the candler blog

Write Anywhere But…

Publishing, Technology, Writing

Dave Winer makes a strong case against Medium in his brief and aptly titled post, “Anywhere but Medium.”

When you give in to the default, and just go ahead and post to Medium, you’re stifling the open web. Not giving it a chance to work its magic, which depends on diversity, not monoculture.

I’ve been harping on this awhile. I gave Medium the old college try last year, but once The Dissolve (z”l) linked to my piece and claimed I wrote for Medium, I was done.1

I don’t think Medium’s “reach” is any greater than that of the open web. I have 311 followers on Medium, but I can barely get the attention of any of them. My RSS subscribers (hi, everyone; thanks for reading!) here on the candler blog have proven far more generous with their attention than my Medium “followers.”

In the years2 since I started the candler blog, the web has gotten bigger and dumber. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for more websites. Consolidating all writing into Medium or Facebook or, soon, Twitter, is a terrible idea. There might be a short term, ephemeral gain, but if you’re in it for long haul of the web, put your writing somewhere that can last, preferably something you own.

One more salient point from Winer:

Which pieces get flow? Ones that are critical of Medium? I doubt it.

[…]

See there’s the other problem with ceding a whole content type to a single company. Since you’re counting on them not just to store your writing, but also build flow for it, the inclination is to praise them, to withhold criticism. To try to guess what they like, and parrot it.

I’ve posted a number of articles critical of Medium on Medium. I may as well have yelled them out my window. Meanwhile a seemingly positive piece (unless you had read it in the context of everything else I had been saying about Medium at the time) I wrote there with an admittedly leading title, “Is Medium What Comes After Blogs?,” got re-shared by Medium staffers, which seems to be the only way to get any traction on the site.

When Winer talks about a “monoculture,” he’s not just talking about all writing going into Medium; he’s talking about writing trying to ape the Medium style. For now that means publishing articles that match the tastes of the site’s core group of editors. This is why I roll my eyes if a link sent my way points to Medium. It’s also why John Gruber introduced “fist eggplant,” a trend that continues to this day.

Anyway, it’s 2016. My goal this year is to write more about anything else than about how much I don’t want to write on Medium.

  1. I’ve written a few random thoughts there since, and am now (like, starting today), experimenting with syndicating my posts there via RSS (since Winer suggests it in the above linked piece, actually).

  2. 7 years this March!

Introducing Film Twitter Slack

Movies, Technology

Film Twitter. They say if you’ve heard of it, you’re in it. And if you complain about it, well, boy howdy, you’re in deep.

For the uninitiated, Film Twitter refers to a kind of movable feast of Twitter users who discuss movies. Some would say it’s comprised of all film critics, others might contend it’s just those other critics over there. Or maybe it’s filmmakers. Or publicists. Or fans. Or all at the same. To paraphrase Potter Stewart: even if you don’t know what Film Twitter is, you know it when you see it.

I complain about Film Twitter a lot (on Twitter, naturally). It all started back with the release of Man of Steel, when I couldn’t check Twitter without being bombarded by conversations of the film before it came out. I’m not all that scared of spoilers. Any movie that gets wholly spoiled in a sentence probably doesn’t have much going for it.

What bugs me is the Socratic dissection of a film I’m not ready to delve into. I prefer to see movies fresh and form my own opinions. If I could time shift these Film Twitter tête-à-têtes and experience them after I’ve seen the film, that would be lovely. But there isn’t an elegant way to do that without reading the tweets in the first place (yet).

So what to do? Clearly those who see movies before the general public can aren’t going to stop the chatter. And I’m not going to unfollow a community that I love reading. So I put together a thing: Film Twitter Slack.

With the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens upon us, I can feel Film Twitter ready to explode with excitement. They’re going to have a lot to say about it. But I don’t want to hear it, not until I get a chance to see the film.

So let’s try to move the conversation somewhere else. Let’s see if Film Twitter, who simply must talk about these movies before their release, can move the conversation elsewhere. Let’s try something new.

Slack, for many people, is a place to get work done, but it’s also great for community chat rooms. Users can coalesce in channels around different ideas and talk to their heart’s content. It’s not public, but I’ve made it dead simple to allow lots of people to join the group. All you have to do is go to this landing page and enter your email address. You’ll receive you invite instantaneously. That’s it. You’re in.

From there, well, let the conversations begin. New channels can sprout up, films can be argued ad nauseam (while keeping it civil, of course), and the whole community can join the fun…when they’re ready.

Let’s see how this goes.

How to Join Film Twitter Slack

  1. Go to the Film Twitter Slack signup page
  2. Enter your email address
  3. Check your email and follow the instructions from there

I’m not collecting your email addresses or anything. I never see them from this form. Once you’re in the Slack group, your email address will be visible to other users, including me, so choose the address accordingly.

I Luv Video Closes Campus Location

Movies

Matthew Adams for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas at Austin’s campus newspaper, today:

I Luv Video, a movie rental store on Guadalupe Street, closed Monday as the area continues to see widespread business relocations and closings.

It’s telling that the student reporter doesn’t even quite know what to call I Luv. “A movie rental store…” Uh…sure.

All is not lost, though. I Luv has a second location in Austin that will absorb the inventory. Still, a bummer to hear that the only video store on a college campus has shuttered. When I was a film student, I was at TLA Video in Philadelphia all the time. A video store is an amazing resource for anyone studying cinema, one whose usefulness, sadly, has not been replaced. (Not even by streaming.)

Anyone outside of Austin probably thinks it’s nuts this is even notable, but we’re lucky that we have a decently thriving video store community here. There are two main outposts: I Luv Video and Vulcan Video, the latter of which still has two locations.

I’ve always felt I kind of screwed up in New York City by not supporting my local video stores. I would get discs from Netflix whose selection was extensive but by no means comprehensive. (I’m referring to their disc rentals; their streaming product, movie selection-wise, remains a joke.) Eventually the video stores closed and went away.

So I frequent the stores here in Austin. The I Luv on Guadalupe was one I’d only been to twice (sorry!), but it had all the hallmarks of an institution. My favorite touch that will be missed: if someone never returned a rental, the staff would put their full name on the box and display it above the other shelves, calling out the sticky fingered renters. That’s the kind of stuff you’re not going to get from any streaming service. But at least there are still other stores going strong here.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a town that has a video store, go support it. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Jen Yamato Interviews David O. Russell

Filmmakers, Interview, Movies

Jen Yamato interviewed David O. Russell for The Daily Beast and the whole thing is just wonderfully quotable. Let’s see if we can distill it down to just one, shall we?

What goes into the cocktail of your mind, and how does it present itself to you?

Or maybe two:

If you want to make a movie, it’s just like when you made your first movie. It never changes.

One more:

Talent doesn’t always pick a race or a sex or a class, it just is.

Oh and I almost totally glommed over this:

The first half-hour of Don’t Mess With The Zohan is kind of bordering on art filmmaking. So I appreciate that.

Russell’s strange path and meteoric resurgence has been great to watch over the years. I Heart Huckabees got me at an impressionable time, and The Fighter just completely knocked me on my back. It may well be his masterpiece, though I’d put money on his still having another one up his sleeve.

I’ve always liked his work, but this summer Quentin Tarantino said something I wasn’t expecting about Russell, that so many of today’s mid-budget independent films will be forgotten, but “…The Fighter or American Hustle — those will be watched in 30 years.” The more I think about it, the more that may turn out to be the case.

Can’t wait to see Joy, his latest.

Word and Other Counts

Writing

My pal1 Ben Brooks has been working toward publishing 50,000 words during the month of November over on his site, his take on the popular NaNoWriMo challenge. It’s an incredibly ambitious goal for an independent blogger of integrity.2 As of November 15th, he’s not quite halfway there, but I bet he can pull it off.

Ben’s digital loquaciousness has given me a chance to reflect on my own slowing down around these parts. Or rather, it led me to question: am I slowing down? How much? Why? And what can I do about it?

So I downloaded ye olde archives, tossed them into Ulysses and did a very unscientific3 word count. So here it is, my word count by year since 2009 (excluding this post).

  • 2009 — 72,194 words in 111 posts
  • 2010 — 58,944 words in 72 posts
  • 2011 — 63,377 words in 125 posts
  • 2012 — 134,381 words in 406 posts
  • 2013 — 37,828 words in 113 posts
  • 2014 — 19,689 words in 57 posts
  • 2015 — 24,658 words in 56 posts

As an aside, I should mention how insane it is that Ben wrote more in the first two weeks of November than I wrote in all of 2014. What a nutjob.

So what can I learn from these numbers? There is definitely a slowdown, but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. I’ve already written more this year than in 2014, which is a huge surprise to me. Also, I had no idea that 2010 was an off year. In my memory of publishing this site, every year was bigger than the last until 2013, but that turns out not to be the case.

In March of 2011, I started writing link posts, which are usually pretty short. That, I assume, is why 2011 and 2013 have almost the same number of posts but hugely different total word counts.

And then there’s 2012. There’s just no question: it was a prolific year for me by any single metric you look at.4 I think when I look at the candler blog through rose-colored glasses, it’s 2012 that I’m thinking of. I was writing more and getting linked to by the people and sites I respect all over the web. When I moved to Austin that year, I even briefly considered going fully independent with this site, because it really seemed possible at the time.

So what happened? The first thing I wondered was whether or not my tweeting was getting in the way. I downloaded my Twitter archive and tallied up my tweets per annum just to be sure:

  • 2009 — 1,493 tweets
  • 2010 — 2,430 tweets
  • 2011 — 1,869 tweets
  • 2012 — 7,184 tweets
  • 2013 — 7,062 tweets
  • 2014 — 6,466 tweets
  • 2015 — 3,634 tweets

I was expecting to see my tweets dip in 2012 as my publishing here went up. Nope. Instead 2012 was the year I did the most tweeting.5 However, I do think tweeting starting scratching an itch I used to work through here. Here’s what I think happened:

  • In 2011 I started publishing short link posts, all while still getting my sea legs as a blogger and as a Twitter user.
  • In 2012 everything fired on all pistons. I was tweeting and blogging at full force.
  • In 2013 link-type material started getting tweeted instead of blogged about.

And then I never really got over that. Today I’m much more inclined to tweet a link than publish something about it here. Not everything I tweet would have made much of a post here, so this is really all anecdotal (read: totally made up). But it’s a feeling somewhat legitimized by the numbers.

Should I tweet less? Probably, but I’m already doing that to little effect. So what’s the solution?

Last week James McCormick put the following on Twitter and it struck me hard:

This needs to be made into a poster. (Here’s the context of the quote.)

I’ve written before about what I think causes me to ratchet down my publishing, usually related to the futility of writing on the web6 or some other excuse. So is it that, or is it the length of the articles I set out to write? Or is it how much I tweet? Does it matter if I read fewer books in a given year (I only read three in 2012!) or how many movies I watch?

It’s all of that and more. And that’s all bullshit too. There’s no simple answer other than to just write.

Just. Fucking. Write. Above all else.

I think I can do that. I’ve done it before, that’s for sure.

  1. We email and tweet at each other sometimes; a modern friendship.

  2. A professional blogger with none would have no problem hitting this in under 30 days.

  3. Included in the total word counts are metadata, like tags, categories, date published and such. I wouldn’t consider those written words, but it’s sort of canceled out since it’s included on every single post. Also some posts have been written by others over the years: I’m including those too even though they’re not words I wrote. Like I said: unscientific.

  4. Including site analytics, but I don’t really want to get into that for the purposes of this post.

  5. Not included: the 25 tweets I wrote in 2008 before starting the candler blog. My first one remains one of the most prescient things I’ve ever written.

  6. “Social ate websites, and BuzzFeed ate everything else.”

The Battery Today Widget in iOS 9 is Amazingly Useful

Apple Watch, Technology

I forgot to mention this yesterday in my sleeping with Apple Watch piece, so here’s a shiny new article for a neat little thing.

iOS 9 brought all sorts of little improvements to iPhone. One of my favorite features is a small but wonderful one: the battery today widget. Here it is, in all its glory.

Okay so what’s the big deal? I recently turned off battery percentage in the status bar because iOS 9’s new Low Power mode practically obviates that.1 It’s nice that I still have quick access to the percentage in the Today view (even though that number tends to make me anxious).

The bigger deal is that it tells me my Apple Watch battery percentage. Prior to iOS 9, the only way I ever checked remaining power on my Apple Watch was with the battery Glance. I refuse to put the battery complication on any of my faces.

The power consumption on Apple Watch is so good I’m rarely worried about it running out of battery. I really don’t want to know the battery percentage most of the time. When I do, though, pulling down the Today widget is fast and easy. Plus it even tells me if it’s plugged in with that little lighting bolt. Should I not know where my watch is, that’s a nice clue.

I like this feature best when I’m charging up before bed. I can plop my watch on the bedroom charger and retire to the couch. Without getting up (key to late night relaxation) I can see how my Apple Watch’s charge is progressing. That way I can tell if it’s got enough of a charge to make it comfortably through the night before turning off the TV and heading to bed.

It’s a small but useful convenience. Enough little conveniences add up over time, and that’s why I’m pretty happy with iOS 9 and watchOS 2.

  1. When the iPhone battery gets down to 20%, it prompts me to throw the phone into Low Power mode, which I pretty much always do. In Low Power mode you don’t have an option: the percentage shows in the status bar.

Sleeping With My Apple Watch

Apple Watch, Technology

I liked reading about how Stephen Hackett uses his Apple Watch at night. Here’s how I use mine.

Some time before I go to bed I put my Apple Watch on the charger next to my bed. I only do this if I’ve filled all my Activity rings. How long before I go to bed do I charge my watch? I just sort of decide, “Well, the day’s over” and I take it off.

The goal is to get it charged enough so I can track my sleep with David Smith’s excellent Sleep++ and have enough juice to go on a run the following morning. Ideally when I go to bed it will be at 100%, but anything above 50% charge will do.

Okay so I pass out on the couch watching Colbert and amble into the bedroom after brushing my teeth. I plug in my phone and put my Apple Watch back on, placing it in Airplane Mode as Smith suggests. If I haven’t already, I change the watch face to this customized Modular face:

Midnight Blue with complications for Sleep++ and Alarm. The blue is the most muted color to my eye. I wish Apple offered up the shade of green they use for “Nightstand Mode,” but I work with what they give me.

The complications serve dual purposes. They make it quick and easy to get to the only apps I need before sleep envelops me and they also give me info I kinda like having access to should I wake up in the middle of the night. I tap the alarm complication and set my alarm. One press of the digital crown and I’m back on the watch face.1 Whatever time my alarm is set for appears under the clock icon on the watch face.

From there I tap the Sleep++ complication. When the app loads I click “Start Sleeping” and go back to the watch face. In the morning, Sleep++ will “analyze” my sleep and tell me how restless I was throughout the night. During the evening, it will display how much time has elapsed since I started sleeping. This is novel and sometimes even useful, as in when I doze off and think it must be 3:00 am but it’s only been 8 minutes. Do I need that info? Not really. But it’s pretty neat.

My Apple Watch taps my wrist to wake me up, which my girlfriend appreciates. I still wake her up when I trudge out of bed like an elephant, but at least the bedroom doesn’t sound like a diving submarine come sunrise anymore.

I’ll usually lose about 8% charge from a night’s sleep. When I wake up, I’ll keep my watch on to get a standing hour (or two, if I time it right) or go for a run with it. Once it’s clear I’m heading into the shower, I’ll put it back on the charger to reload from the night before. It’ll usually make it all the way to 100% when I leave for work.

I honestly don’t know if sleep tracking is a crock or not. I don’t really care, either. Strange as it may seem, I prefer charging my watch twice a day to charging it once overnight. The effect is that the watch feels like it’s always charged.

And that’s how I sleep with my watch.

  1. I don’t hear people mention it much, but this one touch return to watch face is one of my favorite features of watchOS 2. Navigation just makes so much more sense now.

Listening Recommendation: John Hicks’s Troika

Music, Podcast

Most of the podcasts I listen to involve people talking to one another. A casual observer wouldn’t be off base to assume that this is the preferred format, but there really are so many other ways to make a podcast.

One of my favorite deviations so far comes from British designer (and cyclist and Doctor Who fan) Jon Hicks. His show is called Troika, and I’ve been an avid fan since it launched in March. Here’s how he described the concept in an introductory post:

The idea is that I’ll present a set of just three songs, connected by some sort of link – either by genre, artist, songs that were important to a particular time in my life or just some other odd notion that happens to take my fancy. Sometimes I might have guests on board to choose their trio of music. Talking from me will be minimal – just a short introduction, and then the music!

It’s an excellent idea, impeccably executed. Hicks not only picks so many wonderful tunes and artists I’d never heard of prior to listening, he also brings a childlike excitement to sharing this music with the listener. Even when it’s music I would otherwise never even try listening to, Jon finds a way to get me interested and give it a chance. And since the show is only three songs short, I actually take the time to really consider each song as I listen, as opposed to letting it wash over me as I do when I listen to, say, Beats 1.

So go give Troika a listen. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

In the spirit of the thing, here are three of my favorite episodes so far, the ones that really solidified it in my listening queue. Enjoy.

Family Photos Brought to You By These Sponsors

Photography, Publishing

Sydney Ember and Rachel Abrams for The New York Times:

Shereen Way did not think twice about posting a photo on Instagram of her 4-year-old daughter wearing a green dress and pink Crocs sandals.

Crocs, which Ms. Way had identified with a hashtag, pulled the snapshot from Instagram and featured it in a gallery of user-generated photographs on its website. The company had not asked Ms. Way for permission, and she was not aware that Crocs had used the photo until a reporter contacted her on Instagram.

“No one reached out to me,” Ms. Way, 37, of Pearl River, N.Y., said in a phone interview. “I feel a little weirded out.”

I’m shocked brands would capitalize on the free content available to them on Instagram.

Me, three years ago, when I quit Instagram:

I don’t know what Instagram under the new terms will be like. Maybe I’m being irrational, but I don’t think so. The truth is I don’t want to have to worry about whether my photos will be used to sell products. That is unless I’m getting a cut.

As the Times piece points out, some users whose photos are being used to sell products are being compensated:

“I’m always really excited,” said Liza Day Penney, a 23-year-old from Dayton, Tenn., whose photo appears on American Eagle Outfitter’s website. She estimated that the company has used more than half-a-dozen of her photos, and even once sent her a $25 gift card.

American Eagle Outfitters has a market capitalization of $3.22 billion. But it’s not like that $25 wasn’t well spent:

“That was one of the things, too, that really encouraged me to continue to post and continue to tag and hashtag them as I wear the clothes,” she said.

I’ve been inching closer to returning to Instagram in the past year, but stories like this remind me why I left. This sort of marketing just feels gross to me. I understand that people love brands and love sharing photos to show off their latest looks. Where it starts to feel weird is when companies capitalize on that without compensating the people who are helping sell their wares.

Stranger still is that an industry of companies like Olapic ($15 million in venture capital announced this past June) and Piqora ($7.7 million in venture capital last year, revenue in the millions), mentioned in the linked article, have cropped up around seeking out photos for brands to feature. Everyone is getting paid except the people whose work moves product. It just feels wrong.

Related to the recent conversation on the ethics of content blocking, this tidbit from Ember and Abrams’ article is illuminating (emphasis mine):

Clothing and retail brands say that featuring user-generated photos on their websites and in their Instagram feeds is an effective way to connect with consumers, who are increasingly skipping commercials, blocking online ads and generally ignoring anything that resembles traditional advertising. Taking photos from social media accounts is also often cheaper and faster than creating a traditional marketing campaign.

Like I said last week: “Advertising isn’t going anywhere.”