I went for a walk yesterday afternoon and with the exception of face masks and hand sanitizer being sold out everywhere which has been the case for a few weeks now, nothing else seemed any different. A few more masks being worn on the street but not enough that you’d notice unless you were looking. This is a stark contrast to the scene about 20 minutes away from here at Shibuya crossing where easily 80% of people are wearing masks, though most of those people are wearing them incorrectly.
And then late last night it was announced that all elementary and high schools will be closed for the several 4 weeks.
This morning people were joking that there was going to be a rush on toilet paper. This afternoon Tara walked over to the neighborhood pharmacy and they were completely sold out, she went to 2 other stores including the one at the train station near our house – all empty. At the train station everyone was wearing masks, and people were staring at her enough that she felt uncomfortable and put on a mask just to blend in.
I remembered I’d put a pack of toilet paper in my shopping cart on Amazon Japan and went to look but it had been removed as it was no longer available from the seller. Searching for toilet paper shows everything is out of stock. Literally everything. There are some 3rd party sellers who will let you pre-order a 4 or 6 pack for the equivalent of about $150 but with the caveat that they don’t expect to ship it until mid April. I bought a 24 pack on Amazon Dot Com for $25 and then paid $50 to have it shipped from the US to Japan. It’ll be here next week, so that’s fun.
Rumors are whispering that China has closed shipping borders and that paper products are coming from there, so this could be the tip of the iceberg – but I haven’t seen any real confirmation of that. Lots of rumors.
We actually have a really well planned emergency kit with fully stocked bug out bags and several weeks worth of supplies. But those are in Los Angeles. In storage. While some other staples like cereal and milk are also selling out, the vegan options seem fully stocked. I was able to order a few cases of vegan ramen delivered next day without any problem, but not sure how long that will last before the regular people get hip to the tasty vegan options.
Moments ago the major of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency and asked everyone to stay in their homes all weekend. Here in Tokyo, Disneyland has closed until mid-March and events are being cancelled left and right but we’re still not in panic mode, at least not outwardly. This evening I walked over to the grocery store and the shelves of perishables are empty. The shelves of disinfectants and cleaners are empty. Everything else is mostly well stocked. It feels weird, like simultaneously on the brink of something but desperately clinging to some semblance of normalcy. A slow motion explosion happening right in front of your eyes. We’re planning to go to a park tomorrow afternoon to see plum blossoms.
We still have power and internet, but if this was a zombie/apocalypse movie they’d cut out soon with no warning.
Feeling parallels to the days back in 2011 just after the Tohoku earthquake. But that was more of an aftermath with a hopeful eye towards the future with thoughts of rebuilding and this is an ominous hesitation about what is coming, but at the same time refusing to acknowledge the inevitable as if that will somehow prevent it.
In 2011 I was living with my family in Los Angeles. We lived in a little grey 2 bedroom 1 bath house once occupied by Henry Rollins, an author & musician whose punk rock/DIY ethics & integrity had already played a formative role in my life. In early March I would celebrate my son’s first birthday, and a few days later a triple disaster on the opposite side of the planet would completely change the course of my life. Over the following weeks and months I’d find myself staying up 24 hours at a time coordinating with people in every timezone imaginable trying to find information and answers for friends and family directly impacted by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown playing out in Fukushima. The government systems had failed, and we thought we could help. Be it art or activism, if you know me you know I’ve spent most of my life pushing against the boundaries of established norms, refusing to just accept the status quo. I would make several trips to Japan to work with others like me, taking our first steps towards a solution to a problem much larger than most of us realized at the time. Eventually the back and forth would become too much, and in 2017 as a family we decided to upend our lives and move around the world so as to better focus on the project that had become Safecast. As we approach the 9 year anniversary, I’m writing from Tokyo to ask you to join me.
We began Safecast with a push towards transparency, quickly growing to address the larger issues of trust and openness and forced a reassessment of what we all should expect from environmental monitoring projects. In a world where devices can be bricked anytime a company pivots, where EPA datasets and research disappear overnight, where a single politician can undo decades of work out of spite or where government regulations are written to augment an industry’s financial goals rather than the health of the people or the protection of our environment we stood up and said not anymore. If we can’t trust the companies and governments to look out for us, we’ll do it ourselves without them. We put all of our data into the public domain to ensure everyone can use it, and no one can ever delete it. My son will be able to show his grandchildren this data and it will be just as useful then as it is now. All of the devices we designed are open and futureproof, ensuring they will work as intended for as long as someone feels like repairing them. In a few short years this community built the largest open radiation dataset ever collected, larger than the combined datasets published by every government today. This information reshaped evacuation zones and helped people make life changing decisions. We’ve built a real time monitoring network that lets residents know about changes in their environments in minutes. From Tokyo I was able to see how smoke from brush fires was directly impacting my friends back in Los Angeles because of Safecast air sensors that were up and running. This system was unimaginable a few years earlier when I was in LA worrying about friends in Japan and week or month old data was the best anyone could find. Our global volunteer team has helped us to build a comprehensive map allowing people to see measurements on the streets in front of their houses, all over the world. In addition to the tools and deployments we’ve developed curriculum, lesson plans and tutorials to help people understand how this works, and do it for themselves without relying on us. In a world where companies are trying to find new ways to lock people into their ecosystems, we’ve actively worked to make sure these systems can function even without us.
In the nonprofit world it’s commonplace to spend half your time fundraising in order to spend the other half doing the work. At Safecast we focus the majority of our time and energy on the work and the funding has come through recognition of our results. We’ve been lucky to have the incredible support of Reid Hoffman, Shuttleworth Foundation, Knight Foundation and others like them with courage, vision and the ability to see the long term picture. Their wonderful donations have covered the majority of our bills year over year. We’ve been able to have the kind of tangible, global, long term impact that we have precisely because we get to spend our time working doing the work without fundraising as a distraction. But that also creates a dependency where our ongoing work relies on a single person or a single donation, which isn’t healthy. We started this project with a recognition that “the way things work” wasn’t working and a belief that we could find a new way, and I think we’ve done that. Similarly, we think the way that nonprofits are expected to survive is broken, and believe there has to be a better way. “That’s the way it’s always been done” is a terrible reason to keep doing something, especially when it’s obviously not working. We reimagined what environmental monitoring could be, and now we are reimagining how to fund it. Safecast is not flashy. We are not a trendy startup looking for a quick exit, we’re not selling data out the back door to jack up our valuation. We aren’t looking for a hockey stick increase in market share. We are a passionate global community committed to a reliable solution that can be counted on today, tomorrow, and in the years to come. While we deeply appreciate the funders who have helped us get this far, if we want to be truly robust our funding needs to come from our community. Rather than relying on one person donating $100k, I want 100 people to donate $1k. A few hundred volunteers with geiger counters built the largest radiation dataset ever amassed while politicians sat around talking about why they couldn’t do it. That’s the proof that a few committed people can do the work that everyone else will benefit from. That’s what I’ve spent the last 9 years of my life focused on. Safecast is deploying sensor networks and building datasets that will benefit us all for generations–we didn’t ask permission or get anyone’s approval to do this, it’s just what we do.
My 45th birthday is at the end of this month. For my birthday I’m hoping to find 100 people to commit to giving $100 a month to Safecast for 1 year. These donations are tax deductible. That money will go a long way towards paying for salaries, servers and sensors. But more importantly, it will prove that a few people who care can positively impact the world. I hope you’ll join me.
While walking home from the office the other day and talking to myself along the way I remembered a story from my childhood that I’d mostly forgotten. This was also when I was in 7th and 8th grade, I started hanging out with this kid named Erik-with-a-k who was as crappy of a skateboarder as I was so I didn’t feel too self conscious around him. We’d skate at a nearby school parking lot and sometimes visit a neighborhood ramp, he’d bring a little portable tape deck and blast Sex Pistols and Circle Jerks tapes. He’d tell me about a good friend of his who was a stupidly famous pro skater and I’d tell him he was full of shit. Then he’d tell me about him in front of his parents and they’d nod agreeingly so I figured maybe it was legit. One day he announced that he’d talked to his friend and this dude was going to be sending a care package of 25 complete boards for free, and Erik-with-a-k said he was going to give me 5 of them. This was huge because I was poor and had a really old really beat up deck, and the expected build was legit. Indy trucks, Slimeballs, Powell Swiss bearings and flypaper griptape. I’m embarrassed that I still remember this.
Anyway, separately there was a legendarily good skater in our small Florida town named Caleb who could ollie into the back of a pickup truck, you can ask anyone. And this new windfall of skateboard booty had given me an idea. I knew a girl who knew a guy who people said sometimes skated with Caleb and I asked her if she could ask him if he could pass on a letter for me. He said yes, and she said yes. So, 13 or 14 year old me wrote a letter to Caleb. I told him he probably didn’t know who I was but I knew all about him and his pick up truck oillie-ing. I asked him if he’d teach me how to skate, because I sucked and everyone I knew sucked and I just wanted some tips from someone who knew what they were doing. Keep in mind this was 1988 or so and there was no YouTube. Anyway I told him about the skateboards I was about to get, and offered him one of the complete builds in return for his skate tutoring. I gave the letter to the girl, she said she gave it to the guy, but Caleb never replied.
A year later I’d go to high school and it would be the same high school that Caleb went to, though he was a few years older. Being a punk or skateboarding wasn’t really a cool thing to do in those days, especially not in the middle of Florida. [As an aside that same year I’d run for (and lose) student council Vice President using the slogan Sean B for VP and my campaign posters had a drawing of a kid on a skateboard which I drew and thought was cool, but some other Sean B in my school who was a surfer didn’t take too kindly too and pulled me aside one day and told me to take every last one down or he and his surf friends were going to beat my sorry skater ass because he didn’t want anyone thinking the posters were his implying that he skated.] Anyway, During lunch all 5 or 6 people who were into punk or skateboarding or that kind of thing would end up sitting together at lunch and yes that meant that eventually I’d be sitting with Caleb, who by this time had lost all his mythos and was just a stoner in my mind. To his credit he never made fun of me, though one day he would ask me if I ever got all those skateboards. Which I didn’t, because the story from Erik-with-a-k was bullshit.
Turns out Erik-with-a-k was a pathological liar, the first I’d ever recognized. We’d stopped being friends the previous summer when his mother found a massive stash of porno mags under his bed and he’d played dumb by blaming them on me, saying I’d ask him to hold some things for him but told him he wasn’t allowed to look at them. His mother believed him and called my mother to tell her how I was poisoning the mind of her sweet innocent child and I wasn’t welcome in their home anymore. I got grounded because “you know what you did” though I didn’t know, and it wasn’t until I called Erik-with-a-k to find out what the fuck was going on that I learned what was going on when as he, over the phone, lied to my face about it. I told him to fuck off, he told me he’d kick my ass if he ever saw me again.
A few years later I’d see him again, he’d turned into a cowboy and was hanging out in the back of a pick up truck with some other cowboys in the parking lot of the Denny’s my friends and I would go to. When I say he turned into a cowboy I mean he’d started wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat and had developed a very strong southern drawl. I said “Hey Erik-with-a-k what the fuck is up with the cowboy boots and hat and that southern drawl?” and he said “Boy! Whyount you comm’on over ‘ere and you’ll find out!” and I said “No thanks” and went inside the Denny’s. He and his friends drove away pretty quickly once more of my friends showed up and joined me inside. They were probably worried someone would throw a skateboard at their pickup truck and scratch the paint or something. When I got home that night there was a message on my answering machine from him, full hick-accent and with some good-ol boys a hootin’ and a hollerin’ in the background and conveyin’ the message that I got lucky tonight but he’d find me some other time when I didn’t have all my friends and teach me a lesson about respect.
I’m pretty sure I never saw or heard from him ever again though I passed some dude who looked a hell of a lot like him on the moving sidewalk at Denver airport about 5 years ago and I like to think it was him and he got scared because he didn’t have his rodeo clowns with him and ran anyway as soon as he got off the moving sidewalk. True story.
At the start of 2019 I wrote a blog post called Ten for Twenty Nineteen, which was simply a few things I was thinking about as I began the new year. It was primarily forward looking as opposed to the reflective Year In Review, In Photos posts which I published annually between 2007 to 2013. In 2008, I wrote about the previous year:
“I don’t know if 2007 was as shitty as I’ve been saying it was. It was certainly full of change, and mostly unexpected. It had some very low lows, but also some very high highs. I lost a lot, but I think in the end I’ve gained even more. And standing here looking back over the last 12 months I don’t know how much of it I’d change if I had the chance.”
I found significant value in revisiting the previous year with hindsight perspective and it often helped me appreciate my own narrative in a way that my memories alone hadn’t allowed. I remembered things in the moment, but the blog posts gave me a greater context.
I genuinely regret (unintentionally) abandoning the In Photos series, as I would love to visually revisit 2013-2019 (heres 2010, 2011, 2012). As I’ve mentioned before, when I started it I was actively “life blogging” so at the end of the year it was fairly easy to scroll through the posts over the last 12 months and pull out the highlights. In an attempt to improve my photography skills, I began transitioning from frequent documentarian cameraphone pics to more curated film photos, but I didn’t realize at the time that instead of posting them when I took them (easy to sort by date) they would now be posted when I developed them, sometimes months later. This significantly complicated my previously simple date search – something I learned too late. I also used to say that I moved away from Flickr because a series of unfortunate acquisitions made the future of the site questionable, but to move away would require going somewhere else, which I didn’t do. I had also slowed written blog posts from several a day to one a month, if that. So it’s more likely I was just burned out on it all. That said, this year I’m trying to put Flickr back into my workflow, so we’ll see how it goes going forward.
A friend recently told me that Russian Physiologist Ivan Pavlov had a thing where every 10 years he’d completely change his focus – arguing anything you can contribute to a field you can do in 10 years, beyond that you are just taking up space. I haven’t found direct confirmation of a hard and fast “10 year” rule, though he did work in many different fields throughout his life. I liked that idea and related to it deeply. I could see parallels in my businesses and wondered if this “10 year” thing applied to other interests and focuses as well? While I might not have the same kind of images to easily allow an almost week to week revisitation of the last 7 years, I can identify some major events and accomplishments. And so, with all that in mind I wanted to look back over the last decade, to put some things into a larger context for myself, as inspiration and motivation as I move ahead into the next, whatever and wherever that might lead. So here it goes.
How I spent The Last 10 Years…
I started the decade living in Venice Beach, California (USA) with my wife Tara. With our bedroom windows open, we could hear the waves crashing on the sand all night long. Ten years later I’m living in Shibuya, Tokyo (Japan) with Tara and our 9 year old son Ripley. On a clear day, from our bedroom window we can see Mt. Fuji. It’s my feeling if you spend more than a consecutive month in a single place you’ve lived there, and using that definition, in between there and here, we’ve also lived in Singapore (Singapore), Vincennes (France), Vienna (Austria) and Boulder, Colorado (USA) as well as the Los Angeles (USA) neighborhoods of Silverlake and Atwater Village.
In addition to residing in the aforementioned locales, I also bounced around the world for business and pleasure – several times. Sometimes with my family, sometimes with colleagues, and sometimes alone. I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Dublin, Fukushima, London, New York, Paris, Sarasota, and Vancouver. I’ve also spent not a lot of time, but time none the less in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Climping, Costa Rica, Dubai, Florence, Geneva, Honolulu, Iriomote, Jackson, Kagoshima, London, Malta, Manila, Marrakech, Milan, Newark, Oman, Piza, San Benito, Siquijor, Savinja, Toronto, Venice, Winchester, Whistler, and the Yucatan. Among others, that was an incomplete “top of my head” list.
For new chapters to start, old ones need to end and with that in mind I decided to walk away from the blogging company Jason Defillippo and I started almost a decade earlier. I started (and ended) a coffee company with Stephen Morrissey, Peter Giuliano, Kyle Glanville, Brian Jones, Brent Fortune and Tim Styles. We built Coffee Common as an educational, inspirational mouthpiece and produced several absolutely insane events, then shut it down to move on with our lives. For a while after that I curated a coffee subscription project as well. As a board member of CicLAvia I helped people Los Angeles connect with their neighbors and neighborhoods. Along with Joi Ito, Pieter Franken and Ray Ozzie and countless volunteers I built Safecast which has become one of the most important citizen science projects ever. We changed the way the public expects to get environmental data, and the expectations researchers have about public projects. Tara and I recently started Street Sheets because most of you have crappy taste and we wanted to improve the aesthetics of the world around us.
Music has remained a constant and important part of my life. In the 90’s I worked mostly behind the scenes, in the 2000’s I embraced just being in the audience. In the 10’s I got on stage. I sang backups for a Strife record, joined Brevi, DJ Muggs and Andrew Kline as part of Cross My Heart Hope To Die, Massacred Saturday Night with Wil Wheaton, contributed a soundtrack to a short film by Uchujin, and dicked around with various other noises. I’ve performed live in front of audiences in Los Angeles and Tokyo. I started 2010 with no musical instruments or know how of any kind and now possess and play a few more than none with a growing fondness for guitar and synths.
In 2010 I sold my first artwork, some music related post-it note sized drawings as part of Giant Robot’s annual exhibition of the same. I have no idea who bought them, but I love that they are out in the world somewhere. The same year, I decided to get a film camera and thought it might be interesting to take photos of people on the streets. Since then my photos have hung on gallery walls and sold to people who buy artwork. I published a photobook of my Tokyo street photos and some of my other images have been published in the Leica published book Leica Myself, Souris Hong’s Outside The Lines, Too, Peter Gilmore’s The Devils Reign and Invader’s Invasion Los Angeles 2.1. While I officially ran away screaming from the world of music design in the late 90’s, I popped out of retirement to design the first Die Antwoord album, in collaboration with Clayton Cubitt and Gary Baseman and a bunch of merchandise for Bad Brains with Glen E Friedman. Yeah sex is cool but have you ever tried making cool art with your friends?
I wrote an introduction to Shepard Fairey’s book Covert to Overt, a few sidebars for Algis Tamosaitis’ Rock Your Travel, and cowrote a book about the future of philanthropy for the Shuttleworth Foundation, with whom I’ve been a Fellow since 2014. Morgen and I wrote books about Zombies and Oklahoma. Either I or my work was written about in books by Colin Harmon, Mike Walsh, Dr. Mamie Lau, James Wynn, Joi Ito, Shaka Senghor, Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, and others.
I gave dozens of talks about various topics to audiences all over the world. A few standouts including talking about minimalism at TEDx in Vienna, about Safecast at 29c3 in Hamburg and at CERN in Geneva, and about my life at Re:Publica in Berlin.
I learned to snowboard and scuba dive. I biked hundreds miles and skateboarded hundreds of feet. I snorkeled with sea turtles and hiked through rain forests.
I’ve lost friends and family to overdoses, diseases, suicides, honest mistakes and dishonest bullshit. I’ll cherish and remember the beautiful moments, and I’ll never forgive or forget the betrayals. I stay in regular contact with friends I’ve had for decades, who amazingly still put up with me. I’ve reconnected with friends and family who are important to me, but I’d lost touch with over the years. I’ve made new friends and new family, and my life is richer and more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined it would be because of them.
I’ve watched my son grow from a boulbous poop factory into a bilingual, dangerously smart young man with a razor sharp wit. He’s a pleasure to be around, and I can barely wait to hear what he says next. Currently a few months past our 11 year wedding anniversary, this decade was all about my love affair with Tara Tiger Brown. As a muse, she’s woven into everything I do. As a partner she always there to kick my ass or bandage my wounds, depending on what the situation calls for. She’s the architect of our adventures, and wind in our sails.
Even though I never really gave a shit about it and dropped out of college, in the last decade I’ve become a Researcher at MIT and a Professor at Keio University. Conversely, after decades of practice I now have the licenses & certificates to legally prove I’m both a ninja and a Satanic priest, fulfilling all of my 1980’s suburban American teenage dreams.
Not a bad way to spend 10 years if I do say so myself. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
It’s been almost 3 years since my photobook “Don’t Go Outside” was released. The book was inspired by my ongoing visits to Japan for business and pleasure. A little over 2 years ago the whole family and I moved from Los Angeles to Tokyo and things that seemed exciting previously became normal. It’s an interesting shift that happens when you go from visitor to resident, and vice versa. Visiting Los Angeles now lets me see the city in ways I never did living there – but that’s a different story for another thing. I’m talking about Tokyo right now.
Not long after moving, Tara and I started talking about an idea, loosely based on our new surroundings and how they were making us feel. I made some new photos to try and convey how that felt. We liked them. We thought we’d like to have the photos on some things around our house, and thought maybe others would as well. We mapped out the idea, bought the URL, spent a few hours on it and then put it on the back burner. More than a year later we kicked each others asses and decided to finish it. So we did. Today we launched Street Sheets.tokyo.
Here’s some of the things we made:
There’s more now, and we’ll keep adding more as we go. I’m pretty happy with how these turned out, and am excited to hear what others think, and see the products out in the wild. Here’s a little more that I wrote about the idea behind the work:
After moving to Tokyo in 2017 we began to realize how the lines on the streets offered more than just direction. The bold, iconic lines served their purpose of helping millions of people to navigate the public space, but they seemed to help navigate interpersonal distance and interactions as well. The orderly placement and repeated patterns were soothing and almost comforting. At the same time, the cracks and decay as the paint aged told the story of how things might look beautiful and perfect at a distance, but upon closer inspection the flaws are revealed. This applies literally to the physical paint, but is also indicative of society as a whole. With this insight the stark black and white imagery becomes suggestive of the duality of humanity at scale – functional but inescapably flawed.
These products can be seen as a followup to the book “Don’t Go Outside” – a collection of street photography by Sean Bonner, a voyeuristic exploration of the public human interaction in Tokyo. This stylistic reinterpretation both forcibly minimizes the imagery by removing the people, the individuals, as well as putting full focus on the intention of the population at large. Stripped of the human subjects, all that’s left is their impact. The intention of bringing this imagery literally from the public streets inside to the intimacy of our own homes, living rooms and bedrooms further plays on this duality of intention.
Snuggle up with the struggle.
There was a time in my life when I was just cranking things out left and right. I’ve been feeling pretty stagnant for the last few years, and moving this from idea to shipped felt really good. I give all credit to Tara for putting her foot down and insisting we finish it and get it out the door. It’s exciting to see it materialize, and a testament to committing to just getting it done. I hope you like it.
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On Joi’s recommendation I started reading White Fragility. As a white kid who grew up in the south at various times getting my ass kicked by racists, who now lives in a country where over 99% of the population doesn’t look like me and has been refused access and services because of my race, I have a hard time personally relating to any of the popular narratives around race in the US but I think it’s important to understand what they are and how other people experience them.
I’m reminded of a moment a few years ago when I was visiting Detroit. My friend Shaka helped arrange a tour of some urban farms for me and some of our friends from MIT. The tour was led by Malik Yakini, a community leader who spent a lot of time helping people in many of the blighted neighborhoods. He started the tour by saying “As part of my introduction let me just say that I’m a recovering misogynist” which caused the women in our group to exchange some looks. He continued “I grew up in a time and place and environment that colored my view of things, and as I got older I realized the problems with those and I work every day to correct that.” Everyone relaxed and smiled. But he wasn’t done, and followed that quickly with “I say that, because it’s just like how all of you are recovering white supremacists, and you have to work on that every day too.” This jarred everyone as you might imagine. This guy didn’t know anything about me or my background, who was he to make a call like that? I’ve literally punched nazis! I got in trouble in high school for wearing a “Fuck Racism” shirt!! I wanted to argue with him, but wisely I kept my mouth shut. I recognized pretty quickly that the fact that his words bothered me so much meant there was something to them that I wasn’t prepared for at the time. I thought about it a lot then, and I think about it a lot now. As I consider the reverse culture shock I’m sure to have when I move back to the US it’s something I’ll continue to think about. I don’t have a nicely packaged resolution to that thought yet, I don’t know that anyone ever really can. But we can work on it.
In efforts to deal with old age forgetfulness and a lingering case of screen aversion I’ve been trying to get in the habit of using my physical notebook. I wrote about this a bit before on my mailing list, moving from a small pocket sized moleskine to a larger journal type thing and using a modified bullet journal method for daily planning and notes and general keeping on top of things. I also like that, even though it’s purely functional for me, I feel like I’m making something.
While I’ve been enjoying the pen and paper aspect of using a pen and paper I’ve also found myself wanting a little more of a creative visual experience but I’m not fetishistic enough about this journal thing to spend endless hours doodling and and drawing on the pages like a damn pinterest board. A little while ago Warren (I think) mentioned getting one of these little pocket printers that allowed him to quickly snap a photo of something interesting and print it out and then slap it in his notebook for future reference. This notion has kind of stuck with me and last week I decided to pull the trigger. Twice actually.
I ordered and received two different mini printers, that function a bit differently with different desired outcomes. This is what I got:
This is a super tiny thermal printer (which means it never needs ink), b&w only with questionable archival qualities (the basic paper is guaranteed to keep an image for a full year) but it’s fast and cheap and fun. While I got in with the intent to print little photos, the Paperang app also has a number of text and todo list templates and options that I can see myself playing with sometime in the not terribly distant future. I’ve been scotch taping a few quick prints with the default paper in to the notebook here and there and it’s added a very cool new layer to the look and feel of it. I also ordered some upgraded paper spools of sticker backed paper that is supposed to hold an image for 10 years so I won’t have to tape the prints in each time. Knowing that the image will eventually fade is interesting too because it keeps me from thinking anything is too precious, and also forces me to write a little something next to it explaining what it is.
Instax print from the SHARE, photo taken on a Leica M10D
It’s no secret I like instant photos and that I have a softspot for Instax. I’ve got a few Instax cameras in various formats (I especially like the Instax WIDE monochrome film, though the camera for it is huge) but this requires planning ahead and carrying the camera around, and the film is kind of expensive for quick memory jogging notes to self. That said, being able to take any photo that I have on my phone and make a Polaroid style print anytime I want is kind of appealing. Between my regular carry around every day camera (currently a Leica M10D) and my iPhone (currently an XSMax) I have some pretty nice digital photos. So I picked up the new SP-3 which uses the Instax SQUARE film as I like that format (though I wish they offered a monochrome version) and have used to make a few prints of things I shot with these other devices. This is nice if I want to give a photo to someone, or include something I know will more long lasting (and thus, more thoughtful and artistic I guess). This also allows me to play more with this format, I really liked the Instax MINI print series Clayton did a few years ago and being able to physically riff on ideas is kind of fun.
Both of these printers are small enough to carry around in a hip/shoulder bag without much trouble and then always be available, though the SHARE is a bit bigger and heavier than the Paperang so in actual practice I don’t know how often I’ll really carry both around. Likely one or the other. Guess we’ll see. In the meantime I’m happy with the ability to hold in my hands something that was only in my head previously.
I’ve been writing about personal uniforms for a long time now [2015, 2010] and adhering to them for even longer. While the major themes have remained the same over the years some of the specifics have gotten more specific and as I’m often asked for recommendations I find it useful to take stock once and a while so I have something for people to reference. The last time I did this I was living in Los Angeles, and traveling 100k+ miles a year, today I’m living in Tokyo and still traveling 100k+ miles a year. Tokyo gets colder than Los Angeles and has snow, but it also gets more humid. I previously tried to have things that worked in all weather, but I’m now more a fan of fabrics and cuts that are optimized for seasons.
Generally I still stick to all black or dark grey and avoid anything with logos or visible branding of any kind.
Basic. 100% Cotton. I’m still a fan of American Apparel’s Fine Jersey which I find to be the perfect cut, thickness and softness. These were the only things I wore for years and I’d buy them a dozen at a time every 12-18 months though honestly they hold up much longer than that and at less than $10 on Amazon it’s effortless. This is my goto shirt for training at the dojo because I know it’s strong enough to hold up under abuse and I’m not worried about ruining them. Cotton rules for structure, but it’s less optimal for most other things.
Hot weather: 100% Bamboo. The best ones I’ve found are made by Onno and are almost 3x the cost of the AA Cotton shirts at about $30. Bamboo is the perfect material for t-shirts, it wicks moisture away from you and is soft and anti-bacterial.
Humid: 100% Ramie. A recent find for me, Ramie is a really interesting natural fiber and in Tokyo’s super humid summers this has become my goto option. Outlier’s Ramielust shirt is the best shirt for hot and humid weather. It’s $125, but it takes one day if walking around in 90% humidity to understand why. I found some cheaper Ramie blend shirts on amazon but they don’t feel the same. As a fabric it’s a bit stiffer than Cotton or Bamboo, but it’s also light and airy like nothing else.
Cool: 100% Wool. This is going to be my most controversial recommendation ever but Outlier’s Gostwyck Single Origin Wool is really interesting. Wool is an amazing fabric, but it’s almost always ethically bad news, so a company working with a single farm with the specific intention of creating ethically produced wool is something I thought was worth supporting and looking further into. I know some people love wool and if they are going to buy it I’d prefer they put the money towards a more sustainable and ethical option like this. These shirts are also $125, but they might be the nicest shirts you’ve ever touched. A secret some people don’t know is that Wool shirts can be worn for several days in a row before they need washing, so you need fewer of them for a wardrobe and end up doing wash less often, so they have other environmental benefits to weigh out.
Slacks. I find the materials that Outlier are using for their Slim Dungarees and Futureworks pants to be fantastic, versatile, lightweight and durable. I was initially hesitant to buy $200 pants, but I now have 3 pairs and easily wear them 300 days out of the year. Their shorts are equally fantastic.
Jeans. I have an ongoing love/hate with denim that I continue to be unable to resolve. There was a point in the late 2000’s when I realized that not only did I not own a pair of jeans, I hadn’t owned a pair in over a decade, as I’d been wearing almost exclusively Dickies for most of that time. At the same time I had friends working with and lusting over “high end” denim and I wanted to understand it. I’ve since owned and worn many varieties of denim and from high end Japanese brands like Iron Heart & Sugar Cane. They’ve been great in some ways, and horrible in other ways and spending hundreds of dollars on pants that you know the crotch and pockets are going to blow out in, and require additional cost to keep repairing just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me these days. And while there are some minor details here and there, I don’t find them to justify the 5x or 10x cost over something like Shrink To Fit Levi’s 501s or something similar. In the end, I’m going to skip a recommendation on this one and just say individual preference is going to win out.
Darn Tough. Seriously, regardless of what style you like Darn Tough socks will be the best you can get. In addition to being super comfortable and rock solid, they have a life time guarantee so if you somehow find a way to wear a hole in them they will replace them free of charge. Forever. I don’t know how they do it, but they do and do it well.
Update: I used to religiously recommend ExOfficio Boxer Briefs for many reasons but no longer do, a few years ago the company changed manufacturing practices and both their fabric and build quality went downhill significantly, when I first found them they were upwards of $30 each but now seem to be sub $20 and I’m quite sure they are making more money on each one due to the corners they cut. Avoid.
Cooler weather: Wool. Specifically Smartwool who are also publicly committed to ethical and sustainable wool production. They also have a lifetime guarantee which given their $45 price tag, being able to return them once they get worn out for new ones is a bonus.
Shoes and Jackets are much more personal and I can’t imagine recommendations here being worth anything. So look for the styles and cuts that you like and run with them I guess. Though I will say a good hoodie and a good windbreaker are an awesome combo.
I’ve been living in Tokyo for the last 3 years, previously from Los Angeles. I’ve run hackerspaces and blog networks, an art gallery, a design firm and a record label. I’m one of the co-founders of Safecast, and currently act as Global Director. I’m an Associate Professor at Keio University, a Shuttleworth Fellow and sit on the board of CicLAvia. I make noisy ambient music under the name Delay 5000 (D5K).