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Going from good to great

There’s always the chance that your gift will crash-and-burn; to give something that surprises and delights takes great thought, empathy, and a true understanding of the giftee, and most of us quickly retreat to the safety and ease of the list.

Ben Thompson, shows us how to go from good to great, over at Stratechery.

Ben Thompson is one of the best internet business thinkers active today. His writing is astute, clear eyed and honest. His exponent podcast is also excellent, in many ways it’s like the directors commentary track for Stratechery.

Image credit: Stratechery.

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The Wire Bible

“In the end, the cost to all sides begins to suggest not so much the dogged police pursuit of the bad guys, but rather a Greek tragedy. At the end of thirteen episodes, the reward for the viewer — who has been lured all this way by a well-constructed police show — is not the simple gratification of hearing handcuffs click. Instead, the conclusion is something that Euripides or O’Neill might recognize: an America, at every level at war with itself.”

David Simon, creator of The Wire, quoted from the show outline originally pitched to HBO — AKA the Wire Bible.

In 2000 David Simon pitched a show to HBO that would be:

far more than a cop show, and to the extent that it breaks new ground, it will do so because of larger, universal themes that have more to do with the human condition

It’s not every day you get the chance to reflect on something so authentic, savouring the subtle texture and flavour. Let’s all take a moment to consider the origins of that fine street food delicacy: The Wire.

via Kottke, who also took the effort to mirror (archive) these documents for future web posterity.

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The Wire is all shades of grey

And the chilling thing about the show is that, when someone like McNulty decides to care out of turn, he’s not confronted by corrupt or otherwise evil people. Bill Rawls, the middle finger-raising Homicide chief, isn’t a bad guy, though he seems like one when he bitches out McNulty. He’s just a guardian of the system. His job is to keep the murder rate down and the clearance rate up, which in turn helps the department get funding to keep doing its job, keeps cops on the streets, etc. You’ll note that the thing that angers Rawls most is the fact that Jimmy dragged in the Gerard Bogue case, which happened in the previous year and therefore has no bearing on this year’s stats. Bogue may have had family and friends who loved and miss him, but he is of no use to Bill Rawls in his quest to make the numbers look good, and therefore he doesn’t matter. That’s not evil, not “one bad cop ruining the system for everybody else.” It’s just cold, cruel pragmatism, the best way Rawls knows to do the job he’s been given.

Alan Sepinwall, re-reviewing the first episode (s01e01) of the remastered, re-release HD series of The Wire.

This month HBO has re-released The Wire, remastered in HD. Let Alan Sepinwall walk you through one of the best, most compelling shows of our time.

I love the idea that David Simon would use the first scene in the first episode of each season to establish the themes for the season. This is the kind of TV making that just wasn’t possible in the 90’s. We really do have to thank The Sopranos for the glut of high quality TV drama on offer today.

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Empathy first, self righteousness second

The people who don’t feel safe; they don’t feel safe. We don’t. I don’t. They may not feel safe enough to tell you your good intentions are lovely but unwanted at this time. The ability to read minds isn’t required for any act of kindness to remain a respectful one. Kindness that is forced upon a person is not kindness.
Tessa Kum (@sirtessa), creator of the #illridewithyou hashtag. Article first published on her blog, here quoted from Junkee

The context surrounding this particular hashtag is both complex and multi-faceted — but I can say I’m proud of the way Australia responded to a racially charged terrorist event last week. Even if the whole damn thing hashtag was built on a lie, the resulting public response and conversation was completely worth it. Let’s just not let ourselves forget that it isn’t about us, about how we feel or about what we fear. Empathy first, self righteousness second.

Image credit: ABC

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Be frugal!

You know, the people who are downloading your app, they don’t see your fancy desk. They don’t care!
@jason, sharing his advice on how to save money in a startup.

Put the money back into the company, put the money back into the product. Be frugal! The WSGR Startup Basics series on TWIST is well worth the listen. Frank advice, from someone with experience.

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App Santa gives you iOS app discounts for Christmas

App Santa is back, and bigger than ever before! Enjoy savings of up to 80% on award-winning apps from independent developers through December 26th.
AppSanta.co

Some pretty stellar iOS apps in the collection, App Santa is offering up to 80% off these amazing apps until Boxing Day. Get in now, you might even spot a few good app gift ideas (if you’re coming up short for that special someone).

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As you can see: Scanner Pro & Day One are on my home screen[1. don’t even ask why Skype is kept in the Photography folder]. ScreensTweetbot & TextExpander Touch are on the second page. Don’t miss your chance to get some amazing software from independent developers for a steal.

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How to avoid blogging limbo

You too, can avoid blogging limbo!

Blogging today is almost too easy. Cheap hosting, open source software and fantastic themes are very easy to find and use. In fact, since it’s so simple & easy, you’re not even limited to just one blog. Why not have two? Why not have ten? The time between silly idea and voila! blog existing is so short, that it can actually become a problem for people with the inclination to do so. What am I trying to say? That since starting a blog is so damn easy, it’s also easy to wind up with too many blogs, slowly gathering moss in some dark corner of the internet.

You might laugh and call this a first world problem (“I can’t keep up with all of these websites I keep creating..!”), but it’s a real pain in my side when it comes to keeping things going. If you want your blog family to grow and thrive, and not simply wind up in 404 limbo, you need to give them the love and attention that they need.

Let me put it another way — it’s super easy to find and buy lots of beautiful plants to put in your home. You simply walk down to the nearest florist or garden store, pick something and walk home with it. But what happens two weeks down the track, when you’ve forgotten how often your orchids need watering? Or when you last watered them? Or how much water you’ve forgotten to give them?

Your beautiful flowers can very easily wither and die.

Life on the internet is unbelievably fast. News sites, social media sites & microblogging are all ‘in the moment’ (think: Twitter). Literally: blink and you’ll miss it. Yet at the same time it can be incredibly slow, especially when you’re trying to build something of value (value is a topic for another day). It can take a long time for your words to find an audience, possibly even an indefinitely long time, you just never know.

Those sites you started with infinite enthusiasm, passion and energy? Where are they now, 6 months later?

It gets worse when you consider sites created for business or startup ideas. Having your own domain name sure makes things seem legit, like you’re not just two guys in a building hacking together pieces of code. Like you might just be the next big thing. Startup life though, as we know, can be very demanding & business ideas are very likely to fail. Or you might need to pivot and change your focus – possibly many times before the whole house of cards collapse. The website you build in the first 6 months of operations had better be able to adapt and follow your new path, or instead be the most evergreen content ever seen. Otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll stop nurturing it, stop giving it the love it deserves. There’s a good chance it will simply slide into the internet graveyard.

Remember how I said that life on the internet is slow? Yes, we’ve finally reached our point. Dave Wiskus recently remarked that the App store is like a graveyard for good ideas. If that’s the case, then the internet is like the mother of all graveyards, filled with good ideas and intentions – though staffed by a skeleton crew. Held together with hopes and dreams of internet stardom. Only a few sites manage to save themselves from this limbo fate.

So how do you do it, you ask. How do you stave off oblivion?  There are three simple steps you can follow to avoid blogging limbo.

The first step is to simply not exist.

What? Not exist? How can I not exist?  It’s simple. The the most surefire step to avoid blogging limbo is to stop yourself creating the blog in the first place.

Does your blog need to exist? What will you post about? How often will you be writing there? Who do you hope will be your audience? If your answers to these questions were: “shut up!”, “stuff I like”, “whenever I feel like it” & “cool people”, I’d strongly recommend you stick to Facebook. This isn’t snark or an insult to your writing, I’m simply trying to help you avoid falling into blogging limbo. Blogs don’t give you the same kind of addictive social rush like Facebook. People aren’t already coming to your site to read your clever quips. You could think of Facebook as like blogging with training wheels. Make sure you really want to take those training wheels off, before you jump into blogging in earnest.

The second step to avoid blogging limbo is to set yourself realistic expectations and timeframes.

This sounds so boring, I know, but it really is the key to long lasting happiness and fulfilment online. Get really Zen about your web properties and you can stare into the void without flinching. By this I mean: don’t start thecoolzone.net.au expecting to be an internet sensation in your first year, or ever! Sure, it can happen and sometimes does, but setting high expectations is also setting yourself up to fail. By all means, keep hold of your hopes & dreams, but you can’t eat hope for dinner. Let your hopes inspire your actions, but don’t let them set your expectations. Realistic expectations often revolve around things that can be measured — e.g. web hits, shares and likes. Set realistic goals and work towards them, but don’t define success simply by what you can measure.

One of the goals for this blog is to get on the radar of people I admire professionally. Writers, mainly & most likely people you don’t know, but that doesn’t need to matter to you. It matters to me & that’s what helps me avoid blogging limbo.

The third step to avoid blogging limbo is equally simple: just keep blogging.

The clearest sign that a blog is neglected or slipping into the darkness is a simple equation, I call the neglect coefficient™:

neglectCoefficient = date(today) - date(mostRecentPost)

Blogs with a high neglect coefficient are a turn off for everybody. For you, for the readers, for advertisers, even for Google. And if you think it’s not true, let me assure you from my experience, that blog neglect is insidious. I know the neglect coefficients for each of my blogs & it’s a real slippery slope down to blogging limbo. It’s a mental game you have to play. Simply adding new content, on a decent frequency, will help pull you out of a neglect death spiral & get you back on an even keel (how many more metaphors can I cram in here?). Step 3 won’t save you if you’ve ignored Step 1 & 2, but it can help.

Despite perceptions to the contrary, being a blogger is hard work. Being a multi-blog author is even harder. You need every trick in the book to keep your plates spinning & to maintain sanity — but it can be done. The next time you find yourself considering either: starting a blog or giving up on a blog, I’d like you to think of this:

Not every blog needs to exist, not every blog will meet your success goals & no blog will succeed without sustained effort from you.

This doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, nor is this a call to stop blogging — on the contrary. I love blogs, I love blogging & I hope to some day enjoy discovering your writing on a well nurtured site.  The fact is that quality writing takes effort: maintaining that standard over time takes even more. I want to see you set yourself up to succeed.

These three steps will get you partway there, the rest is up to you.

[One last thing: I’m seriously astonished that Limbo for iOS literally dominates the google image search for the term “limbo”. Check it out for yourself! The cover image for this article was created by Diego Does on deviantArt.]

Update November 2015: Still dominating! Unbelievable.

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103 lessons learnt about street photography

  1. Beware using telephoto lenses in street photography. Remember, “Creepiness is proportional to focal length.”

Eric Kim at Digital Photography School

As someone who hasn’t done much street photography where I live, this list is like a view into a completely new world for me. My partner loves photography over all other forms of art, images from the street in particular. It’s all about the human stories to her, the ones that leave you with more questions than answers. Those are the best kinds of images, the ones that give you a glimpse into someone else’s life. This is the key to great street photography.

I think it comes from a natural curiosity about who people are, underneath the layers of civility and society. Who we really are underneath these layers, the masks, the façades we construct daily. It’s completely linked to authenticity, but I think it’s more than that – it’s about truly seeing who someone is.

It’s about insight.