Reess Kennedy

Ideas, sharings, projections

Category: Technology

Being the “Picture Painter-in-Chief”

Picture Painter-in-Chief is basically Elon Musk’s job title.

Yes, technically I am sure he is brilliant and just as capable as the senior engineers he employes. But the guy is doing so much, he can’t be in the weeds doing the research and math and all the nitty-gritty.

He’s really more like the storyteller or picture painter. This is his main role. The latest video for his latest endeavor, The Boring Company, is the best example of this. (Embedded at the end of this post.)

Normally, you’d watch something like this and think, “This is science fiction, never going to happen.” But Elon has the defied the odds so much and in is such an influential place of power and has gained so much good will he has absolutely reignited the 60s era space race imagination of the country.

Because of this, he now releases a video like this and instead of being dismissive about it we think, “Yeah, I can see that. Why not? He could probably do it.”

And maybe even more importantly we think: “If he can do it, what else can I do?”

It’s an awesome world to live in when we have these storytellers able to dream a dream and have enough of a track record of success and goodwill behind them that the world believes that dream!

And it’s awesome to live in a world where we have brave men doing hard things and inspiring everyone else to imagine and paint beautiful pictures of an improved tomorrow.

The paradox of technology time-saving devices

Technological tools are often marketed to be time-saving but we seem to all be time-starved.

I think we’re in a weird adjustment phase, still, nine years post-iPhone launch where we’re still figuring out how to make our “smart” devices actually work for us and towards giving us more time to focus on the meaningful and less on the meaningless.

The challenge is this: With all this great and rapid innovation we are, indeed, creating efficiencies but we’re also creating new options. Options end up giving us new ways to spend our time and seem to drain it and not always in a way that actually contributes to growth in personal physical, mental or spiritual health and happiness.

Software engineers or anyone involved in building technology products or providing tech services knows this. The late, great Alex King wrote a great post about how “We’ve Made Web Development Complicated.” And this is true.

Increasingly complexity is inherently bad. Complex problems sometimes require complex solutions. We aim for simple and elegant but won’t always achieve it. Not every solution is a single-button iPhone. So we have all these options and now technology builders have all these choices to make. Often people waste a lot of time making these decisions and planning for problems they don’t have yet, and may never have, and this does the opposite of what the new tech solutions promises: It stifles innovation, creative productivity and generally allows our sometimes unfocused human minds to wander, feeling less confident in the decisions we’re making and spending our time less effectively.

It reminds me of the issues around getting a massive diner menu: you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you’re in the mood for and then feel less content with your choices after making them. Studies show people generally feel more satisfied with their selections when they’re choosing from fewer options.

So we need to constrain ourselves. We need to understand that across the board, there is power in constraint.

We need to understand that the reason tweets abound on twitter is because of the tight, 140 character limit placed on creative outbursts.


How to hide the sidebar on YouTube

You’ll never miss what you’re not aware of! That’s why I set out to find a hack to hide all the recommended content on YouTube.

It’s actually really, really simple. It takes all of two minutes and it’ll like save you hours, days, even weeks of wasted time!

No coding necessary. Just check out the video, download Stylebot (I am not affiliated with them in any way) and reclaim a part of your brief existence on planet earth.

Nike’s 93 billion started with one waffle iron

When my mind becomes overwhelmed by new, creative ideas, I meditate on this simple truth about Nike: the entire company was started by one man, Bill Bowerman, a track coach, who just wanted to “scratch his own itch” and help his athletes by creating one thing that he thought was better than the other available things.

His beginnings were very humble, using a waffle iron to prototype his new shoes but my point is this: Most massive companies started as just an idea for one thing that would be better than other available things.

It’s a powerful formula for success. People like the first thing you make and you begin to profit from it. Then you start to reinvest that success into efforts to make additional superior products and because of the trust you’ve built up because of your first products the sale of new things becomes a lot easier and this virtuous, profit-making cycle ensues.

But it all starts from making that one thing that’s way better and creating some trust in your company. This is something like the zero to one moment Peter Thiel speaks of–creating something new and significantly better for people to gain and early and commanding lead before competition steps in to make the environment to win over brand loyalty more challenging.

Now Nike is massively diversified. An Amazon search for Nike yields over 500,000 product results. That’s five times as many products available on Amazon from Adidas.

But mastery of one thing is usually needed before moving on to diversification. Nike was founded in 1964. It’s had 50+ to diversify.

With technology, even when you become a multi-billion dollar company, focus and constraint in your offerings still seems to be the winning formula.

Google started like Nike, by just creating one superior product in search.

But now, unlike Nike’s thousands of products, Google is different: they really only have seven blockbuster products with over a billion users and the rest of their products are more speculative and they are discipline about killing their less popular innovations to only commit to big wins.

Apple is in the same boat. In an interview with Charlie Rose a few years ago Apple CEO Tim Cook said “Despite this table being so small that you and I are sitting at,” Cook told Rose, “you could put every Apple product on it, and yet this year our revenues will be approximately $180 billion.”

He goes on to say that it’s not about what we’re going to do next, it’s more about what we’re not going to do next. We have so many ideas but we have to just stay focused on doing a few things really, really well. We’re the most valuable company in the world and yet all our products could fit on this small table.”

That really gets me! Consider that: The most valuable company in the world and their entire current product line can fit one table.

A huge number of companies fail because they become unfocused and try to do too much, too quickly instead of just focusing on making one thing really, really great.

So I’m starting a new list in my to-dos today called, “Probably don’t do these ideas.”

And I know that’s the right strategy.

Google public data app: country population growth comparison

I’m doing some research on China and I’ve really been enjoying Google’s public data app. It’s powerful.

It’s not a stunning, new insight but: When tech is well done it’s ability to simplify complexity and turn disorganized data into interesting, easy-to-see insights is just … magical.

Here is a link in the app to the population graph below.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 3.13.29 PM

Here is one just focusing on some of the major Asia / Pacific countries (and link):

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 7.11.02 AM


Top 7 tools I use for coding

I use additional technologies for projects but these are the primary tools I use to create and maintain code contributions.

1. TextWrangler

Just as with my other apps, speed is always a key feature for me. And TextWrangler is just light weight and fast. Yes, I know it’s probably not as fully-featured as Sublime Text but I likely don’t need those things. It has all the syntax highlighting, tab and font size and color customization I want and allows me to work quickly.

2. Transmit

The guys at Panic make great software. I’ve been using it for about seven years and remember recognizing that it was way more feature-rich than clients like Cyber Duck and Fetch. I still find it well designed and appreciate the built in S3 connection support. It used to have a great image preview pane that loaded remote images on a server which I found very useful and I think they did away with that in a previous version which bummed me out.

3. Beanstalk 

Most code is still managed using SVN. I actually like having one central, remote repository for a project. Beanstalk, Wildbit, is also made and supported by this really cool, privately-owned company. I admire them and what their founder, Chris Nagele, has built. They really pay attention to design and simplicity and their products are always improving. They also just built a cool new office in Philly that’s super cool. I recommend their blog too if you’re interested in thoughtful posts on leadership, company culture and product development.

4. Versions

Even though I use it, SVN still annoys and confounds me at times but this simple Mac SVN management app makes it a little easier.


Really easy to install and manage.

6. Github

Even though I still use SVN quite a bit I love the Github community. I have a few public repositories and one private repo. Over time, I may move more here and use Wildbit’s new DeployBot for deployment.

I think there are wider applications for the software-based organization and collaboration that Github facilitates — a github for healthcare, for instance. Maybe a github for law. Stackoverflow is something like this but maybe their is something more powerful that’s more than just question and answer and more like, “let’s all solve this complicated problem together and let everyone watch (and contribute too) in real-time.”

7. SequelPro

Stop using phpMyAdmin. Start using Sequel Pro. It will add back much time to your life!

16 tools powering my life

My guiding philosophy on technology: Only use it to simplify, not add complexity.

My Grandfather said that technology is a tool and tools can be used for good or evil. Nuclear fission is a dramatic example of this. “You have to decide how you employ it,” he said. He said a lot of true, Yoda-like things.

The point is: With this philosophy as my central guide how can I use technology to organize and simplify my life? What are the best tools out there that facilitate productivity instead of frustration? Focus instead of distraction? Freedom instead of imprisonment? (Okay, that list of dichotomies got grandiose but there is some truth in there … “freedom” in the form of an app having a great, open API is really important when considering what to use.)

Without further delay, below are general tools I use every week. I have more specific tools I use for programming which I’ll write about in another post and link to here. I am very discerning when it comes to the tools I use and I test options extensively, sometimes making my own spreadsheets listing features before deciding what to use. When it comes to the technology solution you’re going to use to do something important in your life it’s better to “measure twice and cut once.” It can be costly to have to migrate once you start with something if you haven’t chosen the right “tool for the job.”

In order of importance to me:

1. Notebook and Pen

The rest of the tools are digital but paper and pen — for fluidity and speed — are still at the top of the list. I have a specific to-do list system I will explain in a separate post but I figured I’d lead with the the only non-digital tool here.

2. Google Docs

Google Docs is nirvana. It’s AMAZING what Google has been able to do with software in the browser. I live in the browser, so not having to go off to a standalone app is huge. I’m actually a believer in HTML5. I think there is still room for it to make people question the need to invest in native mobile apps in the future despite some company’s high profile failures with this so far. Yes, maybe MS Word and Excel have a bunch of features not present in Google Docs but I’d venture 99% of people don’t need those features. And the Google Docs suite becomes more and more powerful and feature rich over time.

The key thing is mobility. I have a laptop, iPhone and iPad and now have become spoiled knowing all my documents are synchronized on all these devices at all times.

Additional things I love:

  • Real time edits. I get a little bit of knot in my stomach when someone sends me a Word Doc as an attachment to review. You know how much productivity is lost from people passing different track-changed Word docs back-and-forth? A lot, I suspect. You loose track of which document is the most current and it’s just a mess. In addition, consider all the massive email bulk people keep around in their inbox? In aggregate, the world’s sum of old, never-again-to-be-useful file attachments being stored on machines and backup servers is wasteful in a number of ways.
  • Edit history. This basically like track changes or version control (for programmers).
  • Sharable links: for the same reason above. Send a link, not a document attachment.
  • CompatibilityI have used Google Sheets to collect data or list data with simple web apps that don’t require some more complicated relational structure. A good example: You could maintain a list of books you’ve read in a Google Doc and it would always be there and really easy for you to update and then you could output that data using the API anywhere in HTML — like on this very blog. 


3. Google Drive

I use this over Dropbox. It basically does all the same stuff, is cheaper and I don’t have to switch to another app.

Other Cool features:

  • Screenshot storage and OCR: I take a lot of screenshots of interesting or fun stuff I find on the web and they are automatically saved to my drive. The day I found out Google OCRs all these so I can find text results that were in my images I almost fell out of my chair. Awesome. Evernote also does this but, again, I am always logged into Google and the extra storage costs are so cheap, like $2 / month for 10 terabytes of data, so I am letting Google do the heavy lifting with my file storage.
  • Easy local machine to cloud sync: I keep a few shortcut folders on my desktop that link to local folders storing my Google Drive documents. These are then also accessible by the web interface and searchable and it all stays synchronized.
  • Integrations: Google is still good about keeping their apps open, which means that if I ever need to I can write my own code to communicate with them or use Zapier’s cool bridges to that hard work for me.

4. iCal

This is what I use for my main calendar app. It’s fast and synchs on all my devices. I used to have a bunch of different calendars for very-specific things like “Exercise” and “Meetings” and that was overly complicated. I now maintain three calendars: “Work”, “Personal” and “Notes” and I use notes to log calendar-sensitive events like, “Put in new contact lenses” or “Got haircut” and then set alerts for, in the case of contact lenses, two weeks in the future so I know when to replace them again.

5. Apple Notes

Speed and simplicity is the most important feature in a notes app and Apple’s default is just the fastest. It has some downsides like the inability to export or tag your notes but I solved that and wrote about the solution on how to export your notes to Evernote or other apps using Apple Script. I export my notes into Evernote every couple months using this method.

6. Evernote

I was a very late adopter on this. I did stupid stuff — and sometimes still do — like take screenshots of passages I like while reading. (Maybe not as stupid now that those screenshots are searchable in Google Drive, as describe above.) Now, with Evernote’s flexibility and selection tool I just select the text in web article and use the web clipper in the bookmarklet.

I also now using it for basic bookmarking. Even though I do this, I think bookmarking is basically useless. It’s an impulsive thing to want to save this location but I don’t think I’ve ever really used it. Google Search is my bookmarking tool. They save my whole history of everything I have been to anyway so if I really want to find something again I can look through that. Despite the fact that I think it’s worthless, I still do it and I went from using the standard bookmarking offering in the web browser, then to Google bookmarks, then even to Delicious, then experimented with the whole group of popular “read later” offerings (Pocket, Instapaper, Pinboard, Readability) and now have settled on Evernote as the best all-in-one to simplify all this.

I also love that there are great API integrations for Evernote so you know you can always get your data out, if needed.

7. Asana

Now that I am starting to use Evernote there could be some overlap with Asana but I use this for 1) task tracking and management and 2) idea logging. I will offload ideas from notes to Asana where I can comment on ideas and they are all timestamp and easy to sort. Asana does amazing things with Javascript to create a great, flexible experience. And again, their API documentation is great so it’s easy to retrieve or do useful things with your data. Their new design is great too. It’s more Basecampy, in a way, but with my features.

8. WordPress

  • I have a local install of WordPress on my laptop that’s disconnected from the Internet  — at least not on a remote server — and runs on MAMP and I use this for private info I want to manage. I use a front-end edit plugin here to make it quick to edit and I often will keep it open in a tab.
  • I also use this very blog to store drafts for posts. I have a custom post type called “Draft / Ideas” where I’ll write them down and this keeps them unindexed while they are still drafts. I have this idea that just putting them in separate silo but on my actual blog makes it more likely I’ll actually publish them.

9. Macmail

This is my work email client. I like keeping it totally separate from my personal email and, for some reason, despite what I said about preferring to do everything in the browser, I like — or have gotten used to — having my work email in a standalone client.

10. Gmail

Personal email is here. It’s been awesome from the beginning. I do use the filters effectively too! (Google could probably make the programming of filters easier for non-technical people to understand — like a better visual UI for this, maybe).

11. Twitter

I kind of use Twitter as a public bookmarking service to track stuff I find interesting I am okay with sharing with the world. I’m actually very bullish on Twitter and think, right now, with a 20.71B market cap, it’s undervalued in a big way. There are so many directions they could go with their users and data. I used to use Delicious for public bookmarking and even liked their design updates but it’s just a redundant thing I have to abandon now. But twitter could allow you to tag and organize your own tweets. That might be a good idea for ya Jackster!

12. Scansnap

After a bunch of research I bought a Scansnap in an effort to try to go paperless more and I am glad I did. It will scan any paper you have quickly and then their software will make the text in the document searchable using OCR. It even converts handwritten text into searchable text. This is kind of the new standard, I guess — Evernote and Google Drive will also just do this for you once you upload a file. I save my scans directly to Google Drive so they’re accessible at all times and once I scan something in it’s soon available on all my devices automagically!

13. Skype

Still my go-to way for chatting or communicating overseas or having video conferences.

14. Time Machine

You just have to do it. Apple macs it simple. I bought an external LaCie 1TB drive to offload the backups. I don’t back up all the time though. I basically will plug my computer in once in a while as an EXTRA backup because I recently started using an always-on primary backup solution in the cloud called …

15. Backblaze

I wanted an extra safety measure and a remote backup of my files in case something really bad happens. Backblaze runs quietly in the background backing up all I do and store the backups in a remote storage facility in Arizona (I think). It works great and it’s only something like $49 / year so it seems like a no brainer for that kind of peace of mind. The fact that most of my docs are already saved by Google Drive means I have less that is unrecoverable in the event of a hard drive failure but it’s still worth it and I no longer need to fret about data loss from hardware failure.

16. Screenflow

I sometimes have to make demo videos and this is what I use to capture screencasts. It works really well. It also makes editing really easy too. I have used it edit together some family video footage as well and it works well too. I don’t have FinalCut nor do I know how to use it and I suspect it’s very bare-bones for actual video editing but for simple stuff and screencast recording and editing it works great!

I also use the following:

  • Google Chrome for browsing with the Momentum Dashboard extension installed — an inspirational image, quote and the current time in each tab.
  • Photoshop: I don’t do much design work but if I need to edit something I have a copy of photoshop for light editing.
  • Vienna: A free, open source RSS reader app for Mac. I just began using this to track product updates for software I used and some blogs.
  • Newsfeed Eradicator: Blocks your FB newsfeed. I used this because I love being social but often really need to concentrate.
  • Genius Scan: If you need to convert an image into a .pdf on the go.
  • Opera Mail: I don’t recommend having multiple mail clients but I had this issue where I had these old email accounts that had become overrun by Spam but I also wanted to be able to check over them occasionally. To achieve this I installed another non-MacMail client (I settled on Opera Mail) and I use it solely to hook in old, unused email accounts that receive mostly junk mail in case I ever need to check on any of them.

Stay tuned for my more formally work-related tools.

How to quickly export your iPhone notes to Evernote (or other apps)

I take a lot of quick notes while on the go using the default notes app on my iPhone. I use it solely because it opens faster than any other notes app out there like Evernote or Asana. Speed is key with a notes application. (Sidenote: This is a good reminder for us all: If your product is incomplete in many ways but just so much faster and easier than other options, people will likely still use it.)

But after a couple months I have a few hundred notes and want to export them to review them. This is the part that is really annoying: Apple’s notes app doesn’t have a built in export feature. Yes, the iCloud synching for notes between my phone and laptop and iPad works great but I want to export everything to a more fully-featured note storage app for tagging and more permanent storage.

I’m not the only person who wants to do something like this. A few people have created scripts that will export the notes to .txt or .html documents but they all get exported into separate files. Check out notes exporter if your want to export to separate text files. And also notes export if you want to export to separate HTML files. As mentioned, I want to export to either one document or one app like Asana or Evernote and preserve the time stamps on each note.

After a bunch of searching around and attempts at modifying different Apple Scripts to write my own I found the best method is simply to import the notes to Evernote using the Apple Script code below. And I originally found this here.

You have to make sure your desktop app version of Evernote is updated. Mine was originally really old and it gave me a database error but it worked after updating! You can just update the Evernote tags you see in the script code to tags that make sense for you. And once you have the notes in Evernote you can do all sorts of stuff with them using Evernote’s API and superior exporting functionality — including exportation to other apps and services. You may also be able to just export directly to those apps as well by modifying the Apple Script. If you do, please leave a note in the comments to share your findings.

AppleScript is the old language first released in 1993 but it’s so powerful. Something simple like this makes my life a lot easier and it makes me wonder what other cool stuff you could automate more with AppleScript.

Is Google’s facts and answers search result strategy sustainable?


Seen these Google queries inline, on search results pages without having to click through to a publisher’s page? I’m sure you have if you’re a frequent Googler but but I wonder how the publishers of these answers feel? You know, the ones that actually do the work of providing the answers? Given the attached example, how many searchers would have clicked through to the top result and given some ad revenue as a result had Google not lifted the content and made it unnecessary to support the publisher?

I think this is a major issue. How is a balance between convenience and sustainability created? This is a broad question that can be applied to a lot of tech disruption but this is a great example. To me, this seems like a breach of Google’s original “Do no Evil” motto. In theory, if this makes it harder for digital publishers to monetize their journalism this also makes it hard for Google to provide quality search results because no one will be able to afford to produce it for them.

Generalizing, our current convenience here may mean a long term breakdown in this amazing search and retrieval system we’ve grown accustomed to.

It used to take people days to find the answers to a query. They had to go to the library and bumble around for awhile until they found what they needed. Or make a bunch of phone calls to experts. Given this perspective, I think I am okay with clicking on a link to find my answer if it supports the publisher and allows for the proper feeding of this system I value.

Perhaps I am missing something here. Maybe publishers are charging for API access / database calls like Amazon and Google do for their cloud computing services. I DOUBT it though.



8 surprising reasons to love the kindle (2015 edition)

I just bought a Kindle last week. I’m a late adopter on this, I realize. After only a short time I must admit: I underestimated how much I’d love it. I wish I’d bought one years ago.

Since it launched in 2007 I understood the value of the e-ink display for reading without glare but I like to keep my life simple and thought paper books were fine. Then I got an iPad and felt like that was fine too and didn’t want an extra screen.

But I finally gave in. At $119 it’s an affordable new device. And the benefits after a few weeks of usage have surprised me. Most people know it’s better for reading at the beach and that you can now easily, lightly bring hundreds of books around with you but below I’ll bullet point the eight surprising reasons I like it:


You can keep the book you’re reading private when you’re in public. I’m not reading anything subversive or anything but I also don’t always like advertising what I’m reading on the subway and the Kindle enables discretion.

Less Anxiety Over Selective Reading

I read a good number of books on “Biznass.” They’re inspiring. But they can also be repetitive in places. Kindles kind of lessen the guilt I have at just selectively reading chapters that seem original or interesting and skipping the bits that don’t pique my interest as much. It’s kind of like “a la carte” reading and doing what iTunes does for music — although with iTunes I guess you only pay for the songs you listen to and you can’t just buy the parts of book you like. There may be something interesting there though: only pay for what you read?

Percentage Completed > Pages In

I find page numbers can be distracting. I like seeing the percentage done, as Kindle has it. It allows you to better calculate how much more you have to read.

Cleaner, Faster Reading

The Kindle removes the unnecessary, duplicate headers found in normal print books, allows you to change the font-style and size, line-height and margins. It just lets you optimize your experience completely and, I think, fosters getting you more in the reading “zone” as a result. I think I read faster on the Kindle.


The new Paperwhite is light! It seems easier to hold up in front of my face than a normal hard cover.

Highlight Log

I do a lot of underlining on analog, paper books. I like going through old books and seeing highlighted passages I found especially good. It’s possible I underline too much. If someone pulled out one of my favorite books from my shelf they might find how marked up the book is suspicious. Anyway, the fact that the Kindle let’s me do this with my finger and then collect all these notes in one annotated digital log for easy sharing in email or reference later is great! I am toying with writing more book reports on this blog and the Kindle would help me include relevant or favorite passages quickly.

Screen Addiction & Backlight Cleanse

Kindle seems to help curb screen addiction.  I know that seems strange since I guess the Kindle is a screen. But since it’s doesn’t have a backlight I don’t really count it. It’s really more like reading a newspaper. But it still satiates what seems like a screen addiction I have developed. I don’t smoke but I feeli like it’s something akin to Nicorette gum in this way. And that fact that this “non-screen” also just delivers info I want to consume without email or advertisement distraction is important too.

Vocabulary Builder

I love having the ability to store all words that trip you up in one place for additional study. I also had a Google document of words I’d been working on and I exported it as a .pdf then used Calibre software to convert it into .mobi format and load it up as an ebook for Kindle could understand it. Then I manually selected each one of these words to load them each into the Vocabulary Builder app. Also note: Calibre is great software. One dude, Kovid Goyal, wrote it years ago while in grad school. It somehow lets you pull in Kindle-formatted news and magazines. I also download a lot of .pdfs online and this lets you convert these .pdfs into a Kindle-acceptable .mobi format. It’s kind of like the iTunes for ebooks.

Feature Requests

The note taking feature is really basic. I am not sure what I want out of it but this is a case where note taking in a paper book or on an IPAD or computer seems easier. Then again, if the ability to use a stylus or have a keyboard or even allow for an easy way to use a Bluetooth external keyboard were added it would start to infringe on the simplicity of the device. So I am, for now, content with having to put in a little more effort to leave notes.

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