Tim Burton’s Cadavre Exquis

Tim Burton is using Twitter to crowdsource a new Stainboy story! The writing technique is based on the Cadavre Esquis way of writing. Every contributer only adds one sentence to the story after which it is passed on to the next person.
Put together the best 140 characters you can come up with and add ‘co-wrote a short story with Tim Burton’ to your resume!

Dear America

“Dear America, when you tell gay Americans that they can’t serve their country openly or marry the person that they love, you’re telling that to kids too. So don’t be fucking shocked and wonder where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids and driving them to kill themselves because they’re different. They learned it from watching you.”
– Sarah Silverman

Manual to the world #2

It’s already Friday again?  When I decided to make this a weekly feature, I forgot how short a week really is.  I might have to change the frequency and make it biweekly or monthly.  If every other entry in the journal is going to be a part of this series, things might get boring real fast!

For now there are plenty of cool tips to share, so here’s number two:

OasisNYC is a great online resource for community maps.  I love maps, so I had a lot of fun with this.  The OasisNYC map is an interactive map that shows you the location of community resources like public gardens, playgrounds, tennis-courts, parks, and much more.  You can even create your own map with just the information you are interested in and save it, print it or link to it from your own website.  While this is primarily aimed at New York city dwellers, it could be a great tool for visitors too.  And who knows, maybe something similar is available for where you live?

The OasisNYC website has a lot of other interesting information that you won’t on the map so definitely check that out too!  The menus might not be the most user-friendly and the copy on the website gets a little ‘governmental’ at times.  Here’s a little example from their mission statement:

The OASIS website is guided by a collaborative partnership of private and public sector representatives that seek to sustain an accessible information system that helps enhance the stewardship of open space so these areas are linked, diverse and sustainable for the benefit of all people, organisms, and ecosystems in and around New York City.

One of the best things about living all the way uptown is the amount of green space. That's what I always remind myself of when the A-train decides to go local!

Yes, that was one sentence…  All of the information given here is relevant, and most likely accurate too, but I would argue that there is a better way to communicate it.  However, this entry is not about copy-writing or web design, it’s about a great resource for information that is otherwise hard to get by.  And most of the information is presented in an awesome map! what more do you want?  It’s Friday today, go look for a nice park or playground to visit this weekend!

The Five Levels of Communication in a Connected World

A while ago, The 99 Percent by Behive published an article about the Five Levels of Communication in a Connected World.
As someone who has been frustrated many times with people picking the wrong medium for their message, I really appreciate this breakdown. We all know how annoying it is when people haphazardly post personal messages on our Facebook wall, or when someone tries to avoid a difficult or sensitive conversation by sending email instead of picking up the phone.  I guess my more than average interest in communication and interaction, makes me extra sensitive to this.  But I really believe we could all work a lot more efficiently if we mastered our every day communication better.

According to The 99 Percent, the Five Levels of Communication in a Connected World are (in order of least to most personal):

1)Message into the Ether:  Email and regular mail.

2)Back-and-Forth Messaging:  Instant Messaging and Text Messaging.

3)A Verbal Dialog:  A phone call.

4)The In-Person Spontaneous Discussion:  This is the typical water cooler conversation or when a coworker walks over to your desk to discuss something.  For obvious reasons this one is very popular in office situations.

5)The In-Person Scheduled Discussion:  The classic meeting, a lunch date or even when you and a coworker carpool to a client meeting together.

For a more in depth explanation I invite you to follow the link to the original article.  But maybe not just yet!  After reading the article and giving this some considerate attention, I have to admit that I also communicate at the wrong level every now and then.  And despite agreeing with the gist of the article, I also have a few thoughts and remarks regarding the various levels.

Level one and two seem to have more and more overlap as technology evolves. I remember when text messaging was clearly a level one medium.  Mostly because it used to be a lot more tedious to type on a phone.  But also, and this is my un-researched personal opinion, because people used to pick up the phone more easily.  Whether this is a good or bad evolution is debatable.
This overlap also causes the line between the two levels to blur.  A new technology like Twitter is a good example of this.  In essence Twitter is a broadcasting tool and as such it would fall in the first category.  However, a lot of people are using Twitter as a second level direct messaging tool.  More and more we also stop making the distinction between level one and two altogether.  At my office, email is often used for instant messaging.  Both email and instant messaging have their strengths and we should consider those before we pick our medium.  Some of the strengths of email is that it allows you to explain a point more elaborately and that the recipient can take more time to formulate an answer.  On the other hand emails are sensitive to causing miscommunication, the strengths I just mentioned can backfire easily.

In general you could say that the levels go from less personal to more personal.  This also means that the higher the level the more serious the subject of a conversation the more we feel like it deserves a higher level means of communication.  I’m sure a lot of web professionals like the people at 37 Signals and Automattic would disagree with this.  Sometimes lower level communication is perfectly acceptable for more heavy weight subjects.  I believe in the end the goal and the content of the conversation should determine which level of communication is appropriate.  Ask yourself questions like: Do I need instant feedback or can I wait for a more thoughtful reply?  Can I explain my point in a few words through instant messaging or should I opt for a more lengthy email?  Will the conversation benefit from face to face interaction that allows for much more nuance than a phone call?

A few simple questions before firing up your instant messenger or picking up the phone can save a lot of time and frustration in the long run.

Further reading:
Five Levels of Communication in a Connected World [via The 99 Percent]
Getting in too-much touch
[via 37signals]
The interruption tax [via 37signals]

Manual to the world #1

This is the first in a series of little life lessons, productivity tips and ‘life-hacks’ that I’ll try to post every Friday.  Just before the weekend we all need an excuse to procrastinate a little.  It’s always a good idea to mask procrastination with the excuse of learning something that one day might come in handy.

To start of the series, I’d like to introduce you to Fasten Seat Belts.  This beautifully animated and illustrated website explains local customs to help you avoid awkward situations when traveling abroad.  The sample below explains how in France and Belgium people ‘twist their nose’ to indicate someone is drunk.  As a native from the Kingdom of Belgium, I had never even realized that that is what people do.  It just goes to show how deeply embedded these local habits and customs are and how it will really help you blend in if you are familiar with some of them.

What makes it even more appropriate to open the series with this tip, is that Fasten Seat Belts is produces by 43 Films a non-profit organisation from Brussels, Belgium.  Among 43 Films’ other projects is a documentary about the amazing artist Francis Alÿs. A Belgian artist who lives and works in Mexico City.  Check out his work if you are into artsy stuff!

Without further ado, here’s a little taste.  You’ll have to visit Fasten Seat Belts for more.


[via Swiss-Miss]

Design and redesign

Made by Fred has been under construction for a few weeks now. During this time, I’ve been experimenting with the design.  While a few core ideas have remained unchanged, the general look and feel has gone through many iterations already.  I skipped the Photoshop stage and dove right into editing CSS.  The only reference I used were a few sketches in my notebook.
As a big Instapaper fan, I’ve been really focusing on content and clear presentation.  It’s a misconception that the current readability trend is at odds with graphic and web design.  It’s not about less design, it’s about using the design to present the content in the best way possible.  Made by Fred is not entirely there yet, it’s a work in progress and to some extent that will always be the case.

Readability and clear presentation go hand in hand with typography and font rendering.  There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to web typography.  CSS3 gives us more options but we’re not quite there yet.  My computer screen is nice and bright, but it doesn’t even come close to rendering fonts as well as my e-reader (which is in turn a far cry from a well printed book).  Leaving hardware out of the equation, there’s the issue of font rendering differences between browsers.  I mostly use Firefox, Safari or Chrome on OS X, but some of my time is spent on Firefox or Internet Explorer on Windows 7.  Windows 7 is a solid OS, but the font rendering is downright pathetic.  I hardly ever use Ubuntu, but I love how well it renders fonts!  The trouble is, while fonts might looks great on Mac OS X or Ubuntu, most people still use Windows so you’ll have to pick fonts accordingly.
Typography is just one aspect of design, but it really affects the look and feel of a web site.  While the above mentioned issues can make the process of selecting the right font a little frustrating at times, it’s well worth spending some time on.

Made by Fred is not entirely ready for prime time at this point.  But since I strongly believe that ‘if you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long’, it’s online anyway.  Things will continue to change and hopefully improve, but in the meantime Made by Fred is available for you to enjoy.  Feedback is welcome even if the comments section isn’t entirely finished yet!