Always Move Forward

This is stable advice. It doesn't matter what industry you work in. It doesn't matter what you do. It doesn't matter if you're in grade 1 or teaching grade 1. You have to keep learning. You have to keep adapting. You have to always move forward.

Technology will advance. Your competitors will advance. Industries that have nothing to do with you will accidentally destroy your livelihood and not even notice. We know these things. We've seen it happen. Not all of us get the benefit, as I do, of walking past a machine like this every morning.

InDesign won't last forever. Squarespace won't last forever. Twitter will get crushed by something sooner than later, I'm sure. Every platform, tool, and hack I use today to make a living and communicate will go the way of this machine. If they're lucky, these things will get the honour of a museum-like placement in our periphery.

If I've learned anything in my short career in design is that what works today probably won't work tomorrow. This isn't a bad thing. It's often why anybody ever hires a designer in the first place. And this isn't so much a reminder to you as one to me. I want to remember this one when I'm failing to solve a problem because I'm foolishly sticking to what I know.

TCM Remembers 2014

The Oscars have a video highlighting people who have passed in the movie industry, but TCM's is always better. There shouldn't be any surprise there: TCM is a historical document. The Oscars commemorate, but TCM actually remembers.

Classic movies are a part of my life. I watch movies that are near a hundred years old on a regular basis. Most of the actors I love the most are no longer around. But many of them are. Lauren Becall was still with us until this year. Shirlie Temple and James Garner, too. They're in this short film, along with more contemporary actors like Robin Williams and Harold Ramis. You're gonna cry. I did.

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. What happens when a 21st-century kid plays through video game history in chronological order?

  2. Every creative person of color I talk to, whether it’s friends of mine or Lupita Nyong’o, their career wasn’t something they aspired to, let alone felt entitled to. It wasn’t until they saw something that gave them permission to do it that they did it. I always think, what if that moment hadn’t happened? What if Lupita Nyong’o had never seen The Color Purple? We are foreclosing so much available talent. One of the many tragedies of oppression is this vast untapped potential, not just on an individual level, but as a culture.

  3. Another vow should read: ‘However much the other seems to understand me, there will always be large tracts of my psyche that will remain incomprehensible to them, anyone else and even me.’

  4. Whether it was mixing up and remembering out of order a series of shots, or conflating scenes from different movies that happened to star the same actor, or simply forgetting portions of a film, it was difficult to recall a film correctly, accurately. Which isn’t the same thing as not recalling a film truthfully.

  5. Back in 2004, Men's Health ran a poll to check the moral pulse of the average guy. This year we did it again. The responses, from nearly 1,500 men, were not encouraging.

  6. YouTube, in contrast, can feel like some hermetically sealed, for-kids-by-kids world. It’s a place where an oddball 17-year-old with a video camera can gain an audience of millions, drop out of school, and regularly send malls full of teenagers into a frenzy, all while remaining completely anonymous to anyone over 30... . [W]hat happens when that culture grows up?

Sprites, Jets, and Elves elevator pitch 1.0

So I'm halfway through the "Sprites" part of Sprites, Jets, and Elves, which means I'm a sixth of the way through my first draft. The actual plot of the story may not be evident yet, but that's going to change with part 5 and 6. Essentially, E, my main character, is going to get an offer for a job that will change her life. The first part will conclude with her reaching a tense point with her decision, where she'll have to make a drastic choice.

Part 2 will follow through with the consequences of that choice. She'll find herself isolated while being more connected than ever. She'll help more people than ever before but feel awful. And finally, she'll break free of everything. Part 2 will end with her totally alone and disconnected for the first time in her life.

Part 3 will be about finding a way forward.

The Shining

Watching the Shining for the first time can be confusing. It doesn't seem all that scary. It plods along, nothing much happens, and by the end you sort of feel like it's you've been suckered. It's all hype, you'll think.

But then you'll watch The Shining again. Perhaps it'll be on late and it's the best thing on the guide. Maybe a partner will insist you missed something. Listen to them. They know better. (This is good advice generally). Inevitably, the re-watching will make you pay a little bit more attention. You'll start to look around the actors, and pay attention to the series of events. At some point, you'll catch an inconsistency. You will feel clever. Later, you will feel like an idiot, because there's loads of them.

If you're completely nuts, you'll dive into the content about it online. Here are the best pieces I've seen about the movie, to save you some time (but you'll want more. There is no "enough" with this film):

The Shining doesn't just reward multiple viewings, but different kinds of viewings. And that's why I was so excited to see it in the theatre (TIFF's Kubrick Exhibit), where I'd surely pick up on a few bits I hadn't before. I did notice two things I hadn't before. One inconsistency is that the first time we see the Overlook, there is no maze. This is definitely one of those head-smacking ones. I'm sure other people noticed it years ago. I'm sure there's tons of posts about it. But hey, it was the first time for me.

The other thing I noticed was just how loud the movie is. Having only watched it at home, I never realized I was supposed to crank the volume and break my speakers, but that's how it was in the theatre. The "waaaaah" factor reached 0.8 Nolan, and the enveloping noise succeeded in making a movie I've seen half a dozen times scary again. Well done.

I Used to spend a lot of time in RSS

As of today, I'm no longer using Feedly. In my eyes, Feedly was just the service that took over from Google Reader, and if you combine them I've got nearly ten years of daily RSS reading. I've taken breaks, and tried to quit before, but I think I've finally found a solid exit strategy.

For people who spend a lot of time on the internet, RSS catchers like Google Reader and Feedly have been a way to mainline the information. Even though there's always a touch of a delay from a website publishing a post and a reader acknowledging it, it's almost always faster than the reader thinking to check the site for new content.

RSS readers solved two problems: constantly updating people on sites that got lots of posts (so they can feel connected and complete), and equally updating people on sites that don't get updated very often (so the reader doesn't accidentally miss one). Readers are almost certainly at their best doing the latter (especially when it comes to things like webcomics or personal blogs seldom updated), but quickly becomes tantamount to smoking when it comes to the former.

Feedly's main problem (which was Google Reader's main problem) was that it displays the number of unread posts next to a site, and it never resets until you actually view them. There's an in-built pressure to return to the site, if only to clean it out. Twitter has done a remarkable job of making completedness feel difficult, overwhelming, and frankly not worth it, but Feedly continues to encourage the practice. Twitter gets that the internet is really a stream of content, and that what is missed is, well, missed. But that's okay. To get to everything would be insane.

Now, I still want to get updates on most of the things I had subscribed to in Feedly, but I want the frequency and expectations of completedness to vary based on the site. I don't need to read every single post on The Verge or Jezebel, for instance, and I don't want to feel any sort of guilt for not having at least skimmed everything. These kinds of sites, where the post count goes into the double digits every day, have to be dealt with differently than, say, Hark a Vagrant, a comic that's updated with no regularity.

While culling my Feedly subscription list, I found sites naturally fell into one of four categories:

  • sites that post a lot that I can skim anytime
  • sites that post regularly but not daily, and are mostly link posts
  • sites that post content I want to read, but not right now, and will likely send to Pocket anyway
  • sites that publish content I want to read right now

Thankfully, RSS is not only not the only way to get updates, it isn't even the encouraged route anymore. Twitter and Facebook are generally how people stay up to date on what's happening, but I'm not on Facebook, and Twitter is something I prefer to use just to communicate (to people, and the ether), so I've found four excellent solutions to these four problems:

Flipboard is great for routing sites that publish constantly. Not only is there no unread marker, the design of the app encourages the best stuff rising above the cruft. "Cover stories" reads like a "best-of" of the content you've added.

Many more sites these days are turning to weekly newsletters. Some people blog primarily through them. I couldn't recommend moving all your updates to this medium, but a small handful can make reading your email not suck quite as much again.

As for the other two, there are certain article series or blogs I want to read every single time they're published. There are a select few I want to read the second they're available, but most can simply be sent to my unread collection in Pocket. Both save me a step: checking for new content, and placing the content in a place I prefer it anyway.

It may seem counterintuitive to make this process more complex. I'm trying to simplify my life (at least online), so why use four services when one was working? Automation is certainly a factor, but mainly it's that now I don't have anything I feel the need to constantly check. The stuff I can get to later is in a place that won't guilt me for not getting to it. The stuff I want to get will come to me. The anxiety of RSS gets taken care of with a smarter system of pipes (oh man, remember Yahoo Pipes?)

If you think about it, you likely have a good number of sites that follow you around. Do you have them in the right bins? Are you conscious of their mental toll on constantly checking up on them, or of them notifying you in a way you might not like? A little custimization and a lot of consideration on your time and attention can go a long way.

Sprites 1.4.1

J goes on a date. It goes poorly, but only poorly. 1878 words. 

I Used to Have a Less Clear Sense of Who I Am

I've been a mess. I've been bad at branding and worse at consistency. Without trying to, on the What a Maneuver Podcast, Joe Drilling (at around the 2-hour mark) articulated what I'm sure lots of people feel about my constant name-changing, url-hopping, and website deleting:

"Let's see...K Sawyer Paul, just Sawyer Paul. You know the guy we're talking about. He knows we're talking about him. Does he delete his Twitter, then create a new one periodically, or does he just unfollow us and refollow us? I don't really know what's going on. I'm sure he'll respond when he hears this episode."

I do! And I am!

My problem is a lot of my projects lose stream. Whether it's time or interest, I just don't always finish a piece of work. And while it seems odd to the medium, I look at blogs and social media accounts as projects. With some, like Fake Vince, I've been good about at least keeping the content available. But others I've been not great at keeping active or available.

As for why I've moved stuff around, and why I keep coupling and decoupling my IO work from the rest, I don't have a clear answer. It's somewhat connected to the same problem I've wrestled with for ten years: What is it I actually want people to know me for? The reason I keep moving International Object around is that I don't know where it fits in my life. At times it's been the thing in most proud of, but other times it's been embarrassing to see my name on it.

Rich diagnosed my issue a while ago as a guy who would prefer to burn my work than archive it. It's definitely a temperament-based problem. Earlier last year I dropped the K from my name. I've moved International Object from Tumblr to Wordpress to Squarespace and back. I recently deleted my longstanding Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook accounts to try to give myself some peace of mind. I haven't missed them. It's been a net gain for me.

But I know my constant shifting, culling, and returning hasn't been good for my friends. And it's undoubtable been worse for people who know me, but not in person. I know I've been bad at this. I'm trying to get better. That's about all I can say. I don't have any plans to move this blog, change my email, or disappear into a puff of smoke anytime soon. All I can say now is that I feel more confident about my choices than ever. Maybe it's that I've finally got a job I really like. Maybe it's that I'm finally enjoying writing again after a year of stops and starts. I feel like I've got good footing. I feel ever so slightly less like a mess.

Weekly curated linked lists

Sonder, my weekly collection of links that left an impression, was influenced by Jessica Stanley. I think there's something nice about a calm list of recommendations. There are loads of daily link curations, but I don't know very many weekly ones, which I prefer mainly because they seem more considered. Interestingly, all three that I follow regularly are written by women. I would highly recommend:

Diana Moss' Mid-Weed Distraction

Tina Roth Eisenberg's Friday Link Pack

and of course,

Jessica Stanley's Read Look Think.

Are there any you follow? I'd love to hear about more.

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. Look, I know we’ve been burned before. I was a freshman in college when The Phantom Menace trailer arrived, and we watched it innumerable times over the next months. But despite the ultimate let down of those movies, I will never not be excited about the potential for more great stories in this universe that I dearly love.

  2. I’m starting to understand the women who can write themselves as villains, or even just as nuisances, immature, petty, self-centered; the litany of insults lobbied at women who are not the heroines of their stories.

  3. I looked forward to evening, to the sight of the man, who still felt new and mysterious, walking through the door, and I also dreaded that moment because it meant either lying about what I had accomplished or, worse, telling the truth. And it meant having to hear about his day.

  4. Greg has an ex and a kid, he says, but he “got off” paying just $200,000 in yearly support. And anyway, Greg adds, à propos of lord knows what, Greg makes $10-million annually. He’s the sort of patron you’d pay that much to never have to sit beside. At America, the tacky, new-money restaurant on the 31st floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto, a guy like Greg no doubt feels right at home.

  5. “Maybe drunken heartbreak was the lamest thing I could possibly write about, but this was precisely why I wanted to write about it.” If you can identify with this quote, chances are you’ll love these essays and feel like they were written just for you, too. The author goes deep in a rich journalistic exploration on the pain of others, but she also validates and celebrates more mundane and universal emotions.

  6. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

My Lover's Phone, 1.0

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

A short story in four parts, detailing failed relationships and accompanying technology.

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.