My Lover's Phone, 1.0

The original draft of My Lover's Phone, released in late 2013. 7347 words.

Sonder

The best blogs build on one another. While stories and links will appear in other articles, I want to set aside a space for those that left a particular impression on me. I'm calling this collection of posts Sonder.

  1. Last weekend I was digging in a shoebox of old photos, looking for a picture of my mom and dad on vacation on Long Island wearing matching leather jackets. Instead, I found a bent and scuffed sky-blue coil notebook, with a fabric pink daisy encased in a plastic window on the cover. Inside, a list titled, “Things to do before Someone Kills Me,” written in the curly cursive of a child who just learned proper penmanship and, also, cynicism. It was the bucket list I started when I was 11, and stopped updating around 14, with 84 to-dos, many of which have since been accomplished. I started laughing and talking to myself in my empty apartment once I found it. “Oh god,” I said. “This is bad.”

  2. This is a life rule that every self-respecting teenager should follow: If someone tells you you can't read something, go out and read it. Right away. No matter what it is.

  3. Andrew’s right-on-ness makes me sad. He is right on. The internet has even less interesting music criticism than it did before. There are even fewer places where people are having interesting conversations about music.

  4. Nolan came up to her and suggested it would be much more effective if she spoke with “calm certainty” – “as if you were saying something you had known your entire life.”

  5. It was so good. Electric. He didn’t just power up and beat everyone, he FOUGHT them. He gave it everything he had. Every Zig Zag felt like a thing he had to build to. He never popped to his feet and hit his finisher and had it heal his wounds. He made an absurd, unbelievable situation buried under stipulations and incessant fantasy booking feel REAL. It was boxing. He dodged and dodged and survived and struck.

I've explained this very badly

Design doesn't have to be a complicated process. It can be easy, quick, and satisfying to both the creator, the client, and the user. It can be these things, but it so rarely actually is.

It comes down to communication, but to reduce the issue to one word is too tidy. Poor design is too ofthen the result of weak assumptions, a lack of passion about the object, valuing profit over user experience, and trying to appease too many people who want to leave their mark. But these can be boiled down to communication.

What's the point of this product? Is it to make money? Is it to usurp an incumbent? How are we doing that? Is our product better? Is it roughly the same, but less expensive? Is it bigger? What kind of production schedule do we forsee? Are we willing to spend the money required to actually hit our deadlines? Are our deadlines in our head, or external factors? How honest are we going to be to our users about the answers to these questions? How honest are we going to be to ourselves?

The sketch I've posted above hits all of these, simply by talking about wanting a bigger spoon, and by both the designer and client being incapable of producing one. You can call it poor communication (as the client does), but in most cases, poor communication means not asking enough of the right questions, and leaving with fewer than all parties completely understanding the goal.

A Brief History of InDesign

I forget when features were added to InDesign all the time. I honestly thought the move to Creative Cloud would fix this, but if anything, it's become more complicated. I'm going to print this out and put it next to my desk.

Aja Khan Museum

Photos from my trip to the Aja Khan Museum this weekend.

Amazon's Best Books of 2014

Amazon's Best Book's list is my favourite thing they do. It also makes me feel like a terrible reader; I've only hit one of these this year.

I Used to be K Sawyer Paul (or KSP)

Really, there haven't been that many changes. In 2005, when I published Everything We Haven't Lost, I called myself by my name: Kyle David Paul. I have a lot of middle names, and David was the one I used most often. But it was long, and a little generic, and really felt like three first names in a row. So in 2007, when I was prepping to come out with No Chinook, I changed my public name to K Sawyer Paul. Sawyer just sounds cooler, and shortening Kyle to just "K" had a somewhat literary bent.

I had been using that for several years, but I was never been wholly satisfied with it. The K was awkward, and new people have no idea what to call me. It's also infuriating online, where there's no ability to have a first name be an initial (so a lot of my online forms have either "Kyle Paul" or "Sawyer Paul" or "K Sawyer," then "Paul"). The fact is, a lot of people just call me "KSP," which is great, and would be perfect except for that there's this game called the Kerbal Space Program that has the SEO for that one all locked up. 

As a guy at a party sometime last year told me, "Yeah, you're going to lose to them. They're great." Seriously, screw that game. 

I can't just do "Kyle Paul," either, because it's too short, too obviously two first names, and the domains are all taken. As rare as it was to be a Kyle in 1983, it's super popular now, and the kids are way better at domain management. But there really still aren't that many Sawyer's. So from here on, I'll be going by Sawyer Paul. Three syllables. Easy to remember, and rare enough that you'll know it's me. 

I just bought www.sawyerpaul.com (that's where you're reading this), and that'll be added to this domain. Twitter is now @_sawyerpaul. Email is sp (a) sawyerpaul.com. I'm still in the process of moving everything over (I just changed my Skype, for instance), and I know that everyone who knows me now is going to be confused and just keep calling me whatever. That's fine. I'm not going to be a dick about it. It's just a name. 

Custom-Sized Diagonal Strokes in InDesign

Custom-Sized Diagonal Strokes in InDesign

You can create a diagonal line in an InDesign table rather easily, to make something like this: 

 

But what if you want to change the stroke size in the table cell? There's no easy option for that. It's at least a two step process involving placing a borderless cell inside your desired cell.

What I have here isn't an ideal solution. Preferably, I'd like to make a stroke that only appeared in the middle of a line (and not the corners), so this could be a one-step process. And while this is easy to do for a specific size, custom strokes can lead to errors as you change your width or height. As it stands, this is the only way I know how to make this effect. 

The "easy" way to get this effect is, of course, to just draw a line across and anchor or group the objects together. That'll get you something like this. 

There are downsides to this, however, if you're dealing with a table with multiple cells (which is generally the majority of tables). It can become difficult to correctly align the diagonal line.

Instead, what I suggest you do is create another cell inside the table cell, and make it just a little smaller. Remove any formatting, and place your content in and create a diagonal stroke, like so:

Then, all you have to do is paste this cell into your original cell and centre it. You'll end up with a clean, InDesign-aligned table cell with a diagonal line with a configurable width and height. 

From there, you can change the width or height of the inside cell to change the appearance of the diagonal stroke, like so: 

If you can think of an easier solution, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

Sonder

  1. Too Many Cooks doesn't need to be watched twice. It's already so repetitious that you'll feel like you're watching the same thing 20 times, only each viewing is more twisted. Making fun of the past just got more difficult. 
  2. So, then, what is it all worth, all this reading? Is it all just a delusion, a way of killing time, before time kills you?
  3. When I began to write science fiction, I already assumed that science fiction about the future is only ostensibly written about the future, that it’s really made of the present. Science fiction has wound up with a really good cultural toolkit — an unexpectedly good cultural toolkit — for taking apart the present and theorizing on how it works, in the guise of presenting an imagined future.
  4. I constantly apologized for being there, for being so young and probably annoying, and people would just laugh at me. But no one put me in my place. People touched me, hugged me, told me about books to read and movies to watch. I was not a ghost.
  5. But the popularity of the show places it in a very complex position, as it hasn't yet survived its first landing. And as the producers of countless dramas — crime and otherwise — will tell you, if you don't stick the landing according to rules you may not have ever agreed to abide by, the reaction can be swift and severe.
  6. I used to have impostor syndrome because I thought it was more "attractive" or palatable to be self-deprecating and frumpy. I was one of those Liz Lemon feminists who thought I had to look and behave a certain way to be "taken seriously."
  7. There's a widely held belief that more work always exists for those who want it. But is that true?

My What If

This weekend, I think I finally got my "what if" component of my novel. It's a small one, but it'll push the plot forward in between all these scenes about relationships "improving." 

Essentially, what if "relationship improving" was a product you could buy? What if a tech company became less interested in productivity and social networking and more in making the connections between partners closer, and more affectionate? What would happen? 

Constraints Inform the Content

1.

I don't know where the number scheme came from [citation appreciated]. I've seen it used in novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, essays, and now tweets, but I couldn't tell you its etymology. A few scant google searches revealed nothing, so it's obviously lost to history (I am the worlds' worst journalist). Maybe it has something to do with wanting to build on paragraphs, not just have them come after one another, but have the 2nd point be inside a capsule called "2," which grew from the insight the writer came to inside "1." Somehow this is clearer than just having one paragraph after another. I've used it before without fully understanding its point or power, and I'm using it now, understanding just as little.

But I've spent my entire life using tools without fully understanding their scope. When I began designing, I didn't have a clue how to use Photoshop. I did things the "wrong" way for years. Some things, I'm still doing wrong, but they work for me. I write in five different apps depending on my mood. It doesn't work, but I don't have a better method. So who am I to say how anyone should run their personal publishing platform? I've quit more services than most people have ever started. This isn't what this is. This is exploration. This is rummaging. This is doing things wrong until you find a way, even if it's never, ever right.

2.

Some platforms have easier hooks than others. Posts on Facebook are especially difficult as they have no obvious way to link to them. You rarely see a blog post link to a specific post on Facebook, because doing so is a massive pain. Twitter has permalinks, but their search is poor. Tumblr is endlessly re-linkable, but authorship becomes questionable (and sometimes entirely lost through no fault of anyone). And while this is about doing something about what you read, it's the kind of thing writers think about. Platforms inform the content, but maybe that's better written this way: constraints inform the content. Writing in numbered paragraphs makes this piece conform to different constraints. I feel like I need to make a point every time. I feel I need to leave you wanting to go to the next one (this is how listicles work!)

I want to oscillate to two differing viewpoints about using Twitter as a place to deliver actual capital C content. During the seven years I've been on the service, I've tweeted about food, nothing, bullshit, important topics of the week, pro wrestling, cats, and politics. This hardly scratches the surface: there's over 23,000 tweets to my name (say I used all 140 characters for each; I've typed over 3 million characters. Jesus). The first point is that Twitter is great at delivering updates and ephemera, but lousy at being a blog; you know, that place where good things are written. From Marco Arment:

I don’t think avoiding Twitter is pragmatic if your audience is there, but it’s also unwise to dump all of your writing into bite-size pieces that are almost immediately skimmed over, forgotten, and lost to the vast depth of the mostly unsearchable, practically inaccessible Twitter archive.

Marco makes a terrific point about Twitter's archive: it's awful. Twitter could delete every tweet from 2013 back and nobody would notice, because unless you're scrolling your own feed it's basically impossible to get back there. He's also right about Tweets getting skimmed over. At least from a personal perspective, very few tweets stick with me. They don't get lodged in my subconscious like a great song, a great book, or even a great commercial. Length has nothing to do with it; certain lines from poems stay with me for years. But I'd be damned if I could remember a tweet from yesterday, even my own. Even though the majority of my writing since 2008 has evidently been on the service, I don't feel like tweets "count." 

But yet Twitter is my platform of choice when I want to write a sentence.

3.

If you number a tweet, the idea is that there's more to come. This thought cannot fit into one container, so we're going to use two. Or three! Or lots. And this is weird, because I'd say almost everyone reads Twitter in reverse-chronological order and thus read this barrage of tweets backwards. That's more or less where my irk with multiple-tweet arguments begin and end. 

I really like Jeet Heer. I began following him because of my friend Matt Blair, who tweets so well it makes me angry. Jeet tweets in multiples so much he's put it in his profile. I don't know how this happened, but myself and several others all seemed to ask him at the same time why he tweeted long, multiple entries to form a single argument rather than write a blog. He replied in his fashion, which can be seen here as a storify. The part of his argument that got me was about footnotes:

21. What Adorno said about footnotes is true of tweets as well: it's a form for thoughts that might not live elsewhere.

I kinda love footnotes, and I get it. Twitter essays are arguments in a margin. It's not something I would do, but maybe in the future? It seems like it might annoy people. I don't want to annoy people, do I? Going by history, that would be exactly what it looks like I like doing. I jump from platform to platform, rebranding, changing email addresses, my name even. There have definitely been people in my life who go "screw that guy," or at the very least "where the hell did he go, anyway?" 

But what I really get is that Heer has found a platform that works, even if it's not the "right" one. 

4.

And this is where it becomes a thing I worry about. I have the history of moving around so much because that's partially what's inspired me, and this has been a slow poison that's followed my career. For new readers, all I have is my own word to tell you that I have been blogging in one fashion or another since 2002, and that even my seven-year Twitter account is only one of four I've had over that time, two of which no longer exist. I have done well to erase myself. I have done a remarkable job of making people think I don't care about them or myself.

If I have any excuse for this behaviour, it's that I have been in search of the best box, and my failure to find it has led to a few revelations about work and art. I thought I found the best container in Lattice, and when that came to a quick end I fell into a sort of depression about the issue. I'm not happy with blogs, twitter, print, ePubs, newsletters, newspapers. None of it feels like the right thing, like any sort of real culmination of hundreds of years of literary distribution technology. 

My revelation was not that it's the content that matters, not the container. The container very much matters, because it (say it with me) informs the content. The book I write in Scrivener and put on a Kindle is a different book than the one I'd write on a typewriter and send to a real publisher (in the 50s, presumably). The short story I write on my phone's keyboard and put up on Wattpad is a totally different beast than the one I speak orally into a tape recorder. And the tweet I save in Onenote to publish later will be a different kind of tweet than the one I write and hit send without once checking to see if something is amiss. And this is a system I would not recommend to any sane person or even to myself. This isn't the right way to do things. 

No, my revelation was that I'm not a container man. I'm not even particularly sure if I'm a writing man, but it's what I like to do more than the other things. What's a little sad is that the blog of all things is the best thing I've found. It's the most versatile, flexible, searchable, and conversely hide-able if it all goes south. But I'm not an expert on this. I only have my own experience. 

5.

I like Film-Crit Hulk. His essays about cinema are engaging, thorough, and humane. But it is infuriating reading him, because he writes "in character," in all caps, third person, and using "hulk smash"-style truncation. These things are obstacles to enjoying his work. Now, Film-Crit Hulk has his reasons for writing the way he does, but I still find it annoying. 

The thing is, people find a way. If you really, really hate his style, there's a chrome extension that removes the all-caps, and even replaces "HULK" with "I" so the sentences read more naturally. I have no idea if Film-Crit Hulk hates this thing, but if I had worked to create a style I'd be a little miffed if people went out of their way to cheat their way out of it. I wonder if that's how people on Twitter think of Storify, as this hack bolted on to make sense of their arguments on a medium they don't fully grasp.

These kinds of hacks are everywhere. There are loads of ways to make things "easier" to read. Evernote Clearly is one I use from time to time, which I pair with a read-later service (Instapaper). These things are hacks to move content from a place where the author intended to a place you, the reader, prefer. It's a preference. What I've only recently realized is that the writer now has one less thing to worry about. Aesthetics and style are important, but the writer no longer has to worry about cribbing their own sense of style (and perhaps even their natural workflow) to make sure that things look and read fine. Readers (at least the fiddly ones) are going to take care of that. This opens up guys like Film-Crit Hulk, Heer Jeet, short-form bloggers to do what they do best: write really fucking well. 

I used to worry if people could properly subscribe via RSS. I'm not going to worry about that anymore. I'm not going to worry if people like blogs, or fiction mixed with non-fiction, categorization or even particularly the metadata. I'm not going to worry about where the numbers came from. I'm just going to type into this box. 

There are many tablets like it, but this one is mine

 Harish Jonnalagadda, Windows Central:

CNN's Jake Tapper mentioned on Twitter that the controversy surrounding the commentator's use of iPads over the network-provided Surface Pro 3 was "false and idiotic". Microsoft partnered with CNN to give its Surface Pro 3 tablets airtime during the broadcaster's election coverage, which backfired as commentators were found to be using iPads hidden behind Microsoft's tablets. Tapper said that he was using his iPad for tweeting while the Surface Pro 3 was showing statistics of the exit polls.

It's a bad idea to give people on TV a completely different tablet than the one they're used to. It has almost nothing to do with the quality of the tablet, or the quality of the software, and everything to do with the fact that the reporter's stuff probably isn't on the sponsored tablet. 

It isn't enough that Surface has a Twitter app. It wouldn't be enough that their Twitter app was as good as the one on iPad (though it isn't). The user's preferences are on the iPad, so that's the device the user prefers using. That's one of the reasons they're called preferences. It's so you'll prefer them.  

I don't mean to suggest that the Surface is on par with the iPad, software-wise. They're not terribly comparable, and their strengths don't really overlap. iPads are far and away better at the task of assisting someone on the air, I'd argue. What I'm suggesting is that it doesn't matter what new device was placed in front of the reporters; those iPads were coming out. 

What would be interesting is if you gave reporters the new iPads, without the time to put their own stuff on them. Would they have the new iPad, as well as their own, up on the table? 

 

The Last Kindle

Marco Arment:

I suspect this will be my last Kindle. Amazon doesn’t care about e-ink Kindles anymore. Why should we?

Few people would argue that reading text on a lit, LCD screen is better than reading on an eink display. However, most tablet displays in 2014 are "retina" class, while there are only two "retina" ebook readers: the Kobo Aura HD and the Kindle Voyage. For most customers, the choice is easy: one device that's pretty good for reading. It's the same choice most customers are making about portable games, and dedicated music players. One device does all of this well enough, and carrying more is a hassle. 

Every eink device has been accompanied by a tablet version, which is really a fairly garbage Android tablet. The Kobo Arc, Samsung Galaxy Nook Edition, and the Kindle Fire are all pretty horrible devices, but each company markets them as superior to the eink device, so why shouldn't customers just buy an actually good tablet and forget all this junk?

Finally, the "light" technology that allowed the Kobo, Kindle, and Nook to emit a glow that didn't affect your eyes like an LCD screen more or less backfired. Now they just look like tablets to most customers, so what's the difference?

This year, Kobo released only one new device: a waterproof version. Kindle released the Voyage, and Sony exited the market. Dedicated readers with eink screens aren't just on the back-burner for these companies, but the chopping block. 

I Used to have an iPad Newstand App

In 2013 I had an iPad Newstand App called Lattice. In total, there were 6 issues of Lattice. I'm proud of each of them, both in the quality of work I've been able to muster, as well as the world-building I'd attempted. I looked at the idea of serial fiction as a way to slowly piece together a much larger object than simply a book. I looked at it as an evolution from the book, to this new thing that could only be done with specific technologies working together. Sync. Push. Subscription payments. Tiny file sizes. Readability on every single electronic device. That's exciting stuff, and Lattice worked with all of it to create the beginning of something great. 

As of December 28 2013, the app was pulled from the iOS app store. As of February 2014, lattice.periodical.co was shut down. Obviously, this isn't something I wanted to happen. But I wasn't in control of the fortunes of Periodical, the company that helped me make Lattice such a great product. I looked at it as a partnership. I provided the raw content—my writing—and Periodical provided the excellent infrastructure. They pushed each issue to the iPhone, iPad, and Kindle, the three most popular reading devices in the world, and they created ePub files subscribers could download and keep forever, to read on any reasonably modern device in the world. It was great. There still isn't a service like it.

Unfortunately, it looks like Periodical is shut down for good, which means I have to find a new way to make Lattice work. In lieu of anything better, I'm just going to publish my work to the web, on this site, for free. I don't write for a living. I don't want to turn it into a living. I don't want to not love it. And if I charge for it, I'm going to want to turn it into some kind of business, and I don't really want to. So I'm just going to give it away.

I really shot for the sun with this one. I simply couldn't (and still can't) do the great work the folks at Periodical did by myself. And this is always the risk one takes when forming a relationship. It's one of the reasons I've remained adamantly independent my whole career. I don't feel like I made a mistake trying things out with Periodical. They made a great product, and offered a terrific service. I wish the best for them. 

Readers frustrated with the non-endings to the three narratives I wrote won't find much solace anytime soon. Much of the work will be pushed into a new story, Sprites, Jets and Elves. It'll read more like a novel than a serial, and the work there is making it seem pretty natural. Thank you all for your support. You're going to love where it goes.