Revisiting Hogwarts

It’s unfortunate that the writers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child didn’t heed the very lesson they tried to teach their protagonists.

You can never go home again.

I kept thinking about this idea as I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When I read the script last weekend, I wanted to go back to Hogwarts again. It turns out that’s hard to do, even for the creator.

For a work that is to my mind clearly not the “eighth Harry Potter Book,” this might be a harsh way to judge it. So let’s consider this post a reaction, rather than a review. I’ll have more to say later, but these are my first thoughts, unaffected by the opinions of other Potter fans.

My first thought is that honestly, this is a work doesn’t need to exist. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun reading it. It was nice to see old friends grown up and in new situations. But it was also like a strange high school reunion. It’s a disorienting experience to be reunited with people who you’ve known since your childhood and who you walked the most formative experiences of your life with. Everyone is the same, but different—and not always for the better.

At first reading, this story seemed to do the one thing I hoped it would not. It changes the way I see the canonical series ending. And I don’t think the change honors the original series.

To be honest, I’m, disappointed in the play, even though there are plenty of great moments. Ms. Rowling did not write the script, but she does receive the lead credit on the story team. It’s unfortunate that she used her literary Time Turner to go back and revisit something so magnificent. Though I wish it was not true, this addition did not improve what was already perfected. If only the writer’s of this play would have heeded the lesson their protagonists learn about revising history.


3 Reasons Why You Should Keep a Productivity Journal

Every day at 4pm, my phone dings with a reminder to write a journal entry. And (almost) every day I stop what I am doing and take a few moments to write about my day. It’s a simple act, but it is a crucial part of my productivity practice.

Unless you read all of the productivity nerd blogs like I do, you probably have no clue what a “productivity journal” is. I didn’t either until a few years ago, but in that time this practice has become deeply important to my growth and productivity.

While more explanation is warranted, a productivity journal is simply a collection of daily entries summarizing your priorities, accomplishments, failures, and struggles.

Why is keeping a productivity journal so important for me? Why do I think everyone who is interested in growth and productivity should keep one? It comes down to three benefits.

A journal maintains our focus on what matters most

I don’t know about you, but I often lose sight of what matters over the course of the day. Every morning I start with a review that keeps me current with all my various inboxes and sets my priorities for the day. And very often by 4pm I have either finished everything I needed to, or got pulled off course by distractions. Either way, I tend to end my days with a cloudier view of my priorities than when I started.

The actor of journaling resets my focus. Sitting down to record what happened, detailing successes and failures, and thinking through what’s next clarifies the day. It puts the activities of the day into perspective. Did I meet my goals? Did I fail my team? Do I need to change something in response? What is one key thing I must do tomorrow? The act of thinking through these questions helps to settle my mind and organize my thoughts.

A journal is raw material for reflection

Reflection is a major part of my approach to productivity. In fact, it is the thing that keeps me on track. Leaving the much larger subject of reflection for other posts, the salient point is that regular, honest reflection on our decisions and outcomes is crucial to successfully implementing productive practices.

The journal serves two specific functions in my approach. First, by keeping a journal, each day I take time to reflect on the day. This has a self-ordering effect of sorting the days actions and decisions into a few camps. I can reflect on what was successful and what wasn’t. I also contemplate how I sinned or struggled to love others well. And finally I start to grapple with what the next day will bring. These areas all inform my understanding of the day. They are an immediate touch point for me on what matters most.

Second, the permanent recording of these events and thoughts serve as grist for further reflection down the road. Reviewing a week, month, or even a year’s worth of journal entries reveals patterns of success and failure both. The raw data of each day’s thoughts can be used to construct a far more accurate view of my life and choices. It is the starting point for considering what changes need to be made so I can live a life that glorifies God.

A journal is a great transition out of your work day

The final reason I find journalling to be so important is that it helps me begin to unwind my mind from the daily tasks, issues, and frustrations of work. It sums up the day—for good or for bad—in a way that allows me to put work away and switch modes.

This frees me up to focus my thoughts on my wife and what she needs, or on personal projects that lie in wait at home. It helps me transition from one area of life to another cleanly. It sorts the mental debris of the day in an ordered way for the next day’s work. It’s cleans up the mental workbench, and shuts off the workshop lights.

The importance of journalling does not lie in the journal itself, but in the act of recording and reflecting each day. A small break at the end of the day to reflect has made an huge difference for me, and it may do the same for you.


Why Productivity Practices Matter for All Christians

Jesus was the most productive person ever. That might sound obvious to some, or trivial to others, but I believe that truth is incredibly important to believers living in the modern world.

What do I mean when I say that? What’s my point? It’s simple really:

Jesus always did the right thing, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right way, always.

When we learn to do the right things, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right way, we become more like Jesus. For the believer the end goal of improving our productivity is actually sanctification.

Of course, there are other results and purposes behind improving our productivity. I totally agree with Matt Perman when he asserts that our productivity is about doing all that we can, with all that we have, for the glory of God. Being more productive (in the sense that Jesus was productive), absolutely leads us to love our neighbors, families, churches, communities, and the world. It leads us to a greater impact for the kingdom of God. Being more productive is absolutely about glorifying God, as is all of life.

But, in the day-to-day mess—especially when it’s hard to be disciplined and organized—what drives me forward is this simple idea: becoming more productive means that I am becoming more like Jesus.


Why I Switched to Jekyll from WordPress

This post is the first post on the new version of this site. If you are a regular reader then I’m sure you noticed the much cleaner and more mobile-friendly design. But what you probably didn’t notice—unless you routinely scrutinize URLs—is that this is now a static site. I left WordPress.

Now, for most readers of this site this won’t matter at all. Load times will be much faster, but it wasn’t noticeably slow before. Other than that, moving from a dynamic, server-side site to a static, HTML site won’t make one bit of difference to you. But it does to me.

WordPress is not terrible. But it’s not good, either.

Since I started blogging in 2003, I’ve used almost every major platform. Blogger, WordPress, Squarespace, and then WordPress again. I’ve never been happy with any of them, really. So when I started my tech blog last year I wanted something different.

For that site I chose Jekyll. Jekyll is a static site generator, not a blog platform, per se. Using text files written in Markdown, Liquid templates, HTML, JavaScript, and CSS it generates my whole website in a few seconds. From there I host it on Amazon’s S3 for a few cents a month. Last month it cost me just under $.50 to host and serve the site.

Once I got it in place it worked perfectly. Pages loaded super fast, I could customize the site using the tools I’ve used for years as a web developer and not some janky themes or plugins. I was able to create a clean, readable, and responsive site quickly and host it cheaply. After using Jekyll for just a few months I began work converting this site to Jekyll today. This post is the first on the new site.

For me, the decision was easy. I went with Jekyll for 5 reasons:

  1. I first went with WordPress to use some fancy, SEO-optimized themes. The theme(s) were not worth the money
  2. Beyond those themes, all of the “features” of WordPress were not only unnecessary, they made it harder for me to create the kind of site I wanted. The platform is overgrown and cluttered with features that don’t add much discernible value
  3. I don’t need to post “on-the-go” from my phone
  4. I do all my writing in Markdown, and WordPress did not offer an acceptable workflow for it. Yes, even with the fancy plugins and Markdown “integration”
  5. Finally, and most decisively, I had the technical skills to code my own site

This last reason is why most people will not be able to make the same choice I did. Even with great guides out there like the one I used, implementing a custom Jekyll site is still beyond the average blogger’s reach.

But I think static sites like this one are (or should be) the future for most independent writers on the web. Depending on your business model, there are very few downsides. If you need a membership site or other server-side features this would not be a good choice, but otherwise static sites have huge advantages.

I’m not making a living off this site, so I don’t have those needs. So with Jekyll I can run this blog cheaply, easily, and it fits right into my existing writing workflow. It really is perfect for me.


→ What the iOS App Store needs is better search

Bloomberg reported that Apple has a team working on monetizing App Store search, ala Google ads. The idea is that developers could pay Apple for better placement in user searches. From the story:

Among the ideas being pursued, Apple is considering paid search, a Google-like model in which companies would pay to have their app shown at the top of search results based on what a customer is seeking. For instance, a game developer could pay to have its program shown when somebody looks for “football game,” “word puzzle” or “blackjack.”

Paid search, which Google turned into a multibillion-dollar business, would give Apple a new way to make money from the App Store. The growing marketing budgets of app developers such as “Clash of Clans” maker Supercell Oy have proven to be lucrative sources of revenue for Internet companies, including Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

John Gruber has it right:

This sounds like a terrible idea. The one and only thing Apple should do with App Store search is make it more accurate. They don’t need to squeeze any more money from it. More accurate, reliable App Store search would help users and help good developers. It’s downright embarrassing that App Store search is still so bad. Google web search is better for searching Apple’s App Store than the App Store’s built-in search. That’s the problem Apple needs to address.