Amateur blogger.

Hi Screen, this blog is vague. It’s not for SEO. It’s not about progressing my “career”. In fact, I don’t know what this blog is and I don’t really know what I’m doing. Last week my naturopath (yes, I’m as surprised as you, but I must be lucky because mine has made a difference) said she reckons I burn into nervous energy because I don’t like slowing down. There are specks of Seth Godin running through my nerve endings urging me to “work in public”. Yet I have seen the fascinating history of Venkat Rao’s Ribbonfarm since it began while I have not published a word (not to say I’m anything like Mr. Rao).

So I almost canned this thing, better things to do and all.

And while doing better things, I keep reading along the way. Mostly online. For example, my favourite design inspiration in the past half decade has been’s Design Principles. As well as being the go-to digital product design manifesto (IMHO), look at that typography! Cleaner, simpler, bolder, beautiful. And yes, being a collector-type, I can spot that same Margaret Calvert font here on the warning signs along these Cairns beaches. And so alongside these GDS blog perusals sit the webblogs of Ben Terrett and Russell Davies and genmon’s Interconnected from which I’ve been silently feeding for years. Online reading is a chain like this.

Let me get to the point. This morning’s post by Mr. Davies contained this:

“I much prefer reading amateur writers writing about the field in which they’re experts, rather than expert writers writing about fields in which they’re amateurs.”

Which was a comment from a post titled “Reading and writing for our peers” by Jon Udell.

I agree. So I thought I’d sit here and tell you that, Screen. Just as I’ve found the most interesting music is mostly by unknown, so-called “amateurs”, like the Black American Soul discs that drive me nuts, I feel I’m compelled to keep doing this amateur thing, dear Screen.

So, thanks Mr. Davies and Mr. Udell, please keep posting. As for me, here’s to being ignorant, taking the long way, refusing SEO optimisation, self-publishing with Jekyll, and finding peers. Or at least a mirror.

Database as a toy.

We’ve been using You Need A Budget since January in an effort to understand how our money flows. Yeah, what gets measured gets managed. I really admire the way YNAB have fostered a community by providing money management education. What has become a drag with YNAB is it’s insistence on complete reconciliation. Yeah, it should and I should. But I’m running around like a loon and I just never get to it and then the longer I leave it, the more red hot pain the upkeep is. I need a solid, just-in-time picture of my finances that I can run with, not a perfect painting.

I’ve also been researching ways of showing my clients efficient methods of using data to provide better online services. Rather than get into the full MEAN (or MERN?) stack just to get a working prototype, I’ve been testing tools with low entry points, like Airtable: a very user-friendly database as spreadsheet. I like how easy it is to call the API, and the GUIs for desktop and mobile are supernice. And you can relate one table to another. Plus file attachments, collaboration, app integrations, fun to use, etc.

I think it’s killer feature is the one they started with: more flexible field types that are, at the same time, less error-prone.

Using it on my phone has been a pleasure, without being a reduced function set of the desktop app. And that means I’ve been able to very easily replicate YNAB on both mobile and desktop with Airtable.

Yes, if I go beyond 1200 records, I start paying more than I would with YNAB.

But think bigger. One now very easily and quickly test user data set flows (for text and images) on any device. And build out an interface using that data. For free.

I’m sure I could do that with another system. It’s just that this gate was lower.

Now I find myself thinking about other ways I can use it. It’s probably 5 or maybe 6 for me on Chris Dixon’s scale of life-changing inventions.


Attempting to remember the exact name of one of my wife’s non-close friends, I realised I was having image associations for certain names. I thought the friend’s name was something like ‘Bertrand’, and this image came to mind:

Sliced Beetroots

Sliced beetroots like you’d find in a can of beetroots. Like the word ‘Bertrand’, it’s soft on the edges but flexibly holds it’s shape.

I clarified the friend’s name with my wife, and it turned out to be ‘Beatrice’. So this image came to mind:

Purple spring onions

Purple spring onions. The ‘trice’ in ‘Beatrice’ is just like the taste of onion: sharp, fresh and white. Yet the image I had was a purple spring onion. Perhaps ‘Be’ is purple.

I recognised this symbol habit I’ve had for a long time—since childhood I’m very sure—but it’s not come into consciousness for a while. Perhaps it was a way to learn and remember the names of things, although today’s episode felt like a pure language-image association. It’s not synaesthesia. Can anyone tell me more about what this kind of sensation is?

NAB no reply redux.

Today I received an email from NAB:

We’ve learnt that whilst money’s important, it’s not what matters most. And that’s because life is about more than money. It’s about experiences, the connections we share and the relationships we build.

Another one-sided conversation. And I didn’t hire the NAB for life coaching. I want control of my money. Because double-entry bookkeeping. Because what gets measured gets managed. Don’t take my money then re-market to me, build me a better service.

NAB no reply.

Here’s a picture from my phone of the National Australia Bank letting me know that my recent trample into their customer service desk to vent my frustration was now a closed case.

NAB No Reply message

Firstly, it wasn’t closed because there was no resolution. Secondly, I bet they class this one-way SMS as ‘customer engagement’. And I love how it comes from ‘NABNoReply’ because it now looks like their slogan.

Then I got this Gerry McGovern post in my email:

Communicator: Thank you for your feedback. We always strive to listen to our customers and respond to your needs.
Customer: No you don’t.

So then, of course, I posted my picture on twitter along with Gerry’s post link and got a NAB rep (or bot?) in reply. Did I feel like re-explaining the three month case history from scratch with yet another rep? No.

As a designer, this makes me think that 1) ‘user experience design’ is mostly about deeply understanding a task, then designing agency (such as a digital interface) that enables the task’s completion quickly and repeatably, and 2) that ‘customer service’ has inherently the same goals.

So rather than nice branding, and timely-but-inconsequential engagement, I think NAB—and service organisations of the like—should build services that just work. The marketing will eventually be the product.

I have no doubt that building a service that works, and works for all customers, is very difficult. Far more difficult than my Dad realises. But as a customer, nobody cares. Unless it works.

When the fintech finally comes along that makes it too easy for people to leave, everyone will.

Start with a shit kick, then polish.

I’ve practiced karatedo for almost two years, and I’m a Beginner. I’ve always been a sporting natural but when it came to martial arts, I had to accept that I was just plain clueless.

Co-ordinating just one move fluidly? Difficult. Co-ordinating both left and right sides of an action were doubly difficult. Remembering that action in the following lesson, difficult again. Combining that action with another in sequence, both sides, compound difficult. And then learn their Japanese names, and then understanding their applications from kata, all difficult. And that’s just physical actions. We’re not even talking right effort, right mind yet.

Here is a video of mawashi-geri (roundhouse kick). We were practicing this kick the other night. I’d been working with uke—the person who “receives” a technique, that is, the training partner—for about five minutes, my kicking leg pulled up and out like a wing, high and round, then snapping out to and back from the body of uke. It was, as usual, difficult, and I was stuffed.

Sensei—literally “person born before another”—walked over and said “great, and now you should try to relax”. We both paused, breathing heavily. “Here’s a quick story” he continued, “not exactly a Japanese way of explaining it, more a Cairns way”.

Start with a shit kick. Then polish it on the next go. This way you’re not trying so hard, which means you’re not tense. Tension makes everything slower.

That hit me. Because I have perfectionist tendencies—for better and worse—I tend to try too hard.

I’m pretty sure you can apply the Shit Kick quip to most kinds of practice, and come out better for it. Action. Check. Action better. In software terms, this is the “shipping beats perfection” mantra. In human terms, this is the Samuel Beckett quote.

Perfect needs unperfect first.