Superorganizers

As part of a series called superorganizers, entrepreneur Dan Shipper has been talking to people about how they do their best work. Last week, I sat down with him to talk about the tools I use to track, capture and organize things in my life. You’ve heard me talk before about self-tracking and the Quantified Self, my personal API and my love for Asana. But we also got into something I do that I haven’t shared before: keeping a commonplace book.

In the interest of personally capturing it, I’ve put the whole interview here on my blog as well.

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Welcome to another issue of superorganizers! We explore how the smartest people in the world organize what they know to do their best work.

If you’re not a subscriber, you can get more interviews like this in your inbox by clicking here.

Naveen keeps track. 

For a while, he had a personal API project where anyone could access basic stats about him like how many hours he slept at night, and how much he weighed in the morning. 

For over a decade, he’s been recording quotes, and images, blog posts, and articles in a digital commonplace so he can always find them later if he needs them. 

He even tracks his family life: recording everything from packing lists, to gift ideas, to potential family outings in an Asana he shares with his wife.

But this theme of tracking extends far beyond his personal life, it also extends to his life’s work.

In 2009 he co-founded Foursquare, the original location-based social network that allowed users to track places they visited. It’s now a $100mm a year behemoth with more than 300 employees. 

In 2015, he launched Kit to allow creatives to keep track of their favorite products, and sold it to Patreon

Now a partner at startup-studio Expa, he’s a peripatetic entrepreneur, hanging out at friends’ offices while he looks for his next thing. (He keeps track of that too, logging people and meetings in a personal CRM he’s created in his Asana.)

He’s cool, in a subtle and compelling way. He speaks softly and carefully, curating sentences like every thought could be permanent. 

Because for someone who tracks things like Naveen, in a way, they are.

We sat down to chat about this theme of tracking in his life, and explore the systems he uses to start companies, and manage his family life.  

In this interview we cover:

– How he uses tracking to set and adhere to goals

– How he keeps a digital commonplace to record things that inspire him

– How he uses his Apple Watch to keep fit, and Streaks to keep his habits up

– What he does when he falls off the wagon

– How he balances his commitment to his family with his work 

– His addiction to Asana to help him plan his personal life and his work life

– The personal CRM he’s built to help him find his next project

Let’s dive in!

Naveen introduces himself

My name is Naveen. I’m an entrepreneur that has started a few companies in the past, including company called Foursquare. Presently I’m a partner in a startup studio called Expa.

I’ve been working in the tech world for almost 20 years now, starting with a couple of big companies way back in the past, like Lucent and Sun before I got into startups. 

When he started tracking things about his life

A lot of these concepts started way back in college, for me, with tracking books. 

Basically, I realized I wasn’t reading enough. I wanted to read more, and I wanted more diversity in my information diet. So I set a goal that I wanted to read 10,000 pages in a year. 

Back then I was just crudely tracking everything in Excel. And I just kept a log of books that I read, interesting passages, even ratings for the books. 

Doing this type of tracking helped me understand how I was doing relative to that goal. So that’s what was valuable about it for me.

But it’s not just about being goal-oriented, there’s another motivation too. I came up in a time when everything was digital, you know. And if everything is digital, and storage is nearly free, and cameras are making it easier to capture everything — I thought, why not just capture everything? It might be useful in the future; you never know. 

So that’s what I started to do. I even kept an archive of my old emails and stuff. Before Gmail existed, our email existed on various servers, and I would just download and keep it because you never know when you’re going to need it or want to look back on it.

He uses a digital commonplace book to keep track of what he reads

I use a commonplace book to keep track of interesting things I come across. It’s an idea that has been around for centuries now. 

My commonplace book is a private WordPress blog just for myself. And that’s where I’ve been capturing snippets of things: quotes, PDFs that are interesting that I might read, a sign that I saw somewhere that’s interesting but wouldn’t post to Instagram, things that I might have heard at work, you know. All that’s got to go somewhere. So I capture it in my commonplace. 

It’s got a live URL, but I don’t share it. I’m not sure how to deal with it. I’ve been asking myself, Should I share it? Should I not? So I’ve just kind of kept it private for now. Someday I might do something with it.

But it’s basically a very simple WordPress blog. I don’t need it to be fancy, right? There’s nothing complicated that needs to go here. I kind of want to redesign the theme a little bit so that actually see the tags and or search on the right side. But for now I just want to capture. 

This is a poem that my wife actually found. She read it at her friend’s wedding this past weekend. This Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote it, and it’s definitely shot to top ten best poems on my list. I was like, “How have I not heard this before?” So if I find something like that, I have to keep it.

The beauty of WordPress is that you don’t have to overthink it. It’s open source. They’ve been around for 16 years, they’re probably going to be around for another 16 years. 

Whenever I use a tool like this I’m asking myself, are they going to be around? Is the datacenter going to be around? What is the data format? Who else is seeing my data?

I know WordPress is probably overkill for what I’m trying to do here. But it works. So why overthink it? 

He uses Pinboard as a link-based commonplace

The other thing I’ve been doing along those lines is collecting links into a central place. 

I’ve been doing this for a long time, since 2005. I started with del.icio.us, but right now I use Pinboard. It’s my link-based commonplace. It’s just an easy enough way to log whatever I come across.

I even have it set up to actually auto capture links from my Twitter as well. So anything I tweet or capture snippets of on Twitter automatically gets captured here. 

So using Pinboard I can go back to all of these old areas of my life, and see them. 

I used to work at a startup that got acquired by Sony way back in the day. So I can go back can see all the projects I worked on, interviews I did, the patent we had back then in 2005. All this stuff is just logged here going way, way, way back.

Part of the reason to use it is, you know, we’ve been on the web for what, 25-30 years, right? How many of the URLs that were around 10 years ago are still around? There are so many great sites from the past are just gone. Where are they now?

So Pinboard is my solution to that because it actually saves a snippet of the web page for me. So even if the original page goes away, I can still find it.

He collects startup knowledge into a playbook

The other thing I do is I have a playbook of startup knowledge that I collect. 

Some of that is actually public on Pinboard. So, you know, anything I learn about entrepreneurship, building startups, VC stuff, essays or anything that other people have written, actually go here. 

So if you actually go to the tag, playbook, you can see everything I’ve saved about startups.

I’ve been thinking about making the rest of it public, so you can see everything in my commonplace that’s playbook related. But I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

On what he goes back to look at

I keep a lot of quotes in here that are things I’ve heard from people I know. It’s not just famous people, it could be advice that was given in a particular moment that was said in just the right way. Sometimes you’re having a difficult moment, and there’s a one-liner that really stands out. Those things are captured here, and sometimes I’ll go back and look at quotes like that.

One of my most favorite things that someone said to me a long time ago, “Write your own story before someone else does.” A friend of a friend said it, and it’s something that I’ve gone back and looked at, and even shared with other people. 

So having it captured in my commonplace helps me make sure that I don’t forget it, and helps me go back and look at it when I need to, or share it with someone else if I want to. 

How he uses the Apple Watch to encourage his fitness

One thing I do is just close my rings on the Apple Watch. Really simple. I got it, I think, a week or two after we had our son. You don’t get a chance to do much except stay at home to take care of the baby, so I got really into closing the rings every day, or trying to. 

I think it just makes it fun and it just sends you light reminders towards the end of the day. I’ll be about to go walk the dog, and it says, “Hey, you have 150 calories to go. Just go on a fast walk with the dog and you’ll close the ring.” And that’s really helpful for me to stay on track.

It’s also just helpful now that we have a baby, because I can do things without a laptop or a phone. Often, I’m holding the baby so I can’t get to the phone. Or I don’t want him to see the phone, because I’m very conscious about being around the screen when he’s there in the room. And the Watch makes that much easier to do.

He uses Streaks to help him build habits

Another app I’ve loved more recently is called Streaks. I think I heard about it from Justin Kan

Streaks helps me keep habits. So it’s helpful for my wife and me because we’ve been trying to keep to a vegetarian diet, and trying not to drink. I’ve also been trying to floss and read books every day. The goals I’m focusing on change every few months, and Streaks just provides a simple checklist at the end of the day to make sure I’m on track.

It’s helpful because you just go in the app and check it off, and it records how many days in a row you’ve done the habit. And it does the same thing as the Apple Watch where, at the end of the day, it says “Hey, did you floss your teeth? Did you read 15 minutes today?” And it helps keep me on track.

It costs $5 in the App Store, and it’s so beautifully designed. Totally worth it. 

What he does when he falls off

I drop off all the time. I think the key is to just not let it stress you out too much. It’s going to happen. You can’t always be super perfect. 

Just make sure to get back on the next possible day. Otherwise you’re just overthinking everything. 

I think I’m leaning more on the routine now than ever before. I’ve always been kind of an early morning, get up, get into the groove, get the day going kind of person. Then we got a dog and you have to be even more disciplined. And then we had a baby, and you have to be even more disciplined with your time. 

It feels like, okay, we only have 24 hours, right? Everyone else needs your time. So you have to have a routine. But within that routine you’re like, okay, I forgot to eat vegetarian today. Okay, great. No big deal. Just start over again. 

I think it’s important to have a routine. But I think if you’re too strict, then you’re just not having fun, right? 

How having a family affects his priorities

After I got married, got a dog, and had a kid, I felt simultaneously like, Oh my god I don’t have any more time left. But also at the same time weirdly, I was like, wait a minute, what was I doing before? 

You realize that you wasted so much time before. And now I’ve filled my life with all this love. Now I have less time, but I’m like, wow, we have a unit. 

We have our own family of four. A wolf pack of four. There’s something great about it. It’s weird, I can be in both mindsets: oh my god, I just don’t have enough time to get work done or, you know, clean the house. 

But at the same time, have this feeling of, this is just glorious.

There’s really so much time. 24 hours really is a lot of time to get things done if you use it right.

Why he picked Asana for todos and task management

I am a huge fan of Asana. A lot of people probably use Asana in a work context, but I started using it first actually in a personal context, and then I started having my teams work with it.

I use it because I think it will stick around forever, you know. The idea that our todos are going to go away when a company shuts down; that’s weird. 

Asana feels like a solid choice because it’s built by an ex-Facebook team led by Dustin Moskovitz and they have enough money that they’re going to be around for a long time. They’re going to build it in the right way. So I have more than enough confidence and trust to put everything in there. So that’s why I chose it in the first place and now I’m really addicted. 

It’s also great because I can use one tool. If I think of something right now, I just launch one app. And then I say, is this for work or is it for personal, or is it for something else? It all goes in the same app. So that’s why I really love it. 

I use it with my wife, and we have a project for the baby, and we have a project that’s for us. We use it to help keep track of all the things that we need to share, and talk about, and do. 

So when I’m on the go, whatever I’m doing, I just go here and boom, boom I can input whatever the todo is. Then later on, I can catalog it into projects and teams. 

He uses Asana to organize his personal life

DIESEL is a codename we have for our family. So DIESEL has a board, and anything related to the family goes in here. 

Anything from, we have to get flu shots to we have to buy gifts for our friends and family.

We also have a board for the baby. So, if we think of any interesting ideas they’ll go in here for review later. 

For example, here’s a great idea: there’s a holiday train show at the Bronx Botanical garden that we might want to go to – someone told us about this in passing. So we just log it in the baby project in Asana and then when the time comes we can come back and go see it.

It’s gotten to the point in my addiction to Asana that when we go away on a trip, I’ll actually create a project for the trip. Sounds crazy. But it’s a checklist of like, “Make sure you bring these 17 things for the baby.” Because if we miss one, life is going to be a bit harder on the road.

My friend Eric Friedman actually equated leaving the house with a baby to be almost like going to space: you have to bring all the backups, you have to bring your own oxygen, and you have to bring the duct tape.

And so I have it all saved as a template, so I don’t have to type it every time. I’ll clone the template for each trip and then make some modifications depending on where we’re going. 

And it’s so useful because, you know, I’m going away at the end of the week and I don’t want to wake up on a Thursday morning at 7am and try to remember everything. This helps me make sure you don’t forget anything. 

It’s like that scene in Home Alone where she leaves Kevin at home. And then she’s in the air and she realizes she forgot him: “KEVIN!!

That’s what this helps me avoid. 

Using Asana to find his next project

I’m actually in between ideas right now looking for the next interesting thing to build. And we don’t have an office for a couple months while we’re moving into a new space. So I’m using this time to just wander in different neighborhoods, get into collisions with other people, get excited about new ideas. 

So what I’ve been doing is I actually created this Asana project called, Pipeline Next. It’s an extension of my Asana CRM, nicknamed Pipeline, of great people I know or want to meet. 

So these are about a hundred or so people that I’m either touching base with, or getting intros to, and just jamming on ideas with.

And Asana is good for this because it’s not overkill. I can put everything in here, and just keep it simple. It’s not a perfect CRM replacement, but it does the job of tracking, which is all I need.

Using systems to respond appropriately under stress or time crunch

I think I started writing stuff down because I knew I was going to forget.

And the busier you are at work or the more stressed you are the more important this is. I’ve definitely been in moments where the amount of stress is so crazy that you don’t even remember what you talked about an hour ago. So I think these are habits that I picked up in moments like that. 

The second thing is I’m now a head of household – the team lead.

The dog isn’t going to pack his own stuff. Someone else has to do it. And knowing that I don’t have a good memory or I can be stressed in that moment, and I’m going to forget something, these are systems to help prevent that. And prevent the additional headache that comes with it.

At the end of the day you do forget stuff anyway, and that’s okay. I’m sure almost every trip I’ve forgotten something. This is not foolproof. But with a system you probably forget, you know, half as many things instead of all of them.

I got inspired by one of my favorite short books, the Checklist Manifesto. And it just reminds you that whatever you’re doing, whether it’s packing for a trip, or flying a plane, or preparing for surgery, these basic little systems can help. Make a checklist to make sure you’re doing the right things in the right order. 

Using iBooks to save PDFs

Recently, I started using iBooks to save PDFs. Just decks or research papers. I realized that there’s no good, easy tool for saving and browsing PDFs. There are a couple of crude open-source tools out there, but I’ve found that iBooks captures everything that I’d want to refer back to and has pretty good search – and works on mobile. 

For example, this is an article by Gay Talese at the New York Times about one of the first dog walkers. It’s this guy Jim Buck who used to walk dogs in New York City back in the day. Look at him, dressed all nice.

I wanted to send this to my dog walker, and so I pulled the PDF. Then I saved it here. 

And I have it now because this is going to be hard to find in the future, I think. So now I have it locally on my computer, and I can always find it easily.

The things that Google doesn’t see

I have a concept that I like to call ‘The things that Google doesn’t see’. Companies like Google and Facebook, they’re seeing all of the things we’re posting on social media, the stuff we’re posting on our blog, stuff that we’re getting out in to the world. 

And they make all of this stuff searchable, it’s already out there. But I think a lot about the things Google doesn’t see. For example, it doesn’t see my commonplace book.

But what would happen if we made all of that stuff searchable? 

One tool that’s starting to do this is called FYI. It’s built by Hiten Shah, and I love, love, the stuff that Hiten does. 

It lets you search through all of your cloud files like, Drive, and Dropbox, and Evernote with just one tool. But what I particularly love about it is that they’ve built into the new tab flow of Chrome. 

So every time I open a new tab, I can instantly search through all of my files without having to click anything. It’s very convenient.

Picking simple tools

Basically, my philosophy on everything I use is to pick the simplest, easiest, tool for the job. It’s sort of like, “the best camera is the one you have with you.”

You could spend forever and ever thinking about how to optimize to the right feature-set and this and that. But at the end of the day, you don’t even know if the tool is going to stick around. You don’t know who’s going to update it.

That’s why I’ve said, for the most part, “Okay, let’s not over think this. We don’t need to use any fancy tools. Let’s just use Pinboard. Let’s just use WordPress. Let’s just use Asana. 

They each have a lot of features I won’t use, but that also means I won’t be reaching to find a particular feature when I need it most.” 

Book Recommendation: The Whole Earth Catalog

One of my favorite books actually is not really something I would recommend you sit down and read end to end, but it’s still great. It’s the Whole Earth Catalog

If you go back and do the research, it’s amazing how many people it’s touched and inspired. It inspired Kevin Kelly to go do the stuff you see with Wired Magazine, and then inspired him to go do his project called Cool Tools (which also became a large printed book in a style similar to the Whole Earth Catalog). 

And of course, it inspired Steve Jobs. That line from his commencement speech, “Stay hungry; stay foolish,” came from the last page of the 1974 Whole Earth Catalog.

More broadly, it just touched a lot of people in the Valley. It captures California culture, it captures tech. We needed those types of minds, and that type of craziness. 

And it’s called the Whole Earth Catalog because when it was published in the late 60s, it was during the time when we first went to space. That’s the first time we actually looked at the Earth in its totality with our own eyes.

So it’s this idea that there’s only one Earth. We have to take care of it.

So that’s what’s interesting to me about it.

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What I’m reading

A few reads for your weekend.

The One Device [book]

The story of the iPhone and how it came to be and a story that is two decades in the making. The retirement of Ive from Apple earlier this year marked a turning point: he was the last executive from the original iPhone team to leave the firm.

Insta Novels

In August 2018, Instagram followers of the New York Public Library were tapping through their Insta Stories when something unexpected showed up: the full text of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, designed for a small screen, with small animations that brought the story to life as you flipped.

“Anywhere people want to read is fine by us,” says Richert Schnorr, the director of digital media at the NYPL. “We’re happy to meet people where they are.”

Four Years in Startups

San Francisco was tipping into a full-blown housing crisis. Real-estate brochures offered building owners enticements to flip. “Hi, neighbor!” they chirped. “We have considered and ready buyers eager to invest in your neighborhood.” There was a lot of discussion, particularly among the entrepreneurial class, about city-building. Everyone was reading “The Power Broker”—or, at least, reading summaries of it. Armchair urbanists blogged about Jane Jacobs and discovered Haussmann and Le Corbusier. They fantasized about special economic zones. An augmented-reality engineer proposed a design to combat homelessness which looked strikingly like doghouses. Multiple startups raised money to build communal living spaces in neighborhoods where people were getting evicted for living in communal living spaces.

There was a running joke that the tech industry was simply reinventing commodities and services that had long existed. Cities everywhere were absorbing these first-principles experiments. An online-only retailer of eyeglasses found that shoppers appreciated getting their eyes checked; a startup selling luxury stationary bicycles found that its customers liked to cycle alongside other people. The online superstore opened a bookstore, the shelves adorned with printed customer reviews and data-driven signage: “Highly rated: 4.8 stars & above.” Stores like these shared a certain ephemerality, a certain snap-to-grid style. They seemed to emerge overnight: white walls and rounded fonts and bleacher seating, matte simulacra of a world they had replaced.

Software margins

If the product is software and thus can produce software gross margins (75% or greater), then it should be valued as a software company.

If the product is something else and cannot produce software gross margins then it needs to be valued like other similar businesses with similar margins, but maybe at some premium to recognize the leverage it can get through software.

Navigating NYC schools

The mood of meritocracy is anxiety—the low-grade panic when you show up a few minutes late and all the seats are taken. New York City, with its dense population, stratified social ladder, and general pushiness, holds a fun-house mirror up to meritocracy. Only New York would force me to wake up early one Saturday morning in February, put on my parka and wool hat, and walk half a mile in the predawn darkness to register our son, then just 17 months old, for nursery school. I arrived to find myself, at best, the 30th person in a line that led from the locked front door of the school up the sidewalk. Registration was still two hours off, and places would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. At the front of the line, parents were lying in sleeping bags. They had spent the night outside.

I stood waiting in the cold with a strange mix of feelings. I hated the hypercompetitive parents who made everyone’s life more tense. I feared that I’d cheated our son of a slot by not rising until the selfish hour of 5:30. And I worried that we were all bound together in a mad, heroic project that we could neither escape nor understand, driven by supreme devotion to our own child’s future. All for a nursery school called Huggs.

Apple Maps’ expansion

Beautifully tracked progress of Maps’ latest updates in the U.S.

Working [Caro’s latest; excerpt]

I will never forget that night. It was the first time I had ever gone through files. The official met me at the front door and led me to a room with a conference table in the middle, and, on the table, high stacks of file folders. And somehow, in a strange way, sitting there going through them, I felt at home. As I went through the memos and the letters and the minutes of meetings, I could see a pattern emerging, revealing the real reason that the agency wanted the field to become a civilian airport: executives of corporations with offices on Long Island, who seemed to be quite friendly with the F.A.A. officials, wanted to be able to fly in and out of Long Island on their company planes without the inconvenience of having to drive to Idlewild or LaGuardia. I kept looking for a piece of paper on which someone came right out and said that, but I didn’t find one; everything I could find talked around that point. But between all the pieces of paper I found sentences and paragraphs that, taken together, made the point clear.

There are certain moments in your life when you suddenly understand something about yourself. I loved going through those files, making them yield their secrets to me. And here was a particular and fascinating secret: that corporate executives were persuading a government agency to save them some driving time at the expense of a poor kid getting an education and a better chance in life. Each discovery I made that helped to prove that was a thrill. I don’t know why raw files affect me that way. In part, perhaps, it’s because they are closer to reality, to genuineness—not filtered, cleaned up, through press releases or, years later, in books. I worked all night, but I didn’t notice the passing of time. When I finished and left the building on Sunday, the sun was coming up, and that was a surprise. I went back to the office, and before driving home I wrote a memo on what I had found.

Change of space, change of pace

After five years, I moved out of our SoHo office, 13 Crosby. There was a part of me that didn’t want to, but sometimes you have to shake things up a bit – get a change of pace and perspective. So, we’re going to take a bit of a break from a dedicated space and start exploring ideas in new ways.

As we got closer to the end of our lease, everyone, including me of course, went through their own rollercoaster of emotions. That’s what happens after five years of work in a home away from home. Colleagues, alumni, nearly everyone from our now extended network of 270 people (or so our Slack says) reached out to share an anecdote or something they loved and they’ll miss about it. One friend summarized it best: “That office touched and supported so many! Thank you for you and it supporting me on my own entrepreneurial journey.” No matter how you came through this space, it has no doubt helped shape some part of your work and your future.

We will get another space at some point soon, but in the meantime, I’m trying to get into the open-ended nature of remote work. I think the change of place, the bumping-into-people-in-new-neighborhoods, the serendipity will lead to big, new ideas.

I’ve been hopping between different startup offices. Ideally, I’d like to try to pick a spot that I can hang out in for a week or so (and set up meetings and all that around it for the week). In return, I’m going to try to help the startup there if I can and if it can also help inspire new ideas, then all the better. If you have a startup or founder I should hang with, hit me up! And yes, I’ll leave SoHo. 🙂

Above, an overhead shot of our office.

What I’m reading

Always have to love an interview with Matt from WordPress – and WP picking up Tumblr (which I was very active on from the very beginning: first as a links-blog, then as a photoblog).

Got to spend a bit of time with Om this week while he was in town and we caught dinner at Chez Ma Tante.

WordPress x Tumblr and the open web

I want to create a place on the web, which is fun and supportive and substantial. You’re an old-school web user. At one point, blogging had a real magic to it. A frisson. You’d have blog rolls and links and people would follow and comment and you’d keep up with things and it was a really, really nice social network. But it also was totally distributed and people had their own designs, and all those sorts of things. I think we can bring some of that back and reimagine it in the mobile world which is where Tumblr is also super strong.

Got to see Om in New York in the Summer

Back in my (current) hometown, I saunter. Here, like a pitcher who suddenly finds a reserve of energy in the middle of the season, my pace picks up. I smell the summer as I move. You know the smell of New York: a heady blend of stench from the gutters, cigarette smoke, and sidewalk stalls selling everything from hotdogs to kebabs. It’s the strong smell of hustle. And apparently, the Mayor has declared Le Labo Santal 33 the official fragrance of the season.

Neil Young

If you want to envision how Young feels about the possibility of having to listen to not only his music but also American jazz, rock ’n’ roll and popular song via our dominant streaming formats, imagine walking into the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Musée d’Orsay one morning and finding that all of the great canvases in those museums were gone and the only way to experience the work of Gustave Courbet or Vincent van Gogh was to click on pixelated thumbnails.

But Young hears something creepier and more insidious in the new music too. We are poisoning ourselves with degraded sound, he believes, the same way that Monsanto is poisoning our food with genetically engineered seeds. The development of our brains is led by our senses; take away too many of the necessary cues, and we are trapped inside a room with no doors or windows. Substituting smoothed-out algorithms for the contingent complexity of biological existence is bad for us, Young thinks. He doesn’t care much about being called a crank. “It’s an insult to the human mind and the human soul,” he once told Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune. Or as Young put it to me, “I’m not content to be content.”

The tigress T-27

For centuries, Indian nabobs and the British elite hunted tigers for sport; an estimated 80,000 tigers were killed between 1875 and 1925 alone. By 1972, when Indira Gandhi outlawed hunting and began setting aside land for tiger sanctuaries, barely 1,800 animals remained in the wild. Since then, India has established 50 sanctuaries and waged a concerted battle against poachers, who supply tiger bones to the Chinese medicine trade. Today there are an estimated 2,200 tigers in India, and the number is on the rise.

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The semicolon was born in Venice in 1494. It was meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon, and this heritage was reflected in its form, which combines half of each of those marks. It was born into a time period of writerly experimentation and invention, a time when there were no punctuation rules, and readers created and discarded novel punctuation marks regularly. Texts (both handwritten and printed) record the testing-out and tinkering-with of punctuation by the fifteenth-century literati known as the Italian humanists. The humanists put a premium on eloquence and excellence in writing, and they called for the study and retranscription of Greek and Roman classical texts as a way to effect a “cultural rebirth” after the gloomy Middle Ages. In the service of these two goals, humanists published new writing and revised, repunctuated, and reprinted classical texts.

Uninhabitable

This conversation brought to life one of the bigger challenges of the climate crisis: the fact that we all have to change, but each of us in different ways.

Cool tools

A few new cool tools in my kit. I was reminded to post some new favorites by a colleague at work, who came over to see what I had on my desk that was the latest-and-greatest.

  • FYI – a Chrome extension to help you search your documents across services (I wrote about this in Use FYI last year).
  • Woven – I still love Fantastical on desktop, but I have been trying this new calendar by an ex-Facebook team. The main reason it caught my attention is because it does a pretty good job of scanning my email to auto-suggest potential meetings and meeting invites – you can create, invite, add conferencing information, location and all that with a couple of clicks, and don’t have to copy-and-paste emails and figure out open times and timezones and all that.
  • Clockwise – I’ve been using this calendar helper to block off “Focus Time” in my calendar. It automatically marks off two-hour-or-longer blocks during the work day so that I can get stuff done. It suggests moving potential meetings around so that you can have a distinct separation between Maker’s Schedule & Manager’s Schedule and get more of these two-hour blocks in your work week.
  • Flighty – A beautifully done flight tracker app that I started using mainly because a bunch of others were talking about it on Twitter last week. I also really miss Dopplr and the stats on flights it used to give you. (Someone needs to rebuild a proper Tripit+Dopplr service where you can not only track your itinerary, but where you can learn from your friends as well.)
  • MarineTraffic – I love boats, so when I was at the Spotify office high up in downtown Manhattan (as well as on a brief trip to the Mediterranean last month), I used it to look up what ships were what and where they were going and all that geeky stuff.

Also see: some new discoveries from last year.

What I’m reading

A few reads from this past week for your weekend. For now, you can find these on README which is an experiment I’m still trying via Telegram.

From Desk to Cars to Pocket – phones over the years with photos from the New York Times archives.

History’s first call on a hand-held wireless phone was made on April 3, 1973, by a Motorola executive named Martin Cooper. Mr. Cooper had developed the phone himself and, having a cheeky streak, decided to step out onto Sixth Avenue, in Midtown Manhattan, and call his rival at Bell Laboratories to gloat a little.

An argument that Android, not iPhone, is responsible for the smartphone revolution.

Three principal forces pulled off this coup. There was Google, with its software and services; Samsung, a South Korean electronics giant waking from its slumber; and China, where a stunning economic rise created a massive audience for life-changing gadgets. Together, this unwitting coalition created an unprecedented technological transformation.

On artist archives & asking the question: What should an artist save?

There are two questions surrounding artists and their archives. Why do artists keep them? And what is worth keeping? Legacy and ego certainly play a part in answering the first question, as does an acute awareness of one’s mortality. But in the last century alone there has also developed a clear distrust of institutional integrity, an overall unhappiness with what white cube galleries and museums can offer. A creative desire has arisen — as the sculptor Isamu Noguchi experienced when he opened his own museum in 1985 — to preserve the context of an artwork alongside the work itself. In 1977, Donald Judd, who saw the paintings of a previous generation of artists scattered across collections or neglected, with little effort toward genuine conservation, wrote, “My work and that of my contemporaries that I acquired was not made to be property. It’s simply art. I want the work I have to remain that way. It is not on the market, not for sale, not subject to the ignorance of the public, not open to perversion.”

Googie

As the story goes, Googie got its name when the architecture critic Douglas Haskell was driving around Los Angeles researching a story about all the new splashy coffee shops he spied in the city. He saw Googies, a West Hollywood coffee shop with a bold red roof, and decided to name the style after it.

Smart-enough phones

Millions of first-time internet consumers from the Ivory Coast to India and Indonesia are connecting to the web on a new breed of device that only costs about $25. The gadgets look like the inexpensive Nokia Corp phones that were big about two decades ago. But these hybrid phones, fueled by inexpensive mobile data, provide some basic apps and internet access in addition to calling and texting.

Go to Coney Island

Go to Coney Island. Go when it’s so hot you want to fight strangers taking too long at turnstiles, when you have contemplated the hygienic consequences of sleeping with a bag of frozen corn in your armpits. Go when your life is a nightmare; go when your life is so good you want to forgive your enemies. Go when your life is neither of these things, when each day is just in dull slow-motion and only the grease-shined sun-drunk mayhem of a carnival laid along the ocean can hot-wire you. Go when it’s Wednesday. Go for no good reason. Go in March, when after dark not one soul is there besides two meaty old men moving along the boardwalk with a triumphant bounce, dragging fishing poles behind them, the hooks swinging in the wind.

White noise

A short post on Flow State yesterday got me thinking about white noise. The Celestial White Noise guest Taylor recommends is one we’ve used in the past to put Baby to sleep. We’d gotten halfway to Kansas City before we realized we’d forgotten our white noise machine at home––KEVIN!––and we needed a strong backup that would last at least 10 hours to allow baby uninterrupted sleep.

Some other good white noise tools:

Noisli – beautifully-designed site where you can choose from oceans, nature, trains or whatever combination might help you sleep.

Binaural – for focusing and entering flow state at the task at hand.

LectroFan – highly recommended to us by fellow parents.

(Flow State is a favorite weekday email of mine – it recommends ~two hours of music a day that you can use to focus at work.)

July in London

I’m going to be in London for a few days mid-month.

It’s been a few years since I was there last – July 2014, actually!

What are some good places that I should check out and/or dine in? (And don’t just say Dishoom, because obviously that’s happening).

And have you any recommendations for great people to meet while there? Hit me up on twitter @naveen.

Send-to-Kindle from Chrome

I came across Postlight’s Mercury Reader not too long ago. It’s great for improving the readability of long articles and essays online. Soon after, I also found out that it can send such pages to Kindle! This is a really cool hack to be able to read long reads from the web on your Kindle, with all the nice formatting and fonts that you’re already used to.

The Parser behind their reader is now open-source too, which I thought was cool.

Related: Amazon also has a Send-to-Kindle via Chrome extension, but it doesn’t seem to work as well for me.

Newsletters and the Inbox as our News Feed

All of a sudden, it seems just about everyone is either a) starting a newsletter or b) bragging that they started a newsletter back in 2012. (“I sent one before it was cool.”)

The move towards email newsletters has been going on for a while. Not sure the initial trigger that kicked off the conversation this past week. In one corner, maybe it was the good Craig Mod post “Oh God, It’s Raining Newsletters”. It’s newsletters once more because email is an open system that no one owns, a do-what-you-will-with-it bit of freedom from the big tech giants. We’re “leaning on an open, beautifully staid, inert protocol. SMTP [is] our savior.”

Underneath the trend:

  • We’ve all been wanting away from the social platforms and the noise they bring: Email allows the writer to feel as if they’re writing in “Distraction-Free Mode”: they’re writing only for you. They don’t have to go into a platform to see everyone else’s thoughts before contributing their own. Curating links and writing thoughts takes time, and the writer better do a good job, lest they get unsubscribed. On the other side, when someone else reads it, their interface also is “Distraction-Free”: it only shows the writer’s note by itself, one-email-at-a-time — tap in to read it and swipe back to list;
  • We crave owning our data, not just content, but fans & followers as well – their emails, the ability to start a new conversation directly with them, leaving it to the individual to determine whether to respond, block or share you;
  • We want some sort of decentralization, whatever that means for who you are and what you care about: no middlemen taking a cut; no central authority in charge; no algorithms getting in the way and determining who and what gets seen; no bad actors getting between your content and your fans;
  • We crave direct access to numbers – engagement, opens, replies – not the algorithms and what the central players decide – but what end readers care about. The readers are the ones opening your emails and sharing them based on how good your writing is.

To me, none of this is any different than all of us slowly starting up (or restarting) our blogs again. It’s a way to get back to owning our own destinies once more: brand & design, domain names & URLs, followers & micro-communities.

With our social feeds being so polluted these days, combined with the fact that we no longer have easy ways to subscribe to specific people and feeds through well-designed feed readers, we have no place else to go. The inbox has become the feed reader by default, as it used to be before we had RSS, readers, social feeds and the like. We’ve gone full circle to where we started, and there are many things broken about it (e.g., discovery), but it’s a move towards something better.