Mazda ditching touch screen controls 6/20/19

By Chris Johnson

According to Motor Authority, Mazda is removing touch screens from their future car models.

“Doing our research, when a driver would reach towards a touch-screen interface in any vehicle, they would unintentionally apply torque to the steering wheel, and the vehicle would drift out of its lane position,” said Matthew Valbuena, Mazda North America’s lead engineer for HMI and infotainment.

Instead, Mazda is switching to a HUD and tried and true physical knobs and buttons.

The head-up display that top trims of the Mazda 3 get is now projected onto the windshield. The amount of time it takes the eyes to focus on the head-up display is greatly reduced because it’s now focused on a point 7.5 feet ahead of the driver.

(...) Mazda is looking to add more simple, tactile controls into the cars. A quick tilt of the volume knob to the right or left goes forward or back single tracks—or holding it left or right fast-forwards it. A tap of the button mutes the system, and holding it down quickly turns off the screen and everything if it’s currently a distraction.

I’m hoping more car manufacturers follow Mazda’s lead here. It’s dangerous enough that drivers are often distracted by their phones, and lulled into a false sense of security by “autopilot” systems.

Reflections on my digital declutter 4/21/19

By Chris Johnson

My 30 day digital declutter is over and I wanted to share my thoughts on how it went and what I’ll be doing going forward.

The first few days without Twitter, Instagram, and my RSS reader were the toughest. It’s funny how much muscle memory I’ve built up with those services. I open my phone, and without thinking, I’d pick one of those apps (usually Twitter) to open. After the first week though, I rarely had the urge.

My phone usage didn’t plummet though. Instead of three hours a day, I was using it around two hours and fifteen minutes. I used my phone for looking up information on Duck Duck Go, texting, and occasionally replying to emails while I was traveling to client meetings. My phone became more of a utility than an entertainment device.

What I did with my downtime changed significantly. I was reading more books, I wrote more blog posts, I met friends more frequently, I started a podcast (stay tuned), and I spent more time talking and enjoying the company of my wife. My attempts to add a bunch of new hobbies didn’t really stick, but being more proactive about going out and meeting friends is something that I think will be with me long term.

My ability to focus is where I was hoping to see the biggest improvement. After week one, I can say I felt more calm and relaxed throughout the day. My desire to constantly switch tasks declined. It wasn’t as big as a change as I’d hoped for, but it wasn’t nothing. However, I did feel more lonely throughout the work day. I work from a home office, and on days where I don’t have client meetings, Twitter is often how I feel connected to my colleagues and the world. To combat those feelings of disconnect, I spent more time working at local coffee shops.

So, where do I go from here? I’ve been off the declutter for a few days, and when I returned to Twitter, Instagram, and RSS I pared back the accounts I follow significantly. As a result, I feel less inclined to spend more than a few minutes perusing my feeds, but I can already feel the muscle memory I mentioned earlier returning. Even with that compulsion slowly creeping back, I realized I care less about the outrage of the day on social media than I did a month ago. With distance, it all seems a bit tiresome and counterproductive.

I think the way forward is two-fold: 1) limit my time on those services using [Screen Time]( https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208982), and 2) setup blocks where I can’t use them at all, like mornings, nights, and weekends. I’m also hoping to convince some of my better acquaintances to join a chat room or something else a little less public.

Overall, I’m glad I gave Cal Newport’s digital declutter a try, and I’d recommend it to anyone that feels like they have an unhealthy relationship with social media and other digital services. At the very least, it will make you more intentional about how you spend your time.

Sonos and Ikea speaker lamps 4/8/19

By Chris Johnson

Today Sonos and Ikea announced a hybrid speaker lamp called the Symfonisk that looks both beautiful and useful. It will cost $179 and be available in August.

Here’s the black version, but there is also a white model:

Sonos + Ikea lamp

Currently, I use an Amazon Echo on my desk that is serving as nothing more than a glorified Bluetooth speaker for my Mac 1. I'm thinking one or two of these Symfonisks could replace my Phillips Hue Go lamps and my Echo in one nice package. It also has the added bonus of supporting AirPlay 2, so pairing it to my computer and iOS devices will be much simpler.


  1. As it turns out, I don’t really need a smart assistant when I’m sitting at a computer workstation. 

I guess I’m the April Fool 4/1/19

By Chris Johnson

First, I was seriously worried about the survival of my mom’s cat:

Text from mom

Then, I was watching YouTube, and I didn’t realize what was going on in MKBHD’s latest video for three solid minutes:

I think I need a vacation.

Starting a digital declutter 3/19/19

By Chris Johnson

Over the weekend, I finished Cal Newport's latest book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. In the book, Newport lays out a convincing argument that we have become captives of our digital tools, and that we need strategies to regain control of our time and attention. Over the next 30 days, I'm going to give his advice a shot.

Personally, I know that social networks have slowly replaced a lot of my free time in the evenings and on the weekends. Scrolling through posts on Twitter or Instagram seems fun, and it's easy, but I never feel quite satisfied when I'm done. Newport thinks that to truly feel satisfied with how you spend your free time, you need a mix of true solitude 2, deep social interactions 3, and working with your hands.

For a digital declutter, Newport suggests taking a 30 day break from all of your non-essential digital services. I'm personally dropping Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, RSS feeds, and reducing my podcast consumption. At the same time you're supposed to have a plan for how you'll spend your newfound free time in the real world. I'm still working on the hobbies I want to pursue, but I'm considering photography, cooking, and writing for this blog.

When the 30 days is up, the plan is to reintroduce the tools and services that add value to my life, and consider better ways to use them to efficiently get the value I want out of them. For example, I'm considering reducing my Twitter and Instagram feeds to just the people I have conversations with, and removing all celebrity and meme accounts.

I'll let you know how it goes over the next 30 days. Wish me luck, and if you want to get in contact, use the form on my About page.

Update: My friend Chuck Grimmett, is joining me in the digital declutter. Check out his blog post for a deep dive on why and how.


  1. Newport defines solitude as being free of the input from other minds. So you're not truly in solitude if your alone in a cabin in the woods, but listening to a podcast, or reading a book. 

  2. Think phone calls or talking face to face, instead of likes, emails, and text messages. 

My 2018 media diet 1/20/19

By Chris Johnson

For a few years now, I’ve been keeping track of the media I watch, read, and play. This is my list for 2018 in ascending chronological order:

Books

  • Dune Messiah ★★★☆☆
  • Attention Merchants ★★★★☆
  • The Underground Railroad ★★★★★
  • James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun ★★★★☆
  • Thrawn ★★★★☆
  • James Bond: Octopussy and the Living Daylights ★★★★★
  • Margin ★★☆☆☆
  • Hamilton ★★★★★
  • How to Be Miserable ★★★★★
  • Ancillary Sword ★★☆☆☆
  • Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process ★★★★☆
  • Children of Dune ★★★★★
  • Summer of '49 ★★★★★
  • Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life ★★★★★

Movies

  • Jodorowski’s Dune ★★★★☆
  • SCORE: A Film Music Documentary ★★★★☆
  • What We Do In The Shadows ★★★★☆
  • The Defiant Ones ★★★★★
  • National Treasure ★★☆☆☆
  • Ghostbusters (2016) ★★★☆☆
  • The 36th Chamber of Shaolin ★★★★☆
  • Shine a Light ★★★★☆
  • Solaris (2002) ★★★★★
  • Taken ★★★☆☆
  • Black Panther ★★★★☆
  • Se7en ★★★★★
  • Alien 3 ★★☆☆☆
  • (500) Days of Summer ★★★★★
  • Ant-Man ★★★★☆
  • Split ★★★★★
  • Alien: Resurrection ★★☆☆☆
  • Gods of Egypt ★★☆☆☆
  • Anatomy of a Murder ★★★★★
  • Wanted ★★★☆☆
  • Mom & Dad ★★★★★
  • Three Billboards ★★★★☆
  • Intolerance (1916) ★★★★☆
  • Some Like It Hot ★★★★★
  • It (2017) ★★★★☆
  • The Shape of Water ★★★★★
  • Cocktail ★★☆☆☆
  • Avengers: Infinity War ★★★★☆
  • Point Break ★★☆☆☆
  • Baywatch (2017) ★★☆☆☆
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★
  • Lady Bird ★★★★★
  • Jennifer's Body ★★★★☆
  • Girls Trip ★★☆☆☆
  • American Made ★★★☆☆
  • Hoosiers ★★★★☆
  • Justice League ★★☆☆☆
  • King Kong (1933) ★★★★★
  • Ingrid Goes West ★★★★☆
  • Blazing Saddles ★★★★☆
  • I Kill Giants ★★★☆☆
  • Chaplin ★★★★★
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout ★★★★☆
  • Highlander ★★★☆☆
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ★★☆☆☆
  • How to Train Your Dragon ★★★★★
  • Lilo & Stitch ★★★★☆
  • BlacKkKlansman ★★★★★
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2 ★★★★☆
  • I, Tonya ★★★★☆
  • Solo ★★★☆☆
  • Raising Arizona ★★★★☆
  • War for the Planet of the Apes ★★★★★
  • Phantom Thread ★★★★★
  • Kingsman: The Golden Circle ★★☆☆☆
  • The Death of Stalin ★★★★★
  • Rams (Dieter Rams documentary) ★★★★☆
  • Cutthroat Island ★★☆☆☆
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ★★★★★

Plays

  • Bright Colors and Bold Patterns ★★★★★
  • Parisian Woman ★★★★☆
  • John Lithgow: Stories by Heart ★★★☆☆
  • The Boys in the Band ★★★★☆
  • The Ferryman ★★★★★

Video Games

  • Star Wars: Battlefront 2
  • Titanfall 2
  • Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
  • Spider-Man
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Testing my new Olympus M. 40-150mm Micro 4/3 lens 11/25/18

By Chris Johnson

I traveled with Andrea out to a cold and overcast Pelham Bay Park to test out an Olympus 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 lens I recently purchased for our Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera 4. Between quick bursts of snow and rough wind, there was sunshine and gorgeous views to enjoy.

The following photos are unedited. Click on the images to view the full size versions.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

I'm pleased with the results, especially considering the lens was only $100 at Amazon. It isn't the fastest lens out there, but it worked well enough in daylight and with a maximum focal length of 150mm I could really zoom in on faraway places like the island in the third photo above.

In case you're wondering what the lens and camera combo look like, here it is along with the kit lens in the background:

Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera with Olympus 40-150mm lens


  1. Camera and lens names can be quite a mouthful. 

iPad Pro 2018 wish list 10/26/18

By Chris Johnson

According to rumors, Apple is likely to announce new iPads on Tuesday. As an owner of an iPad Pro from last year, I’ve been thinking about what upgrades I’d like to see in a new model, and I’ve come down to two big wishes. Now to be clear, I’m not making predictions, this is purely me dreaming.

Precision pointer support

I’ve enjoyed using keyboards with iPads for years now. Typing is less error prone and the ergonomics are far superior to using the on-screen keyboard. Mostly that’s because you aren’t forced to look down at the screen while typing. However, one big ergonomic wrinkle remains, you can’t place your iPad at the proper height or distance from your eyes while still comfortably reaching the screen for touch input.

Precision pointer support would fix that issue. Ideally we would get a trackpad on the Smart Keyboard, and support for external Bluetooth trackpads and mice so we could be as far from our iPad screens as we’d like.

There would be other benefits aside from ergonomics. Text selection would be much faster. It also opens up the possibility of using external monitors that wouldn’t necessarily have touch capabilities, and perhaps most importantly it would allow for ...

Mac Safari

In some ways, the iPad is the best way to browse the web. Safari on the iPad is fast and fluid. Scrolling a page with your finger is satisfying in a way that using a mouse wheel or track pad is not. However, the experience is not without downsides. Many websites classify the iPad as a phone type device, and deliver mobile optimized sites when it’s not necessary and actually hampers the experience. Sometimes these mobile websites have cut down content, overly compressed images, and navigation hidden behind hamburger menus even though the iPad has the screen real estate and speed for the more expansive.

It would be great if we could get these websites to all change their ways and stop degrading their sites on the iPad, but I think it’s far more pragmatic to come from the other side. Apple should have a mode, a separate browser, or something that allows iOS Safari to act like it’s Safari cousin on the Mac.

Precision pointer support is a key prerequisite here. Lot’s of desktop websites and web apps assume you have the ability to hover over links and buttons, and that’s not possible without a pointer.

Bringing over Mac Safari could have other benefits as well, like the ability to use powerful web apps like Figma, Google Docs 5, Pixlr, and Cloud 9. Apple could even bring over the inspector tools and make web development possible on an iPad.


  1. Or is it Google Drive now? I can’t keep it straight. 

Stuff I like: DHH’s On Writing Software Well 3/6/18

By Chris Johnson

David Heinemeier Hansson, aka DHH, aka the guy that created Ruby on Rails, has recently started a YouTube series titled "On Writing Software Well". Each episode has been a deep dive into DHH’s programming style and the way he thinks about crafting software. If you are a developer, especially one that works with Ruby on Rails, I recommend checking it out.

Here is the first episode:

Check out the full series here.