Aleen Mean

The Origin of Ideas

My podcast, Originality, belongs to the Relay FM podcasting network. Every August, for the network’s anniversary, many of the shows produce members-only bonus episodes for supporters of the network.

Because Originality is a show about creating and creativity, my cohost Tempest and I decided to definitively answer the question that gave us the inspiration for the show in the first place: Where do ideas come from?

We asked a bunch of friends and acquaintances to contribute. Participants included award-winning authors, playwrights, journalists, and others. Of course, Tempest and I also contributed.

What follows is the story I wrote. If you’d like to hear me read it or are interested to hear where other creative people get their ideas, you can still get the episode by becoming a Relay FM member and listening to episode 27 in the Members Only feed.

Earth’s Daughter

Long ago, before time even existed, Earth realized she was lonely. To ease this burden, she started creating. The air from her lungs formed the atmosphere and the sweat from her brown formed the sea, which grew deeper as she toiled to shape all sorts of creatures.

She made everything, from the smallest amoeba to all manner of leviathan. Over the eons, she made dinosaurs and mammoths and elephants, monkeys and great apes. She loved watching them grow and evolve, nurtured by other, more literal fruits of her labor. And while their antics brought her great joy and amusement, something was still missing.

While she could, and did, talk to her creations, they couldn’t respond in kind. They could roar and chatter and trumpet, but Earth couldn’t carry on a conversation with any of them. Eventually, she realized that what she really needed was companionship.

And so Earth created the first girl. Earth would cradle the child in her arms at night and whisper stories about the beginning of life and what mischief the tigers or spiders had been up to that day.

And how the child flourished! Under Earth’s watchful eye she would race cheetahs and play with newborn elephants and giggle with chimpanzees. She would catch bugs and frogs and watch them closely. Earth would laugh as she plucked twigs and leaves out of her child’s tight black curls, wash the dusty sand from her dark skin, and recount the day’s antics.

One night, Earth realized that her child never made things. No new animals sprang to life from the child’s hands, nor did she tell stories or construct toys. Earth thought about how much richer her life was for her creations, and she was saddened at the thought that her child may never have such an experience.

Earth cried great tears, creating lakes and rivers in the process. The night was so cold and damp that her child awakened, shivering and crying tears of her own from her discomfort.

Earth scooped up her child and, seeing what she’d done, reached to her heart and removed a single spark.

“Take this,” she told her child, “and place it in your own heart.”

The child did and was instantly comforted and warmed. Soon, she was fast asleep once again.

The next morning, the child played just like she had every day before. But, Earth noticed, the ground was littered with figures made from thick mud. The next day, Earth spied a lizard she’d never seen before. On the third day, the child told Earth stories about her day for the first time. Soon, she was making up tales so fantastic Earth could hardly believe they came from her child. And so the spark grew into a full flame.

Eventually, when Earth’s child created a child of her own, she made sure to include a spark from her heart’s own flame.

This is why, to this day, ideas are ignited from even the smallest spark.

All I Want is Corgi Cuteness

We’ve all done it. You’re winding down for the day, getting ready for bed, idly reading social media or casual Slack team channels. You go to your home screen or check your dock and see that you have a new email.

“Oh hey,” you think, “more pictures of Aunt Molly’s corgi puppy!1 I’m totally here for this!”

BAM! Turns out, it’s not corgi cuteness waiting for you. Instead you see an email from Bob. You like Bob and all, but you sometimes wonder when he sleeps. Right now, you want to know why he’s asking for an update on the assets you owe him at 10:00 p.m. You have another week to get them done, for Pete’s sake, and now all you can do is think about work instead of your awesome, comfortable bed.


You know it’s unlikely that you’ll stop checking all of your email at night, but it would be nice if you didn’t have to see messages in some inboxes until you’re ready to work again tomorrow. Sure, you can use services to give you a hand with this, but often that means you’re giving them access to all of the mail that goes in and out of your account. Wouldn’t it be nice if Mail for Mac and iOS had the functionality built in?

I think so. That’s why I hastily filed a Radar today! You can dupe it if you’d like. If you want to take the idea and run with it as a thought/prototyping exercise, have at it. Please let me know what you come up with :)

Radar 37252339: Add snooze functionality to specific mailboxes in Mail apps

For many people, the line between personal and professional use of a device is blurred. This is especially true for people with iPhones. Many people have both personal and professional mail accounts set up on their devices, which means that drawing the line between work and home can be difficult.

It’s hard, when you notice that you have a new email waiting, to ignore it until working hours.

This is why I’m proposing that a preference be added, on a per-account basis, to snooze receiving messages (or at least the appearance of receiving messages) until working hours, when we’re probably both mentally and emotionally equipped to dealing with that insistent coworker.

There are apps and services on the market that behave similarly–Slack, for example, has per-team preferences you can set for things like notifications, sounds, and icon badging–so this isn’t a new paradigm for users.

  1. I have neither an Aunt Molly nor a corgi puppy in my life. I’m more upset about the latter than the former. 

Hello, 2018

I don’t want to dwell, but 2017 was a real kick in the teeth. I’m not sure exactly when it happened but, at some point, I switched from approaching life with ferocity to just hoping I’d make it through the year unbroken.1 And I did! I feel a little bent and dented and bruised and sad, but I’m still here. I’m nothing if not resilient.

Like a lot of people, I typically use the calendar year rollover as a marker that it’s time to do some self-reflection and evaluation. Most years, I pick a word to cling to—something to help me remember what I want to accomplish.

I haven’t done that this year.

This year, prompted by my friend Cate, I made a list of liberations for 2018.2 In 2018, I will liberating myself from:

  1. Phoenix. Justin and I have talked about moving for the last few years and I think we’re both finally on the same page and ready to make the push. I’ve tried everything to get some relief from my allergies with little success and we’re both tired of the heat, the poor public transportation, and our inability to walk around outside. I’m sure I’ll write more about this when the time comes.

  2. Organizing App Camp. I toyed with the idea of organizing camp from afar, then traveling to Phoenix the actual week of camp. At the end of the day, I decided it would be too much strain on my co-organizers, to say nothing of the stress I’d feel trying to pull it off. I’m looking for someone to take my place in this role so that Phoenix camp can continue. It’s been such a smashing success the last couple of years; I’d hate to lose that momentum.

  3. Self-doubt. I don’t think this needs an explanation. Suffice it to say: I’m going to end 2018 with more confidence than ever before.

  4. Looking at numbers. Twitter followers, podcast download stats, blog post views, the scale, whatever. Life isn’t a video game. Happiness doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it.

  5. Wanting to fit in. I’ve never been one of the cool kids and I think it’s unlikely some switch is going to flip and I’m going to start being cool now. If you need me, I’ll be over here doing what I’ve always done: my own thing.

  6. Saying yes when I have doubts. I learned a lot of things from my mom. Among them are these lessons:
    • Take a shower when you feel bad.
    • Learn how to do things for yourself.
    • The best brownies are edge piece brownies.
    • When in doubt, say no.

    For some reason, I have trouble sticking to that last one and I always regret it.

  7. Gluten. I was very strictly gluten-free from 2012 until earlier this year. After doing a really strict, months-long elimination diet to see if it would help me feel better,3 I decided to see if I could reintroduce gluten. I definitely feel worse when I eat it, but I also really enjoy the freedom of being able to eat anything at any restaurant. Health before ease of eating out, though. It’s time to let go again.

How about you, dear reader? What are your liberations for 2018?

  1. So many of the things that impacted this shift are not my stories to tell. It’s been a rough year for a lot of us. 

  2. You can read Cate’s liberations, if you’d like. 

  3. See “I’ve tried everything…” in Liberation #1. 

App Camp 2020

“What has surprised you about your time at App Camp?” I asked on Thursday during lunch.

There was no hesitation.

“Sometimes, we go to coding classes at the library. They just give us a sheet of paper and we type what’s on the paper into the computer and then we have a program. But it’s not like that here! I didn’t know our teams would come up with our own apps and figure out the code for them!”

Other kids at the table agreed.

“I didn’t know that we’d get to draw!” another said.

“I really like writing the questions that are going in my team’s choose-your-own-story app,” said a third.

“Did you know that you could do so many things and still work in the tech industry if you want to?” I asked.

“Nope,” they replied, “I might want to work in tech now!”

In 2015, I wrote about why I support and volunteer with App Camp for Girls. If I were to write that post today, it would basically be the same. The only difference now is that I have practical experience with the program. Since I wrote that post I’ve volunteered at two camp sessions and organized another two.

I’ve had a front-row seat to see how App Camp impacts lives.

On the first day of camp (always a Monday) we have the kids take a survey as soon as they walk in the door. One of the questions on the survey asks them why they’re attending App Camp. Overwhelmingly, the response is that their guardian made the choice for them.

By Wednesday, most of them are all-in. By Friday, the last day of camp, over 90% of our attendees say they’d recommend camp to a friend. Over 75% of them want to come back the next year as interns to help new teams discover the joys of app development.

In Portland, where App Camp has existed the longest, some kids have come back year after year. Some have started tech-oriented clubs in their schools, some have lead their own teams at App Camp, and some are training to be the Lead Developer–the person who teaches programming principles, walks attendees through programming, and is the go-to person for Swift questions.

The impact on kids is important and is, for me, what makes the challenge of organizing worthwhile. Beyond that, though, there’s a huge impact on the lives of the volunteers at camp. Several have been inspired to learn Objective-C and Swift and begin careers as app developers. We’ve helped one another find jobs, celebrated life events, and mourned losses together. I’ve made some of the most amazing friends because of App Camp.

App Camp is currently in the middle of its third Indiegogo campaign. Our goal is to raise the funds we need to expand to three more cities over the next three years, for a total of eight cities. When we get those three camps established, it’ll mean sixty more kids will get to go through camp every year.

I’d love it if you’d consider donating. Indiegogo accepts Apple Pay, which makes contributing really easy. Whether you can contribute a few dollars or a few hundred dollars, your support is invaluable to us. Plus, App Camp is a registered nonprofit in the US, so US-based donations are tax-deductible (minus the cost of your perk)!

More than that, though, would you tell people about the campaign? Post to social media, email friends and relatives who may be interested, tell your coworkers, shout it from a rooftop….

Your money and your help spreading the word will make a world of difference for even more kids!

iPhone X: A Bulleted List

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on my iPhone X yesterday. Here are my first impressions, with just over 24 hours of use:

  • I’ve had two generations of Ginormous iPhones: the 6S and the 7. My first impression of the iPhone X out of the box was that it’s so tiny. Not “holding an iPhone 4” minuscule, but small.
  • Related and not surprising: this fits much more comfortably in my front jeans pocket. I’ve carried my Plus-sized phones in my back pocket, bag, or hand as long as I’ve been using them.
  • Setting up a new phone from an old phone is a pretty easy experience! But I haaaattttteeee True Tone and was disgruntled that I had to get through the entire setup process before I could turn it off. It didn’t help that activation was an hours-long, multi-attempt process, so I had to look at the same screens with the same gross color temperature over and over again.
  • The iPhone X didn’t offer to transfer my Apple Watch, so I had to do it manually. Not the end of the world, but I was looking forward to the smooth transition I was promised.
  • The new aspect ratio isn’t as jarring as I thought it would be.
  • One of the big reasons I wanted the iPhone X over the 8 Plus is for image stabilization on both cameras when taking photos. Unfortunately, I haven’t played with the camera much yet.
  • I did take one selfie, in portrait mode, and Was Not Impressed with what it did to my face. My pores are large and portrait mode only served to emphasize them. But it’s only a single selfie and better light plus a fine layer of spackling paste across my nose may solve this.
  • I’m not sure about the way the hardware buttons are mapped. Take a screen shot by holding the sleep/wake button and the volume up button. Turn the phone off by using that same combo, but holding them. But what do I know? I’ve missed having the sleep/wake button on top of the device since they moved it.
  • Because it’s so tall, at least compared to what I’m used to, I don’t notice the notch unless I’m looking right at it. I don’t often watch videos and never watch movies or TV on my phone, so I can’t speak to that experience.
  • The thing that distracts me most is the space below the keyboard. It must be there to help people swipe up from the bottom edge (the gesture that’s taken the place of pressing the home button to get to your home screen or the app switcher), but there’s just so much blank space there.
  • Speaking of the space along the bottom edge, it often makes me think of a whale.

Screenshot of the keyboard on iPhone X

  • I miss being able to display my battery percentage at all times. It does display in Control Center, but it’s not the same.
  • I somehow keep activating the accessibility option to zoom in. I have no idea how I’m doing it; the gesture is a three-finger triple-tap, and this never happened on my previous iPhone.
  • I haven’t had the opportunity to use Apple Pay yet, but I question how easy that will be in practice. I had to double-press the sleep/wake button to complete an App Store purchase last night and it was a little fiddly.
  • I still haven’t used Animoji. Sorry, Apple Dad Craig.
  • Face ID
    • Took me a bit of time to set up. I had to hold the phone further from my face than I expected. I thought setting up Touch ID was easier overall, but maybe I’m just used to the process now.
    • Is slower than the latest and greatest version of Touch ID, but feels on par with the older version.
    • Works well in low light situations and at some pretty odd angles.
    • Works sometimes if my hand is covering my mouth or Raven is pressed to my face (cats are a weird and invasive species). I live in the desert and will likely not be testing its reliability with scarves.
    • Is crap for unlocking the phone when it’s on a counter or table, which I’ve learned I do more than I thought.
  • Gestures
    • There are a lot of ‘em!
    • I’m catching on faster than I thought I would. I find myself reaching for the home button when I’m idly doing something (like checking social media), tired, or distracted. Otherwise, I’m pretty good at swiping from the bottom.
    • I must have pulled down for notifications on the right side of my previous iPhone screens, because I keep bringing up Control Center instead of notifications. Hopefully my brain will remap sooner rather than later.

Lastly, I asked what my Twitter followers wanted to know. You ask, I answer!

How do you reach the top? Thumb gymnastics? Two hands? Is it annoying to get to Control Center and notifications?

I don’t think of my hands as being particularly small, but I’ve been a two-handed iPhone user since I got my iPhone 5. I just never could get to those top corners, and reachability never clicked for me. I think this is why the transition to the iPhone 6 and then the 6S Plus wasn’t too difficult for me, and why the new way to get to Control Center and notifications isn’t a big deal for me.

When I do need to use it one-handed, like when Raven lays on my arm, it can be a little cumbersome to get to the top. I’m working on figuring out how to inch the phone down in my hand without dropping it. It does balance nicely when I use my thumb to support the bottom and index finger along the side. This kind of worked with the iPhones Plus I owned previously, but I couldn’t hold it long and it was less stable.

How does the learning curve for the iPhone X compare to the learning curve for previous iPhones?

Steeper, I think, because this breaks a lot of established iPhone conventions. I don’t know that it’ll be more difficult to learn if the user doesn’t have a lot of experience with iPads or other iPhones, but breaking old habits is hard. As insinuated above, I also question how intuitive it is to perform tasks like restarting the device. You hold the sleep/wake button plus the volume up button to turn off the phone, but just the sleep/wake button to power it up? That seems inconsistent to me.

What about the color shift due to the OLED display?

It’s quite noticeable, but is well outside my normal viewing angles.

Is it superior to the 6-8 iPhone bodies when you hold it like a lightsaber and make “whooshing” sounds as you duel someone?

Yes, because it’s taller than the iPhone 6, 7, and 8 and therefore more appropriate for use as lightsaber. The wider iPhone 6 Plus, 7 Plus, and 8 Plus make it harder to hold and therefore present a major tactical disadvantage.