HACK / MAKE

Updated Daily Carry to Add Watch and Sleeve Wallet + Money Clip

1000 Miles

I figure the guy who first muttered “Life is about the journey” was having an ale at the only pub near the little inn he was staying at that night, consoling, convincing himself after a hard days travel, still far away from where he wanted to be.

The way I see it, there’s four important parts in a journey: where you are, where you’re going, the bag you’ve got, and the boots you wear. Only one of these really matter—where you’re at right now—but the other three count for something too. Where you’re going gives you something to work towards. An idea that pushes society, culture, people forward. Your contribution. Your bag and what’s in it helps you get there. The jacket that’s your shelter from the elements, the book that keeps you safe from loneliness, and the notebook that protects you from your self. They’re in your bag and everywhere you go are a reminder of the physical weight of anything but ideas and conversation.

But your boots, they feel the weight of every step. They feel the renewal of a walk in the spring’s fresh grass, the joyful lightness as you dance, scuffing up your neighbor’s kitchen floor. Your boots are what grounds you to this earth and the world’s your beat.

Where am I? In front of a keyboard, this friend that has so humbly taken a beating yet has pulled words out of me I didn’t know I had. Where am I going? I only wish I knew. My bag is a GR1 and I wear 1000 Mile boots.

1000 miles is a long journey and long journeys need good companions. These boots, so comfortable and durable, the ad in the 1920’s Successful Farming magazine says, they’ll last you “1000 miles of wear.” There’s an elegance in the construction of these boots that make you want to take them on travels with you—an adaptable style that feels rugged yet can be cleaned up to look great with a sport coat. On a long journey, you’re going to be a lot of different places and your boots need to fit in like you do.

A good horse hair brush, some boot LP, and a little love and these boots will keep their form and stand up to a lot. But life’s hard and life’s hard on your boots so eventually down the road they’ll need a bit of work. Nothing goes unbroken on life’s travels. You’ll probably break down more often than your boots will. You’ll need a friend, a drink, a talking to to pick you up and get you back on the road but with wear comes tear and 1000 miles does a lot to the soles of your boots. But good engineering means they’re built to be rebuilt and a good cobbler, like your friend and a beer, can craft a new sole and you’re back on the road for a few more miles.

A few more miles lead to a few more and soon you’re in a place that’s hard to recognize. Everything starts showing that mileage. We can see how it wears on us but 1000 miles is hard to grasp. The trip out west and back will put about 4000 miles on you and your heart, something that was a lot harder to do in 1920. These boots haven’t made that trip with me yet but the rest of me still carries those miles in a lot of ways.

These boots have seen a Boston fall with a chill so deep the leaves that lingered stood no chance against the winter that crept so closely. They felt that winter which came soon after the last leaves left us, harsh and unforgiving. Digging out of snowbanks in Montreal and the longest of long winters New York City has felt. These boots saw that same winter slowly retreating, loosening it’s grasp on Minnesota and then the cherry blossoms in Washington this spring, exploding to celebrate a great defeat, a rebirth of the season.

There’s a lot of stories in 1000 miles if you just listen to the road and don’t mind getting your boots a little dirty.

Empathy and the CODE Keyboard

The Two Sentence Review

The layout of the CODE Keyboard is similar to the Filco Majestouch-2 tenkeyless that I’ve been using for a couple years but the feel of the CODE’s MX Cherry Clears aren’t quite as nice as the MX Cherry Blues. The CODE is much quieter though.

In Conclusion / A Seemingly Trivial and Unadorned Example of Where I Was Not Empathetic

As people who seek out nicely crafted items, desire well designed software, and are particular about the way we do things, we are familiar with tradeoffs that exist in choosing these items like the extra time it takes in the morning versus the taste and experience of a good cup of coffee or the cost of buying a finely crafted watch versus paying rent. But we might not always be taking the right things in to consideration and missing important tradeoffs.

I’m beginning to see impacts of how my decisions to prefer one product over others, this habit over that, or a certain attitude about something is affecting other people around me in a way which I never noticed before. I don’t think I’m oblivious to what the people around me feel but I think I’m slowly getting more in touch with not just that but how my choices don’t just impact me. Call it maturing, I guess, but I doubt I’m the only one reading this that could improve at that.

I think a lot of office workers avoid a clicky keyboard because of the sound. Not wanting to annoy coworkers is a legitimate reason but if you’re like me and didn’t empathize with your coworkers in your decision making, you may think, “oh the keyboard is not that noisy, it’s fine. It’s a busy office so the sound will just blend in.” And it kind of did just like the ongoing jokes about my 1990’s keyboard and the intense sound it makes.

The running joke was fun. People would come by my desk and comment on the keyboard and how they used to have one like that when they were running DOS, or how it reminded them of the office ambience in Mad Men, or an airline customer service rep typing in to their outdated terminal while apologizing for the inconvenience because your flight is yet again delayed. “It’s got a great feel, and I’m typing all day long so why not use something that feels good,” I’d say. “I really like it… But she’s not as big of a fan”, pointing over to my desk mate five feet to my left while letting out a little chuckled. She’d laugh too and kind of roll her eyes being a good sport and playing her part in the joke so that it would survive for another week.

And then I actually asked her about it. I wanted to know if it did really bother her. She said some days she’d actually have to work somewhere away from me because the noise of my furious typing would be too loud she couldn’t concentrate.

I was hit with a layered feeling of dread. The outer layer was a realization that for six months I was pecking away at that sweet, clicky, Cherry Blue keyboard, proud of and satisfied by the sound it made, projecting (to no one but myself, really) a desire for only the highest quality experiences but in my desire for “productivity” I was distracting those around me. Deeper than that, it hit me that in striving for better things—tools, process, gear—I wasn’t taking other people in to account in the process of choosing those things. Deep at the core of the dread that was knotted in my gut was a feeling that I had made this assumption that people weren’t bothered that much by my clackity sound but when I actually asked, I learned that my assumption was wrong. Are some, many, most of my assumptions wrong? What else am I wrong about it that I just need to ask about to find out?

Empathy needs to be at the root of the decisions we make. When we make decisions about what new things we take in to our lives we need to deeply consider if and how those better tools also make us better at loving and helping the people around us.

So maybe the CODE keyboard doesn’t have the best feel but it’s a better experience for me and the people around me. And that matters more.

Strip It Down

I had trouble falling asleep last night which doesn’t happen that often (I’m pretty professional at sleep). I lie awake, mind spinning. I wasn’t worrying that things were “falling through the cracks” or that I had commitments I couldn’t make good on. I tend to do a good job writing down what I need to get done but I think I was lying awake because I didn’t know what I needed to do.

It can be romantic to tear it all down. Trash your software, burn your notebooks. Clean slate, empty mind. Fresh approach. For fun or for pageviews.

When you lay awake, it’s time to do something about it. Kiss and make up. Don’t go to bed angry. Work it out or walk away. I’m doing this for me not doing this for flow.

Your workflows won’t show up at your funeral. When it’s your hobby, “workflow” means time away from sunshine, from the warmth of smiles, from the world around (which just happens to be magical). If those aren’t important to you, cool, but I’ve been missing out.

My job is creating productivity software for people in big businesses—manufacturing, healthcare, supply chain. Workflow matters but flow is there to support experience. My work is creating experiences and the experiences in my life aren’t going to come from a list. What’s your real job? Who’s your boss. Is your list your master? Who does actually care about the work you do? What you get done? The person you are when you get home from work? Someone cares more about the person you are when you get home from work than how you work.

But there is a place for flow. Flow can mean that when it’s time to fall asleep at night, I fall asleep. But if everything’s a task then everything’s a task, or something like that. I’d rather be at 30,000 feet in a plane on an adventure to a place I’ve never been before than 30,000 feet in my “system.”

I review my system more often than I call my mother. Who the fuck am I?

I won’t let a computer tell me what to do. I’m going to choose what I want to do with my life, thank you very much. Then I’m going to do it and not tweet about it and just sit outside with a beer and watch the sun set. Because I’ve missed too many of those sitting in front of this harsh, heartless machine.

Not what is the goal but what is the point? There is a point, it’s just not a goal. It’s something, some place, someone. “Have fun” has never shown up on my to-do list. “Laugh until my face hurts” hasn’t made it on my calendar. The Work is important but what are you working towards? What’s the point of your work?

What I need to do is different than what I need to get done. I need to make people more important than priorities. Experience more than analyze. Care more than capture.

What are you going to do today?

Making Tools, Technology, and Ideas Accessible

For much of the time that it’s been a part of our lives, technology hasn’t been very accessible. From how we build it all the way to how it’s used, technology hasn’t been easy for people to get close to. I was just barely at the tail end of the generation who was around for the internet before it was ubiquitous in the western world. Those much more “seasoned”—older—than I am would laugh at even how good I had it with my first 14.4K modem. There’s been a Wild West mentality in the becoming of the internet and the culture around it. Keyboard cowboys, cavalier in their convictions, broke trail and set standards for the world we’d newly navigate. This scene wasn’t for everyone and only those with the bravest of hearts and the sturdiest desk chairs have made marks. Through that we’ve come a long way. At least in the first world, internet connections are as important of a utility as electricity and nearly as available. Availability isn’t necessarily accessibility though. We’ve come to trust that when you flip the light switch or turn the tap, that service will be there for you. It’s reliable. Yet we still have to think about “uptime” of our online services and need technicians to come to our house to fix the little blinking internet box thing again. And remember, this is in the most advanced parts of the world. We’ve got it the best out of anybody and it still sucks.

Our relationship with technology can be rocky. We’re introduced to new hardware, services, interfaces, and interactions all of the time. We’re encouraged to learn these things through practice and not be worried about poking around the new updated version of a thing we love (or at least just use a lot). Our culture mostly accepts the new and cool because we always want to be new and cool. But it’s not easy. Many people aren’t these cavalier keyboard cowboys and don’t have the time, patience, or desire to tinker their way through learning technology.

Making these tools, technology, and ideas accessible is something that managers, designers, makers, and marketers need to improve on. In all parts of what we set out to do, we need to lower the barrier and ease people in to familiarity with the pieces of our work that they touch. Code that we write and share needs to be accessible so that more people will contribute and help grow what it can do. It needs to be documented and use familiar frameworks so people can get in to it easier. Ideas we spread need to be accessible so that people understand what we mean and build a community around these ideas.

In September, I spent the day at the Hardware Innovation Workshop here in New York. It was put together by Make Magazine who was also hosting the Maker Faire that weekend. The sessions were mostly focused on the gap between prototyping hardware using tools like Arduino and getting your hardware product in to mass production. There were discussions about the business side of doing that, how to design in a way that simplifies the way your product can be manufactured, and even how branding can have an effect on your hardwares attractiveness to customers.

One of the ideas that caught my attention was the unfamiliarity that many consumers had with these types of hardware in their homes and lives. Some were systems that could monitor the safety and happenings in your house when you were away or were little hardware bits that you could use to build circuits but were just so simple and magical that they could be used for kids to build toys or for artists, or engineers. These things were new. They were ideas that hadn’t become part of people’s regular thinking habits. But some of these products had succeeded in designing their hardware so it was approachable and their end user wasn’t scared to try it. Once they tried it, they recognized that it was useful. They could figure out how to use it, why they should, and didn’t feel uncomfortable using it.

So how do we designers, makers, writer, scientists, make tools, technology, and ideas accessible?

We have to recognize and try our best to understand the people who we are making each of these things for. We need to understand them and we need to care for them deeply. These design challenges aren’t easy to solve so to get through the frustrating iterations, we need to stay focused on the care we have and the care we believe we can deliver, whether it be to fellow developers making it easier to build great things or to our customers who need a little help in their lives and are looking towards us and our products for that support.

Caring a lot will guide each of us through the challenges in making tools, technology, and ideas accessible.

Honesty

“Nice bike,” he says, breaking the courteous silence in the elevator as it plummets towards to wintery streets of midtown Manhattan after a long day at the office. “It doesn’t have anything you don’t need,” he elaborates as a nod to not just its aesthetics but craftsmanship. I mutter a thanks in the way that I’ve always done, struggling to be humble in the glow of a compliment. I lower my chin and gaze back down, assuming the customary elevator apathy, hoping it’s not apparent that I’m blushing as if he were a dame gushing over my especially-striking-in-my-own-narrative good looks.

I’ve come to appreciate the honesty of simplicity—where craftsmanship is an understanding and acceptance of what’s important and more importantly, what’s not. The honesty comes from not trying to be something more through embellishment or striving for minimal design by giving it a coat of white paint rather than distilling out the unnecessary parts.


As I’ve started to spend more time away from my desk, out of my head, and getting lost in the world around me, I notice these honest designs more often. I’m less interested in software and more interested in people and the things they make in real world materials. I’ve been burned by hacks that fail at the wrong time and complex tools which have let me down. I’ve begun to deeply appreciate when something endures because of the decisions made by some industrial designer in their tight grey-colored shirt and two-days worth of beard. This idea has always been part of the DNA of Hack/Make but I feel it will become more center stage here as time goes on.

Bleed Out on Blank Pages

For the first time since I published Toothbrushes, that task reappeared in my list this past week. “Pick up new toothbrush” it read, though saying more now than the last time I saw that reminder.

Now it tells me something like, “Pick up new toothbrush and reflect on the last few months of your life.”

I had thought that Day One might become part of my own life story telling but only a few times in months have I filled it with what’s on my mind. I’m just never compelled to open the app. I’m desiring less screen time and I find, though I’m not a paper fanatic, that scribbling in a pocket notebook is more visceral and right. Though apps try to pull us in by being “delightful,” being instinctive matters more to me and pulling a notebook out of my back pocket has become more true to me than pixels lighting a ghostly glow on my face. It feels natural to open a blank page and fill them.


Why isn’t it good enough reason to fall in love
with New York just because that’s where I am now?

Why do I always have to be
dreaming about being somewhere else?


In notebooks, I’ve found it a unique way to see the ink of my life spill together on the pages. Mundane lists, sketches you can’t decipher anymore, phone numbers you can never call again because of the pain on the other end of the line, meeting notes from an hour of your life you won’t ever get back. They flow together on paper in a way that matches our bleeding lives. Talking about buckets and scaffolding rarely tells the story that the bucket is our last hope to catch drips leaking from the broken pipe of our unmanaged time and that the scaffolding we set up is mostly intended to hide the crumbling facade rather than support the rebuilding of our lives.

On paper, we can see the mess that we are or the greatness that we’re becoming. These stories all draw together in ink stains and by letting ourselves spill out in pages—where our work and life aren’t trying desperately to be balanced and sandboxed—we can get a glimpse at the beautiful lives we ride.


And in a blink, we rise above the tarmac
and the city shrinks. The problems there
seem miniscule instantly compared to the
grandeur of the world around. You transform
in moments from the ants milling about into
the birds soaring above.


I’m not arguing the merits of paper versus software but trying to seed a reminder that each of those devices are meant to address our needs as humans and support our own purpose.

Wherever intentions lie, a pen or keyboard will work towards them.

When being introspective about our work and lives, be it one toothbrush at a time or ongoing, we make agreements with ourselves by choosing the words we write down. We promise to be more mindful, thoughtful, kind; to make more, eat better, relax. We scribble fragments of who we want to be so that we can convince ourselves we are. We document our days because sometimes it feels that if we don’t, no one will remember us, or we clack out ways we think we can start being more memorable.

It doesn’t matter where but that we do bleed out on blank pages.

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