can become a burden. Instead of spending 40+ hours a week with a team of peers, you’re suddenly your own best and worst company. You may find yourself second guessing thoughts and ideas. You may find yourself obsessing over unimportant details. You may even find yourself procrastinating on small jobs or chores that you don’t want to do. The solo life isn’t always laptops on beaches, it can get ugly.

It doesn’t have to be. Here are my top 3 tips for avoiding solopreneur cabin fever:

  1. Find a co-working space. Most cities in Australia have co-working spaces that are located near public transport hubs, come well furnished and are very affordable. This is the most efficient and effective way to avoid loneliness, as it brings you into contact with other people like you, helps you to find your solopreneur soul mates, gives you access to a support network & may even provide you the missing link in your entrepreneurial journey (be that users, co-founders, money, inspiration or – simply put – good advice). Being part of a community goes a very long way to maintaining your sanity. You don’t even need to become a full time member of co-working communities (especially useful if you live far away or can’t bear commuting anymore) you can join them and enjoy the benefits of these communities online. You’ll be invited to meetups, to events, receive resources and more. It’s such an investment, I could even stop here and my job would be nearly done.
  2. Join an interest group. Meetup groups are increasingly common, cover a wide array of interest areas and often don’t come at any cost to join. You could join an interest group for personal reasons, getting connected to a wider community of people who share similar goals. Alternatively you can join an interest group for professional reasons, finding new client or networking opportunities. I’ve also found interest groups are an excellent way to find incredibly talented people, all of whom I’d love to work with.
  3. Which brings us to our third tip: find people to collaborate. Common goals and passions can unearth collaboration opportunities & these are very valuable for undoing the harm of isolation. A common goal is very effective at bringing people of different backgrounds together & the future network benefits of great collaborative projects are endless. Surround yourself with smart people, find worthwhile projects to work on & you’ll soon realise you’ve kicked that isolation to the curb.
  4. One more tip for good measure: there are literally hundreds of resources for entrepreneur lifestyle success. Podcasts, blog posts, books and more. Don’t stop at this blog post, dig deeper. Find the voices you aspire to emulate, the people who’ve tackled the same challenges you face, or simply find someone whose message resonates with you – and hit subscribe. It’ll make a big difference.

Loneliness was the last thing I anticipated, when I went solo nearly two years ago. It hit hard. It took me a while to understand what I was going through & to find the right balance for myself. I found a co-working space (hat-tip to Fishburners in Sydney), joined a community of entrepreneurs, met some incredibly talented people & found projects to collaborate on. You will build momentum, so the sooner you take the first step, the better.

Just remember – you’re not alone. We’re right here with you.

Note: this article was originally posted on tklr.net

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Do not go gentle into that good night

The effect is profound. Traditional film suddenly feels very small and almost claustrophobic. Those black bars at the top and bottom of the screen become horizontal railings that while perhaps not trapping us in, are clearly guiding us along. When the screen opens up to IMAX format though, you’re set free. I kept moving my head up and down trying to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. MG Siegler, over at Medium

I couldn’t agree more. The IMAX experience is literally jaw dropping. I found myself looking around on the screen, trying to soak in every last pixel. Don’t miss this one.

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One month with the Bullet Journal

Bullet Journal claims it is for those who feel there are few platforms as powerful as the blank paper page. But just how powerful could a piece of paper be? Last month I decided to deep dive into the BJS & I’m here to tell you that it is every bit as powerful, flexible and useful as it claims to be.

Firstly, what is a Bullet Journal?

Bullet Journal is simple logging system that uses a few clever tricks to help get & keep you organised. At first blush it seems like a cute yet superficial solution to the problem of disorganisation – one that rests on the analogue pleasures of pen & paper, but that would fall short compared to the digital tools we have in spades. Last month I decided to take the Bullet Journal for a spin, to see if it was up to the task of whipping chaos into order. One month later, here are my thoughts on the usefulness & potential of the Bullet Journal system & whether or not you should consider using it.

It’s designed to be easy to remember & importantly, very quick to use. It’s best used with gridded or dotted notepads, but you could also make it work without these things. It’s built around a few simple ideas:

  1. A small collection of meaingful markers, the box, the bullet point and the circle. Each of these signify a different item: a to-do task, a note and an event,
  2. One page per day, or collection of items,
  3. Numbered pages, coupled with an index &
  4. Additional symbols used to mark priorities & actions (e.g. a star gives a task priority)

That’s it. The Bullet Journal really is that simple. The simplicity of the system is what appealed to me at first, both as a way to organise & order the clutter of hand written notes & as a way to bridge between the physical & digital worlds (more on that later). All you need is a stack of paper & this simple system to tackle your work.

Why would you need such a system?

The Bullet Journal system, like nearly all note organisation systems, won’t be for everybody. You might be perfectly happy to have the messy desk, creative mind organisation system, perhaps your notes aren’t particularly important, or you have a well developed spatial memory (one clear advantage of hand written notes) Perhaps the loss of one specific note wouldn’t be significant to you. I’ve certainly churned through many notebooks in the last half decade – the contents of which probably wouldn’t be very interesting — even to me.

So why pick a system like Bullet Journal? This is for people who do keep precious notes, notes for which date & context is important, for people who want to be able to keep a better record of the events that happen in their lives. People who want to be able to note anything, at any time, without later needing to translate that into some other system or place. People who want an everything bucket, but who don’t want their notes to devolve into meaningless mush.

A not-uncommon example from my most recent journal.

A not-uncommon example from my most recent journal.

How do I use it?

I’ve made an effort to apply the tenets of the system as closely as I can remember, in the moment. Like with any system, if it’s hard to remember in practice, it’s not going to stick. I’ve found that the most useful aspects of the Bullet Journal system have stuck, becoming the default way I organise my thoughts. Here’s how I use it:

  • I use stock-standard Field Notes Brand notebooks. Nothing fancy, here.
  • Every day gets a full two-page spread, with tasks listed below the date
  • I rarely use the note or event items, instead I stick to tasks
  • Tasks not completed one day are moved to the next day (with a > symbol to indicate that it’s moved)
  • Completed tasks are ticked, not struck-through
  • Collections of thoughts are grouped, on a new page where necessary & added to the index.
  • I’ve added colour coding to tasks to make it easier to skim & pick something to work on (this was inspired by the fantastic digital highlighting on the Bullet Journal website). I use three colours: Work, Hobbies & Personal. I’ve found this to be very helpful.
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A typical entry in my Bullet Journal

One pleasant and unexpected benefit is that — since I’m using small Field Notes notebooks — space is limited for daily tasks. Why is this a benefit? It places a physical limit on the number of tasks I can add to any one day. It’s like a sensible cap on the tasks you should attempt to do in one day. Yes, some days are busier & we’re pressured to get more done. But most days aren’t like that. The Bullet Journal helps support the tasks we need to get done, whilst also placing natural limits on the to-do list.

Bullet Journaling also makes micro-management difficult & this is another good thing. There’s no point listing out every step involved in a bigger task, you’ll simply run out of space. The system encourages you to think in a concise, outcome-oriented way, though this will require some acclimatisation.

One of the ways I’ve struggled to implement this system is in choosing the appropriate scope for a task. I’ll give you an example: My fiancee and I are currently planning our wedding. One task that insists on following me through my notebook, zombie style, is an item called ‘Plan Ceremony’. This is a classic example of using the wrong appropriate scope. There’s no point adding huge tasks that aren’t really tasks at all – they’re projects. In this case, I’m much better off creating a Ceremony collection page where I can add & complete subtasks of this bigger project. Then the daily ‘Ceremony’ task could be used to call out the actions or items that actually need attention, today. It’s good to avoid these situations that can quickly notch up a lot of emotional debt – your tasks keep following you through your notebook with no end in sight. This is madness & a simple collection page is the Bullet Journal solution.

Would you recommend the Bullet Journal system?

Absolutely.

What are the pros & cons?

Pros

  • A quick & simple task logging system
  • A smart way to oragnise otherwise jumpled thoughts
  • An index to your paper life, easily searchable by date or topic
  • All you need is pen & paper

Cons

  • It does require more thought than simply living in chaos (or whatever your current system might be)
  • You will need to pick a notebook with numbered pages, or commit to doing that yourself
  • It’s all paper based, so digital backups / copies will rely on your diligence

Other Notes

Because I use Field Notes notebooks, I find that each notebook takes up about a month’s worth of the Bullet Journal. If you include the index & calendar pages, daily spreads and collections, a month of content will almost fill up a single notebook. I like this as it lends itself to easy archiving of notebooks as well as clearly delineating one month from another. If you add in the differently coloured Field Notes editions, each month stands out even more.

A sharpie or differently coloured notebook can help you quickly spot the different months.

A sharpie or differently coloured notebook can help you quickly spot the different journals / months.

Colour coding tasks is a really great way to help focus on what needs to be done, right now. You can look at today’s tasks and decide where to focus your attention, quickly

It does require a commitment to organisation from the user. For instance, if your notebook doesn’t have numbered pages, you’ll quickly tire of the process involved in numbering your pages. I don’t mind doing this, actually, but I can imagine I might feel differently in 6 months time.

Having one notebook for each month might feel like overkill if you’re accustomed to fitting 5-6 months into a single moleskin notebook. Field Notes notebooks are quite compact, but I can imagine it might get annoying trying to keep it all organised.

[Update: Rachel Baird says she also uses the Bullet Journal to log her spending habits, as she makes purchases. I’ll have to give this a try & see if it sticks.]

Closing Thoughts

The Bullet Journal is a very effective system & took very little effort to commit to memory. It’s quite easy to pick up and use, whilst also being flexible enough to accommodate small tweaks you might add for your own situation. Like any effective system, the big questions is: does it help you to accomplish more? In my experience, the answer is a resounding yes. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to find order in the madness of their handwritten notes.

Take a look at the very well-designed bulletjournal.com to get started.

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Carl Sagan, the illest

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: Carl Sagan, the illest.

All the millions, billions, trillions and (single) quadrillion from his 1980’s tv series Cosmos.

Here he is again, being profound;

Carl Sagan is just the best. Listen to him calmly defuse a radio caller keen on fighting! with words!

And finally, here’s an hour of Carl Sagan saying the word “billion”. Yep, that’s right. An hour of Carl saying one big word. Not looped, not a supercut, a slow motion Carl Sagan. Buckle up, it’s going to get weird.

Carl Sagan is just the best.