A List Of Sites I Adore

I have always been a fan of sites that have clean design and writing with a personal touch. They represent what is good about the self-publishing scene and the advancement of technology.
I’m grateful for the design, ideas, insights and thoughts they have given me. I have learnt a big deal from them, and i feel i’m just at the start. I’m pretty sure as i embark on my own adventure, i hope to leave a trail like the ones mentioned. It’s a massive privilege to be able to acquire knowledge and pick up a few tips or two from these guys.

In no particular order, they are:

Shawn Blanc
Chris Pearson
Pat Flyn
Jamie Brittain

Rafal Tomal
Dustin Curtis
Alex Rister
Design by Front

And of course:
Leo Babauta 


The Difficult Choice

After a few weeks, i’m still pondering over which Mac to get. It’s going to be my first Apple product and i’m really excited (and anxious) about it.
I really like the experience of using Iphone 5, which ironically, is my first Iphone. I like the close integration of Apple’s ecosystem and i believe having a Mac will increase my productivity and workflow.

The retina screen will be good to have, but i’m still not exactly sure if that’s a game changing factor in itself. The cost of having a retina screen is definitely a big issue, and i believe many people are also sitting on the fence on this issue. By marketing terms, the early adopters of this technology have to fork out more, and in this case, a substantial amount to enjoy the full glory of retina display.

The issue is further complicated by the imminent release of the new IMac, which i have taken a keen interest in. In fact, the reason why i’m holding out is because i’m leaning towards the purchase of the 21.5inch imac. There are only 4 choices, but the more i think about it, the more indecisive i become.

  • MacBook Air 13inch
  • MacBook Pro Retina 13inch
  • MacBook Pro Retina 15inch
  • IMac 21.5inch

It’s a choice i’m going to make eventually.


Working From Home

The idea of working from home is definitely intriguing.

Picture this: You wake up naturally in the morning, without the annoying buzz of alarm clock jerking you up alarmingly from your deep sleep. As your eyes slowly accustom to the warmth of the morning, accompanied by the beautiful ray of the sun seeping in from the window, a new day has arrive.

You take a slow walk to the bathroom, started brushing your teeth while checking out for zits in the mirror. Next, you grab the morning papers and browse through the daily happenings. Before long, the toasted bread is ready for consumption, together with your lovely cup of coffee and orange juice.

Sounds perfect.

Still in your pajamas, you switch on the laptop and follow up on the things that are supposed to be done.
Wait, are we missing something here? Don’t you have to report to office? Don’t you have to tussle with the crowd to get into the bus? And how about the bosses breathing down your neck, and your superiors watching your every move?

Our concept of the workplace hasn’t caught up with the needs of modern society, or what tools today can empower us to. Virtual work has to be valued and rewarded. It has to be featured in the media and it has to be socially desirable.

According to a recent study, workers consider themselves to be more productive when they are working away from the office. It implies that the boss trusts them enough to work where they feel is appropriate to deliver the output expected of them.

Away from the office, we have more opportunities to expose ourselves to different things. It opens the experience of working in more environments, meeting different people and potentially delivering more innovation solutions as a result.

Once empowered, individuals or/and teams can then select the best location to suit the tasks or activities.

I’m sure many of us could resonate with the lists above, but the benefits of working virtually extend far and beyond that.

It increases your productivity

We can be more productive when working from home. The endless meeting are time consuming, and the biggest expense for any corporation are spent on meeting. A 2-hour meeting involving many executives, many a time without serving the intended purpose of holding a meeting in the first place. It all adds up, and the time can be better use somewhere else.

It saves employer money

Rentals are increasing, sometimes to the level that is forcing many businesses to relocate or even push them out of contention altogether. Is it necessary for the company to house all of its staffs in a confined space? By properly delegating the work, I’m pretty sure most of the things can are done in office can be accomplished at home.

It eliminates redundant travel time (and eases traffic congestion)

Every day, we spend so much time traveling.The biggest waste of resource is the unproductive time, energy and money wasted into getting people to and fro office.You are also directly, and indirectly, helping the cause of saving the environment and easing the problem of traffic congestion by working from home.

Makes us more creative

Creative works are often produced when we are in a relaxed state. Seldom are works of creative nature produced under pressure-cooker environment. When we are working virtually, we could be in our favorite places. Having lunch in the quiet restaurant round the corner, with a moleskine and pencil, you begin to draft out the storyboard of what will be the beginning of a great plot.
We all need our personal space for discovery to take place. Allow your creative nature to strive in this kind of environment.

Having said that, social interaction is extremely important. It is vital to catch up with one another, update colleagues on the progress. Human interaction is what builds strong relationships. And strong relationship is the fundamental building block of our basic needs. Take some time, drop by the office. It could be anywhere, an informal meetup at your favorite coffee place and bar would suffice.

Working from home is for the minority.
Working from home and office is for the majority.
Working anywhere is the future.

Would we be better off, if we could just wake up and log into our work anywhere?


5 Simple Ways To Be More Creative

Drink alcohol

A little drink helps to increase our creativity, according to recent studies. Alcohol lower of focus, we become less rigid and robot-like. Advertising great David Oligivy revealed that having a brandy or two helped him to write better. I concur. Just don’t be an addict.

Step away from the screen

The best ideas never come to us when we are sitting in the office, with the bosses breathing down our neck. Inspirations strike us when we are least expecting it – dining, showering, drinking. We are not thinking about it, but subconsciously, our mind is processing them and rolling out the good stuffs.

Always carry a notebook and pen

You’ll never know when a spark will come to you. Ideas come and go, and the only way you can refer back to them is to record it down. There are many notebooks out there, and the one I’m carrying is moleskine. It follows me everywhere i go.

Read more

Reading expands your knowledge. Knowledge is power and apply them to your advantage. The more we read, the more we understand. As our understanding in the subject grows, our creations become more interesting and fascinating.

Don’t wait till you know everything to get started

Every project benefits from a series from small starts. If we constantly wait till perfection is attained before we begin, the opportunity is either gone or we will never get started. Perfection’s evil twin is Procrastination. The best advice is to start with whatever we have, and adjust accordingly.


Designers Are Also Problem Solvers

A great designer doesn’t seek to impress. A brilliant designer doesn’t inspire to win awards. The hallmark of a good designer is to solve problems, because they know deep down, designing is providing solutions to existing problems.
We may not know it, designers may not look at themselves that way, but it has always been, and will always remain this way.

More than just looking good

Design is more than just aesthetics, it goes beyond the superficial. It is not just about producing beautiful work. At the heart of every good design is the desire to provide a solution to a need, a problem.

YouTube are booming because we want to have more control over what we watch. Minimalistic sites are getting more prominent because we are sicked of over cluttered designs. Tablets are gaining traction because we want greater interaction between ourselves and the device. Wireless was invented because we don’t want to be restricted by wires.

We don’t design because we want change. We don’t demand changes just for the sake of changing. Designers need to have a clear vision that the newer design will be better than the current one.

Take a leaf out of Apple

Why seek to change something when it doesn’t improve on the current one? Apple didn’t reinvent the wheel with the launch of iphone 5. Aesthetically, the difference is subtle. It’s a little longer, a little thinner, a little lighter. That’s about it. Fans and critics were skeptical about it, citing that there wasn’t any major changes. Many were disappointed.

An apple’s executive said they don’t just roll out a new product, they want to make a better product. If Apple were to make radical changes and roll out a 5-inch screen, the world is going to stand up and take note. It will satisfy the public’s demand for major overhaul, but will it be a better product?

Then came launch day, and the long queues were as anticipated – Long. Those who got their hands on the handset are suitably impressed. The same critics and fans who were disappointed are now raving about the it, some claiming it’s the best phone by Apple yet.

Understand the rationale behind every design

To deliver a solution that holds real value we need a deep understanding of the issues and have a clear vision on how to tackle them. Apple recognize the need for bigger screen, for the phone to be thinner and lighter.

The screen is now bigger, but it doesn’t compromise on the one-hand operation people are used to. The phone is now thinner and lighter so you can chunk it into your pocket without much issue. In the hands of many consumers, the phone feels just “right”.

When it comes to design, it’s about the entire user experience. Beauty without form and functionality is like Ferrari body with a Cherry engine. Everything needs to be in harmony to achieve a fine balance.


Everyone Should Have A Creative File

You have this spark of inspiration that strikes you when you least expected it. You could be showering at the end of a long day, and this sudden burst of thought came popping up in your mind.
You put it away, thinking that you will be able to recall them when you need them. But the fact is, more often than not, we wouldn’t be able to remember the idea.

We are human beings, not a hard disk. We have so many things that happened in our daily lives that we put away many other things. It’s still there, archive somewhere in our brain. Over time, that idea fades away.

Keeping your Ideas together

Most good ideas come into our mind as hunches – small fragments of sparks, hints and notes that will be the foundation of our larger idea. Many of these hunches hang around for months and years before they can be combined with other hunches to form something useful.

The problem with hunches is they are incredibly easy to forget. You are reading this article and suddenly these little sparks of idea appear. The next moment you are on some social networking sites, checking your email, and doing other things. And before you know it, your hunches are gone for good. Even the ones you have managed to retain in your memory don’t really turn out to be useful, and subsequently you lose track of them altogether.

The Spark File

For the past year or so, i have been keeping a Spark File – my lovely moleskine that keep track of all my thoughts, ideas, sketches and anything i write on it. You don’t have to organize your spark file, you just dump all your ideas into them. The rationale is for it to become a central place to store everything, and to get them into words before you forget about them.

The idea of spark file has been around for centuries, probably longer. We write down things we like, we take note of inspirations we have. When we refer back to them one day, these hunches will be the building blocks of something bigger. We need to walk before we can attempt to run. All these hunches are just like baby steps, in preparation for for race ahead.

There are so many note taking software and applications in the market that you could literally get lost inside there. There is no best app, only the ones that is suitable for your needs and style. For me, I’m using Evernote and Workflowy.

Evernote: I use Evernote to exclusively clip articles i find interesting on the web, and when i stumble upon something that arouses my interest, i’ll archive it in Evernote. Clipping it on Evernote is to safeguard my possession, in case the article got taken down for some reason I’d still have a copy in there for me. Evernote can do so much more than storing articles. You can organize your articles into different categories, subdivide them into even deeper hierarchy . The nice thing about Evernote is it syncs your mobile devices and tablets with your PC. No matter where you read about that brilliant idea from, you can instantly store it in your account and retrieve it anywhere.

Workflowy: I use Workflowy as a tool to be more organized, and as a GTD tool. It change my life on how i see things as a whole. It has no hierarchy, it works just like a Spark file. When you finish something, you cross them out. It functions like a giant white board where you can store lots, and lots of things in there. There are so many uses for it, depending on what you want to do with it. Some use it to store their draft, some for To-Do list, the possibilities are endless. What i really like about Workflowy is it does not try to impose any restriction other than getting your words down. In another words, it’s a minimalist’s dream.

When i want to sit down and really start writing, the only application i use will be Zenwriter. It eliminates all the unnecessary stuffs, leaving you with just the words. It’s just like a blank sheet of paper. It may appear overwhelming and unwelcoming at first sight, but once you start writing, you will come to appreciate the simplicity of the design. Nothing else matters here, just you and your words. You can change the different background to switch things up a bit, and they are all very easy on the eyes. The soothing music playing in the background is a bonus. Definitely recommended for all inspiring writers out there. PS: This piece of work was done with Zenwriter.

Good’ old Pen and Paper evoke a special feeling

When it comes down to digital and technology, it’s all about convenience and productivity. Nothing can beat the efficiency of typing words into the word processor, but there’s something special about writing characters on papers.

We have a long tradition dating back centuries in putting ink to paper, and there’s a special feeling using pen to write characters on paper. Wherever i go, i always bring my pen and moleskine with me. It goes with me to work and vocation. There’s always something for me to document in there. It’s small, handy, and sturdy enough to take my rough handling.

Read through your Ideas

Now we are done with the tools used to compile all our ideas, it’s time to move back to talking about the spark file. Every now and then, I’ll pick up my spark files and read through what’s inside. Some of the contents in there might even surprise you. The things which you didn’t realize of its existence will re-surface before your eyes. You would be grateful for all the things you have documented, for it acts as a bridge between the past and present.

It’s interesting to reflect upon your ideas months and years down the road. You would be grateful when the spark file contains ideas on the project you are working on.

The benefits of keeping a spark file doesn’t just limit to writers. Anyone can benefit from having it.

So, go on, start collecting your ideas, curate them, and make them into the lovely spark file that is uniquely yours.

Inspired by the original post by Steven Johnson


Don’t Just Consume, We Need To Produce

The world is moving so fast to the point that it is only going to get faster. So much information to devour, so much technology to explore. So much to understand and think about.
It’s a fact that in our current world, we are living in a information-overloaded state. Never before has information being made so readily available for anyone, anywhere, anytime. We complain about them, we whine about them cluttering up our lives. We are like a hamster stuck running on a wheel.

The inevitable wave coming at us

We quicken our pace to match the speed around us. We stay up till 2am trying to answer our emails, we keep in touch with people through facebook and we scan instagram for pictures. We scan websites for the latest update to keep in sight with the happenings.

The speed in which information are charging at us is inevitable. The problem is we are being counter productive by trying to absorb everything. Now, the emergence of technology has blurred the distance factor. What was once unthinkable in terms of producing and sharing content can be done with the mere click of a button.

With that, more and more people are publishing their thoughts, views and opinions. And these can only be for the better. Better for creators, better for consumers, better for the world.

Our voices get drowned

All these, however, come with a tradeoff. The struggle becomes apparent when our own voice gets drown beneath the waves that are coming at us constantly. When we consume so much, we don’t have enough space to digest. We don’t have the appetite to digest what’s interesting, because all we do is to gobble up what’s in front of us, without really tasting them.

That’s exactly what’s happening to many of us. We don’t form our views, opinions and direction. As we read one article after another, we are consuming the thinking of others.

So what’s my point? Healthy consumption is good for our well being. The risk attached to over consumption is that it dilute our reasoning to form our own thoughts. We should take a step back, have our own space to formulate our thinking.

It’s important to come to our own conclusion. We mustn’t come to the stage where our opinions are dictated by the words we read on the screens and papers.

The diet of consumption

Picture this, you walk into this restaurant, and a spread appears before you. You hesitate for a moment, pondering on what to start with, because there are so many choices before your eyes. Before long, you start attacking the food, one by one. As your plate starts to fill up, so does your stomach.

The spread in front of you is so irresistible. Presented with so many options, you just gobble down everything, without really tasting the food. The chef have put in considerable effort into whipping up those dishes, the waiters are relentlessly making their rounds to replenish them. But you might not notice it, because all you’re concern is, consuming more and more. In time to come, and before we realise it, we have grown obese, and we’re so used to the habit of over eating.

Eventually, we reach the point when everything is tasteless. Now we are fat, and now we also lost the ability to think. Everything is spoon fed.

To keep in shape, exercise more instead of eating less

So, does it mean we eat less, or stop eating altogether? No, that’s not a good idea. To keep in shape, we need to exercise. If we don’t exercise to keep in shape, we grow obese. Exercising is also a way to maintain our mental well being.

When we eat, it is to provide us with energy to get on with our daily lives. When we consume more, it is only logical that we have to expand these excess kilojoules before it becomes fat.

Change the world, share the knowledge

Knowledge is power. But having that power stored somewhere inside you, without putting it to good use, is useless. Apply that knowledge you have, share with the world.

Become a creator, instead of being a mere consumer. Pen your thoughts down, then share it with the world. Take time off your hectic schedule to formulate your own thinking.

Just the notion of doing these is crucial to our creative and intellectual thinking. We mustn’t let our appetite for knowledge and information diminish our capacity to think for ourselves.

The more you do it, the more fluent it becomes. You exercise harder, and the appetite for your own thinking soared. The fats that was once visible on your tummy has now turn into pages of drafts sitting in your blog, waiting to be published.

So, starting from today, document things you like, things you know. If you already own a blog, make a commitment to update it regularly.

Be a producer, not just a consumer.

Don’t settle for a house someone built. Craft your own castle, create your own legacy.


Books are what make us tick

A house without books is like a house without windows.
A book is not a book to me if i can’t feel the cover, smell the book, and flip the pages. You cannot replace the intimate feeling you get from owning a physical book.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane

I fondly recall the time when i started to really enjoy reading. It brings comfort to my heart and soul. Books keep me company at time when i needed solace. I find warmth amongst the pages.

People said reading is a way to get out of reality. It isn’t, because reading is a way of finding meaning in it. You learn how to speak the language of your heart. And lastly, there’s not a bad thought that a good book can’t blow away.

The feeling when you walk into a brick n mortar bookstore, which is diminishing as you are reading this, and finding something that interests you out of so many treasures is just irreplaceable. You meet fellow book lovers in the shop, and the different book stores have their own culture and book list.

The emergence of digital media giants

On Amazon or similar online book sites, you get a giant depository of book directory. You want to read something? Download the ebook directly to your kindle and you can read them on the comfort of your sofa, sipping that hot coffee on a rainy day. You don’t have to tussle with the crowd, you don’t have to squeeze on the subway, and you don’t even have to step out of your house.

That’s technology for you. And yes, you are saving the trees by getting an ebook. You are making the world better by doing your bit.

But getting things instantly bring about something that is call “instant gratification”. When we want something these days, we expect to get them instantly. We have ran out of patience waiting.

Is that how we are going to bring up our next generation? That we expect everything to be at our reach instantly? Take some time to think about it.

Finding your own treasure

Book lovers would naturally want to walk into a book store and start digging away. Times flies in there, it’s like a place where they belong. The little shelf at the corner could contain some books which you never expect to find, written by an author you never know. But once you hold the book in your hands, feel it, read the back cover, you are convinced that it’s the book you are going to have.

Once a while, you head towards the shelf and browse through your books. Old books are like old friends, they like to be revisited. Reading the same book again at different stages of your life gives you different meaning, a different perspective. Old books stick around and give you good advices. It invoke your memories and remind you of the days gone by.

At the airport, i always have the habit of browsing through the book store, looking at their selections. The act of browsing the books, flipping the pages and being surrounded by the smell of books put me in a nice, calming mood. And i always leave with something in my hand, be it a book or a magazine. The idea of entertaining myself during flight is to get lost in the world of books. And, it makes me look that little more cultured to the person next to me.

The lure of e-reader is growing stronger day by day

I have never own any e-reader, but i have been toying with the idea of getting one for the longest time. It does have its place among keen readers. Who wants to lunge a few books in the luggage during travel? Granted, a book or two might suffice but you can never beat the weight and slimness of a reader like kindle.

The idea of storing thousands and thousands of books in your device is nice, not that it’s necessary but you can just zero in on the exact book you want to read at that particular moment.

My reluctance to get an e-reader might change, and the new kindle looks very tempting from the pictures. A perfect reader should rival the experience of reading from a physical book. From the impression of the kindle, it is definitely going in the right direction.

For now, I’m content with a good book in my hand, sipping whiskey on a cold rainy night.


The Digital Environment Is Short-Lived

Yes, the above statement is true.
What is here today may disappear into the vast wilderness of the web tomorrow.

Nothing last forever. People age, flowers wither, colors fade. Eternity is just a word in the dictionary.

The evolution of the digital world

On average, people used to change their handset once every 2 years. Handset makers are now shortening their product cycles and new phones are coming right at us faster than ever.

The game has changed. We get tired of using the same device. We want changes, we demand them. The manufacturers are merely satisfying our thirst by rolling our new products at breakneck speed.

Gone are the days where people sit by the cafe, have a slow brunch and catch up on the daily happenings. Armed with a good book by the side, we lost ourselves in the world of words, occasionally stealing glances at the surrounding. The world would passed by us, just like that.

It’s a strange thing that in the digital age we live in, we only notice if things are broken. Take for example, signage. They are there for one sole purpose – to provide information. If all goes well, nobody would take a second glance at them.

Bad designs do happen. Bad typography, inappropriate fonts, mismatched colors. This is where we stand up and take note. We are aware of the bad designs, but we are not conscious of the good ones.

Good designs fade into the background. They are non-obstructive, they are invisible. Great design allows the content to take center stage, letting them shine bright. Great designs are like the supporting cast, complementing the lead (content). Ultimately, the underlying message for design is to communicate.

There’s a simple fact – design for digital environment are not lasting. We can change the look of website by the click of the mouse. We can change the cover of our ebook as and when we feel like it.

The average consumer just doesn’t notice the choices that make design great. Or they simply don’t bother.

How i wish we can stand back, and take note of the attention to details the workers behind the scene have contributed to good designs.


Welcome To My World

Blogging has come a long way. Now, anyone can express their opinion anywhere. It’s a fresh breath of air from the media directed propaganda.
Internet has enable us to publish our thoughts with the click of a button, and our opinions can be heard a thousand miles away, being read by a total stranger somewhere out there in the universe.

I believe the publishing of the net is a long way from matching the ones we are used to – print media. It’s a huge potential to be explored, and those who dig the deepest strike the oil.

We are living in the world of clutters, and everything demands our attention. We are so used to these noises that we have develop the skill of selective retention – that is, retaining certain information we deemed as important, while filtering out the rest.

Imagine the pop up window, massive advertisement, and hard to navigate sites you are used to. Add to that is bad layout, coupled with hard to read fonts and awful color palette. There might be some hidden treasure among the pile of dirt, but your surfing and reading experience has already been diluted to the point where you hope there are better alternatives around.

It is not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about taking cues from what’s already great, and make them even better. While this site is not out to change the world, it is hoping to provide you with a better reading experience. It takes out all distractions, allowing you to focus on the content. Fonts are carefully selected to ensure excellent readability.

Many a time, the best things are what they don’t have, instead of what they have. I have notice the sites I appreciate and like are the ones that are stripped down to the bare, and present readers with a simple layout that allows the content to shine. For certain things, less is certainty more and many of my inspirations come from designs that embrace whitespace.

Over time, this will be the site for me to share my thoughts and document the discoveries as i gain insights into my interests. What it is not, and never will be, is becoming another chirp of noise constantly nudging you into checking it.

I am just getting my feet wet and I’d like to think there’s more great things to come in the future. Feel free to hang around, and remember to subscribe to the list.

Welcome to my world.