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Seasons Over Seconds

One morning this week, I woke up and wrote:

“I know the light here. Clocks have less purpose when you really know a place. Clocks are strange instruments that we’ve made to help us more efficiently destroy the places we live.”

I was surprised that I wrote that and I wanted to try and unpack what I was talking about here.

The context for all of this is that I’m currently living on the Mornington Peninsula, in the middle of a lockdown, not able to travel more than 5 kms from the house. I have a solid routine that I’ve been doing constantly since March. And for the first time in my life, I think I can say that I truly know the place I’m living in.

I’ve found myself knowing what the ocean will look like by looking at the tops of the trees. I can how cold it will be by the sunrise or lack of. And I can tell more or less what time it is by the light and sometimes by which birds are in which trees. It’s a new and wonderful feeling to be so connected to a place.

Each morning I sit and write and the only thing I can hear apart from the wind and the birds are the clocks in the house. I don’t even know where they all are. But I know they are there. Ticking away, doing what exactly?

When I started to think about how I was beginning to read the place that I lived, I’ve ended wondering, why isn’t this enough? Why can’t I just wake up when the light tells me? What are these clocks giving me that the sun and moon can’t?

More questions came up. Where did clocks come from? Who decided measuring time was necessary? How did people live before we had clocks? How much measurement is too much measurement? Are our lives better with these things or not?

I imagined the world in a time before we could so accurately measure it. People using the sun and the seasons to make their decisions, not seconds.

There is a difference between Time and Clocks. I think time exists regardless (to be debated), but we invented clocks as a way to measure time. Why?

I tweeted this week that “clocks are a system of control”. That is what the feel like to me. There is that saying in business that “you can only manage what you measure”. We are measuring time to try and manage it. To control it. To control others.

This meeting starts then. The train leaves now. It’s time to get up. It’s time to go to bed. You’ve had your time.

Following this direction, those who better measure time can better manage it and control it and you.

I started to think about indigenous people who presumably had less accurate ways to measure time, being confronted and colonised by people who were more accurately measuring it. The disturbing assumption that ‘their way was is better’.

Looking around the room, I wondered how clocks were controlling me. I feel trapped by time. I have to finish writing this to do everything I need to do before my first meeting, which starts at 9:00 am. Why 9:00 am?

We’ve slowly stumbled into an existence where our natural connections to the world we live in are superseded by a system of measurement and control that we invented and do not critique enough.

We can discuss whether we are better or worse off with clocks and watches and accurate time measurement. Of course, there are pros and cons. But we mostly just accept this as the norm. It’s how things are. But I do wonder what things would be like with clocks, seconds, minutes, constant ticking.

This weekend, I’m trying an experiment. I’ve taken all the batteries out of the clocks in the house and covered the digital ones. I’m trying to spend a weekend without the constant control.

Hiding time is harder than I thought. It’s everywhere. The oven, heater, car, computer, and of course the phone. I put some tape on the corner of my phone where the time is normally displayed and was ready to celebrate a small victory when I replied to a message and saw the time stamp staring back at me.

It’s almost impossible to escape, isn’t it?

As I walk around the house, I catch myself glancing unconsciously at the places where clocks used to be. It’s a strange but freeing feeling to see nothing there.

I want to imagine a world without clocks, watches, minutes, and seconds. What would that look like?

I’d like a new social network*

I’d like a nice interface.
I’d like basic messaging.
I’d like profiles.
I’d like to own all of my data.
I’d like to pay for it.
I’d like no ads.
I’d like a limited number of posts.
I’d like a limited number of friends.
I’d like the good parts of the last 10 years.
I’d like to design-out the bad parts.
I’d like something else.

*IDK what else to call it.

A morning story.

With half-open eyes, I checked the surf report from bed this morning and then slowly made my way down to Central Avenue. The car park was empty which was a surprise and either a great or not-so-great sign.

Walking down the path, the waves sounded bigger than the reported two feet. But, sound never tells you the full story.

From the lookout, the tide was as far out as it gets. The sand was untouched except for a dozen footprints where a woman had crossed on her way from the bottom of the stairs to the rock pools. It rarely looks like that nowadays.

With my board resting in the dunes, I sat down to watch a couple of sets roll through. The waves were clean but less powerful than I had hoped.

As I began to contemplate walking back to the car, I shut my eyes and listened to all the sounds the beach and my breath were offering. I thought about what this coastline would’ve looked like 200 years ago, what it would’ve looked like 20,000 years ago. How the energy in the ocean slowly wears away at the rocks and makes and shapes the land like a slow, blind, sculpture. There is beauty in knowing that the ocean has no plan for the land and that the land has no plan for the ocean. They draw each other and us together.

My eyes eventually opened and the waves could not convince me that it was worth getting in. By then a couple were standing at the top of the stairs also trying to read the ocean’s morning story.

Walking up the stairs with my dry towel in hand, I wondered if the couple would say hello. Getting closer, I recognised them. They must be locals? His face was scrunched tightly and his gaze didn’t drift from the small swell as I walked past them. She felt lighter and looked at me with a smile through her blonde hair as I said “good morning”.

Almost back to the car, a young guy came bounding up the path and we both stopped to have the customary “how is it?” chat. I struggle to speak ‘surf talk’ and stumbled and stammered my way through a sentence that would justify why I was still in a t-shirt. He looked at me strangely like I hadn’t really given him the information he was after and then turned to continue his jog towards the ocean.

With my car almost in sight, I heard a voice call out and around the corner came two medium-sized dogs followed by a large-sized man. “Too flat?”, he said with a grin. “Yeah”, I replied, hoping that once he got to the waves he would agree.

The car park had only one other car apart from mine. I wondered how the others had got here? Maybe they all live close enough to walk.

I notice my feet were cold from the autumn sand as I slid my board back into my car. It didn’t rain overnight, but everything around me is damp.

Entering the driveway, I questioned whether I should have just got in the water anyway? There was a small left that was sort of working and even though I struggle with those being regular footed, it would’ve felt nice just to out there even for twenty minutes.

There isn’t anything that comes close to the feeling you have when your board first slaps the water, your feet leave the sand and your hands start to pull you away from the beach. It all feels fake until you duck the first way, your head gets wet and the ocean finds a way to slip in between you and your wetsuit. That is always the moment when you know you have really left the land.

Your first steps back on sand always feel the same. You are back in control. There is plenty of air and fewer surprises. You glance back towards the horizon and it never looks like the place you just were. Back on land, the ocean always looks bigger or smaller, lighter or darker, closer or further than you felt it was only a few moments before.

I’m glad it feels like this. I’m glad that you can’t know the ocean from the land.

Sand falls off my feet as I walk up the stairs towards the bathroom. I turn the shower on knowing that it won’t be one of those after-autumn-ocean showers where your skin is almost too numb to feel the hot water.

I sit down with a coffee and watch and listen to the wind. It’s changed and the waves will be messier now. I wonder if the other guys got in or if they also decided that it wasn’t worth the effort this morning? Maybe they did and caught a few little ones and are home now having a hot shower. But, maybe the didn’t. Maybe they also walked to their cars and homes and said hello to the next person on the path.

Maybe the ocean had a morning to itself and none of us will know what the ocean’s story was today.

Tiller Onboarding Video Script: V1

We’re working on the design for the on-boarding of Tiller.

It’s difficult becasue Tiller is a new interface for time entry and our app works differently to how people understand apps to work.

We’re tried somewhat unsucseffuly to addresse this using a guided onboarding and we’re now going to try and make a short video to explain how to use Tiller and also how the app works and where it lives.

This is my first (messy) pass at a the script which we will film later today.

Update: The scribble above turned into the script below which we are going to turn into cards/video tomorrow morning for user interviews in the afternoon.


Friday Update: We didn’t end up filming and editing a video, but we did use the script above as the basis for a series of slides we made in Google Slides a few hours before we interviewed people today.

Below are those slides. They certinaly helped people understand ‘where’ Tiller  lives on your computer (the tray), but there are still issues understanding the interaction model we have created and confusion about using Tiller vesus using a mouse.

There are going to have to be more refinements over the next two weeks.

Thoughts Voice Interfaces in Hotels

Last week Amazon announced that they are going to launch a custom version of Alexa for hotels. It’s a really interesting use case because the location helps reduce or refine the number of possible/likely requests the Alexa may get.

The idea there being that for now, voice interfaces will work best in two variations. One being when it has to understand only a few words (volume up, play song, call Mum), the other being when it can understand all words. Anything in between is difficult because you have no physical interface showing you what you can and can’t select/say (a menu).

This is explained well in this article by Benedict Evans.

Benedict also included the Amazon announcement in his newsletter which I forwarded to my partner Ed and kicked off a discussion about why hotels would or wouldn’t be good for Alexa.

Below is my final email response to Ed and his comments in green. Debating this stuff is really helpful and I appreciated Ed’s pushback on my blanket claim that “this is good” because it forced me to explain in more detail why I thought that.

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Hey everyone,

Today is our last day working from our garage/studio that has been home to Joan and Tiller for the last three years.

The move marks a pretty important point in our journey as a company. We’re taking a big, scary, step into a world that has more questions than answers. There is a compass, but no map.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to begin to attempt to turn Tiller into a legitimate business from something that has been a side project of Joan.

This is starting of course with actually shipping our product to customers. On Saturday, Ed and Nick.J are flying to China to oversee the production of our first 1000 units and once the software is complete, we will be shipping them all over the world.

Once the product is out there Ed and I are going to be doing various in-house contract gigs for clients a few days per week and then spending our remaining time working from home/cafes/friends studios as we try and learn more about the business and sales side of Tiller. Tony has moved back to Sydney and will be continuing to work on the software side of the business from there.

Sticking With It
You read a lot from various people about the value and importance of sticking with an idea long enough to see it work. Tiller is the fourth business I’ve been involved in so far and in all other cases, we’ve launched our product (website/conference or whatever) within six months of coming up with the idea.

In the case of Tiller though, it’s going to be closer to three years from idea to shipping the product. And a lot changes in three years. People fall in love, people get sick, people get job offers, people get tired. And in our case, the people around you also excel. Your friends earn more money, buy houses, get married, have kids and the rest. And when you work on something like Tiller you do miss out on a lot of those things.

Everyone in our company has made enormous sacrifices to get to where we are today. The name of the game now is to stick with it and try our hardest to see if we can, in fact, turn Tiller into something that is bigger than the four of us.

All the feels
I put some stuff on my IG story last night and my inbox was flooded with friends sending 😔sad face emojis. It was nice to see because I was reminded of how many good memories people have had in this studio.

But the emoji that I want to put against today is probably 😊or maybe 🙈or even 👊. Today is an exciting day for me and I think the whole team. It’s the start of a new adventure in the Joan and Tiller story and I’m more than ready for it.

I don’t know what the path in front of us looks like, but I’m not sure I want to either.

Thanks to everyone who has been to one of our parties or has spent time working with us in the space. We’ve loved all of it and are really happy to have shared it with you 🙏.

Ed and I need to start loading up my car with the stuff we’re going to keep and then do a run to the tip with all the things we’re throwing out. There is a painter coming at 2 pm to clean up the walls because large pieces of paint ripped off the walls when we took down all our work #bluetackissues.

Below are some photos from the studio which I like.


I use my phone too much. I look at it too often. I am amazed at what it does and I’m grateful for a lot of things it allows me to do. However, I find myself opening, refreshing, closing, opening, refreshing and closing it a lot. There are never-ending stories to check, memes to lol at and tags to review.

And the worrying thing is that it’s getting worse.

A few weeks ago in an attempt to grab even more of my attention, Facebook tried to encourage me to message my friend for a third day in a row “to keep my streak going”.

How about I message them the next time I need to speak to them?

How about I message them the next time I need to speak to them?

These kinds of attention-grabbing-features are appearing because:

  1. Our attention = Ca$h: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Snapchat etc. make their money from showing you ads. The more you look at their apps, the more money they can make. They want you to open their apps as often as possible so they are designing new ways (like the Facebook example above) to keep you coming back.
  2. Its technically possible: Apple, Google and other manufacturers have built phones (hardware) and operating systems (software) that allow app developers to push information to you, to interrupt you, know your location and know your activity.

The advertising-based business models of your favorite apps combined with your smartphone means an all-out war to steal your time and attention.

Taking a break

It feels like this is going to get worse before it gets better. A lot of apps are addicted to the advertising dollar and that won’t be changing in the short term.

The Facebook example above prompted a discussion with my friend Tim and together we’ve decided to take a break from our smartphones. It’s an experiment, partly for fun, partly a protest, and partly a serious inquiry into our own relationships with focus, productivity, mental health and the devices we use each day. It’s an opportunity for reflection and consideration.

Starting next Monday 22nd January, we’re going to spend a week (maybe longer) without our feature-full $1000 smartphones and switch back to the featureless phones we grew up with.

I shared this idea along with a list of things I think I’m going to miss on Twitter a month ago. Since then a few people have decided to join us as we say goodbye to our smartphones. You’re welcome to do the same.

If you’d like to come along for the ride, grab yourself an old phone and sim-card, give your new number to your most important friend and family and put your smartphone in your draw. We’ll be sharing our experiences (from our computers) with the hashtag #byephone.

For some reason, I’m kind of nervous about not having access to music, maps, weather and on-demand cars. But I also know that is stupid and that feeling nervous about losing that stuff is probably a sign that something needs to change.

Bloomberg: Taxi Medallion Prices Are Plummeting, Endangering Loans


Future of mobility report by McKinsey & Bloomberg