If U.S. roads were a war zone, they would be the most dangerous battlefield the American military has ever encountered. Seriously: Annual U.S. highway fatalities outnumber the yearly war dead during each Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution. When all of the injuries from car wrecks are also taken into account, one year of American driving is more dangerous than all those wars put together.
From The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life in The Atlantic.
The New York Times food section has decided to “proclaim Houston one of the great eating capitals of America” and highlighted four great restaurants in town. Houston is really such a great city, it’s good to see it getting some love.
Burgers and fries have nearly killed our ancestral microbiome.
I’ve loved reading microbiome stuff lately, here’s a good one in Nautilus, How the Western Diet Has Derailed Our Evolution. For an older look from the New Yorker, check out this older one about the fascinating journey of helicobacter pylori.
This is a cool talk from Chamath Palihapitiya from a few years ago in 2013 which makes it extra interesting. It seems like a smaller audience so it’s fun and unguarded. (Though a great thing about Chamath is he’s incredibly candid in every context.) You can’t see the slides in the video, and there’s not much to them, but here they are:
Facebook's Growth Hacker on how they put Facebook on the Path to 1 Billion Users from growthhackersconference
Here are the values he talks about at the end:
Very high IQ.
Strong sense of purpose.
Relentless focus on success.
Aggressive and competitive.
High quality bar bordering on perfectionism.
Likes changing and disrupting things.
New ideas on how to do things better.
Surrounds themselves with good people.
Cares about building real value over perception.
Dries Buytaert asks “Can we save the open web?” and makes an amazing case for why we should. I agree with and endorse basically everything in that post.
Kat Hagan is an engineer and a team lead at Automattic, and you can read all about her story that led her there.
Many people have been requesting an update to my what’s in my bag post from last year. Almost every single item in the bag has changed, this year has had particularly high turnover. We’re still in a weird teenage period of USB-C adoption, and I hope by next year to have many fewer non-USB-C or Lightning cables. Things with a asterisk * are the same from last year. Without further ado:
This is my favorite item of the new year, a Lululemon Cruiser backpack that has a million pockets both inside and outside, and allows me to carry more stuff, more comfortably, and access it faster. Lululemon updates their products and designs every few months, but if you ever spot something like this online or in the store check it out. Hat tip on this one to Rose.
A short Lightning + micro USB cable, which is great for pairing with a battery pack. I sometimes carry a few of these around and give them away all the time, as “do you have a light?” has evolved to “do you have a charge?” in the new millenium.
Short regular USB to USB-C cable.
Belkin Retractable Ethernet. *
Anker USB-C to USB-C cable. Make sure to read the reviews when you buy these to get the ones that do the proper voltage. I can charge a Macbook with this, and the new Nexus 5x, directly from the battery pack or the #43 wall charger.
Mini-USB cable, which I use for the odd older device (like a Nikon camera) that still does mini-USB (that older big one). Would love to get rid of this one.
A charge cable for #45, the Fitbit Charge HR. You can buy these cheap on Amazon, and if you lose it you’re out of luck, so I usually keep a few at home and one in my bag.
This is my goldilocks regular lightning cable, not too long and not too short, 0.5m.
A retractable micro-USB.
Apple Magic Mouse 2, the new one that charges via Lightning, natch.
Way over to the right, a small Muji notebook.
This is a weird but cool cable, basically bridges USB to Norelco shavers. I use a Norelco beard trimmer and for some reason all of these companies think we want to carry around proprietary chargers, this is a slightly unwieldy cable but better than carrying around the big Norelco power brick.
Lockpick set. *
Lavender mint organic lip balm from Honest Co, which I think I got for free somewhere.
Aesop rosehip seed lip cream, which I bought mostly for the smell, when it’s done I’ll probably switch to their lip balm. (I should do a cosmetics version of this for my dopp kit, it’s had lots of trial and error as well.) I love Aesop, especially their Resurrection line.
Aveda Blue Oil that I find relaxing. *
Short thunderbolt to thunderbolt cable, which is great for transferring between computers. *
Muji international power adapter, much simpler, lighter, and cooler than what I used before.
Way on the top right, this is probably the least-travel-friendly thing I travel with, but the utility is so great I put up with it. It’s the Sennheiser Culture Series Wideband Headset, which I use for podcasts, Skype, Facetime, Zoom, and Google Hangout calls with external folks and teams inside of Automattic. Light, comfortable, great sound quality, and great at blocking out background noise so you don’t annoy other people on the call. Worth the hassle.
A customized Macbook Pro 15″, in space grey, with the WordPress logo that shines through.
Belkin car mount, which is great for rentals. *
A USB 3.0 SD / CompactFlash / etc reader.
microSD to SD adapter, with a 64gb micro SD in it. Good for cameras, phones, and occasionally transferring files. Can be paired with the card reader if the computer has a USB port but not a SD reader. When you get a microSD card it usually comes with this.
One of my new favorite things: DxO One camera. It’s a SLR-quality camera that plugs in directly to the lightning port on your iPhone, and can store the photos directly on your phone. Photo quality is surprisingly good, the only problem I’ve had with it is the lightning port pop-up will no longer close. The other similar device I tried but wasn’t as good was the Olympus Air A01, so I just carry around the DxO now.
TP-LINK TL-WR702N Wireless N150 Travel Router, which works so-so. Not sure why I still carry this, haven’t used it in a while. *
Aukey car 49.5W 3-port USB adapter, which has two high-powered USB ports and a Quick Charge 3.0 USB-C port.
My favorite external battery right now, the RAVPower 20100mAh Portable Charger, also with Quick Charge 3.0 and a USB-C port. This thing is a beast, can charge a USB-C Macbook too.
Kindle Voyage with the brown leather cover. *
Macbook power adapter.
Very cool Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones in ivory,customized with the WordPress logo. I’m testing this out as a possible gift for Automatticians when they reach a certain number of years at the company. For a fuller review, see this post.
Cotopaxi water bottle that I got for free at the Summit at Sea conference. The backpack has a handy area to carry a water bottle, and I’ve become a guy who refills water bottles at the airport instead of always buying disposable ones.
Special cord for the #30 Momentum headphones.
Retractable 1/8th inch audio cable. *
Powerbeats 2 Wireless headphones that I use for running, working out, or just going around the city.
Belkin headphone splitter, for sharing audio when watching a movie on a plane. *
Chromecast audio, which I’ve never used but it’s so small and light I carry it around just in case.
Chromecast TV, which I’ve also never used but also small and light and I’m sure it’ll come in handy one of these days.
Verizon iPhone 6s+, which is normal, but the new thing here is I’ve stopped carrying a wallet, and a separate phone case, and now carry this big ‘ol Sena Heritage Wallet Book. At first I felt utterly ridiculous doing this as it feels GINORMOUS at first, but after it wore in a little bit, and I got used to it, it’s so freeing to only have one thing to keep track of, and it’s also forced me to carry a lot less than I used to in my wallet.
Maison Bonnet sunglasses. Hat tip to Tony.
Stickers! Wapuu and Slack.
Bucky eye shades, like an eye mask but has a curve so it doesn’t touch your eyes. I don’t use this often but when I do it’s a life-saver. *
My favorite USB wall plug, after trying dozens, is this Aukey 30W / 6A travel wall charger. I love the foldable plug, and it’s really fast.
I generally only have one wall charger, but temporarily carrying around this Tronsmart 33W USB-C + USB charger with Quick Charge 3.0, which can very quickly charge the battery or the Nexus, and a Macbook in a pinch. Hopefully will combine this and #42 sometime this year. One thing I really dislike about this item is the bright light on it, which I need to cover with tape.
The only pill / vitamin / anything I take every day: Elysium Health Basis. I’m not an expert or a doctor, but read up on them and the research around it, pretty interesting stuff.
Fitbit Charge HR. I gave up on my Apple Watch. I’ll probably try the Fitbit watch when it comes out. My favorite feature is the sleep tracking. Least favorite is the retro screen, and that it doesn’t always show the time.
Double-sided sharpie (thick and thin point) and a Muji pen.
Westone ES49 custom earplugs, for if I go to concerts or anyplace overly loud. *
Some index cards, good for brainstorming.
Passport. * As Mia Farrow said about Frank Sinatra, “I learned to bring my passport to dinner.”
Jetpack notebook, I like to have a paper notebook to take notes, especially in group or product meetings, because there isn’t the distraction of a screen.
Nexus 5x, which is definitely one of the better Android devices I’ve had, paired with Google Project Fi phone / data service, which has saved me thousands of dollars with its $10/gb overseas data pricing. Since my iPhone is so huge, I tried to go for a smaller Android device. I always travel with both in case something happens to one phone, for network diversity, and as I said this has better international data pricing than Verizon.
Business card holder. *
All in all 13 items stayed the same, the other 40 are new to this edition.
That’s a wrap, folks! If you have any questions or suggestions please drop them in the comments. Once my no-buying-things moratorium for Lent is over I can start trying new things out again.
Update 2016-03-26: A few people have asked how much the bag weighs with all of this stuff in it. I didn’t weigh it at the time of the photo, but at the airport the other day I put it on the luggage scale and it came in at 16 pounds, which is probably close enough. The pockets on the Lululemon backpack distribute the “stuff” pretty well and it doesn’t feel heavy at all, and doesn’t stick out too far on my back.
Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life. By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet. It has arguably replaced work itself as our most socially sanctioned addiction. […]
Denial is any addict’s first defense. No obstacle to recovery is greater than the infinite capacity to rationalize our compulsive behaviors.
Oldie but goodie from the New York Times, Addicted to Distraction.
My parents first noticed my stutter when I was three years old. For the longest time, I thought I would one day be rid of it. I went for speech therapy, I did fluency exercises, I prayed. But now, at age thirty, I’m fairly confident that it’s here to stay. […]
Somehow, as I progressed through high school, the expectant pauses of those listening to me were more difficult to bear that the nicknames and name calling. Often, I would not speak up, even when I had something I wanted to say.
My default setting was silence.
Read the rest of Mahangu Weerasinghe’s story, Breaking the Silence.
An interview I did with the Irish Times when I was in Dublin is now live.
Ben Casnocha is an interesting and innovative character in his own right, and it’s worth reading his essay slash short book on the years he spent as the right hand man of Reid Hoffman.
It’s never a bad time to read and learn about the life, work, and poetry of Gary Snyder.
I love this version from Kamasi Washington of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune, or “light of the moon.” Here’s the Paul Verlaine poem that inspired the original composition:
Your soul is a chosen landscape
Where charming masqueraders and bergamaskers go
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fanciful disguises.
All sing in a minor key
Of victorious love and the opportune life,
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight,
With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.
For small business owners, WordPress is a well-trusted company, Yelp is a brand in trouble, and Facebook is on a downward path. Those are some of the findings out today from a survey of 6,000 small business owners from the second half of 2015 conducted by Alignable.
You can see the whole thing here. WordPress came in with a NPS of 73, Shopify at 29, Godaddy at 26, Squarespace at 11, Wix at -7, Weebly at -13, Web.com at -61, and Yelp at -66. Here’s how a Net Promoter Score works.
One of my favorite movies is Thank You for Smoking, the Jason Reitman’s film that looks at the world through the lens of a tobacco lobbyist. It’s fiction, though. This real-life Rolling Stone look at what is going on with rooftop solar in Florida and the big utilities has quotes that could have easily been in the movie.
Facing an amendment that would open up one of the sunniest states to solar power, the utilities created a competing amendment called “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” which, as you might imagine, is extraordinarily unfriendly to anyone who wants solar panels on their home. Why the confusing title?
Bascom insisted there was no intention to mislead. “It would defy all logic,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Why would we confuse ours with one that does not have public support?”
When we chose Philadelphia to host the first ever WordCamp US, it was actually for two years, they’ll be hosting again this year December 2-4. We’re going to pick the host city and group for 2017 and 2018 in the next few months, though, and in fact the applications are open and closing in a few weeks. If you think your city and team have what it takes to wow the world with the best WordPress event, please put your hat in the ring!
The Atlantic does an in-depth look on why it’s much less pleasant to have phone calls than it used to be. It’s true, but there are also some great alternatives that I’ve been having luck with recently. Facebook Messenger has a built-in audio (and video!) calling system that is okay. Facetime isn’t just for video, you can also make audio calls with it and they sound amazing (something I learned from Kanye, true story). Many times I’ll try a phone number in Facetime first just in case the person uses an iPhone. And finally Skype still works pretty well even if its clients are a bit heavy. If I’m able to be at a computer (all of these work on computer as well as apps), this Sennheiser USB headset sounds great, blocks background noise, and people say that I sound clear.
I’ve been reading Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues, and it’s an incredible education. The book is helping me appreciate an era of music that inspired the era that inspires me — the music that drove the Roots, J Dilla, Fugees, D’Angelo, Common, Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, and so many more to create what they have.
Chronologically, I’m in a chapter covering mid-90s hip-hop, which is full of conflict. There’s a tension alluded to in the book of the musicians that made it and those that didn’t: does increased radio play make songs popular? There’s some science that suggests yes. Or is there something intrinsic to the record that puts it in that virtous loop of requests and airplay, the equivalent of usage and virality in a web product?
There’s a great ancedote in the book that I think is useful when thinking about products. All of the links are my addition, not in the original text.
There was one moment during the recording of Voodoo that really brought this home. We were recording DJ Premier’s scratches for “Devil’s Pie,” and Q-Tip had just let the room to go work on something else, so there were four of us left there: Premier, Dilla, D’Angelo, and myself. During the break, Premier asked if anyone had any new shit to play for the group, and D’Angelo went for a cassette and played a bit of a new song, and the whole room just erupted in hooting. Then Dilla put on some new Slum Village shit and it was the same thing: an explosion of excitement. Then Premier, who had started the whole thing, played an M.O.P. song and some new Gang Starr material that he was working on for The Ownerz.
I was last at bat. All I had on me was a work tape for what would eventually become “Double Trouble” on Things Fall Apart. It didn’t have finished vocals yet, didn’t have Mos Def’s verse. It was just a skeleton. I played it, and I will never forget the feeling that came over the room, including me. It wasn’t that they didn’t hoot and holler like they had for the other songs. They did. But they didn’t mean it. I know the move people resort to when they’re not quite into a song: they keep a straight stare on their face and bob their head a bit, not saying anything, not making eye contact. That’s the sign of death. That’s what they all did to me, and I felt humiliated. I was like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction: I will not be ignored! I went back into the studio that same night and gave that song a radical, extended facelift. I refused to sleep until I had that thing up and running.
I love the idea of Questlove realizing the song was missing something, and going back to the booth to keep working on it until it resonated with his target audience. A song that doesn’t stand up on its own wouldn’t be any better when bundled as part of an album. (Or Samsung would have the most popular apps on Android.) Fans hear the care and quality of each track, and they become super-fans. The bands that break out weren’t bludgeoned into fan’s ears by radio play, they were pulled by these passionate few into a wider audience.
I love the mixtape culture that so many of today’s successful artists have come up through, and it is amplified online. Drake had three ever-improving mixtapes before his first album. It harkens to a line from PG’s startup canon (in 2009!): Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.
There’s this tension in everything we produce. Where’s the line to tread between 1.0 is the loneliest and a minimum viable product? Or is it about a minimum lovable product? Are we building a car with no air conditioning or a car with no wheels?
“Pivot” has become passé, but it’s much worse to assume that distribution will solve something core to your product that isn’t working.
Amit Singhal just announced that he’s retiring toward the end of the month. Amit has been a formative part of Google’s search team, but he’s also a good friend. Last year, after he marked 15 years with Google, I wrote this about Amit’s contributions:
Amit Singhal, one of the unsung heroes of Google, just celebrated 15 years at the company. If you’ve ever gotten a magical answer from Google, you probably have Amit to thank for it.
I can’t think of another person who has taken on so many different roles–individual contributor, manager, and head of search, not to mention dealing with press–and done such a superb job in each role. When a regular person hits a wall and gets discouraged, that’s when Amit is just getting started. It’s always fun to see how he cuts to the root of a problem and solves it. I’m proud to call him my friend.
Billions of people have benefited in some way from Amit’s insight and judgment. Google will miss you, but thank you for everything, Amit. I’m also thankful that the leadership of search remains in excellent hands, including an experienced group of contributors and leaders in core ranking.