Restoring Vintage Fiberglass Eames Chairs

We recently decided to upgrade our second-hand, fake Eames chairs with originals. We got the fake ones for free off of a neighborhood Buy Nothing group, and while they served their purpose for a few years, they developed a bit of a problem: the cats grew to love their padded seats so much that we had to start putting tinfoil on them, which is kind of a pain in the ass.

Our cat Henry sitting on a chair
Henry, also known as “the problem”.

Our first reflex was to head over to the Herman Miller site and see what colors were available. These chairs come in plastic or fiberglass, but you really want the fiberglass ones because they just look so much nicer. These fiberglass models went out of production in 1989 because of environmental concerns about the manufacturing process, but they returned in a more eco-friendly formulation in 2013. Herman Miller does not offer these new fiberglass models in many colors, but to our delight, they listed a Seafoam Green that looked great. We placed an order for six of them and thought we’d be on our way.

Unfortunately, after many months of delays (damn you, supply chain!), the chairs were still nowhere on the horizon, so we did what we should have done all along: look for vintage ones in good condition. After searching a bunch of different auction sites, we found Eames.com, a marketplace of used Eames items. They have a pretty good selection, and they happened to have six chairs in an Olive Green color that we liked even more than the Seafoam Green.

Their site does not list the United States as a shippable destination, but they agreed to ship us some chairs for about $400 each including shipping, which was quite a bit less than they would have cost from Herman Miller.

I thought I had lucked out until they sent me detailed photos of each chair, which revealed some scuffing and a few significant scratches. This is to be expected in any item that is 50 years old, of course, but I really wanted these things in primo shape.

A scratched-up Eames chair
A little scary, right?

After consulting with some friends, some people on Twitter, and some articles on the internet, I became confident enough I could restore these easily to almost new condition, so I placed the order.

Amazingly, the chairs showed up all the way from the U.K. in less than a week, and I got to work immediately.

Step one was buying a couple of sanding sponges. I bought a 320 grit and a 220 grit. I started with the 320 because I was worried about scratching the chairs, but that concern proved unfounded. It was a little too fine for the job. You really need to remove some fiberglass when you’re doing this, so 220 ended up being the right strength. If your job is really gnar, you could probably go a little rougher even.

Anyway, I took the chair shells outside to the patio, and put one on a towel to work on it. I used thick rubber gloves to make sure no fiberglass debris came in contact with my skin, but other than that, just a small bucket of water to wet the sponge was the only other tool. Some people also recommend wearing a mask, but I was outside and not doing any electric or dry sanding, so it didn’t seem necessary.

The process of removing even the deepest scratches was surprisingly quick. I probably spent 10 or 15 minutes per chair, depending on severity. It’s hard to tell if you’re completely done until the chairs dry back up, so I hosed them off, let them dry overnight, and then gave each one a touch-up sanding the next day, followed by another hose off and air dry overnight.

It’s really amazing how self-healing fiberglass is. You think you are just scratching the shit out of it when you’re sanding it, but then when you’re done, it all blends right in automatically. And that’s even before the next step, which is when the chairs really come to life.

Sanded chairs
When you’re done sanding, they will look uniform, but dull and hazy.

The final step was wiping on some Penetrol. Penetrol is an oil-based paint additive that happens to restore fiberglass to brand new condition. It’s really amazing, and you should be able to get it at your local hardware store. I used one of these Swedish dishcloths we had laying around, but you can use any number of other lint-free cloths for the application.

This step was even easier than the sanding, with each chair taking no longer than a minute or two to cover in Penetrol. Once they are coated, that’s when your jaw really drops. Not only does the shine look spectacular, but it also further hides any imperfections that may have remained on the surface.

An Eames chair shined up with Penetrol
Already looking amazing, after only one coat.

After letting the Penetrol dry for 24 hours, I inspected each chair. I probably would have been happy with just that one coat, but I did see a couple of areas where I had perhaps applied a tad too much, causing a bit of a run. Not a big deal, but I decided to just give them all another coat to smooth out the runs and also provide more protection.

One coat and 24 hours later and they were looking perfect! The last step was to assemble the new dowel legs. This proved to be the most difficult part of the whole project as each chair took about a half hour to assemble. Granted, I was watching football as I was working, so perhaps a focused person could have gotten it done quicker.

Anyway, below is the end result! We’re so happy with how these turned out that we are now looking for two more in another color for the ends of the dining room table. It’s great to, a) get something vintage, b) save money, and c) re-use an existing object rather than cause a new one to be manufactured. Win-win-win.

I encourage you to go on your own Eames restoration journey. It’s not very difficult, and the extra effort you put in will make you appreciate them even more.

Olive Green Eames Shell Chair

Olive Green Eames Shell Chair

Olive Green Eames Shell Chair

Olive Green Eames Shell Chair

I’m Joining Kraken! 🐙

One of my favorite things about the design industry is that you can have a dozen completely different careers without ever leaving the field. For me, I started in print, then moved to digital, then to desktop web, and then to mobile. In terms of industries, I started in sports, moved to entertainment, then to news, then to social media, and most recently to design tools.

So much of designing is about learning, and the best way to make sure you are always learning is to put yourself into environments that are novel to you. The author Michael Pollan said it best recently when Kara Swisher asked him why he stopped writing about food and started writing about psychedelics:

“As a writer, I like writing nearer to the beginning of the learning curve. I like not knowing. I enjoy that process of learning.”

That sentiment is exactly why I decided to take the leap and join one of the largest digital asset exchanges in the world, Kraken, as their Head of Design & Research.

Kraken Reef

What is a digital asset exchange? On the surface, it may look like a place to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. Underneath though, the vision is much larger. Imagine a world in which all assets — physical or digital — are tokenizeable and tradeable, more or less instantly, without having to deal with the gatekeepers of the last century.

I am not a Bitcoin maximalist, an Ethereum maximalist, or any type of Other Coin maximalist, and I hold almost no crypto myself other what I’ve spent to support a few NFT creators. It is, however, becoming clear that with more smart people joining this industry, more regulation drafted which accommodates digital assets, and more creative use cases popping up every single day, there is a LOT of frontier to develop here. I look at this emerging part of the internet almost as a musical scene developing across the world. There are good bands, bad bands, old instruments, and new instruments, but more than anything, there is a sense that everyone is working creatively to change the culture around us.

That said, I also have reservations. People who chastise certain cryptocurrencies for consuming meaningful amounts of energy are correct in their criticism. In fact, I hope pressure of this kind stays forceful because it helps create things like:

  1. Proof of Stake, a method of verifying transactions that requires much less energy than some other methods.
  2. Chia, a coin that uses hard drive space instead of processing power, thus slashing energy usage by 99%.
  3. The Lightning Network, a layer that sits on top of Bitcoin and allows it to process many more transactions with much lower energy usage.
  4. Most importantly, a dramatic increase in the creation and adoption of solar and wind power around the world.

I also have questions about what gets better and what gets worse in the move from fiat to crypto. For instance, I love that our government can print money to help people make ends meet during times of hardship. I hate that it can print money to produce an endless supply of weapons and wars. I’m not smart enough to know how that all plays out, but I think for the foreseeable future, there will probably be both fiat and crypto so it pays to have a deep understanding of both.

So why Kraken in particular? There are certainly plenty of amazing places one could join in order to explore this new frontier. For me, it came down to:

  1. The indy mentality. This is hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. A creative band of people taking pride in the creation of something new and helpful.
  2. A vision much bigger than finance. If Kraken looks and feels like a bank in three years, we will not have done our jobs.
  3. An international focus. Kraken operates in 48 U.S. states and is the first exchange to get a U.S. bank charter, but its business is even stronger abroad. It is the #1 exchange by volume in Euros and has been for some time.
  4. A growing, profitable business at an inflection point. There are a lot of companies in this space that are doing super cool things, but their path to profitability is less certain. I’ve never been at a company that is growing the way Kraken is right now (and I’ve been at ESPN, Disney, and Twitter among others).
  5. An ex-colleague of mine, who just passed his two-year mark at Kraken told me this: “At every job I’ve ever had, I’ve wanted to leave after two years. At this place, I am even more excited today than when I joined.”

So what is my role in all of this?

Ultimately, to make the experience of participating in this new frontier easier, safer, and more fun for people all across the world.

In order to do that, I will:

… grow and nurture a diverse Design & Research team full of kind people who work hand-in-hand with Engineering and Product to produce delightful experiences.

And in order to do that, I would love:

to talk to you if you’re interested in helping build something fun, new, and exciting! I’m still too new to know exactly what I need, but I can tell you for sure we’ll be hiring individual contributors, managers, designers, researchers, content strategists, writers, and many more types of people outside my department (engineers, marketers, customer success peeps, et al). I am also interested in talking to agencies who may want to stop doing client work and join us full-time. Hit me up over email if you’re interested, or if you know people I should talk to (firstname at mikeindustries.com).

If you — like me — are curious about taking the leap into crypto, but you’re nervous about what lurks beneath the surface, come join me at Kraken. I’ve been here a few weeks now, and I can tell you that the water’s warm.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I look forward to building another great team full of fun people, and also reminding everyone in my hometown of Seattle that I don’t work for the new hockey team.

Here Lies Flash

In just a few short days, on December 31, 2020, we will say our final goodbyes to one of the most important internet technologies that ever lived: Flash.

I remember vividly the first time I saw Flash on a computer screen. It was 1997, I was finishing up college, and I had managed to teach myself enough HTML to think about pivoting from print design to interactive design as a career.

Web design, at the time, was a clumsy beast. Most web sites were essentially Times New Roman black text on a grey background with an occasional low-quality image here and there. The “design” part was often just figuring out how to best organize information hierarchies so users could feel their way around.

Once we got bored of basic HTML (there was no CSS at the time), we started doing unholy things with images. We’d set entire pages in Photoshop, slice our layouts into grids of smaller images, and then reassemble everything into a clickable mess. These were dark times.

My college, having invented PINE, was considered “on the front edge” of the internet at the time. Here’s is what our site looked like back then:

University of Washington Home Page in 1997

Even the most beautifully designed sites felt a bit lifeless, and once someone came up with a new layout that worked well, everyone would just ape it. To make matters worse, every new advancement in methods required more convoluted hacking to display correctly across Netscape, Internet Explorer, and every other fringe browser in use at the time. It was a total mess.

Here is the first version of Zeldman.com I could find, from 1998. Amazing for the era, and holds up impressively in a nostalgic, cyber-Americana sort of way, but you can see how limited we were by screen widths, color palettes, and layout technologies.

Then one day in 1997, I clicked on a link to Kanwa Nagafuji’s Image Dive site and the whole trajectory of web design changed for me. It looked like nothing I had ever seen in a web browser. A beautiful, dynamic interface, driven by anti-aliased Helvetica type and buttery smooth vector animation? And the whole thing loaded instantly on a dial-up connection with nothing suspicious to install? What was this sorcery? Sadly, I can’t find any representation of the site online anymore, but imagine the difference in going not just from black-and-white TV to color TV, but from newspaper to television.

Nagafuji’s work was such a huge, unexpected leap from everything that came before it that I had to figure out how it was done. A quick View Source later revealed an object/embed tag pointing to a file that ended in “.swf”. A few AltaVista searches later led me to the website of Macromedia, makers of ShockWave Flash (“SWF”), the technology that powered this amazing site.

I downloaded a trial version and was blown away at the editing interface. Instead of a shotgun marriage of Photoshop, HTML, browser hacks, and a bunch of other stuff that felt more like assembly than design, here was a single interface to lay out text, shapes, images, and buttons, and animate everything together into an interactive experience! It was magic.

After mucking around in the Flash editor (version 2 at the time) for a few hours, I did what every self-respecting web designer would do and immediately set out to find other cool stuff to copy. Over the course of the next several months and years I would find such gems as:

Yugop from Yugo Nakamura
Once Upon a Forest and Praystation from Joshua Davis
Nose Pilot by Alex Sacui
Natzke.com by Eric Natzke
Presstube by James Paterson
Gabocorp from Gabo Mendoza
John Mark Sorum by WDDG
2Advanced by Eric Jordan
NRG Design by Peter Van Den Wyngaert
The Hoover Vacuum Site by Fred Flade

… and of course, everything by Hillman Curtis (Rest in Peace)

(Sadly, much of this work is hard to relive due to Flash already being disabled in many browsers. I’ve tried to point to video demos where possible, but you can also try your luck with the Ruffle plug-in.)

From there, a bunch of us new designers set out to learn more about animation, type, scripting, and everything else that put you at the vanguard of the profession in those days. Flash was the first technology that showed us we could be great.

My initial effort was mdavidson.com, a rudimentary personal site that was the precursor to Mike Industries:

From there, I would move on to design Flash sites and features for ESPN, Disney, K2, The New York Rangers, and dozens of other organizations, never matching the quality of the masters listed above, but always breaking new ground in one way or another.

K2 Skates site

Other fun projects I collaborated on with my friend Danny Mavromatis included a virtual observation deck for the Space Needle, an interactive on-demand SportsCenter, and a Disney movies-on-demand service fully 20 years ahead of Disney+! All in Flash.

Perhaps the thing that gives me the most joy though is something we built and gave away for free: sIFR. What started as our brute-force attempt to use Akzidenz Grotesk for headlines on the front page of ESPN, turned into a more elegant implementation by Shaun Inman, which then turned into a scalable solution by Mark Wubben and me. We poured hundreds of hours into sIFR not to make any money but just to advance the state of typography on the web.

Over the next several years, sIFR was used to display rich type on tens of thousands of web sites. Although it relied on Flash, it was standards-compliant and accessible in its implementation, so it was the preferred choice for rich type until Typekit came along in 2009 and obviated the need for it.

All of this is to say, the role Flash played in helping transition the web from its awkward teenage years to a more mature adulthood is one I will always appreciate. And we haven’t even talked about its role in game development.

When discussing the life and death of Flash, people often point to Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts on Flash” as the moment things turned south for it. Worse yet, the idea that “Steve Jobs killed Flash”. I don’t think either of those things is actually true.

Flash, from the very beginning, was a transitional technology. It was a language that compiled into a binary executable. This made it consistent and performant, but was in conflict with how most of the web works. It was designed for a desktop world which wasn’t compatible with the emerging mobile web. Perhaps most importantly, it was developed by a single company. This allowed it to evolve more quickly for awhile, but goes against the very spirit of the entire internet. Long-term, we never want single companies — no matter who they may be — controlling the very building blocks of the web. The internet is a marketplace of technologies loosely tied together, each living and dying in rhythm with the utility it provides.

Most technology is transitional if your window is long enough. Cassette tapes showed us that taking our music with us was possible. Tapes served their purpose until compact discs and then MP3s came along. Then they took their rightful place in history alongside other evolutionary technologies. Flash showed us where we could go, without ever promising that it would be the long-term solution once we got there.

So here lies Flash. Granddaddy of the rich, interactive internet. Inspiration for tens of thousands of careers in design and gaming. Loved by fans, reviled by enemies, but forever remembered for pushing us further down this windy road of interactive design, lighting the path for generations to come.

RIP Flash. 1996-2020.

If you feel so moved, pour one out for our old friend in the comment section below.

Upgrading Mint for use with PHP 7+

This is a very niche post, but I’m posting it mainly to help people who might be searching Google for the solution to this problem: if you have been using Shaun Inman’s Mint for self-hosted website stats, you may have noticed that it no long works in PHP 7 and above.

When I noticed it broke, I spent several hours trying to figure out why and to fix it as quickly and easily as possible. Essentially, there are two reasons why it doesn’t work anymore:

  1. PHP 7 no longer lets you use "=&" to “assign a new object by reference”. I don’t even really know what this means, but I do know you can solve it simply by removing the &. There is only one place you need to do this in Mint’s code and that is on line 3409 of /mint/app/lib/mint.php where it says $DOM =& new SI_Dom($xml);. This problem was infuriating because it just makes the whole app fail silently, without throwing a single error. I spent a half a day deleting random code just to identify the culprit.
  2. The MySQL API has been deprecated in PHP 7 and Mint uses it for all of its database work. You’re supposed to rewrite all of your queries to use the new mysqli or PDO_MySQL APIs, but after a few hours of trying to do this, I realized my PHP skills were not up to the task and I opted for an easier solution instead. There’s a wrapper you can just include with your Mint install that translates all of the functions on the fly for you. This method is generally “not recommended” by people who actually know what they’re doing, but for a quick fix, it worked perfectly for me. If someone wants to patch Mint correctly, I will gladly post a pointer to it here. Anyway, all you have to do is download that file, upload it to /mint/app/ (next to path.php), call it something like mysql_bridge.php and then add this line right above the first include statement in /mint/index.php: include(MINT_ROOT.'app/mysql_bridge.php');

Voila! You’re done. The whole procedure should take only a few minutes.

Machine Learning and Cover Songs

There’s nothing like a great cover.

You’re rekindling angst at a Pearl Jam show and without any warning they go right into a Beatles song. You recognize some David Bowie lyrics on Spotify, and you discover it’s an unrecognizable version of Let’s Dance by M. Ward. You listen to Tiny Cities by Sun Kil Moon several times before you even realize it’s an entire album of beautifully fermented Modest Mouse songs.

How often have you thought to yourself, I would love to hear this person sing this other band’s song in their own style? For instance, I wish I could listen to Mike Doughty sing just about anything.

Over the past year or two, we’ve started to see artificial intelligence begin to approximate that dream (or nightmare, depending on your perspective). First it was eye-opening deep fake videos of past presidents appearing to say things they never said, but now it’s moved on to much more creative and cool endeavors like OpenAI Jukebox. You should read the full description on the site, but essentially they are training models to identify everything that goes into a song: instruments, lyrics, musical style, and a whole lot more. The models are primitive for now, but even at this early stage, they can start recombining things in interesting ways like having Ella Fitzgerald sing a Prince song but in the style of folk rock.

I spent a good part of the weekend messing around in Jukebox, and it’s mesmerizing. It really feels like the beginning of something big, and just as excitingly, something that could get orders of magnitude better within only a few years.

When you listen to it, it almost feels like the first words of a child… or if you prefer, the first song from Jimmy Page.

A lot of the stuff in the library is pretty rough, but here are some of the most interesting ones I found:

Everything feels very Frankensteiny right now, but imagine a few years from now when these techniques are improved and expanded. We may reach a point where there is a virtually unlimited universe of concert-quality covers you can create with just a few taps. As a music lover, this is super intriguing, but on the other hand, I wonder how musicians will feel about it. And will their opinions change based on whether we can find a way to monetize it generously for them? I could see some artists rejecting this sort of thing outright because it’s not real music in the traditional sense, and I wouldn’t blame them. But what if you told them that every time their voice was mixed into another song, they made a royalty off of it? That might change some opinions.

This is going to be a really fun space to watch closely over the next few years. Until then, I leave you with another great cover: Metallica’s Orion — by Rodrigo y Gabriela. Incidentally, the header image for this page is from their Masonic Auditorium show in 2015. Pure luck but probably the best photo I’ve ever taken.

A Quarterback-Only Strike: How NFL Players Can Win This Labor Deal

I have never been less qualified to write about anything than I am about NFL labor negotiations, but I had a crazy idea a little while ago for how NFL players can win their labor dispute with owners and I want to get it out there for battle-testing.

Players put their bodies on the line every day to a degree that most of them are not fairly compensated for, so I will almost always side with players in terms of wanting them to get the best deal possible. This is a unconventional idea to help achieve that goal and get both sides to a good and equitable place as quickly as possible.

The elevator pitch

Before the start of the 2020 NFL season, all 32 starting quarterbacks should initiate a quarterback-only strike. Everyone else shows up to work and gets paid. If there is no acceptable deal in place by opening week, the games begin, the quality of play degrades dramatically, ratings/attendance/sales tank, and owners — unable to wait out a group of 32 players with many millions more in financial security than 99% of the league — are forced back to the bargaining table with a 16-game season, a true 50/50 revenue split, and a few other things players are quite reasonably asking for.

Why it will work

Athletes get out-negotiated by owners for a very simple reason: there are 32 owners and none of them ever need another paycheck again. Losing even vast amounts of their fortunes will not degrade their quality of life. There are 1696 active NFL players and most of them are materially affected every time they miss even a single game check. 32 billionaires vs over a thousand normal people who need paychecks is a recipe for exactly the sort of terrible deal that was signed ten years ago and threatens to be signed again. The goal of a Quarterback-Only Strike is to change the equation to 32 billionaires vs 32 of the most popular cash-rich players.

Do quarterbacks really have that much cash cushion? Let’s take a look at lifetime earnings for the 32 starting quarterbacks in the league right now. Note that this doesn’t even include endorsements, but also doesn’t include taxes:

  1. Drew Brees: $244m
  2. Tom Brady: $235m
  3. Rodgers: $233m
  4. Roethlisberger: $232m
  5. Ryan: $223m
  6. Rivers: $218
  7. Stafford: $210m
  8. Newton: $121m
  9. Wilson: $109m
  10. Cousins: $100m
  11. Dalton: $83m
  12. Tannehill: $77m
  13. Carr: $72m
  14. Garoppolo: $64m
  15. Fitzpatrick: $63m
  16. Foles: $62m
  17. Goff: $49m
  18. Winston: $46m
  19. Wentz: $39m
  20. Trubisky: $24m
  21. Mayfield: $24m
  22. Murray: $24m
  23. Darnold: $22m
  24. Brissett: $17m
  25. Jones: $17m
  26. Allen: $15m
  27. Mahomes: $13m
  28. Watson: $11m
  29. Haskins: $9m
  30. Jackson: $6m
  31. Prescott: $5m
  32. Lock: $4m

I have no idea how these guys invest or spend their money, but in my estimation, until you get down to the final few players (especially Dak… sorry Dak!), you are looking at pretty good financial cushions. Certainly enough to weather a few games or an entire season… especially if you include lost backpay in your deal requirements. Most position players in the league cannot afford this sort of holdout, but pretty much all starting QBs can.

It’s also possible that other players who have lifetime earnings over, say $25m, decide to join this strike in solidarity, but it’s not strictly necessary. Some marquee names might include J.J. Watt ($85m), Richard Sherman ($69m), or the NFL’s top selling non-QB jersey title holder Odell Beckham Jr. ($48m).

The other thing that’s nice about this proposal is that it’s literally the only position in any sport that could pull it off. Football could easily weather a strike at any other position, but not quarterback. Baseball could weather a strike from any position — even pitchers. Fans love offense! Basketball could weather a strike from any position because superstars are spread out amongst all five positions. I don’t watch a lot of hockey or soccer so I will just assume they fit my narrative too. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Quarterbacks are almost always the face of the franchise, the entire game runs through them in today’s pass-heavy NFL, and this is the perfect time to consolidate that power against owners and use it to improve conditions for the other 1664 players who don’t hold the same cards they do.

When I initially came up with this cockamamie scheme a few months ago, the reason I thought it might not work is that of all players on an NFL team, you would think quarterbacks would be the coziest with owners. But now that I see my own team’s QB, Russell Wilson, along with Aaron Rodgers, come out as strongly against the current CBA proposal, I think this thing could have some legs.

In conclusion

If players cannot get the very best deal they deserve this offseason, a Quarterback-Only Strike should be actively considered because it changes the negotiation from 32 vs 1696 to 32 vs 32. Additionally, you only need a majority of owners to cave, so if a few owners are insulated by the fact that they don’t have star quarterbacks yet, the rest of the owners are still vulnerable.

It’s also entirely possible someone else has already thought of this and kicked enough holes in it to show why it wouldn’t work. Basically, I need some more eyes on this thing. Agents, players, sports attorneys, whoever. If you know of someone who you think would have an opinion about it, I’d love to hear from them. The comment section is open below.

Minimum Viable Connectivity

I remember about 15 years ago — before the launch of the iPhone — thinking quite resolutely that internet-connected phones were just a really unexciting transition phase between the desktop internet and immersive technologies like contact lenses and brain implants. We knew where we already were: amazing high bandwidth experiences on the desktop, and it seemed pretty clear where we were going in a couple of decades: even better experiences with no visible hardware whatsoever.

The new class of experiences on mobile phones at the time, however, was uninspiring. Palm Treos with barely functional browsers on them. Blackberries that handled email but little else well. T9 keyboards that were a pain to use. Barely any designers wanted to work on this stuff. It wasn’t very fun to create, use, or even tell anyone you worked on.

When the iPhone came along in 2007, it was the first mobile device that was fun to design for and fun to use for a wide variety of things. As it grew more and more useful, I began to think of internet-connected phones as quite a bit more exciting but still ultimately a transition state to full cyborg land. It seems inconceivable that in 10 or 20 years, we will still be staring down at these glass rectangles instead of directly at the world with whatever augmented reality experiences we choose in between.

As phones have gotten more comically large and the services on them more tragically addictive over the past few years, I’ve found myself wondering if there is more value in letting some of this connectivity go. Clearly smartphones provide a lot of value for us, but what is the true cost of all this convenience? Being able to receive a text from your spouse while you’re at the supermarket is valuable, but the same device that delivers you that text can deliver a social network notification while you’re driving that ends up killing you or others.

Attempting to quantify the large and small harm caused by smartphone use is a big project better suited to places like Tristan Harris’ Center for Humane Technology, but you don’t need to quantify it to admit it’s doing you some amount of harm.

There is no shortage of advice about how to make your phone less addictive. Turn off a bunch of notifications. Flip on Do Not Disturb. Use Black & White mode. Delete social networking apps. It’s all good advice, but for me, having that giant, heavy glass brick in my pocket is a constant reminder of what’s at my fingertips.

What I’ve really grown to want is less at my fingertips.

Minimum viable connectivity.

Wherever I happen to be, I want the least amount of potential digital distractions and appholes around me. It’s no different than the concept of eating healthier. When you want to lose weight, you don’t keep a bunch of junk food in your pockets and just promise to never open it. You remove junk food from your house completely.

Until recently, there was no great way to stop carrying your smartphone with you without giving up a ton of benefits. Over the past two weeks, however, I’ve begun using an Apple Watch without a phone almost all day long, and it’s been great. It’s introduced exactly the amount of digital friction I need in my life and I don’t imagine going back to hyper-connected smartphone world anytime soon.

“The best way to guarantee success is by preemptively engineering systems to reduce friction for positive habits, and increase friction for negative ones.” — Craig Mod, from the great piece I linked to above

I love that I am still generally reachable by phone or text when I wear it. I love that I can still navigate with maps. I love that I can track my runs without third party services and listen to podcasts along the way. I love that I can see when it’s about to rain.

And I love that that’s about all I can do. I don’t mind that texts are a little harder to send. I don’t even mind that there’s no camera. If I’m on vacation in an interesting place, I will surely take my phone, but do I really need to be taking more photos around town? Probably not. This is the point many people will break with me on this whole strategy, but try it. You may be surprised.

In terms of things I don’t like about about this experiment so far, it really just comes down to a couple of flaws with the watch itself: the LTE radio is pretty spotty and the Apple Podcast app is a usability disaster, both on the phone and the watch. Because the radio is weak, you really need to make sure anything you want to listen to is downloaded already, and because the apps are so bad, it’s very hard to ensure that actually happens. You’ll generally have some podcasts downloaded and ready to listen to but they just aren’t always the ones you expected. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Even with those problems, I still feel great about this less-connected road I’m going down. Somewhat surprisingly, I don’t even feel like I’m missing out on anything.

The hyper-connected future will probably still happen, but the form it will take doesn’t feel so inevitable to me anymore. I’ve learned in these two weeks alone that I don’t actually want every distracting digital experience in the world at my fingertips. I only want what is helpful and stays out of the way.

The last time I wore a watch was in high school, and I distinctly remember how excited I was to finally get a cell phone my junior year.

27 years later, I’m just as excited now to do the opposite.

A Year of Working Remotely

It’s been exactly one year since I joined InVision, and after learning the ropes of remote work at an 800+ person all-remote company, I wanted to share some thoughts on how placelessness may affect the way we work in the future.

First, let’s dispense with the easy part: despite what you may read on Twitter, remote work is neither the greatest thing in the world nor the worst. We are not moving to a world where offices go completely away, nor are we going through some sort of phase where remote work will eventually prove to be a giant waste of time. In other words, it’s complicated.

The way to look at remote work is that it’s a series of tradeoffs. You enjoy benefits in exchange for disadvantages. The uptake of remote work over the next decade will depend most on the minimization of those disadvantages rather than the maximization of the benefits. Reason being, the benefits are already substantial while many of the disadvantages will be lessened over time with technology and process improvements.

Instead of writing about the advantages and disadvantages separately, I’m going to cover several aspects of remote work and discuss the tradeoffs involved with each.

Read more…

Superhuman’s Superficial Privacy Fixes Do Not Prevent It From Spying on You

Last week was a good week for privacy. Or was it?

It took an article I almost didn’t publish and tens of thousands of people saying they were creeped out, but Superhuman admitted they were wrong and reduced the danger that their surveillance pixels introduce. Good on Rahul Vohra and team for that.

I will say, however, that I’m a little surprised how quickly some people are rolling over and giving Superhuman credit for fixing a problem that they didn’t actually fix. From tech press articles implying that the company quickly closed all of its privacy issues, to friends sending me nice notes, I don’t think people are paying close enough attention here. This is not “Mission Accomplished” for ethical product design or privacy — at all.

I noticed two people — Walt Mossberg and Josh Constine — who spoke out immediately with the exact thoughts I had in my head.

Let’s take a look at how Superhuman explains their changes. Rahul correctly lays out four of the criticisms leveled at Superhuman’s read receipts:

Read more…

Superhuman is Spying on You

Over the past 25 years, email has weaved itself into the daily fabric of life. Our inboxes contain everything from very personal letters, to work correspondence, to unsolicited inbound sales pitches. In many ways, they are an extension of our homes: private places where we are free to deal with what life throws at us in whatever way we see fit. Have an inbox zero policy? That’s up to you. Let your inbox build into the thousands and only deal with what you can stay on top of? That’s your business too.

It is disappointing then that one of the most hyped new email clients, Superhuman, has decided to embed hidden tracking pixels inside of the emails its customers send out. Superhuman calls this feature “Read Receipts” and turns it on by default for its customers, without the consent of its recipients. You’ve heard the term “Read Receipts” before, so you have most likely been conditioned to believe it’s a simple “Read/Unread” status that people can opt out of. With Superhuman, it is not. If I send you an email using Superhuman (no matter what email client you use), and you open it 9 times, this is what I see:

A log of every time someone has opened your email and what location they opened it from.

That’s right. A running log of every single time you have opened my email, including your location when you opened it. Before we continue, ask yourself if you expect this information to be collected on you and relayed back to your parent, your child, your spouse, your co-worker, a salesperson, an ex, a random stranger, or a stalker every time you read an email. Although some one-to-many email blasting software has used similar technologies to track open rates, the answer is no; most people don’t expect this. People reasonably expect that when — and especially where — they read their email is their own business.

When I initially tweeted about this last week, the tweet was faved by a wide variety of people, including current and former employees and CEOs of companies ranging from Facebook, to Apple, to Twitter:

It was also met critically by several Superhuman users, as well as some Superhuman investors (who never disclosed that they were investors, even in past, private conversations with me). I want to talk about this issue because I think it’s instructive to how we build products and companies with a sense of ethics and responsibility. I think what Superhuman is doing here demonstrates a lack of regard for both.

First, a few caveats:

Read more…

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