HACK / MAKE

Manifesto

These are some guiding principles for Hack/Make.

Value simplicity over superficial minimalism. Choose tools instead of technology. Deliberately reduce inputs which steal attention. Focus on what I love and do those things.

These articles will be about things I love, new things, and how either have or hopefully will improve my life. It could be lifestyle changes, things I’ve bought or things I’ve gotten rid off. Things I’ve introduced into my life that have simplified it or made it complex (for the better). I’ll write about technology that has helped me and times when technology distracts me.

I’m writing to hold myself accountable and writing for people who have the determination to make a life they already love even better. Making can be hard. Life isn’t a “4 hour work week”. There’s people who let things happen and people who make things happen. If you’re still reading this, you’re the latter.

I want to achieve an understanding of things I can do that will improve my life, then do those things. I’ll explore those situations but most importantly, I’ll try to answer why they matter so much. Most ‘life hack’ blogs just talk about cool things that you can use or do to improve your life but rarely talk about what it is about them that’s so helpful. I could argue that [blank] has changed how I [blank] but if the why doesn’t align with what matters most to you, it’s irrelevant and won’t help you. We all have different problems we’re trying to solve with hacks and even complex solutions but by approaching them with even a basic understanding of what you’re trying to solve and why this thing might help you, you’re going to succeed, or learn something valuable along the way. As I explore this path and mind-state my goal is to answer the why as often as possible so I can refine it and work towards making every day the best possible.

Hack/Make

As a new year falls upon us people quickly learn the difference between goals and resolutions that are created and goals and resolutions that are attainable. Whether it be getting in better shape or to start saving money, making steps towards these goals can be intimidating and we often fail because of not knowing what we’re getting into or how to approach the problem we’re trying to solve. Knowing tips and tricks can help make small progress and relieve pressure you will feel to get something going but these little hacks aren’t always the best way to get things done. There are big and small things we can do to improve our situation and make life goals happen.

A hack in the technology world is a messy or quick fix for something—a MacGyver. It’s a workaround to fix a bug or implement a new feature quickly 1. A hack tweaks code or changes hardware’s ability, stretching it beyond its intention to fix something or to add functionality. Hacks are rarely elegant but that’s not the goal. Hacks are like duct tape; you can create things out of duct tape and improve things with duct tape but it’s likely that the problem could have been better solved using a couple bolts or a weld.

Every situation we want to improve needs a solution. The solution is something you design and create; you make it. Not only do you make the solution, you make it happen. The concept of lifehacking isn’t new but the hard work it takes to truly make your life better is usually ignored. It’s ignored because it’s hard. Really hard. Hacks are popular because you think that by adding some cool apps to your MacBook, using a Grid-It in your bag, or cooking meals in batches and freezing them in little bags labeled by day will improve your life. They might help a bit but they are only part of the solution.

Using a continuous series of hacks is a bit like quickly iterating in the software industry. You try a hack (and maybe call it a feature) to see how it works and if you or your users thinks it’s an improvement, you keep it. You continue the cycle until you have a set of hacks but not a feature set. Duct tape over duct tape. The problem with this type of iteration is that when you are looking too closely at immediate solutions you lose focus on your direction and can easily iterate yourself down the wrong path. When you ‘make’, your choices are deliberate because you are following a blueprint you already set out. You can focus on your solution while keeping in mind how making it relates to greater aspects of life.

These two approaches aren’t exclusive. Hacks can take away some of the pain of getting started and can help you in the process of making. Making is the heavy lifting that is needed to do things properly. You’ll be in better control of your solutions by using a mix of hacks and makes.


Combining hacks and makes is one of the core concepts that I’ll be exploring and writing about here. The hacks might be something you find on Lifehacker or maybe ‘mind hacks’. Maybe I’ll be making (or compiling) real, tangible things or creating in a similar way restrictions or mindsets that are only cerebral. I don’t totally know where this is going but it’s important to me to grow intellectually, stabilize financially, and explore real things that make every day of my life better.


  1. Hopefully you are planning on going back and fixing it soon. 

Favorite New Things From 2011 And Why

I like taking time over the Christmas holidays to review and evaluate how the past year was. This year I’ve made a few additions to my life and found, learned about, or started new things that have quickly become favorites. Here’s what they are in no particular order, why I like them, and a links to where you can find it or buy it if you’d like.

Field Notes (plus a little golf pencil)

I’ve been carrying a Field Notes pocket notebook for about 6 months now. It goes in my back left pocket along with a standard golf pencil. These things are durable and versatile, since you can literally write anything in them. I’ll write notes as I read a book or article, drafts and sketches of things I want to write about, addresses and directions, and in the odd chance it happens, a girls phone number. For a long time I resisted carrying a notebook because I thought it was something I could just do on my iPhone in a simple text editor or Evernote but in reality I just wouldn’t. Thoughts and other things I wouldn’t write down just floated away or become an open loop I would remember later, if I was lucky. I’ve never found an app that’s so simple and versatile for quick jots as a simple notebook. I also include a few standard index cards tucked into the back cover since there’s the odd time you want to write something down and give to somebody. This is much easier than tearing out a page. The golf pencil works well for me because it’s small and fits easily in the back or change pocket of my jeans, won’t explode or leak if I accidentally put it through the wash, and is easily sharpened if you carry a pocket knife. Having a Field Notes book on me is just as important as carrying my phone or wallet. Buy Field Notes on Amazon

Raw Denim Jeans

I’ve always hesitated buying really high quality clothes. I wouldn’t buy junk but I couldn’t understand how anyone could pay more than $50 for a pair of jeans. Then I did. I bought a pair of APC New Standards this summer and I can’t imagine having ever made a better clothing purchase. Raw or selvedge denim are jeans that aren’t washed in the factory after soaking in the indigo dye. Most jeans you buy at a place like American Eagle have gone through a process in the factory to get the fade or ‘wash’ that give them a certain look. Raw denim will get this with time but will fade more beautifully and more accurate to how they fit on you. This pair of jeans have become a reliable piece of my wardrobe that I wear several times a week. We all know that feeling we have for our favorite pair of jeans. The more you love them the stronger this feeling. I really like my APCs and a lot of first time buyers get these. Put This On recommends 3sixteens. If you want something that will fit and fade well but aren’t ready to spend the cash, get a pair of Levi’s 501 Shrink-to-Fit. It’s worth spending good money on a great pair of jeans.

5by5

It was the fall of 2010 when I first started listening to 5by5 podcasts but in 2011 Dan Benjamin really turned 5by5 up to a new level with a list a great shows, talented hosts and a growing community around them. The shows are constantly getting better and better and the only downside is that there are so many great ones out that I’ve had to choose to follow only a few. If you don’t listen to 5by5, you should. Here’s a synopsis of some of the most popular shows but you’ll only really find it funny if you regularly listen to them. Which, again, you should because they are smart, funny, geeky, and way higher quality entertainment than watching TV. Find them on iTunes or 5by5.tv.

Traditional Wet Shaving

Years ago for Christmas I got a pretty decent electric shaver for Christmas and this year it finally died. After a bit of considering and researching online while reluctantly using an old Mach 3, I finally set myself up with a double-edge wet shaving kit. Wet shaving is the traditional style shaving that your grandpa used and how your dad learned how to shave. I threw out my aerosol can of menthol foaming shaving cream crap and cartridge razor for a double-edge razor, badger brush, and a puck of shaving soap (who’s recipe hasn’t changed since the early 1930’s). I use a Merkur 38C razor, a badger brush made by the local New York Shaving Company, and a puck or Mitchel’s Wool Fat shaving soap. Wet shaving has become one of the favorite new things because the shaving stuff you get now-a-days is expensive and plain crap. I’ve replaced it with tools and a method that is worth enjoying. I get a great shave, and the slightly longer it takes every day helps me pace my morning better. I have clearer skin by ditching crappy shaving cream and it’s eliminated ingrown hairs. For something guys do every day, they put up with shaving when it can be a much better experience. If you’ve been considering it, stop hesitating and do it right now. For a great starting kit, I suggest the Merkur HD razor, Tweezerman badger brush, and Mitchel’s Wool Fat soap.

Merlin Mann

I came across Merlin Mann when he started his podcast “Back To Work” with Dan Benjamin of 5by5 only quickly to find out that he had this other thing called 43Folders, had done a pretty damn funny podcast called You Look Nice Today, and ‘toots’ as @hotdogladies. Over the year I read a lot of his old work, listened to B2W religiously, and preached the gospel of his rules of the grocery store. Merlin’s frank discussion about the faults of fetishizing productivity porn and minimalism inspired in-part this blog as well as much of how I get things done recently. Dan and Merlin are hilarious together and often cause me to be that weird guy (but not weirdest guy) on the subway when I can’t help but break a smirk or some suppressed chuckle at his “I think you’re thinking of’s”, Doctor Philism’s, or blurting out words like “Bulk Bag” erratically. He’s funny but will also push you to get things done.

GORUCK GR1

The GORUCK GR1 deserves an entire review which will come shortly. For now, I’ll mention briefly why a simple backpack can be such an important tool. When you live in a city like New York (well, really, in any city) but walk, take public transit, or bike like I do, what’s in your bag can somewhat define who you are. My previous bag which I also really loved and had for years was a Crumpler Heegoer messenger bag. I decided to replace it with the GR1 because my messenger couldn’t fit everything I needed and I was limited by what I could do in a day based on what was in it. Now I’ll carry tons of things like a water bottle, bike lock, pair of shoes (since I wear cycling shoes), rain coat, sweater, bouldering gear, computer gear, other EDC gear, and can still strap on some groceries. You can see how by being able to carry more I am actually free to do more within a day. Before I had to strictly plan to go to the rock climbing gym at the start of the day and make room for my gear or maybe make a special trip for groceries if I already had too much stuff hanging off of me on my bike ride home. That’s not a problem now and I’ll write more about it soon in a full review.


One thing I’ve learned in this past year is that being picky and deliberate about the things I purchase, use, and bring into my life means that I’m more likely to really love and make what I do have a favorite.

Better Stuff

You CAN’T be distracted from the stuff you’re most interested in. Feeling “distracted?” Maybe try getting interested in better stuff.

—Merlin Mann

Why Your Resolution Is a Lie

You’re not only lying to yourself, you’re setting yourself up for failure. New Years resolutions in and of themselves aren’t bad, they are just usually too wide in scope, don’t consider things out of our control, and are poorly planned. All of these together make it unrealistic and unachievable. Reframe your resolution to make it happen. If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym before, regularly going n times a week is a dream, not a resolution.

Setting scope on your your resolution will help it become less pie-in-the-sky and actually realistic. Going to the gym three times a week isn’t an unrealistic goal. Going to the gym three times a week, every week of the year creates a lot more room for failure. Scope in this situation means what circumstances and requirements you’re responsible for in order for you to deliver on the promises of your resolution. Say you’ve already been going to the gym three times a week for, say 6 weeks. Good for you! When you made your resolution, you forgot about the cruise you were going on in mid-February to escape the winter grays and get some coastal sun. Now what? Going to bring your GoodLife with you? Going to take a week off? There’s nothing wrong with taking a break but if your plan was to hit the gym three times a week every week, you’ve now broken that. Adjusting the scope on what you resolve will help you set what’s most important for you. Is it being at the gym that’s most important to you or is it actually about getting excercise? When you’re on your cruise maybe you can do laps in the pool or go diving. That sounds like excercise to me. Scope can be a really complicated thing1 but what it really means is deciding what’s important to you for achieving your goal and leaving behind what’s “out-of-scope”. A tighter scope means smaller, more attainable chunks. Scope out the circumstances and requirements for achieving your goal for this week, then scope it out for the month and have these align with the goals of your resolution.

One of the worst parts about New years resolutions is all the things we have no control over. The first of these is when it happens. Starting off a new year can feel really good. Seeing 365 possibilities in front of you can drum up utter determination in all of us. It’s the timing that sucks. We’re coming out a a stretch where we’ve probably eaten the most out of all year and are in a habit of sweets and big meals. Our shelves are full of leftover baking—a problem we don’t have in my household—and we have to get rid of it somehow. It’s cold and gloomy outside in January. It would be a lot easier to work on a goal of running a mile everyday if New Years was June 1st and you could start your routine on beautifully clear summer mornings. But that’s not how it is. If we want to keep our resolutions, we have to plan them around what’s in our control. We only generally just consider our resolutions in the ideal situation when we should make our resolutions so they can function in the inevitable worst case scenarios. Say you’re doing well at becoming a regular at the gym, but today it’s -25 degrees (that’s cold whether it’s F or C) and just snowed 2 feet. Still planning on going to the gym? What if it’s like this for a week straight? Did your resolution plan for this crappy weather? You can decide to trudge through the cold and snow to make it to the desolate gym or you can stay wrapped up in bed with a steaming coffee and a good book. Staying home sounds like the better choice but what if that means you’ve broken your resolution? There’s nothing wrong with “I’ll go tomorrow instead” until you say that every day. Plan your resolution to be manageable in the worst case scenarios and less dependent on outside forces we don’t control.

Just look at the word resolution. Resolve, solve, solution. Is going to the gym three times a week a solution to you wanting to get in shape? Can we think about “hitting the gym” as a hack or a make? It’s not a quick fix so it doesn’t count as a hack but one of the important parts of a ‘make’ is that it’s an evolving and hopefully comprehensive solution you’re going to put into action. If you’re familiar with GTD (which I can’t recommend enough that you get familiar with, if not already) you know that anything you want to accomplish that requires two or more steps is a project. Getting ready for work in the morning is a project:

☐ Get my ass out of bed on time
☐ Take a shower so I don’t smell but mostly to wake me up
☐ Shave so I don’t look like those other East Village bearded hipsters
☐ Eat something so my mind doesn’t melt before lunchtime
☐ Brush my teeth after I drink my orange juice
☐ Don’t forget pants

This becomes second nature after a while but it wasn’t when our Mom was helping us do it when we were 5. If going to the gym every day was second nature, we would all be ripped. Until it becomes second nature, map out all of the steps it takes to make it happen and then start working on your project. Maybe it includes 3 things on the list before you even show up at the gym. Even if you do those things the first day but don’t make it to the gym, you’re making progress that you can see and track. It’s still important to get to the gym—that’s the next task. Planning things out up front will give you a better overview of everything that needs to happen, what you’ll easily handle, and where you’re going to need help.

Part of creating a project that’s intended to execute a solution (your resoltion) is setting goals and milestones that can be tracked. Arriving to the gym on Day 1 is a milestone but you’re not happy stopping there. Looking good in a bathing suit by summer is a goal but do you know what it takes to get there? Do you know if doing more cardio or using that machine-weight-thing that everyone sweats all over will get you there? Set smaller goals which have a clear path to attaining them. I know you want to be a regular Lou Ferrigno by the end of the year but why don’t we start with a near-term measurable goal; something like actually being able to get to the top of two, four, or eight flights of stairs at your office without passing out. Know what to do to make that happen? Good. Do it. Next? Lets get up that flight of stairs without being short on breath. Good for you. See how setting goals and milestones that we can hit then moving the bar up can give us a better chance? If we set a really high bar that seems so far away we can’t visualize a path to get there, we won’t get there.

Don’t lie to yourself about what you can accomplish. Set your circumstances and requirements to be only what’s most important to you, make that achievable under even the worst circumstances, and then treat your resolution like a project that has multiple steps, goals, and milestones that are each attainable and add up to accomplish your year-long goal. Now that sounds like a solution.


Next, I’ll write about my resolutions and how they fit in these guidelines so I can make them happen.


  1. I’m going to do a bigger post on scope. If it’s confusing you, let’s chat about it. Get ahold of me at one of the link below. 

GORUCK GR1 Review

My trusty 5-year-old Crumpler messenger bag’s time had come. It served me well and is still in great condition but it was no longer suitable for my city-life needs. When I was introduced to the GORUCK GR1 it seemed to have everything I was looking for. It’s known for being well built. If it can stand up to the wear and tear of US Army Special Ops units, I probably wouldn’t have an issue with durability. It has enough room to be a high capacity daypack and would work for weekend adventures too. Well-placed pockets make for easy access and organization of my gear and sturdy outside straps allow even more stuff to be attached than the bag has room for. The specs matched up but only using it would I know if it fit well into my lifestyle.

GR1 For more photos, visit the GR1 Explained blog post.

Specs | Structure | Geometry | Fit

The GR1 is built out of Cordura which was initially developed for use in World War II. It’s a 26L ruck with a main compartment large enough for weekends away and a back compartment ideal for a MacBook or hydration bladder. All zippers are heavy duty and have pulls made out of 550 cord so they don’t make noise as you walk.

The Cordura material gives it insane durability (so much that there’s a lifetime guarantee with it) and also gives the bag added rigidity. I’ve used other backpacks like Jansports and daypacks like the MEC Alpinelite but found that even with cinch straps, they are floppy and saggy when not fully loaded. There is a plastic sheet fitted in the back compartment of the GR1 which acts as a frame to help hold its shape and sit well no matter the contents or weight.

The bag’s structure and geometry gives it a sturdy and ergonomic shape. It’s longer than most backpacks at 20” and has a shallow depth of 6.75” that keeps weight close to your back. The slightly curved geometry (as seen in this chart keeps the bag tight to your back during activity. The added length, in addition to the curvature, spreads weight across the entire back rather than staying higher on your shoulders like shorter, bulkier bags. Under heavy weight, like 35+ pounds, the curvature seems to help transfer weight into the lower back and hips just as an internally-framed hiking pack does. In this photo, I compare the bags position between what I comfortably wear daily and fully cinched (which is still pretty comfortable). The ruck is long enough to reach to my lower back even though I’m 6’5”. To get this ideal weight distribution, depending on your height, you’ll have to adjust the shoulder strap length slightly.

The sleek, black, low profile looks great but also helps in tight places like a packed rush-hour subway. Your gear stays out of the way of the sardine next to you.

Organization and Access

The GR1 has 5 pockets/compartments (not counting the Field Pocket, which I’ll talk about in a separate post):

The back-most compartment is for your MacBook (if you’re an urban survivalist) or a hydration bladder (if you’re an actual survivalist). The hard plastic sheet and firm padding on the back of the bag protects your machine and helps water bladders from bulging and being uncomfortable. The MacBook Air is so thin that I don’t even notice it when it’s stowed away and I’m sure a 13” or 15” MacBook Pro would be just as comfortable. The zipper for the laptop compartment zips across the top and halfway down the right side. It took some getting used to this system since you have to move the straps out of the way slightly to access the zipper but it’s not a problem. If you are constantly removing your laptop it might get annoying but it’s not an issue if you only need to access it a couple times a day.

There are two internal pockets and one ‘organizer’. The top inside pocket is a good size and perfectly positioned for easy accessibility. I use this pocket to keep my iPhone, Field Notes, and wallet whenever they aren’t in my jeans. The inside pocket makes me more confident that the contents are secure while maintaining just as easy access as an external pocket. The larger mesh pocket holds my geek gear like MacBook charger and spare cables, all neatly organized in a Grid-it, which I’ll save for another post. The last internal pocket/organizer (which is slightly different than pictured on the GR1 Explained blog post) would be great for holding file folders, an iPad if the laptop compartment is full, or as I use it, to organize some of the other gear I carry. I keep a small hand pump (in case of emergency since I bike most places), a small ultra-absorbent pack towel that I use to dry myself off after wet bike rides, and the MacBook charger extension cable to reach those awkwardly placed power outlets in coffee shops. The front-most zipper pocket I only use for my keys when I’m cycling since I don’t want to put them in the same pocket as my iPhone and scratch it up. The bag opens fully and lays flat, making organizing simple and packing efficient. It’s just as easy to get stuff out on the go as it is to pack. It would always be be frustrating (sometimes impossible) to get to items at the very bottom of a top-loading daypack without pulling everything out. The GR1 makes this a breeze. The bag’s design is incredibly functional and allows for ultimate accessibility.

The MOLLE (MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) straps on the inside and outside of the bag allow the addition of accessories (like the Field Pocket) or to easily attach webbing to tie gear down, or add carabiners.

Lifestyle Fit

The biggest reason I wanted to replace my old bag was that it couldn’t handle the change in daily use that came from moving to the city. Since biking is my main mode of transportation, I’m more likely to go longer days without returning home to pick things up or drop them off. I’ll often head to work in the morning, run errands at lunch, grab a coffee or food after work, then in the evening, go to the climbing gym without returning home. I need to be confident that my bag can handle everything I throw at it and stuff in it.

Urban cyclists often depend on their Timbuk2, panniers, or saddlebags to help with transporting items but the GR1 has worked well. I was worried about transitioning from a messenger bag to a backpack when cycling. I’ve been biking for years with a Crumpler messenger and thought the the weight distribution of a backpack would feel off. I actually like riding better with the GR1, even when fully loaded. Weight isn’t directly on a single hip and opposing shoulder like a messenger so (this is going to sound so hipster) when I skid-whip on my fixie (…told you) I feel I have way better mobility. Locking carabiners help to attach bags full of groceries to the GR1. When the weight on each side is balanced, grocery bags are easily transported with very little swaying or disruption, no matter the weight.

The GR1 is also a great companion for longer travels. I flew with it over the holidays and it was easy to stow and large enough to save my bacon. Many bags I’ve used don’t fit well under the seat in front of you making it necessary to stow the bag in the overhead compartments. If you’re stuck doing this, access to your stuff is a hassle mid-flight, especially if you’re in the window seat. The GR1 slides right under the seat and the handle makes it simple to retrieve, grab what you need, and slide it back under. When I was transporting 35 pounds of precious cargo—my vinyl records I was storing at my dad’s—the capacity and ability to pack efficiently helped me stay prepared. Most bags can’t even fit a few records without being crushed but the shape and form of the GR1 kept them safe and there was still enough room for me to pack a few necessities that I prefer to keep on my carry-on, just in case. It ended up my luggage didn’t arrive with my plane, so even though I was back home, I was living off the extra items I had packed in my backpack for a couple days until my bag was returned. These types of situations are when a great bag and being prepared really come through for you.

Is this bag worth the money?

Here’s the thing—this bag is not cheap. The GR1 is $295. Let me break down why this bag is worth the money for me and maybe a bit more generally, why I think spending good money on the right gear is worth it.

Versatility: To justify spending that much on a backpack, I need to know it’ll be able to go wherever I go. This bag is part of my daily life—it’s by my side all of the time. It has to have my back.1 For it to go everywhere with me it also needs to look good and fit in. Whether it’s working as a GHB or has clothes packed for a weekend getaway, this bag is going to fit acceptably in all but Black Tie occasions. 2 I’m confident that the GR1 will be able to handle its job gracefully and in style. That matters to me.

Dependability: The shoulder straps are rated for over 400 pounds and the bottom panel is made of 1050D Ballistic Cordura fabric which was created to stop bullets. The GR1 goes every where with me and whether or not I do, this bag is going to come out in one piece. My family or I haven’t always been in a position to buy “the best”. We are always appreciative and thankful for what we have but now that buying the best is an option (knowing that I’ll have to work hard to earn it), I’m able to understand the value in gear that will last and I can put my faith in. Buying quality rain gear has saved more than one adventure with my dad and brother from turning into a cold, wet, miserable time outdoors. Having faith in your gear means you can forget about it and free your mind to enjoy the ride.

Company Values: GORUCK as a company stands for things I believe in. Pushing people further than they believed was possible with the GORUCK Challenge, or standing behind “the highest standards of functionality, durability and style”, Jason and the GORUCK team understand honest hard work, adventure, and push people to seek that and appreciate it. I want to support them just as they’ve worked hard to build and support the gear that will help me on my adventures.

I highly recommend this bag based on those values and as I’ve mentioned before, if they match up with what matters to you, the GORUCK GR1 will be worth it for you too. Whether it’s a multi-tool, piece of software, or backpack, gear is meant to extend your own capabilities and when they are versatile, dependable, and look great like the GORUCK GR1, it becomes something more than just gear; it’s a tool that equips you to better drive adventure.


  1. Oh come on, that’s at least 30 bad-pun points. 

  2. If you have to wear a suit to work every day and anything less than a leather briefcase will get you laughed at, don’t buy this bag for a daily carry. 

Make Your SOPA Protest

Many sites like Google and Wikipedia are blacked out today in protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills. Many individuals are “taking action” by blacking out their Twitter avatars. If you want to do something productive to protest SOPA, and you’ve already called your local representative, you should write, draw, paint, photograph, record, publish, or make something wonderful and share it under Creative Commons license.

Media corporations have control over their copyrights and have the lobbying power to push things likes SOPA and PIPA through Congress. Changing your Twitter avatar won’t stop that. What you do have the power to do is create wonderful things. The more we make and share, the less in-demand are the types of media that are illegally pirated and endanger the open Internet as we have today.

Clippings in BBEdit

I’ve been learning new things about BBEdit ever since I started using it but this article pointed out something called Clippings and it is magical. I love TextExpander just as much as BBEdit but it doesn’t work well with text selections.

Here’s a great use-case for Clippings: I’m writing in Markdown (as always) and go back to something that I want to add a link to. In apps like Byword (which I also love) you can easily select the text and hit ⌘ + K. This will wrap the selected text in standard Markdown link syntax and put your cursor right where you need it to be. I wanted to do this just as easily in BBEdit. Sure, BBEdit supports scripting but I want something as easy to create and manage as TextExpander snippets and AppleScript is clunky. With Clippings, you use commands like #SELECTION#, #INSERTION#, #CLIPBOARD#, and whatever snippet text or code you want to build your clippings. The simple one I needed for wrapping text as a Markdown link is:

[#SELECTION#](#INSERTION#)   

My selected text will become the link title and the insertion point will be where I paste in my link. You could also use #CLIPBOARD# in place of #INSERTION# if you regularly copy the link you’re adding first.

To create a clipping, type out your clipping, select it, right-click, and “Save Selection As Clipping…”. Add it to a set and it’s ready to use by choosing it in the Clipping (the big C) in your menu bar. To add a keyboard shortcut to your clipping go Window > Palettes > Clippings, to see a list of your clippings. Select the one you want, and click “Set Key”. Your clippings will live in ~/Library/Application Support/BBEdit/Clippings/[setname] and you can simply add more clippings to this set by saving a new file in that folder.

I’m curious to hear your ideas for Clippings; let me know on Twitter. And if you’d like the clippings I’ve made and use for writing in Markdown, you can download them here.

Tolerances In Personal Goals

We’re three weeks into January and I’ve already failed in my resolutions. But I expected that. I outlined in Why Your Resolution Is A Lie some suggestions to build resolutions around and this framework accepted that there was going to be ongoing failure. You’ll suck at your resolutions for a while but hopefully they were designed to allow that and keep you motivated to continue.

Resolutions tend to have poor scope, don’t consider things out of your control, and are just poorly planned. I kept these things in mind while setting goals for this year and included tolerances so I can have bad days (or weeks) and still be able to get back on track with my goals.

This year, I want to improve my physical strength and endurance.

To work on physical fitness, I chose a basic training method and have measurable goals for this without getting a gym membership and becoming one of these guys. My scope wasn’t to be able to bench press X reps of X, but just to be more fit in daily activities and sports like climbing, and be able to handle myself if SHTF. I’m in OK shape but I know if I were to just show up at a gym and start lifting things I would be discouraged and instantly regret what I was doing.

Merlin Mann on Back to Work episode 50:

Narrowing scope is not the same as failing and giving up. Narrowing scope is a way of acknowledging reality and realizing you can’t do it all.

Setting scope for my goal of improving my physical fitness meant keeping to something simple: push-ups, sit-ups, and running. These are also very much in my control. No outside 1 forces will prevent me from doing some push-ups every morning, whether I’m traveling or broke. This simple routine can also be easily planned and has attainable goals and milestones. The Army Personal Fitness Test needs to be completed and passed by soldiers semiannually and is marked out of 300 points, a possible total of 100 points for each push–ups, sit-ups, and a 2 mile run. The APFT gave me a series of simple benchmarks to train against. First, just do each thing to determine my baseline score in that area, then set a goal for for each based on my current abilities, then improve enough to pass, and actually be good at each. These goals can scale and give me something to work at without depressing me and making me want to quit.

How am I doing at this so far? Well, it took me a week until I actually started regularly “training” and I’m still not doing it regularly. In a couple weeks, I’ve almost doubled my sit-up score to a passing grade. I’m struggling with push-ups, topping out at 30 reps in 2:00 for a score of 49. Those next 10 push-ups to get a pass seems like a huge feat, but I’ll keep trying. And that 2 mile run? Um, yeah. I’m scared of it. I’ve been working my way to it by first walking a 2 mile route to actually understand what I’m getting myself into and then I tried running until that ended at an exhausting result of 400 meters. I’ll be OK with clocking in at 22:00 and a score of 0 for my first 2 mile run. The end goal is to be able to pass the APFT every week, but that’s long way away.

There are some things I’m willing to tolerate to keep on track with this. I’m going to have lazy days where I won’t get out of bed on time and exercise in the morning like regular but I can always try in the evening or even tomorrow. I accept this and don’t beat myself up. I believe my willpower is strong enough that I can and will try again.

Tolerances permit me to fail and this permission means I don’t fear failure. I can maintain confidence when it inevitably happens and that keeps me from quitting. I’m learning that failing yesterday doesn’t make it more likely that I’ll fail at it again today. It’s my attitude that affects my results and that’s something I can control.


  1. At some point, I’ll talk about the heavy force of inner forces. 

Google: Product vs. Policy

On March 1st, as announced this week on their blog, Google’s new privacy policy will go into effect. They will be merging over 60 of their 70+ privacy polices into a single global policy that governs nearly all of their properties. I don’t think this change in and of itself is nefarious, so let me go into detail as to why, by March 1st, Google and I will have parted ways.

Let’s start with an overview of what the new privacy policy entails and why a privacy policy is intrinsic to Google’s success before we actually talk about my use of Google products, their value to me, and why ultimately I won’t be using them anymore.

Google’s new policy breaks down the privacy barriers between their own applications so that information they gather about you in one can be used in another. These fences between their properties used to mean that information, say, in an email was only used to provide relevant advertising in Gmail. Now, the data collected on any Google product can be used by any other Google product. The contents of emails will be used to influence the relevancy of a pre-roll ad on YouTube and having a vacation in Cancun in a calendar will increase the chances of ads for hotels and luggage close to that travel date. Google says that with this cross-suite information they can provide more targeted and relevant ads for you. Sounds great, if you like ads.

They also explain how this information is used to build a better understanding of your likes and interests and tailors search results based on your personal profile. If I search “Apple”, Google will be in a much better position after March 1st to know my interests and serve results for Apple.com rather than Wikipedia: Apple (fruit) based on search activity, site history, Google+ posts, Analytics on my blog, YouTube videos, etc. Again, sounds like a decent solution to a growing problem of relevant search results.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong from a privacy aspect in what Google is doing with their new policy. They are definitely being honest, making the policy understandable, and diligently notifying users of these changes. The updated privacy policy isn’t the problem, it’s Google utter reliance on this data for revenue that bothers me.

In Q4 of 2011, 96% of Google’s revenues came from advertising. This has been a trend for years and shouldn’t be a surprise. As a publicly traded company, Google is responsible to shareholders to increase profits year over year and they do this through farming your data and finding more places to serve you ads. Again, nothing wrong with that if you like ads. The inherent problem is that Google’s business is built around your data and their business model is to continue to collect as much of it as possible and show you more and more ads. They won’t radically spin off a section of the company to build something else that makes money, so to satisfy investors and shareholders, they only have one direction to go: after you. Even now, they’ve been able to maintain fairly good PR about their use of personal data but knowing their corporate duties in a capitalistic world, how much longer are you willing to bet your personal data on them skirting “being evil”?

It’s clear that the companies values are where they make their money. Over the last year, Google has focused more on building a better ad machine than making things their products better. When the executive team is making decisions where to focus Google’s insane amount of engineers, do you think they are going to put them on products that make 4% of profits or the 96% profit products? Google’s once great products start becoming mediocre, then will crumble while their personal profiling algorithms are shiny and strong.

You can see what happens when a companies core business and value is the products they create and they turn everything they’ve made right back into building better things. But that’s not Google. Google’s policies are the compass that guides them through the dangerous world turning a profit over people’s privacy and my trust in them is failing.

So while it’s still mostly friendly, I’m breaking up with Google. For years I loved Gmail and Google Calendar and was productive and happy using them. They often seemed to get a fresh coat of paint and useful features were added to Gmail Labs. I really valued being able to access a great suite of applications like Google’s from anywhere on the web. These were the days before I had an iPhone, back before super thin MacBook Airs and iCloud. Now I value something else. These devices I have with me all the time have solid email clients and new apps like Sparrow which have made email slick, productive, and easy to process. What matters to me more now than Gmail’s free, universally accessible web app is control.

My first step towards taking control of my email communications was over a year ago when I migrated all of my email to a personal @nickwynja.com address. At that time I was still OK with Google but I knew that if at anytime I needed to switch away from them I could take my email address with me and have a relatively painless transition. Part of this control I have now means I can invest my own time, money, and patronage to services that deserve it and will continue to invest back into their own products. Unlike Google, Fastmail makes their money by having a great email service and will grow their business by bettering their product. You may have noticed that I’m very deliberate in what I chose to spend money on, pay attention to, or choose to give my patronage, so for me, paying Fastmail to host my email is an investment into their product and a belief that my money will help them keep their service online and continue to build new features in the future. I value their ability to provide a great product, ask money for it, and stand behind it. Have you ever tried to get customer support for Gmail or Google Apps? We depend on email daily and now I’m confident that if I ever have issues I can easily file a tickets and ultimately have the freedom to take my business elsewhere. I’m not locked in anymore. As long as I own the domain, I can come and go to any email service as I please. I can even run my own mail server if I’m ever crazy enough to do that.

As Google’s focus moved away from investing into and growing their products, they became less valuable to me. The applications were getting less useful and more frustrating. Google made major changes to how they looked and worked in the name of simplicity when simplicity wasn’t what was going to solve my problems. Our paths diverged. Google started chasing money in a different direction than would make their software better and I became more interested in productive tools than putting up with ads. Even when they told me new things would be simpler and improve their services, I was aware of Google’s need for my data to make money and their continuing needing for more and more of that data to to hit business goals.

It was time I took control.


Nerds, you might be interested in how I went about migrating email and setting up restricted accounts to maintain some reluctant but necessary ties to services like Reader and Analytics. I’ll write about these steps so you can take control if you choose.

Update: Here’s an in-depth walkthrough of my Exodus from Google

An Exodus from Google

Deciding to move away from Google products was the easy part. Actually figuring out the process of migrating my communications to new services without taking myself offline is the hard part. Over the past couple of days I managed to do it so I’ve detailed the process in case you’d like to do the same. This solution won’t work for everyone. As I’ll point out, there just aren’t alternatives to some Google products so I had to make some concessions and just limit how much information I chose to make available to them. If you rely heavily on the Gmail web interface because you aren’t able to work at one machine all the time or use Google Docs endlessly to collaborate on personal projects, maybe the switch isn’t for you. I understand that Google’s suite may be really useful for you and by no means am I convincing you that you need to migrate. Based on my use, I was able to move my personal reliance and data away from Google.

My Previous Setup and Situation

I mainly used a Google Apps account setup with a custom domain. I also had a legacy @gmail.com account that I kept around and the odd email that would come in there would forward to my @mydomain.com account. Any other Google service I had an account for was attached to my @mydomain.com Apps account. The other Google products I used besides Gmail were Google Reader as a syncing service for Reeder on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, Analytics for my blog, and YouTube (since they require you to attach your username to a Google account). I don’t use Google Docs and I’ve been using iCloud/MobileMe to sync contacts and calendars across my devices.

There aren’t any good alternatives for Reader currently (and RSS isn’t dead) so I knew I would need to maintain an account to sync my feeds. I haven’t researched into an alternative to Analytics, though I would love suggestions, so I have to keep that account but plan to close it when I have something else set up. For YouTube, I just don’t think I can get around with having a username not be linked to a Google account, so I’m stuck there too.

The biggest thing I had to do was move 5+ years of email and my @mydomain.com address away from Google Apps without losing emails, my communication pipeline, or my mind.

Moving Email

This process will be different for everyone depending on their current setup and needs. I had my domain hosted at Netfirms but their service limited what I could do for setting up DNS for sub-domains so I had to add an extra step and move my domain to a new host before I could even start moving mail.

I decided to go with Namecheap for my domain hosting and Fastmail for email. These steps for setting up DNS and MX records will be general but since it’s the service I’m now familiar with—and recommend—I’ll walk you through migrating to Fastmail.

Domain

Transferring a domain can be a pain. It takes codes, confirmations, and a lot of waiting to get a domain to a new registrar so check into your current domain services to see if they can support what you need. All services will support MX records but I needed to set DNS for sub-domains so had to switch providers. I’m going to skip the domain transfer step so if you need to do that check your registrars support documents. Fastmail does their own DNS and MX record hosting, but I have some other things like a Tumblr on my domain and want to be able to have more options so I went with Namecheap.

I mentioned domains first because if you need to transfer, it’ll take some time. Get that started if necessary so it can propagate while you start with the heavy lifting.

Email Setup

I went with Fastmail. They come well recommended, have a solid feature set, and reliable uptime. A year’s service for Full + domain hosting is $39.95 a year. You can use this referral link to create your account if you’d like to help me save a few bucks. Create your account with whatever username and fastmail extension you want. We won’t really be using this much since you’ll have a pretty address like yourfirstname@firstnamelastname.com.

1. Set up Fastmail Virtual Domain and Alias

This is the starting point of connecting your Fastmail account to your domain. While you are changing these settings, your email will continue to flow to your Gmail account if you have Google Apps with a custom domain set up. Go to Options > Virtual Domains. Under Virtual Domain, add in your domain as yourdomain.com without www or http://. Save your changes so that your new domain will be available as a virtual alias. Add in a virtual alias (or several for whichever email address you want to receive mail at). Adding a * as the name will accept emails addressed to anything with @yourdomain.com. The target address that you want is the Fastmail address you created. Save again.

2. Set up Fastmail Personalities

Personalities will let you easily access your Fastmail account from other applications without having to set up aliases for sending and receiving mail from your desired address. Go to Options > Account Preferences > Personalities and create the personality with your desired main email address. Once it’s saved, make it your default personality with the button in the top right. Now your address will be recognized properly by outside applications.

3. Migrate mail

Let’s get started on moving your email into your Fastmail account since it’ll take some time to process in the background, especially if you have a lot of mail. Go to Options > Migrate Email. To pull in from Gmail, use the IMAP server smtp.gmail.com, your gmail address including the @gmail.com or @yourdomain.com and that email’s password. You want to use SSL, so check that box. Depending on what email you want to migrate, there are a few options here. Gmail is set up slightly different than standard IMAP systems, so if you’re picky about organization, take caution and follow my next steps. If you aren’t picky and just want everything in your Fastmail account so you can search for it, add [Gmail] into the Remote Server Prefix and click migrate. It’ll take a bit of time, but you’ll receive an email when it’s all done.

If you’re picky about organization, it’s a bit easier to do some setup on the Gmail side before migrating. We’ll do a combination of filters/labels on Gmail and some Smart Mailboxes in Mail.app after import to make our emails well organized. Gmail puts all of your mail, including incoming and sent mail into the aptly named “All Mail” folder. The problem occurs when you import both All Mail and Sent Mail. You’ll end up with duplicates of any email you’ve ever sent and if you use labels, you’ll end up with as many versions as the message has labels. Gmail uses the concept that a message can have many labels but Fastmail and any IMAP service believe that one version of the message exists for every folder (label) it’s in so if it has the label ‘Work’ and ‘Important’, it will create a duplicate and put it in your new work and important folder on Fastmail. I have a simple system where I just archive everything so it lives in All Mail. Let’s make that work while migrating to Fastmail.

To separate the email you received from the email you sent in Gmail’s All Mail, create a label and filter for every message that is To: you@email.com. Apply this to all messages in Google and your new label is essentially an archive of all mail sent to you. Let’s import this first. Use all of the same settings as above in Options > Migrate Email, but instead of using [Gmail] for the Remote Server Prefix, use just your Gmail label name, like Work. When you click Migrate, this will pull everything from your work label into your Fastmail inbox. Once it’s there you can select all of it and move it to your archive. I noticed when I moved this over some emails I sent made it into this folder so just searched for anything From: Nick Wynja and deleted it. Now I have a pristine folder called “Archive” where all past emails sent to me live. Next, you’ll want to import all emails you’ve sent. Go to Migrate Email again and put in [Gmail]/Sent Mail. This should move all of your sent messages into a new Sent Mail folder and once it’s done transferring, you’ll want to move them to the folder Fastmail already uses for Sent. Let’s leave it at that. If you have more labels you want to migrate, the best of luck to you.

4. Change MX records

You have everything set up now so that once you flip the MX switches with mail should filter properly into your Fastmail inbox. MX records direct your email so that anytime an email is sent to @yourdomain.com the records say that Fastmail is the one that’s dealing with your email and to give it to them. Once your email is directed to Fastmail, your virtual domain is recognized from your settings, and when the email’s address is recognized in your list of virtual aliases, it’s put in the inbox of whichever target you set. Check with your registrar for specifics on how to setup MX records but these are the settings you need to know about Fastmail. Set your @domain.com MX to point to in1-smtp.messagingengine.com. and in2-smtp.messagingengine.com.. Set the first one (in1) to a pref/priority of 10 and in2 to a priority of 20. If if asks for a TTL set it to 300. This is what my settings look like. When you save this, it’ll take some time, but you’re emails should start trickling into your Fastmail account.

5. Set up filters

Don’t forget to set up any filters that you may have had in Gmail to delete, forward, or tag incoming messages. You can do this in Options > Define Rules.

6. Set up Mail.app

You’re account should be behaving properly now and you’ll want to set it up with a great Mail client like Mail.app since they are so much better than web apps. Sparrow is another great client that I used while on Gmail but I’ve found that it doesn’t map great to IMAP services so I’ve gone back to the trusty (and greatly improved in Lion) Mail.app.

Go Mail > Preferences > Accounts and add a new account. On the first screen, add in your name, the email that you set as your default personality, and your Fastmail password. From account type, choose IMAP. The incoming mail server should be mail.messagingengine.com, username should be your Fastmail email address, such as username@fastmail.fm, not your personality. Be careful that you are using fastmail.fm and not fastmail.com as it won’t authenticate and you’ll be stumped as I was. Your Fastmail password should be auto-filled from the previous page. When prompted, use Secure Socket Layers and password authentication. For outgoing mail server, use mail.messagingengine.com again and your Fastmail (not personality) address and password. Clicking continue should set your account up.

Then there’s only one thing left to do to make it work smoothly. You’ll see in the sidebar the folders that you’ve imported and a few standards like Sent and Archive. Select a folder, like Sent, and in the menu bar choose Mailbox > Use This Mailbox For > Sent. Repeat this with Drafts, Trash, and Junk so that these sync properly with the server.

Setting up your iPhone or iPad is very similar. Go Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, then add an Other mail account. Use the same settings as above and your account should work. Once the account is created, go into the account in Settings, then go to Advanced. Under Mailbox Behaviors, choose the corresponding folders for Drafts, Sent, and Deleted just like you did in Mail.app.

You’re all set with email.

Now What About Those Other Google Services?

I still want to user Reader, Analytics, and YouTube so I need a Google account but I want to have strict control over it. To do that, I created a new sub-domain that I’ll use for this account. I created the sub-domain @g.mydomain.com and opened up a Google Apps account for this. Set up is pretty easy and since I want to be a dick and keep this account free of as much personal data as I could, I used Google’s headquarters in Mountain View as the address and phone number during signup. Once you’ve created your Google Apps account, you’ll have to verify your ownership of it. They’ll give you several options, but the one I went with since I’m not hosting a site or anything else with this domain is adding a TXT DNS record to my domain. Pay attention to the instructions for your DNS settings since it may just want you to put g as the host name rather than g.yourdomain.com. It’ll take a few minutes to propagate, but once it does, you should be able to verify you’re account.

Once you have, let’s lock it down. From the Google Apps dashboard, go to Organizations & Users (note their lack of attention to detail not using propert title text in the navigation elements), then Services. Here you have toggle switches for every possible Google service available and the option to turn it off for this account. I turned off everything but Reader, Analytics, and YouTube. Save this and then we’ll import the information we need into our new restricted account.

To export your Reader subscriptions, log into that account, go into Reader then Reader Settings > Import/Export and download the OPML of your subscriptions. In your new account, do the same thing but select the file you just downloaded but upload it. Don’t forget to go into your RSS readers and update to your new account.

For Analytics, all you need to do is log in from your old account and add your new account as an admin.

To link your YouTube account to your new restricted account, sign into YouTube using your old Google Account and unlink under Settings > Manage Account. First you’ll have to unlink the YouTube username from your current account, then you’ll have to log back in using your YouTube username and the password from the Google Account you just disconnected it from. Once you’re logged in it’ll prompt you to connect that username to your new Google Account and you’re set.

Now you have an account that you can use for the odd Google apps you need but it’s clean of your personal data.

Old Accounts

I haven’t yet brought myself to delete my old @gmail and Google Apps account yet, but I have until March 1st to do that. In the next few weeks, I’ll monitor the @gmail account for anything incoming (which there isn’t much) and either update those services to my new address or notify them of my new email. If there’s anything else in these accounts I need, I have a few weeks to think of it before Dooms Day on February 29 (Hmmm, it’s a leap year) when I complete my exodus from Google.

It’s taken a couple evenings worth of puttering around but I feel it is going to be worth it. Now I’m in full control of the services I use and my personal information. Fastmail is a solid email service which has some amazing features I’m now discovering and which works smoothly across my devices of choice. I’m still connected to a few Google services but in a way that I am confortable with. Google is free to continue “improving their services” with targeted advertising and I’m able to pay and support a service I find useful. I’m OK with that policy.

Fastmail Friendly With ifttt

Here’s something that you get with Fastmail that Gmail won’t let you do: forward emails without verification so that they work with services like ifttt.

I’d tried several work arounds between Gmail and ifttt to be able to email an attachment to dropbox@mydomain.com and have it redirected to triggers@ifttt.com. Even though I could set up a dropbox@mydomain.com email, Gmail would force me to verify I was allowed to forward to this address. This process entailed having a message sent to triggers@ifttt.com with a code or link I needed to click. I could set up a ifttt task to process incoming email as text documents, but the email would come from some random Google address that wouldn’t match the address my ifttt account used. I could never authenticate forwarding to triggers@ifttt.com.

With Fastmail, you don’t need to authenticate. Under Options > Define Rules > Forward, you can set up rules to redirect emails to other addresses, such as triggers@ifttt.com. Now, when I send an email with an attachment to dropbox@mydomain.com, the attached file will show up in Dropbox.

GORUCK GR1 Accessories

The only way you can make the GORUCK GR1 better is to add some solid accessories to it.

GORUCK Field Pocket

The GR1 Field Pocket is built for the GR1 and fits, as designed, on the MOLLE strapping inside of the bag. This puts it conveniently at the top of the bag and accessible with just a small opening of the main zipper. I use it to store EDC gear, a small First Aid kit, and basic bike tools. The pocket folds open with zippered compartments on each side making securing your tools simple. The large 550 cord zippers pulls make it easy to get in and out without looking or when you’re in a rush. This piece adds a great amount of functionality to the GR1 and highly recommend it if you have lots of small gear you carry daily.

Multi-tool Attachment

My dad gave me the incredibly useful Leatherman Wave multi-tool for Christmas and I wanted to find it a home in my GR1. Leatherman makes a MOLLE sheath that fits the Wave perfect and could sit right beside the Field Pocket . It’s attached to the bottom two rows of the GR1’s internal MOLLE grid and makes for an incredibly secure and easy to access for the many tasks that call for a great multi-tool.

Cable Management

Along with my assorment of EDC gear, I have all of my tech equipment that stays in my bag. Cables, chargers, and adaptors turn into a mess being loose in your bag and the famously Likehacker recommended Grid-It organizer is the perfect solution. I measured up the inside mesh pocket on the GR1 and the CPG7 model fits perfectly.

Carabiners

Attached to the outter side webbing of my GR1 are a pair of standard climbing locking carabiners that are ready to securly attach any gear to my bag. They are very useful for carry grocery bags when cycling but have many other uses.

Patches

Living in America is great and all but the hook and loop patch that lives on the outside of the GR1 is a great place to stand proud of my home and native land. I ordered one of these Canada flag patches in black/silver to live proudly on my ruck.

Customizing my GR1 with these accessories has made it incredibly useful for me and helps it stand strong along side me every day.