As I backed out I raised my hand to push the button on the garage door remote. The homeless man who had been laying next to our garage thought I was waving at him and he gave a small wave back. Instinctively my hand, still raised after pushing the button, gave him a wave. It was a long wave. Longer than was called for and with a familiarity I would reserve for a friend. And he, looking uncomfortable with the realization of what was happening, gave a second wave back to me. By then I had backed out as far as I needed and turned my attention to the road.


We were on a road trip a few weeks ago and I had an idea for an educational app I would build if I had time.

You start the app before you take your trip and set your current location. As you drive the app updates your location on a map so it is drawing a travel line.

The app contains a database of distances of things and short summaries about them.

  • Length of the longest bridge in the world
  • Width of Rhode Island
  • Length of Panama Canal
  • Distance between the Hawaiian island and Maui
  • Length of the San Francisco Bay
  • Length of dollar bills, laid end-to-end printed in the US every year
  • Diameter of the largest fungus in the world

As the app notices you pass these distances the phone would receive a notification to open the app and read the info about length reached. You could continue to receive notifications on your trip back as well.


For the past few months I have been using a time management method called The Pomodoro Technique. Despite the name it is a simple way to manage your work time. To follow it you:

  1. decide on the task to be done
  2. set the timer to 25 minutes
  3. work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
  4. take a short break (3-5 minutes)
  5. every four work cycles take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

The story (you can read it here) is the inventor was studying at university and came up on the idea of partitioning time between breaks to motivate himself to work continuously for short periods. He happened to use a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (pomodoro in Italian) and a pad and pencil to record his progress.

You don’t really need to read any more than that to get started, but there is a book and certification and courses and a plastic tomato timer because this is what people do when they can’t leave well enough alone.

You can try it if you want. I don’t care. The reason I am mentioning it is I finally found a good timer to use. Up until now I had been using a Pomodoro specific iPhone app that I would set next to my computer. This was fine most of the time, but sometimes I found myself away from my phone or would forget to reset it. I had tried OS X apps but they all had obtrusive windows that would get in the way.

Timebar costs $2.99 on the App Store and is almost the perfect Pomodoro timer. Rather than barking a growl notification at you or having to manage a full window, Timebar uses a transparent color over your actual menubar to show the countdown. You use the menu bar item to interact with it and the alert window is very small.

Screen Shot 2013 04 09 at 11 48 45 AM

The only thing I wish it had was a “ding” noise so I could know when my 5 minute breaks were up, but other than that it is just what I needed.

Timebar: $2.99


I posted this to Flickr earlier this evening, but some people wanted to know how I did it so here you go:

Burger

If you are on a Mac the command you want to run to put a burger in your Bash shell prompt like mine is:

export PS1="\w 🍔  "

(which will eventually end up looking like
export PS1="\w <U+1F354>  ")

That string is \w for “current working directory”, a space, an emoji burger, and two more spaces for padding.

If you want it to be permanent put that line in your .profile or .bash_profile.

For my prompt I removed my system user name and host. People use those to know which computer they’re on and which user they are, but I know I am me and I am on the burger computer so I removed them. Here are some other options.

  • \d – Current date
  • \t – Current time
  • \h – Host name
  • # – Command number
  • \u – User name
  • \W – Current working directory (ie: Desktop/)
  • \w – Current working directory, full path (ie: /Users/Admin/Desktop)

You can learn more here and there are even more examples here.


There is a quote you are probably familiar with from William Gibson:

“The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”

I like it for what it means, but I also like it because it is from our generation. It was spoken when my friends and I were just starting to get the feeling something big was happening and we were seeing it unfold.

Jason Kottke linked to a post today by David Bauer about traveling to the year 2000 and being shocked at the absence of, well, everything.

After Jason quotes a few paragraphs he wrote a response:

I turned 27 in 2000, lived in San Francisco, worked as a web designer, and had been using the web since 1994...and most of the people I knew were similar. We were a bunch of outliers, people with lots of knowledge about and access to technology and the internet. So a lot of what he writes doesn't ring true to me, especially the bit above, and extra especially the newspaper providing "the better news fix".

David makes a lot of fun points in his post about what was missing, and it is fun to read, but I feel the way Jason described in his post.

Connecting with friends, finding a community, tracking weblogs, sharing photos, and reading news all existed in some form for us. Yeah, you had to work at it. Yeah, you had to read man-pages last touched in the 80s. But we were doing it and we knew it was just going to get better.

If I traveled back to the year 2000 my day wouldn’t be that different than it is today. Yes the tools are remarkably better, but there isn’t anything I would feel unable to do. I could still read kottke.org. I could still mail Jason. I could pull him up on IM and chat. I had been on the internet almost a decade by 2000 and was fairly proficient at finding information and connecting with people who were like-minded.


Here is a quote from Chris Dixon that I also like:

What the smartest people do on the weekend is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years

I think that was us back in 2000 and the late 90’s as we wrestled with those man-pages. I think that is what describes people who are dabbling with Arduino and fabrication technologies right now.

Nearly ten years ago I built a crowd funding site called Dropcash because I needed a way to raise money for a fledgling site I had built and managed in my spare time. There were a few of us at the time doing these little communities on the weekends. Matt Haughey ran Metafilter. Joshua Schachter ran Memepool and then Delicious. They weren’t conceived as businesses because there was no business in it. We did them because they were fun to make and people liked to use them.

I don’t exactly consider myself “smart” for doing these things ten years ago. I think of myself as a deeply curious person who likes to think about how to solve problems. I live in constant state of thinking about problems and thinking about solutions. This is fun for me.

What is also fun is being aware of technology as it emerges. Because if you are going to solve problems you should be aware of what other people are doing and what is possible.


For the past week I took a break from Twitter because I was feeling like rather than consuming Twitter it was consuming me. Whenever it was time to put my phone down there were ten more tweets to read. Feeling like I was a bit addicted to the service I decided to set it aside for a week and look into other stuff I’d been missing out on while locked onto my phone.

After spending a week away I had time to think about what I wanted out of Twitter and what I could change to get the most out of it. Rather than ditch it entirely I dropped my following count by almost 300 accounts and I have a few ideas for some lists to make.

The exercise of cutting out Twitter has taught me that Twitter is how I stay aware of that future that is being “unevenly distributed.” I just can’t give that up.


It’s been a couple days now since I took a break from Twitter. Here is a list of things I use to keep up with what is going on:

What am I missing? What source of information should I be checking daily? Mail me here

or @torrez.

(Thanks to @guylschmidt)


Just over ten years ago I quit smoking. I had tried for many years but the thing I realized is that you can only quit when you know it is time to quit. Like a lot of smokers I had tried to quit with the aid of nicotine gum or patches, but it never really took until one day I thought: I really don’t want to be a smoker anymore.

Of course it was still hard. I had to figure out some things to do that worked for me to help me quit (eating, eating, eating). It was a lot of work but I finally managed to quit for good sometime in October of 2002.

On Friday morning I was making my son’s lunch for school. Something that usually takes me no more than 10 minutes had taken almost 20. I realized I was taking breaks and following an interesting conversation on Twitter instead of doing what I needed to be doing.

When I snapped out of it and went back to getting my son ready for school I thought it’d be a fun experiment to skip Twitter the rest of the day. That night I shared with some friends what I had done and some said they had thought about doing this too. It felt good finding other things to do that day so I thought of extending it through the weekend.

The weekend was a little tougher. I ended up getting stuck indoors with a bad case of pollen allergies and every time I reached for my phone to check in on Twitter I was able to catch myself. A few times I actually loaded the app only to realize what I was doing and close it. It’s not as destructive as smoking, but it sure feels a lot like the same sort of addiction.

I would call myself a very heavy user of Twitter. I just looked and I’ve marked 33,621 tweets as “favorites”. I have only tweeted 9,252 times (in seven years that’s 3.9 tweets per day) and I would bet a full 80% of those are actually replies/mentions. I read Twitter a lot, but I don’t tweet nearly as much as some heavy users. I just love to read it and converse with people. I have been doing this since November of 2006 so taking a break meant I had some extra time on my hands I haven’t had in a while.

This weekend didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I found other things to do. I watched Down By Law and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai which lead to my reading Rashōmon. I spent a couple hours on Sunday just drawing. A few hours with Ridiculous Fishing and an hour or so with The Cave.

Back in 2002 after I’d quit smoking a funny thing happened: I got a terrible case of tendonitis in my hands and wrists. I knew people who had it and I figured it was just something that happens to people who type for a living until my doctor suggested it might have to do with quitting smoking. I used to take breaks pretty regularly to go smoke which gave myself a rest. But now I would work straight through. Four hour stretches without a break was just too much for my wrists and fingers.

So on Sunday night when some friends were talking about new games they were playing and looking forward to, I realized I’d cut out out my way of keeping track of new releases, news of the world, and news of tech. I wasn’t just missing out on what my friends are doing, I’d cut myself off from many other things I am interested in.

So this morning I bought a digital subscription to the NY Times. I added a couple more feeds to my newsreader for tech and game news. I still have to figure out what to do about missing out hearing what my friends are doing. I might look into some kind of Twitter summary service. Perhaps a very small Twitter list.

I don’t know if I am off Twitter for good. I still haven’t read it though I did tweet a link to something this weekend and replied to some people who replied to me. I might pare down who I follow to just friends and only check-in when I actually have free time and there isn’t anything else to do. I don’t know.

In the end it’s just fun to break shit every once in a while and see what happens. Cutting Twitter out for an extended period is definitely going to break some shit. I can’t wait to see what happens.


A few months ago I was contemplating buying a subscription to a service when I was shown a screen that reminded me I could cancel at any time. I figured I could try it for a month and then cancel if it really wasn’t worth it.

I filled out the required fields and made the purchase. Only when I got to the post-payment page I realized my card had been charged the full year. Sure, I could cancel at any time, but that would only stop payment for the following year.

I was a little annoyed. I could have called someone and canceled right then, but I really wanted to try out the service so I stayed a customer.

Months later, through some bit of luck, I ended up hanging out with a group of people and one of them worked at this company. I didn’t mention I was a paid subscriber but I did express interest in how they do things because I am always interested in how people do things.

“We A/B test everything!” they said excitedly. “We have a team dedicated to rolling these tests out and making decisions.”

At the time of the conversation I thought this was pretty cool. A/B testing is something I have never really done. The most we did was A/B test banner ads and some post-purchase upselling.

But this morning I was thinking about how I’d implement some A/B testing of my own when I realized: that’s what happened to me. The language on the page of the service I had signed up for was written (or honed) to maximize purchases. And I would imagine it does a very good job if it is still in use.

I can imagine the success of this particular path converts many paid subscriptions but probably affects re-subscriptions a year out. Now having used the product for a few months I know I won’t be renewing. Partly because the service didn‘t do everything I wanted, but also because I felt tricked into paying that much for it.

I assume the tests don’t account for that.


I’d been wanting to get this Pibow Case for a while now.

975 LRGAnd I just found out a really good reason to:

Every Pibow ever made works with Lego


Less than two weeks ago I whittled my 2,000 feeds to about 100. I had to do this in the piece of trash that Google Reader had become and it spurred that blog post about how to deal with its limitations for others who might run into the same problem.

The reason I still use Google Reader is that I absolutely adore Reeder for Mac (and iPhone and iPad). Reeder uses Google Reader as the engine for its display and synchronization. To me nothing beats a native app when it comes to reading RSS and Reeder was worth paying for on each of my devices.

So although I am annoyed to find out that Google is killing Reader on July 1, I am hopeful someone (Newsblur?) can work with Reeder to keep the app going.

I don’t think this “kills RSS” as some people on Twitter have said, if anything it is good news for people who actually care about RSS and are building a business on it.

Now RSS is going to have someone spending their time delivering the best service they can, rather than spending their time trying to figure out what ads it could inject in between posts.


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