Tokyo: The Peculiar Traveler

Alex Cornell shot 48GB (!) of footage while visiting Tokyo with his girlfriend Nikki Desuasido and somehow managed to take all that video and extract a 7-minute montage from it. Then, he added a quirky narrator voiceover.

The result is a delightful travel diary and an incredible glimpse into one of the biggest cities in the world. Now I want to visit Japan more than ever.

I particularly liked this quote:

“Unlike some cities, which are only about 40% interesting, Tokyo consistently scores at least a 94%.”

SWS — Shit Writing Syndrome

Andy Bobrow, writer on the TV show Community:

“Have I slayed the dragon? No. I basically still suck. It’s still a daily struggle. And I’ll be honest, most days I just settle for shit so I can get home and see my daughter. She’s way more important than writing good. For Christ’s sake, it’s just television, it’s not life.”

I'm mostly linking this because it's a funny piece, but it also has a nugget or two of useful writing advice.

Fighting to Stay Creative

Shawn Blanc on the importance of the "fun factor" in creative work (emphasis mine):

“There is something freeing about creating for yourself. When we take hold of that baton and create for that second version of ourselves, it’s like having a permission slip to do awesome work. And what better way to have fun than to do awesome work? There’s an inverse truth here as well: most of our best work comes from the place of delight. When we are excited about a project, that creative momentum propels us to think outside the box and to dream new ideas as the project takes residence as the top idea in our mind.

He goes on to give several helpful tips and reminders for anyone who gets stuck in a creative rut. It's something we all go through sooner or later, so keep this one bookmarked.

The Cramped

The Cramped is a new site by Patrick Rhone that celebrates the joys of pen and paper.

“If you are the sort of person who appreciates nice paper, a decent pen, a well-crafted notebook, a solid pencil, writing and receiving handwritten correspondence, beautiful handwriting, or the clicky-clack of a dependable typewriter, you have come to the right place. The Cramped is a site dedicated to the pleasures of writing with analog tools (the name is purposefully ironic).”

Sites like these tickle my writing bone (even though I don't often write by hand) and I'm excited to see what Patrick has in store.

Feed Wrangler's First Year

Today is the one-year anniversary of Feed Wrangler, my RSS sync engine of choice. Underscore David Smith shared what it's been like to build such a service from the ground up, summed up thusly:

“I have learned more in the last 12 months about web services than I ever did in my preceding 10 years of web development.”

I'm still quite happy with my choice in signing up for Feed Wrangler, and I hope it sees continued success in the future. Congrats on the first year, David!

The Guy That Did That Thing: An Interview with Andrew J. Clark

The Guy That Did That Thing: An Interview with Andrew J. Clark

Introduction

My internet friend Andrew J. Clark has been gaining a lot of attention the past couple months. (Or is it notoriety?)

Not satisfied with a budding podcasting career, Andrew has also shown himself to be quite the iOS developer. He's a little hard to pin down but he has an interesting way of looking at the world, something that comes through in the following interview.

The ComiXology Outrage

Renowned comic book writer Gerry Conway, venting on ComicBook.com about ComiXology's recent iOS app debacle:

“By forcing readers to leave the app and go searching the Comixology website, add books to a cart, process the cart, return to the app, activate download, and wait for their purchases to appear, Comixology has replaced what was a quick, simple, intuitive impulse purchase experience with a cumbersome multi-step process that will provide multiple opportunities along the path for the casual reader to think twice and decide, ah, never mind, I don’t really want to try that new book after all.”

Exactly this.

There are a number of good comic reader apps for iOS—Comic Zeal comes to mind—but ComiXology always stood out from the crowd thanks to its awesome in-app storefront. Impulse purchases helped me get back into buying comic books, something I hadn't done since I was a little kid. They were arguably ComiXology's bread-and-butter.

When I needed something new to read, I opened ComiXology and tapped a couple buttons. Since I stream all my music rather than purchasing it, any iTunes gift cards I've received have gone towards comic books. And now they'd rather have me use their terrible website (seriously, it's bad, especially on iPhone) and input my credit card information rather than using my already-available iTunes account, all while adding extra steps to the buying process. It's like they want people to stop buying comics.

Now that ComiXology is merely another comic reader app with a shitty purchasing back-end, I can't see why anybody would bother sticking with it.

ComiXology No Longer Offering In-App Purchases

From the official ComiXology Tumblr:

“We have introduced a new comiXology iPhone and iPad Comics App and are retiring the old one. iPhone and iPad users will now buy comics on comixology.com and download to the app. All your purchased books will be readable in the new app once you’ve downloaded [them.]”

Welp, I was excited about them teaming up with Amazon, but those feelings vanished in an instant this afternoon.

In the very same post they mention a new way for Android users to purchase comics in-app. I can only guess this means Amazon doesn't want to share a flat 30% of their sales with Apple, which is silly if true. If the overwhelmingly negative reactions I've seen on Twitter are any indication, their bottom line is about to hurt a lot worse than if they'd just stuck with the IAP model.

Good luck with that, Amazon.

The Most Boring Ad Ever Made?

Leica produced a 45-minute (!) video showing the entire hand-polishing process for their beautiful new Leica T camera. If this isn't dedication, I don't know what is.

If you'd like to know more about the camera itself, I just published a little write-up about it over on Tools & Toys. Also, Steve Huff's video review is a great way to see the Leica T in action.

MacStories 4.0

Viticci and co. have unveiled the long-awaited redesign of MacStories, and I must say, it looks great.

“We spent probably too much time trying to get many details just right, but we’re satisfied with the end result because the new design (and technology behind it) allows us to do a series of interesting things for our readers, with many more in the pipeline.”

The new design is much more readable and a pleasure to navigate, so I'd say it was worth the extra work.

Constellation.fm

The podcasting syndicate formerly known as Fiat Lux1 is now called Constellation.fm. Along with a spiffy new site and some recent additions to the team, Constellation has some neat features you won't find on many other podcast networks:

  • Chapter markers, so you don't have to sit through boring sections to get to the good stuff. These work not only on the web but also in chapter-compatible podcast apps.
  • Extensive show notes, somewhat like those of the Technical Difficulties podcast. These notes are helpfully divided by their respective chapter markers.
  • A more mobile-friendly audio player, with larger tap targets for playing/pausing/scrubbing. The whole site is a joy to use from an iPhone, which is no mean feat.
  • Designed to be Huffduffer-friendly from the get-go, unlike the majority of shows powered by Squarespace or Soundcloud these days (a pet peeve of mine).

My buddy Sid O'Neill wrote up a post that explains Constellation.fm's design choices in greater detail and offers some insight into their overall philosophy:

“The closest way to describe Constellation is as a “podcasting syndicate”, but really that’s unsatisfyingly reductive.

[…]

Our endgame is to completely negate the need for a podcatcher. Sure, if you want to use one, Constellation will always support that. […] At the end of the day, we want to eliminate the barrier to entry. Why should it be so difficult for your listeners to listen to your show? It shouldn’t.”

It's good to see a group of people trying to innovate in a medium that is often resistant to both change and user-friendliness. Congratulations to the team at Constellation.fm on the launch, and I look forward to seeing what they've got in store!

* * *

As a writer, my goal is to inspire others to be more creative and do their best work. If my writing has helped or inspired you in any way, please consider supporting this site with a modest donation or by signing up for the $3/month membership subscription.


  1. Technically, Fiat Lux still exists as the parent company, and Constellation.fm is merely its new “podcasting arm.” I speculate that Fiat Lux will be dipping its feet into other fields soon. 

Kids and Touchscreens

Please excuse me as I unpack a Russian nesting doll of articles I'm just now catching up on.

On Tuesday, Mat Honan published a piece about parents using screens to babysit their children:

“But the ever-present touchscreens make me incredibly uneasy—probably because they make parenting so easy. There is always one at hand to make restaurants and long drives and air travel much more pleasant. The tablet is the new pacifier.

But these screens have a weird dual nature: They make us more connected and more isolated at the same time. When I hand my daughter an iPad with an interactive reading app, she dives in and reads along. But she also goes into a trance. It’s disturbing because, frankly, it reminds me of myself.”

Shawn Blanc had some thoughts on the matter:

“Letting our sons play a learning game on the iPad or watch an episode of The Magic School Bus isn’t wrong in and of itself, and we don’t want them to grow up feeling shame related to the usage of digital devices. But neither are we going to let them zone out for hours watching cartoons on an iPhone so we can live our lives without the “inconvenience” of little boys who constantly want our attention.”

So did Stephen Hackett:

“...the most guilt-inducing part of these articles? The fact that I screw this sort of thing up all the time.”

Boy, do these posts ever speak to me right now. My son Brendon is just over two years old, and has already shown surprising proficiency in navigating gadget interfaces.

He knows the Netflix app well enough that he can quickly find it on anyone's iPad or iPhone—no matter what page or folder it lives in—and scroll down to the kid's section and play one of his favorite shows, like Super Why! (Thankfully there hasn't yet been an issue of him accidentally pulling up Breaking Bad or some horror film.)

He has a "toddler tablet" of his own (given to us as a Christmas present from my brother-in-law) that he plays puzzle games on. He also knows how to turn on our PS3, put in a specific movie, and hit the controller's X button at the menu to play it.

If I'm being honest here, it all freaks me out a little.

Part of me knows he is growing up in a world filled with screens. I'm sure he will wonder how we ever got along without them. In that regard, it seems silly to prevent him from getting used to the technology while he's still an information sponge.

But like his father, he shows an unfortunate tendency to cling to a screen and zone out for extended periods until someone intervenes. The thing that really makes me feel guilty is that sometimes we just let him do it—not because we don't care, but because it buys us some uninterrupted time to focus on our respective projects. I'm not proud of it.

In our defense, we've been trying to get better about this. We've been gently introducing limits on his screen time, such as only letting him watching one or two episodes of something before we take the screen away and encourage him to find another activity. We try to keep our devices hidden from plain sight when possible, since he's prone to picking one up whenever the opportunity presents itself. We put other things in front of him instead, like a coloring book or some building blocks. We've also been spending a lot more time on the floor actively playing with him or reading to him, rather than ignoring him (which has undoubtedly affected the pace at which I publish articles here on the site, for good or for bad).

I don't know that any of this is effective, or even if we're necessarily doing anything right or wrong either way. I can't honestly say that screen time has ever had a negative effect on him—for all I know, I'm just biased because we didn't have tablets and smartphones when I was a kid.

I don't have any concrete answers here. All I can do is try to find the balance between using screens as a convenient/entertaining "pacifier" and using them purely for educational purposes.

If other parents are reading this, I'd love to hear your insight.

(Update: Just as I finished typing up this draft, Shawn Blanc and Stephen Hackett put out an episode of The Weekly Briefly podcast on the subject of kids and touchscreens. They make some great points about boundaries and the fact that all modern parents are having to navigate these murky waters. I recommend giving it a listen.)

* * *

As a writer, my goal is to inspire others to be more creative and do their best work. If my writing has helped or inspired you in any way, please consider supporting this site with a modest donation or by signing up for the $3/month membership subscription.

An Obsessive’s Guide to Field Notes COLORS Editions

The guys at Field Notes put together a series of videos covering the last five years of their COLORS editions, and the stories behind each one.

As of this writing, it'll take just under an hour to watch them all. If you're a huge fan of Field Notes though (guilty as charged), it's worth setting aside the time with a cup of coffee in hand.

The Marine's Secret Weapon: Coffee

Former U.S. marines Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez wrote a blog post for the New York Times in August 2013 about how even terrible coffee can (and does) become a necessary social experience for soldiers on deployment.

“We never expected it to become an obsession. Coffee was more than just a drink. It was a way to remember what it’s all about, a way to connect with old friends, a way to make sense of where our paths in life had taken us.”

A fascinating aspect of life in the military that most of us never have to think about. Makes me wonder what other ways soldiers find to bring bits of home with them into the field.

Tonx Bought by Blue Bottle Coffee

From the Tonx blog:

“As Tonx has grown we’ve added friends to the team, assembling top talents in green coffee sourcing, coffee roasting, software development, design, marketing, and customer service. One thing we lacked though was a dedicated production facility that would allow us to continue growing and improving. Getting there meant either raising a serious wad of venture capital (no picnic!) or finding a partner in the industry that shared our values and ambitions.

With Blue Bottle, we have found a more established company that still has an innovative startup culture, continues to evolve, and is dedicated to improving people’s experience of coffee on an ambitious scale. And they have resources we could only dream of.”

This is one acquisition I can get behind. Congrats to everyone at my favorite coffee subscription service!

For more info, Wired has the full report.

Creativity, Inc.

Speaking of Pixar, there's a book coming out tomorrow called Creativity, Inc. that I can't wait to read. Written by co-founder Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc. grants readers a peek into the creative process at Pixar and how other businesses can apply the many lessons he has learned from managing teams of creative people over the years.

If this excerpt at Fast Company is anything to go by, Creativity, Inc. is going to be an excellent book. Pre-order it from Amazon or from the iBooks Store.

Building the Next Pixar

Evie Nagy of Fast Company interviewed a bunch of Pixar alums about working for one of the best animation studios in the world, and how those experiences translated into their own ventures.

Articles like this make it difficult to pick out the best quotes because they're all so good, but I particularly enjoyed this one by Suzanne Slatcher (who helped create Finding Nemo's Sydney Opera House, the car-like rock formations in Cars, and the iconic house in Up):

“A computer will make something perfectly square, perfectly spherical, and that’s just ugly and boring. All of your time is spent kind of messing it up, which is the opposite of most people’s jobs…the real world is a big old mess and most people’s time is spent tidying it up.”

Here's another good'un for anyone who thinks they always need the newest, shiniest thing to do good work (emphasis mine):

“John Lasseter understood that this was a new medium, but the fundamental medium was storytelling, not technology. The technology helped, but it was just a better pencil—it was marrying the artists and storytellers with the technology in a way that they both really understood and appreciated. That was the key to Pixar's creative success, and it still is.”

There's plenty more where that came from, so go read the whole article.

'Ducks'

Kate Beaton, who draws the hilarious webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, just published a more personal 5-part short story called Ducks:

Ducks is about part of my time working at a mining site in Fort McMurray, the events are from 2008. It is a complicated place, it is not the same for all, and these are only my own experiences there. [...] Ducks is about a lot of things, and among these, it is about environmental destruction in an environment that includes humans.”

If you have ten minutes to spare today, it's worth reading.