Visible Design

Posted on November 26th, 2009 in making things

As opposed to the somewhat invisible design of things like book guts.  I’m talking about things like covers, t-shirts, wall prints, mugs, website headers — the stuff that’s meant to be seriously looked at.

And here’s the thing:  I’m not an artist.  I’ve got a couple of artistic bones in my body, sure — I’ve won a couple of games of Pictionary and I can usually decipher kids’ fridge drawings, so I’m not completely without artsy skillstuff.  I’m just not an artist.  Really, I don’t even know if I’m a designer.  The internet tells me that designers are people that sit around bitching about how clients are all idiots that insist on ever bigger logos, and I’m of the apparently unpopular opinion that logos should all be so damned sexy that everyone wants them bigger and on a t-shirt.  So, y’know, So I just don’t know if I (want) get to be in that fancy designer club, either.

But just last week Warren and I sold a week’s worth of apparel with nothing but a giant imaginary logo on, so, y’know, could be I know what I’m doing.

Of course, I really can’t tell you how to design a cover or a t-shirt or a logo.  Pretty much everything I do kinda starts out with a plan and quickly becomes “season to taste and then cook with some amount of fire until it’s done but not burned” or “hit it with a wrench until it stops making that noise and apologizes or it at least starts making some more pleasing noise” or “if nothing seems to be working that probably means it’s time to pop open another Red Bull.” None of which really works well for instructions or documentation.  Besides, I strongly doubt you want to make things that look like things I made, anyway.

What you want, probably, is to make something that you know looks good, and it’s going to be a really nice bonus if other people think it’s pretty, too.

And that I can sort of help with. 

A lot of my (design or otherwise) instincts stem from intent. By that I mean before I really start thinking about how I want something to look, I spend some time thinking about why I want it to look.  A cover has one job, honestly: It’s there to make you want to pick it up and look inside. The old “don’t judge a book by its cover” chestnut was really very likely started because people didn’t know that a cover has that job – they probably thought its sole purpose was to keep a little spill of Red Bull from seeping into the inside pages or something. 

When we make things look pretty on the outside, we increase the perceived value of the inside.  That goes for pretty much anything.  And yes, yes, there are as many definitions of “pretty” as there are stars in the sky, of course. But that’s something you should absolutely keep in mind whether you’re wrapping an album or a book or a magazine or even making a t-shirt, yes (because that’s a “cover” too): whatever your cover is going on, it needs to make the insides look better, before anyone even looks at them.

If you can’t do that – and don’t worry, if you’re on the internet someone will tell you so, and, really, you can ignore the first person that says “that looks a bit crap,” but you might want to listen to the third – if everything you make seems to get nothing but crit and no love… well, you know, that’s all right, actually. There’s a LOT to be said for staying plain and simple.  I love plain craft-paper wrapping, me.  If no one wants to touch your cover with a twenty foot pole, you might want to scale it back to just the title and the author on a solid color. Dialing it back down to basics never hurts.

The one thing I’m certain that 90% of first-time designers (and more than a handful of “seasoned” ones) never think to do is step back from their design and take a look from a distance.  And I mean that absolutely literally: set the thing to full screen, stand up and walk across the room, and actually look at the thing, from some real distance.

Hell, if you’ve got something you’re working on right now, go ahead and do that: pull it up in another window, stand up, and look at it from across the room.  Hell, leave the room – go make coffee or something – and then come back and look at it again.

What does your design look like, at a glance from a distance?  If it’s a book cover, can you even make out the title?  How about the author, or what’s going on with the colors and images?  Does it look like a book or does it look like a blob of colors and nonsense with nothing really going for it?  Because that’s what people are going to see on a shelf or in a thumbnail image. Whatever you see from across the room – if it doesn’t catch your eye or make a lick of sense, it’s not going to do any better for anyone else.

This is even *more* true of wearable or wall-hanging designs.  I mean, look, it may look great to you when you’re a foot away from the monitor (or design on the desk) – but those things aren’t meant to be held up right next to your face.  T-shirts need to look good from five feet away (fifty if you’re marketing to the restraining-order demographic), and wall art should really look as good when you’re on the couch as it does when you’re right up on it with a magnifying glass.  And if you want to sell it online, again, you’ve got the thumbnails thing working against your lovely design – there are a ton of people that just will not click through to “view larger” if they can’t make any sense of the teensy thumbnail image.

And if people aren’t even going to invest a click, they certainly aren’t going to give you a sale, right?

There will be, I’m certain, people screaming about the crassness of my commercialism and how design exists in a perfect and magical bubble of art that transcends the base desire to make money.  And I’m… not really talking to those people because, as I said at the beginning, I’m not part of their fancy club.  I’m chock full o’ base desires, not least of which are my desires to pay rent and Make Stuff that people want, and the best days are the ones where I can kill two birds with one well-designed stone.

Now, if you didn’t click that inline link up there in the middle, I’m going to send you there again, here at the end. You really should go here and read Warren talking about Designing To Be Wanted, two years ago.  Because, yes, he says “magazine” a lot, but that’s just what he was on about at the time.  What he really means is “Stuff.”

POD: The P stands for Pretty

Posted on November 23rd, 2009 in making things

One of the things I never get tired of hearing about Shivering Sands is: “It looks like a real book!”

I mean it is, obviously, a real book in that it’s really pages of printed words on paper with a cover.  But what I think most people mean by that exclamation point of whodathunkit! is that it doesn’t look like a POD book.  Or, more precisely, like they expected a POD book to look like.

And that’s down to two things: One, Lulu use good paper – the interior is 60# white text stock, which means it’s a solid weight that holds crisp printing, and the cover stock is 100# laminated so it’s not too light or to heavy, and it holds vibrant color and clear text.  And two, I didn’t make the thing with 12 different typefaces all double-spaced and centered at 20pt.

I can’t say much about the first point beyond yes, POD shops do use decent paper these days, so you’re not getting a “book” that’s just copy paper with a wire-o binding stuck on.  That’s a bit of a big deal compared to ten years ago, or what you’ll get at Kinkos, sure – but that’s just where we are in the technology, now.  POD shops are (mostly) all at the point where they can and do offer affordable “real” books.

But the second point, well that I can talk about a little more.  Because a good looking book with crap content is still a crap book – but wonderful content that you can’t actually read is also a crap book. So I want to talk about the design of book a little, because Warren gave me the wonderful content to play with, but I’m pretty proud of having made it look good.

There are a lot of rules, guidelines, public and private knowledge, and general best practices to book layout and design.  And I broke about as many as I followed, so hell if I’m going to even attempt to quote them all, heh.  Instead, I’m just going to talk you through some of my process and intentions, and you can take from that what you will.  One of the blessings and curses of POD is that you’re in charge of the finished product, after all.

So, to start with: Type.  Shivering Sands is – with the exception of the three instances of Futura Bold on the cover – set in Caslon.  Top to bottom, front to back: one typeface.  And that strict adherence to a single type isn’t absolutely necessary, but it really is a good idea.  At most, you should really only have two typefaces in your entire book, and one of those should only be headings.

And, look, I get it – I love fonts, I do.  I download types that I can’t even think of a use for just because I think they’re pretty.  And even though my aesthetic leans to the clean and minimalist, my first draft of Shivering Sands had about four or five different typefaces to see how things could look.  There’s a very real temptation – especially if you usually work with web-safe fonts – to go a little fancy in print.

The thing is, looking at that first draft… well, I already knew this, but it really hit home when I was seeing the layout on my screen: a book isn’t about a hodgepodge (or even a well-behaved family) of fancy fonts.  A book, at its best, a collection of ideas in (if the designer does their job right) a portable and readable format.

And Warren’s ideas and the words he uses to make them solid, whatever he may say about them, are like the prettiest girl in the world:  They don’t need makeup.  So for draft two of the book, I pulled back to a single, simple, nearly invisible typeface.  And suddenly every page was drop-dead gorgeous.  No single word was vying for attention with an exaggerated ascender or stroke-weight.  When you read Shivering Sands, your eye should quickly learn the shape and weight of all the letters… and then completely ignore them, and just let the content beam straight into your brain.

Which isn’t to say that the layout is boring.

I knew going in that we were going to be working with essays – a lot of short form pieces – and I wanted to stick some even shorter bits in from Twitter.  Those Twitter bits between pieces were my idea – I started calling them sorbet, to cleanse the brain palate between rants, heh.  But there is some attention to the details of the format that makes navigating a book like that as easy from start to finish as it is if you just pick it up and let it fall to a page.

Tiny little things like changing the right-page headers to the title of the essay if you’re four pages in.  It’s a small detail, but it lets you easily flip back to the first page if you’ve just opened the book on a whim.  Right-justifying the bursts of sorbet (that still cracks me up, and that’s all I ever want to call Twitter, anymore) and dropping them to small-caps to clearly define that you’re on a page of concentrated information that exists alongside but independently of the essay content.  Even the full-page, left-side titles to each essay – the “take a deep breath, ’cause we’re heading into the next one” pages serve to break the book into digestible chunks of content.

And some of that I would, of course, do very differently for a work of long-form fiction, or a photobook, or anything else.  The point is, it’s a really good idea to think about layout – any layout, from books to shirts to web to notes – in terms of how you want it to be read, and how you can help the reader follow along.

And that leads me to the actual content.  It’s probably not technically design, but there is some overlap.  Warren picked about 90% of what went into Shivering Sands and I did my job as editor to pick a couple more essays and all the Twitterbits. But when you’re dealing with any sort of modular content (essays and art/photos being the main ones), it’s worth your time to sit down and fiddle with the order a bit.  A book is, after all, a container – and an organized toolbox is a lot more useful than a junk drawer.  For my part, I just put the essays in roughly chronological order, because they flowed quite well that way, I thought, and then I spliced in the sorbet with some eye to complementing the surrounding content… with the occasional bit of random thrown in for fun.  If I did my job right, Shivering Sands should read like an album, with one piece flowing into the next as well as any one piece stands on its own.

By way of some general advice: we’re very used to the web breaking left-aligned paragraphs with a double-space, and sans serif typefaces to make everything easy to read.  That’s because we’re usually digesting smaller chunks of text, serif typefaces look a bit crap on a monitor at smaller sizes, and browsers are pretty crap at justification for anything but the narrowest columns. 

For books, it’s a really good idea to pick a serif typeface, a comfortable and consistent line-height, and indent the first line of a new paragraph. There are SCIENTIFIC reasons for that – serifs leading the eye along a line, indents clearly marking a new paragraph without the jolt of a double-break, etc – but mostly it just looks good, let’s be honest.  I’d lay odds that the books you may have picked up and thought “Oh, this isn’t a real book” are the ones that just didn’t follow those three simple steps.

And, as with any rules, there’s wiggle room:  I went with a much looser justification and taller line-height for Shivering Sands than I would have for a navel, for instance.  A little to give the lines room to breathe, and a little because I’ve been doing the same in my web layouts of warrenellis.com for ages – it’s an aesthetic I find pleasing and readable for essays and dense info dumping.  And I had a bit of fun calling back to the web-roots of the pieces in things like the full-indent and padding in inline quotes (which, in turn, is the web calling back to newspapers, magazines, and academic texts) because, again, it was my book to play with, and I think it looks good.

And that’s basically your takeaway, right there.  You must own books, I really hope, so you can thumb through and pay attention and learn how to make them look.  Start simple, with the layout of your own book, and then find the places where you want to have a bit of fun and make the design more “you.” And then, when you’re done, and you’ve got your printout or your proof, just flip the book open to a random page and really look at it.  If you’re honest with yourself and you say “this looks good” – then there you go.  If not, well, maybe just dial it back, just a bit.  Remember that you’re making a Thing For People To Read, and that doesn’t mean it can’t be a work of art… so long as people can read it.

TOTW: The Creative Process

Posted on November 23rd, 2009 in making things

I’ve got a print-out of some of Warren’s more… well, sane or insane, time will tell… twitterings, and “Universal Health Care” is one I’ve wanted to do for a while.  I’m not sure if it’s going to do as well as last week’s SPACE BASTARD, because I’m honestly not sure what the overlap in demographic is, there.  Do SPACE BASTARDS care about health care?  We’ll find out.

The design process for SPACE BASTARD went a little like this:  Warren said, “Twitter people want SPACE BASTARD on a T-shirt.” And then I said, “Well then I guess I need to figure out what the hell that looks like, don’t I?”

… yeah, that was pretty much it.  But it worked out well!

This week, for HEALTH CARE, Warren sent me that first bit in text, and he’d thought out the general layout and style of the prescription fact sheet you see above.  After fiddling with it a bit, and adding in that perfectly generic little wave bit, it occurred to me that it needed a little something, and I told him I was tempted by the idea of adding some side effects and maybe an “ask your doctor” line, just for fun.  YES, said Warren… and then I thought about it a bit…

“Hmm, lessee, side effects,” I thought aloud, “There’s dizziness, vomiting, seizures are always fun…”

“Multiple udder-like nipple extrusions and the Samoan Octopoid Scrotum Death!” says Warren.  

And that’s why he’s the brains and I’m the mechanic.

Not necessarily POD: Internetworking

Posted on November 20th, 2009 in braindump, making things

This is a quick (for long-winded values, I’m sure) segue from my ongoing (and going, and going) POD notes and rantings to a bit that may seem a little ahead of itself: Telling people that you’re Making Something.

Because you’re going to have to, when you’re done, you know.  And you’re likely going to have a little bit of an uphill time of it, because the internet’s half broken, isn’t it.  Oh, you know what I mean — you’ve got a blog, probably, but (Wil and Warren, you’re not to answer this one, because I’m not talking about you, yet) how many people read your blog?  I’m not being mean about it — this isn’t supposed to put you off before you even start, trust me — but how many people do you pull over, and worse, how many of those people do you interact with?

That’s where the internet is half broken, right there, that last bit: Comments are shit. 

And people keep trying to find ways to fix what is an inherently crap system is the main problem. I mean, how many fucking ways are there to leave a comment, these days?  You can log into a wordpress or typepad blog, only maybe some of your readers don’t have (or want to make) accounts for either, so there are OpenID plugins and trackbacks and ShareThis and Stumble and Delicious and Technorati (and oh there’s one that went to fucking weed, innit) and All Manner of networking and feedback and pingback and chatback and every-damned-thing-else to address a “problem” that’s, honestly? Not solvable.

Most of the time, people aren’t going to have anything to say in response.

But, without that feedback, a lot of us lose steam, because how else will we know we’re being heard, or that anyone even cares?

Which is how the internet’s half broken, of course.  Because one half, the Social Networking half, revolves around the idea that he who has the most friends, wins.  And the other half, the Individual and Personal half, revolves around the idea that a single person should have a comments form on every page, and somehow the magic of connectivity will fill the lower half of every post with feedback and community.

Hahaha.  But no.

I mean, yesterday I asked my 400ish twitter followers a direct question: What are you making?  And I got, as expected, about 20 responses.  Warren and Wil probably would have gotten about 100 (in fact, you can go look at the comments to Wil’s post on Making Things to see I’m absolutely right in that estimate), but they’ve both got HYUGE audiences.  And that’s responses to a direct question.  So what hope is there of building an interactive community around just general discussion and feedback?

Well… there’s really not.  Not if you insist on using just one bit of the half-broken internet out of the box.

But then what the hell DOES work?  See, here’s my crazy thought (and I got it from Warren who’s cleverer than you and me put together, so you know it’s true): We really could try interacting with Internet People like they’re real, you know, People.

Oh stop huffing, I haven’t even explained yet, and when I do, whatever you were about to shoot back will sound retarded.

Look, imagine you’ve got four friends over, or the five of you are out at the pub or whatever.  How amazingly awkward would the conversation go if, every time you made any statement, you then paused until each person responded directly.  Only once each person had said something could you move onto the next bit.

Like this:

  • PERSON ONE says “Rough weather today!”
  • PERSON TWO says “Yes”
  • PERSON THREE says “Yeah it’s kinda blowing out there.”
  • PERSON FOUR says “I had a rough day at work.”
  • PERSON TWO says “Don’t  hijack the conversation! We’re talking about the WEATHER right now”
  • PERSON FOUR calls person two a Nazi
  • PERSON ONE gets into a long, involved attempt to mediate between PERSONS TWO and FOUR
  • PERSON FIVE says “Too long, didn’t listen.  But it is cold out…”
  • PERSON ONE says “Okay, good, we’ve all discussed the weather and I can see PERSON TWO is just going to pout until we move on to the next dedicated topic: How were our days at work?”

I mean, honestly, that’s a worst-case comment scenario, true — but it’s also just fucking ridiculous to think about EVER doing in “real” life, isn’t it?

Oh, I of course forgot the part where PERSON ONE is obsessively checking to see if weather.com has pinged his phone with a forecast that agrees with his initial statement.  And is also staring at the table next to them, hoping some strangers will come over and agree, too.

That’s really just no way to have a conversation, is it?

But we want our blogs and our internet communication to be interactive, so we go with the half-broken system, even though none of us are so socially stunted that we think that’s how it should work — just because that’s the system that comes built on to the tools we’re using.

And you’ll note I’ve lopped that system right off my blog, because I’m no fan of tech that solves a problem that isn’t really there.

Conversations don’t happen in blogs. (There are, of course, exceptions to that rule.  There are little networks of the faithful that do hang out in the comments sections of some of the bigger blogs, sure.) Conversations happen in forums, or on Twitter, and probably in GoogleWave while people figure out what to do with it, and in stranger places like FaceBook walls and roll-your-own networks, sort of.

(That last never really took off in the direction I expected, but then again, Cafepress have been around for ten years and we’re pushing for an uptick there, too, so I may just need to be patient)

But blogs aren’t social networks — they’re stations — and no matter how much crap we tack on to try and make them more interactive, they aren’t going to be (that definition of) networks because, ostensibly, a blog is a place where you talk and people dial in to listen.

That was a segue of its own, so let’s circle back to the original point: How do you get people to come listen?

Well, unless you’re very attractive and taking out 50-feet restraining orders on a daily basis, I don’t imagine you’ve got people peeking in your windows to hear you singing in the shower.  And when you go out to grab a drink, I somehow doubt hundreds of people walk over to you to find out what you’re thinking.

If you’ve got any friends at all, I’d imagine you went out and found them, or got introduced by other people, or met them at work, or school, or by bumming a light 15 feet away from the bus stop.

If you’ve got online friends, I reckon you brought them over from the meat-filled world, or you met them over on Whitechapel, or someone on Twitter RT’d them, or you went looking for something in particular and found them by happy google chance.

And if you — and by extension, your Thing You’re Making — want an audience, you’ve got to tell those people when you’ve got something to show them, and lead them back.

Which is why, even though FREAKANGELS has been running into its third volume, now, Warren still twitters, blogs, and mails you a link, every week.  It’s why I sweep off the sidewalk and tell everyone the new discussion thread is open — and also ask everyone how they’re doing, because it’s a forum that’s tacked on to a comic, but it’s also a forum of people I know and want to hear from.

And it’s why Whitechapel is all everything else the other 6 days and 23 hours of the week, because no community is there for just one thing.  They’re there for each other, and themselves, too.  And that’s why you can hit 9 out of ten threads on Whitechapel and find links and directions out to other people’s blogs and stores and projects… and you’re far more likely to see comments in the thread than you are on the individual pages, just to hit that point a little more home.

So.  How do you find an audience for the Thing You’re Making?

You don’t.

You find people you like. And if you can’t find any, you find people that like the things you do.  And you join their community — or, if there isn’t one, you make it and you tell everyone that’ll listen until four people show up — and you find out what they’re doing and you tell them what you’re doing.  And you pay fucking attention to someone instead of your Google Analytics page of “unique yet nameless visitors” and maybe you end up buying their project before you even get around to selling your own.

And before you know it, you’ll have five friends who really probably don’t often comment on your blog, but they’ll all RT the link to your Thing You Made when you Twitter it’s live. 

Oh, and also, you’ll have five friends, and you won’t be that guy that bitches about how hard it is to make connections online.  That’s a win, too.

POD: Book-specific notes & observations

Posted on November 18th, 2009 in making things

I’m typing this up from memory and with a mid-grade fever, so apologies for any rambling and/or disconnected bits.  What this isn’t going to be, anyway, is a how-to or a step-by-step.  Those are all over the net, and if you can’t type “publish book lulu specs instructions etc” into Google, then I certainly can’t help you.

Speaking of specifications: Step One is read through Lulu’s FAQ. No matter what your skill-level or comfort with uploaders/layout/publishing/design/whatever… well, okay, honestly?  It’s always a good idea to read the  FAQ, anywhere.  When a site makes a FAQ/Help section, it’s because people have frequently asked the same questions you’re going to have, and very often the questions you’re not going to realize you’re going to have until you’re halfway through the process.  Giving it a browse first is going to save you time and headache.  Hell, I’ve been working publishing for a good long while, and Lulu’s Getting Started guides saved me some time.

Lulu’s user forums are, unfortunately, not as helpful.  And it’s a damned shame, but someone needs to go through and take a flame-thrower to a lot of the undergrowth in there.  For answers I couldn’t find in the FAQ, I found that searching the forums lead me to a LOT of dead-end or not-found pages. Very frustrating.  If you can’t find the answer to a problem in the static help pages, you’re a lot better off switching over to Google than you are trying to find it in the forums.

Which leads me to Lulu’s Contact System.  If you’ve got a problem that you just can’t find the answer to in the help pages or elsewhere, then you’re going to want to talk to a real person.  However, we’re all pretty used to getting an automated “trouble ticked received” email when we contact support — but Lulu’s automated response is a little different than most.  When their system sends you a reply, it closes the ticket.  You’ve GOT to reply to the automated response to get through to a real person.  And I get the why of that — a lot of people’s first line of attack is to ignore the FAQ and go straight to a real person, and Lulu are a truly DIY site, so they’re trying to cut down on questions that people could answer themselves with just a teeeensy bit of effort.  But, ha ha, if you’re like me, you’re used to ignoring the automated contact responses and waiting for the real person… which means you’ll be waiting for a good long forever.

As I said in earlier posts, how you go about putting your book together is completely up to you, and what you’re comfortable with.  The Lulu templates will give you a bit less control over what the finished product looks like, but it’s a really good place for the people that are just starting out.  Do you already understand why your inside margins need to be a titch wider than your outside?  If that question just kinda terrified you: that’s all right, but you probably want to start with the templates.  Trust me, your book is still going to be lovely, the important thing for you is just getting your content into a pretty and readable format.

If you are doing the layout yourself (and even if you’re using the templates), the most important advice I can give you is to give it a proofread after layout.  Yes, I know you’ll have already scanned for spelling errors and typos — but you don’t know how your sentences are going to fall on the page until they’re on the correctly-sized page.  You want to look out for widow and orphan control, yes (those last lines of a paragraph that slip over to the next page), but you also just want to look at general readability.  If you haven’t put at least one forced line-break in your book, somewhere, then you could use just a little bit of polish.  And, you know, this probably qualifies as advanced advice — but if you’ve taken the time to craft enough guts to fill a book, I’m operating under the assumption that you want to make it shine as much as possible.

Pictures:  There are a few pictures in Shivering Sands, and they are all right.  What I mean is, if I’d been making a book of B&W photography and my focus was on crisp and clear images, I’d have gone with something else.  But for supplemental images in a book of otherwise, they’re just fine.  Now, I haven’t looked at Lulu’s full-color books, but online reviews (and many photographers in Warren’s network) seem to say Blurb is slightly higher quality (for slightly higher prices. You very likely get what you pay for.)  Since, again, I don’t have first-hand, hands-on knowledge of either, I can’t speak to that with any authority — but, again, Google is your friend.

For B&W text, Lulu is just gorgeous.  They use a good weight and brightness of paper, and the text is very crisp and clear.  We went with the standard paper (instead of the economy-grade) to keep international shipping rates down.  That’s something to think about when you’re picking your size and format — the economy-grade paper will shave some pennies off your final cost, but it’s going to screw your overseas audience.  It’s a choice you’ll have to make — for Warren and I, it was very clear, but depending on what you’re making, and for whom, your decision may differ.

Order a proof copy.  Seriously.  I went over my PDFs of Shivering Sands twelve billion times, and I still missed a straight quote on the back cover the first go ’round.  Yes, it’s going to mean you have to sell a few copies before you start making a profit, but really? That’s better than the alternative of the first person that buys your book not giving you any feedback except “You misspelled your name on the title page, dork.”

And, after you push your book live — wait a week before you start linking it out to the public.  It can take 3-5 days for it to start showing up in the Lulu marketplace search results, and I know you’re thinking but I’m giving people the link so…, but there are going to be people that go browsing through the rest of the site before they decide to buy — and if they can’t find their way back to you, you just lost a sale because you couldn’t wait a week.  See?

Lessee.  I want to get into some general marketing, and a few more advanced notes, but I really am running a fever, and this is running a little long, anyway.  So I think I’m going to push this first part live, and come back for Part Two.  That’ll give you a chance to ask me any questions, too, so that works.

By the by, if you’ve opened a Lulu account to order Shivering Sands, you can already start looking at their publishing tools.  You should even have a sample book they’ve set up for you on your account page.  That’s worth taking a look at.

Now, I’m gonna go fall down for a while.  You go have some fun.

POD: Let’s back up a sec, here.

Posted on November 17th, 2009 in making things

Whoo, that last one was a bit of a rant, wasn’t it? But I needed to get that out of my system, because I’m tired, I’m just dead tired of the “everything’s broken/too hard/scary/etc so why bother trying?” nonsense. And I know it’s not new, but a few years back it just started snowballing because here’s the truth of it: It’s a million billion times easier to tell people what’s wrong than it is to try and make something right.

I’m am well self-aware enough to recognize that following a ranty post with that last statement is comedy gold, yes.

But now I’m going to switch gears and go a little hearts and flowers and rainbows on you.  Because I do honestly get that it’s honestly hard to start something, and it’s even harder to finish it.  Yeah, I know, I really do.  But now’s the time to do it, isn’t it?  Haven’t you noticed how many people — complete strangers, even -  are getting genuinely and creatively excited about Doing Stuff?  Part of it’s very likely the end-of-the-decade rush — it’s hitting some people like a ton of bricks, but it’s infecting even more people with cabin fever.  Folks are dusting off projects they first started thinking about in 2005 or 1999, or just finally flipping the switch and starting on something completely new.

And if the feedback I’m getting is any indication (and I’ve got comments disabled here because they don’t suit me, but I do pay attention to Twitter and I read everything on Whitechapel) — there are a LOT of you right. on. that. cusp. of taking the first step.  So look, I know I’ve been giving you lot a hard time about “just getting it done,” but before I get into my list of Stuff What I Learned Working With POD sometime tomorrow, I wanna back up a step and talk to you.

Here’s what you need to do, right now, tonight.  No, NOT tomorrow morning, or this weekend, or once your work rush has let off a little, or after the holidays, or sometime in the New Year: Right. Fucking. Now. 

Decide what you want to make.

And I’m talking about the single most complicated and ridiculous creation you can think of…

NO STOP IT I DIDN’T SAY HOW or WHY or WHEN, I only said WHAT.

Just the THING.  That’s all.  Is it a book?  Is it a script? A necklace? A toaster-cozy? A shirt? What is it?  What do you want to make?

And oh I mean it when I say ridiculous and complicated.  Look, if you want to take 365 photos of your toaster, one for every day of the next year, sometimes with toast and sometimes with a bagel and sometimes with an English muffin and one shot with a Very Dangerous Fork, and you want to blow those images up to 8.5×11” and put them into a monthly magazine with no words and just a picture of the appliance in its knitted cozy on the front and that’s what you want to make?  Then that’s what you want to make.

That’s what you want to make.

I SAID STOP THINKING ABOUT THE HOW OR THE LOGISTICS OR THE MONEY OR THE TIME.  STOP IT.

This moment, right now, this THING that you’re deciding to make, this thing exists independently of the fiddly bits for now.  This, what you’re doing here, is something that back in the olden days — before the slagosphere wasted all your time telling you how not to do things — they called a goal.  It’s a beautiful and magical thing that doesn’t need money or time or effort to believe in.  It’s only different from a dream in that you made it yourself, instead of letting your subconscious do all the work while you sleep.

Now, okay, here’s the little-bit harder step, are you ready?

Look at that THING you just said you wanted to make.  Really look at it.  Now, right now, tonight, NOT tomorrow morning, or this weekend, or once your work rush has let off a little, or after the holidays, or sometime in the New Year: Right. Fucking. Now.

DECIDE WHETHER YOU’RE GOING TO DO IT, OR NOT.

Period.  This is it.  You’ve been putting it off, or you’ve been planning to get around to it, or you know that once you get a little spare time it’s at the top of the list… for HOW long now?  I’m looking at you.  I know you’re already taking a breath to rattle off the list of all the things standing in your way.  and what’s more, I know you know they’re just excuses.

And it needs to end, now.  Your life is never going to GET less stressful.  It’s honestly not.  That’s not how life works.  When we put off the things we want to do, the stress of that adds into the stress of life.  You’re not going to GET more hours in the day.  You’re never going to have enough money to put aside spare time.  You’re not going to suddenly have That Moment where it all gels and you suddenly break out and start doing what you want to be doing… unless you MAKE that moment, right here, right now.

Oh I’m making a sappy speech right now, sure I am.  Imaginary music should be swelling on my cue.  But I’m telling you the absolute truth, okay? If you say, right now: “Oh whatever, I’ve heard that before, but it’s different for me, I’ve got different troubles and it’s not going to hurt me to wait until 2010″ — then you’re already out of the game, and I’m sorry, but that was that.  You might get there in ten years, sure, anything’s possible… but it’s going to have to be a different you that gets you there.  Because you, right now, haven’t got it.  And that’s fine — not everyone does — but it’s really time for you to put your energies into whatever you think is more important than Making What You Want.

The rest of you, well, you just signed on for a metric fuckton of work, and tomorrow you’re going to start realizing how much — but you’re all going to make it.  As long as you’re telling the truth, as long as you’ve decided you’re going to make your Thing, as long as you’re not shitting yourself just so you can feel like this paragraph is for you — you’re in.  It truly is just that easy — you make your goal and then you do every damned thing you can to get it done. You’re making a THING.  What, you think you can’t make a little Time?  Time isn’t half as hard as making a Thing! If you can write a book, you can make time.  If you can sculpt, you can create the moments to do it. If you can make pictures or music or knit or anything, then a little jiggery-pokery of space-time is nothing at all.

(That’s all a lie.  It’s hard as all fuckity, honestly.  But you said you weren’t lying when you said you wanted to do this thing, so you’re fucking well in it, now.)

That’s it.  Do it, or don’t. Shit, or throw out the pot. Pick one, and stick with it.

And if you come back tomorrow, I’ll be here helping the folks that, just like you, decided to Make Something.

POD: If you’re not Warren Ellis.

Posted on November 17th, 2009 in making things

Oh, I spent some time trying to craft the single most condescending post title I could think of, yes.  I also considered “for the common man” and “little guy” and — my personal favorite abandoned only because it was a touch too long — “for all those losers who really have no right even trying.”

Turns out, I only had to hit up the internet comments buzzing around the release of Shivering Sands to find the most patronizing qualifier.  Because all sorts of people, it turns out, would just love to try out POD, except they just “aren’t Warren Ellis.”

If you haven’t guessed yet, this post is going to be a little bit mean.  But, see above: people were asking for it.

So, okay, yes — let’s go ahead and talk about this terrifying and insurmountable hurdle to publishing/creating/selling through an online Print on Demand service: Let’s brainstorm and try to find some solution to our pitiful state of not being Ellis.  We can do it together, I think, if we try really hard — we can shut our leaking cry-holes for a second and consider a kinder world, with possibilities even for us.

All right.  Here we go.

We have already, I assume, ruled out the possibility of going back in time to before Warren started his writing career and attempting to become Warren Ellis before he can get there.  Time travel is, after all, fiddly business.  And, frankly, if any of us had already built a time machine, I’d imagine that using it to get a book published wouldn’t be our top priority.  Except maybe for you, over there  in the back — I see you’d like to make a DINOSAUR PHOTOS coffee-table book, so yeah, you’re going to need to work on a time machine.  And best of luck to you, I’m ready to buy your book if you’re not torn apart by raptors on your way back to the console.

But the rest of us are going to have to think outside the temporal displacement box, bah.

Well, there’s the fake it ’til we make it option, I suppose — which I’d certainly usually advocate… except I’ve been modding Warren’s forums for a lot of years now, and I gotta tell you: there’s few things that annoy me more than people putting on a lo-fi Ellis-lite persona to get attention.  In fact, it’s one of those things that makes me hit the ignore/ban button faster than almost anything — and I’ve got a pretty high internet-nutter tolerance, so that might just end up losing you those imaginary book sales you haven’t even made yet.

Oh this is just looking hopeless, isn’t it?  I mean, clearly the steps to POD success are as follows:

  1. Be Warren Ellis
  2. Have a hugenormous audience
  3. Sell them all your book
  4. Profit

But what, oh what can we do if we’re not Warren Ellis?

… no.  That… that couldn’t work.

It’s too crazy.  I don’t even want to say it.

What if, what if step one is… be [your name here]?

I mean, that’s just crazy-talk, innit?  I mean,, there’s a long list we haven’t exhausted yet.  I mean, we could try being Wil Wheaton, or Jamais Cascio, or Lee Barnett, or our next-door neighbors, or that guy at the bus stop.  Surely we’re not to the point of desperation that leads to trying to make a go of it ourselves.

Except…

What if the steps were:

  1. Be [your name here]
  2. Write a bloody book instead of whining about what you’ll do with it when you’re done
  3. Get an audience
  4. Profit

Now, I know that mixing up steps 2 and 3 like that just FLIES in the face of internet logic, but I might be on to something here.  Because now we’re talking about a fantastic world where, when you introduce yourself to people, you can actually say you’re a writer — and be telling the truth — instead of your usual “And I’ve got a bunch of clever ideas I’m going to write someday as soon as I get an agent and/or wake up one morning in an alternate reality where I’m Warren Ellis.”

How mad is THAT?  I mean, the possibilities get really wild after that!  When people ask you what your book’s about, you can actually tell them, instead of hinting about how you don’t really want to get into it because they might steal your idea!  And then, OH MY GOD, you could — oh this is incredible — you could direct them to the site where your book is ready to be printed and mailed off!  Do you realize what this means? They might buy your book!  This could… my god this could actually work!!

Yes, I am the biggest bitch you’re going to read today.

I’m also right. And if one person reading this finally got the shake they need to stop talking and start doing, then the massive traffic drop-off I’m going to get now is completely worth it.

And if one person did finally get it, you should come back tomorrow when I’m going to have some not-so-bitchy advice about the POD system I’ve picked up in the past little while.  Because if you’re going to actually use it instead of making excuses, then I’ve got time for you.

TOTW0004

Posted on November 16th, 2009 in making things

I think this may be my best TOTW design yet. At least, Warren took one look and called it “utter madness” — and that’s pretty precisely what I was going for…!

Read more at Warren’s TOTW post.

TOTW: Three weeks on

Posted on November 15th, 2009 in making things

In about six hours, this week’s T-shirt of the Week — the little bit of weekly madness brought to you by Warren’s brain and my machine shop — expires.  If you’re reading this on my site, there’ll be a little countdown widget there in the sidebar giving you the precise (to a factor of “pretty much”) time to live, which you can, if you like, stick in your own blog and watch it automagically update tomorrow with the new TOTW.

Will tomorrow’s design be niftier?  Who knows?  I’m taking the opportunity that a weekly project affords to try and up my game each time… but whether you like the next (or the next, or the next) better is, well, it’s all a bit like Let’s Make A Deal, isn’t it? Only instead of fabulous prizes and curtains named Door #4, it’s fabulous bits of silly on whatever clothing options we’ve decided to offer this week.  But the basic premise stands: Either you decide this week’s is the design you want… or its gone and that’s that.

Which is something worth taking a closer look at, I think, because it seems a bit counterintuitive to the whole idea of the internet and POD.

If there’s anything we know about the internet, it’s that it’s going to be forever, innit?  It’s one big giant archive of information going all the way back to the dawn of time, certainly.  And that’s incredimazing, of course — we’re adding to the archives every day as things like Google Book search add out-of-print titles, and the Wayback Machine does its best to even give us snapshots of now-dead sites.  Mp3 repositories are adding out-of-stock or never-in-stock bootlegs and live recordings of music.  Nasa are putting up snapshots of dead stars (that’d be the dawn of time almost-hyperbole).  It all comes down to this: If it’s online, there’s no need to act fast.  You can bookmark it with Delicious and get around to it next week, if you like, or next year, or never.

And, with POD, there’s really no “…while supplies last!” either.  That’s brilliant, too, of course — a huge part of putting Shivering Sands on Lulu is just that: it can stay there as long as Lulu does, still pulling in a sale or two in ten years.

But, although I’m not advocating a fake or forced sense of urgency — because that’s a bit cheap, and more than a bit insulting to folks’ intelligence — there is something to be said about exploring how some online and POD systems do lend themselves to Being An Event.

It was Warren that first brought my attention to the concept of Event Internet (although he calls it “Appointment,” but I don’t love those so I’ve renamed for comfort), so I’m riffing off his playbook, here.  But he’s certainly not the only person playing with the idea.  There’s the well-documented Twitter-Flash-Mobbery that Amanda Palmer’s been pushing for a while, or Eliza Gauger’s Sweatshops, for instance.  Hell, just a few minutes ago, Wil sent me a link to this, saying: “It redraws random fractals every few seconds. You can’t save them, so you just appreciate them and then wait for the new one to show up.”  Which isn’t precisely an “event,” I suppose, but it sums up the idea rather nicely: You can’t save everything — although you can often record the live event to watch later — but sometimes, some things, even online, are about this moment.  And when they’re gone, you missed it.

So what the hell could that possibly have to do with Print On Demand which, as I just said, is so great because it just stays there forever?  Well, it’s all about looking at the tools in your kit and thinking about new ways to use them. 

Cafepress, for instance, only allow one of each item at any given time in a free shop.  Oh, sure, Warren and I could open a new shop every week, I suppose — except then you start running into the law of diminishing return visitors, as older store URLs get lost and forgotten.  There are ways around that, too, if that’s how you want to use the Cafepress toolset — but we decided to turn that built-in constraint into feature.  Hence, each week we only have one of each item — and when we want a new design, we turn over (almost) the whole stock. (We do have a few items that will stay forever, and that’s the beauty of that.)

But where it starts getting really interesting is when you start thinking “What else could I do?”

Brian Wood, for instance, delighted me yesterday with this little tidbit: “I have a POD book done through Lulu and for each convention I brought it to I changed the contents and cover of the book slightly, doing new print runs each time. You can upload and replace the print file as often as you like, which is great.”

Think about that for a moment:  Lulu allow you to upload new guts and/or covers for a single book as many times as you want.  What else could you do with a constantly updating physical object?  Corrections and updates, surely — but what about yearly volumes that over-write the last?  A URL-as-and-to-palimpsest of new-growth writing taking over the pages that may no longer be culturally relevant in this moment. Is it a counter-intuitive use of what we think of as a book?  Perhaps.  But its interesting, too, isn’t it?

What about POD magazines with no back-catalogue?  What possible use is that?  I dunno, yet, but I’m thinking about it.  Even that little widget there in the sidebar, when it automagically updates in a few hours, it’s going to be something new and never revisited.  And sure, that’s not a physical thing… except your eyes do say it’s there, so it sort of is.

I’m awfully close to entering one of my fugue states where I just start saying things that don’t exist yet in a stream of barely decipherable consciousness, so I’m going to leave off with this: don’t just think about format as “how we get stuff from Point Brain to Point Audience” — think about why we use formats that are “permanent” or “ephemeral” or “static” or “dynamic”, and what we can do with any and all of the above.

And I’ll see you tomorrow with a new T-shirt of the Week.

(Happy()Sad)

Posted on November 11th, 2009 in making things

UPDATE: Wil liked the shirt so much that Rich and I decided to cut him a coupon (that you can use): Type ‘wilw’ at checkout to get 15% off your TOTAL order through the end of November (that’s anything in the shop, so now’s the time to stock up!).

UPDATE 2: Install the (Happy()Sad) Tumblr Theme, if you wanna.

October was the month my brain completely kicked into OHMYGODINEEDTOMAKETHINGS overdrive.  About a million projects leapt into my brain, fully-formed (except for the formed part), and one of them was this:

And I just had to put it on a T-shirt.  There is no emoticon for those moments that are the intersection of :) and :( — not really.  Oh there’s a :/ face for conflicted or meh, sure, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about those moments when life throws you a THIS IS AWESOME OH GOD IT SUCKS YAY BOO.  And those days?  Well I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of them in my life that I could wear a shirt for them.

I very briefly considered the sort of Product Event that Warren and I would use Cafepress for, but I really wanted to partner with a serious T-shirt vendor for this one — go with a traditional storefront and a 3-color ink process.  This is one of those… well I want it to stick around for a while, you know?

So I went to the smartest T-shirt guy I know, Diesel Sweeties’ Rich Stevens.  And Rich (who’s the smartest T-shirt guy I know) thought it was a winner, so I did all the fancy-schmancy layout and design, and Rich is doing all the fancy-schmancy… well, everything else.

We would really love your help spreading the word about this one.  If you love it and you buy one, then do me a favor and twitter/blog/tell your friends.  Hell, if you love it and you don’t buy one, or even if you kinda hate it, I’d still be thrilled if you help us get the word out.  Like I said, I want this one to stick around for while, and it will as sales merit.  So please help make sales merit:  Go buy one!

Do Projects via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 10:34 AM PST

Do projects. Books and art and things. Available as paid print object or free digital object.

Do is Nurri Kim and Adam Greenfield, "accompanied by a loose network of friends and collaborators", and I love their statement of purpose:

Some of our ambitions are to:

- develop words and images that make the people who encounter them re-see themselves and the world around them;

- find the most appropriate containers for our ideas;

- craft the kind of books that please their readers in the details of their conception, design and construction as much as in the things they say;

- and figure out what ?do-it-yourself? might mean in an age when new production technologies, informational and logistical networks give the independent amateur producer unprecedented power to reach out and make things happen.

First up is Nurri’s TOKYO BLUES:

Now available for purchase or free download, Tokyo Blues is a photographic record of Nurri Kim’s 2002-2003 investigation into this humble industrial material and the very wide variety of uses to which it’s put in the everyday life of Japan.

From construction sites and homeless settlements to cherry-blossom viewing parties in the park, the ubiquitous blue tarp is a constant of Japanese life and a bearer of multiple registers of meaning. In sixty-four images from the boulevards, alleys, sidestreets and interstitial spaces, Tokyo Blues explores these dramatically different contexts, returning something ?we see too often, and then forget to see? to full, vivid visibility.

4150914148_8f1d85cdcf_o

Things I Do Not Want For Xmas via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 09:40 AM PST

4150029227_7ea7154f91

(thanks to Andrew Ducker for making me look at this, you fucking bastard)

Matt Fraction: Autodidact via Kelly Sue DeConnick

Tuesday December, 01 2009 07:58 AM PST

Matt Fraction: Autodidact, originally uploaded by Kelly Sue.

Happy birthday, my love.

SHIVERING SANDS: Ebook via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 07:46 AM PST

Well, a bunch of people asked for SHIVERING SANDS as a download edition. So we’ve turned it into a PDF and put it on sale for USD $7, a little less than half the price of the print edition. And you can find it here at the IEU/Lulu storefront.

last shot via Trixie Bedlam

Monday November, 30 2009 09:16 PM PST

trixiebedlam posted a photo:

last shot

Night Music: Xela via Warren Ellis

Monday November, 30 2009 07:31 PM PST

Discovered Xela just the other day. If you come across an EP by Xela called THE DIVINE, grab it. This is from the album THE DEAD SEA:

?Ayn Rand Assholism? as Institution/Ideology via Meredith Yayanos

Monday November, 30 2009 06:26 PM PST

Ayn_Rand_Dominatrix
GQ link via Tertiary, thanks.

If you read any rant today, make sure it’s “The Bitch Is Back”. (Be warned: should you happen to think Objectivism is nifty, you may not appreciate it quite as much.) Andrew Corsello’s essay for GQ concerning author/philosopher Ayn Rand’s followers and her work’s lingering influence over global economics and politics is a raw, rambunctious, damning piece of work. Here’s a choice excerpt:

In the end, it’s not the books but the smug, evangelical certainty of Ayn Rand Assholes that causes me to loathe Ayn Rand in a personal way. The thing I liked most about college was being around so many young people who were as earnest as they were dauntingly smart. People who didn’t (yet) feel the need to own every room they walked into. People who knew how to ask questions. That was it. All that elevated question-asking, and the pliancy of temperament it entailed.

We were children. Then came Rand, “the Rosa Klebb of letters,” as entertainment journalist Gary Susman calls her, to body-snatch some of the best of them. Rhetorical question: Is there anything more irritating than a 20-year-old incapable of uttering the words “I don’t know”?

Actually, there is: an 82-year-old Alan Greenspan admitting in October 2008?at least ten years too late?that he’d found “a flaw in the model that I perceived as the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.”

WORD. Wish I still had the email address for this kid in my high school economics class who used to carry Rand’s photo around in his wallet and habitually referred to people as “subnormals”, just so I could send him the final, frothing paragraphs of Corsello’s essay.

See also:


Post tags: Books, Crackpot Visionary, Opinion, Politics, Uber

November 30, 2020 via Cherie Priest

Monday November, 30 2009 04:56 PM PST

Hey. Guess how many words I wrote today? NONE! HAHAHA! THAT’S RIGHT, NARY A SINGLE SYLLABLE OF FICTION, SO THERE. Ladies and gents and everyone else, I’ll have you to know that every single Draft Zero in my queue has officially been composed. And this morning I sent “Reluctance” off to its editor (squeaking in under deadline, BOOYAH), which means that my deadline list is looking MIGHTY FINE.

Of course, any minute now editorial feedback and rewrites are going to come down the pike for Dreadnought, Clementine, and Fort Freak … but please — let me enjoy the moment while it lasts. I can scarcely tell you what a leisurely day this has been, with no obligations except my day-job work. This must be what it’s like to only have one job! It’s been so long, I’d nearly forgotten the sensation.

To celebrate the occasion, I shall give you links!


  • First up! Mark Henry - As you know Bob, Mark is our Chief Male Member of Team Seattle (which somehow sounds filthy, but ’tis only fitting). In short, his books are absurdly awesome — irreverent, hilarious, disgusting, and intensely perverted. Something for everyone! I swear, his Amanda Feral stories are a guaranteed recto-stick-ectomy. So please click the link and go show him some love … some dirty, dirty love …

  • Because Subterranean Press is evil - Bill is offering 50% off preorder titles. This is your chance to pick up some great reading material at unbelievable prices - just click that-there link and follow the directions to textual bliss. Offer lasts until end-of-day Friday, December 4th. Merry Christmas, y’all! (Sorry — Clementine isn’t available for preorder yet, so there’s nothing of mine to be nabbed. But I’m sure that even the most casual browser among you will find something of interest.)

  • Kyle Cassidy and Crew - Yesterday, Kyle and his lovely wife (plus two lovely guests) came to visit, and it was just plain amazing. He even took some shots for the Where I Write series, of which you can see an iPhone outtake right here. I don’t know why I look a little pissy, staring off like that. I was listening to/looking at Trillian over on the couch. It’s hard not to look at her. She’s really pretty. Anyway, I know for a fact that Kyle has about a jillion pictures of me laughing and looking like my usual cheerful dork self, on account of how he had me laughing most of the time he was holding the camera :)

  • Steampunk Exhibition Ball — Right here in Seattle, at the Museum of History and Industry, Saturday night. I SHALL BE THERE. I won’t have any books for sale, I’m afraid; but if you bring me yours, I’ll be happy to scribble all over ‘em for you, at your discretion. I believe I’ll be reading a bit? Details remain a little fuzzy. But trust me to be there, bedecked as a shipwrecked steampunk pirate — via a costume I’m building around this gob-smackingly lovely corset (which is even more gob-smackingly lovely in person, believe it or not). Anyway, if you’re also at this event — do stomp up and say hello! I love meeting new people, and will talk your ears off if you give me half a chance.

SUPERGOD #2: Preview via Warren Ellis

Monday November, 30 2009 03:50 PM PST

Out from this Wednesday, several pages up for your inspection at this link.

Music I Liked In 2009 [3] via Warren Ellis

Monday November, 30 2009 01:32 PM PST

Third in a possibly infinite list of music wot I liked this year:

"Love Is A Wave," Crystal Stilts: I don’t care what it’s derivative of, I don’t care what you think, I loved this and I consider it one of the great pop records of the year. You can disagree with me, but at the end of the argument I will be Right and you will be Severely Bruised. There is a Narrative Purity to this record. It says: what if the Libertines, that great music-press delusion of the 00s, that band that only made one great single and it was their last one, that band who became invited into the Rock Canon because they had a great story… what if they had, one time, tried to get the rush they gave people down onto a bloody record. Then it would have been this one. But ultimately they were a bit shit at being a band, so the Crystal Stilts did it instead.

THE TRANSACTIONAL DHARMA OF ROJ, Roj: you really need the CD of this, not least because of the gorgeous booklet written by Ken Hollings and designed by Julian House. This is a Ghost Box record, and as such has its roots in the cosmic hauntological weird. DHARMA, however, is a lot more about rhythm than most Ghost Box records. And it’s frequently absolutely gorgeous. It’s still coming out of that box of strangeness, don’t get me wrong. But it’s less concerned with building a sonic friction and weirding you out than it is with conjuring an interplanetary drum seance. And an interplanetary drum seance should first be beautiful.

he strikes like thunderball, because it's not unusual that she's a lady via Wil Wheaton

Monday November, 30 2009 12:40 PM PST

I heard a Tom Jones song yesterday, and resolved to spend some time listening to his catalog today while I worked. This lead me to discover two really great albums on Rhapsody that I probably never would have found otherwise. The first is called James Bond 007 13 Original Themes which is exactly what it sounds like. The second is called The Mod Scene, which is this sensational collection of British Invasion Modsound from the 60s that, unlike most compilations, doesn't seem to have a single lousy track on it (provided, of course, that you enjoy the Mod sound of the 60s as much as I do.) The two Tom Jones tracks which lead me to these albums, for the sake of completeness, were the theme to Thunderball and Dr. Love.

This reminds me of the time I saw a Tom Jones billboard on the way down to San Diego for Book and a Beer this summer, which prompted me to say to Anne (in what I decided is my Tom Jones voice): "I may be old enough to be your grandfather, but I'll still eat your panties for breakfast and�lunch, baby!" It was, as most things are, much funnier in context and more amusing to me than it ever will be to anyone else. Oh well.

I can't record a Memories of the Futurecast today, because there's fifteen thousand pounds of giant crane parked in front of my house, making thirty thousand pounds of noise. When it goes away, though, I'll get to recording, and the Futurecast will post sometime tonight.

The good news, though, is that I'm able to make good progress on Memories Volume Two. I'm already behind schedule (because I stupidly gave myself a deadline last week, forgetting about Thanksgiving) but I think I'll be able to catch up by the end of this week. So far, it's been a lot of fun and tremendously amusing, which is always a good sign.

Speaking of things that are fun and tremendously amusing, here's a Twitter exchange that made me laugh quite a bit:

theelkmechanic: I love living in the future. Sitting in Charlotte airport using my machine in Troy to update 4 servers in Phoenix. Beat that, @wilw

wilw: @theelkmechanic I drove the Starship Enterprise. [::dramatic pause::] Your move.

theelkmechanic: @wilw <tips king over>

I'm not going to lie to you, Marge, that made me gigglesnort, and I was relieved that @theelkmechanic took my joke in the spirit it was intended.

Well, the power just went out, so it's time for me to pack up my Mac and head out to a cafe with WiFi where I can work on my novel in front of people and get this posted. The weird thing is, while it's likely going to take an hour at least from the time I finish writing this paragraph until it actually posts on the internet, there is no perceived delay from whoever reads this, because as far as you're concerned, the post didn't exist until it was published, though it already existed for me.

Um. Yeah. I'm sure someone who's actually studied physics is going to knock me around for that, but since my knowledge of the field is limited to what I've picked up on my own, it's a fun thought exercise.

Okay, little post, go sit in an eigenstate for the nice people.

McCubbin?s Holiday Print Sale ? $20! via Kelly Sue DeConnick

Monday November, 30 2009 12:17 PM PST

pinkillo1sm, originally uploaded by Laurenn.

Hey, so, this is usually not my style-calling attention to my, erm, “modeling” such as it is-but if you know me at all you know that Laurenn McCubbin is one of my nearest and very dearest and she has a tendency to inspire me to behave out of character. (Like, sing on the treadmill or choreograph drill-team-esque dance numbers in the weight room.) (It’s horrifying really, but I can’t stop myself.)

SO. Anyway.

Here’s the deal: McCubbin’s in grad school and she’s got a crazy-fascinating art show* to put up in February of next year. In order for said show to happen, she needs to put out about a grand in early January. Wanna guess when her school loans come through? That’s right: MID-January. Which puts her in the position of needing to raise about a grand in… the month of December. During a recession. Not exactly the time when people are dying to make donations to art projects, you know?

To that end, Laurenn’s putting up some small, affordable prints of her work on Etsy. If you’ve ever looked at her stuff before, you know it’s generally available as larger prints in the $50-$150 range. Right now, because of these very special circumstances, you can purchase small prints IN TIME FOR HOLIDAY GIFT-GIVING for $20 or�THREE FOR $40.

That pretty much just doesn’t happen.

If you’ve ever coveted one of Laurenn’s prints before, THIS IS YOUR CHANCE. If you don’t want one of the images she’s posted, YOU CAN REQUEST ANYTHING FROM HER PORTFOLIO. If she can make it happen for you, she absolutely will.

Peruse her illustrations right here. Then contact her through her Etsy shop to let her know which image you favor.

If, for some reason your wiring is screwy and you would be further enticed to make this purchase by the fact that I modeled for some of these drawings… well, there’s no accounting for taste. But to nudge you into parting with your monies, I tried to group together all the illos featuring my mug — even the cowgirl one that I despise. (Do you see? Do you see my love and sacrifice?) I think I got them all. After trying various Flickr grouping methods, I found the easiest was to put them in this gallery.

*When Laurenn puts details about the show up on the web somewhere, I’ll link.

On Whitechapel This Evening (30nov09) via Warren Ellis

Monday November, 30 2009 10:10 AM PST

On my internet shithole today:

* REMAKE/REMODEL: Mysta Of The Moon - return of the artist game thread, all are welcome

* Changing SF Magazines’ Business Theory - I didn’t start this, I swear

* 2009 Music Retrospective - your favourites, this year?

* HAPPY()SAD

* Johnston & Mitten’s WASTELAND: #1 Free Online

* The Starry Wisdom Of Warren 30nov09

New Fast Company: Futures Thinking: Scanning the World via Jamais Cascio

Monday November, 30 2009 09:00 AM PST

...And just now my latest Fast Company piece popped up on the site. "Futures Thinking: Scanning the World" is the third in the occasional series on thinking like a futurist.

In my opinion, it may actually be the hardest step of all, because you have to navigate two seemingly contradictory demands:
  • You need to expand the horizons of your exploration, because the factors shaping how the future of the dilemma in question will manifest go far beyond the narrow confines of that issue.
  • You need to focus your attention on the elements critical to the dilemma, and not get lost in the overwhelming amount of information out there.

You should recognize up front that the first few times you do this, you'll miss quite a few of the key drivers; even experienced futurists end up missing some important aspects of a dilemma. It's the nature of the endeavor: We can't predict the future, but we can try to spot important signifiers of changes that will affect the future. We won't spot them all, but the more we catch, the more useful our forecasts.

It boils down to this: keep reading, keep asking questions, keeping looking for outliers... and if you think you have enough, you don't.

Foreign Policy 100 Top Global Thinkers via Jamais Cascio

Monday November, 30 2009 08:47 AM PST

About two months ago, I was notified by the editors at Foreign Policy magazine that they had selected me as one of their "top global thinkers," to be announced on November 30. I was asked to not say anything about it until then, and, frankly, I wouldn't have had much to say. A search of the FP archives showed no previous iteration of this list, so I had no idea if it was just a list of people who had interesting articles in an issue over the last year or some such.

So when the new issue of Foreign Policy went live on the web on Sunday Nov 29, I was stunned to discover that it was a list of the 100 "most influential" thought leaders shaping 2009... and that I was #72. Even more surreal was what they said:

72. Jamais Cascio

for being our moral guide to the future.

FUTURIST | INSTITUTE FOR ETHICS AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES | SAN FRANCISCO

Climate change is coming, and geoengineering -- the prospect of artificially manipulating the world's climate -- may seem like an easy save. But in fact it's threatening and ethically complex, putting a literally earth-shaking power in the hands of a few, says Cascio in his new book, Hacking the Earth, the most subtle analysis so far on the subject. This year, Cascio, guru of all things on the horizon and founder of the website Open the Future, agitated to strengthen the global financial system through decentralization; argued passionately that resilience, not sustainability, must be the new goal of environmentalists; and has become a leading thinker on robot ethics.

"Our moral guide to the future." No pressure.

It's a very odd list, mixing the usual institutional suspects (e.g., Bernanke, Obama, the Clintons, Cheney(!), Petraeus, Friedman) with a much more interesting (to me) group of more obscure scientists, writers, activists and thinkers. It's a list of "most influential," not "best," so there's a healthy mix of "yay!" and "no way!"

As part of the process, FP asked the listed folks to answer a set of questions about the world; about half did so (you can do it, too). The more personal items show up with the entries (and you can read mine there), but the more global issues got added up as survey results. But in the spirit of full disclosure, my answers to those questions can be found the extended entry.

But thank you to the editors at Foreign Policy for putting me on your list. I'll try to live up to those expectations.


In your opinion, is the worst over for the global economy?

b) No

If no, how long will it take for the global recession to end?
a) Less than a year b) 1-2 years c) 2-5 years

Global recession: (a) Less than a year (technically)
Structural weakness, leading to further problems: (c) 2-5 years (or more)

2) What is the most significant underreported story from 2009?

Somali pirates consider themselves a “coast guard,” to defend against illegal fishing by non-African states and illegal dumping of toxic wastes in Somali coastal waters. It’s not just a “piracy” story - or, rather, there are two piracy stories there, but only one is being reported.

3) What will be 2010’s “unknown unknown” - in other words, a global game-changer such as the September 11, 2020 terrorist attacks or Iran acquiring nuclear weapons?

It’s rarely possible to predict these, but a few plausible candidates:

  • major (and unusual) weather event in densely-populated area crystallizes public demand for action on global warming;
  • another pandemic flu, this one hitting even harder than H1N1
  • violent unrest in China

    4) Who are the three most influential global leaders outside the United States?

    1. Hu Jintao
    2. Kofi Annan
    3. Whoever is running Pakistan ISI’s Taliban desk.

    5) On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 signifying the highest rating), how would you rate U.S. President Barack Obama as a leader after one year in office?

    7

    How would you describe Obama’s contribution to the global marketplace of ideas?

    I believe that Obama has been more effective internationally than domestically; he has returned subtlety and strategic thinking to the world of US-led diplomacy. On international issues, he clearly seems to be thinking several moves ahead of most observers (still accustomed to the more blustery Bush admin practices).

    6) The future of the world will be better if we listen to what one person's ideas?

    Dr. James Hansen, NASA

    7) Did anything happen in 2009 that caused you to fundamentally change how you think about the world? If yes, what was it?

    Not in 2009, no.

    8) What is the most dangerous country in the world? (Pakistan, Somalia, other)

    Neither Pakistan nor Somalia can actually threaten the survival of the Earth’s civilization. However, the United States and China each produce enough anthropogenic greenhouse gases individually to tip the planet into a climate catastrophe. India is heading up there, too.

    9) Which country will emerge as the world's next powerhouse:

    b) India (Arguably, China is already a global powerhouse.)

    10) What is the world's most serious military conflict right now:

    a) Afghanistan/Pakistan