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Preview: - Technology, Design and Photography

Updated: 2017-12-30T12:51:04-05:00


Reading more


I'm not much of a reader. Never have been. I never saw the value. The thought of sitting down and reading a book felt as much of a chore as doing laundry or cleaning my stovetop. I thought my time was better spent hacking on side projects, editing and making photosets (just kidding, that's always worth it), working or watching a movie on one of many services from Hulu and Netflix to Sling and HBO Now. As 2016 came to a close I reread my almost four year old post Simplify. I wrote it shortly after I began working at Twitter. Having just come off of a five year stint of working on my own startups, I had become a workaholic. I was incessantly stressed out with the infinite to-do list floating around in my head. I always felt guilty if I wasn't working. While I've since changed some things to take better care of myself and relax more, continually being stressed out is one thing that doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. Not great. I needed something to get me to slow down regularly—if you know me you’ll know I eat fast, walk fast and talk a mile a minute—and take my mind off everything causing me stress. I decided that for 2017 I wanted to read more, much more. I set a goal to read 24 books in 2017. I have already read 3 books in the last 3 weeks. Update 12/30/17: I reached my goal and read 24 books! I have listed the books I read at the end of this post. To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.—W. Somerset Maugham Why read? If I could get into the routine of setting aside my laptop and phone for nugget of time each day to slow down, focus on just one thing and read, that would be success in my book (see what I did there?). No more just turning the phone screen on just to see if I happened to have missed a push notification or important email. Reading forces you to go one step further and not even let your mind wander a bit. If it does, you're punished by having to read the paragraph or page over again to understand what’s happening. A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much.Tyrion Lannister In just the last few weeks of reading regularly, I’ve seen how every reading session calms me down; a feeling similar to that after a short meditation session (another habit I wasn't good at keeping). Calm and relaxed. One research study found that reading for just six minutes can help reduce stress levels by as much as 68%—more effective than going for a walk, drinking a cup of tea or listening to music. Another research study found the same, but with 30 minute sessions of yoga, reading and humor (watching SNL). Reading was found to consistently reduce blood pressure, heart rate and a Daily Stress Inventory score. Reading also helps you lose yourself in a fictional character through a process called experience-taking (PDF), "the imaginative process of spontaneously assuming the identity of a character in a narrative and simulating that character’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, goals, and traits as if they were one’s own." And it may actually lead to real life changes. And finally, a related study (PDF) introduced and proved the hypothesis of narrative collective-assimilation: "experiencing a narrative leads one to psychologically become a part of the collective described within the narrative." The study involved participants reading Harry Potter—they actually believed they were wizards too: The proposed narrative collective-assimilation hypothesis was supported by results for both explicit and implicit measures; participants who read the Harry Potter chapters associated themselves with wizards, whereas those who read the Twilight chapter associated themselves with vampires. Furthermore, for both measures, the effects were moderated by the degree to which participants tended to fulfill their belongingness needs through collectives.This finding supports our argument that narrative collective assi[...]

Design for Curation


Last week Dropbox launched a new gallery app called Carousel. It's a focused app, only letting people view their photos stored on Dropbox1 and conveniently share them. There are a few interesting parts in the app but there is one piece I’d like to highlight: Swipe down to hide.

This gesture doesn't delete your photo, it simply removes it from the gallery view. It's not a heavy action. There's no cognitive overhead, no thinking "wait, do I want this shot?" as there generally is when deleting items.

View screenshots

Swiping down to hide less-than-stellar photos is as satisfying as crossing something off your to-do list. It's the only curation tool you need for a stark gallery app. I effortlessly turned my heap of mobile phone photos and videos into a meaningful digital library that I found myself casually browsing over the past few days.

And that seems to be the point of Carousel. Make it easy for me to see the value of curating an easily digestible and shareable gallery and I may use Dropbox to store even more of my photos.

Now you're thinking "but Paul, this is nothing new!" Agreed. That's why this post isn't about Carousel.

As designers we love to focus on simplifying interfaces. We clasp Dieter Rams' 10 principles. But what about decluttering and crafting something useful with the content that lives inside these interfaces? Craig Mod suggests content for readers should fit the experience, not the other way around. What if you extend that thought to content created by the user, not just content consumed by them?

You can turn bulk, typically fleeting data into a moment, a story, a timeline, a canon of the user's own digital personal effects. Whatever it may be, help your users make it their own. Wherever your users create, let them curate. Otherwise your app's value may be fleeting instead.

About a year ago I began putting more time into my photoblog. I wanted to use it as a base to share my travel experiences. The goal was — and I haven't gotten there yet — to also use video, location, weather, audio and other Feltron-like statistics from each trip to tell my story. What ended up happening is I created something meaningful largely just for myself, something I'll revisit.

Where else can this be done?

1 More or less your phone's camera roll if you have “Camera Upload” enabled

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How To: Hosting on Amazon S3 with CloudFront


A few weeks ago my DNS provider Zerigo sent an email stating that due to recent infrastructure upgrades they would need to raise their prices. For my meager DNS needs that ended up being a huge price hike: from $39 per year to $25 per month1. Prices were set to take effect a month later. I decided to put my current dev work — designing and building new photoblog functionality to showcase my Japan trip photos — on hold to move away from Zerigo. I chose to switch to AWS Route 53. I was able to successfully get my DNS running on Route 53 and pointing to my Heroku setup rather quickly. Though everything was working, I realized I was running an unsupported configuration. Namely that I was using DNS A records to point to the root of my domain. Heroku explains the problem with this zone apex approach on cloud hosting providers: "DNS A-records require that an IP address be hard-coded into your application’s DNS configuration. This prevents your infrastructure provider from assigning your app a new IP address on your behalf when adverse conditions arise and can have a serious impact to your app’s uptime. A CNAME record does not require hard-coded IP addresses and allows Heroku to manage the set of IPs associated with your domain. However, CNAME records are not available at the zone apex and can’t be used to configure root domains." I felt uneasy about this and wanted to make sure my site would just work at all times. I didn't want to leave myself with future technical debt due to a hacky solution. There were other options available but moving over to Amazon S3 site hosting with CloudFront was the most intriguing: It supports zone apex domain hosting with Route 53’s ALIAS DNS record. I would save $34/month by moving off Heroku. I was only on Heroku since I had used ruby rack with my Jekyll setup to do some basic URL 301 redirection to preserve an old permalink structure I had. After some research I found out how this could be done on S3 hosted sites as well. I already use CloudFront, S3, Glacier and Route 53 so it’s nice to keep all of my eggs in one big Bezos basket. Although I had previously hosted all assets on CloudFront (CSS, JS and images) I would still see a huge performance boost by having all requests hit CloudFront. I've known about S3 site hosting since it was launched but was always wary about how it would perform when I wanted to update current files. Previously I thought that CloudFront only updated files every 24 hours. That concern became a non-issue when I discovered a great ruby gem that calls CloudFront's invalidation API when pushing s3 sites. With my research done, I began the migration process. Moving from Zerigo to Route 53 When it comes to moving domains and hosts, the name of the game is minimizing downtime and DNS propagation. It's vital that you keep both sites running so that folks with old DNS records can still load a version of your site until the propagation completes. I exported my DNS records from Zerigo2 imported them on Route 53, waited a while for the new DNS records to be active for good measure, then pointed my registrar Namecheap to the new Route 53 servers. That only took a few minutes through the Route 53 web console. At this point I had Route 53 working with my old host Heroku. S3 website hosting 101 The next step was to enable S3 static website hosting and get my Jekyll site running exactly as I wanted it before adding my domain. I had to create buckets where I would store my site's static files. Amazon suggests you create two: one for no-www and one for the www version of your domain. For example, and But since we will be using CloudFront from the get–go, only one bucket is required (your root domain bucket). More on that later. What if someone's squatting on my domain name bucket? I found myself in this predicament. Someone was squatting on the S3 bucket. I asked on the AWS forums and they replied stating that [...]

Android is better


It was just meant to be a quick experiment. I started using a Nexus 4. I was going to go right back to my iPhone after a week. I was designing more and more Android interfaces at Twitter and realized I needed to more intimately grok Android UI paradigms.

A week in it started feeling normal; the larger form factor was no longer a nuisance. A month in I didn't miss anything about my iPhone. Two months in I sold my iPhone 5 and iPad Mini. It has now been three months since I made the switch. I'm loving Android. I only missed having a good camera so I just upgraded to a Google Edition Samsung Galaxy S4.

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Storage for Photographers


Note: I wrote a sequel: Storage for Photographers (Part 2)

There comes a time in every photographer's life when they must ask themselves what to do about all those photo RAWs filling up the tiny-compared-to-spinning-platters SSD on their primary machine. Easy, just get an external hard drive. Redundancy? Just get a Drobo or Synology NAS. More redundancy? Just backup the Drobo to Crashplan or Synology to Amazon S3 or Glacier. Done right?
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I have been thinking a lot about simplifying my life recently. I started a stellar new job four months ago and it felt like a great time to change other parts of my life.

I used to be a slave to my startups. If I wasn't working, I had a perpetual feeling of guilt that I should be working.
This RSS feed only shows excerpts. It will look much better on the website: Simplify.

Developing a responsive, Retina-friendly site (Part 2)


This is the last part in my three-part series about the design and development of a responsive and so-called Retina-friendly website. While I have covered my development process, media queries for responsive development, and various JS libraries I use, I'm going to talk about images in much more depth in this article. In particular, I'll show how to use HiDPI image assets as well as cover responsive images and some history around that.

This RSS feed only shows excerpts. It will look much better on the website: Developing a responsive, Retina-friendly site (Part 2)

My Setup


Note: This post is now a bit outdated. I have updated my Stuff I Use page.

I have always been a fan of The Setup and have been maintaining my own Stuff I Use page for some years now so it only made sense that I would eventually write my own such article. This is how I work and what I use to do it. If you have any questions please leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter.

This RSS feed only shows excerpts. It will look much better on the website: My Setup

Developing a responsive, Retina-friendly site (Part 1)


In my last post, Designing a responsive, Retina-friendly site, I covered my design process and thoughts behind redesigning this site. I did not cover any aspects of actual development or any Jekyll specifics. This post will mainly cover coding up responsive design and the third and final post will cover retina media queries, responsive images and more.

This RSS feed only shows excerpts. It will look much better on the website: Developing a responsive, Retina-friendly site (Part 1)

Joining Twitter


I have always wanted to work at Twitter but never actually thought about it until Akash Garg reached out a few months ago1. Yes, this is a post announcing that I have joined the flock at Twitter. I signed up for Twitter exactly six years ago in January 2007 as user #624,6832.

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Designing a responsive, Retina-friendly site


It's hard to believe I have been blogging for more than 7 years. Michael Wozniak, my hallmate during my freshman year at Georgia Tech, had gotten me into Gentoo Linux the year prior and told me he was playing with WordPress 1.2. Compared to the MediaWiki site I was running at the time that piqued my curiosity and I began blogging on WordPress on my G4 Mac Mini that summer. I immediately fell in love with it and began learning CSS and PHP to tweak the theme1.

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Twitter Review: New Gmail iPhone app


Google recently released a new iPhone app for Gmail this week to much fanfare. After the third blog post citing how "slick" it was, I gave it a go myself. I currently use Sparrow for email on my iPhone. After having it installed for 5 minutes, I asked the Twitterverse what they think:

New Gmail iPhone app: discuss. I think the font-weight is too light. I want to read my email, not frame it and put it in an art gallery.

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I recently read Alex MacCaw's article, What it’s like to work for Stripe, while on a much needed vacation. Alex, whom I first discovered via his post on asynchronous UIs and then traveling the world, does a great job discussing how Stripe operates. I have gotten to know the Stripes over the last year and am impressed at how well they execute. As he states, culture can be hard to define so I'd like to share a bit about what it means to me.
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My TechCrunch Post for First-time Startup Entrepreneurs


In case you didn't catch it, I wrote my first TechCrunch guest post earlier this month. It's aptly named First-Time Startup Entrepreneurs: Stop Fucking Around and it's my take on how first-time startuppers should work and get things done. Take a look at it and let me know what you think!
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Browser sync is the killer app


"Slow. Doesn't use the V8 engine. Second-class citizen on the iPhone. 3x slower than Mobile Safari because it uses WebViews. No full screen, no gestures. Horrible."

Taken by a lovely Canon 5D Mark III (thoughts coming soon)

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My First Hackintosh


A year ago I wrote about how I wanted to build a Hackintosh. Oddly enough, exactly a year later, I ended up getting around to it.


My roommate/cofounder Akshay had a Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS3R motherboard and Core 2 Quad CPU lying around from his last hackintosh (he's since upgrade to Sandy Bridge). I ended up putting getting a display,
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The Life of a Startup in Commits


Here's a GitHub impact graph of every Skribit code commit. Starting from November 2007 during Startup Weekend (hence all the contributors initially), progressing through to when I began working full-time on Skribit in 2009, when we slowed things down in mid-2010 and then pulled it offline in April 2011. It was a great ride!

Click for full-res. I believe I had two computers at the time so a few of those colors are mine.

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Inside Votizen


It's no surprise that I'm enthralled by startups of all types. I am particularly interested in how startups work, their internal processes and culture, rather than their external pitch and product features. It was this interest that lead me to catch up with Semil Shah and Jason Putorti from Votizen one sunny afternoon in in Mountain View, just a block or two from 500 Startups and a mile from Y Combinator.

Semil and Jason at Votizen HQ

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On Keeping Busy and Staying Sane


This was originally going to be a blog post about Venmo and the difficulty of growing such payments services, but I decided that didn't really have much content (here's the draft — 100% boring and not proofread). So here I am on a 6.5 hour flight from JFK to OAK, connected to a lovely ad-hoc wifi network my cofounder created so we can collaborate over Bonjour on this Gogo-less flight. We both ended up with middle seats on the same row and failed to get adjacent seats despite our best efforts at persuading each of the other four folks in this row to swap with us. Photo Hack Day 2 NYC — Alexis Ohanian of Reddit/Y Combinator and David Karp of Tumblr to the right We're heading back from a 2 day stint in New York City where we attended the awesome Photo Hack Day 2 (that I just wrote about for the Picplum blog). I was in Atlanta the week before courtesy of my alma mater Georgia Tech where I participated on an entrepreneurship panel at career week and spoke in an experimental NSF-funded engineering and design class. It turned out to be big week for the Atlanta tech scene and I got to swing by Startup Riot for a bit1. For the record, the Jawbone Jambox is quite possibly the best travel companion. Georgia Tech added a few new buildings since I last visited. (Nerd Note: This is my first blog post after moving my old Apache + Jekyll setup to Heroku with Rack (rewrite, deflater, trystatic) with Unicorn. Fast. Also, LiveReload + single-post live regeneration is a nifty update for writing and previewing my blog posts.) Now that I look back at my last two startups, I really don't recall ever being as focused or in the zone as Akshay and I are right now. New ideas are becoming fleshed out roadmaps and we have laid out what our company's big vision is all about in just the last few months. I think the next step will be finalizing what our company values are — an exercise suggested to us by Dan Martell. Keeping Busy Akshay and I are both roommates and cofounders so we often get asked how that arrangement works for us. Regardless of whether Akshay or I reply, the answer is usually the same2. We are on complete lockdown about 6 days of the week. This is something we picked up during Y Combinator, where Paul Graham said something along the lines of "use YC as an excuse to not get distracted with other events/meetings/people.. tell them you're busy for these three months." We're usually awake from 11am - 3am and working about 90% of that. We try to decline most meetings. I'm very bad at saying no but slowly getting better. My excuse is that we're in a code sprint for another week (apologies if I've used this line on you). Any essential meetings that persist get scheduled into one late evening so as to not interact with our zone in the middle of the day. Because f/1.4 bokeh makes coffeescript beautiful. View more of my photos here » We're both full-stack generalists and tend to work on our own projects or features. We each take an item off our "big vision" board (which is more and more less a Trello board and more of an item from Hackpad, create a new branch or repo as necessary, then go to town on that until it's done and deployable. But we always start with the user experience and interaction, something I also found to be true at Votizen when I stopped by last week. For example, I'm finishing up a "send now" page redesign for Picplum after many users told us they wanted an easier way to switch between recipients in every batch. We brainstormed and sketched out some ideas for an hour late one night. (I touched up a bit o[...]

Mini Review: Jawbone Jambox Bluetooth Speaker


Over the past two weeks of traveling I have been using the Jawbone Jambox wireless bluetooth speaker extensively. I have concluded that it is quite possible the best thing ever created for frequent travelers1. Great for filling up your hotel room with sound2 or your playing your favorite beats while showering before that big meeting.

The Jambox playing music via bluetooth from my MacBook Air at the Downtown Atlanta Marriott (3/10 Stammys) — though I usually have it play from my iPhone.

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Ad-hoc Wifi in the Sky


How do you collaborate on work when you and your cofounder are on a 6.5 hour wifi-less flight and couldn't get adjacent seats? Create an ad-hoc wifi network and use bonjour messaging in iChat. I'm pretty sure we annoyed some people next to us...


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On Venmo and Payments


When was the last time you were so enthused about a product you actually wanted to pay your friends to get on it with you? Venmo is that magical service for me. It's a fantastic product (consider me a brand ambassador if you will, I tell everyone about it) but over the last few months I have become intimately aware at how hard it must be for them to acquire and onboard new users. Let me backtrack a bit.
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iPhone Picture Stats


I recently ran out of space on my iPhone 4S and did my yearly ritual of moving last year's photos off of my phone. Here's what my iPhone-taken photo and video stats look like:
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R.I.P. 1920x1200


I'm at home in Houston for the holidays and of course working on Picplum stuff when I'm not chasing my 18-month old nephew around. I'm used to working on my 27-inch Apple display so hacking away on the Air's native resolution took was not quite for me. Most importantly after a few days of working my back started hurting
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After months of hearing about CoffeeScript and having it on my to-do list week after week, I finally got around to really reading up on it during my flight from SFO to IAH. I tweeted that I was in the middle of moving Picplum over to CoffeeScript and got no less than 10 people asking me why.
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Startup Idea: User Retention as a Service


It was the middle of our Y Combinator batch this summer. Akshay and I had a decently functioning version of Picplum that we were continuing to test and polish up. At the end of our office hours that day, Paul Graham said our product was good enough and that we should stop coding and start selling & marketing. I think about this quite often.

Picplum at YC office hours in July. Photo Credit: Garry Tan

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Talking Startups and Picplum on BBC News


After a gracious introduction to the BBC by Mr Amit Gupta, I appeared in a short BBC News segment about the Silicon Valley startup scene as compared to the NYC startup community. Click the screenshot below to watch the video!

On BBC News talking about Silicon Valley, startups and Picplum

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Head over to OpenDNS and install DNSCrypt for Mac. DNSCrypt, in a nutshell, encrypts all DNS traffic between you and OpenDNS. If you've been reading my blog since the early days, you've already been up to date on what their primary product does
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Give the gift of Picplum


Akshay and I just rolled out our Picplum gift page after receiving countless emails from people asking how they could buy gift Picplum to friends and family. Powered by Stripe, of course.
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Sennheiser HD 650... Wow


After I mentioned that I was no longer happy with my Dr Dre Beats Studio headphones in a recent blog post, The Coding Zone, a mysterious package arrived from Amazon. It was a pair of pristine Sennheiser HD 650 headphones; a kickass gift from my friend Noah Kagan of AppSumo.
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The Coding Zone


I've learned there are three main things that set me up for a productive programming session.

My current coding wonderland.

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R.I.P. Steve Jobs



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