From Minds to Algorithms

Predictability makes us confident. Predictability is what makes friends and family so trustworthy. We can guarantee with 100% certainty that they'll be there when we need them.

Internet algorithms deliver the same predictability. Pandora, Amazon, even iMessage, can predetermine what we want to listen to, buy, and say next. Google already serves as a second brain, an external hard drive of memories and immediate answers.

But is automation what we really want? By outsourcing our decision-making, we're "subtracting from your autonomy." Algorithms pose a threat to human discovery and human serendipity. Sometimes we don't know what we like until someone else shows us, we see/hear it 10x times (thanks pop radio), or we stumble upon it accidentally. There's a special feeling you get when you discover something on your own.

I write about algorithms a lot. Why do we exist If technology and big data tells us what to do next? Predictability may save you time,for instance, in replying to a friend's text. But if your friend is also using "predictive text" then machines are just talking to machines. The "Internet of Things" replaces humanness. Algorithms deserve our attention because they pose a threat to our free will.

What It Feels Like to Be You (and Me) 👶👱👴🎉

There's something embarrassing about getting older, especially if we haven't accomplished anything truly significant. To make things worse, we start comparing ourselves to other people.

Today is my birthday. I'm 31 years old, just as old as Mark Zuckerberg who's already created an Internet empire called Facebook. What have I done/doing to change the world?

I've made some contributions:

  • I wrote a book to help people cope with their OCD. I'll write an updated version at some point.
  • I write a new blog post everyday in attempt to make other people think different.
  • I'm a tastemaker. I don't conform. I lead. I'm always looking for new things to show other people whether it's apps, articles, or new music.

At the same time, there's also something humanizing about aging. We start appreciating life and what we have. I'm a husband, a brother, and son. The family is close and strong. I'm in good health. I improved my posture. I still have my curly hair. I've started transcendental meditation.

The older I get, the more honest I become with myself and other people. I want to be me. I don't want fake, celebrity friends. I want to say what I want and inspire people to take it as they wish. I also want to keep getting better, and stronger. The brain is elastic.

I have a special chair that I sit in every morning to think in and journal. I'm writing this from the chair right now. Perhaps it's in these still moments that we begin to appreciate who we are and how much life we have left to go. We understand how it feels to be us. Comedian Bill Murray puts it best:

“What does it feel like to be you? What does it feel like to be you? Yeah. It feels good to be you, doesn’t it? It feels good, because there’s one thing that you are — you’re the only one that’s you, right?. So you’re the only one that’s you, and we get confused sometimes — or I do, I think everyone does — you try to compete. You think, Dammit, someone else is trying to be me. Someone else is trying to be me. But I don’t have to armor myself against those people; I don’t have to armor myself against that idea if I can really just relax and feel content in this way and this regard. If I can just feel, just think now: How much do you weigh? This is a thing I like to do with myself when I get lost and I get feeling funny. How much do you weigh? Think about how much each person here weighs and try to feel that weight in your seat right now, in your bottom right now. Parts in your feet and parts in your bum. Just try to feel your own weight, in your own seat, in your own feet. Okay? So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now. Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere. There’s just a wonderful sense of well-being that begins to circulate up and down, from your top to your bottom. Up and down from your top to your spine. And you feel something that makes you almost want to smile, that makes you want to feel good, that makes you want to feel like you could embrace yourself.

So what’s it like to be me? You can ask yourself, What’s it like to be me? You know, the only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself: That’s where home is.”

Pushing Innovation


Everyone's part of product design. All a company has to do is publish a few renderings on Instagram and Facebook to get instant feedback. But do the crowds really know what they want?

Designers are the experts. Consumers react to the market. What makes something popular is not necessarily how it looks but how it's received. We all wear the same things because we want to blend in rather than stand out.

But something amazing happens when you build something unique for yourself. It pushes society forward. We don't need the same garments and architecture merely recycled. We need what's next.

Design shapes society. Social media is just there to react in bulk. Twitter took two years to gain traction. The right answer therefore seems to be the persistent belief that something will work despite its adoption. Innovation is not just about building something novel but also about pushing through. Will you see it through?

Creative Setups in a Format Shifting World

It's not unheard of to be good at one thing on one platform and poor on another. In fact, I think that's pretty normal. For instance, I'm better at editing photos on my phone than on my computer. However, I'm better at using Garageband on my computer than using the GarageBand app on my phone.

Some of this is due to the era I grew up. I started making beats on the computer in college before the iPhone even existed. While Garageband has the same features on the iPhone, the workflow is still too complicated. Conversely, the only reason I take pictures and edit them today is because the iPhone and apps likes VSCO make it so simple. I'll never try to touch up a photo on my computer again.

“We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” - Marshall McLuhan

Distraction free writing

Distraction free writing

Perhaps the only transferable software between both desktop and mobile is writing. I only enjoy writing on PCs when I can expand to "full screen" to avoid distractions but I prefer to write everything on the phone because the focus is on one screen at a time.

Despite the never-ending changes in devices and software, the best setup is the one that allows you to maximize productivity and performance.

App Review: Priime

I downloaded a new photography app this weekend called Priime.

What is Priime?

Priime is a new photography app that offers a series of adjustable presets or filters like VSCOcam. However, there are two features that make Priime unique.

  1. Each filter is sponsored by an influential photographer. This is a novel way to personalize the filters but also expose people to photographers that excel in mobile photography. VSCO also partners with brands to create filters. SE3 by Street Etiquette and KK2 from Krochet Kids intl. are some of my favorite VSCO presets.

  2. Priime suggests what type of filter to use. A common problem amongst my friends is they don't know which filter works best for their photos so they may use excess color when all they meant to do was add a bit of mood. I'm typically not a fan of algorithms as a means of production but Prrime's "Suggest" feature will help a lot of people choose their filters more wisely.


As a mobile photography fanatic, I bought the entire Priime bundle for $9.99 so I could explore all the filters. There isn't one filter that stands out to me yet but I do already like Elk, Granite, and Rocky Blue as shown in my images below. Overall, I think the VSCO filters (also part of in-app purchases) may be a little stronger and offer more variety.

Priime is not a social network like Instagram, nor does it have a grid feature like VSCO. But I don't think that's Priime's intention. Priime exists to ride on the coattails of Instagram with its hashtag, "#priime." We'll see if catches traction.

Captured today via iPhone 6 

Moonshots, Business Cards, Music Therapy, Dieter Rams, and Medium's Typography

Apologies for skipping the newsletter last week. I was in Austin for SXSW listening to Malcolm Gladwell talk about his "hobby horses."

One Giant Leap

A moonshot is "10 times better rather than incremental." The point of a moonshots isn't always to achieve them but to go through the process of dreaming and then experimenting as fast as possible so you can get the feedback needed to improve or move on to the next big idea. Google's Astral Taylor explains how to pursue moonshots for "creative/productive failure!"

Business Cards

Having returned from SXSW last week, I can tell you that business cards still matter. They're more memorable than anything you can Google or see on LinkedIn, even if the design is shitty. In China and Japan, business cards are considered "semi-sacred objects."

+ if you want your business card to stand out, consult the man who's revolutionizing the business: Hugh Macleod

Music as Therapy

Moby spent some time with Oliver Sacks to see first-hand how music ameliorates the brain through sickness and anxiety. There's also a bunch of everyday things like music that have similar powerful effects. Check out the video.

+ How Stanley Cowell became a jazz musician: "For me, a note was a bullet or a brick."

+ Vinyl sales still heating up.

Design Within Reach

If Dieter Rams were to design a computer it would look like Apple's. Well, maybe that's because Apple took a hard look at the transistor radio he designed in 1965. In this interview, Dieter Rams also explains why designers should adapt his 10 rules for great design and why the world should be more resourceful than materialistic. “That’s why, if I had something to do in this world again, I would not want to be a designer.”

+ Fast fashion: The mobile phone creates compulsive buying. Whether it's content or clothing, the Internet thrives on serotonin-hitting quick snacks.

The Medium Is the Message

I like Medium for its design simplicity but I'm not a designer. Here's an excellent rant from typographer Matthew Butterick on why Medium is superfluous.

“I haven’t seen a sin­gle story on Medium that couldn’t ex­ist equally well else­where. Nor ev­i­dence that Medium’s edit­ing and pub­lish­ing tools are a man­i­fest im­prove­ment over what you can do with other tools.”

+ Medium released an app update this week that allows you to publish in its app.

🎧 Tunes of the Week

  1. Helena Hauff - The First Time He Thought, He Died
  2. Lapalux - Don't Mean A Thing
  3. Oddisee - That's Love
  4. Kodak to Graph - Los Angeles
  5. Alex Wiley - Sexual Dolphin
  6. Kamasi Washington - Re Run Home
  7. Christian Löffler - York by

Listen here

Thought of the Week

“We are athletes of the small muscle.” - Master pianist Leon Fleisher on musicians

The Power of the Mundane

Music is a powerful drug. It can build neurons. It can reduce cortisol and increase dopamine and serotonin. It can rebuild memory. It can help stroke victims move and talk again. It can help people cope with their emotions. It can push people through arduous tasks like running or studying. It can suspend doubt and embolden risk.

Music is free and accessible, much like walks in the park, friends, and pets. Yet we brush aside their legitimate healing power and medicate our problems away instead.

If we just pay close attention to everyday things we can suspend anxiety, quiet the lizard brain, and enjoy life much more. Observing the mundane is easier said than done but that's also why it's so easy to miss.

SXSW Quotables

Google Fiber

Google Fiber

I'm attending the SXSW conference this week. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the sessions so far:

David Brooks, NY Times

  • "Suffering brings you down and shoots you upwards."
  • "It's a great moral virtue to know what another person is thinking."
  • "Self respect is being better than you used to be."
  • "Forgiveness is the final form of love."

Stephen Alvarez, NatGeo Photographer

  • On the Smartphone/DSLR: "I don't make a distinction anymore."
  • "People that think in square (crop) shoot better for Instagram."

Bill Gurly (VC) in conversation with Malcolm Gladwell

The two discussed health reform, Uber's disruption, and hacking as the new arms race. There weren't any significant quotes, just a good conversation between smart people.

+ Gladwell referred to his thought hobbies as "hobbyhorses." I'm going to start using that term myself to describe the things I too often dwell on.

Overheard on 6th Street

  • "I met my boyfriend on Tumblr."

+ I've been to SXSW three years in a row. It's fair to say that the interactive portion of the festival has peaked, and probably for the best. The conference was getting too big, too branded. However, this year's crowd is more global, mostly a mix of Europeans and Japanese.

To Be Continued...

#sxsw #austin

A video posted by Wells Baum (@bombtune) on

Picasso Baby

 "One starts to get young at 60, and then it’s too late." - Pablo Picasso

 "One starts to get young at 60, and then it’s too late." - Pablo Picasso

Bullish crows the young. Patience grows the old. Thankfully, the older group's got the money to invest in all that fledgling hope.

Dreams grow with age until experience dents the pipes. Adults focus on what's practical and accept what they can't change.

The good news is that dreaming never dies. It just becomes dormant until adults want to think like kids again. The bad news is that sometimes it's too late to take risks.

Now or Later?

Social media creates false urgency. It emphasizes sharing now rather than living in the moment. Let's be honest: No one's verifying the timeliness of your Tweet nor Instagram post. Unless it's a real time event, your scheduling is all relative.

People ultimately judge content based on how it looks and less about its context. You can post summer pictures during the winter and vice versa. The only exception may be Twitter, where sharing an image related to a different season feels out of place. A tweet is best expressed in words.

Snapchat, however, is the platform of choice for sharing something right now without the added pressure of editing the content before publishing. If Snapchat presents reality, Instagram and Facebook present edited real life.

A snap is a short-lived timestamp. Twitter is for sharing opinions. Instagram and Facebook are for recapping stories. Whatever it is you're trying to convey, remember that sharing gets in the way of enjoying the moment. As a rule of thumb, capture now (photo, idea, etc.) but share it later. It's ok to take your time.

"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking." - Christopher Isherwood

For more.

Catching the Obvious

 “What artists do is learn to see.” - Ed Catmull, Pixar

 “What artists do is learn to see.” - Ed Catmull, Pixar

Creativity is misunderstood. Most people think you have to think outside the box in order to be creative. But that's only part of it. The other half of creativity is the pursuit of normalcy, the ability to notice the beauty in everyday things.

Photography is one way to bring attention to your surroundings. Writing too. After all, catching everyday things and ridiculing them is what makes Jerry Seinfeld so funny. Entrepreneurs spot the most obvious holes and fill them with business opportunities.

You don't have to innovative nor think different to be creative. You just have to get good at noticing things and figure out how to paint that picture to awe everyone else. The best ideas are usually the most obvious.

See the Light

Everyone's ecstatic about the extra hour of daylight this week. They get an hour less sleep but gain an extra hour of daylight.

Daylight Saving Time and warmer weather improves mood and human behavior. Do you think Silicon Valley would be as innovative if had to deal with snow? Cold and gloominess can impede life's activities.

But don't blame the weather. Everyone has access to the same amount of light, even if it's not natural. We can work forever next to halogen lights. We can even use our phones to work in the dark.

Creativity is neutral to the weather. In some cases, it thrives off doom and gloom. But good weather helps facilitate positive thinking. Natural sunlight and warm weather just makes getting things done a lot better.

Still Processing

What's done is done. Everything else is still processing. Your work. Your marriage. You're always in the process of working on those things rather than allowing them to set in stone.

Once you embrace growing mindset, you're always processing, learning how to love and learn effectively.

Process is more than a way to get things done. Process is about doing things mindfully, so that you're always in beta but never stuck in too deep.

Process is progress.