Jordan Koschei jordan koschei

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Twenty-Eight

In light of my twenty-eighth birthday, I took some time to reflect on 28 bits of wisdom I’ve gleaned. Here’s the list — far from comprehensive — in no particular order:

  1. Most people who claim to have an opinion haven’t actually put in the work to hold it honestly.
  2. Everyone has a religion, even if they don’t know it. Everyone is worshipping something.
  3. Only the rich can afford not to care about art.
  4. Eating is a political act.
  5. A lot of people who claim to care about social justice actually care more about feeding their own sense of self-righteousness.
  6. “Favorite” is not the same as “best.”
  7. Data can inform, but it can’t make decisions for you. It reflects the past, but can’t perfectly predict the future.
  8. Most adults are just aged-up adolescents. It’s rare to find a real adult.
  9. Nobody really knows what they’re doing.
  10. Many people use their political party to fill the hole that would previously have been filled with religion.
  11. A shocking number of people let their politics determine their theology, rather than vice versa. If we think in terms of first principles, your theology should drive your philosophy should drive your politics. Very important not to get this backwards.
  12. Politics is less important than you think; what you believe about the nature of God and the universe is more important than you think.
  13. What you believe about the nature of God and the universe determines everything about your life, even (and especially) if you don’t know it.
  14. Few things are more deeply satisfying than cooking a good meal for people you love using ingredients whose origins you know.
  15. Classical music will change your life. If you don’t listen to it because you “don’t like it” or it makes you uncomfortable, you’re letting a little initial friction stop you from appreciating the best of what humanity has to offer. Same for great art, great literature, etc.
  16. You can’t not communicate.
  17. You can’t prioritize everything. You have to pick and choose.
  18. Your relationship with screens says a lot about who you are.
  19. Want to improve your life? Change your habits, not your goals.
  20. Compound interest is a powerful force. Improve something by 1% every day, and you’ll hit a 100% improvement in 72 days.
  21. Pascal was right: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
  22. Beware of trusting someone who says they don’t care about history.
  23. Read voraciously. Your library card is one of the most valuable things in your possession.
  24. Read physical books. Digital books don’t sink in the same way — screens affect the brain differently than paper.
  25. Modern life doesn’t afford many opportunities to develop true grit. Build in opportunities to do so throughout the day — even if it means waking up with a frigid shower.
  26. People > Experiences > Places > Things
  27. There are lots of people smarter and wiser than you.
  28. The people who think themselves wisest are usually the most ignorant. True wisdom is knowing that you aren’t wise.

Why I Don't Talk About Politics on Twitter

I rarely talk about politics, philosophy, theology, or anything else that matters on Twitter.

Why? I have several reasons:

  1. I can’t stand it when I follow someone because I’m interested in their thoughts on design and CSS architecture, and am then subjected to their political views. I don’t want to be that person to anyone else.
  2. Nobody’s mind will be changed, so it would have no purpose except to make me feel better.
  3. I’m used to my views being heterodox to both the Left and the Right, so it would more likely be an exercise in self-flagellation.
  4. Twitter leaves no room for nuance, and I can’t think of a single opinion I have that doesn’t require some nuance. I’m not interested in spewing aphorisms. Those aphorisms are part of the reason our political climate is what it is.
  5. Twitter makes any political statement sound arrogant.
  6. Twitter makes any political statement sound like a rant.

Talking about politics on social media almost always leads to someone losing respect for someone else. Respect is the key to healthy discourse, and any medium that doesn’t foster an environment of respect is unsuitable for talking about serious things.

There are many venues which are conducive for discussing serious things, but Twitter isn’t one of them. (Nor is Medium, in my opinion, because of similar echo chamber effects. Has anyone’s mind ever been changed by a Medium post? Has any political Medium post that you disagree with not come across as arrogant?)

Our Task Management Apps Won't Save Us

I’ve always had a hard time finding a task management system that clicks for me. I’ve tried plenty of them — OmniFocus, Things, 2Do, Todoist, good old pen-and-paper. Each of them has pros and cons.

My needs aren’t wildly complex, and I’m not a productivity nerd the way some people are. What I look for in a task manager is simple:

  • Nested projects/tasks, so not everything lives on the same level.
  • The ability to create a checklist without a due date, for tracking things like groceries and my reading list.
  • An aesthetically-pleasing interface.

It’s the third one that’s tripped me up the most. A task manager plays such a prominent role in one’s life — I don’t want to dread opening it up.

Unfortunately, the task managers that have the features I need tend to be ugly, and the task managers that are beautiful tend to lack the features I need.

I was previously using 2Do, which had everything I needed functionally, but it was unattractive and lacking in the UX department. It was also developed by a single person (as far as I could tell), so what happens if the developer gets hit by a bus? Or stops developing new features? It made me antsy.

OmniFocus 2 was ugly as well, and my brief couple of hours with Todoist were a wildly frustrating experience — their recent redesign still looks like it was optimized for a narrower and lower-resolution screen than my MacBook Pro, and adding new projects felt like pulling teeth.

Then, last week, Things 3 was released. My first task manager was Things 2, whose lack of nesting wound up being a dealbreaker, but the trailer for Things 3 was so pretty I decided to try it anyway.

It doesn’t have all the features I need, but it’s so pleasant to use that I decided to try shoehorning my process into its constraints anyway. Then I decided I enjoyed it, so I retooled my process to match Things 3’s proficiencies.

My grocery list is now a single task with a nested checklist. I’ve flattened some of my nested projects, and ditched some things I wasn’t really working on. And, thanks to Headings, some of my lists have actually gotten more organized since losing nested projects.

My reading list in Things 3

My one big frustration is the fact that Things 3 doesn’t support repeating tasks inside of projects, so my weekly “Compile newsletter” task doesn’t fit inside the Random Access Newsletter project. But the developers’ very-responsive Twitter account assures me this is coming soon.

All this brings me to the larger point I’ve been thinking about lately: your task management system can’t save you.

There’s something magical about that New Management App smell. Inputting your information into a new system, deciding you’re going to get your life in order, deciding that this one will actually work, I’ll stick with it this time. Like somehow your enhanced productivity will make everything better. I always feel like Liz Lemon after her trip to the Container Store, saying “I’m going to become wonderful!”

But productivity is just a tool. Efficiency and organization are meaningless unless they serve meaningful goals, and even the goals that feel meaningful don’t guarantee true satisfaction.

It’s easy to get caught up in the endorphin rush of feeling like our lives are under control. But the bigger question remains: Under control for what?

And that’s a question we each have to wrestle with for ourselves.

Designing for designers is like cooking for chefs

I like reading books written by chefs and food critics. One common theme is that they bemoan what happens to their social lives — nobody wants to cook for a famous chef or critic, so the dinner party invitations dry up. Who’s going to cook a meatloaf for Ruth Reichl?

On the other hand, chefs and food critics have sophisticated palates, so a chef cooking for other chefs can take risks they couldn’t when cooking for a general audience. That’s the tradeoff — more risk of criticism, but more possibility for appreciation.

So it is with designing for designers:

Pro: You can get away with things when designing for designers that you couldn’t otherwise. You can assume that your audience has nice Retina displays and powerful GPUs that can handle all the hairline typography and parallax scrolling you can throw at them. You know they’re using a standards-compliant browser — no IE7 here — and it’s likely they’re on a Mac or an iPhone.

You can assume your audience knows what common icons mean without including explainer text — not a safe assumption for a general audience — and that they’ll understand UI shortcuts like the hamburger icon and share button.

You can afford to experiment, since your audience is more likely to be intrigued than turned off by strange layouts and weird effects. Assuming we’re talking about a website, they’ll probably stick around long enough to try to figure out how you implemented anything too far outside the mainstream.

Con: Your audience will notice every out-of-place pixel, every less-than-ideal interaction, and every decision you punted on. Designers can’t turn it off – it just happens. Your audience will notice the minutia about your type choices, color choices, layout choices. Things that would pass with a general audience won’t slide with designers.

(On the other hand, designers will sympathize with other designers, so while they’re more likely to notice errors they’re less likely to be abrasive about… oh, who am I kidding. Designers love to nitpick each others’ work.)

New ≠ Better

Here’s a video of a grass mowing competition in which a scythe beats a modern, powered lawnmower:

Our society fetishizes newness. We want new technology, new entertainment, new thinking, new solutions. Sometimes, our desire for newness prevents us from seeing the value in what already exists.

Modern industrial farms have no place for horses, even though horses can handle some types of terrain better than our most advanced industrial farming machinery. There’s land that modern farms let return to wilderness, even though it could be productive and fruitful if we used technology that was commonplace two generations ago.

Of course there are always tradeoffs. A scythe may be faster than a lawnmower, but it uses more human energy — it’s harder for someone who’s out-of-shape to use it, and it’s harder to use over long distances. If an industrial farm started supplementing their machinery with horses, they’d damage their economies of scale. (There’s a case to be made that a farm that can’t be managed by a team of horses is too large, but I’ll leave that to Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan to argue.)

I’m not a Luddite — I don’t think that new things are necessarily worse than old things. I just don’t think they’re necessarily better.

It’s really hard to break out of the new-is-better pattern of thinking; it’s so pervasive that we’re immersed in it. It’s like asking a fish to describe what it means to be wet.

Tech is for Everyone

Anyone with an internet connection and enough motivation can learn how to design and program the next big thing, no degree required. Tech is no longer just for engineers and programmers. It’s for the retiree looking for a second career, and the 12-year-old who decides she wants to make her own video game. It’s for the college student who wants to boost his resumé, and the immigrant looking to get plugged in to their new community. Tech is for everyone.

This is the first entry in a newspaper column I’ll be curating in conjunction with the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup. The monthly column will be written by members of the Hudson Valley tech community, and will cover design, technology, and their effects on the local economy and culture.

Stay tuned.