Jordan Koschei jordan koschei

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Radical Technologies

I’ve been reading the book Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield, and I thought this quote insightful, on how smartphones shape our lives:

It’s easy, too easy, to depict the networked subject as being isolated, in contact with others only at the membrane that divides them. But if anything, the overriding quality of our era is porosity. Far from affording any kind of psychic sanctuary, the walls we mortar around ourselves turn out to be as penetrable a barrier as any other. Work invades our personal time, private leaks into public, the intimate is trivially shared, and the concerns of the wider world seep into what ought to be a space for recuperation and recovery. Above all, horror finds us wherever we are.

I started reading the book a while back, but life got in the way and I’m finally picking it up again. It’s a breakdown of how nine different technologies are reshaping the world in invisible ways, from how the Internet of Things promotes a worldview of “unreconstructed logical positivism” (the belief that everything can be perfectly measured, and thus perfectly controlled, and human bias can be eliminated) to how smartphones make us nodes in a network, rather than discrete individuals.

Most books in this genre are either too optimistic or too pessimistic for my taste, but this one is neither technophilic or technophobic. Also unlike most books in the genre, it doesn’t read like a BuzzFeed article (“You won’t believe how these 9 technologies will make your life awesome!!!”)… it feels more like something Marshall McLuhan would write.

All-in-all, it’s been a lot to chew on, and I’m left with the feeling that it’s an important read. It’s certainly changing my understanding of the technologies that are coming down the pike. I’m a particular fan of the chapter titles, which sum up the thesis of each chapter and contain gems like:

  1. The internet of things: A planetary mesh of perception and response
  2. Digital fabrication: Towards a political economy of matter
  3. Automation: The annihilation of work

With a last name like Greenfield, it’s no wonder the author writes about high technology.

How to Find a Book to Read

Reading is the best.

I grew up reading a ton — one of the benefits of being an only child, and of having been born in the days before YouTube and Buzzfeed existed to divert one’s attention — and loved the sensation of sinking into a good book. You’d open up page one, find yourself gripped by the story… and emerge hours later, unsure of where the time went. You’d have knowledge you didn’t have before, or empathy and understanding for minds other than your own. Books can change you.

My reading fell off in college; there are few things that can suck the magic out of a book like someone forcing you to read it. But the past several years, as I try to counterbalance the mental effects of working on the web, I’ve been reading a lot more and rediscovering the joys of a good book.

Here are some thoughts on how I read , why I read, and how I find books I’ll enjoy. Your mileage may vary.

How I Read

  • I prefer paper books to ebooks, because I find my retention dramatically decreases if I’m reading on a screen. I suspect it has to do with the topography of the page — words on a physical page are tactile and have a location in physical space, whereas on a screen everything appears in the same ever-changing glowing rectangle.
  • I make heavy use of the library, and generally only buy books that I think I’ll want to have in my personal collection. The exception is the two books a month that I get gratis from work (thanks, Dwell!)
  • I use the online library catalog a lot, and hitting the “Request Book” button scratches the same itch as “Add to Checkout” on Amazon. Much cheaper, too.

I generally leave the library with three or four books at a time, with some diverse offerings to make sure that I can switch gears if I feel burnt out on any one book. I like to switch up the topics I’m reading about, too, so I don’t get caught in a rut. I know some people like to dive deep into a single subject at a time; I like to dabble, and see how connections form between the different subjects in my head. Maybe that makes me a dilettante; I prefer to think I’m just well-rounded.

Why I Read

There’s a difference between reading to read and reading to have read — in other words, reading for purpose vs. reading for pleasure.

Most fiction, I read to read. Much nonfiction, I read to have read. I’m trying to close the gap between the two — ideally, everything I read would be for pleasure, and not solely because I want to accumulate the knowledge therein.

I find that there are three reasons I typically read a book:

  1. For pleasure — the mere enjoyment of reading.
  2. To grow my breadth of knowledge — to expose myself to something new.
  3. To grow my depth of knowledge — to expand my knowledge on a subject I already know something about.

Most books check at least two of those boxes. Some books — Guns, Germs, and Steel, for example — checked all three. That book deepened my knowledge of some ideas that I’d already encountered through Michael Pollan’s writing, introduced me to broader knowledge of sociology and anthropology, and was also a magnificent romp of a read. If I read it again, it’ll be for the sheer pleasure of it.

How I Find Books to Read

I keep a running list of books I’m interested of reading. It’s currently tracked in Things, using category headings to keep things organized, but anything will work.

It’s a flexible list — I add books liberally, remove occasionally, and feel no pressure to read everything on the list (good thing, too, since it’s got more than 80 items now). I just want a way to keep track of recommendations and interesting-sounding titles so I always have something new to read.

I also go off-list very often; if I see something interesting, I’ll read it. I don’t want to be one of those people who’s systemized every aspect of his life… that seems like a surefire way to suck all the joy out of it.

There are four ways I typically find books I’m interested in reading:

  1. Personal recommendations. If someone I know recommends something to me, I always put it on the list.
  2. Podcasts. If a podcast I like mentions a book, or has an interview with an author, I’ll often add it to the list.
  3. Other books. If a book cites another book, and I’m interested in going deeper on that subject, I’ll consider adding it to the list.
  4. A random walk through the library. Sometimes I like to just wander the library and look at the shelves. If a title or cover pops out at me — boom, new book to read. I’ll occasionally do this with a shelf I rarely visit, just to see if there’s some new subject I may be interested in pursuing. It feels like browsing the course catalog at college again — full of possibilities.

I try not to pay much attention to Amazon’s recommendations because I know they’ll be books that I like… which means they’ll probably be books that reinforce my existing taste. I’d rather broaden my taste by reading a wide variety of books than get into a rut by reading the same sort of thing over and over. I do have genres and authors I keep going back to, but I want to supplement those with non-obvious choices that no algorithm would think to recommend for me.

Bonus: A Few of My Recent Favorites

  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt/Theodore Rex/Colonel Roosevelt, Edmund Morris (Biography)
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond (Geography, Sociology, Anthropology)
  • Cooked, Michael Pollan (History, Food)
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (Science Fiction, Weird Fiction)
  • Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (Science Fiction)

Leaving Twitter

I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago. Before leaving, I removed Tweetbot and Instagram from my phone — anything with a feed, really, including Slack and email etc.

As expected, my mind felt clearer almost immediately. Without Twitter close at hand, I lost the constant urge to see what’s going on elsewhere. Without Instagram ready to go, I stopped unconsciously evaluating every moment for how well it would look on my Story.

Coming back, I’ve decided to end my relationship with Twitter for good. It’s been almost ten years — I started in college, quit after a little while, and then rejoined again. (All part of my usual love/hate relationship with all things social.)

Things were good back then. I followed lots of web people, and learned about things like web standards. There was less vitriol and more collegiality, less corporatism and more direct access to real, interesting people.

In many ways, Twitter kicked off my career. It’s how I discovered the people and publications that taught me my craft. It’s where I first connected with The Industry, which would be my first real contribution to the design community. It’s how I’ve found and referred work, and met people who’ve been influential in my professional life.

Part of the joy of Twitter was its openness towards third-party clients. Don’t like twitter.com? Use a different app.

I’ve been a loyal Tweetbot user for a long time. Even as Twitter switched to an algorithmic feed, and added Moments, and added advertising, Tweetbot felt like the old Twitter.

It was well-designed, chronological, and sane. Even before Twitter had built-in muting, I had robust filters on Tweetbot that would filter out almost anything political, histrionic, or otherwise obnoxious. It made Twitter feel more like the early days.

Of course, this story ends predictably — Twitter changed its policy towards API access, severely crippling Tweetbot and its ilk. No more automatic timeline updates, no more activity tab. They clearly want everyone to come back to their subpar first-party apps.

So with that, I’m done with Twitter. If it’s a choice between using Twitter in its current form — poorly-run, blood-pressure-raising, user-hostile — or not using it at all… well, I choose not using it at all.

There are other reasons. I don’t like what Twitter does to my brain. During periods when I’ve been using it heavily, I can feel a shift towards thinking in Tweetable phrases.

I want to think in paragraphs, not sentences. I want my brain to pursue complex trains of thought, not quips designed to maximize engagement.

For the foreseeable future, I’m turning Twitter on autopilot. It’ll publish links to my blog via a Zapier integration, but I won’t be posting or checking otherwise. I’ve pinned a link to my email newsletter, which I’m resurrecting for anyone who wants to still get updates from me.

Yes, this will shrink my reach a little (not that it was exactly huge to begin with). But better to have a handful of followers who truly care than a multitude who won’t notice if I’m no longer in their feeds.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d rather have my thoughts archived on a corner of the web that I own, rather than homesteading on some company’s land.

My priorities will never line up with Twitter’s. If I have something to say, then, I’d rather say it here.

Kit

Here’s a page of pure navel-gazing: a list of real-world (i.e., not software) things that I use on a regular basis. Some are tools, some are toys, but all are objects that bring me satisfaction in some way.

I like to tweak and experiment with my kit, so this is subject to change. I’ll do my best to keep this page updated as necessary.

(Note: No affiliate links here, just products I personally enjoy.)

Hardware

💻 Computer:

MacBook Pro, 15in, Late-2013. This was my work computer two jobs ago, and they were kind enough to let me keep it (along with the Thunderbolt monitor and an iPad Pro), an exceptionally generous move that I’m still grateful for. The battery and screen are starting to show their age, but I’m unimpressed with the current line of MBP’s, so I’m still holding off on a replacement. I may get a new battery soon, though — better to pay the $199 for a refurbishment than the $3k for a new machine.

🎧 Headphones:

Bose QC35s. I use a pair of noise-canceling, wireless Bose headphones when I’m in a coffee shop or similarly noisy environment, or otherwise need to concentrate. Putting these on puts me right into work mode. Note that the link is for the second-generation model, while I have the first.

Apple AirPods. I got a pair of AirPods as a gift recently, and have been pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoy them. They pair to my phone or computer more quickly than the QC35s, and are great for taking calls or listening to music/audiobooks/podcasts while moving around. They’re a great supplement to my other headphones.

🖥 Desk:

StandDesk. I use a StandDesk, a motorized sit/stand desk that can adjust its height at the touch of a button. I have presets for my sitting and standing height, though full disclosure: I mostly use it while sitting. I have a large-ish model (don’t remember the exact dimensions), with black legs and a white top. I originally ordered the bamboo top, but there was a customs issue — I ordered the desk soon into the company’s existence and they had supply chain issues, so I gladly accepted the white top instead. It’s a very good desk.

Accessories

💼 Messenger Bag

Fossil Buckner Messenger. I’ve been a fan of messenger bags since the first time I saw Jim Halpert sporting one in The Office. I had a Tumi bag made of ballistic nylon that lasted me close to 10 years with hardly any signs of wear. They don’t make that model anymore, but I keep it around in case I need to go out in heavy rain.

Currently I’m using a Fossil Buckner bag (I believe it’s black, though it looks closer to a deep blue), which is more stylish and “adult” than the Tumi that got me through college. It’s nylon with leather, so I’m wary of taking it out in the rain (I got caught in a storm recently and really thought the leather had water damage, though it dried fine), but it fits my computer perfectly and the magnetic clasps are a nice touch. It’s maybe my most-used gift of the last year (thanks, Erin!)

🍶 Water Bottle

S’well Bottle. I use a 17oz Teakwood S’well Bottle nearby whenever I work, usually filled with water. I love this bottle — it keeps cold beverages cold for 24 hours, and hot beverages hot for 12. Really impressive bit of engineering.

📓 Notebooks

Baron Fig Confidant & Vanguard. I’ve never been a huge fan of Moleskine notebooks, even though I’ve used my fair share of them. They feel cheap, and their whole contrived story about how they were the notebook of choice for the great early-20th century authors left a bad taste in my mouth, considering that the company was founded in 1997. I recently bought a Baron Fig Confidant hardcover notebook to serve as my journal, and have been very impressed with the quality. It opens flat, and the clothbound cover is a very pleasant to the touch.

I also got a three-pack of softcover Vanguard dot grid notebooks, which I use for design work. I got them to bump myself up to free shipping, but I wind up using those notebooks just as much as the Confidant.

🖋 Pen

Zebra F-301. I have terrible handwriting, and I find it helpful to use a pen with a fine point. I love the stainless-steel Zebra pens with a 0.7mm point — they feel great and write great, and they’re not particularly expensive.

✏️ Pencil

I’m not a pencil guy. If it’s mechanical, I’ll use it.

Consumables

🛁 Soap

Hudson Made Morning Shift Okay, story time: A few months ago I was at a work retreat at Mohonk Mountain House, and the soap in their shower was maybe the best thing I ever smelled: it was rosemary-mint, and it left my face feeling tingly after. A really great way to wake up in the morning.

When I got home and had used the remainder of the soap, I considered buying it online, but it was realllly expensive. Also, my wife said it made me smell like bread, so… deal-breaker.

Recently I was at Hamilton & Adams, a menswear shop in Kingston, NY, browsing some of their grooming supplies. They had soap from a local manufacturer called Hudson Made, including Morning Shift — a bar soap made of peppermint, rosemary, and eucalyptus. It smelled similar but not identical to the Mohonk soap, and still left my nose feeling tingly afterwards.

I went back-and-forth on if I should buy it, since it’s fully 4× the price of the other soaps I like. Finally, a few weeks later, I went for it, using some gift money. I haven’t looked back — it’s a fantastic way to start the morning, and leaves me feeling invigorated and refreshed. As someone who really values my morning routine, I think it’s worth being intentional about using products that make me eager to get out of bed and get ready.

🐽 Deoderant

Schmidt’s Cedarwood + Juniper. The idea of smearing aluminum into my armpits to block the pores freaks me out, but that’s exactly how antipersperant works. I’ve been trying Schmidt’s natural deoderant lately, and despite the reputation that natural deoderant has, it works well and smells great. I naturally perspire a lot, and it’s been keeping up just fine. You can get a stick at Target for just about $1 more than the usual deoderant, so it’s not a huge risk to try it.


Any questions? Hit me up on Twitter.

How I Became a Soccer Announcer

Stockade FC
Stockade FC vs. Greater Lowell United FC (May 2016) Photo: Mario Rabadi @ FairPlay Magazine

I’ve never been a “sports guy.”

Remember that kid in elementary school who was woefully uncoordinated, and didn’t know the rules to any of the games in gym? That was me. I was a computer kid — too busy tinkering with QBasic and making little movies and computer games to bother with anything athletic.

Not much has changed in the two decades since. But somehow, with no experience and no knowledge of soccer, I’ve become the stadium announcer for a semi-pro soccer team.

A Little Background

I live in the Hudson Valley, about 90 miles north of New York City. Though the region tends to fly under-the-radar, we’re in the middle of a cultural renaissance. Our food-and-drink scene is already legendary and continues to grow in influence; we’ve long been a haven for artists, writers, and musicians; our film industry is expanding rapidly. Best of all, we’re seeing a surge in the tech sector, spurred on by homegrown talent as well as an influx of tech folks from NYC who are “graduating” into upstate life.

What we don’t have, though, is a solid local sports culture.

In 2015, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley founded Stockade FC, a fourth-division soccer club based out of the Hudson Valley city of Kingston. The plan was to bring the ethos of a tech startup to local soccer — information would be open-sourced, so other clubs could have an easier start, and the organization would be more tech-forward than most local sports teams.

In the three years since then, Stockade has become a local institution. It’s won its regional conference, gained high-profile sponsors like Lyft and AT&T, and put D4 soccer on the map among people (like me) who previously didn’t know or care. In 2018, Stockade qualified for the US Open Cup (a big deal). Perhaps best of all, it’s inspired other small teams to do similar work, sparking a groundswell in grassroots soccer community.

So how in the world did I get involved?

My Part of the Story

Germany, 2014

In 2014, I decided to tag along on my extended family’s annual trip to Germany. I wanted a cultural primer so I’d know what I was getting myself into, and for Germany, that meant understanding soccer. So, I invested in a copy of FIFA 2014 and started playing short games so I’d learn the rules.

“This is fun,” I remember thinking, “but I’d be much more invested if there was some local soccer culture in the Hudson Valley.”

CatskillsConf, 2015

At a local tech conference in 2015, I ran into Dennis Crowley, the founder of Foursquare and someone I knew from the Hudson Valley tech community. He mentioned that he was working on an idea for a community project that was going to be announced soon.

“I’m always up to talk about local tech projects,” I said.

“This one isn’t tech-related,” he said.

Kingston, 2015

One morning in November 2015, I was browsing Twitter and saw Dennis tweet an announcement:

Awesome! I felt supremely pumped — a massive surge of esprit de corps for the whole Hudson Valley. I decided to drive over to Kingston, a few towns over from my place, just to soak up some of the community spirit.

I was sitting in a local coffee shop when my friend Kale walked in. Kale is an institution in the local tech community — he cofounded the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup as well as CatskillsConf, and generally knows about everything happening in the area.

I waved him over, and he sat down across from me.

“We’re getting a soccer team! How great is this?”

Kale told me he was going to be involved with the operations side of the team. Half-jokingly, I said: “If you guys ever need an emcee, let me know. That would be fun.”

Kale, not joking, said: “I’ll bring that up.”

And that was that.

What it Means to Announce for a D4 Soccer Team

I sit in the press box of the stadium with a microphone and watch the game.

Jordan Koschei announcing for Stockade FC
A definitely-not-staged picture of me announcing for Stockade FC.

Thankfully, I don’t have to give any play-by-play commentary — that’s left for people with more knowledge and experience than I have, who narrate the livestream.

My role is simple:

  • 🎤 Make the opening announcements. I talk about our sponsors, make any announcements about the stadium or merch table, and give a quick intro for each team.
  • 🇺🇸 Introduce the national anthem singer.
  • #️⃣ Announce the starting 11 for each team. (With slightly more enthusiasm for the home team, of course).
  • ⚽️ Say “goal” unenthusiastically when the other team scores. Shout “GOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLLL” with Steve Ballmer-like enthusiasm when Stockade scores.
  • 🔁 Announce substitutions as they happen. Generally this involves seeing that a substitution is happening, squinting to see what number jerseys are being substituted, asking whoever else is in the booth with me if they can see the number, and then tapping on the window to get the attention of the commentators, who will hopefully hold up a sticky note with the numbers in case I missed it.
  • 🎟 Make halftime announcements, such as announcing the match attendance or reminding people to participate in the day’s 50/50 raffle.
  • ⏪ Make the end-of-game announcements, including final scores, goal recap, and information about the next match.

Since starting, we’ve made some refinements to the process:

  • 📜 I’ve written up a script template, making it easy to fill in info for each match.
  • 🗒 I now write out sticky notes for each team, with the current lineup on the desk in front of me and the bench elsewhere. When a substitution is made, I can just swap out the appropriate sticky notes, making it easier to keep track of who’s where.
  • 🔑 I keep a pronunciation guide for the players with trickier last names.
  • 🐦 I keep Twitter open to the Stockade FC and Dutch Guard accounts (The Dutch Guard is our fan organization), to make sure I’m up-to-date on game-related chatter.

Compared to the other volunteer roles, being the stadium announcer is thoroughly low-pressure. The trickiest part is keeping an eye on the player numbers and making sure that no goals or substitutions go unannounced; when a lot it happening at once, that can be a challenge, and it definitely helps to have someone else in the booth to confirm what just happened and update the sticky notes. Regardless, I think it’s the best job there — I get to watch the game from the press box, where it’s shady in the sun and sheltered in the rain.

Best of all, it feels great to be involved with an organization that’s helping to build the community I love. The world is built by the the people who show up — this is a way for me to show up and help with something I’d otherwise lack the skillset to be involved with.


You can follow Stockade FC on Twitter at @stockadefc, or find out more (and buy merch) at stockadefc.com.

Farewell, Agrilyst. Hello, Dwell & Lightstock!

Yesterday, April 20th, was my last day at Agrilyst.

I’ll try not to be a tech industry cliché with an overwrought blog post about leaving one job and “moving on to new adventures.” But I do want to commemorate my 21 months at Agrilyst with some standout memories:

  • 🐻 My first company retreat at Bear Mountain State Park, just a few days after I joined, where I laughed harder than I can ever remember laughing as we played ridiculous team-building games. That was when I realized that the environment at Agrilyst was going to be much different than I was used to.
  • 📈 Seeing how much traction our annual State of Indoor Farming survey would get, and being really proud of my role in bringing the website and PDF to life.
  • 👥 Working with all those great people. I won’t list them all by name, but I feel truly privileged to have been able to work with such a smart, driven, caring group of colleagues.
  • 🗝 Doing an escape room as a team-building exercise. The resulting pictures are ridiculous.
  • 🚒 Sleeping at a creepy Airbnb in Brooklyn during one of our company on-sites. It was a reconditioned old firehouse, which sounds cool and Ghostbusters-esque until you get there and realize that the pipes made a noise like a tea kettle the entire night.
  • 📸 Going to Indoor Ag Con in Las Vegas and finding out we had Agrilyst groupies. Seriously — one customer rushed up to our booth and insisted on getting a picture with us to send home.
  • 😊 Hearing from customers who genuinely loved our product. When doing product work, it’s easy to fixate on everything you know could be better, and forget to appreciate everything that’s already working. Having customers tell you they’re happy is a good way to snap out of that.

When I started at Agrilyst I’d been reading a lot of Michael Pollan books, and this job seemed like the perfect way to fuse my skills and talents with my interest in the food and agriculture industry. I love that I can say that I worked for a company that genuinely cares for farmers, and is doing something important to help feed the next billion humans.

So what’s next?

Jed Bartlet putting on his jacket

I’ll be joining the team at Little Lea, a company that builds two products:

Lightstock, a stock photography site aimed at churches and other faith organizations. Their photos are really solid, and free of the cheesiness that has unfortunately become a hallmark of church graphic design — other organizations source images from them too, including National Geographic and Penguin Random House.

Dwell is an audio Scripture app — think Audible or Overcast, but specifically for the Bible. It started as a Kickstarter, and became the fourth most highly-backed app of all time. This is something I’ve wanted for a while, ever since I tried to find a good audio Bible and found one read by James Earl Jones… only to realize that it had background music of cheap MIDI renditions of early 90s worship songs. Dwell is the remedy to that. Think of it as NeuBible for audio.

If you know me well, you probably know that I’m passionate about helping the Church pursue excellence. For too long, believers have been willing to settle for music, art, and design that’s a pale imitation of what the rest of the world has to offer. In my conversations with the Dwell/Lightstock team, I was impressed by their dedication to doing truly excellent work — not because they want to outdo anyone, but because they want to do justice to their calling. I love that. I’m thrilled to be joining such a team — I think I can both learn a lot and offer a lot. And I’m looking forward to doing my part for a cause I care about — helping the Church to rekindle its love and appreciation of beauty.

Let’s go!