How to find an excellent local coffee shop for getting work done

Actual Cafe in Oakland

As a web designer who owns my own business, I have the option of working anywhere I can get a good Internet connection and mobile phone coverage. For a while I’ve been exploring different coffee shops / cafes in the East Bay and have discovered a couple of good indicators to tell you if it will be a good cafe for working or not.

#1: Check the Yelp Reviews

Yelp iPhone app

The first place I usually start when I’m looking for a new coffee shop to try is doing a search on Yelp (either Yelp.com or using their excellent iPhone app), usually searching for places nearby that match “coffee shop wifi”.  If you then filter by Rating and Open Now, the top picks will almost certainly be excellent places to try.  If you already know about Yelp, this is probably a “duh” type of recommendation, but if you haven’t tried it or used it a whole lot lately, give it a go.  For extra points, leave a review of your experience on Yelp to help others find the good stuff.

#2: Good Atmosphere

The best coffee shops are the product of love.  It’s a very hard business to be successful in, and some places do a very good job of letting you know how much care and thought they’ve put into creating the sort of environment you’ll be comfortable sitting in for hours.  Starbucks and Peet’s have done a good job of creating a consistent experience no matter which location you go to, but they will always be less interesting than a local, independent coffee shop will be.

 

Business Cards

 

#3: Business Card Boards

It’s a funny thing, but coffee shops that are beloved by “locals” tend to have a bulletin board, usually placed somewhat prominently, full of pinned-on business cards, fliers, and other community sharing resources.  They also will often have a lot of local event or show fliers for people to peruse.  If you find a thriving business card bulletin board, that’s a good sign you’ve found a good spot.

#4: Local Focus

The best coffee shops tailor their offerings to their local community.  This could include holding regular charity-focused events, using local coffee roasters, featuring local product makers and playing a role in the greater community.  If the coffee shop has a booth at the farmer’s market, bonus points.

#5: Artsy Art

Coffee shops are a great place to see some new artwork, and for artists to get exposure for their work.  Rotating art shows help stimulate your creative impulses, and also lend vibrancy to the atmosphere.

 

Latte

 

#6: Delicious Drinks and Tasty Pastries

This is another obvious thing to look for, but delicious, expertly prepared drinks are worth seeking out.  One way I’ll check for this ahead of time is to look at the Yelp pictures for a place.  If the lattes look interesting and like the barrista paid attention to what they were doing, that’s  a good sign of quality.  The ingredients that places use are also a good sign — organic Clover milk and fresh-roasted beans?  Yes please!  You can easily pay a bit more for a drink but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly since the better places try to pay their employees living wages.

#7: Strong WiFi

MacBook Pro keyboard

Even if you have data tethering for your cell phone (as I do myself) it’s very nice to have good pipes for your Internet connection.  The best coffee shops can be full of people, all using their laptops, streaming music and YouTube videos, and you’ll still have a fast and reliable connection.  It’s not a bad idea to ask if there’s a password when you’re ordering your drink.

#8: Sofas, Seats and Tables

I enjoy coffee shops that have comfortable places to sit and stay a while.  I don’t mind working with my laptop on my lap, so working on a couch is feasible for me.  Some days I prefer a table instead, and having available seating is key.  The most popular coffee shops will be pretty packed, but you should still be able to find a spot.  Having a variety of seating options is very nice.

#9: Power to the People

Outlet

Power outlets can be a precious commodity.  One pro-tip is to bring a 3-way splitter.  That way you will never go without power for your laptop — you can always sneak in.  Most of the coffee shops I spend a lot of time in have ample power outlets (another thing you can check for in the comments people leave in Yelp reviews).  This makes spending more time there feasible, because otherwise it will be a max of a couple of hours before the power runs out.  You know a coffee shop is serious about attracting regular in-shop workers if they provide power strips so there is always an outlet for everyone.

#10: Get Friendly

Coffee shops are an excellent place to meet new people.  Express some interest in what people are doing around you, but don’t be overbearing, or interrupt when they’re in the middle of something.  I’ve met a number of new clients just by sharing what I was working on, or talking with people about their projects.

#11: Clean Bathrooms

Clean bathrooms are a good sign of a well-kept coffee shop.  You’re going to have to go, so it’s nice when the bathrooms are kept tidy and are regularly attended to.

#12: Walkable or Bikeable?

I usually prefer to walk or bike to work — it’s a nice addition to the day to get a little bit of outdoor exercise.  If a coffee shop is bikable or walkable, that moves it up in my list.  If you need to drive, then good parking is another thing to check for.

Headphones

 

#13: Bring Headphones or Earplugs

If you get distracted easily, bring a good pair of headphones or earplugs and you can listen to music (or just quiet the background noise)

#14: Don’t Forget to Tip!

Barristas don’t make a ton of money.  If you find a place you like, be sure to leave a tip every time you make a purchase.  It helps keep a good atmosphere, and you won’t overstay your welcome.  You’ll be one of the regulars.  You want to be a net positive addition to the environment, and everyone appreciates being appreciated.

#15: Get Out There and Explore

Don’t get stuck in only one coffee shop, forever.  Explore your local options and see what you like the best about each place.

My current local favorite coffee shops to work at in in the East Bay:

Berkeley: Local 123A ‘Cuppa Tea

Oakland: Actual Cafe, Nomad Cafe, Bica, Spasso, Arbor Cafe, Gaylord’s

Lafayette: Panache Cafe

Walnut Creek: Cafe La Scala

What are your top criteria for coffee shops?  Where should I try next?

A Lovely Walk Today

Sun coming out behind the clouds

I enjoyed a lovely walk today. I’m house-sitting with my girlfriend and while she was at work helping customers with getting water turned on or turned off, I took a quiet day to reflect, enjoy the brisk weather and have a lovely walk.

How to survive the shortest day of the year

Tomorrow, December 21st is the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year. These are dark times… literally. We get smaller amounts of sunlight each day. Sometimes I forget to see what the world has to offer. When this happens I try to put my head out the window, and look up.

How to survive this moment in time:

  1. Look outside.
  2. If the sky is grey, rejoice in how wonderfully, powerfully grey it is. If it is sunny blue, smile and marvel that you get to enjoy this. If it is raining, be glad for the wet nourishment of the earth. If you have snow coming down on your eyelids, open your mouth wide and taste the frozen sensation of sky particles falling to earth. If you have wind, feel it blow your hair and the pressure on your skin. If you have fog, then marvel at the world as it resolves and dissolves around you.

Realize that tomorrow, and today, and the day after the next, it all is here to be enjoyed, if we can just see it for what it is. After tomorrow, the days will once again get interestingly longer bit by bit until it’s time to switch gears again.

Claim your path, take time to appreciate the view, and walk it, one step at a time. You can do it!

What I do is who I am

Weathered wood

What constitutes our authentic selves?  Who are we truly?  What is our real purpose?

I try to be honest.  I do not like it when people lie to me, and my basic assumption in life is that people will not lie to me.  I choose to, in general, be a trusting person.  Finding our truly authentic, or real, self, involves being able to dig underneath all the accumulated layers of crud that we pile onto our own perception of ourselves, and find the reality that constitutes our true core being.  It means not deceiving ourselves.  If we want to find authenticity, we have to have the courage to be really and truly honest with ourselves.

For me this means trying to ask myself, what is it that I truly want?  What do I really need?  Who am I?  Am I defined by others, or myself, or by some higher power?

If I want to be really honest with myself, I have nobody to blame when it comes to who I am.  I contain the product of all the environmental inputs I’ve ever taken in over the course of my lifetime, but part of that is also my own thought process, my own concept of who I am, my own beliefs about my purpose.  Others do not define me.  Even my parents, who maybe have had the most influence over my development as a person, do not define who I get to be, what I do, what I will accomplish in life.  My DNA does not define me.  My surroundings do not define me.

Authenticity means what is true or real.  We can observe this by looking at actions and results.  While actions do not always map to intentions, they come pretty close most of the time.  If we are acting with intentionality, thoughtfulness and purpose, our actions should reflect who we are.  I am defined by my actions.

What I do  is who I am.

Only by recognizing this, and living accordingly, can I express who I really am inside.  Every day I need to examine what I am doing and make sure that it represents my most true and authentic self.

I think it will make me a happier person in the long run.

Learning to Listen

Sometimes when I am trying to hear what someone is really saying it feels like I’m staring at a blank wall, not seeing (hearing) what is really there or being said. The problem is I’m not really listening.

Brick Wall

To listen is to pay attention.

To really listen, we must stop thinking, planning, pondering, wandering. It requires utmost concentration and focus. We have to be in the moment, and look for every nuance and expression of what it is we are trying to hear. We must be open to the real meaning of what is being said. We have to be present.

I often find myself thinking about what I’m going to say next in a conversation, rather than really taking the time to absorb what is being shared with me. I have to resist strongly the urge to play devil’s advocate, even when there’s no good reason for me to do so. Sometimes presenting alternate perspectives is useful, but just as often the person talking just needs to be heard. I spend much of any given conversation thinking about what I am going to say, rather than really absorbing what the other person is saying.

My challenge to myself for 2013 is to practice deeper, more effective listening habits. I want to be truly present and with that attention, be a better listener.

Only once we have truly heard what is being communicated can we then move forward effectively with the next action.

Value and Valor – Bringing your A Game

Hand-painted sign - A

It’s the end of 2012, and I’ve been thinking about the idea of creating value lately. What makes something valuable, what makes it good, what makes anything worth having? What makes a person valuable and worth having as a friend?

If someone behaves in a way that is considered valuable, especially in the context of a larger community, we say that they’ve acted with valor. There is honor in acting this way. The opposite of this is cowardice.

We measure value in terms of money — it is how we’ve standardized the exchange of value. If I do something of value for one of my clients, there is usually a transfer of money to recognize that. More important than the money, however, are the feelings, emotions, and communications that happen. Gratitude, fulfillment.

Why are the richest people rich? I think that most people who become rich arrive at that state of being because they have found a way to deliver or realize an extraordinary amount of value that they’ve been able to transfer to other people, which those other people then exchange their own value-units (money) for. Some folks do this in ways that I have no desire to emulate, and some are worth studying and learning from.

What should I be doing with my life? I’ve seen advice from people that we should follow what we love. Why? Because when we focus our time, attention, money, energy and soul into an activity, we get better at doing it. When we get better at doing it, we are able to communicate or transfer more value outwards.

My focus for 2013 is to try to deliver the maximum amount of value I possibly can to as many people as possible. — to try to give the most I can. Not for money, but because that is the person I want to be.

People who act unselfishly on the behalf of others are considered to be valorous — they are recognized as being valuable people, because of what they do. That is the person I want to be, not for glory, but for the true happiness that comes from being a help to others.

Please call me on this if you see me acting like a jerk, or if I can do better. And consider for yourself, are you prepared to commit to being the best version of yourself that you can imagine?

Is it true that Apple (APPL) Facebook fans are worth 90% more than non-fans? Probably.

Pretty interesting info-graphic about the role of business on Facebook. I’d say it matches my own take on it — Facebook is where people spend time, and businesses and organizations that want to reach out to people need to have an active presence there.


Via: Vocus

Trying out wp-svbtle, a new theme and way of writing

wp-svbtle is an open-source clone of the svbtle platform, which has been developed both as a fresh approach to writing content and as a way of developing a network of excellent writers. I’ve really enjoyed reading posts on the svbtle network, and after an excellent conversation today with Jonathan Hess @hessinteractive I decided it was time to test out a new writing style for myself. I moved my previously developed playful colorful theme to a new WordPress multi-site subdomain play.gabrielserafini.com and proceeded to install the new wp-svbtle theme and editing environment.

So far, I do like how the focus is very much on words — there are basically very few distractions. No image uploading in this version. I like the way that the svbtle network seems to have handled that issue, and hope that the same technique can get ported to the WordPress version as well.

I did end up modifying the theme a bit, and it looks like as of this writing, there are 124 people who have forked the project on Github. I hope that the main / master project can end up reflecting all the good ideas other people have had, so there aren’t in the end like 50 “Improved wp-svbtle” projects floating around out there.

Words, words, words. One of my goals for 2013 is to write more, and to try to be more meaningful for more people. The idea of a personal motto that I’ve been developing is this:

“I like to help people.”

Not too profound, but pretty much summarizes what it is that I hope to do with my life. I look forward to exploring this further next year.

Namaste.

Yes.

I love my niece!

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPanionSSF4

I am grateful for good tools

Every craftsperson has a toolbox that they rely upon to help them get their job done to the best of their ability.  If you’re a carpenter, you have sharp saws, chisels, hammers, screwdrivers in multiple sizes, an excellent tool belt, and a box to carry it all.  When you arrive at a job site, you are ready to go, ready to provide your best effort to the problem at hand.  You can judge a craftsperson by the quality of their tools.

My toolbox consists of my computer, phone, and an internet connection.  With these 3 items, I can talk with people and design, build, deploy and maintain high quality websites.  I can consult, share ideas, help discover insights that can transform lives.  I love my job, and having excellent tools is truly something to be grateful for.

I like my Apple products so much that I’ve even invested in AAPL.  I currently own 8 shares and hope to acquire more, as long as they continue making excellent tools.

HARDWARE

These provide utility and delight for me every day:

  • 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina screen — this is a game changer.  So FAST, so BEAUTIFUL, I love it.
  • iPhone 4S – A lovely phone, it is really a computer you carry in your pocket all the time.  A magical device.  The new iOS 6 Maps does occasionally provide some interesting and humorous results.  They can and will fix this, I know.  It may take 10 years and self-driving cars to get there, but it’s too important to leave it as a failure.  I just upgraded to be able to use my phone in tethering mode, which means I can now work from anywhere I have cell data coverage.  Pretty rad.
  • 2TB Time Capsule — automatic, wireless backups of everything every hour.  What’s not to love?

SOFTWARE

As you probably know, I love using WordPress to build websites for my clients.  It remains the easiest to use solution, and the plugins and themes available are wonderful.  It keeps on getting better all the time, and is a core asset that I rely on to get things accomplished that would take much longer any other way.

  • WordPress
  • TextMate 2
  • VMWare
  • Adobe CS 6 – it is very nice using the newest version of Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.  I had been stuck using an old copy of CS (1).
  • Transmit (excellent FTP client)
  • Safari, Chrome
  • Address Book
  • Gmail
  • Microsoft Office
  • Sequel (excellent MySQL client)
  • Stickies
  • Calculator
  • I could list a lot more that I’m grateful for!

What are your favorite tools to use?