“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
— John Muir
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
— John Muir
One of my favorite talks from TED last week was by Laura Galante. The most hackable device on the planet is your own mind:
Longreads has raised about $250,000 from “thousands of members” since it added memberships in 2012. The suggested monthly amount is now $5 a month or $50 a year, though readers can choose to donate any amount, and Armstrong said that the company’s gotten some thousand-dollar donations. All of that money now goes to pay authors, and WordPress.com matches every $1 from a reader with an additional $3, which clearly makes it a lot easier for Longreads to do what it wants to do.
One of the things that surprised me most about when my Dad was sick last year was that while he was in the hospital over about 5 weeks he lost any interest in music, TV, movies, anything on a screen. Music was particularly surprising given that he had music on at his desk pretty much all the time, and really enjoyed loading a new CD or record into the media library he had set up at home. One of the songs I remember playing for him was from a band, Manhattan Transfer, that we used to listen to a lot when I was younger and just learning about jazz, I chose Tuxedo Junction because it might cheer him up.
I remember him smiling faintly. (I wish I had played him more music. I wish I had recorded more of his stories, ideally before he got sick. I wish I had figured out how to navigate the hospital and health care system better.)
What I didn’t anticipate was how after his death there would be aftershocks of grief that would hit me over and over again, especially while driving or in a plane. I went from crying maybe three times in the past decade to breaking down at the end of a company town hall, when talking to family, when my Mom found out about the anniversary present my Dad had been looking at, and with any number of songs that unexpectedly took on a new meaning.
Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth’s See You Again, is obvious, and was in heavy rotation every public place I went; Lukas Graham’s 7 Years completely broke me down when it talked about children — if I ever have any my father will never meet them; Kayne & Paul McCartney’s Only One, the tribute to Kanye’s daughter and passed mother and I think perhaps his best song; Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, about growing old together, turning 70 as he was so close to doing; Kanye’s Ultralight Beam snuck up on me, I didn’t expect it, but the questioning and gospel and anger and hope in it captured something I didn’t even realize I was feeling. Even jazz wasn’t safe, Horace Silver’s lyric-less Song for My Father had the same effect.
John Mayer’s Stop This Train is a song I’ve probably heard a hundred times since it came out in 2006, but all of sudden these words meant something completely different:
So scared of getting older
I’m only good at being young
So I play the numbers game
To find a way to say that life has just begun
Had a talk with my old man
Said, “Help me understand”
He said, “Turn sixty-eight
I almost had to pull the car over: he was sixty-eight. What I would give for just one more conversation with him like the one the day before he passed. I wish I had written more down, recorded more of his stories, learned more about his journey.
As the year has passed, the surprise crying is much less common even when one of these songs comes on the radio. Usually when I think of my father it’s with a smile. I’ve even had a few treasured dreams where we’ve been able to talk, nothing that made much sense (it was a dream) but I remember waking up with an overwhelming feeling of enveloping love. While the “new normal” is different, I can’t say it’s better — he’s still gone.
There’s a new “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list out! I follow the list and try to check out restaurants on it when I’m in the area, and as of last month had made it to 28 out of 50 of last year’s list. It’s a goal but in a rolling, gentle fashion: as the list changes every year I’ll probably never make it to 100%, but I enjoy exploring the highlighted folks and I’ve never had a bad meal at one. I was able to make it to Eleven Madison last month and predicted they might take the top spot, which they did in a well-deserved win. As with any award, there are lots of detractors, but Scott Vogel at Houstonia has a great essay on Why the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List Matters, which encapsulates nicely what the list represents to me.
I joined in for the James Altucher podcast in an episode that covered a lot of ground. One clarification was the point of the story about my Dad not making much at his old job was that companies should be thoughtful about compensation especially for the people who stay with them the longest, not that loyalty is a myth or something to be avoided. It just needs to be two-way.
One thing I’m going to try this year is to write a review of every book I get a chance to read. It’s March already so I’m a bit behind and the next few will be out of order, but this seems like as good a place to start as any.
One new thing I’ve been doing this year is listening to audiobooks with an Audible account, so this first book review is actually an audiobook. Great Courses is actually an old school thing where you could order college lectures on tape. From the references throughout the lectures I listened to, my guess is that the recordings are from the 90s. This one is called From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author ($25 on Audible, $9.99 on cassette tape 🙃).
I really enjoyed this series. Some of the early lectures covering Aristotle, Longinus, and Sidney’s “Apology for Poetry” were quite brilliant. Later ones from Foucault and Derrida on were weaker and harder to follow, which I think is a function of both the material, which can be dense when it starts getting into Modernism, the length, fixed at 30 minutes, and the lecturer, Louis Markos. Markos teaches at Houston Baptist University and his asides can sometimes be a little traditional, but in an adorable grandpa way. He has an infectious enthusiasm that makes even the slower chapters on Kant and Schiller bearable, but his love of and fluency in the earlier classics is really a pleasure.
It made me curious to look into more online lectures and sometime this year I’m going to check out this one on Value Theory at Khan academy. I also picked up a used copy of Critical Theory Since Plato which had the original text for many things discussed in the lecture, so was a great reference point when I was at home in Houston, where I end up listening to most audio content since it’s a driving town.
I’m really excited about the new Google Docs integration that just launched — basically it builds a beautiful bridge between what is probably the best collaborative document editor on the planet right now, Google’s, and let’s you one-click bring a document there into a WordPress draft with all the formatting, links, and everything brought over. There’s even a clever feature that if you are copying and pasting from Docs it’ll tell you about the integration.
I think this is highly complementary to the work we’re doing with the new Editor in core WordPress. Why? Google Docs represents the web pinnacle of the WordPerfect / Word legacy of editing “pages”, what I’ll call a document editor. It runs on the web, but it’s not native to the web in that its fundamental paradigm is still about the document itself. With the new WordPress Editor the blocks will be all about bringing together building blocks from all over — maps, videos, galleries, forms, images — and making them like Legos you can use to build a rich, web-native post or page.
We’re going to look into some collaborative features, but Google’s annotations, comments, and real-time co-editing are years ahead there. So if you’re drafting something that looks closer to something in the 90s you could print out, Docs will be the best place to start and collaborate (and better than Medium). If you want to built a richer experience, something that really only makes sense on an interactive screen, that’s what the new WordPress editor will be for.
One final note, the Docs web store makes it tricky to use different Google accounts to add integrations like this one. To make it easy, open up a Google Doc under the account you want to use, then go to Add-ons -> Get add-ons… -> search for “Automattic” and you’ll be all set.
Inc. writes The Job Interview Will Soon Be Dead. Here’s What the Top Companies Are Replacing It With, and looks at how our brains mislead us in interviews and how Menlo Innovations and Automattic approach it.
I’m very excited to have been selected to join the Henry Crown Fellowship Class of 2017. Many, many folks I admire including Reed Hastings, Kim Polese, Cory Booker, Aileen Lee, Stephen DeBerry, Deven Parekh, Chris Sacca, Tim Ferriss, Reid Hoffman, Scott Heiferman, Troy Carter, Bre Pettis, Lupe Fiasco, and Alexa von Tobel have been through the program in previous years, and several of those people have spoken highly of it to me. I’m excited to meet and get to know the rest of the 2017 class, and embark on a learning journey alongside them.
As I walked around Barcelona after everything was closed, I was really taken with the graffiti on the roll-down doors. Here’s a gallery of a few snaps.
I’m taking it easy this week, nothing too crazy — just sharing good meals and wine with friends. Which is probably a good example of my goals for the year: putting family and loved ones first, slowing down (to go further), and deliciousness. (Single Thread Farms blew me away.)
2016 was a year of incredible contrasts: it was the saddest and most challenged I’ve ever been with the passing of my father, and while that overshadowed everything there were also bright moments of coming closer to family, deepening friendships, and growing professionally with incredible progress from both WordPress and Automattic. That momentum on the professional side is carrying through and right now I’m the most optimistic I can recall, and thrilled to wake up and get to work every day with the people I do.
I talked about trying to spend longer stretches of time in fewer places, and that definitely happened. I flew 162k fewer miles than the year before, and visited 35 fewer cities. My blogging decreased a lot too — from 252 posts in 2015 to 76 posts in 2016, but the posts I did write were at least 50% longer. I made it to 9 more of the Top 50 restaurants and stand currently at 50% of the list. I finished 22 books, including a lot more fiction including my first few graphic novels like Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man, and Watchmen. I watched 35 movies, 9 of which were from the Marvel universe on a single flight from Cape Town to Dubai.
Last year I said, “it’s exciting to make the most of the opportunity that the volatility, love, loss, glory, failure, inspirations, and setbacks that 2016 will bring.” I didn’t know how right I would be, and wish I hadn’t been.
This year doesn’t start with new plans, but rather three intentions continued from a few months ago. I revealed one yesterday, and promised I would expand today on the others, so here they are:
My friend Kamal Ravikant has a new book out, Rebirth, which I highly recommend. I had the good fortune to read it a few months ago and the story of the Camino de Santiago touched and inspired me.
Because of the impact of the book, I ended up adopting a few New Year’s intentions long before January 1st — things to ruminate on and keep in mind as the year wound down. The outlook of the world seemed uncertain, and I’m learning to navigate the world without my father.
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage path in Spain that people have walked since the 9th century AD. The 500 mile path winds through mountains, fields, and sometimes cities, and many pilgrims take a month or more on it. In some ways it is similar to the Kumano Kodo walk I did with Dan and Craig last year.
There are places where the path isn’t exactly clear, either because the trail isn’t strong, there’s been growth, or you might be in a crowded urban area like a city. Over the years pilgrims and people who live on the trail have marked it with yellow arrows pointing the way. If someone gets lost or confused, it’s an opportunity for an additional sign to bring them back on track.
When you know the path, is it clear where someone else walking it should go next? It’s an interesting concept that applies across life. In your relationships, does your friend, loved one, or partner know what to expect, and where you’re headed together? Even in WordPress I feel like there are too many places where we bring someone to a fork in the road and there is no clear indication which way they should take.
Give some thought to the yellow arrows in your life, and I’ll write more about the other two things I’ve been thinking about tomorrow. Also don’t forget to pick up a copy of Kamal’s book. I loved it and I think it will be one I’m recommending to many friends.
(Image from Camino Travel Center.)
I love Christmas music, and most years I like to recommend a Christmas music album that is a bit more jazz or has something interesting about it. This year I want to point you to Leslie Odom Jr., aka Aaron Burr in the hit musical Hamilton, who is a gifted vocalist. Hat tip: Rose Kuo. Check out “My Favorite Things.” Embedded on Spotify below, also on iTunes and Amazon.
One of my favorite new .blogs is The Dongle blog, at dongle.blog. I think it’s mostly meant to be funny, but I really agree with this post pointing out you really need something that lets you plug in your lightning headphones to your laptop. I’ve been trying out the Audeze EL-8 and they only have a lightning connector.
The full video and Q&A from 2016’s State of the Word last week in Philadelphia is now online. This year was especially exciting because it wasnt’ just a look back at the previous year, but sets out a new direction for where WordPress will be in 2017 and beyond.
If you want just the slides, here they are:
Like every year, there was a ton of help bringing this together. Mark Uraine led the slides, and at various points these folks pitched in as well: Mel Choyce, Tammie Lister, Michael Arestad, Ashleigh Axios, Ian Dunn, Corey McKrill, Martin Remy, Josepha Haden, Alex Kirk, Marina Pape, Alx Block, Cami Kaos, Matias Ventura, Donncha O Caoimh, John Maeda, Barry Abrahamson, Nikolay Bachiyski, Chrissie Pollock, Sam Sidler, Boris Gorelik, Dion Hulse, Brooke Dukes, Sarah Blackstock. I also got input and suggestions from Petya Raykovska, Tony Perez, Joe Casabona, Helen Hou-Sandi, Jon Bossenger, Jason Cohen, Daniel Bachhuber, Drew Butler, Ryan Boren, Andrew Roberts, Joost de Valk, Stephane Daury, Dion Hulse, Gary Pendergast, David Bisset, Ryan McCue, Alex Shiels, Brian Krogsgard, Joe Hoyle, Sean Blakeley, Andrew Nacin, Mark Jaquith, John Blackbourn, and thank you to Rose Kuo for inspiring the poetry theme which featured prominently this year.
Tavern and Post Status wrote up the talk itself. As a follow-up I did interviews with both to expand on some of what was discussed in the speech. The Post Status one is now up and you can watch it here:
Later today (3:45pm ET) I’ll deliver my annual State of the Word speech, which I’m very excited about. If you’d like to watch remotely, this year live stream tickets are free and you can tune in here.
In the WordPress world, when we look back an 2016 I think we’ll remember it as the year that we awoke to the importance of marketing. WordPress has always grown organically through word of mouth and its passionate community, but the hundreds of millions being spent advertising against WP has started to have an impact, especially for folks only lightly familiar with us.
I’ve started to hear about a number of folks across many WordPress companies and industries working on this from different angles, some approaching it from an enterprise point of view and some from a consumer point of view. There’s an opportunity for learning from each other, almost like a mastermind group. As the survey says:
Never have there been more threats to the open web and WordPress. Over three hundred million dollars has been spent in 2016 advertising proprietary systems, and even more is happening in investment. No one company in the WP world is large enough to fight this, nor should anyone need to do it on their own. We’d like to bring together organizations that would like to contribute to growing WordPress. It will be a small group, and if you or your organization are interested in being a part please fill out the survey below.
By working together we can amplify our efforts to bring open source to a wider audience, and fulfill WordPress’ mission to truly democratize publishing.
If this sounds interesting to you, apply using this survey.