Should we watch beheading videos?

On The Media had an interesting segment in Friday's show discussing whether or not it's helpful or important to watch propaganda videos released by terrorist organizations. Here's the audio, or you can download the MP3:

The discussion touches on some thought-provoking questions, including what good is served by viewing the videos, and whether or not media organization should display or outright censor these videos in the first place.

Related, DecodeDC has an interesting episode on whether or not the U.S. has a responsibility to act against ISIS:


Updesk SetupI'm trying to live a paperless lifestyle as much as possible. A few things I'm doing to that end:

  • I try to avoid printing anything that I can view on a mobile device or computer instead.
  • I ask vendors and financial institutions to avoid sending me paper documents when they can send me electronic versions instead. When they don't offer that option, I search for comparable alternative vendors/institutions I can use.
  • When I'm at conferences, festivals or other events, I try to avoid taking little bits of paper that I'll just have to deal with later - flyers, stickers, postcards, business cards, etc. If I really want to remember something I'll get a hi-res photo of it with my mobile phone and then extract the useful information later.
  • I cleared all sticky note pads and scrap paper off of my work spaces so I could force myself to use digital tools.
  • When I do receive paper documents I want to maintain access to but don't need physical versions of, I scan them with the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M document scanner. It does really fast double-sided scanning of lots of documents at once, directly into PDF files on my computer, and comes with some great software tools for organizing and searching the scans. Its output is also recognized by the IRS and similar entities as valid for purposes of legal document retention requirements. A newer version of the scanner offers even more options.
  • When a document requires my signature, I try to have it emailed to me instead of postal mailed or printed. I use Adobe's electronic signature tools to place a verifiable and legally binding (in most places) digital signature on the document and then send it back to the other party.
  • I use a tablet and Dropbox to bring relevant electronic documents to meetings with me instead of printing them off or asking for a copy when I get there. If I need to annotate a document or take notes, I either type those in during the meeting or use a small notebook I carry to write them out, and then immediately type them in after the meeting.
  • I have a system of paper folders in my home office for filing documents immediately as the mail comes in or as I clean out my pockets for the day - "to scan," "to file," "to shred" and so on. I find organizing paper documents as soon as they get to me shortens the time they stay in my life.
  • I regularly organize and purge the paper files I do keep, and I try to reuse paper a few times before finally putting it in the recycle bin or my diamond cross-cut shredder.
  • I make sure I name my digital documents consistently so that I'll be able to find them later with simple searching (usually "YYYMMDD-name-tags.pdf").
  • If a printed thing is sentimental in nature but I can't imagine myself pulling it out in a few years to caress it, smell it, re-read it, etc. I'll just take a picture of it instead and revisit it visually as needed.
  • I make sure my digital documents are backed up to multiple places in multiple ways.

Some aspects of going paperless that I'd like to see improve:

  • I still get receipts for gas pump activity and various credit card and cash retail transactions (unless they're using Square or something similar that will email me my receipt). I don't want to not have these at all because I'd like a way to verify the amount I was charged is correct (I've seen errors before), but I don't necessarily want to scan each one in or have to deal with filing or trashing them later. It would be nice if there were a global standard for having receipts transmitted electronically - not just emailed to me, but stored in some place of my choosing like a private Dropbox folder.
  • I wish important paper documents like vehicle titles, real estate transaction documents, passports, etc. had some easily accessible and widely accepted digital alternative so that we didn't have to place so much emphasis on storing and protecting these things carefully.
  • When I go to performances, lectures or religious services, some way to give people a program or bulletin they can view without disruptive mobile device screen activity. Surely with e-paper technology and related tools we could create this - and just think, no need to print separate LARGE PRINT VERSIONS when you could just scale up the font size!
  • The one place I would like to see paper used more? Electronic voting.

Have you gone or are you going paperless? What tools and techniques do you use?


Most every day I try to read something that makes me uncomfortable. Something that challenges my worldview, reminds me of my privilege, prompts me to think about unmet wants and needs of others in the world, or that just helps me step outside of my everyday understanding of how things work.

A few sources I turn to when I want to be uncomfortable include:

Sometimes my discomfort turns to anger or sadness, sometimes it turns into ideas, sometimes it even results in action. Most often it's helpful to me, sometimes it's not. But being uncomfortable now and then feels important.

Toothpaste tube UX improvement

Shortly after a new tube of toothpaste goes into use, I start rolling the tube over on itself and putting a binder clip on the end:


The result is an "always full," strangely satisfying, easy-squeezing user experience throughout the life of the tube, and (I hope) less wasted toothpaste. Hat tip to my grandfather who I believe did a version of this, probably with rubber bands.

When a tube is done, there are lots of things you can do with it before throwing it away.

Distorted reality

Zilla van den Born's friends and family were enjoying following her trip to South East Asia via her posts on Facebook. Exotic restaurants, temple visits, snorkeling - they all looked like so much fun!

Except they weren't real, and neither was the trip.

“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media, and that we create an online world which reality can no longer meet."

Most people don't work this hard to present a patently false version of reality to their online connections, but social media culture often encourages us to present the best, shiniest version of our reality. (Even reading my post from yesterday about how I spent the last week, I'm realizing that I presented a pretty idyllic narrative when of course there were things that were less than ideal along the way.)

In the midst of sharing silly, fun, whimsical things, it feels important to find ways to make sure our online connections trend toward authenticity and sincerity. And in the cases when online tools don't facilitate genuine connection (whatever that looks like for a given person), maybe we shouldn't invest as much of our time in them at all.

I'll think about that while I ride my unicorn around the rainbow today. Photos coming soon.

Automattic Grand Meetup Gratitude

It's only been about four months since I joined Automattic, but in that time I've had some great experiences working on amazing projects and websites with some delightful people. The past week took that adventure to new level as I joined my 270ish (and growing) co-workers for the annual company "grand meetup," held this year in Park City, Utah.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into the gathering; I'd been told that it would be overwhelming, chaotic, amazing, fun, productive, and lots of other things. I've of course spent time with co-workers before, been to a variety of tech conferences with intensive schedules, etc. but something about bringing everyone at a fully distributed company together for a rare chance to connect and collaborate felt different somehow - higher stakes and a little more scary. Flying across the country to spend a week in a remote mountain lodge with a bunch of people you met on the Internet...sounds a little intimidating, right?

A week later as I head home, I'm full of gratitude.

Continue reading "Automattic Grand Meetup Gratitude"

Richmond's next Mayor

Pemaquid Point LighthouseWe're still some time away from the next Mayoral election here in Richmond, Indiana, but whoever is going to run and win to keep or take office in 2016 will have to begin their initial preparations this year.

(A number of people have kindly suggested that I would be a good candidate for the job. I appreciate this and I'm honored by it. But to be clear: I'm not running for Mayor in the upcoming election.)

Before the candidates announce themselves and the conversation becomes about those individuals and their qualifications, I want to share my own hopes for what Richmond will see in its next Mayor.

The legal requirements for running are pretty basic: "A candidate for the office of mayor...must have resided in the city for at least one year before the election." Hopefully we'll set the bar a little higher than that.

The below list is not meant to be a critique of our current Mayor or of any past person who has held the title, but rather a forward-looking inventory of what I think the city needs most right now:

Continue reading "Richmond's next Mayor"