The Three Things #28

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks (although Gini is away, so the ever-awesome Lindsay Bell is filling in), Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Michael on Story: Here’s something you probably wouldn’t expect… an agnostic Jewish New Yorker is about to suggest that you read a book from a Christian spirituality writer… Yeah… that just happened…

I’ve loved A Million Miles in a Thousand Years ever since Chris Brogan posted about it back in 2010. The book chronicles author Donald Miller’s experiences as he adapts his book Blue Like Jazz into a movie. As Miller learns what makes for a good movie, he is inspired to tell a better story with his life.

I’ve been rereading it this week and nothing else I’ve come across comes close. There’s a slight religious slant to the book, which may not appeal to some, but I’m as non-religious as they come and it is one of my favorites. If you’re looking to tell a better story with your life, start by reading this book. No matter what you believe, you’ll want to do better.

No News Isn’t Good News by The Economist

Howie on the News Media: This article is really a wake up call. Our Fourth Estate is in trouble but maybe finally figuring out how to rebound. When Cable TV exploded and viewers fragmented, TV production companies did less original big budget shows and more reality due to the new economics.

Who cares if instead of X-Files they made Super Nanny or Celebrity Rehab. This didn’t affect me. But without the resources for our news companies to keep government and business in check, our democracy could be in danger.

The most shocking part is the explosion of PR infiltrating the news creation process. This didn’t have to happen had digital agencies not falsely promoted online ads as a revenue replacement for subscriptions and paid content.

Sometimes people are suckers. Sometimes whole industries.

Of Mammoths and Men by National Geographic

Lindsay on Science: Anyone who knows me know I’m a total science geek. Like, spends Friday nights watching documentaries, subscribes to National Geographic science geek. While archeology fascinates me, what truly blows my tiny mind is our more recent past. How herds of prehistoric animals were still roaming this earth as recently as ten thousand years ago. Like mammoths, for example.

While scientists and others have discovered incredibly preserved mammoth specimens in the far north before, there’s a new breed of hunter trolling the frozen northern wastelands. And while they’re looking for mammoth remains, they have one goal in mind: Profit.

The trade in mammoth tusk ivory is brisk, with an estimated 60 tons a year being hauled out of Siberia. I’m not sure how I feel about this. If it saves one elephant from poachers it’s a good thing. But how many potential archeological sites are plundered for this ancient ivory? How many ancient secrets will we never discover? Read about Siberian mammoth tusk hunter Karl Gorokhov, and the five months a year he spends 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Be sure to subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future editions of The Three Things series and more from A Better Mess.

Drafting a Review of Draft in Draft

Draft is a new service that’s meant to revolutionize the way we collaborate on documents. Since there’s no better way to stress test a new application than by trying it, I reached out to my occasional editor, Jason Rehmus, to work on a collaborative review.

Neither of us has used the service, yet. In fact these are the first sentences I’ve written in it.

Setting up the account was easy. I hit the Try button, entered a username and password, hit New Document and here we are.

New Document in Draft

Now comes the fun part… I’m going to invite Jason in and see what happens.

Share in Draft

Share Link in Draft

Jason here. Michael sent me a link to the document he’d created. All I had to do was click the link, log in to Draft with the username I’d already set up, then click Edit. So simple.

Edit in Draft

At that point I was looking at the draft Michael had already started. I clicked (tapped since I’m doing this all on my iPad Mini) on the document, placed the cursor where I needed to tweak some things, and made changes. Then I clicked You’re Done Editing and sent the changes to Michael. He’ll be able to view my additions then choose whether or not to merge them.

Done Editing in Draft

At this point, I received an email back telling me that changes had been committed. Jason may have been a bit overzealous to commit his changes as I received three messages in the span of minutes (he’s very diligent). This may just be the learning curve, but I can see this getting annoying with regular use and a diligent committer. Once I saw that he was no longer editing, I was able to approve his changes (one-by-one or all-at-once) and correct one of his typos (few things are more pleasing than editing an editor).

Edit Confirmations in Draft

The one thing I didn’t think to do was reject one of his changes… Jason, do something stupid so I can reject it… (Note: Rejecting does not seem to be an option, hope to see this in a future update.)

Ok… as you may have noticed, this isn’t in italics and is still me. I ran into my first problems with the service. These could very well be user error, but I’ve been banging on it for a few minutes now trying to figure this out. The first is a relatively minor issue: there doesn’t seem to be a great way to let Jason know that I have more changes ready for him to review. I had to jump into IM to let him know. (Note: Looks like I was wrong here, more on this later.)

There also seems to be issues with what I’m writing now. Even though I can make additional changes to the document, it seems to be treating this text as Jason’s changes rather than my own additions.

Editing Problem in Draft

It also seems to be struggling to save them. When I approve the changes (which are actually my own additions), it seems to swallow the text. I’ve even tried to use the beautiful looking multi-draft review feature and it seems to be giving me some grief. The text I’ve written is there, but I can’t seem to save it as the main draft.

Multi-Draft Editor in Draft

I’m going to log out and see if that fixes things…

Hmm… it still thinks these are edits and not additional writing. I’m going to save here, invite Jason back. Let’s see what happens.

After Michael let me know he was ready for me to jump back in, Draft displayed a helpful message, updating me on the document’s status:

Draft Update in Draft

Now I can continue editing the document, just as I did before. I agree with Michael, though. It would be nice for me to be notified when he’s ready for me to take another look.

Ok, things seem to be back on track now. I was able to accept all of Jason’s edits and things are working as expected again. I also noticed that there is a comment window where we can both leave notes and I can ping Jason. They may want to make this a bit more prominent…

Comment Window in Draft

So, what do I think? I’m excited to see where this service goes. Traditionally I work with Jason through a combination of Dropbox and Kaleidoscope. The process works, but it’s clunky as I compare his edits in Kaleidoscope, his notes in a separate document and then work on the actual file in Byword. Draft has the potential to bring this all into one tidy little package.

My bottom line: Draft seems well thought out despite a few rough edges and missing features (remember, this is a new service). At the moment, I’d have no issue doing a single edit using the service. I liked it when I wrote, Jason edited and I approved. I’m a bit reticent to pass things back and forth as I ran into a few of those rough edges, most of which centered around reviewing Jason’s changes after I made additional revisions. Once I get familiar with its quirks, I may feel differently as I really like it when things work well, especially now that I discovered the comment panel… Jason, any parting thoughts? This is what you do for a living after all…

I love it! I do have a pretty smooth workflow for my editing clients, but Draft removes even more friction. Keeping all of our collective work in one place, easily reviewable at any time, is great. By the way, I did all of my writing, editing, and screenshots on my iPad Mini and had no trouble at all!

Now I just need to teach more people the benefits of writing in Markdown!

Note: If you’re yet to give Sweating Commas – Jason’s editing service – a try, now is the time as he is having a sale and is an amazing editor.

Getting Back Into Gear

As I’m gearing back up from some downtime, I figured I’d share a few of the ways I get back into the swing. For some, getting back to work is a breeze. Solidifying broken habits is no worry. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I tend to be momentum driven and gaining momentum can take time. Here’s the process I often use to get things going after finding myself behind at work or at home.

Begin With A Review

Whenever I experience a significant break from my routine, I go into review mode. Even if it is mid-week, I go through the same process that I would during my weekly review (especially considering this is one of the first habits to go when things get dicey). This forces me to take a look at everything, get a feel for what’s missing and creates an opportunity to reassess what’s most important. It forces me to clear my desk and clear my head, both of which tend to be messy after a break.

Make A Plan

After I review, I’ll sit down and plan out the rest of my week. I don’t tend to do this normally. In most cases, I trust in my system to show me the information I need to plan my days. Normally I sit down at my desk each morning, take out one of David Seah’s Emergent Task Planners and use a combination of OmniFocus, my calendar and any notes on my desk to create a rough plan for the day. When getting back from a break in the routine, I trust my trusted system just a little less and want a bit more scaffolding. To achieve this, I plan my day, but go one step further. I don’t lay things out exactly, I just try to determine the “big rocks” for every day of that week. Even determining the projects I plan to work on each day can go a long way towards getting my mind back on doing a single task rather than obsessing over all the tasks I have to do..

Start Smart

There’s a temptation to go as hard as you can as long as you can until you’re caught up. Don’t you worry; plenty of hard work will go into getting back up to speed and back into a routine. It just won’t help you to hit the ground running, at least not right away. One of my favorite takeaways from Crossfit is the concept of a sprint start on an rowing machine. When you’re racing for time, you’re tempted to just start pulling as hard as you can to get going as fast as you can. As those who try this approach quickly learn, it isn’t an effective strategy. Instead you go through a progression of smaller strokes that get the flywheel going. By the time you’re ready for that first pull, things are already in motion. Taking the time to review and plan go a long way toward getting things going, but also give yourself a few lightweight manageable tasks to build some momentum up before you really start pulling.


Last but not least, be ready to suck and for things to suck for a little while. Having just gone back to the aforementioned Crossfit after a nearly two-week absence away, I can tell you that things were not fun and pretty. That said, had I waited any longer, they would only grow less fun and less pretty. I needed to get back in the swing of things and the only way to do that is by going through the motions. I had to get through the initial work before I could get back to doing my best work.

Yesterday wasn’t my best day at work, my best day of writing or my best day at the gym, but taking the time to clarify, structure and ease back into the work along with a willingness to suck at it is going a long way toward making today just a little bit better.

How do you go about getting back into gear when you lose your momentum? I’m still getting mine back, so all tricks and tips are welcome.

Spinning Plates

Like most who seek out a site like this, I keep several plates spinning at once. At times it feels like all I’m doing is running from one stick to the other to ensure that there’s enough momentum to keep any and all of my projects from crashing to the ground.

Now, as discerning readers may have noticed, the plate has been spinning a little slower here. Last week – for the first time in years – it stopped altogether. Life came on strong. I had some family issues followed by a cold that kicked my ass. My energy was spent, my mind unfocused. Rather than having one plate come crashing to the floor – which often leads to others following in its path – I decided to spin one less plate for a while.

As the week progressed, other plates came down as well. I maintained my obligations to others, I did what needed to be done at work and at home, but I was far from my best. It was all I could do to get by. Rather than doing it all poorly, I scaled back and did what I could. The remaining plates wobbled, but none fell.

Once A Plate Stops Spinning…

Hard as it may be to keep a plate spinning, it’s a terrifying thing to let them stop. Well, it’s terrifying for those of us who are prone to breaking habits (and plates for that matter…). Getting that initial momentum was hard enough. We live in fear that if the plate stops spinning, it may never start again. Difficult as this may be, it’s an opportunity. Once you’re ready to start spinning again, you have a moment to reassess, to ask the one question that really matters: Am I spinning the right plates?

I may not have chosen this moment to slow down, but I’d be been foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity. When you’re spinning, it’s difficult to see things clearly. You’re so busy maintaining momentum that you lack the clarity to properly assess your choices. Because I had to take the plates down, I found myself with a moment to really consider them.

I’ve been at this for a while now and – while I love the work I’m doing here – there was a part of me that worried it was becoming more of a habit than a desire. The time away did me some good. I won’t lie, it was nice, but I missed this. And while it may not be the easiest thing to get back into the routine, I’m really looking forward to getting the plate spinning again.

See you tomorrow.

The Three Things #27

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

5by5 | Systematic #38: Patrick Rhone on Challenges and Success

Michael on Career Paths: This week, two of my favorite thinkers – Patrick Rhone and Brett Terpstra – got together to record an episode of Brett’s always excellent Systematic Podcast. Like any good episode of Systematic, they cover a lot of ground, but I was particularly taken by Patrick’s comments on the arc of his career. While I was late to realize my writing ambitions, I connected with the way he “became a writer by way of technology by way of being a writer.” It certainly touches on my own emerging experience of looking for better ways to go about my work only to discover my own fascination about the ways we go about improving.

I need to expand on this at some point, but Patrick touches on a growing interest of mine that relates to what we do, what we care about, and what happens when they collide. That, no matter what we do to make our living, it can be shaped by our fascinations. That, when we allow our unrelated personal fascinations to infuse our work (and vice-versa), it can lead our life in unexpected directions. It’s also just a great conversation between two guys who I admire greatly.

I Never Wanted to Take Your Guns Away

Howie on Google Search: Or how a little Google will do you. Allow me to explain…

Jim Carrey did a spoof on Funny or Die, which I found through a Google search after reading this on Huffington Post. Then I thought maybe Carrey is small fry against the NRA and FOX News. But if those people had Googled, they would find he has 10 million Twitter followers versus only two and a half million for FOX News and 145,000 for the NRA.

They’d also find FOX News has more than one million viewers watching at any given time and the NRA has more than four million members, which means they have one tenth the fans of Jim Carrey. How many times do I have to say ‘a little Google would do ya’? Heck, even a Yahoo Search would have helped!

As Web Search Goes Mobile, Google Loses its Edge

Gini on Mobile Search: Because of all the writing I do every day, I spend a lot of time studying Google, search engine optimization, and other things that will help us continue to grow through content. That’s why I found this New York Times article so interesting. No longer do we go to the web on our phones and tablets to find something; we go to an app. Yelp if we need a restaurant recommendation, Amazon for goods, books, and wares, Apple to bypass the counter register, and the WeatherBug to see if what kind of wind is facing a bike ride. Soon the day of link building and first page results will be gone. Are you ready?

Be sure to subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future editions of The Three Things series and more from A Better Mess.

The Three Things #26

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

Michael on Passion Projects: If, like me, you make any kind of an attempt to balance a job, a family, and a passion project, you must read this. Hat tip to Dan and Merlin for sharing this on the latest latest Back to Work. That’s all there is to be said about this, seriously, just go and read it.

Why the World is Losing Faith in Democracy

Howie on Democracy: This is a great timely discussion on the subject. Vermont just had a big fight against wind power. They want to build massive wind farms on mountain tops destroying the views, the ecosystem, and causing erosion problems. All in the name of going green, even though the power generated is so small it doesn’t make sense. Yet Ben and Jerry’s, Senator Bernie Sanders, and many environmental groups opposed a law giving towns the right to decide if wind comes to their mountain tops. In the United States, we all feel all politicians are owned by big business and special interests. So is our democracy in decline? Seems like it.

Long Night at Today

Gini on TV Drama: When Ann Curry left The Today Show more than a year ago, I watched with some interest, particularly because I thought she was a great replacement to Katie Couric, deserved the promotion, and was very good at delivering relevant news. But also because she never really said anything about what happened choosing, instead, to let others tell her side of the story, even if it was pure speculation. While this still doesn’t tell her side of the story, it’s a very well-researched, thoughtful, and balanced piece about what’s happening at the once most popular morning show program.

Be sure to subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future editions of The Three Things series and more from A Better Mess.

An Unclear Kickoff

As an OmniFocus user, I’m always looking out for applications that can bridge the gap between my own task list and the work I do with others. This is especially true with my podcasting partner-in-crime, Mike Vardy. While I still hold out hope for a collaborative aspect to OmniFocus down the road, I needed a collaborative tool that would manage conversations and expectations but that still allowed me to do the heavy lifting on my own. In the past, I’ve experimented with Asana, but it always felt like I was managing two full-fledged task managers rather than a task manager and a collaboration manager. So I was excited when I first heard about Kickoff.

The early implementation of Kickoff seemed to meet my needs. It provided a lightweight environment for managing conversations and expectations. While it didn’t have everything I’d hope for, the execution was well done and the platform had promise. The beta was already mature enough to start using and, after seeing that Apple was featuring the app as an Editor’s Choice, I purchased both the Mac and iOS versions. Based on the early product and the prominent features, I was optimistic that it would continue to gain traction and features. 

Kickoff Featured on the Mac App Store

Except here’s the thing… it wont be gaining any new features. Despite not disclosing this on their site and in their description on the App Store, the team behind Kickoff was acquired by payment platform Stripe on March 11th. While they promise to maintain the app, they have no intention of adding new features. Of course I only realized this after spending my money on the app – and only discovered the acquisition news by accident.

Don’t get me wrong, purchasing an application is a risk. You should always assume that you will never see an update, that you’re only paying for what you initially get. Updates are gravy, not an expectation. That said, it seems dishonest that this isn’t being clearly and prominently disclosed. Yes, they are open about this on Twitter. Yes, the developer blogged about the acquisition, but the average customer will not discover this (hell, I’m a geek and I didn’t realize it).

Much as I’d like to think of this as an oversight, it seems the lack of a clear disclosure appears to be by design. It seems unlikely that Apple would be featuring the application so prominently. It’s also unlikely that people will be as excited by the app with the knowledge that it will not see any new features. While this is purely speculation, there seems to be only one logical reason not to share the good news on their website – it would limit sales. 

I don’t mind that I took a chance on an app that didn’t pan out. That happens. I do mind that it appears that the developer is limiting disclosure. More than anything this is meant to serve as a heads up to anyone who, like me, was optimistic about the potential of Kickoff but would be reticent in light of their acquisition. 

It’s also a question to developers out there: Is this even close to the right way to go about this? Acquisitions happen, but is this even close to how someone should go about handling the aftermath? People may have been frustrated when the popular iOS email client, Sparrow, was acquired, but at least they were clear about it. There’s a good chance that I’m just being entitled here, but this just seems…wrong.