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What I learned from launching a consumer trustmark for IoT

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Throughout 2018, we developed the Trustable Technology Mark, a consumer trustmark for IoT, that our non-profit ThingsCon administers. As the project lead on this Trustmark, I spent countless hours in discussions and meetings, at workshops and conferences, and doing research about other relevant consumer labels, trustmarks and certifications that might offer us some useful paths forward. I thought it might be interesting to share what I’ve learned along the way.

(Please note that this is also the reason this blog post appears first on my website; it’s because if there’s anything problematic here, it’s my fault and doesn’t reflect ThingsCon positions.)

1) The label is the least important thing

Launching a Trustmark is not about the label but about everything else. I’ve encountered probably dozens of cool label concepts, like “nutritional” labels for tech, “fair trade” style privacy labels, and many more. While there were many really neat approaches, the challenges lie elsewhere entirely. Concretely, the main challenges I see are the following:

  • What goes into the label, i.e. where and how do you source the data? (Sources)
  • Who analyzes the data and decides? (Governance)
  • Who benefits from the Trustmark? (Stakeholders and possible conflicts of interest)
  • How to get to traction? (Reach & relevance)

We’ve solved some of these challenges, but not all. Our data sourcing has been working well. We’re doing well with our stakeholders and possible conflicts of interest (nobody gets paid, we don’t charge for applications/licenses, and it’s all open sourced: In other words, no conflicts of interest and very transparent stakeholders, but this raises sustainability challenges). We don’t yet have robust governance structures, need a bigger pool of experts for reviews, and haven’t built the reach and relevance yet that we’ll need eventually if this is to be a long term success.

2) Sometimes you need to re-invent the wheel

Going into the project, I naively thought there must be existing models we could just adapt. But turns out, new problem spaces don’t always work that way. The nature of Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices meant we faced a set of fairly new and unique challenges, and nobody had solved this issue. (For example, how to deal with ongoing software updates that could change the nature of a device multiple times without introducing a verification mechanism like reverse engineering that would be too cost intensive to be realistic.)

So we had to go back to the drawing board, and came out with a solution that I would say is far from perfect but better than anything else I’ve seen to date: Our human experts review applications that are based on information provided by the manufacturer/maker of the product, and this information is based on a fairly extensive & holistic questionnaire that includes aspects from feature level to general business practices to guarantees that the company makes on the record by using our Trustmark.

Based on that, our Trustmark offers a carrot; we leave it to others to be the stick.

That said, we did learn a lot from the good folks at the Open Source Hardware Association. (Thanks, OSHWA!)

3) Collaborate where possible

We tried to collaborate as closely as possible with a number of friendly organizations (shout-out to Better IoT & Consumers International!) but also had to concede that in a project as fast moving and iterative it’s tough to coordinate as closely as we would have liked to have. That’s on us — by which I mean, it’s mostly on me personally, and I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job aligning this even better.

For example, while I did manage to have regular backchannel exchanges with collaborators, more formal partnerships are a whole different beast. I had less than a year to get this out the door, so anything involving formalizing was tricky. I was all the happier that a bunch of the partners in the Network of Centres and some other academic organizations decided to take the leap and set up lightweight partnerships with us. This allows a global footprint with partners in Brazil, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Turkey, India and China. Thank you!

4) Take a stand

One of the most important take aways for me, however, was this: You can’t please everyone, or solve every problem.

For every aspect we would include, we’d exclude a dozen others. Every method (assessment, enforcement, etc.) used means another not used. Certification or license? Carrot or stick? Third party verification or rely on provided data? Incorporate life cycle analysis or focus on privacy? Include cloud service providers for IoT, or autonomous vehicles, or drones? These are just a tiny, tiny fraction of the set of questions we needed to decide. In the end, I believe that in order to have a chance at succeeding means cutting out many if not most aspects in order to have as clear a focus as possible.

And it means making a stand: Choose the problem space, and your approach to solving it, so you can be proud of it and stand behind it.

For the Trustable Technology Mark that meant: We prioritized a certain purity of mission over watering down our criteria, while choosing pragmatic processes and mechanisms over those we thought would be more robust but unrealistic. In the words of our slide deck, the Trustmark should hard to earn, but easy to document. That way we figured we could find those gems of products that try out truly novel approaches that are more respectful of consumers rights than the broad majority of the field.

Is this for everyone, or for everything? Certainly not. But that’s ok: We can stand behind it. And should we learn we’re wrong about something then we’ll know we tried our best, and can own those mistakes, too. We’ve planted a flag, a goal post that we hope will shift the conversation by setting a higher goal than most others.

It’s an ongoing project

The Trustable Technology Mark is a project under active development, and we’ll be happy sharing our learnings as things develop. In the meantime, I hope this has been helpful.

If you’ve got anything to share, please send it to me personally (peter@thewavingcat.com) or to trustabletech@thingscon.org.

The Trustable Technology Mark was developed under the ThingsCon umbrella with support from the Mozilla Foundation.

Monthnotes for April 2019

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April brought a lot of intense input-output style work: Lots to digest, lots of writing.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q3 and Q4 2019.

Internet Freedom Festival

Earlier this month I got to participate in Valencia’s Internet Freedom Festival (IFF). I’d never been before, and it’s always great to join an event for the first time. Lots of interesting input there, and a great couple of sessions with both other foundation fellows as well as funders – a neat benefit of my Mozilla Fellowship.

Lectured at Hochschule Darmstadt

At the kind invitation of Prof. Andrea Krajewski I got to lecture for a day at Hochschule Darmstadt. With her students we explored responsible tech, ambient connected spaces, trust & tech. As part of the prep for this excellent day, I collected some resources for ethical and responsible tech development (blog post) which might turn out useful.

Focus areas for the next few months

I barely ever take part in tenders and mostly work based on client side requests. However, every now and then interesting stuff happens, and interesting stuff is happening right now, so I found myself participating in several consortia for tenders and project proposals. It’s quite unusual for me and also all around super as I’m excited by both the teams and the topic areas – it’s all around smart cities, ethical tech, AI, privacy, trust. So they’re right up my alley. More soon.

What’s next?

Lots of reading and writing. A ThingsCon Salon in Berlin (6 May). High-level workshops in Brussels and Berlin. A ThingsCon Unconf (24 May). Lots more writing.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q3 and Q4 2019.

Have a great Month!

Yours truly,
P.

Monthnotes for March 2019

M

This installment of monthnotes features the wrap-up of a fellowship, updates on a PhD program I’ll be supervising for, a ThingsCon event, and an anniversary. Enjoy.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q3 and Q4 2019.

The Waving Cat turns 5

The Waving Cat just turned 5 officially. Which is still mind blowing to me. It’s been quite the ride, and 5 incredibly productive years.

In this time I’ve written 3 book-ish things and many reports, co-published multiple magazine-ish things and a proper academic paper. Co-chaired some amazing conferences like ThingsCon, Interaction16, UIKonf and more. Worked on strategy, policy and research across a pretty wide range of industries and clients from global tech to non-profit to governments. Was on a number of juries, and mentored a bunch of teams. Was a Mozilla Fellow. Launched a consumer trustmark. Helped kickstart a number of exciting projects including ThingsCon, Zephyr Berlin, Dearsouvenir and the Trustable Technology Mark. Spoke at about 40 events. Wrote, contributed or was quoted in about 60 articles.

So yeah, it’s been a good 5 years run. On to the next round of adventures.

(By the way, that anniversary is the company’s; the website & blog go way, way further back. All the way to like 2005.)

Wrapping up my Mozilla Fellowship

With the end of February, my Mozilla Fellowship officially wrapped up. (That is, the active part of the fellowship; Mozilla makes a point of the affiliation being for life.)

Technically this fellowship was about launching ThingsCon’s Trustable Technology Mark (which got so much great media coverage!) but it was so much more.

I’m glad and grateful for the opportunity to be warmly welcomed into this fantastic community and to meet and work with so many ambitious, smart, caring and overall awesome people.

Nothing could symbolize this better than the lovely ceremony the team put together for Julia Kloiber’s and my farewell. Unicorn gavels and flower crowns and laminated “for life” cards and bubbly were all involved. Thank you! ?

OpenDott is nearly ready

The collaboration with Mozilla isn’t ending anytime soon. OpenDott.org is a paid PhD program in responsible tech that is hosted by University of Dundee in collaboration with Mozilla and a host of smaller orgs including ThingsCon, and that I’ll supervising a PhD for.

I’m not logistically involved in this stage but my understanding is that the final paperwork is being worked out with the 5 future PhDs right now: The last YES’s collected, the last forms being signed, etc. Can’t wait for this to kick off for real, even though I’ll be only marginally involved. I mean, come on – a PhD in responsible tech? How awesome is that.

ThingsCon

The new ThingsCon website, thingscon.org, is by now more or less up and running and complete. Just in time for a (for ThingsCon somewhat unusual) event in May: A small and intimate unconference in Berlin about responsible paths in tech, economy, and beyond. Details and how to apply here.

Zephyrs: going fast

We’ve been making our ultimate travel pants under the Zephyr Berlin brand for about 2 years now. I’m not sure what happened but we must have landed on a relevant recommendations list or two as we’ve been getting a pretty sharp spike in orders these last few weeks. This is fantastic and a lot of fun. But the women’s cut is almost out now. We don’t know if/when we’ll produce the next batch, so if you’re looking to score one of those, don’t wait too long.

The Newsletter Experiment, continued

As I’ve mentioned in the last monthnotes, over in my personal(ish) newsletter Connection Problem I started an experiment with memberships. The gist of it is, I publish about 100K words a year, most of which are critical-but-constructive takes about tech industry and how we can maximize responsible tech rather than exploitation. You can support this independent writing by joining the membership.

It’s all happening under the principle of “unlocked commons”, meaning members support writing that will be available in the commons, for free, continuously. You can learn more in the newsletter archive or on this page. It’s an exciting experiment for me, and hopefully the output is something that’s useful and enjoyable for you, too.

AI, ethics, smart cities

I was invited to Aspen Institute’s annual conference on artificial intelligence, Humanity Defined: Politics and Ethics in the AI Age. It’s a good event, bringing (mostly US based) AI experts to Germany and putting them onstage with (mostly German) policy experts to spark some debate. I’ve been to this since it started last year and enjoyed it. This time, my highlight was some background on the European High Level Group on AI Ethics Guidelines shared there by one of the group’s ethicists, Thomas Metzinger. He made a convincing case that this might be the best AI ethics doc currently, globally (it’s going to be published next week); and that it has glaring, painful shortcomings, especially as far as red lines are concerned – areas or types of AI applications that Europe would not engage in. These red lines are notably absent in the final document. Which seems… a shame? More on that soon.

I’m just mentioning this here because there are a few exciting projects coming up that will give me an opportunity to explore the intersection of smart cities, policy, AI/machine decision learning and how insights from creating the Trustable Technology Mark can lead to better, more responsible smart cities, tech governance, and applied AI ethics. More on that soon.

What’s next?

This week I’ll be at the Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) in Valencia, Spain. Then later in the month I’ll be teaching for a day about trustable tech at Hochschule Darmstadt at the kind invitation of Prof. Andrea Krajewski. Otherwise it’s drafting outlines, writing some project proposals, and lots of meetings and writing.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q3 and Q4 2019.

Have a great April!

Yours truly,
P.

Monthnotes for January 2019

M

January was a month for admin, planning, and generally getting sorted. There was lots of admin, taxes, year planning, to take care of. I also tried to get my hands dirty by digging into machine learning some more and ran some experiments with deep fake generation (the non-sleazy kind, obviously); so far with little success, but some learning nonetheless. And the WEF featured ThingsCon and the Trustable Technology Mark!

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

Trustable Technology Mark

The Trustable Technology Mark launched to lots of media attention. But still it was a pleasant surprise when the WEF called about an interview as part of a new program about the role of Civil Society in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. ThingsCon and the Trustable Technology Mark featured in the report by WEF (deep link to the PDF) that was just released in Davos and that kicks off that program. Thanks for featuring us! This blog post has all the links in an overview.

Throughout the month also lots of chats about the Trustmark and how it might be relevant for other areas. This month including AI, too!

ThingsCon

As we continue to further integrate the existing teams and infrastructures between Germany, Netherlands and Belgium into a larger European operation, we had some fiddling to do with the ThingsCon website. Going forward, thingscon.org is the place to follow.

Tender

I put together a small team and a tender for a super interesting public administration bid that my company was specifically invited to participate in. ?

The Next generation

Was happy to hosted a student group of IT security and entrepreneurship to give them a deep dive into trustable tech, tech ethics, and alternative business models (there’s not just the VC/hyper-growth model!)

PhD in Responsible Tech

OpenDott.org is a paid PhD program in responsible tech that is hosted by University of Dundee in collaboration with Mozilla and a host of smaller orgs including ThingsCon, so I’m involved in this, which is a true joy. This week we’re running a workshop to plan out the details and logistics of the program, and to help select the 5 PhDs from the pool of applications.

A Newsletter Experiment

Over in my personal(ish) newsletter Connection Problem I started an experiment with memberships. It’s all happening under the principle of “unlocked commons”, meaning members support writing that will be available in the commons, for free, continuously. You can learn more in the newsletter archive or on this page. The gist of it is: I publish about 100K words a year, most of which are critical-but-constructive takes about tech industry and how we can maximize responsible tech rather than exploitation. By joining the membership you can support this independent writing.

A huge thank you to those who signed up right away and for all the kind words of support. It’s been humbling in the best possible ways.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

That’s it for January – have a great February!

Yours truly,
P.

WEF report features ThingsCon & the Trustable Technology Mark

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I was super happy to be interviewed about ThingsCon and the Trustable Technology Mark for a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) for their newly launched initiative Civil Society in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. You can download the full report here:

Civil Society in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Preparation and Response (PDF)

The report was just published at the WEF in Davos and it touches on a lot of areas that I think are highly relevant:

Grasping the opportunities and managing the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution require a thriving civil society deeply engaged with the development, use, and governance of emerging technologies. However, how have organizations in civil society been responding to the opportunities and challenges of digital and emerging technologies in society? What is the role of civil society in using these new powerful tools or responding to Fourth Industrial Revolution challenges to accountability, transparency, and fairness?
Following interviews, workshops, and consultations with civil society leaders from humanitarian, development, advocacy and labor organizations, the white paper addresses:
— How civil society has begun using digital and emerging technologies
— How civil society has demonstrated and advocated for responsible use of technology
— How civil society can participate and lead in a time of technological change
— How industry, philanthropy, the public sector and civil society can join together and invest in addressing new societal challenges in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Thanks for featuring our work so prominently in the report. You’ll find our bit as part of the section Cross-cutting considerations for civil society in an emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Monthnotes for December 2018

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Featuring the Trustable Technology Mark, ThingsCon Rotterdam, Smart Cities, and a Nordic Progressive Tech Agenda.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

Trustable Technology Mark

The Trustable Technology Mark launched to great media reports. Now on to sign up companies!

I was incredibly psyched when I received my VaiKai Companion doll and it already shipped with the Trustmark!

The VaiKai Companion is one of the first products to carry the Trustable Technology Mark.

ThingsCon Rotterdam

In Rotterdam, we celebrated 5 years of our annual ThingsCon conference, and oh boy it was a blast. Videos forthcoming; in the meantime, here are some photos. We also have a new website at thingscon.org.

Smart Cities

Thanks to fellow Mozfellow Meghan McDermott and Aspen Institute I got to spend a few days in NYC discussing if and how the principles underlying the Trustable Technology Mark might be useful for the Smart City context. Namely, could they be applied to Smart City procurement or some other mechanism that provides leverage for quality control and for defending citizens’ rights?

A Nordic Progressive Tech Agenda

As part of some work with the good folks at FEPS, I headed on up to Oslo for a workshop with SAMAK and their Nordic allies to discuss what a Nordic agenda for tech and society might look like. So many things to explore there, I’m grateful to be part of this larger conversation.

What’s next?

A hopefully largely flight free Q1 as part of an experiment on more sustainable habits; lots of planning around ThingsCon and the Trustmark; more conversations around a European digital agenda and Smart Cities.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

Yours truly,
P.

Thanks and Happy Holidays: That was 2018

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This is end-of-year post #11 (all prior ones here). That’s right, I’ve been writing this post every year for over a decade now. Who would have thought?

What happened in 2018? It was an intense year on many levels, so let’s dive right in.

The TL&DR; version of 2018 from my perspective: Experienced life with a baby, discovered the limits of doing so with two working parents and no family around. It’s been intense, in both good and less good ways. I pretty much lived with a constant feeling of not delivering adequately or up to my own standards, yet also extremely happy with a healthy little kid. From conversations with other parents I learned that this seems to be par for the course. To be honest, I feel a little ashamed of how ignorant I was of this seemingly widespread issue. That said, it was a really rewarding year as well.

Launched a trustmark, spent time in policy meetings, and had a year attached to a larger org as a fellow for the first time in quite some time. Read too little, but managed to write a fair bit. Felt a lot: exhausted, grateful, tired, happy—often all at the same time.

On a purely personal note, this might be the first time I’m not writing this in transit to my family or M’s, where we traditionally have taken turns spending the holidays. Having just come off a long series of travels both individually and with our now 1-year-old, we decided to host the first Christmas at home. But that doesn’t mean I’m not writing this in transit – I’m on a one day express return trip to Oslo for a workshop, the last trip before the holidays.

The theme for 2018

Last year I wrote:

the theme was first and foremost impact. Impact through large partners, through policy work, through investments into research.

For the first time since I can remember writing these, this has pretty much stayed the same. Working within the time constraints of having a baby at home and no daycare for the first year on one hand, and the opportunity afforded by a Mozilla Fellowship that allowed me to focus primarily on one project (the Trustable Technology Mark), the work on impact through partners and policy work has remained and seems to be working well.

In fact, since before we even publicly launched the Trustable Technology Mark in early Dec, I’ve been invited to a whole bunch of conversations that look like they’ll allow us to expand the underlying principles of the Trustmark beyond the consumer space — to larger societal issues, especially Smart City policy. This I find particularly exciting.

I hope to continue this work in 2019 and beyond, in whatever capacity seems most promising then.

Family & friends

After adding a new family member late last year, we lost another. Rest in peace, E. We miss you.

Among our friends, some new babies and some health issues. I guess it’s within the normal distribution at our age group. We’re lucky to have so many good friends around the globe, but also and especially nearby.

Travel

I set out to radically reduce my travel for the year and failed spectacularly. My travel stats: 14 trips, 36 flights, 9 countries (I think — this year has seen a lot more short term flight changes than any before, so the count might be a little out of whack). According to Tripit this added up to 91,625km of travel (likely more, since that only counts planes and trains, not driving etc.) and 104 days away from home. That’s almost a third of a year.

I am considering imposing a stricter travel ban on myself, or rather: a stricter limit on flights. The environmental impact is just too disastrous, plus life spent on planes is meh. Maybe I’ll start with trying not to fly (or at least flying as little as possible without losing my work) in Q1, and then see how that goes.

Conferences

I didn’t do a whole lot of conferences or events this year, but I did thoroughly enjoy the few I went to. It was mostly either ThingsCon events, or invite-only affairs, like the excellent Museum of the Future, some Aspen Institute events, and a handful more. Also, a bunch of workshops. And, of course, Dundee Design Festival and Mozfest.

Health

But of a mixed bag, this one. The big picture is, it’s all good, and I’m very healthy. Zoomed in, it was a terribly unhealthy year, or at least a year of terribly unhealthy habits. A good chunk came from having a baby while the two of us were both working, which put us in a constant extreme time crunch. Visits to the gym and slowly eaten meals both went right out the window, to be replaced with no breaks and inhaled food, sometimes while walking to the office. This has been changing again now that daycare started for little K; I can’t wait to get back to a regular gym routine. Back pain be gone!

Work

As mentioned above, there’s been a lot more focus this year, a lot less spread than the years before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Between ThingsCon (where we just celebrated the fifth anniversary at Rotterdam and the Trustable Technology Mark, I’ve been heads down researching, designing, reaching out more than ever around these projects, and the number of presentations for anything else in between has been minimal.

I wrote a lot less, but am happy to say that—despite a somewhat less regular schedule—my newsletter Connection Problem is in Season 4.

I wouldn’t mind continuing along similar lines, with a strong focus, for a little longer.

Very Fun Side Projects

ThingsCon is still going strong, maybe stronger than ever. It’s well on its way to outgrow side project status.

Zephyr Berlin has been cooking on the slow burner for some time but still is up and running, even though we haven’t been able to give it as much attention in 2018 as I had hoped, for all the reasons above. However, our Ulimate Travel Pants are for the first time available in store (yes, physical retail!) as a test for us. Head on over to Kreuzberg’s 360 Outdoor to try them on, or jump to our website to order. Both at 360 and on our website we have a travel season sale on.

Speaking

As per usual, I gave a few talks. Many around ThingsCon, many around the Trustmark. Maybe more than ever in closed-door workshop settings.

Media

It was a pretty good year for media, especially once I could publicly talk about the Trustable Technology Mark. Some mentions I enjoyed: Stacey on IoT, Fast Company, BoingBoing, NET Magazine, WIRED.com, Brand Eins, Offscreen Magazine, Netzpiloten.de, Wall Street Journal, Internet Health Report, The Craftsman, and Brazil’s National IoT Plan.

Things started and discontinued

Started:

  • Being a parent
  • A Trustmark for IoT

Continued:

  • Zephyr Berlin, to make pants that travel well.
  • ThingsCon as an event platform, and growing it beyond that into other areas of engagement.

Discontinued:

  • My Facebook account has now been inactive for over a year and I trigged the full deletion at long last. Be gone!
  • Healthy routines. Those I hope to get back now that the situation at home relaxes with little K’s day care and a little more experience.

Books read

Depressingly few books I actually read. I kinda skimmed, kinda leafed through Vacation Land by John Hodgman, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Smarter Homes by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles, and a handful others. So I fell way short on my reading.

Firsts & some things I learned along the way

Firsts: Flew with a baby. Applied for parental leave. Canceled parental leave. Booked and rebooked the same leg of a trip for a total of 3 (?) times. Merged two organizations, to a degree. (Will have) hosted Christmas eve at our home.

Learned: Shift work kills you. Lower your standards in the first year of having a kid. Make sure to take some time for yourself, even if it’s super hard.

So what’s next?

2019 is wide open at this point – I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to really plan much beyond the first couple of months. Some things I know: My Mozilla Fellowship is scheduled to run out in March. I’d like to do more work around policy and smart cities. I want to turn the Trustable Technology Mark into something more sustainable and with a strong governance model (read: where the bus factor isn’t 1). The same goes for ThingsCon: There’s a lot happening there, and we’re at a stage where we can “grow up” and make it sustainable, I think. So I’d like to work on making that happen. Also, lots of writing and research. That’s all I got at this point – lots of things I would like to do. Now on to making sure I get to actually do them! Also, if possible, I’d like to once more spend a month or two working from someplace else, if only to prove to myself that that’s doable with a kid.

I’m always up for discussing interesting new projects. If you’re pondering one, get in touch.

For now, I hope you get to relax and enjoy the holidays.