What I’m Writing

Anchors Away

“The public markets are going to say a lot about us, but always remember, things are never as good or as bad as they say.”

It was a few days before our IPO at Twitter in 2013, and our captain was preparing us for the violence of the sea.

Dick knew that even with the relentless pounding Twitter had taken internally and externally for almost its entire voyage as a company, attaching a price to it that fluctuated many times per second, every day of the work week, would magnify the choppiness significantly.

Eyes on the horizon. Steady as she goes.

The next several years would prove Dick to be even more correct than he probably believed at the time. We would launch an important feature. Stock down. We would lose an important leader. Stock up. We used to laugh and shake our heads about how little the public markets seemed to understand what was really going on inside of the company… both positive and negative.

I worked at Twitter from 2012 to 2016, building and leading the Design & Research org. I worked for both Dick and Jack, and with multiple Heads of Engineering and Product. There have been zero unexciting or unimportant “eras” to have worked at Twitter, but I always think of this era as the time when:

  • The company transitioned from being private to public
  • The core service transitioned from text-only to a more visual, interactive timeline
  • The business transitioned from no revenue to billions of dollars per year

There are so many other things that happened in the time period — good and bad — but those are the three most notable. Talk to anyone else who was around during that time and they’ll all have their own favorite parts. Mine was helping build the kindest and most talented Design & Research team I had ever been a part of. Some are still at the company today, and many have joined me at my current job. I know you’re not supposed to say “work is like family” these days, but we go to each other’s weddings n’ shit.

Anyway, I was reminded of Dick’s wise words to us on the cusp of going public when we all found out this month that the company is now on the cusp of going private again, at the hands of Elon Musk.

Some people — although no employees I am aware of — seem to think this is the greatest news in the world. Some people think it’s the worst news they could imagine. Is it possible though that it’s neither? According to Costolo’s Razor, this is probably the case… but we can’t say with certainty until we know.

I have several things I’m very worried about, and also several reasons why I think things might turn out okay anyway. Let’s start with the new caretaker himself. I use the word caretaker because I think at this point, Twitter is a public good, no matter who may technically own it.

Read more…

How to Order Fast Food while Inflicting as Little Damage to Yourself as Possible

Let’s get this out of the way first: I am not a dietician, an economist, or an ethicist. I am, however, a guy who likes to occasionally eat at fast food places. I’m also a guy who stops running over the winter, puts on a few pounds, and then has to lose them again in the spring… so I’ve been paying attention to how to eat “least badly” at fast food places.

Below is my dollar-store wisdom, in case you also want to enjoy fast food in moderation.

First, some golden rules:

Rule #1

No soda. This is an easy one. A medium Coke is 210 calories, 56 grams of carbs, and no protein. It’s also about $2 for something that costs about a nickel to make.

Instead, go with free tap water or an unsweetened iced tea. Zero calories and nothing artificial. Another nice hack that works at some places is going to the soda fountain and filling your water cup with club soda. There are usually two small tabs and one of them says “water”. The other one is the “off-menu” free club soda.

Club Soda
Welcome to the clubbb, playuh’.

Rule #2

No fries… or if you must, get a small every now and then. I understand people like fries. I like fries too. But even a small order of fries is another 220 calories, 29 grams of carbs, and only 3 grams of protein.

In-N-Out Fries
If you must eat fries, at least don’t eat these ones. Tasteless, single-fried garbage.

Rule #3

Study menus for what’s overpriced and what’s underpriced. For instance, at Mickey Dee’s, a McChicken, a hamburger, and a 6-piece McNuggets are all $2 apiece or less. Meanwhile, a Double Bacon Quarter Pounder with Cheese is $7.

These places all encourage you to buy the Value Meals, but since you aren’t getting the soda or the fries, individual prices matter.

Now onto the meat of the matter: what should you order at each of the major national fast food places?

Restaurant-specific recommendations

The general pattern you are aiming for is “one or two protein-filled items and a water or tea”. Let’s see what each place can offer you in that regard.

McDonald’s

People like to rip on McD’s because it’s the canonical fast food restaurant, but it’s usually quite solid in terms of food predictability. One strange thing about the place though: pretty much all new items they ever add to their menu suck. Crispy Fried Chicken sando? Not great. Arch Deluxe? Not great. Buttermilk Fried Whatever? Not great. To succeed at McDonald’s you need to stick with the classics… the stuff that’s been on their menu for decades.

My three favorite orders here are:

  • Two hamburgers with ketchup and mustard only. 500 calories and 24 grams of protein. About $4. That’s right. Regular old J. Wellington Wimpy style hamburgers. Always tasty and tidy enough to eat while you’re driving. You can leave the pickles and onions on if you want, but I feel they drag the quality down.
  • One hamburger with ketchup and mustard only and a 6-piece McNuggets. 500 calories and 26 grams of protein. About $4. Same idea as the first order but more variety of flavor for you.
  • One McChicken sando. 400 calories and 14 grams of protein. About $2. This is probably the best value on the entire McD’s menu. You could consider cutting the mayo to lower the calories but you need some sort of sauce on there. Dry sandwiches are for raccoons and pigeons.
The McDLT was legendary. Would deffo be on this list if they brought it back. George is getting upset!
Burger King

I have friends who swear that Burger King is the only fast food place they won’t go to, for well-documented reasons, but I think it’s generally fine. I don’t seek it out, but if it’s there, I will consider partaking, if for no other reason than a change of pace.

Some BK ideas:

  • Whopper Jr. All Whoppers are giant, messy, and filled with calories, but the Jr. is manageable. Weighing in at only 336 calories, with 15 grams of protein, and about $4.30, it’s a solid choice.
  • Rodeo Burger. I’ll be honest, in researching this article I had never even heard of the Rodeo Burger so I went down to my local BK to give it a shot. Holy shit… this might be my new favorite fast food item. A nice, tidy burger with BBQ sauce and onion rings in it, and it’s only 336 calories? With 13 grams of protein and only $1.29, I am comfortable saying this is the best deal in fast food right now.
  • Spicy Chicken Jr. Alright, we are already running out of things to order at Burger King, so I’ll just include the only other acceptable item in here. It’s not the best chicken sandwich in the world, but at 386 calories, it’s a whopping 74% less calorific than the 1498 calorie “Spicy Ck’King Deluxe” sando. Holy crap. Also, 11.5 grams of protein and it’s only a dollar!!!

I wanted to include the Impossible Whopper in here, but like all other “regular” sized burgers at BK, it’s pretty huge and loaded with calories. Also, it tastes exactly like a Whopper, so you can use your own judgement as to whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Impossible Meat is so tasty on its own that you are better off making your own burger out of Impossible Sausage at home.

Jack In The Box

Jack gets a bad wrap, and I’m not entirely sure why. They almost went out of business after an E. coli scare in the mid ’90s, but since then, I feel like they have been consistently one of the best and most innovative fast food joints around. They also have some of the very best commercials of all time:

I could watch these for hours… and have!

Probably my favorite thing about Jack in the Box is that they’ve been piling new stuff onto to their menu for the last 30 years and never take anything off of it. Want a classic Jumbo Jack? No problem. French toast sticks? We got you. Teriyaki bowl? Giddyup. You could literally order all three of those things during a single trip to the drive thru.

Unfortunately however, most of things on the menu are better suited for your already-in-shape summer body. Take for instance, the Grande Sausage Breakfast Burrito, which weighs in at a whopping 1040 calories. I’m not a believer in breakfast burritos as a thing that should even exist in this world, but it’s just important to pay attention to these giant menus because trouble is around every corner.

Some ideas for your next trip to Jack in the Box:

  • One of the healthiest things at Jack is something I have been ordering since its introduction in 1988: the Chicken Fajita Pita. Every time I order one, I am half expecting the person behind the counter to look at me funny and say “we haven’t had those for decades, pal!” but nope, they seem to always have one at the ready. With 27 grams of protein and only 330 calories, this is guilt-free fast food at its finest. $4.79 isn’t dirt cheap, but just think of it as a small price to pay for (perhaps) adding extra days or weeks to your life.
  • The Junior Jumbo Jack is an oddly named burger that should perhaps just be called “The Jack” at this point, but it’s a good option if you need your burger fix but don’t want to feel gross afterwards. It’s still 420 calories and only 14 grams of protein, so not nearly as good of a proposition as, say, Burger King’s Rodeo Burger, but it probably won’t kill you. It’s also only $1.39 so how are you going to complain too much?
  • The last item I’m going to recommend at Jack in the Box may shock you: the Two Tacos deal. Oh boy, where to even start with these things. They aren’t so much tacos as they are Flappy Meat Pockets. They look nothing like they do in the amazing commercials, but once they are in your stomach, you can’t really tell the difference. Two of these bad boys are only 99 cents, and contain a total of 340 calories and 12 grams of protein. If you’re low on dough, you could keep yourself alive on these things for months before your body slapped you upside your face and asked you what it did to deserve this. Seriously though, they’re not bad. You just need to believe.
Wendy’s

I don’t know why Wendy’s isn’t more popular. A solid menu with good ingredients and IMHO the best fries in the business. Some good orders from Wendy’s:

  • Dave’s Single, no cheese, no onion. Listed at 590 calories and 29 grams of protein, but without the cheese it’s probably more like 500 and 24. About $5.
  • Grilled Chicken Sandwich. 350 calories, 33 grams of protein and $5.50. A good thing to order if you want to sneak in a small order of Wendy’s excellent fries.
  • Spicy Chicken Sandwich. 500 calories, 28 grams of protein, and $5.50. Pound for pound, not nearly as healthy as the grilled chicken, but a big taste upgrade. Deffo skip the fries if you order this one though.

Wendy’s also has some other interesting items like chili, baked potatoes, and Frostys, but this is not what we go to fast food restaurants for. Canned chili is just as good, if not better, and you can find a lot better ice cream than what you get in a Frosty. Don’t waste your calories on this stuff.

Frosty Fries
You might be tempted to do this. Don’t.
Chipotle

Out of all restaurants in this list, I feel healthiest when eating at Chipotle. I think if it was a sit down restaurant that served you your food on a ceramic plate, no one would even accuse it of being “fast casual”, let alone “fast food”. It’s just really tasty Tex-Mex, made quickly (through the magic of sous vide!), and offered affordably.

My go-to orders at Chipotle:

  • You may be on team burrito, but I am team taco all the way. Better portion control, crispier produce, easier to stuff in your mouth. A reasonably dressed, crisp taco is only 170 calories, with 11 grams of protein, for $2.75. Barbacoa is by far their tastiest meat, but the vegan chorizo and sofritas vegetarian options are great as well. I usually get three, but through the magic of taco-specific portion control, you can dial it up or down.
  • If you’re trying to go even healthier, Chipotle now has a wide variety of bowls to choose from that are all pretty good. Choose vegan chorizo for your protein, stay away from things like sour cream or rice, and go to town. You can get yourself a protein-packed, veggie-rich lunch for under $10.
Chick-fil-A

There are a lot of moral dilemmas one must wrestle with when choosing to eat meat — especially meat from fast food places — but Chick-fil-A offers up another dilemma entirely: is it ok to eat at restaurants whose leaders look down on people based on their sexual orientation?

If you look closely enough, you will probably find that a lot of the companies you give money to are reprehensible in one awful way or another, but given what we know about Chick-fil-A, I have tried to eliminate my patronage there.

I did, however, find one neat trick recently that will keep me from ever having the urge to go there again. Chick-fil-A sauce in a bottle. It’s only $5 at your local grocery store, and at least for me, it’s about a two-year supply. Do they make a couple of bucks off me? Sure. But it pales in comparison to making regular visits to that place. Fuck that place, and fuck it twice on Sundays.

KFC

I can’t in good conscience recommend going to KFC if you are trying to shave off a few pounds, but I did go there the other day to try the “Beyond” Chicken Nuggets, so I thought I’d post the video:

To sum it all up…

The goal of this post is not to tell you what the very tastiest items are at each restaurant. If you don’t care about calories or feeling gross — as I didn’t until I hit my mid-forties — go to town and eat whatever you want. But if you’ve successfully migrated to a healthy diet 6 days a week and just want to get your grease game on once in awhile, I hope this article has been helpful to you. As bad as some of this food might be for you, eating a single portion of it three or four times a month probably won’t affect you too much.

I also look forward to food engineering really coming into its own over the next decade. We spent the ’80s and ’90s making food demonstrably worse for you and worse for the planet, but with recent innovations in food science, we can now do amazing things like make real cheese without cows. The 2010s ushered in the golden age of ice cream (among other things), but my bet is the 2020s and ’30s will be the golden age of high-quality, lab-assisted healthy food. If you want to find out more about it, watch David Chang’s The Next Thing You Eat on Hulu.

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…

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