Helloform | Blog

The burning house

Posted on Jul 22, 2012

At the end of last year, I decided it was time to focus on doing things that were meaningful to me. The Burning House is a project that could easily fit that bill and that I'm envious for not starting myself. Below, one of the many submissions they have up on the site. Beautiful project.

The Burning House

Craftsmanship and perfection

Posted on Jul 14, 2012

Jiro Ono is 85 years old, and he's dedicated his entire life to his craft - he is considered the best sushi chef in the world. What's amazing about Jiro and many other craftsmen who are at the top of what they do, is that regardless of their status as the best, they still search for perfection. Perfection is a hard thing to define, and more importantly, a hard thing to achieve. But when you make it a part of your ethos; when you aim for it every day, it does not matter if you get there - what matters is what you've made and learned along the path.

"Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That's what he taught me."

Yoshikazu Ono on "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

If you make things, you sit somewhere on the line between someone who works and a craftsman, and the position you take along that line permeates through everything you do. So what you should do, or rather, what I'm trying to do myself, is find a way to achieve perfection in my work - whether that work is writing code, designing the screens for an application or creating a piece of software. Here's to more craftsmen.

Our obsession with tools

Posted on Jul 11, 2012

In the last few years, as technology progressed and our inboxes filled up, we've struggled to find ways to cope with information overload. For the most part, we've been unsuccessful. So we've all become obsessed with processes and tools, grabbing books on getting things done, buying new productivity apps, finding the right fonts to write on our favorite flavor of a distraction free writing environment. In trying to fix an overload problem, we're creating another.

I'm writing this post in full screen, because I seem to get distracted by everything else happening inside the computer, pushed from the internet to my face. The font I'm using had to be carefully selected because it shouldn't be too small or too large. The background of the window itself shouldn't be too dark or too light. To start writing, I had to tick a box in a task management system, and there will be a second box to tick when I'm done so I can remember to edit the post too. When you're obsessed with the process, everything can suddenly become a chore.

A fine line

The irony here is that process and tools are both helpful if selected correctly and allowed to become invisible. Who cares if there's a 10 step way to process your life/inbox/workload that someone wrote a book - or ten - about. The other day I tweeted:

"Someone better install a few seat belts on the GTD bandwagon, because I keep falling off."

Funny because it was true. The most important realization I came to when it comes to productivity was that what worked for me might not work for most people (or anyone, really). Also, that not following a method down to a tee might turn out best for me. So I took note of the things that worked, and those that did not. Then I improved the former and scrapped the latter.

I got rid of most things. I now have one text editor (not three) I'm comfortable with; a task management app to dump the things I need to do into; a relatively loose process of trying to plan out ahead; a utility to help me not write as much repetitive stuff. Names for these tools are omitted because again, what works for me might not work for you.

So the next time a shiny tool/process pops on your radar, and all the familiar faces talk about it, use your own judgement to figure out whether you really need it. If what you do and use allows you to be productive and get your work done - great. If your life is in order, stick to what you're doing. If you're constantly looking for new tools to improve your work (as I frequently was), that work will never get done.

Serendipity

Posted on Apr 9, 2012

It's been a few weeks since I was able to kick back on a sunday - today, I basically forced myself to. And now at the end of the day, it is easy to quickly glance back and realize how much pleasure I took out of going through all the things I wanted to read, watch and hear in the last few weeks and couldn't. It's like my brain finally caught air, after weeks trapped in work and routine. Here's a few of the things that caught my eye today - I leave them here, hoping that you the reader, may go through them one of your free sundays too.

"Destroying Mercury to Build a Dyson Sphere is a Bad Idea", an article penned by Alex Knapp for Forbes, is a great read if you appreciate people who think about the future, unconcerned about the limitations of the present. If you don't know what a Dyson Sphere is, there's a ton of great resources I'll gather one day (drop me an email if you'd like an unfiltered list).

The always inspiring James Bridle gave a great talk titled " We fell in love in a coded space" about digital storytelling, sentience and robots at Lift 2012, and the video is now up. If you have around 20 minutes, go check it out. On the talk, he mentions Argot and Polari, two languages within other languages. What us programmers might call DSLs.

Spent quite a bit going through some of the things already being planned for @notch's next game, 0x10c, a game with a CPU ( specs) inside a computer inside a spaceship, inside a game, inside your computer. I guess we'll see where this one will end up, but judging by the community around minecraft, I suspect we'll see much here too.

This SXSW, Jason Hreha (also at 500 Startups) gave a talk titled "Applying psychology to web design", but the things he said can be very much applied to other things. Make sure you do listen to it ( slides here) if you do user experience design for products and/or services.

I don't know how Craig Mod does it, but his most recent essay on the translation between the digital and the physical (and specifically about designing Flipboard for the iPhone) is beautifully written - perhaps as beautiful as the idea behind it, and the book created to collect the development process of the app. 8 pounds, is how much the process weighs.

Have a great week.

Google.

Posted on Mar 28, 2012

There was meaning to Google. I'm quite sure my friends who work there now will say there still is. But I will argue that much of that meaning has faded away, at least temporarily, in the last few months and years while the company struggled to find its post-social identity.

The signs are quite evident, for anyone who's looking in the right direction. You've certainly noticed the slow cluttering of their once sacred homepage, the increased complexity of their always-redesigning navigation bar (first white, then black, then integrated, then black, now black with a Play link adorned with "NEW" in red). You've seen the odd product launches, and the sad product "sunsets". You've struggled to comprehend Google+'s direction, and probably never really used a "Hangout" even though the idea of one sounds "okay".

If you remember the early days of Google, you know exactly what is fading away. The idea of a large company with a minimal approach to engineering, management, product and design. The idea that your experience using their services (particularly search) was more important than anything else they did. The perhaps naive impression that you mattered more to them than the ads they ran along your search results.

Google is still a stellar company, employing stellar people and working on solving amazing problems - I can't begin to say how important it is that there is a company out there trying to figure out things like cars that drive themselves, or how to - actually, no-bs - organize the world's information. But I wish they found themselves again amid all their new services, offerings and changes. While it is easy to understand that as a public company they need to keep value to shareholders in mind, fanning out into a ton of things has made them masters of none.

Someone out in Mountain View should be very uncomfortable about the fact that hackers (in the good, true sense of the word) are actively looking for an alternative to google in Search. Search - what got Google where it is today; their core public-facing service. Early adopters, current and future opinion makers, are looking for alternatives to it. This is not good.

Now I could say "Google, listen to your users"; and from Mountain View, the word back could be "but we are". But you truly are not. Because people want the old Google: the company that fought over the pixels in its homepage, stellar search results, sheer speed. The company that was solving great, insane problems through computer science. The company that people, hackers, would never, ever, consider trying to find (or build) alternatives to.

And I write this because I care - because Google was for many years a huge inspiration, to me and countless others. And quite honestly, I want to see them going back to kicking ass and taking names.