20 Questions Tuesday: 291 - Paul Armstrong


Today I have the pleasure of posting my 20 questions with all around nice guy, Paul Armstrong.  Paul alit on my radar screen via the twitters by being followed/a follower of one of my previous 20 Questions Interviews.  Oh, Cuddlah Army, I knew you well….

Anyhoo… Paul is a podcaster for a delightful podcast.  Pixel Recess is a wonderful little podcast that is thankfully bite-size.  He “interviews” people from the user’s experience design, app development, human computer interaction, content strategy, etc…  and this interests me greatly since I am in the process of getting a degree in UXD.  Paul also is one of the main people associated with the app Choremonster which gets kids to get off their ass and clean up something for god’s sake.

Without further ado… 20 Questions with Paul Armstrong…

So I was born in Oklahoma City.  My Air Force family moved to Montgomery, Alabama when I was 1.5.  The no-longer Air Force fam moved way north to Birmingham, Alabama.  I went off to college at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.  I meet my soon to be wife there and follow her like a pathetic puppy to the Ohio State University for my grad school experience.  We have been in the Columbus, Ohio area ever since… Question 1:  What is your geographic story?

Well, what do you know, you’re essentially my hat (being in Columbus) as I currently am living in Cincinnati (in THE Ohio). Much like you, I’ve lived all sorts of places, but my dad was not in the military, but pharmaceuticals (no, he was not a meth cook). I was born in Wilmington Delaware, raised in Landenberg Pennsylvania until I was 13, then moved to Kansas City (Overland Park) until my senior year in high school when we moved to Cincinnati. I attended Taylor University in nobody-cares-town Indiana — until my parents moved back to Delaware — and transferred to Messiah College in my Junior year (wherein I learned that half my credits didn’t count). 
I met my wife on a school trip to NYC (I was an art major, and we went to the MoMA and the MET, etc) wherein I eavesdropped and mistakenly believed she was a Mormon. We got married (and no, she was not Mormon) while I finished up my Senior year (part-time). My first job took me back to Cincinnati, but only temporarily as part of the job was having me relocation to Colorado Springs to start a new office. After about 2 years of living where it was brown with tumbleweeds and coyotes howling (e.g. very different then my east coast upbringing), I lied about wanting to get my Masters or whatever because I hated my job and working with just one other (older) gentleman on work for the “ministries” out in Colorado Springs. (Geez, is this long-winded? I feel like this is really long winded. But then again, I am 41 and there’s quite a bit of life behind this gray hair). We then moved back to Cincinnati and have been here ever since, with our 3 kids and some number of animal things, for about 17 years now — wait, has it been that long? Oh fucksticks I’m old. 

That is a pretty big geographic footprint you have there.  Question 2:  Is there a region in the US that you gravitate towards for comfort?  For example, Central Ohio is my home, I have great roots here and I really like this region, but I feel re-energized when I go to the mountains, because mountains are awesome.

That’s a good question. Having been around so many different places, there are many places that give me comfort and peace — which as a father of 3, is where ever my kids aren’t. The mountains in Colorado, the beach in North Carolina or by Lake Winnipesaukee, or NYC, or my bathroom; if I can escape the responsibility of fatherhood and work and being old for even a few hours, than that is re-energizing. I love my kids, but they’re also the worst thing ever. It doesn’t take much to find peace, but it has become increasingly hard to obtain.

I only have two of the wee beasties and I really covet the time when I can relax without them constantly asking for foods and to do crap together.  I don’t crave it enough to want to be at work or take up golf, but I do crave it.  That being said, sometimes I do crave that kind of interaction and I know those opportunities will dwindle as the beasts get older and more independent.  

Question 3: A la the seminal bit from the delightful Paul F Tompkins…  Cake or pie?  Which specific kind and why?

Cake. Wedding cake style specifically (vanilla cake, vanilla icing, covered with ornate sugary flowers). The icing on a wedding cake more specifically.. The flowers on a wedding cake shamefully specifically. My wife makes an amazing pie (apple, blueberry) with from-scratch crust and all, but pie just doesn’t do it for me.

I do love me some cake, and the frosting you are talking about is either butter cream or vanilla cream… I have… issues.  My mom made cakes professionally as a side job when I was a kid.  There were always tubes and tubs of frosting in the fridge.  I would add frosting to anything as a desert. Between 2 poptarts?  You betcha.  On doughnuts? you know it.  This experimentation with frosting has lead me to hypothesize that many people only love cake for the frosting, and for some reason they feel it is sacrilegious to apply frosting on other confections.  I do not uphold the inherent sanctity of frosting and will slather that specific sugar delivery system on anything that is even remotely sweet.  

I have spent an inordinate amount of time determining the best frosting pairings that I can, but that is a story for a different time….  

I have not really had any good cake as of late due to my late onset gluten intolerance, so baked goods are no longer the vile temptresses that they once were.  My “can’t help but partake in” foods have gone from baked/fried confections to slow cooked meat slathered in delectable sauces.  Question 4:  What food item can you not help but consume when it is available?

I would say bacon, but I feel like I’m just using an overplayed trope (even though it’s true). So I’ll mix it up between BBQ potato chips and roasted Brussel sprouts.

Oooh, I love me some BBQ chips as well, and I am not keen on roasted sprouts but I love a sauted version.  Oh, crap.  I am old.  I just admitted to liking brussel sprouts… 10 year old me would being dying right now.  

You have 3 kids, which  means you have either tried to coopt on the the wee ones to be on your side or you have accepted that as parents you have to go to a zone defense which leaves the crease vulnerable for the big play.  You have also stated that your re-energization occurs when you do not have to be vigilant around the kiddos. Question 5: What is the biggest surprise that you have had to deal with as a parent? 

The shit tub. No one prepares you for this moment, when you’re giving your 1 year old a bath and without warning they poop in the tub. There’s no lessons on how you clean that up.

That is an amazing surprise to be sure.  We used to give the kids baths together because they would entertain each other while we scrubbed them down from all the filth encountered that day.  One time the youngest pooped in the bath, and then it is a Sophie’s Choice of who do you take out of the tub first.  I will not say who got removed first.  Yeee-uck.  I was surprised at how much life revolved around poop when we had really young kiddos.  Most conversations revolve around poop and sleep… occasionally on sleep poop.

So, you have an offbeat podcast, Pixel Recess, wherein you ask different designers and other peoples much like designers  random questions that tend to lead to nowhere.  I am delighted by the inanity and surprised by the level of quality of the people you interview.  Question 6:  Where did this idea come from?  How did the seed for Pixel Recess germinate?

The idea was really more an annoyance. I was growing tired of the general perception and tone of self-importance with my industry. I’m sure it’s a problem in EVERY industry, but since I’m in the design/development/creative industry I felt it would be fun and hilarious to do a Between Two Ferns meets This American Life interview show that was very very short (because almost every podcast goes on for far too long). Over the course of the show I’ve gotten more creative with the editing, just because it makes it surprising enjoyable. It’s also been amazingly easy to get my guests - some of them I know, some of them I do not (and the first time we talk is through the show). 
If I don’t know the guest, I will talk to them for awhile, just getting to know them, getting them warmed up, and after maybe 20 minutes or so I’ll then pepper in my stupid questions. From there I will edit the 45 - 60 minute interview to 6 - 15 minutes. It’s a challenge, and tiring (it’s become harder and harder to find the time). Since the concept of the show was to ask very well-known people stupid questions, I’m reaching the point where there aren’t that many more people I can think to interview (that have said yes).
Regardless, I’m very proud of the show and the moments and highly recommend it to anyone - no matter your vocation. 

Well, I love it. I especially like the bite-size, umm… size of it. It is really an interesting listen in its irreverence. Question 7: So did you always gravitate to the design/development/creative side or was there a budding actuarial accountant inside you as a child? 

I’ve always been weird, which lent itself toward creativity. I always drew things, but never thought that art could be a career. I thought I was going to be an architect, but I don’t math, so my dream of being Frank Lloyd Wright was crushed. So in college I majored in Art with a concentration on sculpture because that makes sense. And when my painting teacher asked me if I wanted to work for Hallmark, I shifted to graphic design. And 20 years later I’m able to do design and draw as my career.

I started out as a studio art major and ended up as a math major.  I am confused and confusing to the say the least. That being said, math is a bit over-rated.  I am sure there is an equation out there that proves the fact, but I’m not putting in the work to do that.

We became acquainted digitally via our shared enjoyment of the podcast, Walking the Room, starring Dave Anthony and Greg Behrendt.  I have seen you mention a few other podcasts in your twitter feed over time. Question 8: So, what is in your list of “must listen” podcasts?

I have a handful of podcasts I listen to (because I have about a 2 hour round-trip commute to work), so here’s a shortlist: WTF With Marc Maron, Nerdist, You Made It Weird, RadioLab, This American Life, Doug Loves Movies, My Brother My Brother And Me, The K-Ohle With Kurt Braunohler, and Hardcore History (which has infrequent posts because his podcasts are about 3 - 4 hours long).

I listen to, or have listened to most of those in the past.  I have never listened to My Brother My Brother and Me or The K-Ohle with Kurt Braunohler though.  I am always looking out for new podcasts especially since I feel kind of done with a few that I listen to currently.  I find myself thinking, “Nope, not this ep” more and more with a few of mine.

I have a list of people that I would love to get top answer 20 questions, and I feel that I am finding interesting people that I don’t really know to answer questions every now and again (yourself included in that). Question 9: Who is your white whale of a guest to play with on Pixel Recess?  Who is the person (or is there a person) that you are too intimidated to ask to be on your podcast?

In terms of people in my industry(ish) there’s Jeffrey Zeldman (and I know so many of his friends, that it’s pretty feasible, I just haven’t asked) and also Merlin Mann (who I did ask, and he responded with “I’m concerned about the Superiority Level”) so that might be a swing and a miss. There aren’t many other superstars in the industry that i haven’t talked to (as I know a great deal of them anyway), maybe Tina Roth-Eisenberg (swiss-miss) or Mike Monteiro (who has a great and widely popular video called “Fuck You, Pay Me”)
Now, outside my realm, I would DIE to have Patton Oswalt or Kyle Kinane or Pete Holmes or Chris Hardwick (and since I know Greg and Dave, there is a level of possibility) - but at the same time I think I’d rather keep those as “dream guests” so I have something to pursue. Otherwise the show will be over. And it might be over. I’m somewhat burnt out.

I completely understand the burnout sentiment.  I cannot imagine the amount of effort that goes into editing a podcast.  I completely understand why so many people have started just posting un-edited conversations.  I think part of that is to indicate some kind of candid “realness” and authenticity, but I also think it boils down to level of effort.  Editing takes time and is cumbersome to say the least. 

Greg and Dave are two of my higher profile “gets” for 20 Questions Tuesday, and I have a couple of white whales out there of my own.  I am not sure I want to actually catch those elusive albino cetaceans because I can only imagine how anti-climactic those 20 Questions would end up being.  


...onto my favorite Question 10. Question 10: (Fill in the blanks) I find that I am mostly _______.  Others find that I am mostly ______. (feel free to ask others to fill in the second part)

I find that I am mostly conflicted. Others find that I am mostly quiet.

So, you are quietly conflicted.  Got it.

You have a very quirky sense of humor.  It is dry (enough to be considered arid at times) and seems to hover around topics that some might find offensive (at least that is what it looks to be via the twitters).  Question 11: Do you hold your humor back in public settings, not making the quips you want to, so as not to offend, thus causing internal conflict and quietness?

Twitter is definitely a persona, much like Rob Delaney. It is me, but it’s a very distorted me. I love to joke around and be offensive with friends, but I’m not blatant or brash about it in public. I will keep it all in my head (which will then manifest itself on Twitter). 

Yeah, my twitter personality is waaay more direct and chatty than my interpersonal relationships with co-workers.  Of course, where I work at the moment is comprised of quite possibly the most non-interactive people ever.  The people here keep to themselves to the point of it being pathological avoidance of interaction.  

Question 12: So do you have any pathological avoidances in your life? What will you go waaaay out of your way to avoid?

I hate large, loud gatherings of people I don’t know — especially people who work in fields/careers completely the opposite of mine. I can do it, and I have often; I just dislike it greatly and will go to in 2nd Grader mode and come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid going. Sadly as a cofounder of a growing/thriving business, I typically cannot avoid it. I also loath going to summer “get to know the other parents” school related functions. Small talk in general makes me want to die (because I don’t watch or read the news, or sports and typically only keep up with music, movies and TV).

Large groups suck.  I find that they are laboriously difficult to deal with and people are horrible, horrible entities that require all the attentions.  

So here we are at 13.  When I was a kid and I played soccer, I had a superstitious ritual process to get myself ready for a game.  I had to adhere to a specific sequence when putting on my uniform… at the time I felt it was “for luck,” but in truth (and I knew it at the time) it was more about getting myself in the right frame of mind and centering myself than about invoking any kind of “luck.” It became more a ritual than a superstition over time. Question 13:  Do you have any superstitions or rituals in your life that you adhere to?  

I have a morning routine, not sure if it’s a ritual or more of a habit. I get up, put water on for coffee, grind the coffee, empty the dishwasher and put everything away, get breakfast for my oldest daughter, finish the coffee, go get the boys up and moving, then I go to the bathroom, take a shower, iron a shirt or some pants and then gather up the kids and I drive them to school (each of them are in a different school). When I travel I really miss that ritual and that time of seeing the kids, being intentional in their day and lives. It’s a mundane but meaningful ritual.

It actually sounds delightful.  It is always nice to have some intentional time with the younguns.  I am in need of more ritual and habit in my life.  I think more than anything else from my church going days, I miss the ritual and intentionality of those ritual actions. I don’t miss the quiet racism and thinly veiled hypocrisy of my childhood church in the south, but that is a topic for a different time.

So you have a relatively popular app called “Chore Monster” where you have gone through the trouble of gamifying household tasks and chores for kids to have them help around the house.  Question 14: Was the concept for Chore Monster born of the futility of the typical motivations to get kids to clean and such?

Not entirely, it was born out of a desire to make something for ourselves rather than for someone else all the time. I had been doing graphic design on my own for about 10 years and in 2009 or so brought on a partner, Chris Bergman, to help with better clients and projects. He was going to have his first kid and wanted to do some sort of game around chores. I was drawing these monsters with my middle son, and really liked them but couldn’t figure out what to do with them. So we merged the 2 things into ChoreMonster (which at the time we thought was a placeholder name).

Well, I love the concept of gamifying household chores.  My wife and I are currently populating chore lists and point values to balance our 2 child 5 years apart game before we launch it on our unsuspecting children.  Then the chores, the chores shall be done.  I am glad your place holder name was not “ChoreMonstr.”

Question 15: Do you have any idea why so many social Internet platforms dropped the “e” in the “er” at the end of their platform name?  I know not as many are doing it now, but for a while it was pretty prevalent.

My guess is because of domain availability. Maybe originally Flickr wanted to be Flicker, but the URL flicker.com wasn’t available, so they removed the “e” (though now, they own that domain because they have money and bought it from whomever owned it, but they can’t go back and change their brand to “Flicker”). That’s my guess. I’m hoping it’s nothing more complicated (or stupid) than that.

I think the first few that omitted the “e” were probably due to URL’s not being available, but after a while, I think it became de rigeuer…. I don’t think I have ever typed out or written de rigeuer before… I don’t know whether to be impressed with ma vocabulaire or disturbed by the pretentiousness of it.

Question 16:  Should I be impressed that I remembered that particularly appropriate French cognate or disturbed by the pretentiousness of using a French cognate instead of merely stating, “fashionable?”

I’d be worried. No good comes from using French.

Good point.  Do my job for me.  Question 17:  Is there anything that I have not asked you that you were expecting or that I should have?

You haven’t asked about my greatest pooping experience.

Alrighty then, let’s do this.  Question 17A: Do you have a “greatest pooping experience?” and if so, what is it?

Oddly enough, no. Other than the occasional waiting just long enough, almost to the “breaking point”, and that weird satisfying and elated release. I mean, that’s almost a better feeling than anything in life.

Well… after this last question I am a bit reluctant to do this but….  It is time to turn the tables and for the hunter to become the hunted…  Question 18:  Do you have any questions for me?

Is this the longest it’s ever taken anyone to answer 20 questions? Because I’m pretty sure I’m the worst at this…

Nope, I have had people take over 6 months to do this.  You are not even close to the one taking the longest.

Question 19:  What are you taking away from this 20 Questions that you did not have coming into it?

I’ve learned that even at 42 years old, I’m still easily distracted and prone to be both ridiculous and obnoxiously self-important. 

I turned 40 on the 21st… I was hoping the distractedness by shiny objects would be gone by 42.  You are no help at all. All of my hopes are now dashe… oh, I got an email

Question 20: So, what’s next?  Be as concrete or as vague, as practical or philosophical as you want.

I’m starting to learn that whatever is next in my life is always a step in front of me. I used to believe that I had to be gazing at the horizon to look for my future. Over the last few years I’ve learned that by always looking ahead you’ll never see where you are - you’ll miss what’s important: right now. Where you are right now is all that matters. When you chase the horizon, you never get to a destination - it will always be out of reach. Stop and look around at where you are, and things will become more clear, more important and more meaningful. What’s next is right now.

A very Zen response that is much more philosophical than I would have thought.

Okay everyone, follow Paul on twitter here, go to his website here (it leads to all sorts of Paul Armstrong goodness), and if you have kids check out his app here.  

To Recap: 
US Plays Belgium today
Come on you Yanks
I travel up to Kent, Ohio tomorrow
Haven’t been there in a while
I used my Father’s Day/Birthday gift yesterday
A riding lawn mower
It was glorious
Next time around I will use it a bit differently
It is like mowing a lawn with a Zamboni
I need to create long straight swaths
Long straight swaths
Happy July 4th everyone
It’s a thing for US folk
Happy Friday for everyone else
Long straight swaths
Have a great weekend everyone!