When someone asks something of me, I find it very difficult to say no. Sometimes it’s because I genuinely want to help, others because I feel obligated to say yes.
Too many times in my life I’ve let people down by failing to deliver on promises. More often than not, this is not for a lack of trying. It’s usually that I promise more time and energy than I have available.
This recently came up again when a friend introduced me to someone I’ve admired from afar for some time. My friend and this someone invited me to participate in a project they’re working on together and in my excitement to meet this someone, I agreed right away.
I had to send an email to this someone last week to let them know I was pulling out of the project (thankfully, he was forgiving and gracious and extended an invitation to rejoin their efforts if and when my schedule allows). If you’re a designer interested in blockchains and/or the music industry, do get in touch.
This reminder from Jason Fried that the pain of saying no is far less severe than the pain of failing to deliver on a promise strikes home with me. I want to ensure that the things I say yes to align with my ability to deliver.※
Just bought a new notebook to replace the one I filled in Uganda. Went with the charcoal Confidant by Baron Fig because the light gray doesn’t look very nice once it’s dirty and worn. Would love to find a notebook with similar qualities to the Confidant (opens flat, dot grid, sturdy construction) with a more durable cover.※
YYT ✈️ YYZ ✈️ YVR
After 6 long months, I am so ready to go home.※
EBB ✈️ AUH ✈️ LHR ✈️ YYT※
The Consulate of Canada to Uganda is a disgrace. The desks are full of brochures with web addresses that return 404 or 403 errors (including one asking for feedback regarding my service here), pamphlets for events that took place over 2 years ago, and a Japanese takeout menu. Every school brochure is dated 2016 or earlier. I even found a religious pamphlet for Seventh Day Adventists.
I’ve now been waiting for the Consular to return from her lunch which was to have ended two hours ago. Her office staff can’t reach her and have no idea where she is.
I’ve been waiting at the Consulate of Canada to Uganda for over an hour and no one has offered me a beer.※
Ugandan immigration prevented me from boarding my flight to Zambia yesterday. I think they were worried they’d miss my beard.※
Today is my last day in Uganda. Tomorrow, I fly to Zambia for a couple weeks, then I’m off to Newfoundland to go camping with my brother.
To say these last four and a half months have been amazing would be an understatement. I will miss the dear friends I’ve made since coming here, but am looking forward to the day when I can visit again.※
A nifty (and cleverly named) app that blocks websites on your iOS devices. Previously, I had been using parental controls to block Facebook and other time-wasting sites, however the controls were a bit cumbersome and overbearing for my limited needs. about:blank does exactly what I want, no more, no less.※
It’s so great to see a friend find his way back to the world of blogging. I have been a fan of Matt’s since the very beginning of One37 and was so grateful to have the pleasure of working with him on the redesign of Rye 51. Can’t wait to see what’s next, my friend.※
It’s an easy date to remember, July 7, 2014.
7 / 7 / 14
7 + 7 = 14
We discovered the mnemonic that night.
Each of us said our goodbyes a few days prior. The morphine drip had been increased consistently for a couple of weeks and had gotten to the point where it had sedated her completely.
The family had spent the evening going up to our parents’ bedroom to check on her, but by 10pm the nurse was the only one there. I don’t remember whether Dad had gone to bed, but my sister was in the family room while my brother and I smoked outside.
Around 11:30pm, my sister came bursting through the garage door. Her tears were a dead giveaway. After a four-year battle with mesothelioma, Mom finally let go.
The funeral home was notified and indicated they’d arrive in a couple of hours to collect the body. My family and I huddled around her bed, crying the first of many tears to be shed that week. We left her head uncovered until the funeral people arrived. It was shocking how quickly her body turned cold.
We wrapped her body in bed sheets and I kissed her head as we carried her out of the bedroom. She felt so light on the stretcher. The funeral people hopped in their white hearse and drove away into the night.
In an open window in Things 3 for Mac, start typing the name of a project and hit
Knowing what I post to Twitter now appears on my site’s homepage and in my newsletter has changed how I think about tweeting. Hoping for less noise and more signal.※
Prepping for the free @slack training session @ensibuuko is hosting at @hivecolab today at 3pm.※
My friend Mark recently passed along some advice I’ve been taking to heart of late. Looking at the wide breadth of problems we’re trying to solve at Ensibuuko, I was finding it difficult to determine where to focus my time and attention. The product we’re working on is a complex system that has to integrate into an even more complex financial system and be distributed using a network infrastructure that often fails to reach the customers of the product. None of the issues facing us are insurmountable, but each day we uncover more problems to be solved.
Mark heard the challenges we’re facing and shared an insight he had learned reading the work of Andy Grove: when you are looking at an ever-growing list of things requiring your attention and deciding what to focus on right now, pick the thing where your input will have the greatest impact. Or, as Grove puts it,
An activity with high leverage will generate a high level of output; an activity with low leverage, a low level of output.
How to determine high-leverage activities
At this point, it becomes a matter of deciding what thing I can do now that will generate the highest level of output. In a talk given to the Mayor’s Advisory Panel on Poverty in London, Ontario, James Shelley presented an overview of Donella Meadows’ thesis on ‘leverage points’ and illustrated how to apply the framework to systems that impact the level of poverty in a given region. The framework Meadows provides is designed to help determine where to intervene in a system, in increasing order of effectiveness and impact:
- Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards).
- The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.
- The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures).
- The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change.
- The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against.
- The gain around driving positive feedback loops.
- The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information).
- The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints).
- The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure.
- The goals of the system.
- The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
- The power to transcend paradigms.
Friend and designer, Adam Saint illustrated Meadows’ framework beautifully when describing how to apply her framework to the field of design:
The last item in Adam’s condensed framework — principles and values of a greater context — feels like it deserves the bulk of my time and attention.
Spending time making a decision about fonts and colours will have a nearly imperceivable impact on the success of the product; scouting and recruiting a local product designer who can make those and similar decisions while building a design language for our developers to use in the product: that’s high impact.
Trying to get a handful of network boosters shipped from China to be manually installed individually at each SACCO branch is going to have a linear impact based on the number of boosters we can order and install; building a tool that can influence where telecoms deploy network towers with location and population data: that’s high impact.
As someone who enjoys tinkering and making things look and work exactly how I envision them to, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. I’ve long resonated with the parable once relayed by Steve Jobs about the carpenter who puts the same amount of care into the hidden parts of a drawer chest that will never been seen as the rest of her creation. That’s taking pride in your craft. The challenge I face now is not how to craft a drawer chest but rather a process for building and distributing drawer chests, all while involving a number of outside parties and systems outside of my control.
Where do you intervene? Where in this array of interrelated, interdependent, codependent variables do you choose to try and make a difference?— James Shelley Writer & Friend
This framework is helping me prioritize the problems our company needs to solve while recognizing my time and attention can have drastically varying levels of impact depending on which lever I’m pulling.
Probably the single best decision I’ve made lately has been to delete the Facebook app and block the mobile site on my phone. I still sometimes check for notifications on my MacBook because I cross-post my Instagram photos, but CJ Chilvers is making me rethink that, too.
I still have the Facebook Messenger app because so many friends use it. Thankfully, there’s nothing there — aside from the totally ignorable stories — to mindlessly flip through. Now if I could only overcome my addiction to my Twitter feed…※
Just dropped my partner off at Entebbe airport. Today marks the beginning of our longest period apart since the first day we met. I miss you already, my love ❤️※
If there’s one thing I’ve learned today, it’s that I much prefer @expedia’s hold music to @united’s.※
Great news for security-conscious users of Day One, the journaling app for iOS and MacOS. Generating and saving the encryption key on iOS was quick and easy. Getting the newly encrypted journal into the Mac app was a bit less obvious. Rather than selecting an existing journal or adding a new one, you have to sign back into your Day One account and allow the app to sync before you can see and unlock your end-to-end encrypted journal.※
This humble site has seen a number of changes over the last few weeks. As more of my work of late has been focused on research, process, workflows, and strategy, I’ve been itching for ways to stretch my design and development muscles. Below is a summary of the work I’ve been doing to improve your reading experience and my publishing experience.
Ever since I lost my Kindle Paperwhite on the flight from Brussels to Entebbe, I’ve been doing the majority of my reading on my iPhone. This has served to emphasize one of my favourite design features of modern reading apps: night mode.
Leaning on the work of Chris Coyier, I first added a simple function which changes between light and dark themes depending on your computer’s local time. Thanks to SASS, I can produce as many colour themes as I’d like just by changing a few variables.
sessionStorage, I’ve added the ability for you to override the time-based theme to suit your own preference. I’m storing your preference in
sessionStorage so it will reset the next time you visit this site.
You can have a look at how I’m doing this thanks to…
Public Github Repo
I’ve learned everything I know about design and development through experience and the generosity of others. Just last night I was having a conversation about viewing the source code of my favourite sites to see how they’re made. I did this back when I first started in design and still do to this day.
On a few occasions I’ve published some tips and tricks here on the site, but recently I’ve been thinking about how I could share even more. Of course one option is to continue writing and publishing what I know and I certainly intend to do so. However, I realized recently that by opening up the entire codebase for my site to the public, anyone can have a look under the hood and learn from both my successes and my mistakes.
Since its inception, this site has been my playground for learning and experimentation. By opening up the code for you to see, my hope is you will be inspired to follow a similar path.
The dozen or so of you who subscribe to my feed may have noticed an increase in posts from me this past week. This is due to the recent addition of micro posts, small title-less musings that fall between longer-form posts like this one.
Back when I used ExpressionEngine to publish this site, I used to have a section called “asides”. These were always links to other sites with a bit of personal commentary. At times these links were interspersed with the long-form posts, other times they lived on their own page. Currently, the new micro posts only live on the homepage of this site.
The way I’ve designed the new micro posts makes linking to other pages optional. While some may link out, others will feel more like a tweet. Until Manton Reece’s new service, Micro.blog opens to the general public, I’m using IFTTT to post these to my Twitter feed.
Probably the best part of adding these short-form posts to the site has been the inspiration to finally find a solution to a problem I’ve faced for almost 5 years now, which was…
Publishing from my iPhone
When I had finally had enough of ExpressionEngine, I started publishing to Tumblr for one very simple reason: it was the only way (outside of using WordPress) I could see to publish from my iPhone.
While the Tumblr app is a great app, I’ve always struggled philosophically with the fact that Tumblr is a hosted service. This means someone else could shut it down or repurpose its content for nefarious purposes at any time without my consent. If the recent del.icio.us announcement is any indication, it’s not unreasonable to foresee Yahoo-owned Tumblr suffering a similar fate.
Eventually, this philosophical divide felt more important than the need to publish from my phone. At the same time, I had become far more comfortable working in terminal and decided to publish my site through Jekyll.
The transition from Tumblr to Jekyll happened over a year ago. While I’ve enjoyed publishing via the command line on my computer, the nagging desire to publish directly from my phone never waivered.
My first attempt at solving this problem was to use Siteleaf, a cloud-based platform for publishing static websites. Siteleaf provides users an online dashboard — similar to the WordPress dashboard — that allows you to publish posts and pages to a Jekyll site using a beautifully designed GUI.
As great as this experience is on a desktop, the only option for publishing through Siteleaf on mobile is though the mobile web app. Having to wait for the web app to load and not having the ability to draft posts offline made this solution untenable on the phone.
My optimal solution is to use a native app (or apps) to publish to my site. After a bit of research, I found Kirby Turner’s method of posting to Jekyll from his iPhone to be a good place to start. Kirby uses Editorial to write his posts and Editorial Workflows to publish to his site through Working Copy, a git client for iOS.
I downloaded Editorial to see what it was like and have really enjoyed writing this post in it. However, Editorial is a bit too cumbersome when I want to post a micro post. To me, those are more like tweets and should take far less time to compose than is required by Editorial.
Drafts is an app that gives you a blank sheet each time you open it. It’s the quickest way I’ve found to go from having an idea to jotting it down so as not to forget and I’ve used the app for this purpose for several years.
Posting micro posts felt exactly up Drafts’ alley, so I adapted Kirby’s approach by using Drafts to write, Workflow to run the post through a series of actions, and Working Copy to commit the post to my git repo. While publishing the post isn’t quite as quick as tweeting, it feels really good to know my content is going to a place I own and control.
Much like the last time I added short-form posts to my site, this time has necessitated the need for new RSS feeds. This was also the perfect opportunity to familiarize myself with the new JSON feed format by Manton Reece and Brent Simmons.
Head to the new Subscribe page to see all of the feed options available as well as an option to receive a weekly digest via email.
Back to blogging
Around this time last year, I was beating myself up for not writing as often as I would have liked. I said I was going to start publishing once a week which was a foolish thing to say. I was and am still a ways away from being able to maintain that kind of pace.
But, I’m feeling more motivated than ever to write and publish thanks to the effort I’ve put into making this site a better place for you and for me.