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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.