Birthday Purge

It’s the end of a long day, and as I enter the next year of my life I think it’s time to revisit some of my reading habits.

My routine for reading hasn’t changed much over the past decade. My attention has mostly been on blogs, the New York Times, and The New Yorker. Some things have changed a bit. I used to buy copies of The New Yorker to read in coffee shops and on the train; these days I’ve been reading it on their new app. I used to read the Times on my laptop and have completely switched to their apps as well.

For years I read only a few websites and visited them in browser tabs; I switched to an RSS reader on an iPod touch and then on an iPhone about 7 years ago. For the past year or so I finally started using Twitter to find links to interesting articles to read. I’ve done the bulk of my reading on iOS in Instapaper for the past 7 years as well.

Reeder (my RSS app of choice) and Instapaper (which I use to read articles from the web offline) placed prominently on my phone's dock.
Reeder and Instapaper have been steadfast companions for years.

The blogs I read have shifted. There’s more diversity among the writers I follow, and I’ve been reading more blogs by teachers than I used to. I’ve all but stopped reading about web development.

After today I feel like the constant stream of information isn’t always what I want every day. I’ve had inklings in the past that I’m overloaded with things to read, and have developed strategies for pruning over the years. But for the past several months, I’ve noticed a change: I spend much more time identifying things I want to read than actually reading them. If I don’t read something right away, I’m unlikely to ever revisit it.

I also rarely read entire books anymore. My reading strategy has been to read sections or chapters of books about things I’m interested in. Even that has lessened in recent years as I’ve adopted a full-time teaching schedule.

My home screen with Notes and iBooks where Reeder and Instapaper used to be.
Goodbye constant stream, hello slow-paced reading and writing.

So my birthday present to myself is to give myself a break and a nudge.

I want to give myself more opportunities to read books again, take away the daily distractions, and prompt myself to jump into writing more often.

No rules or requirements, just a gentle reminder when I take out my phone looking for something to do.

Work Hack

I sometimes feel like I’m always losing a battle with myself to not check my work email or messages when I’m away from work. I’ve declined to have two separate phones, at least for now, which may be the best way to be unavailable completely, but somehow feels overly confusing to me.

For a while now, I’ve adopted the approach of keeping my work email quarantined to an entirely separate email app. In my case, I’ve been keeping work in Google Inbox and Microsoft Outlook, and my personal and side project emails in Spark and Mail. This has allowed me to keep a single folder of apps for work on the first screen of my phone, where I keep email, messages, and documents related to my job.So far so good, but I realized that this step has enabled me to try yet another step: with all my work-related apps now in a single folder, I can just move that folder to the last screen of my phone when I’m on my way home, and back to the first when I get to work.

I’m gonna try this for a while and see if I can make it a habit.

Axes of Fidelity

I’ve been trotting out this idea frequently over the past year when students have questions about making medium- or mid-fidelity wifeframes. Many new designers seem fairly comfortable with sketching early on, but as soon as a digital tool is being used, the thirst to make it look like a finished design becomes difficult to ignore.

In an effort to help, I bring up this notion that I like to call “axes of fidelity”. The axes I talk about are the different components of a design, or the pieces that decisions ultimately need to be made about. I start off usually with only a few: copy, images, and color; to which you could add type, interaction, motion/animation, and others. Each axis has its own scale. Color fidelity is relatively easy to tease out first: at the lowest level of fidelity we are working with black and white, grayscale introduces a medium-level, and full color is high color fidelity.

Copy fidelity (or content fidelity if you prefer, but I usually want to distinguish between written content and image content) is perhaps less immediately obvious. When we are sketching, we may represent words, phrases, or blocks of text with squiggly lines or straight lines, and we may occasionally throw in an actual word if it’s an action on a button. This is all a fairly low level of copy fidelity. Using placeholder text in a digital wireframe or mockup is probably a little higher fidelity than the lines used in sketches, but not by much. We start to have a sense for how much space text may occupy, how many words may roughly be given room—to a slightly better degree than we can judge with squiggles. I usually contend that a medium-level of copy fidelity begins to replace copy on interface elements like buttons and navigation with actual words, and more prominent text with descriptive placeholders, like “Article Title Goes Here”. A higher level of fidelity than this would replace more of the copy with example or test copy. And the highest level is reserved for final copy, which may only ever appear in the final product.

A similar thought process can be easily applied to images (boxes, placeholders, representative images, final images); type (handwritten, “neutral” font, branded type); interaction (illustrated with annotations and/or arrows, manually switching between printouts, digital clickable prototypes, coded front-ends); and motion (illustrated with annotations and/or arrows, manually demonstrated with paper, basic full-screen animations using digital prototyping tools, component-level animations, etc.).

When we break down fidelity in this way it becomes easier to acknowledge that we’ve implicitly made some choices about what sorts of fidelity we want to be higher, and which can be lower. Spending time advancing one area typically comes at the expense of another. If we focus first on type and color, that often comes at the expense of copy and interaction. Expose that choice, and we can be more deliberate in where we place our efforts first.

Rewatched Serenity and some of Firefly today. Adding Jewel Staite to my list of Whedon-verse actors that I wish I saw in more stuff, along with Enver Gjokaj.

I was reminded the other day about the fact that an old theme I designed for the now-defunct Chyrp blogging platform has been ported to the python-based static site generator Pelican.

The original theme is called Mockingbird, and here’s the ported version for Pelican.

I can’t believe that this theme has stuck around for so many years. Maybe I should go back and revisit it to make a few official updates.

Even after getting them on a fairly frequent basis for about 25 years, the pain of migraines still baffles me every time. It’s so dull and mundane, while also being sharp and stabbing. Somehow trying to think makes it worse, like the electricity of synapses firing irritates the surrounding tissue.

I’m still trying to figure out how to discipline myself better around my work-life balance. Sometimes I get mad at my phone, and I think this lack of disciplined separation is the reason why.

Maybe I should just delete some things every Friday and reinstall them every Monday. That seems ridiculous though.