In Person: Story Hour

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A few weeks ago I was able to make good on a promise and participate in the second installment of the Design Museum of Portland’s Story Hour series. The premise is quite simple: a group of storytellers have a short period of time to tell a story around a specific prompt. There are a few constraints, though: the time period is very short, either four or eight minutes, and you get a single image as your background, no slides or other a/v trickery.

The theme was ‘invisible design’ and while a bunch of kind of pop-design podcast fodder (Can you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?) came to mind I felt the constraints and format leant themselves to a little bit of meta tomfoolery.

So the whole thing was series of stories inside a talk inside an elaborate setup.

The effect was better experienced in person, but I’ll try to set it up here for you before sharing the substance of the speech.

Continue reading “In Person: Story Hour”

Appearing in La Petit Mort: River Talk

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A few months ago my buddy Michael Ventura asked me to write an essay for his new publication, La Petit Mort. Just last week I got the glorious, big-ass newsprint edition and found my piece, “River Talk,” reproduced faithfully. The design looks great, the illustration I cooked up wound up translating well visually, and I’m really grateful to have been involved and appearing alongside articles ranging from an ethical look at slum tourism to a primer on how to eat clean while traveling. The essay’s mostly about fishing, so head over to Current Flow State to read the whole thing.

Tetraethyl Lead and Pure Inquiry

I just finished a standout investigative piece that’s aged very well, Jamie Kitman’s look into leaded gasoline’s terrifying public health legacy, published by The Nation in 2000.

A few things struck me.

One is the continued prevalence of the cascading uncertainty rule, described here:

By relying on what Jerome Nriagu of the University of Michigan has called the cascading uncertainty rule (“There is always uncertainty to be found in a world of imperfect information”), the lead industry and makers and marketers of TEL gasoline additives were able to argue in 1925: “You say it’s dangerous. We say it’s not. Prove us wrong.” (Or, as Nriagu prefers, “Show me the data.”) They still do.

This is an almost classic misdirection that’s affecting how we judge huge dangers to society and public health, like vaccinations and global warming.

Meanwhile, a crusading scientist used techniques for determining this age of the earth to hypothesize how badly we were screwing it up by blanketing it with lead. Clair Patterson then gave what stands as a lasting caution against undue influence in research. This has recently been in the news, with Wall Street and academia cozying up.

“It is not just a mistake for public health agencies to cooperate and collaborate with industries in investigating and deciding whether public health is endangered,” Clair said. “It is a direct abrogation and violation of the duties and responsibilities of those public health organizations.”

I tend to use a lot of others’ research to make points; often, I can be lazy about sourcing. Was it the federal government, or a non-profit organization that’s providing that figure, or is it an entity motivated to make a specific commercial point? Research, both good and bad, can be easily manipulated. This served as a great reminder that concrete, civic-minded fact-finding is always going to serve the truth better than interested parties’ ‘findings’.

The Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange!

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A while back I read a post somewhere, I think on the IDEO blog, about their experiment with a saddle stapler. There was a story about how they furnished an alcove at the back of the office, and put out the stapler, commonly used to make crude staple-bound zines, and lo, amazing rainbows of creativity happened.

We ain’t them, so I decided to steal part of this idea, with 100% more <shudder> forced creativity, and lo the Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange was born. Everybody had a few months to conceive and execute a zine, using the tools at their disposal, and we’d swap them at the end of the year.

Counting our own issues of Contagious, Most Contagious, and all the the client-commissioned stuff, we made probably 10+ print publications this year. But not everyone has the chance to get dirty with pagination, design, concept and all the other fun parts of making their own magazine. Hell, I’m an editor and I don’t feel like I always do.

I can’t tell you how impressed I was when we exchanged them today. Writers, sales folk, whoever, it didn’t matter. The publications were from the heart and fun, which is all you really need for a good zine.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Noelle: Drink More Whiskey, a primer on everyone’s favorite brown liquid, its characteristics and varieties, where to drink it, recipes, etc., with samples
Kyle: Pittie’ful Zine, a look at the pit bull terrier’s origins, evolution and characteristics, including info on pits in American history
Erin: les hashtags en francais, a study of this year’s top celebrity Twitter arrivals, with hashtagged critiques of their work in French
Arwa: Notes From Goats: A pun-filled literary magazine, as authored by goats (ie critique of The Great Goatsby)
Chris: A Hell of a Lot of Mice: Music and miscellany, including an article on Willis Earl Beal, photos from NYC venues and part of Chris’ top 52 albums of 2013 summary.

I did a short sci-fi photonovela called PATRONYM on the JP Morgan of the clone era coming to terms with his legacy.

Methods as far ranging as In Design and Comic Life and even old fashioned cut-and-paste and hand-lettering brought these to life.

Best of all, they really did what every good solo publication should do: convey something about the creator.

I was having lunch today with a guy who runs the innovation department at a really large package goods company, and one of the things he said stuck in my mind. “We have the tools,” he said, “we just don’t use them.” Sometimes you have to figure out a way to get people to use the tools.

Things I Finished #1

In reverence to a tradition embraced by Jesse Schell and supported by Matt Webb, here’s the first of an ongoing series of posts titled ‘Things I Finished’, a kind of catch-all for media bits that took some effort and are worth mentioning.

Stories of Your Life: and Others, by Ted Chiang
I’d read a lot of Chiang’s stuff online, and finally picked this up to get through the last two I hadn’t seen, “Stories of Your Life” and “Understand”. Both didn’t disappoint. Chiang has a way of developing complete, convincing characters and worlds in a very compressed period of time, which makes it feel like he stretches the space of his stories. I’m excited to dig into his novella, The Lifecycle of Software Objects, as soon as the library delivers it to me.

Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage, by Eamon Javers
I was hoping this would be a little less mass-market, which sounds kind of stuck-up, but there it is. Javers details how private security and detectives have turned into freelance spooks and ex-Federal agents working in shadowy Washington corridors on behalf of any and all interested customer, securing all sorts of valuable information at whatever price. Very interesting stuff, yes, and a difficult world to get access to, but I was hoping there’d be more nuts and bolts attached, that he’d get into those corridors to figure out how these guys do their jobs.1

True Grit
I’m way behind on Oscars viewing, but wanted to get this one out of the way while it was still in theaters. As always, the Coens know how to write dialogue, but I felt some of the thematic elements were a bit unformed, for instance the snake motifs.

  1. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Anonymous/HBGary thing has stirred up a whole pot of shit, with the relationships Javers describes in the book exposed. We’ll see what Javers has to say–he seems to be stuck on Wall Street at the moment. []

Career Advice From The KLF

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You must hold the reigns tighter than you have ever held them before but let the chariot head over the cliff top. The abyss is calling.

Clutch at straws. Build castles on clay. Let the quick sand tell you lies. Take the scenic route. Be there on time. Use two drummers if need be. Fill out forms. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Midweeks and predictions. Fall, spin, turn and dive. Sign cheques. Solicitor doing deals with “Hits” and “Now”. Sleep at night. Black to white. Highest new entry. Good to bad. Fast forward. Top of the Pops. Re-read this book, whatever it takes. No, don’t. You already know all there is to know. Faster. Faster. Faster. Give everything. Just give everything. This is the beautiful end.

I just finished The Manual and everything is clear.