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.

Borrowing e-books from NYPL

I feel like I just discovered some sort of superpower. And I can’t believe I’m only now jumping on this when others have probably known this secret for a while now: You can borrow e-books (and audiobooks) from your local library. You don’t even need to leave home (well, except to get a library card if you don’t already have one).

To get going, you’ll need to link your library card – NYPL, in my case – to an app like OverDrive’s Libby. Then, you place holds as you would physical books, and depending on the number of books your library can let out, you’ll be put on a wait list. After a book is borrowed, you can also have the app send them to your Kindle, so you can read them alongside books you’ve also bought on Amazon. This is quite nice, because you can stick with the device and reading app you most prefer, as opposed to being forced into a new reading experience inside Libby (as great as it is).

Now that we nearly always seem to have Baby in hand, I’ve been getting into audiobooks as well. The great part about using an app like Libby is that you can borrow audiobooks for free from your library too. There’s a place-hold/wait/borrow flow similar to e-books.

Advantages:

  • you don’t have to spend $25+ on an audiobook;
  • the library hold queue is nice because you can just add books as you come across them, and Libby will alert you once it’s been borrowed;
  • the 14-day or so hold periods are nice because they force you to read or listen to a book and give you a short window in which to do it. If you don’t like a particular book, it more quickly gets you to a state where you say, “I think I’ll just return it”, instead of trying to slog through it.

Disadvantages:

  • bookmarks and highlights work, but you’ll have to borrow the book again to find out what they were. So for some books in particular, especially those you want to come back to and re-read, you’ll probably just want to buy the physical or Kindle copy.

I’m only a few weeks into the year and I realize I’m on leave, but I’ve already gotten through six books using this method so far.

README

I’m trying a new experiment: a Telegram channel where I can share interesting reads. TBD how long I can keep up such a thing, or what I might learn from it, but here goes! My hope is that it will be less noisy than the other social graphs, and much more two-way a conversation than the read-it-later sites which aren’t really meant for sharing with others. I imagine it will mostly be about technology, startups, New York City, dogs, and soon, about babies.

Subscribe if you wish: naveen/README.