Week 33.21

Am not really in the mood to write a post this week and have been playing music and shuffling around the room for half an hour to avoid it. I say this as acknowledgement that it’s not always fun or easy to keep traditions up, but we often do anyway. Even if nobody cares whether we succeed or not. We’re simply accountable to our own past decisions and future retrospectives.

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Rather than continue reading Firebreak this week, I looked into a few topics I’ve been feeling ignorant of: what’s going on with social tokens? What do people mean exactly when they say “metaverse”, since they can’t literally imagine it’s Snow Crash, (insert Princess Amidala face) right? And how exactly do NFTs and proprietary platforms fit into the theory of a unified metaverse? I’ve still got lots to learn about both, but I found this account of large European football clubs participating in Socios very surprising; I had no idea the tokenization of entertainment franchises was already a reality for some football fans, and it makes sense that this would be a much smoother gateway to digital assets for most people than cartoon animals trading for thousands millions of dollars. On the metaverse topic, I found this 9-part essay by Matthew Ball that was recommended by many to be an enjoyable and very helpful read.

Twitter updated their design language, changing the font I look at for hours each day. I think I’m already used to it. To the chagrin of many users on my timeline, they also flipped the logic behind displaying buttons as either filled or outlined. It personally didn’t bother me past the first 30 seconds.

I then had a brief conversation with some colleagues who build out design language systems for digital products. It occurred to me that teams today already have their hands full managing 2D screen-based designs, and the transition to an XR spatial future will probably explode the complexity of design systems as they are currently defined, and call for the further melding of multiple domains like branding, architecture, industrial/interface/interaction design, accessibility, visual communications. It might be an opportunity to tear up much of the bland, homogenous work we see now. I see this as a challenge for anyone recruiting to do design for enterprise/late-stage products. Who’d want to keep fiddling with round rects when the most interesting work is just around the corner?

~

Now that some Beatles’ remasters are available on Apple Music with Dolby Atmos, I listened to Abbey Road and Sergeant Pepper’s on my AirPods Max. Never mind if it’s wrong; they sound so right. The spatial separation of each instrument helps you better appreciate what they did on those albums.

Amazon Prime Video somehow got worldwide rights for all four Rebuild of Evangelion films, including the newest installment which never got a chance to screen here. I’ve been eager to see it, but there’s just so much homework to do first. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I saw all three previous Rebuild films in cinemas starting in 2007. They are now just an ancient, jumbled mess in my memory. Online guides recommend watching the entire 26-episode TV series on Netflix first, followed by the original movie, and THEN the four new films which are do-overs (but also maybe part of a meta-textual narrative on repetition and iteration?!) I decided to jump straight into the new films first, and pick up with the series on Netflix where I left it midway later, maybe.

I’ve now seen the first three. What a depressing and senseless and infuriating but beautiful journey so far. One left to go, and it’s supposedly the best one. I’m lost half the bloody time. 3.0 in particular is a cautionary tale of what can go wrong if you don’t get crisis comms to survivors right, and they end up becoming your enemy. It’s PR training in pretentious anime clothes.

You can’t be watching sci-fi biomech bible allegories all the time, so I also saw two Liam Neeson action films this week: The Commuter and Non-Stop. The former is about an ex-cop who has to play a bit of sleuthing on a train, and the latter is about an ex-cop who has to stop murders on a plane. They’re both by director Jaume Collet-Sera (who’s just done Disney’s Jungle Cruise) and I find their existence fascinating. He’s done two other films with Neeson, Unknown and Run All Night and I don’t think life would be complete without seeing them too.

Week 29.21

  • Don’t try this at home: Kim is away in the UK this week; not the most advisable travel idea. Cases there are rising sharply and I oop, I suppose the same could be said for Singapore. A couple of clusters have formed around illegal KTV operations (the comedy of that phrase!) and a fisheries port, which has led to fishmongers and wet markets across the country becoming danger zones. We had 88 local cases on Sunday, the highest since August last year. For the record, the UK had about 56,000 cases on Saturday alone. The mind boggles.
  • So until she gets back and clears the quarantine process 🤞, I’m on a sort of Sabbatical+, where I have more freedom to eat junk food and play games well into the night. I didn’t leave the house all weekend and it was the best.
  • I finished Root Film on the Switch, and while I still enjoyed it on the whole, it became needlessly convoluted and improbable in the final acts. Pick it up on sale maybe, but bear in mind it offers no challenge whatsoever. In any case, Root Film was always going to be the appetizer for the two games under Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club banner, which I’ll try to buy and play next.
  • Thanks to the NYT’s SF Summer reading list curated by Amal El-Mohtar, I discovered the joys of the CatNet series (just two books at the moment). Catfishing On CatNet is the first, essentially about teens hanging out in online chat rooms and getting pulled into an adventure, and it was so much fun that I blazed through it in about a day.
  • I then missed hanging out in chat rooms so much I decided to give Discord another try and joined a few servers. The quality of conversation in most was a step down from what I remember of IRC in the early days of the net. Then, spending time in chats was a main attraction, not an alleyway off the main boulevard of social media. So I was disappointed until I found a server dedicated to older people, a distasteful category I now find myself in. Ah! There, I found people speaking in complete sentences and actually communicating with one another. I may continue this.
  • I saw Black Widow and felt it unnecessary and stupid. I’m kinda over Marvel the way I’m over Star Wars, except the first episode of Loki on Disney+ worked well with the pairing of Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson — I thought I’d be annoyed by his usual mannerisms but it’s actually been a long time and we’re in a pandemic, so you do your thing Owen, we’re here for it.
  • Installed iPadOS 15 Public Beta 3 on my main iPad. Haven’t run into any issues yet, and I’m relieved at finally being able to customize my home screens with only the icons and widgets I want, leaving everything else in the App Library. You can also have two of the same app icons up as well, so I have Photos on my first Home Screen but also on the page I’ve dedicated to photo editing apps a few swipes away. It’s the little things!
All in a day’s work with Dreams
  • A feeling of being useless, sitting around consuming all the time without making anything, has been fermenting and I’ve consciously allowed it. Over the weekend, I made it my mission to begin prototyping a game I’ve had in mind for awhile, let’s give it a code name… Feline Fiddler? Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage was going to be where I’d learn the basics and try to start, but upon investigation, you have to use its built-in asset library, and if you can’t find what you need in there, too bad. So I ultimately went with Dreams on the PS4, and oh boy, is it a stupendously powerful tool for 3D modeling, animation, and visualization.
  • On Saturday, I started playing the demo game project that comes as part of it, Art’s Dream, which showcases what you can do with it. And then started doing a few tutorials. By Sunday afternoon, I was able to assemble something close to the scene I had in my head using models others have built and shared on the platform, light it, and walk around in it with a character. And it’s all achievable on a PS4! I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be something like this on iPads, apart from the App Store rules. Maybe Roblox is something like this? I should check it out…

Week 9.21

Hi again, we’re almost 9 weeks into the year which feels about right in terms of how long we’ve been at it, but not really when you consider net output. I’m still in a mental state of January. Unintentionally, this issue seems to have formed itself around the themes of nostalgia and work.

• For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been unable to get Debbie Gibson’s We Could Be Together (1989) out of my head. It can surface in the morning as I’m brushing my teeth or at any other time, like during a Zoom call. I said on Twitter that it might be down to how the song brings me back to a simpler time. It’s an escape hatch from the onslaught of today’s complexity and drudgery, straight into a corner of childhood memory where the days were long but full of possibility.

That brought me back to my old Tolerable 80s mix on Apple Music, which I’ll now try to update a little bit. Forgive the fact that some liberties are being taken: there’s at least one song from the late 70s and another from the early 90s.

While doing this, I discovered I’ve never heard Cyndi Lauper’s first album from 1984, She’s So Unusual in its entirety, just the hits like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Time After Time, and All Through The Night. It’s a pop debut with astounding, timeless songwriting. Her cover of Prince’s When You Were Mine, one of my all-time favorites, is crystal meth icing.

• I was absentmindedly reading the Substack newsletter bookbear express, by a random person named Ava that I follow on Twitter, when the album’s first track came on. In a neat coincidence, Cyndi sang “money, money changes everything” over her essay on work done out of love and how to square it with making a living. Around the same time, this article from Ness Labs about the fallacy of “work-life balance” arrived in my inbox. It argues that the definition of work can’t be limited to your day job, because things that take up time and energy, like caring for a loved one, can feel like work as much as life. If the lines are going to blur, then instead of chasing balance one should embrace that fate will deliver a rollercoaster of work and life extremes over time.

I don’t think it’s complicated. When someone says they want more work-life balance, it usually means their non-negotiable employment has crossed some boundary too many times, leading to a state of joylessness (Life-lessness). This isn’t a case where love is in the picture; people would bend and square the boundaries themselves if it was. Nor is it likely about being so in love with your work that finding time for life becomes a struggle. This is about people being squeezed. Being able to sustainably protect your boundaries is a privilege that comes from power. Seeking work-life balance means seeking leverage against external systems. At the end of the path is either profound love or liberating apathy.

“I want more life, fucker”

• I can’t remember when or how I started following Ava, but at some point I found a cluster of young tech people in California. When articles started coming out about a COVID exodus from San Francisco, I was already seeing it play out on my Twitter feed.

Finding and interacting with random people on the internet continues to be one the greatest perks of being alive at this point in history. A conversation yesterday (okay, more like one-sided lecture) with some kids born in the 1990s led to the discovery that they didn’t know what Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) were. Feeling very old, I told them about growing up with computers that weren’t even networked. And when they finally were, how we would use modems sitting atop our PCs to phone other people’s PCs, and browse text-based UIs they’d set up for trading files and leaving messages for other guests. Because most BBS operations only had one phone number, a Friday night could be spent mostly trying all the ones you knew about until you found a line that wasn’t engaged.

They were proto-websites, built for one intimate visit at a time, and I have fond memories of the basic BBS I set up for friends to visit. Fast forward a couple of years, and I’d abandoned the local BBS scene for the absolute expanse of the internet, where you could chat with people in real time, anywhere in the world. I think it’s always good to reflect and take in the staggering perspective of what our simple brains have had to adapt to in one lifetime.

Maybe I should make a social networking site or app that replicates the BBS experience. Only 10 people allowed in at once? One person per city?

• The elder millennial story hour actually began when I realized that Jed McCaleb, creator of Ripple (XRP) and Stellar (XLM), also made eDonkey and Overnet, P2P file sharing networks that I used the hell out of in the early 2000s. “What’s eDonkey?”, John asked to my absolute shock. He was probably six years old while we were ripping, mixing, and burning. On hindsight, it makes total sense McCaleb moved in that direction. I think my exposure to Overnet’s decentralized network technology back then made it easier for me to grasp blockchain concepts years later.

• More Dispo photos were taken this week, practically on the daily. I have a short wishlist for feature improvements: 1) EXIF info embedded in each exported photo, 2) a 3:2 aspect ratio option to match actual 35mm disposable film photos because 16:9 is super weird, and 3) a fixed focus option that overrides autofocus and just locks to 3 meters or something, so it’s instant when you hit the shutter and some shots will be beautifully out-of-focus every now and then.

• On Wednesday, I left the house and met with some colleagues past and present that I hadn’t seen in awhile. We went to Vatos, a Korean-Mexican place that does margaritas with makgeolli, which are exactly as sweet as they sound. It was great to see them again, which got me thinking about the central role social tools like Telegram have in helping to maintain these connections. Can you believe that we’d once have to make voice calls to each of these people to organize a quick dinner hangout?

I’d like to add Dispo to that list of tools, because shooting a shared photo album is a new interaction that might help to keep people in touch although they’re apart. I’ve started a private roll with that group to experiment, but the uptake may be a little slow.

• I got just a disappointing 15 minutes of videogame time in this week. Looking at the Switch’s upcoming release calendar, I hope to have more free time in the middle of the year for Japanese mystery visual novels and the remastered Skyward Sword, a game I never allowed myself to get on the Wii on account of not having completed Twilight Princess.

• Disney+ launched and we signed up to have a look. The catalog is a little better than I expected because the local incarnation includes content from a company called Stars that I’ve always been vaguely aware of from their movie channels on the cable TV in hospitals. Stars brings the kind of older Hollywood films that Amazon Prime Video in the US seems to be good for, but that we don’t have here.

I woke up this morning and suddenly remembered the 1994 Alec Baldwin “superhero” film, The Shadow, based on a radio series from around the WWII era. I had to see it. It wasn’t on any service except the iTunes Store: $5 to rent and $15 to own. This kind of nonsense is why streaming services still can’t offer an experience as good as eDonkey once did.

➟ How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood

Alexis Madrigal, for The Atlantic:

What emerged from the work is this conclusion: Netflix has meticulously analyzed and tagged every movie and TV show imaginable. They possess a stockpile of data about Hollywood entertainment that is absolutely unprecedented.

Using large teams of people specially trained to watch movies, Netflix deconstructed Hollywood. They paid people to watch films and tag them with all kinds of metadata. This process is so sophisticated and precise that taggers receive a 36-page training document that teaches them how to rate movies on their sexually suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness.

The data can’t tell them how to make a TV show, but it can tell them what they should be making. When they create a show like House of Cards, they aren’t guessing at what people want.

What a huge undertaking, and a demonstration of Amazon-like patience for a company like Netflix—slowly, quietly, build a long-view competitive advantage in technology and process that becomes impossible for others to copy, and that eventually enables a whole new range of products that are themselves hard to compete with.

This sort of rich metadata is what I’d expect IMDB to have, but a categorization exercise of so much subjective material benefits from the guidance of a single hand, while self-policing committees take much too long.

Singapore’s Pacific Rim Jaeger: URBAN REDEVELOPMENT

Singapore's Pacific Rim Jaeger: URBAN REDEVELOPMENT

Pacific Rim has a load of digital marketing bits out online, some created by Qualcomm Snapdragon (official microprocessor of the film’s Jaeger robots) on their Facebook page. One of the best is this Jaeger Designer app, which lets you modify a Unity 3D model with different parts and colors, and then render a poster featuring your own country’s robot defender, which you can also name. I think Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment sits nicely alongside the U.S.’s Gipsy Danger and Japan’s Coyote Tango.

Seeing the movie this Friday night in IMAX 3D and pretty damned excited.

Finding a Home for Your Copywriting Portfolio or: How I Learned to Stop Channeling an Art Director and Love the Words

Lots of portfolio tools advertise the ability to create a gorgeous website online within minutes, but how many are suited to showcasing a copywriter’s work? This post covers getting a basic presence up for a handful of your projects. More comprehensive site builders are only briefly mentioned.

It’s often said that people only look into their CVs between jobs, but taking stock of what you’ve accomplished on a regular basis is a really good practice. But with a standard resumé, updating a paragraph about your current employment several times a year isn’t attractive. Fortunately for people in the creative industries, there’s the portfolio, which can be very satisfying to compile, if only to remind ourselves how little victories on a project tend to make up a bigger result.

Not Your Creative Director’s Portfolio

Over the last few years, I’ve seen a fair few creative portfolios, and increasingly, when one asks to see some work, a URL gets sent instead of a PDF. When I was starting out in advertising about 8 years ago, we routinely brought physical folders of printouts to interviews. If you wanted the job, you might make an extra copy to leave behind. If you’ve heard some creatives calling their folios “books”, it’s because that’s what they really were.

Another thing that’s changed since the mid-noughties is how the presentation of a copywriter’s work has gone from showing a few ads and/or documents with long-form writing samples, to being very close to how the art guys do it. Big, colorful pictures that would reel even an illiterate eye in. Some writers’ books now haven’t got a word in them.

Carbonmade
Carbonmade: Your online portfolio, the door to a bright future in children’s illustrations

Most of the people I’ve met showed off work on portfolio cum social networking sites for creatives. Places with start-uppy Web 2.x names like Carbonmade, Krop, the Behance Network, Cargo, Coroflot, and to some extent, Dribbble. Some respectable, shirt-wearing creatives had portfolio sites on their own domains, and the ones who didn’t return their pencils used blogging services like Tumblr.

What I’ve noticed is that very few of these solutions are suited to the needs of creatives who self-identify as copywriters.

Copywriters Are A Needy Bunch

Designers, illustrators, and art directors are well served by the many visual portfolio tools out there. Flip through a few examples and you’ll notice a tendency to not explain the images — when it comes to showing off craft, the work often speaks for itself. Maybe it’s because most tools just don’t allow text at all, but I’ll come to that later.

I think a writer needs a little room to take his viewer through the work. So much of what we do is problem solving and just not visible in the finished consumer-facing work (nor should it be). Some of the things a writer could supply to complement a piece of work are: some background info, a project or team story, the strategic line between proposition and product, an elucidation of the idea (if one exists), how the piece works with a wider campaign or positioning that the brand has pursued, and any measured results that came out of it. Touching on just a little of the above, versus a caption reading “Banner Execution #2” on a photo of a toothpaste tube telling a joke, can help explain yourself come Judgement Day.

Five Steps to Happier Portfolioing

The more I saw, the more I started to wonder, where should a copywriter put their work online? To answer that question, I signed up for a bunch and put them through their paces, and also asked colleagues and industry friends for their (possibly subjective) opinions on the leading ones. Here’s what I know, filtered through what I didn’t like.

1. Keep Good Company

Maybe this won’t apply where you are, but Cargo (or CargoCollective) ostensibly carries a reputation for being full of student work. I don’t know where that comes from; too many cans of Heinz baked beans styled like Warhol prints? That said, there’s probably nothing wrong with using Cargo if you ARE a student. Coroflot seems to be another good place for junior creatives to get their work in front of recruiters and large brands. DeviantArt was ranked below the two, because your application will disappear into an HR drawer labeled ‘Slashfic Writers’.

Krop
Krop: Your killer headlines will need killer headlines

For professionalism, I was advised to try Krop. It charges a not-insignificant monthly price of US$10, in the league of premium site-building services like Squarespace. I didn’t see anything that justified the price against Krop’s drawbacks. Amongst those I asked, Behance enjoys a neutral to positive reputation that will not stand in the way of your looking righteous.

As far as domains and URLs are concerned, it’s also about the right associations. If you’re on a site built for creative work, then piggybacking on their domain isn’t an issue. For example, having “behance.net/name” is okay, but “name.tumblr.com” looks like a collection of meme gifs. Using a “name.com” is great as long it’s not the “best-name-online.com” that GoDaddy recommends when your name of choice is taken.

2. Know the Tools You’ll Need

Behance
Behance: Owned by Adobe now, so you’ll have to hit refresh for minor HTML updates every 10 minutes

Plenty of sites simply don’t let you annotate or supply a paragraph of text beside your large and beautiful images. It’s practically textist. Krop is a major offender. And since we’re talking your garden-variety copywriter here, and not those mystical hybrid writer-designers who can tastefully superimpose text within their images, an ideal tool would allow writers to enter text on the page itself. In that regard, Behance trumps Krop, which only allows a short caption for each image. Not only is Behance free, it allows the mixing of as many images, embedded videos, and text blocks on a project page as needed.

Most importantly, if you’re going to be uploading work where you’re especially proud of the writing, make sure it can be read! Being able to click and zoom in (or load the original image) is table stakes, but plenty of sites I’ve seen don’t do it. This is the point where your portfolio’s tab gets closed and your reader goes back to a ‘Hunger Games Wedding Ideas’ board on Pinterest.

For this reason, I do not recommend using ‘free’ services that reserve this ability for paying customers, e.g. Carbonmade. Behance won’t zoom either, but you can at least reproduce your copy on the page using a text block.

3. Create a Gallery, Not a Blog

Your Tumblr should look like this
If you must Tumblr, your portfolio should look a lil’ sumthin like this wicka wicka

When a portfolio site is built on a blogging CMS, and looks like a linear blog, expectations are set for a diary of constantly evolving works-in-progress. Visitors will be less impressed by your last post being 18 months old, even if it was ahead of its time.

Of the sites I’ve seen built on simplistic platforms like Posterous, Tumblr, Blogger, Pinterest (you gotta see this Hunger Games wedding), too few employ themes with a static front page serving as a table of contents. If your platform of choice doesn’t let you do that, find a new one. A scrolling page of entries without proper navigation is counterintuitive to your purpose: showing your recent work at a glance, and putting more details one click away.

Some sites will also format and present a version of your resumé in addition to your portfolio. Behance and Coroflot are two that stood out for me.

4. Decide If You Want Feedback with That

Socially enabled sites like Behance are proud of their communities. You can follow people doing interesting work, and browse a stream of their recent work right from your front page. Gold stars, comments, resharing; all that stuff. But there’s a real need for portfolios that don’t talk back, and if you’re familiar with the teen movie trope of parents embarrassing their sons with baby stories whenever a girl comes over, you’ll understand not letting a potential mentor or employer see the “helpful” suggestions you’ve been given by others. Or your witty mom-centric replies.

Moreover, as we’ve already covered, many of these sites are for designers and not copywriters. I’ve heard this sentiment several times: “Designers have Dribbble, but where do copywriters go to share their work and get constructive feedback from peers?” It’s a gap that no one has filled. Until then, my advice would be to keep the two as separate as you can. Find an avenue for copy feedback that works for you, and display your work on a pedestal where it belongs.

5. Keep Open Secrets

Another feature that’s rather important but not always available: the ability to secure projects with a password. Some client work can never be fully public, but if there’s a story in there worth telling, you might open it up to select viewers. Please don’t set your password to “password” or your first name, or have no password at all and instruct the HR person to ‘just press Enter’, because that just makes it look like passwords are a new concept to you.

Choose Your Own Ad Venture

The first conclusion I drew is that you’ll want to spend some money to get this right, although it doesn’t have to be a lot. Whatever your choice, make sure it looks good on mobile devices and doesn’t rely on Flash.

Squarespace theming
Squarespace: Can you handle this much customization? Find out with a free 14-day trial.

My preferred solution has always been to create pages on a personal site, using whatever CMS you’re comfortable with, but that involves a fair amount of set-up and manual work. In contrast, the allure of these modern portfolio services is undeniable. Most come with the promise of page views from fellow creatives baked in, and who doesn’t like getting ‘Liked’? The drag-and-drop features and professionally designed templates are also particularly good for copywriters. Uploading a bunch of comps and artwork almost always results in a presentable page.

Of all these services I evaluated, the only free one that would meet the needs outlined was Behance. Their paid option is called ProSite, but its fancy templates frustratingly strip away the extra text that makes their free pages compelling for writers. If that gets fixed, it would be a complete winner.

If you’re willing to get your hands a little dirty, then Squarespace, Breezi, Virb, and WordPress are sound bets. The first two have no free options and start at around $8/mo for a standards-compliant, responsive design site. With templates as starting points and pixel-level control over every detail, they are suited to people with knowledge of web design but who don’t want to code.

Virb
Virb: If it’s good enough for a coffee bar in Portland, why not your portfolio?

Virb is another all-in-one hosted site & blog solution that costs the same as Krop ($10/mo) but lets you do more. There are templates that let you bundle images and text together quite simply and beautifully.

The open-source WordPress.org software is pretty much the gold standard for consumer CMS on the web, and if you don’t want the hassle of installing it on your own servers, WordPress.com has an ad-supported “hosted service” that takes care of everything for you, with few compromises. A number of portfolio-ready themes are available, but do pay for the domain mapping upgrade, because “name.wordpress.com” looks almost as bad as it would if it said Tumblr. Almost.