Jordan Koschei jordan koschei

Personal

Two Beautiful Bibles

The Story of Redemption Bible
One of my new favorite things: the exquisite Story of Redemption Bible, illuminated with illustrations that look like etchings.

Having been a Christian for years, I own several Bibles. I appreciate that this is a luxury uncommon in the history of the faith; for a long time, it was rare to own a single Bible, and for longer than that it was rare to access to Scripture aside from hearing it read aloud. And there are still places on earth where owning a Bible can get you thrown in jail or worse.

Read More →

Remote Work Rituals

Wake up. Shower. Eat breakfast.

Go upstairs: home office. Turn on computer. Wait for computer to boot up.

Go downstairs to kitchen. Start electric tea kettle. Fill up bottle of water.

Tea kettle taking too long. Check phone. Browse Twitter.

Tea kettle done! Pour water into mug, add teabag, add honey. Take tea and water upstairs.

Computer on. Open up email. Delete unimportant messages. Triage the rest.

Check in on communities — Dribbble, AIGA Upstate Slack, HV Tech Slack, friend Slack. Check Twitter.

Light candle — candle helps with focus. Turn on lava lamp acquired during wife’s cousins’ white elephant gift exchange. Candle and lamp essential pre-work rituals.

Open Basecamp. Wait for Basecamp to load.

Hands are dry — too much winter. Go downstairs, apply hand lotion. Go upstairs to office.

Click over to Basecamp notifications. Too impatient — hand lotion now on trackpad. Wipe off trackpad.

Check Basecamp notifications, figure out what happened at work since last check-in. Lots happened; work is one time zone behind, has whole extra hour in afternoon.

Open up Things. Look at personal items. Be realistic; move unpleasant tasks to tomorrow. Check work items. Move today’s tasks to Today view.

Start on first task.

False start — check Twitter. Check news sites. Check Hacker News.

Take two. Start on first task. Nope — Basecamp notification. Check Basecamp, say good morning to coworkers, return to task.

Encounter slight resistance in task. Pick up phone and check Twitter. Check news. Nothing changed in last ten minutes. Desk is messy; tidy up desk.

Remember to turn on Focus. Block distracting websites. Put phone on shelf out of sight. Ready to start for real.

Just kidding. Dog barks. Take out dog to go potty. Try not to be frustrated.

Come back inside. Walk upstairs, get situated. Try to remember first task.

Wait — computer desktop disorganized. Reorganize computer desktop. Keep going — reorganize Dropbox. Now all files have tags.

Drank too much tea. Go downstairs, go to bathroom.

Hands dry again after walking dog and washing hands. Re-moisturize.

Walk upstairs. Press button to put standing desk in standing position.

Never mind — too sluggish to stand. Lower standing desk back to sitting position, re-situate chair.

Remember first task. Don’t want to feel unaccomplished at end of day. Don’t want to let down self, company, coworkers. Time to get busy.

Take inventory. Candle lit, websites blocked, phone hidden, dog tended, email closed, hands moisturized.

Start work for real.

Long Dock Park, Beacon NY

We took the dog to Long Dock Park in Beacon yesterday. The weather was perfect (a far cry from today’s freezing deluge), so here are a handful of photos to commemorate the sunshine.

Path at Long Dock Park in Beacon, NY
Long Dock Park, or Riven?
My wife and dog at Long Dock Park in Beacon, NY
We got the dog to look at the camera!
A view of the Hudson River towards Newburgh from Long Dock Park in Beacon, NY
The sun setting over Newburgh, looking towards New Windsor.

Digital Terroir

Hello, CatskillsConf! This is the written version of my talk, given on October 20, 2018 at 4:00pm. There might be some slight differences between the written version and the spoken verison. All images are from Unsplash, except for the Hudson Valley image, which I took myself from the top of the tower at Mohonk.

Read More →

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!

Read, Write, Communicate

I’ve always preferred to use different devices for production and consumption: I like to use the computer to create things and do work, and my tablet/phone to consume content (read articles, watch Netflix, listen to podcasts, etc).

I don’t like to muddle those two modes — it’s too easy to get sidetracked. If I use the same screen for production and consumption, it’s far too easy to start working and find myself on YouTube, or reading Hacker News.

Recently, I decided to divide up those tasks further. I don’t want to use my phone for consumption anymore, but just for communication. As I wrote previously, I want to embrace boredom, stay aware of my surroundings, and not feel compelled to spend every moment consuming information.

With that in mind, here’s the new division of labor between my devices:

  • Macbook Pro — Writing, design, code, etc. Anything industrial-grade related to work.
  • iPhone — Communication. I removed Tweetbot and Instapaper, and reinstalled Moment to remind me if I’ve spent more than 15 minutes using the phone for anything besides its intended purpose.
  • iPad Pro — Consumption. I’ve got Tweetbot, Reeder, and Instapaper installed (plus the usual video services). If I want to read, I’ll do it here.

It’s working well so far, but it’s only been a few days. Keeping the division sharp between those modes of thinking feels cleaner, somehow, than using every device for every purpose.

2017 Book List

I’m making an effort to up my reading this year.

I used to be a voracious reader, but that fell off around college (yes, pursuing a degree was the main thing holding me back from getting an education). Lately I’ve been trying to spend less time immersed in the feeds on my phone and more time buried in books.

These are all books that I’ve read on paper — I find that my retention is much, much lower on a screen, even on e-ink devices like the Kindle — and that I enjoy being able to flip back a few pages when necessary to recall or revisit something.

I also find that the more I read, the more I’m able to read. I think a lot of people avoid books because there’s that initial friction to getting into them, but that friction goes away quickly the more you read. I suspect the friction comes from training our brains to expect the quick dopamine hits of Facebook and Instagram and quick-cutting TV commercials. I find it also helps to keep my phone in another room — if it’s out of sight, I can sink into the book much more easily.

What I’ve Read So Far This Year:

  1. When You Are Engulfed in Flame, David Sedaris
  2. The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry
  3. Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
  4. In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
  5. Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink
  6. The History of the Hudson Valley, from Wilderness to the Civil War, Vernon Benjamin
  7. Starbucked, Taylor Clark
  8. Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas
  9. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
  10. New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson
  11. Monsignor Quixote, Graham Greene
  12. Growing a Farmer, Kurt Timmermeister
  13. Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
  14. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
  15. Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance
  16. Deep Work, Cal Newport
  17. Legends of the Fall, Jim Harrison
  18. Rocket Men, Craig Nelson
  19. Rest, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
  20. The Planet on the Table, Kim Stanley Robinson
  21. The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
  22. The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson
  23. Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
  24. Dreamland, Sam Quinones

That works out to 8 fiction and 16 non-fiction.

Of the fiction, 4 were hard sci-fi or alt-history speculative fiction, 2 were character studies told via trips through Spain, and 1 was about the soul of Abraham Lincoln’s son traveling through the Tibetan Buddhist afterlife.

Of the non-fiction books, 2 were biographies, 10 were sociology, and 5 were related to food and agriculture.

My most commonly-read authors this year have been Kim Stanley Robinson (2 novels and 1 anthology of short stories) and Michael Pollan (2 books on food).

Upcoming:

  • Radical Technologies, Adam Greenfield
  • Southern Reach trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer
  • Augustine’s Confessions, new Sarah Ruden translation
  • Annals of the Former World, John McPhee

I’ll read more, I’m sure, but I try not to plan out too far in advance. I prefer to order a few books specifically, and take out a few from the library spontaneously at the same time. That way I always have several books to choose from on my nightstand, some planned and some not.

Handwriting

As I get older, I’ve come to value handwriting more and more.

When I was a kid, I never understood why we had to handwrite everything in school, often in (gasp) cursive. I preferred the speed and precision of typing, especially as someone who had terrible handwriting. I felt the same way throughout my academic career, especially when it was validated in college by the expectation that everything would be type.

Even in college I noticed that my retention was lower when I typed. I ignored the signs then, because I still preferred typing to hand cramps, but now there’s research backing up the idea that typed notes are less effective than handwritten ones. As the Wall Street Journal asked: Can handwriting make you smarter?

Similarly, my retention is lower when reading a book on a Kindle rather than on paper. Anecdotal, I know, but I suspect the data would bear this out.

[begin unscientific conjecture]

My guess about why paper and handwriting beats screens and typing? The human brain has been tuned over millions of years to register geographic data as important. Where’s the best source of food? Where’s good shelter? Where’s that den of vicious animals to avoid?

Screens don’t have their own geography — no matter what you’re reading on a screen, it’s still the same screen. Your brain has less reason to automatically memorize it. There’s no geographic data like there is with the page. Similarly, handwriting has a spatial component that typing does not — the texture and smell of the page, and the feel of the pen as it glides over the paper, make a difference.

[end of unscientific conjecture]

All this is to say: I want to be someone who writes things out longhand more than I do. I want to carry a commonplace book around with me to record quotes and notes. I want to draft essays on paper and then transfer them into my computer. I want to keep a journal that doesn’t rely on a hard drive. I want the notes I put in the margins of books to be comprehensible by future generations.

What’s stopping me? Mostly my handwriting — it’s atrocious. I often can’t read things I wrote a few hours earlier.

I wish I’d spent more time working on my handwriting in school. It’s possible to practice and change your handwriting, but it’s hard, and you have to work through the decades of muscle memory (and hand cramps).

Also, there’s the downside of having a notebook that looks like it was last used by a serial killer. Row after row of capital A, lowercase A, capital B, lowercase B. I’m just inches away from “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

But it’s worth the effort.

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?)

Marginal Changes That Have Improved my Quality of Life

Here are some marginal changes that have had outsized effects on my quality of life. Maybe some of them will work for you.

  • Light candles. I keep a few different candles around, and look forward to lighting one each morning. It’s amazing the effect that a pleasant scent can have on my mood.
  • Steep some tea. There’s something calming about the process of making tea, and I like the rhythm it gives my day as I finish one cup and start to make another.
  • Learn to love cooking. It’s healthier and more cost-effective than going out or ordering takeout, and the act of cooking is food for the soul. The ritual provides an excellent rhythm for the day, and I always look forward to making dinner in the evening.
  • Drink more water. If I don’t drink enough during the day, I get thirsty overnight. If I wake up thirsty, I feel more sluggish and am less likely to get out of bed right away. If I don’t get out of bed right away, I feel rushed in the morning and off-kilter for the rest of the day. It’s a deadly cycle, and it can all be fixed by drinking more water.
  • Wash the dishes as they happen. I don’t drink enough water if I can’t fill up my Brita filter, and that’s dependent on me having enough room for it in the sink. Also, everything just looks neater (and feels calmer) when I wash the dishes as I use them, rather than batch them and turn dish-washing into a 45-minute marathon.
  • Remove feeds from my phone. I removed email, social media, news from my phone (with the exception of Slack, which I keep on a close notification-leash). Now I’m less distracted by notifications and less inclined to habitually check my phone for new information, and I feel calmer in general.
  • Avoid screens anywhere near bed. I’ve talked about this before. If my phone is near my bed, I’ll check it before I go to sleep, and staring into a blinding beam of pure information is not good for the circadian rhythm. I’ll also check it first thing in the morning, which will put me in a reactive mode for the whole day. Better to keep it plugged in across the room, where it’s reachable in an emergency by far enough away that I can only use it deliberately.
  • Choose hours to be offline. I go screens-off for a while before bed so I can read and settle down without distraction, and I avoid the internet before 8am so I can go through my morning routine wihtout the world intruding.
  • Sit quietly for a few minutes each morning. Just sit there, eyes closed, breathing deeply for a few minutes. This does wonders for increasing my calm, and gives me the sense that I control the events of the day, rather than letting the events of the day control me.

Rebuilding My Brain in 2017

I feel like my brain is getting slower.

Some context: when I was a kid, I used to feel like I was smart. Like, really smart. I taught myself to program, I was addicted to learning, and I read voraciously — up to 100 pages an hour at my peak. When I found an activity that interested me I’d sink into it obsessively.

But lately, I haven’t felt this way. I’ve felt less creative, less imaginative. It feels like my memory isn’t working properly. I don’t have anything close to the attention span that I once had. This isn’t supposed to happen when you’re 27.

I think I can chalk this up to lifestyle issues The brain is a muscle, and like all muscles, it grows or atrophies based on what you do with it. I’ve become convinced that a steady diet of Twitter and Netflix diminishes your ability to think deeply and creatively.

In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr describes this phenomenon as such: Different media encourage different types of thinking. The internet makes the brain into a jet ski – we skim vast swaths of information quickly, but shallowly. Books make the brain into a scuba diver – we cover less information, but do so more deeply.

The brain is optimized for quick, shallow scans of information. It’s how we survived on the savanna millions of years ago, when “living well” meant identifying threats and opportunities as quickly as they emerged. Left to our own devices, we’ll always go back to the quick-and-shallow media – Facebook, Twitter, CNN, Buzzfeed.

But I don’t want to think shallowly. It’s easier, but it also makes me feel out-of-control. An hour watching Netflix leaves me feeling unsatisfied — at the end, all I want to do is watch more Netflix. An hour of reading leaves me feeling the opposite — energized and satiated, ready to take on the world. Shallow media feels like binge eating fast food; deep media feels like savoring a good, slow meal.

All this is prologue. In 2017, I want to reclaim my attention, for three reasons:

  1. I’m going to be married soon, and I believe that part of being the best husband I can be is to be as present as possible.
  2. The world feels a little sideways right now, and I’d rather be walking around awake than in a binge-media stupor. The 140-character news cycle of Twitter is unhealthy; to be truly informed takes a mind accustomed to deeper thinking.
  3. I just feel better when I’m in control of my brain.

Here are some changes I’ve made this year in the pursuit of a deeper, richer thought life. They’ve been working so far, but it’s been 30 days or less, so consider this a continuing experiment:

  • No more Netflix. I canceled my Netflix account. Now, if I want to watch something, I’ve found a few iTunes U courses that interest me. The courses are far more engaging than watching the same old sitcoms on Netflix, and it turns out that there’s less of an urge to binge watch a Yale professor than the escapades of Ted, Marshall, and Barney.
  • Keep my phone plugged in far away from my bed, so I have to get up and walk to reach it. If my phone is reachable from my bed, I will find myself staring into a beam of light before I go to bed every night, which is terrible for your circadian rhythm, and makes for an unrestful night of sleep.
  • Don’t check social media or the news in the morning. How I start the day sets the tone for the next 16 hours. If I start the day with negativity, alarmism, and short bursts of information, that’ll be my mood for the rest of the day.
  • Removed Twitter from my phone. I’ve already gone years without a Facebook account, and this was the logical next step. Twitter is now inaccessible from my phone, tablet, and (thanks to the macOS app Focus) computer from the time I wake up until 5pm.
  • Read a lot. I’m 4 books in for 2017, and my goal is to hit 50.

And… We're Back

Here’s a brand new layout for my website, more focused on writing than before. There are a few reasons I chose to redesign now:

  1. It needed it. The old site wasn’t doing its job, and I just wasn’t happy with the layout or appearance.
  2. I want to start writing more. I used to write a lot, but I’ve kind of fallen off that wagon. Maybe the website languished because of the lack of writing, or maybe I wasn’t writing because the website languished. Either way, a redesign seems like a good idea.
  3. This seems like a good time to make one’s voice heard. The world’s a little crazy right now. I have things to say, but I rarely say them because I — like anyone who values nuance and has thoughts longer than 140 characters — detest the internet outrage machine. The world needs thoughtfulness right now, and if any of us has something to say, it’s milquetoast not to say it.

Inspiration

I’ve taken some cues from two blogs I enjoy and respect — Daring Fireball and Rands in Repose — both of which are no-nonsense and reading-oriented.

I really like Daring Fireball’s format for presenting external content with commentary. I find a lot of interesting links, many of which are pretty esoteric, and I want a place to catalogue what I find and add my own two cents.

Rands in Repose is a prime example of what can be done with long-form writing on the web, and I admire its ability to completely suck you in. If I read one post there, I can be sure that I’ll follow the trail of links and wind up reading several.

Implementation

The site is built on Jekyll, a static-site generator. I build the site on my machine, then git push the flat HTML files to the server. I just can’t deal with WordPress’s bloat anymore. I want to write in Markdown and push to the server — nothing more.

(Sidenote: I’ve used Jekyll before, so it was a thrill to realize that one of my Agrilyst coworkers, Nick Quaranto, was an early contributor. I love seeing people I know around the internet.)

I built the theme from scratch. HTML and Sass, no Javascript necessary.

I’ve decided to start archiving old versions of my site, so the previous iteration will remain available at 2016.jordankoschei.com. Narrator: It didn’t.

That’s all. More to come.