The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler


In Pixar’s latest film, Incredibles 2, Mr Incredible has a really great experience. Rather than gallivanting around the world fighting super villains, he’s fighting a much harder battle: running the home. This time around Mrs Incredible gets the spotlight and kicks butts in the process, while her husband comes to realize how hard it is to be the homemaker.

The writers of this movie sum up his exhaustion that so many of us parents can relate to in his conversation with Edna:

I haven't been sleeping. I broke my daughter. They keep changing math. We needed double-A batteries, but I got triple-As, and now we still need double-A batteries. Put one red thing in the load of whites, now everything's... pink. And I think we need eggs.

I feel you, Mr Incredible. I feel you!

Productivity Required

All the organization in the world won’t help when you lack margin. As I’ve been working my way through Getting Things Done recently, I can’t help but think our obsession with being productive is necessary because we have so much stuff. Physical stuff, sure, but also stuff of every sort. Digital stuff. Financial stuff. And expectations (real or perceived).

The worst part of having so much on your plate is that you cannot focus on one thing for too long. There are so many projects on the go and I can only make one or two steps of progress before having to move on to the next thing. Having a solid “system” of some sort is required to maintain some semblance of sanity.

This has been on my mind more in the recent weeks. Two changes precipitated this:

  1. My wife started a preceptorship to get back into nursing after 10 years away and 2. Summer holidays started. As a remote worker with a home office, this has impacted me. With a family of six, margin was already in short supply, but these changes have meant I have to be on top of my game.

Not just taking care of the details. But also being more ready than usual to deal with emotion. And relationships. To nurture (not my forté!)

We’re not in the garden anymore, Toto

All of this comes to a head in one word for me: striving. In this world, there is always a pressure weighing on us. There is always more to be done. There is always a need to meet. It has no end. Striving can have a positive sense, but I’m referring to this definition:

to struggle or fight vigoursly

This occurs in all areas of life, but our home is a concrete example. We live on a small acreage with space between us and our neighbours on each side. And the wilderness encroaches. Every year I have to fight to stop the forest from taking over cultivated land. If I were to stop mowing and pruning the back of our lawn, it would quickly be overtaken: trees, wildflowers, invasive weeds of all sorts would move in. Ignore this need for several years and there would be no lawn.

For this reason, the story of Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden hits home for me. In Genesis 3:17–19, God gives delivers this curse to Adam:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I take this literally and symbolically. I see the literal work of the wilderness fighting against human effort. But I also believe this applies to all areas of life: we have to constantly strive against the chaos and, ultimately, death.

But … but!

The Promise

There is good news: rest is possible. Jesus makes this promise so beautifully in Matthew 11:28–30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Rest, true rest, is a promise God makes for his children. And it’s what I cling to the most. I’m not the most charismatic Christian around. But I once experienced a vision early in my walk with Jesus that I’ll never forget.

Somewhere in the early morning when you’re half way between asleep and awareness, I found myself drifting in a wooden rowboat in a lazy pond. Not a breath of air rippled the water. The boat was under a large tree, the kind with droopy branches almost touching the water’s surface. Through its canopy, the light streamed through, dappled and suffusive and not at all too bright. I say “light”, for I had no sense of the sun being there … the light just was. And for all the imagery, the strongest sense was one of absolute peace. Contentment. And a presence.

He was there and I had no need or want of anything. No anxiety, no care, no striving. Just rest and a trust that my Father can and has and always will take care of things.

I often force myself to recall this vision. I need it when I feel the pressure of this world and my inability to do all that needs to be done.


Using the ESV API

I mentioned last week that my Bible study set up using Ulysses was published over at The Sweet Setup earlier this month. This resulted in a handful of people asking about my reference to using the ESV API to populate Ulysses with Scripture.

I was (obviously) not quite clear in the article. It was my intention to start that a person could use the API. But I have not been doing that myself. Instead, I manually copy and paste 10 chapters at a time from the Bible Study app into Ulysses when needed. I do this for a couple reasons:

  • It’s easier to focus on my notes and highlights this way. I would have to go through the entire app to get my content out anyway (Olive Tree, like so many other companies, has not made it easy to get your data out), so I might as well include this in the migration process
  • Whether you copy and paste manually or use the API, there’s going to be some massaging of the content required

But since there were a few people curious about this, there may be some value in walking through how one could use the API.

Get a client

First, a disclaimer. I am no developer so there will likely be better ways to go about this. But I am technical enough to get content via an API 😀

The first step is to decide how you’re going to interact with the API. You can certainly make cURL requests from the command line … but that’s pretty neck beardy. When I have to work with an API, I prefer to use a graphical client. A coworker recommended Postman multiple times and it’s the best option I’m aware of.

Setting things up

Once you have that, you can head over to the ESV site and create yourself an account. From there, you need to create an “app” so you can get an access token to use in your API calls.
This needs to be included in the headers of each call, so no, you can’t skip it.

From there, you can head to the ESV API docs to figure out how to build your requests. There are a lot of options available, but for this purpose, you want a very minimal return to your response. Just the text and verses. You can set build your desired query right on their API page (click in the text boxes, then use the “Try It Out” button at the bottom.

It can take some twiddling and tweaking to get this just the way you want, but here’s a sample query of how I would use it:

This is where Postman makes things pretty easy. You can simply copy and paste this URL into the GET request field at the top of the app.

Be sure to also include your authorization token in the Headers tab. It took me a bit to figure out how the ESV API wanted this to be formatted, but do not use the default options Postman provides. I set their authentication Type to No Authentication, then manually entered in the correct values in the headers.

Clean up

Once you have tested this a few times and you get the content that you want, you can run a query and then copy & paste the results into Ulysses. And this is where some clean up will be required.

If you have development chops, you could probably script up some solution for formatting the text as you want it (Regex, anyone?). The API does things like add square brackets to each verse number, so Ulysses treats them as links (see above). So it can take some time to get the content as you personally prefer it.

But at the very least, you can get what you need from the API. I hope that helps anyone who was considering this option!


Don't Make Me Think

Medium’s claps and Basecamp’s boosts. These are two items that feel like the creators have gone and ignored Steve Krug’s advice from his excellent book. Both features went from a very straightforward use case to one that caused me to pause and ponder.

I talked a little about Medium’s change from hearts to claps last summer (Vol IV Issue 23 to be exact), so I’ll focus on Basecamp this time.

In its latest version, Basecamp 3, there was an option to clap for someone’s post. Like Twitter or Facebook, these claps are clearly applause, but the true purpose of giving a clap can be ambiguous. All of the following are applicable:

  • I might clap to acknowledge a thought — like I’m saying, “Hey, I read this”
  • I could clap to show support for someone who had less than ideal news
  • And, of course, I may clap because I thought someone’s work or thinking was really good (truly, applause)

Recently, the Basecamp team changed this feature so that applause is now Boosts. When giving a Boost, you can use any emoji available as well as add up to 16 characters of text. I understand some of the sentiment and thinking of the Basecamp team. But I do feel like the added complexity is not worth the benefit you get from the change.

A good example of where this applies is a weekly automatic check-in we use at Wildbit. We have a Work from Home team where we talk about remote working. One of the practices the team has grown to love most is our weekly check-in asking “How was your weekend?” This is where we get to know our teammates better and to learn about our families. In a company where we call each other a family, we all welcome these glimpses into each other's lives.

This is where the old model of simple claps could fall short. When someone shared that they were sick and stayed in bed all weekend, or when their spouses grandfather had a stroke, a clap doesn’t quite feel appropriate.

But (and it’s a big but) in that scenario, you could leave a comment. “Get better soon” or “I hope your grandpa recovers fully” are easy to communicate using one of Basecamp’s main features. The combination of claps and comments gave you the tools you needed to quickly and easily express your thoughts to the team.

Boosts were intended to fill that gap, but I (and many on our team) have found ourselves sitting and wondering which emoji makes the most sense. And 16 characters isn’t enough to communicate your full thoughts, so you still turn to comments in these kinds of situations.

And the worst aspect is that Boosts have caused some people to stop giving “applause”. Some would give a clap for all answers to “How was your weekend?” to indicate their enjoyment of seeing everyone’s updates. Now, they’re not sure of the best response and, in the face of too many choices, they make none at all.

Claps were a very straightforward, easy to understand option that was easy to use. Boosts add friction. Enough so that the having to stop and think has caused the opposite effect that the Basecamp team was hoping for. Sometimes, design decisions that seem clever add complexity.

And no one needs that in their tools.