Phin Cafe

Tucked away in a shaded nook of a typical suburban shopping center in South San Jose, Phin Cafe is an oasis of beautifully crafted Vietnamese drinks with a lo-fi atmosphere. The interior, themed with walnut wood and concrete, is equipped with outlets, tables, and bright natural and overhead lighting, perfect for a comfortable work session in a cozy space.

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The problem with note-taking

Most note-taking apps use a hierarchical structure: folders and notes. This mirrors how we’re taught to take notes, and how most books are structured, with parts, chapters, and sections. Growing up, I never questioned this taxonomy.

Yet, I always struggled to make use of notes this way. I wanted to believe that maybe the act of writing them down in my own words helps me remember them better, but that simply didn’t come true for me. I tried everything from paper and pen to fancy apps like Notion, none of them solved the core problem: I never revisited anything I wrote down.

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Fiero Cafe

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a cafe. Maybe I just haven’t visited anywhere inspiring, maybe I simply forgot to keep up. Fiero Caffe, a low-key Italian diner at the edge of San Mateo downtown, fired up my passion to be a snobby cafe connoisseur again.

On a breezy and sunny Friday, we brought our laptops to San Mateo for a remote work day trip. At 11am, it was too late for a coffee shop but too early for lunch. Amid decision paralysis, an Italian caffe looked to be the perfect “in-between” candidate.

Fiero Caffe felt like the European neighborhood cafe that our boring American suburbs don’t deserve. Nondescript and somewhat eclipsed by the heavy traffic of El Camino Real, you’d never think that this space would so big and ambiance so quaint.

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Tools for thinking

If I ask you:

What tools have changed your mind,
Tools that you can no longer leave behind?
Not just those that are installed by default,
But those that added colors to your life?

What would your answer be?

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The Apple “pyramid of needs”

Apple this week announced that they are bringing Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro to the iPad Pro. That was a mouthful. But in case you don’t know: they are two of the industry standards for video and audio editing, respectively. They come with a steep learning curve, complex UI, powerful capabilities, and a target audience that runs the world’s film and music industry.

People have wished for them on the iPad for a long time, but my inner skeptic has always wondered what the point was. We already have touch-friendly iMovie and GarageBand for hobbyists, do we really have enough of a prosumer segment to build a sophisticated editing suite on a 12” touchscreen? Maybe it’s to provide professionals an on-the-go way to churn out some work. But why wouldn’t they just bring their MacBook Air, especially when it’s lighter than an iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard?

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In purposelessness, we find purpose

Undeniably, we stand at a tipping point of knowledge work transformation. And it is scary—designs and illustrations can now be commissioned in seconds without a human behind it. It’s making everyone nervous, rightfully so, for their livelihood and sense of purpose. We’ve seen what happened to manufacturing workers not long ago. I can’t help but wonder what this means for knowledge workers.

The painful realization for me is that our own inventions have always been and will always be obviating the need for us. Whether it’s steam engine, robots or AI, they will continue to enable us, replace us, and challenge our sense of purpose and meaning, whether it’s work or hobby.

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iPad-ifying the iPad

As someone who never had a computer until middle school, it’s crazy to think that iPads existed for almost half of my life. I bought my first iPad in 2011. For 12 years, I’ve gone through 5 different models. This is a slightly long, two-part post reflecting on the role of tablet computing, and more specifically, iPad, in my life over the last decade.

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The future of film scanning

I was telling a friend of mine last month about “film startups,” new companies that produce film photography products—development kits, scanning solutions, film cameras, peripherals, etc.. He was genuinely surprised that this niche space has enough demand for new companies to crop up.

His reaction reminded me how lucky we film photographers are in 2023 to have active investments in this space. The entire film photography pipeline is being reinvented for the digital era, and one of the most interesting of which is scanning.

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Slices of Our Brain

The most recent development in AI makes me feel like I’m living in a condensed timeline where progress flies at a 10x speed. It wasn’t that long ago that people were shocked by the image generation capabilities of DALL-E 2, a GPT-based multi-modal model. Suddenly, we have tools that are able to make functional games, websites, and demonstrate complex reasoning skills with a surprising range of flexibility over images, text, and even videos. Really, once you grasp the power of the building blocks of GPT models, there’s virtually nothing you can’t do by training and combining them in ever more creative ways. Here are some examples that blew my mind:

These use cases technically are achievable with purpose-built tools (e.g., “an app that gives you recipes based on pictures of foods.) The remarkable thing here is that GPT-4 models can do these highly complex tasks out of the box without any specialized training.

It’s as if…a human were behind it.

Well, maybe small, tiny parts of humans.

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Time Capsules

The Bay Area has seen more rainy days than I can remember. On days like these, I usually spend time by making a cup of tea or coffee, putting on some music, and working away at some project at my morning table.

This other day, I stumbled upon a background music video that uses a few piano instrumentals from classics like 5 Centimeters per Second. One of the top comments read:


“(This made me think:) ’really, music is a medium for storing memories.'”

Music really is a medium for memories. Last time, I wrote about the physicality of music. But the temporal dimension of music is also equally important.

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