How one year of daily blogging changed my life

2 May 2016

From Medium:

A year ago from today, I was creatively dead. Frustrated. Coming off of three years as a freelance copywriter, being the father of an almost two-year-old, and the husband of a wife who was in the throes of starting her own ed consulting business — I was exhausted.

I was taking work as it came in. Hustling, squabbling over rates, and trying to collect on long past-due invoices. I can feel the knots in my stomach to this day.

I had no platform. My personal blog had 30 email subscribers, mostly composed of family and friends. I was burned out. My muchness was gone. I needed to get it back.

. . . .

It was around this time that one of my favorite internet people — Casey Neistat — had started his daily YouTube vlog. On his first episode, he explained how he was tired and busy as ever… Which is why he needed to (wait for it…) create something every day. In his case, a vlog.

I was inspired. Seeing that, combined with years of reading Seth Godin’s prodding to blog daily, I reached a point where something gave way. I had to do it. I had to stop complaining about my lot and start creating.

Every. Single. Day.

. . . .

After a month, I decided to write about my month-long daily creative experiment. I hit publish. Went to bed. And woke up to a vibrating phone full of tweets, recommends, and shares. The post went viral (not mega-viral, but viral enough for me).

I was getting tweets and emails from publications like The Daily Dot, The Observer, and Huffington Post.

. . . .

All those years of writing in notebooks, untitled Google docs, and for thankless clients had actually shown a result. My personal brand had started growing. After years of rot, something had taken hold.

And just like that, I was all-in. The momentum was too much to stop. I was a daily blogger.

. . . .

To date, it’s grown to almost 17,000 readers with posts having been translated in 4 languages. I’m the sole writer and editor. I did this on purpose because I wanted it to be a collection of me. A digital footprint of my evolution as a human and creative over the course of time. By doing so, I started a body of work. My body of work.

But the road over a year wasn’t all rainbows and unicorn dumplings. It damn near killed me.

. . . .

But, on planes, trains, and in the passenger seat cruising down the autobahn, I wrote. During the windows of time that my wife and kid slept, I made it my priority to get a post out to the world. I had to get it in during the nooks and crannies. Sometimes it was easy. Often times, it wasn’t.

. . . .

 I woke up after our first night’s stay at sunrise before everyone else (as usual) just to be able to honestly tell my readers, once we’d returned to civilization, that I’d not missed a day — that I’d earnestly written this post, but could not share it with them. I wrote the post on my iPhone ‘note’ app. And somehow, just like that, my phone was graced by the Swiss gods above with two bars of cell reception. Just like that, a beam of telecommunication had shot over the alps and showered my cell phone in its glory. I was able to keep my obligation, stay true to my mission, and post.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says that sometimes keeping up a daily blog (even one that involves searching and reading more than writing) benefits from a modicum of OCD (or perhaps giant heaps of OCD).

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The Shocking Tale of the Penny Dreadful

2 May 2016

From The BBC:

In a television schedule pulsating with supernatural mystery and melodrama, Penny Dreadful, the transatlantic production now entering its third season, has managed to carve out a niche as a smart, exuberantly ghoulish guilty pleasure. Unfurling against a pitchy Victorian backdrop, its blood-spattered plot has so far taken in vampires, werewolves, she-demons, Egyptology, prostitutes, an explorer, body snatchers and a sharpshooter from the American Wild West.

. . . .

Classic literary allusions abound, with roles for Frankenstein, Dracula and Dorian Gray, but the show’s title derives from an altogether more ephemeral branch of literature: the cheap and sensational serials that were variously dubbed penny awfuls, penny horribles and penny bloods. Penny dreadful is the term that’s stuck, describing a 19th-Century British publishing phenomenon whose very disposability (the booklets’ bargain cover price meant they were printed on exceptionally flimsy paper) has made surviving examples a rarity, despite their immense popularity at the time. What endures is a louche frisson that the show exploits to atmospheric effect, but as for those forgotten original penny dreadfuls – were they really all that scandalous?

. . . .

The penny dreadful emerged in the 1830s, catering to an increasingly literate working class population and made possible by technological advances in printing and distribution. Its heyday came in the 1860s and 1870s, when these booklets papered the nation’s newsstands. At a penny apiece, they cost as little as a twelfth of the price of an instalment of a Charles Dickens novel, and historians estimate that there were as many as 100 publishers in the business, paying authors by the line to crank out tales with titles such as Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood and The Black Band; or, The Mysteries of Midnight. Some writers juggled multiple works simultaneously, each one unfolding over the course of months or years and packing in a telenovela’s worth of kidnappings, poisonings, larceny, bigamy, revolution and all manner of gruesome revelations.

. . . .

According to George A Sala, a successful journalist and sometime protégé of Dickens, the penny dreadfuls offered access to “a world of dormant peerages, of murderous baronets, and ladies of title addicted to the study of toxicology, of gipsies and brigand-chiefs, men with masks and women with daggers, of stolen children, withered hags, heartless gamesters, nefarious roués, foreign princesses, Jesuit fathers, gravediggers, resurrection-men, lunatics and ghosts”.

. . . .

The most popular works could shift 30,000 copies a week, but they weren’t popular in all quarters, especially when they started to target younger readers. While initially read by men and women of all ages, penny dreadfuls later began to be aimed specifically at children. This made commercial sense – already in the 1820s nearly half of the UK’s population was under 20 – but it also fanned the flames of moral panic. Commentator Francis Hitchman wasn’t alone when he declared that penny dreadfuls were “the literature of rascaldom”, responsible for peopling Britain’s prisons and penal colonies.

. . . .

Eventually, the debate evolved to question the extent to which literature can shape character. When 13-year-old Robert Coombes, the subject of Kate Summerscale’s new book, The Wicked Boy, was arrested for murdering his mother in London in 1895, the prosecution naturally sought to scapegoat penny dreadfuls. But this time most of the media agreed that they played little part in his matricidal actions. As the Pall Mall Gazette noted: “The truth is that in respect to the effect of reading in boys of the poorer class the world has got into one of those queer illogical stupidities that so easily beset it. In every other age and class man is held responsible for his reading, and not reading responsible for man. The books a man or woman reads are less the making of character than the expression of it”.

Link to the rest at The BBC and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Books

2 May 2016

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.

Henry David Thoreau

Cheerleading Uniform Copyright Clash Gets U.S. High Court Review

2 May 2016

From Bloomberg:

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to use a clash between rival makers of cheerleading outfits to clarify the scope of federal copyright protection for pictures and graphic designs.

The justices on Monday said they will hear an appeal from Star Athletica LLC, which is seeking to fend off a lawsuit by Varsity Brands LLC, the world’s largest cheerleading-apparel company. Varsity says Star copied five proprietary designs.

. . . .

Under federal law, a design can be copyrighted if it is separable from a product’s utilitarian aspects. In the cheerleading dispute, a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court said Varsity’s lines, zigzags and braids were conceptually separate from the uniforms’ functional attributes, making the designs eligible for copyright protection.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

Social networking is over

2 May 2016

From TechConnect:

It was great while it lasted, but social networking is going away.

The idea was that you could sign up for a social network like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr or Reddit and connect with old friends and acquaintances, make new ones or even interact with strangers about your life.

Except that Twitter was really a “micro-blogging” site, LinkedIn was about finding a job, Pinterest was a pinboard site, Instagram and Flickr were photo-sharing sites, Tumblr was a social-blogging platform, Reddit was a social bookmarking site and who knows whatGoogle+ ever was?

Let’s face it: Facebook was the only true major social network.

. . . .

But I’m not talking about the site, but the behavior. Social networking used to dominate all of those platforms.

And the social networking idea existed on all of those sites: conceived broadly, social networking sites were places for people to connect with other people and share their ideas, dreams, opinions, gossip and cat photos.

. . . .

What’s happening is that social networking is being replaced or supplanted by three things.

The first is messaging. Those darn millennials we’re always hearing about increasingly reject social networking on sites like Facebook in favor of messaging via apps like Snapchat.

Unlike social networking, messaging is private, temporary and immediate.

. . . .

The second is the general world of online distractions, including YouTube videos, games, articles, podcasts and more.

And the third is social media.

Confusion about the difference between social networking and social media is why most people haven’t noticed the decline of social networking. People don’t stop to think about the difference.

Social networking is personal content. Social media is professional content.

The sharing of social media — professionally produced videos, articles, podcasts and photos — is gradually replacing the sharing of personal content about one’s life.

For example, as you read my column, this article is being shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other so-called “social networking” sites. But that isn’t social networking; it’s social media.

. . . .

Micro-blogging, micro-schmogging. No matter what you call it, Twitter is included in every roundup, comparison or article about social networking. It’s universally included in the “social network” category.

That’s why it’s telling that Twitter last week reportedly recategorized itself in Apple’s App Store. The company removed its app from the “social networking” category and put it into the “news” category.

The move transformed Twitter from the No. 5 social networking app in the App Store to the No. 1 news app. The move also redefines Twitter: It’s no longer a place where people connect with other people to talk about their lives; it’s now a place where people get news.

Twitter is telling us that Twitter is no longer about social networking. Twitter is now about social media. And Twitter probably wouldn’t have made the move if the social networking category was burning with relevance.

Link to the rest at TechConnect

Amazon’s profit and revenue surge sweeps away doubts

2 May 2016

From Reuters:

Amazon.com Inc’s shares jumped in early trading on Friday, a day after the company reported profit and revenue that swept away analysts’ estimates along with doubts about the online retailer’s investment spree.

“It’s all just working,” JP Morgan analysts wrote in a research note.

“While it’s tempting to try to pull out each component of AMZN’s strong 1Q (and generally recent) performance, we think it’s the combination of many factors – the ‘AMZN Flywheel’, Prime, a growing distribution footprint, getting closer to customers, 3P (third party), AWS … the list goes on.”

The “Amazon Flywheel” refers to founder Jeff Bezos’ strategy of offering the biggest selection of goods at the lowest prices and providing the best customer experience to create a “positive feedback loop”.

Amazon is also known for making bold investments in new business areas even at the expense of profits – a strategy that is often criticized by investors.

There was little criticism this time, though.

“We believe these results are further evidence that Amazon’s investment in infrastructure, logistics, and Web services is accelerating market share gains, cash flow growth and continued high returns on invested capital,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a client note.

Goldman, which has a “buy” rating on Amazon, raised its price target to $800 from $720.

Amazon’s stock rose as much as 12 percent to $669.98 in morning trading.

Revenue in Amazon’s three main businesses – online retailing in North America, international online retailing, and cloud business Amazon Web Services (AWS) – swelled 27 percent, 26 percent and 64 percent respectively.

. . . .

At least 22 brokerages raised their price targets, to a median of $777.50. JP Morgan was the most bullish with a target of $915, an increase from $822.

At that price, Amazon would be valued at $432 billion, making it the third-largest U.S.-listed company by market value, behind Apple Inc and Google parent Alphabet Inc, both of which posted disappointing quarterly results.

At current prices, Amazon is valued at about $317 billion, up about $35 billion from Thursday’s close.

Amazon shares, which have gained 40 percent in the past year, trade at 98.7 times forward earnings, indicating that investors see huge potential for more growth. Apple trades at 10.8 times earnings, while Alphabet trades at 19.9 times.

Link to the rest at Reuters

Karl Ove Knausgaard Became a Literary Sensation by Exposing His Every Secret

2 May 2016

From The New Republic:

Before he quit doing public events in his home country, the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard took the stage one night at the House of Literature in Oslo, a stately five-story building across from the Royal Palace. It was December 2009, a few months after his six-book autobiographical series, My Struggle, began publication. Across its 3,600 pages, Knausgaard recounts the banalities and humiliations of his life, the private moments of pleasure, and those dark thoughts that most people can’t bear to articulate even to themselves. The books were an immediate sensation. The line for the event curled around the corner, and Knausgaard’s appearance in the main auditorium had to be simulcast to other rooms to handle the overflow crowd. For nearly two hours, he was interviewed live by another author, Tore Renberg, a friend of his since their days doing student radio together in the early ’90s. The two talked about the books and what it took to write them.

Afterward, almost no one wanted to go home. A huge group packed into the building’s restaurant. The space is chilly and over-lit, with the feel of a museum café, but people stayed for two or five or six beers, talking about how much they identified with Knausgaard and telling intimate stories from their own pasts. Cathrine Sandnes, the 42-year-old editor of the prestigious Oslo journal Samtiden, thought to herself, “What is happening?”

By now the response in that room has become widespread. Speak to Knausgaard’s devotees and you will hear a persistent theme: that by writing about himself, Knausgaard has really written about them, that reading My Struggle is like opening someone else’s diary and finding your own secrets. In Norway, where the hardcover editions cost more than $50 each, nearly a half-million copies of the books have sold, or one for every nine adults in the country. Grown men and women, Sandnes says, have the same kind of relationship with My Struggle that they had with Nirvana when they were teenagers: “You know, when you live it and you breathe it?” The series is available or forthcoming in 22 languages and counting. Ladbrokes began tracking Knausgaard’s odds for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012—when he was only 43 years old. In the United States, where the third book will appear in May, he counts Jeffrey Eugenides, Zadie Smith, and Jonathan Lethem among his many admirers. “Knausgaard pushed himself to do something that hadn’t quite been done before,” Eugenides told me. “He broke the sound barrier of the autobiographical novel.”

Sparing nothing, however, has brought consequences. Although originally categorized as fiction, the series is an unflinching self-portrait that has Knausgaard as its protagonist and his relatives and loved ones as the supporting cast. Almost all of them are identified by their real names, and the vast influence of his work has changed their lives, too. People close to him have leveled bitter and public accusations that he has trespassed on their privacy and damaged their reputations.

. . . .

Today Knausgaard and his family live on a rutted lane in a tiny village near the southern tip of Sweden, where they moved in 2011. The wind blows hard over the surrounding farmland. Flocks of geese break the morning silence. “Nobody cares about literature around here,” he told me when I visited in February. That suits him well. He is trying to protect his wife and four young children from the ongoing storm of attention.

It is too late to shield himself. For all the success of My Struggle, Knausgaard speaks of its impact with more regret than pride. Sitting in his rustic studio across the yard from his modest house, he looked down and said, “It fills me with sadness every time I talk about it.”

His best friend, the author Geir Angell Øygarden, says, “Karl Ove, he can’t cope” with the idea “that he has done something wrong—or more correctly that somebodythinks he has done something wrong. He can’t. He can’t cope with it.”

. . . .

That vivid intimacy is also what made My Struggle controversial. Knausgaard fell for his wife, the Swedish author Linda Boström Knausgaard, at a writers’ conference he attended while still married to a journalist named Tonje Aursland, though Linda rejected his advances at the time. In Book Two, he describes Linda’s outfit on the day he met her, how she twisted a blade of grass in her fingers, the way he drunkenly cut his own face when she turned him down. Aursland found out about all this when she read the passage along with the rest of Norway. She was enormously wounded, as she recounted in an emotionally raw radio documentary she collaborated on called “Tonje’s Version.” Knausgaard agreed to participate in the production (how could he say no?) and Aursland confronted him on air. He did not acquit himself particularly well.

. . . .

When Knausgaard finally gets together with Linda, his wild elation—he faints during their first kiss—is not tempered by retrospect; we are right alongside him in the throes of bliss. And we are right there with him when the two are married and grappling with strollers in roadside exhaust and carping at each other. “I would have left her,” he writes, “because she was always moaning, she always wanted something else, never did anything to improve things, just moaned, moaned, moaned.” That is a merciless remark about Linda, but Knausgaard comes off even worse. What kind of person would publish such a thing about his wife?

. . . .

As he began what would become My Struggle, Knausgaard wrote in a combination of naïveté and willful denial about how the people close to him might respond. “I was kind of autistic,” he has said. “I didn’t think of the consequences.” He never imagined that all of Scandinavia would be talking about what he was typing. But as he wrote the passage about his grandmother, describing her grease-stained dress and ruined mind, he felt the risk: “ ‘Can I write this?’ I thought. There I knew.”

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Amazon Doesn’t Consider the Race of Its Customers. Should It?

2 May 2016

From Bloomberg:

For residents of minority urban neighborhoods, access to Amazon.com’s vast array of products—from Dawn dish soap and Huggies diapers to Samsung flatscreen TVs—can be a godsend. Unlike whiter ZIP codes, these parts of town often lack well-stocked stores and quality supermarkets. White areas get organic grocers and designer boutiques. Black ones get minimarts and dollar stores. People in neighborhoods that retailers avoid must travel farther and sometimes pay more to obtain household necessities. “I don’t have a car, so I love to have stuff delivered,” says Tamara Rasberry, a human resources professional in Washington, D.C., who spends about $2,000 a year on Amazon Prime, the online retailer’s premium service that guarantees two-day delivery of tens of millions of items (along with digital music, e-books, streaming movies, and TV shows) for a yearly $99 membership fee. Rasberry, whose neighborhood of Congress Heights is more than 90 percent black, says shopping on Amazon lets her bypass the poor selection and high prices of nearby shops.

As Amazon has expanded rapidly to become “the everything store,” it’s offered the promise of an egalitarian shopping experience. On Amazon and other online retailers, a black customer isn’t viewed with suspicion, much less followed around by store security. Most of Amazon’s services are available to almost every address in the U.S. “We don’t know what you look like when you come into our store, which is vastly different than physical retail,” says Craig Berman, Amazon’s vice president for global communications. “We are ridiculously prideful about that. We offer every customer the same price. It doesn’t matter where you live.”

. . . .

Yet as Amazon rolls out its upgrade to the Prime service, Prime Free Same-Day Delivery, that promise is proving harder to deliver on. The ambitious goal of Prime Free Same-Day is to eliminate one of the last advantages local retailers have over the e-commerce giant: instant gratification. In cities where the service is available, Amazon offers Prime members same-day delivery of more than a million products for no extra fee on orders over $35. Eleven months after it started, the service includes 27 metropolitan areas. In most of them, it provides broad coverage within the city limits. Take Amazon’s home town of Seattle, where every ZIP code within the city limits is eligible for same-day delivery and coverage extends well into the surrounding suburbs.

. . . .

In six major same-day delivery cities, however, the service area excludes predominantly black ZIP codes to varying degrees, according to a Bloomberg analysis that compared Amazon same-day delivery areas with U.S. Census Bureau data.

In Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, cities still struggling to overcome generations of racial segregation and economic inequality, black citizens are about half as likely to live in neighborhoods with access to Amazon same-day delivery as white residents.

The disparity in two other big cities is significant, too. In New York City, same-day delivery is available throughout Manhattan, Staten Island, and Brooklyn, but not in the Bronx and some majority-black neighborhoods in Queens. In some cities, Amazon same-day delivery extends many miles into the surrounding suburbs but isn’t available in some ZIP codes within the city limits.

. . . .

The most striking gap in Amazon’s same-day service is in Boston, where three ZIP codes encompassing the primarily black neighborhood of Roxbury are excluded from same-day service, while the neighborhoods that surround it on all sides are eligible. “Being singled out like that and not getting those same services as they do in a 15-minute walk from here is very frustrating,” says Roxbury resident JD Nelson, who’s been an Amazon Prime member for three years. “It’s not a good thing, and it definitely doesn’t make me happy.” Rasberry was excited when Amazon announced Prime Free Same-Day was coming to Washington. But when she entered her ZIP code on the retailer’s website, she was disappointed to find her neighborhood was left out. “I still get two-day shipping, but none of the superfast, convenient delivery services come here,” she says. Rasberry pays the same $99 Prime membership fee as people who live in the city’s majority-white neighborhoods, but she doesn’t get the same benefits. “If you bring that service to the city,” she says, “you should offer it to the whole city.”

. . . .

Amazon says its plan is to focus its same-day service on ZIP codes where there’s a high concentration of Prime members, and then expand the offering to fill in the gaps over time. “If you ever look at a map of service for Amazon, it will start out small and end up getting big,” he says.

This is a logical approach from a cost and efficiency perspective: Give areas with the most existing paying members priority access to a new product. Yet in cities where most of those paying members are concentrated in predominantly white parts of town, a solely data-driven calculation that looks at numbers instead of people can reinforce long-entrenched inequality in access to retail services. For people who live in black neighborhoods not served by Amazon, the fact that it’s not deliberate doesn’t make much practical difference. “They are offering different services to other people who don’t look like you but live in the same city,” says Rasberry.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Bloomberg added an update:

Following the publication of this story, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey called upon Amazon to provide Prime Free Same-Day Delivery to Boston’s excluded Roxbury neighborhood. On Tuesday, April 26, Amazon agreed to expand the same-day delivery area to include all Boston neighborhoods. “We are actively working with our local carrier to enable service to the Roxbury neighborhood in the coming weeks,” Amazon said in a statement to Bloomberg. “Once completed, Prime members in every ZIP code in Boston, including the Roxbury neighborhood, will receive Prime Free Same-Day Delivery, in addition to existing Free Two-Day and One-Day shipping options.”

12 Novel Adaptations That Should Get a Do-Over Reboot

1 May 2016

From i09:

We’ve all been there: a favored book is snapped up for adaptation, with a whole lot of potential behind it: solid cast, crew, production values, etc. When it hits theaters, you walk out wishing that they’d done everything differently.

It’s often said that there book is always better than the movie, and there’s a long history of that being true, because Hollywood simply didn’t get what the book was about, or did any number of other things wrong.

But, the movie version of a book isn’t always inferior: just look at Blade RunnerMinority Report, Children of Men or Jurassic Park, with films that rival or even exceed their source material. It’s possible to get the book right, or to get a good version of it.

For all the complaining that people make about Hollywood not greenlighting original projects, let’s face a reality: adaptations from books, reboots of old movies, and the general recycling of content will continue. With that in mind, here’s, a couple of films out there that we wish Hollywood would go back and do over again, hopefully better than before.

. . . .

A Wizard of Earthsea

Back in 2004, Lord of the Rings was in theaters and everyone was trying to jump on the epic fantasy bandwagon, including the SciFi channel. The result was an incredibly poor adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea, something that author Ursula K. Le Guin has publicly slammed the adaptation:

A far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned. When I looked over the script, I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.

The show’s screenwriter, Gavin Scott, recently noted that he had very little contact with Le Guin, which could have helped.

It’s a shame, because Earthsea is one of the really great works of epic fantasy fiction. It’s set in a fantastic world, and uses magic in a brilliant, philosophical way. If handled properly (ie, not Whitewashed), this could make for a great adaptation.

. . . .

World War Z

When it comes to miserable movie adaptations, the most common thing to hear when Max Brooks’ World War Z is mentioned is “maybe they should have actually adapted the book.” Aside from the title, there’s not much crossover with the source material. The movie, follows one character through the zombie apocalypse, while the book follows a whole bunch of individual stories. Even Brooks noted that “it’s only World War Z in name only.”

There’s not likely to be any sort of do-over here – World War Z 2 is on its way. That’s kind of a shame, because apparently, the original script written by J. Michael Straczynski was a really great adaptation of the novel.

. . . .

Dune

Like Starship Troopers, this one falls under the love-it-or-hate-it category. There was David Lynch’s fantastic movie Dune, and the SciFi miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune, that came out in 2000. Both are reasonably competent adaptations: They get the broad story right, but there’s something about Herbert’s novel that neither have really been able to capture.

Dune is a really tough book to adapt, because it’s such a dense and rich story. Still, given the trend for thick, dense novels to make their way onto television, it would be interesting to see if an HBO-style, 10 episode season series would work for this.

Link to the rest at i09

For every complex problem

1 May 2016

 

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

  H. L. Mencken

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