What I'm thinking about

Welcome to my blog! This is mostly a link blog, where I share links to articles and websites that I would otherwise share with my IRL friends. From time to time, I also write my own posts and longer-form entries. You can also subscribe to this blog in an RSS feed reader.

Here are the topics I tend to cover. → Click on a tag to see all the posts about that topic.

How Wonder Showzen Changed TV Comedy With “Stark, Ugly, Profound Truths”

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LEE: The president now takes comedic license for the most serious shit imaginable. This attitude of "Hey, who gives a shit? We're going to say what we want but not be held accountable whatsoever because we're just using comedic license,” It’s kind of mind blowing that those tools were taken and now comics are left sitting there like with their dicks and their lady parts hanging out.

We're the ones that are supposed to have a who-gives-a-fuck attitude because what I say doesn't matter! And now the comics are like, "Well, Jesus, if they have no reverence whatsoever, to humanity or ethics or morals or decency or democracy, then yeah, then how interesting is irreverence? I feel like comedy is seems pretty impotent right now. At best it can describe the nightmare, but it certainly can’t influence it.

This article is seven years old, and Wonder Showzen is more than twenty years old. So reading this article helps me put our current times into a different perspective.

When George W. Bush was elected in his second term, I remember feeling a general sense of victory. That’s because my parents were both big Bush supporters, and the muted din of Fox News constantly reverberated through our house.

Now that I’m a little older, it’s useful to have a piece like this which paints that period in a much different hue.

And any excuse to rewatch Wonder Showzen is a good one for me.

But as far as the pull quote I used: I think this is one of the trickiest lines to walk in a democracy and in a society writ large.

We seem to really care about our sacred cows, but when you’re balancing the needs of billions of sacred cows, are any of them really sacred? How do you determine which sacred cows are worth holding onto?

How do you find that right balance which keeps our species moving forward together?

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Everybody's Free (To Write Websites)

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Enbies and gentlefolk of the class of ‘24:

Write websites.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, coding would be it. The long term benefits of coding websites remains unproved by scientists, however the rest of my advice has a basis in the joy of the indie web community’s experiences.

I love the reference to Wear Sunscreen, one of the great commencement speeches.

There is amazing advice and inspiration for building websites in here. It also reminded me of POSSE, meaning “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.”

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Soon Will Come a Day That None of This Exists

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This article is a few months old, lamenting the death of the historic Sports Illustrated brand.

I wanted to share it now because (a) yadda yadda instapaper backlog, and (b) I think it reveals a truth about the future of journalism to which it didn’t intend.

First, from the article:

We will muddle along in a new Dark Ages caused by the constant static of an overwhelming blitz of contradictory and false content that largely only serves the aims of the people and companies that create it, pulling us further and further from one another and our shared interests as a species that should seek the improvement of ever member of its kind. I know this is some pretty hyperbolic stuff to extrapolate from the death of a magazine that published photos of bikini babes, but that’s where I’m at. I wish I had better news. I wish I had a solution for you besides voting for the few political figures who don’t want this to happen and maybe wandering some car parks if that doesn’t work out.

Then, also from the article:

We’re going to try to keep this thing going no matter what happens in the future, and we’re not going to lie to you to serve some weird outside or nefarious interests.

That’s it. That’s the solution.

Journalism, in its modern implementation, is almost always subsidized by billionaires. There’s no profitable business model in telling stories, in speaking truth to power.

Yet we still feel compelled to do journalism. Telling stories, after all, is an integral part of the human experience.

Yes, it sucks that these historic brands are suffering terrible deaths. But that doesn’t mean citizen journalism is dead, and it doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to continue to support our best story tellers as they tell the necessary stories of our time.

I’m glad we are alive at a time where we have the internet which enables anybody to do good journalism. I proudly support my own community-run news organization called Racket, and I encourage everyone out there to support their own.

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I'm getting rid of my iPhone for a month

originally shared here on

Long time readers of this blog may recall that I've been psyching myself up enough to try switching to the Light Phone.

I’m legit embarrassed to admit just how much I’m addicted to my iPhone.

It happened slowly over the course of the last 15 years. Today, I find myself frequently incapable of putting it down, even when it’s actively making me feel terrible.

The biggest expense of always being virtually connected is never feeling connected to the physical moment happening in front of me.

That wasn’t so much of a problem to me when I was sitting in front of my Compaq desktop in the basement of my parent’s house.

Back in those days, I used to hate being away from my computer. The very first thing I’d do when returning from a family vacation was to jump on the computer and catch up on a week of message board posts.

Here in 2024, though, I don’t subject myself to that experience.

The other day, I was playing a Lego game with my son and while he was explaining an aspect of the game to me, I pulled out my phone and went to turn on music. Mid sentence, he stops and says, “Dad, can you put your phone away? It’s distracting me.”

Oof. That’s not how I want my son to remember me.

I’ve tried all the techniques people say can help limit screen time. Grayscale the screen. Delete apps. Block toxic websites. But because none of those tricks are actually working, it’s time to take more drastic measures.

My plan is to move my phone number onto the Light Phone for a month. Just a month.

I'm going to do this during the month of August. That will give me a couple weeks to prepare for it. I am honestly worried about what I’ll be giving up, and so I'm doing what I can to brace myself for that impact.

I’m mostly excited, really. After more than a decade in the comfortable, walled garden of the Apple ecosystem, I think it will be nice to experiment with new tech tools again.

The Light Phone is designed to be as boring and practical as possible. It can make phone calls, send texts, and give driving directions, among a few other things.

But there are certainly some activities that the Light Phone won’t do very well which I am unwilling to give up. So here are those activities, along with how I'm thinking I'll deal with those activities for the time being:

Taking notes and reminders.

A notepad with a pen. ✅



Sometime in the last couple of decades, I stopped reading books.

I’m not exactly sure why. I used to love reading books when I was a kid. I would go to the library and read every book they had on building websites and computer programs. I’d also read every new edition of Animorphs, Goosebumps, and Harry Potter as soon as my library stocked it.

But beginning in high school, I stopped reading books for fun. Reading felt like a burden, something you were assigned as punishment. I resented reading so much, in fact, that I used to pride myself on not buying books for class in college and finding a way through without them.1

If I read books these days, I almost only read non-fiction, which is fine… but I miss reading for fun.

Earlier this year, I helped my wife proctor some tests at her school. I wasn’t allowed to be on the internet, so I brought a book along that a friend recommended called What You Are Looking For Is In The Library. I burned through it in a day, and it got me interested in reading fiction once again.

I think I wanna try getting into a fiction series. The last series I read was the Left Behind books in high school, so uh, yeah… I’m a bit out of the loop with what’s good out there.

If anyone has recommendations, let me know!

Taking pictures.

I used to be really into cameras when I was really into making clips2. When my oldest was born, we thought it made sense to buy a good SLR, so we picked up a Canon Rebel T6i.

I do still grab it out of storage and bring it along to the occasional soccer game or choir performance, and the shots feel better to me than the ones I get with my iPhone. It helps that I have a decent assortment of lenses, but I think it also speaks to the joy you get from using a tool that was intentionally built to complete a task.

Of course, I can’t realistically carry an SLR with me all the time. I need something more practical.

When I sold cameras at Best Buy3, the camera I recommended the most was the Canon SD800 IS, and it was the camera that documented some of the most fun moments of my life. It was small enough to fit in my pocket alongside my iPod.

Even though it fit, I still didn’t carry it with me every day, which makes the pictures I did take with them feel extra special when I browse through them today.

Maybe having a camera on me all the time is less necessary than I’m worried about. I mean, in a normal day for you, how many situations can you envision where you must take a picture of something and can't flag down someone to take one and send it to you?4

So I’m in the market for a camera that’s small like the SD800 was, but perhaps more professional. I remember seeing someone mention the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III and I thought the silver one looked kinda dope.

It makes me happy to see Canon keeping these devices up to date. The G7 X can shoot 4k video, and it’s got WiFi and USB-C so it’ll be easy to get media off of it. Most importantly, its size means it can stay in the drawer by the door and leap into service at a moment's notice.

But anyway, what about y’all? Anyone else use something besides their phone to take a picture or a video?

Listening to music.

The whole reason I wanted to make this post is because I wanted to brag about my restoration project with my old fifth generation iPod.

But because of course this is what happens when I brag, I’ve been stuck for a few days trying to debug a hardware failure that is proving exceptionally frustrating to resolve. Chef’s kiss.

So instead of bragging about that, I’ll instead confess that I’m one of those sickos who maintains their own library of MP3s.

I’ve always looked at streaming services with squinty eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m still mad at what they did to our beloved Napster. Maybe it’s because I think it’s important to not give complete control of my cultural history to massive corporations5. Maybe it’s because buying an MP3 version of an album from an artist will give them vastly more money than my combined streams would ever account for. Maybe it’s because I am an aging boomer.

Either way, transitioning away from Apple Music will not be too excruciating for me. I’ll still use it because I have HomePods all over my house, but when I’m not home, I want need a way to bring my music with me.

The Light Phone does have some storage and an MP3 player option, but because of the intentional design, you’re limited to a single playlist and 1gb of tunes. That doesn’t work for me, brother.

I’ll keep y’all posted with my progress on the restoration process. I want to get Rockbox installed on it so I can experience what the home brew community is doing with this old hardware.

In the meantime, if anyone knows how to address issues with an iFlash Solo syncing with an M1 Mac mini, holler at your boy.

I’d like to take this opportunity to express how pathetic I feel that I need to take these extreme steps to reclaim some part of me that I feel like I’ve lost ever since going whole ham on the mobile revolution.

I talk at length about the joy that comes with technology, but I should also recognize the negative impact that tech can make.

We went through an era of unfettered growth from Silicon Valley-powered firms who had nearly no supervision and did everything they could to exploit our political and economic systems for their own gain.

And to be clear, their growth did bestow some incredible tools onto us.

But as much as our society derides subgroups like the Luddites and the Amish for their apparent aversion to technology, there is clearly some merit to how they approach technology. You should adopt technology because it’ll help you, not because everyone else is using it.

Every night around 10:30pm, I find myself lying in bed, entering the casino that is my iPhone. Every app is a different section of the game room floor.

My email app is a slot machine, where I hope I’ll hit the big bucks and get an email saying “yay you’re hired!”, but the odds are better that I’ll see an email saying “lol you owe me money still.”

LinkedIn and Reddit are craps tables, where I sometimes roll an 11 and see a post from a friend who had a successful day at work or a post on /r/AskHistorians that teaches me something interesting (like Did President Andrew Garfield ever eat lasagna?). But more often than not, I roll snake eyes and see something which makes me feel like a failure or living in a dumpster fire of a society.

Even my beloved RSS reader app, filled with feeds that I explicitly opted into, can feel like a game of blackjack. Yeah, I often walk away with at least some money, but I still sometimes leave the table feeling unsure why I’m passionate about anything anymore.

I let this happen to myself. And every time I pull my phone out of my pocket during a family dinner, I rob myself of what makes life worth living in the first place.

Like our Silicon Valley overlords like to say, you can’t stop the march of progress. Technology is rapidly improving, and major advances in our collective understanding of the universe are unveiled at an overwhelming pace.

There’s gotta be a way where we can harness the good parts of technology without entirely succumbing to all of its detriments. The first step, I suppose, is defining what I want to get out of life.

And really, it’s pretty simple:

  • Play Legos with my son
  • Sing karaoke with my wife
  • Watch Rocko’s Modern Life with my daughter
  • Make music, work out, and learn new things
  • Be able to visit the doctor when I’m not feeling well without going bankrupt
  • Build something useful for people
  • Not make other people’s existences any worse than they already are

If those are the things that are important to me, then why would I burn precious energy spending time on a device which gives me anxiety attacks on a daily basis?

So yeah, come August, I’m signing off from my iPhone for a bit. It’ll feel good to step out of the casino and focus on building legos, taking walks, shredding on the guitar, singing karaoke, hanging out with friends, and listening to music.

  1. At the time, I was extremely anti-book because the book publishing market is an extreme racket, issuing frequent updates to textbooks with minimal tweaks while commanding insane prices. Today, part of me wishes I read the assigned works for most of my liberal arts classes. Maybe I would’ve picked up more useful facts about the Australopithecus or found useful anecdotes from Cold War geopolitical conflicts. 

  2. This is what we used to call videos before YouTube. We'd record a bunch of segments of a video on someone's dad's camcorder, then use a capture cable to play back the video onto a computer, and then edit it in something like Pinnacle Studio. Wild times, indeed. 

  3. Which seems to be my point of reference for where to look for all of these problems... I worked at Best Buy from 2005 to 2010, so basically, what were the tech solutions we had for these problems before the iPhone came out? And is there anything from the past 15 years that has improved on that tech? 

  4. Maybe this is a hypothesis born out of privilege, but let’s call a spade a spade: this entire article and premise is only possible for someone who is drowning in technology and choosing to reduce his consumption. 

  5. Brennan Lee Mulligan recently had an excellent monologue about this topic, but I don’t have a direct link to it. Just look at Paramount’s recent decision to remove all of MTV and Comedy Central’s backlogs of content as all the proof you need that you should back up what you care about. 

All I Need to Know About Engineering Leadership I Learned From Leave No Trace

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I saw Simon Willison share this article and thought it was too good not to share it myself.

We respect wildlife in the wilderness because we’re in their house. We don’t fully understand the complexity of most ecosystems, so we seek to minimize our impact on those ecosystems since we can’t always predict what outcomes our interactions with nature might have.

In software, many disastrous mistakes stem from not understanding why a system was built the way it was, but changing it anyway. It’s super common for a new leader to come in, see something they see as “useless”, and get rid of it – without understanding the implications. Good leaders make sure they understand before they mess around.

Or, as the footnote succinctly puts it: “find out, then fuck around.”

This article also taught me about Chesterton’s fence, a principle that says “don’t destroy what you don’t understand”.

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Comfortable with the struggle

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I’ve known developers who’ve put up with the struggle with the expectation that one day it will go away: one day they’ll be an expert and never have to struggle again. This day never arrives, and so they bail out of the field.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the struggle ever goes away. I’ve been doing this professionally for 14 years now and I still have to deal with the struggle almost every work day.

If you can be comfortable with the struggle and build up your tolerance for it. If you’re able to sit in that moment and be okay without drama or a total crisis of confidence, I’m fairly sure you’re going to do just great.

The Struggle comes in multiple shapes and sizes too. Here is a short list of my experiences with The Struggle from this week alone:

  • Impostor syndrome
  • Anxiety about breaking a physical connector
  • Frustration with unclear objectives
  • Being overwhelmed by unfamiliar technologies
  • Debugging something and being unable to find an answer

After 12 years of professionally dealing with The Struggle, I’m still able to handle many aspects of it, but my tolerance is quickly diminishing.

Dealing with The Struggle is much easier when you feel like there’s a reward for you at the end of it. Right now, I’m trying to restore my old iPod fifth gen with an SD card, and no matter what I do, I cannot get it to work right.

I’ve been all over forums, digging into the sixth and seventh pages of search results, desperately looking for clues as to why I’m not getting it to restore.

But I can picture myself playing that brick breaking game soon, and that first game is gonna be so much fun after all of this work.

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Life's absurdity is a cause for happiness

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Sisyphus is forced to push a heavy boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down; for all eternity. Camus famously compared Sisyphus’ condition to the human condition. We too are fated to complete mundane, meaningless tasks, to chase desires and achieve goals only for them to be replaced by new desires and goals; always returning back where we started. Ronald Aronson argues it is our awareness, our human self-consciousness, of this condition that makes us superior to it.

I didn't read Camus in college1, so this concept of imagining Sisyphus happy is brand new to me.

If you also don't have much exposure to philosophy, give this article a try. It's certainly given me motivation to try reading The Myth of Sisyphus for myself.

  1. Although I did used to listen to The Magnetic Fields quite a bit. Sometimes, I lament not going through a brooding phase, and then I revisit the albums I listened to heavily in college and think, "oh yeah, I definitely had a brooding phase." 

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The Articulation Barrier: Prompt-Driven AI UX Hurts Usability

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Current generative AI systems like ChatGPT employ user interfaces driven by “prompts” entered by users in prose format. This intent-based outcome specification has excellent benefits, allowing skilled users to arrive at the desired outcome much faster than if they had to manually control the computer through a myriad of tedious commands, as was required by the traditional command-based UI paradigm, which ruled ever since we abandoned batch processing.

But one major usability downside is that users must be highly articulate to write the required prose text for the prompts. According to the latest literacy research, half of the population in rich countries like the United States and Germany are classified as low-literacy users.

This might explain why I enjoy using these tools so much.

Writing an effective prompt and convincing a human to do a task both require a similar skillset.

I keep thinking about how this article impacts the barefoot developer concept. When it comes to programming, sure, the command line barrier is real.

But if GUIs were the invention that made computers accessible to folks who couldn’t grasp the command line, how do we expect normal people to understand what to say to an unassuming text box?

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 The Internet Is About to Get Weird Again

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There’s not going to be some new killer app that displaces Google or Facebook or Twitter with a love-powered alternative. But that’s because there shouldn’t be. There should be lots of different, human-scale alternative experiences on the internet that offer up home-cooked, locally-grown, ethically-sourced, code-to-table alternatives to the factory-farmed junk food of the internet. And they should be weird.

If you missed this one when it was making the rounds seven months ago, Anil Dash did not disappoint with this think piece about the weird internet.

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A Stretch of Route 66 Will Play 'America the Beautiful' as You Drive to the Side

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Two years ago, the New Mexico Department of Transportation decided to spice up a particularly desolate stretch of Route 66 between Albuquerque and Tijeras by adding grooves in the road that will play music when you drive over them. If you drive the speed limit of 45 mph for the quarter-mile stretch, you can hear "America the Beautiful" play through the vibrations in your car's wheels.

Some delightful engineering here. I wonder what happens if you hit it at faster or slower speeds?

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