Thoughts, Work, and Coffee

Quit calling your things beautiful.

This may be overly ranty, but I find it particularly crass when people call their own products “beautiful” (except for parents, probably). Beauty isn’t something you can dictate to people, but something people have to decide for themselves. It’s like smearing paint on a canvas and then running around, telling people how beautiful your painting is. Most people with some amount of sense would tell you to get over yourself. The only people allowed to act like that are Kanye West and Apple, and they only get away with it because they’re already famous and people expect it from them.

Call your things “simple” if you want. You can more readily compare the simplicity of your project du jour with those of your competitors. For example, Square Cash is an arguably simpler way to send money than other currently available options. You don’t need to sign up for anything, and any device that can send and receive emails (even feature phones, I suppose) can use it. You don’t even need to know your bank account’s number or routing info.

You could call your things “well-designed” if you really need to. Maybe you put a lot of time researching your audience, developing prototypes, and performing rigorous tests on potential users. To toss out another example, Mailchimp spent a lot of time testing their site to make it as easy and intuitive as possible, and they don’t feel the need to brag about it. Rather, they let their product do the talking for them.

But please don’t call your own thing “beautiful.” You have the right to be proud of the thing that you made, but you’re probably best off keeping it to yourself.

I haven’t slept much lately and I think it’s made me snarkier than usual.

What I’ve been listening to.

After spending my last summer in San Francisco, I came back from my internship with a craving for Bonobo and Flying Lotus. There’s something about the area that breeds good music. I blame it largely on the climate.

I use Spotify more during the summer, primarily because the laptop I use for work isn’t my own, and it doesn’t make sense to push all my music onto it. I made a handful of playlists last summer, and it’s highly apparent that I don’t listen to half of the artists I used to (there are a number of Skrillex tracks floating around in my account). This being said, I’d like to start logging what I’m listening to. It’ll be a good way to enforce my discovery of new music, and it’ll be interesting to look back and see what I’ve listened to.

I went to two different shows in the past 9 days or so. On the 27th, I saw Cyril Hahn open for Duke Dumont, and on the 2nd, I saw French Fries, Cashmere Cat, Hudson Mohawke, and Jacques Greene. I’ve been listening to a lot of loud music.

Here are some favorites.

Lil Salva’s remix of the classic SBTRKT track swaps out the light and soft-spoken rhythm of the original track for a much more abrasive bassline, a distinctly iconic UK sound. The rework relies heavily on Sampha‘s original vocals, using them to drive the much heavier track forward. Definitely worth a listen.

I’ve been a fan of Flume since his self-titled debut album showed up at WRCT. I’d heard this particular remix several weeks ago, but it wasn’t until a friend explicitly introduced me to Ta-Ku that I paid closer attention. Ta-Ku, like Flume, leans heavily on hip hop influences, although his producing certainly pulls harder towards the synth-dominant melodies of Hudson Mohawke and Rustie. This particular remix is, like the previous track, a more heavy-handed take on a laid back song.

Lots of remixes. Sorry. Nicolas Jaar reworked Daft Punk’s entire new album into an entirely different beast. He somehow managed to retain the album’s funkiness while igniting it and adding a twist of lemon. It’s been out for some time now, but I’ve had it stuck in my head for the past week or so. The original is naturally just as good, particularly the refrain. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong with Nicolas Jaar.

Let me know if you have any music recommendations for me. I always love new stuff.

How I get myself to do things.

I’m not a productivity guru who writes books and calls himself a doctor and uses buzzwords and gets flown in to talk in front of companies full of tired, tie-wearing employees to smile and ramble on about how good I am at what they can’t do. However, I have a loosely-defined method for motivating myself to get something done. When I say method, I really mean a handful of tips that I use at the same time. When I stick to this method, it works. When I stray, I end up relying on the deadline to push me forward, and that’s a terrible feeling.

I know that motivation is something incredibly hard to come by, simply because I have to pull it out of myself. It’s like taking the trash to the street once a week. You know you have to do it, but you’ll be damned if you’ll muster up the willpower to get it done before the trash guy shows up, looks for your garbage, scratches his beard, shrugs, and moves on, forcing you to wait until next week to take out the trash.

In real life, that trash guy is your employer, and if he moves on, waiting until next week doesn’t really work. I promise I’m better at analogies than that.

Liquid motivation

I find that coffee helps. No, seriously. I don’t mean to state the obvious, but coffee genuinely helps. And, when it’s done right, it’s delicious. You have all this energy you didn’t know you had, and you find yourself doing things just because you are too energetic to be lazy. There’s a point after drinking an acceptable amount of coffee (if you drink coffee, you know how much that is) that you feel ready for something. Caffeine may seem like a bit of a cop-out, and in a way it is. But the ability to call upon reserves of energy at will is something too valuable to pass up for someone as greedy as me.

The first 10 minutes

The crucial part is pointing whatever energy you have, coffee or not, at something meaningful, and focusing it there for ten solid minutes. If I can drum up the energy to point myself at a task for ten minutes and work at it, I’m hooked. I’ll work on it until something more pressing happens, like food or class. Usually food.

Getting those ten minutes becomes very hard when you don’t have some sort of goal, sort of like flooring a Bugatti Veyron without your hands on the steering wheel. On top of that, goals become very hard to manage when you don’t have some sort of means of tracking them. Sticky notes work well, as does something like Evernote, or Google Keep, or Workflowy. It’s not possible to keep track of all of the things you have to do in detail without help. Poke around with a few different systems until you figure out what works for you, and then chart out what the first 10 minutes of any given task should look like.

Stalling Out

Sometimes, all the coffee and planning in the world can’t help. Nothing is perfect, and that is especially true for things like motivation. People are all different, and being reasonable about these differences can help.

For example, if it’s 4 in the morning and you’re already a pot of coffee in (and you’re not Steve Ballmer), there’s really no sense in pushing yourself any more. While being tired (or drunk) can lend creativity, tired work is never good work. Well, tired anything is never good anything. Except sleep. I digress.

Additionally, if you’ve been working at the same problem for a stretch of time, forcing yourself to work on it more won’t help very much. People much smarter than I have said so, and have coined the term “incubation” to define the phenomenon. So, go take a break. Bike a bit. Grab dinner. Find some new music. Tackle a different problem. Avoid Reddit. Then, try the whole thing again.

I have to admit that I’m partially writing this in anticipation that I’ll rely on good looks and wit (neither of which I have in particularly impressive quantities) to get through an assignment or something in the near future, and then find myself in need of motivation. Future me, go do your homework.


I know I’m not the only one when I say that I lean very heavily on jQuery for front-end development. It provides a great deal of simplicity and ease to the somewhat awkward system for DOM manipulation that’s in place.

Leaning, however, has bad implications. Lean too hard on something, and you’ll find yourself falling on your face when that something breaks. Plus, it’s good to be independent and self-sufficient and whatever. So, in an attempt to simultaneously build character, waste time, and beef up my github account, I’m going to try and do without jQuery. At least while I’m not doing anything mission critical.

For the sake of simplicity and usability, I’m going to be one file full of segmented, self-reliant functions. Or maybe a bunch of small, awkward files each containing their own function. I’ll also probably release a separate, more compact version of the code to eliminate any redundancies. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll make a builder for it, which could be really really cool.

At any rate, the repository is here. I’m tentatively calling the whole thing parts.js. Feel free to submit any pull requests. I could use some experience.