the candler blog

Medium Eats the Web

Technology, Writing

Much as I’ve tried over the years, I remain skeptical of Medium. Here’s me, two-and-a-half years ago, on the company’s then custom of paying name freelance writers to publish on the site:

What if I told you you could be published alongside writers from (but not in) The New Yorker for the low low price of free? In a nut, that’s Medium: a slick, magazine-like publishing and reading platform that writers should be so lucky to contribute to.

The paid writers bring their clout to Medium, the platform, in order to convince unwitting writers that they should contribute to Medium, the magazine, for free. The paid authors are thus pied pipers of a sort, luring not the readers but the writers out of the web and into Medium.

Now Medium has gone beyond bringing writers into the fold and has started subsuming whole websites. This week site introduced Medium for Publishers. Sites can bring their own domain, logo and content into Medium. In exchange you get a Medium-themed site built to be fast on mobile and access to “[a]n engaged network of millions of readers,” all for the unbeatable price of free. Not only will you not be charged for hosting the site on Medium, but the company is opening up a few revenue streams as well:

  • Promoted Stories (basically a #branded nom de guerre for “Native Advertising”)
  • Creative Partnerships (some word salad diarrhea that I think means “Advertorial” but I can’t quite tell)
  • Member-Supported Publishing (a paywall made simple)

I dare you to try and make sense of Medium’s explanation of Creative Partnerships. “Medium’s Creative Strategy team works with the brand to set a campaign vision, ideates the content, and coordinates production.” If you can swallow the word “ideates” and keep it down you’ve got a stronger stomach than me. That said, Medium promises “[t]hese opportunities are completely opt-in,” so let’s just pretend they don’t exist.1

I found out about Medium for Publishers the other day when Neil Miller tweeted a big update about his site, Film School Rejects. They’re moving over to Medium. Here are the reasons Neil gives:

…it breaks down to a few important points:

  1. It’s going to be a much nicer experience for our readers.
  2. The site will be free of annoying banner ads.
  3. We’ll be able to continue to operate independently, pay our writers and grow our audience.
  4. The site will be insanely fast.

As he explains the previous Film School Rejects loaded in 15 seconds, but on Medium it loads in a mere 2. I gave the old site a test using Pingdom’s speed tester and got about 5.5 seconds with a whopping 793 requests and 7.4 MB.2 Testing the same article on Medium: 1.13 seconds and a mere 40 requests totaling in 820 KB. Definitely a step in the right direction.

I think Neil’s experience and reasoning is what’s going to attract a lot of publishers to Medium. Having a slow-to-load site dependent on disruptive banner ads has long been a mainstay of web publishing, especially for upstart sites like Film School Rejects. To make a living, sites often made a deal with the devil, trading load times (and often good taste) for diminishing returns on ad impressions.

Web advertising has been severely broken for years. There are other ways for a publication to make money, but it’s hard to find something that works at your scale.3 I’m glad Film School Rejects’ banner ads have gone the way of the dodo (and I wish Neil and FSR’s stable of talented, thoughtful writers nothing but success at their new home), but it’s possible they and other publications are making a deal with a different kind of devil: Medium.

My original problem with Medium, that they used the stature of their paid freelancers to lure in writers on whose backs they could build a platform, has now been extended to whole publications. Instead of prominent writers it’s prominent publishers, namely Medium’s game-changing whale, Bill Simmons, that attract others to bring their words inside the Medium tent. Today, anyone can start a publication on Medium, but only some of them will be able to earn revenue from it.

The “Promoted Stories” ads look to be the main way sites, like Film School Rejects, will make their money. I called them “native content” earlier, and they’re by far the most native of content one can imagine. If I understand it: imagine a Medium publication that’s run by a brand. Brands can buy placement in other publications, advertising their newest content.

The initial placement of Promoted Stories will be in the footer of posts in participating publications, who will receive the majority of the associated revenue. As we develop Promoted Stories further we may offer additional placements.

It’s a different kind of banner ad. More discreet and faster loading, yes, but when you land on the brand page it’s going to look…exactly like everything else on Medium. If a reader is confused as to whose site they are reading, it’s working effectively.

As far as I can tell, the only way a publisher ever has to “pay” to be on Medium is when they charge readers for a membership. Over $10 per month, Medium keeps 20% of any subscription revenue.4 Otherwise, publications pay nothing except to keep up their domain. I bring this up because it looks like those “Promoted Stories” are Medium’s raison d’être, the company’s main source of revenue. Publications are just the delivery mechanism.

On a very basic level, I find Medium’s design bland, and in fact much more boring since they changed their editor last year. I wouldn’t be able to make something as rich as my “Digging Into The Dissolve’s 50 Best Films of the Decade So Far” anymore. While publications can bring a logo and choose a color scheme (as far as I can tell you get one color, which accents your header and links), the rest of the site is straight Medium style. I feel like whoever came up with the idea that all sites should look alike was in thinking jail.

Diversity of design is part of what makes the web great, but this isn’t just a matter of taste. The oft-repeated Steve Jobs quote, “Design is how it works,” is as true in publishing as it is in any other field. Close your eyes and think of Sports Illustrated or The New York Times, then imagine both with their designs stripped away to nothing, just a pile of black letters on white background. Would they be the same? Would the Financial Times be the same without its light salmon background, or Daring Fireball without John Gruber’s #4a525a? Maybe, maybe not. The design of a site says a lot about what’s on it. Medium asks you to throw all of that away and look like every other publication on it. That’s a big ask.

The question will be how much of the voices of the publications will be able to break through Medium’s own towering identity. Right now if you go to a story on any of the newly announced publications, like The Awl (whose most recent story on Medium is almost a year old), The Bold Italic, Monday Note or Film School Rejects, and scroll a bit down the page, they all look the same. They all look like Medium.

Today it seems like every major tech company wants to eat the web. It’s not enough to have devoted users; you have to be the Internet for people. Medium’s goal here is to become the place where writing on the web exists. They’re off to a great start. I just think publishing can be so much more than what Medium thinks it is. The only way to explore that is off Medium, on the web.

  1. I’ll note, though, that it’s important to know who you’re getting into bed with before you ideate some content with them.

  2. In the interest of full transparency, here are the results for my previous article: 1.95 seconds to load, 45 requests and 708 KB. I could strip a lot of that out, honestly. It’s just words!

  3. Me? I’ve tried different types of ads over the years, usually in a single sidebar block. Maybe I’ll bring ads back; probably not any time soon though. Of course, if you wanted to slip me a few bucks via PayPal or Square Cash I wouldn’t object. I’m lucky in that I don’t have anyone to pay. The candler blog in its current incarnation is just me.

  4. Under $10 per month, you pay a sliding scale of credit card processing fees which are waived for the first 500 subscribers; as far as I can tell Medium keeps none of this.

Thinking (And Reading) About Criticism

Books, Movies

I’ve been thinking a lot about criticism lately. I’ve been practicing it (here, here and here), but I’ve also been reading quite a great deal of it. And not just new stuff.

I recently read A. O. Scott’s excellent new book, Better Living Through Criticism, a (relatively) concise rumination on the nature of art and the importance of approaching it critically. Having been an avid reader of Scott’s for years, I was surprised neither by how much I loved the book nor the author’s ultimate critical outlook. He is one of those critics whose work I read and often want to shout, “That’s exactly what I thought but couldn’t find the words to say!” Which is, I guess, the point, both of criticism and art.

Criticism is almost as ineffable as art, a point Scott continually comes back to, sometimes in conversation with himself. More frequently than I’d ever expected, someone will off-handedly mention, as if it were a given, that criticism couldn’t exist without art (e.g. the film, the song, the book); and I always coyly correct them that the reverse is true. If the critic is a leech, so too is the artist.

Scott, naturally, puts this much better:

It’s the job of art to free our minds, and the task of criticism to figure out what to do with that freedom.

That’s exactly what I thought but couldn’t find the words to say!

Whether you’re a critic, a writer, an artist, there’s quite a bit of value in Better Living Through Criticism. In fact, if you hate criticism, if you’re the type of person who seethes whenever a scribbler cuts down your comic book flavor of the month (or whatever), then this may prove to be vital reading. You could learn a thing or two, or at the very least peer behind the curtain to see what really goes on as the feeble wizard pulls his levers.

Besides that book and the James Agee criticism I was reading for inspiration, I’ve also been working my way through J. Hoberman’s 2012 meta-critical compilation, Film After Film: Or, What Became Of 21st Century Cinema. Almost everything in the book had been written elsewhere (the bulk of which are contemporaneous film reviews, usually for the Village Voice) then expanded and/or heavily annotated for publication. Hoberman effectively draws the reader a map to the cinema after 9/11 and through the Bush years. (I’m three-quarters through the book; later it gets as far as 2011.)

I forget who said it on Twitter years ago (I want to say it was Matt Zoller Seitz), but the following thought has stuck with me: the problem with some film critics is they only know movies. This rang in my head reading Hoberman, who not only knows more than movies but vociferously insists that movies are more than movies. By that I mean that the cinema is much more than escapist shadows on a wall (which, by the way, is usually how those dismissive of criticism like to defend themselves). The seminal example, from a 2008 Voice cover story, is presidential obsession with Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 High Noon:

The weary loner’s brave posture of prescient and courageous certainty in the face of public (or foreign) cowardice is the American politician’s ego ideal—or so the viewing preferences of American presidents would suggest. Eisenhower screened High Noon three times at the White House. According to White House logs, High Noon ranks as the movie subsequent presidents would most request—none more than Bill Clinton, who watched his favorite film some 20 times and told Dan Rather that he’d recommend the western to his successor as a text. Unfortunately.

Movies don’t exist in a vacuum, so criticism of them can’t. This is why any argument for objectivity in criticism is so toothless. The critic is not just writing about film, he or she is writing about everything. Hoberman succinctly pens one of the best defenses of critical churn in the book’s preface:

The 750-word weekly film review is a specific journalistic form: over a period of months and years, these topical short pieces document a writer’s attempt to make sense of the ongoing flux of movies amid the ongoing flux of events.

I’ve never had much stamina when it comes to criticism, to my great regret. I wish I could have a library of reviews of all the films I’ve seen. One of my favorite aspects of the criticism I have written is the ability to look back, to see what I thought, which sometimes isn’t the same as what I think.

I have quite a few reviews that are half-started, mostly from this year’s SXSW. I’d like to get to them all out on the web and read them years down the line and see if they make (or ever made) any sense.

So will reading make me a better critic? Maybe. More than anything I need to write more. And that’s coming. Here it is, as a matter of fact.

SXSW Review: A Stray

Movies, Reviews, SXSW 2016

What defines you? Is it the language you speak? The religion you practice? The culture that reared you? These are the questions central to Musa Syeed’s excellent new film, A Stray, which had its world premiere here at SXSW.

The film follows Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman), a down on his luck Somali refugee trying to cut his own path in Minneapolis. Adan is pulled in every direction by the characters that occupy his life. There are his friends, forever smoking hookah and shooting the shit together in government housing. (It’s clear from the film’s opening scene: these are Adan’s people, yet he doesn’t fit in with them at all.) There’s the imam who takes him in but can only do so much to set him on the right path. There’s the restaurant owner who gives Adan a job, but has trouble trusting him. There’s the FBI agent trying to turn him into an informant. (Minneapolis’ Somali population is, in the real world, under heavy surveillance.)

And then there’s Laila, a stray dog he finds while running an errand for work. Because of his Muslim faith, Adan is uncomfortable taking the animal in, but when no one else will, the two become companions. The dog makes him a pariah with the other Muslims in his life, yet every time he tries to set Laila free, she comes back to him. And so, even if it means he doesn’t have a home anymore, Adan is stuck with the dog.

A Stray brings to light a world that doesn’t get a lot of time on screen, at least in the films this reviewer watches. It’s a coming of age film but on a scale much bigger than what that term generally means. Adan experiences the growing pains not only of adulthood, but of religiosity and national identity. He wants to be a good Muslim, and yet can’t cast Laila aside. When he’s hungry and living on the streets, he takes the food that’s given to him, but when he finds out it’s pork, it is a huge offense. He’d rather go without than question his faith on that level, even if he’s already questioning it on other levels.

Syeed’s direction is excellent. The streets of Minneapolis look gorgeous, photographed with a muted realism that is sometimes broken by dream-like soliloquies. Throughout, as he wanders the city, Adan is praying, but to whom is sometimes unclear. He could be asking God for help, or he could be asking the audience to see him, hear him. The onus is on us, then, to do so.

This is not the first film about a man living on the streets with an animal while trying to put his life together. (Vittoria De Sica’s Umberto D comes to mind, and it’s strange that, in film history, this is practically a genre.) Yet A Stray proves that there are millions more stories that need to be on the screen. We live in divisive times when people would deny someone like Adan a home in America. Understanding and empathy can begin with seeing a great story play out on screen. I don’t know anyone like Adan. But I do now, thanks to Musa Syeed’s film. I hope more will see it.

My Seventh SXSW

Movies, SXSW

This is my seventh SXSW. If I were a wizard I’d be studying for the N.E.W.T.s. So, as a fourth year senior around these parts, some thoughts:

  • SXSW is, at this point, the only film festival attend. Back when I lived in New York City, Tribeca and the New York Film Festival were the other biggies on the calendar. Someday maybe I’ll make it back to Deadcenter. There are so many other fests I should check out as well.
  • Without taking the time to count up the films, this year’s slate feels really documentary heavy to me. I don’t think there are any more or less than in year’s past. My guess is that documentary publicists have proven the more tenacious bunch, and so the emails I’m most likely to read are for docs.
  • The President is speaking at SXSW. That’s bonkers.
  • I maintain that, while SXSW is one massive unified fest, complaints of it being a shit show are…not about the film festival. As big and crazy as downtown Austin gets, SXSW Film still feels like, well, a film festival. A bunch of people gathering to appreciate and discover new work. I don’t understand what actually happens at Interactive, although I love checking out the trade show floor and appreciate all the free, like, candy bars and stuff companies give out. And Music…Music is crazy.
  • I feel like I should take Mayor Adler’s warnings to stay the hell away from downtown tomorrow more seriously.
  • This map takes too long to read so I’m sure it’ll all be fine.
  • Aaron Draplin, creator of Field Notes (which I’m nutso about), will be in town. Cool.
  • The first film I ever saw at SXSW was Kick-Ass.
  • The last film I saw at SXSW was, I think, The Boy.
  • I can’t believe I just watched the third episode of the fifth season of Girls. The premiere of Tiny Furniture still feels like yesterday. Also a funny footnote: it was touted as the first feature shot entirely on a DSLR at the time.
  • For some reason the only photo from SXSW 2010 on my Flickr page is a of the team behind Annie Goes Boating, a 3D indie short that I said “feels like a painting, one you could get up and walk around in.”
  • VR in 2016 reminds me of 3D in 2010.
  • They say this is the 30th year of the fest, which means I’m older than SXSW. Ugh.

Anyway, I’m excited to take this fest on once more. I’ll be writing about it here and elsewhere. Don’t worry I’ll remind you.

Ulysses Mobile is Here

Apps

I never thought the day would come, but it has: Ulysses is on your iPhone. Go buy it.

I’m not going to give a full review here. David Chartier at Macstories and Ben Brooks have you covered there. But let me offer a few thoughts on this huge release. I’ve had a beta for a few weeks and I absolutely love it.

Ulysses Mobile, as the app formerly known as Ulysses for iPad is now called, has been teased for at least five years. I can’t find it now, but I’m quite positive that The Soulmen posted a few videos of semantic markup in action on an iPhone back in 2010 or 2009. Their grand plan in those days was to bring Ulysses 2 to the iPhone. In fact, if you look back at their old homepage, they used to have a placeholder graphic for Ulysses Mobile, which was perpetually “on hold.”

In 2011, with the release of Daedalus Touch for the iPad, the plans for Ulysses changed radically. By 2013 they shipped a ground up rewrite of Ulysses on the Mac, which was influenced by what they had learned from Daedalus. And now the circle is complete, by which I mean feature complete.

Ulysses is now the same on your Mac, your iPhone and your iPad. This. Is. Huge.

No matter what device I’m on, no matter what I’m writing: I know where to put it. Better yet, I know where to find my writing. It’s in Ulysses.

Okay some stuff actually still goes into Vesper, despite my better judgement. But most things will go into Ulysses from here on out. Or that’s the plan.

A few bullet points:

  • The extended keyboard is the best designed iOS keyboard I’ve ever seen. It’s minimal but incredibly powerful, and wisely hides its power in palettes for selecting if you’d like to, say, make a heading or a link. This works so much better than scrolling along an extra row of keys.
  • I cannot emphasize enough that this is Ulysses on your iPhone. You get all the themes, all the features, all the documents that you have on your Mac. Save for a few minor items, it’s the same app. What you can do in one, you can do in the other.
  • You can still load custom fonts into Ulysses, just as you have been able to do for years in Daedalus. But I actually prefer using the System Font, which is Apple’s San Francisco. I’ve loaded Pitch and Courier Prime into Ulysses Mobile. If anyone wants to gift me Operator Mono I bet it looks great in there too. ;)
  • The app also has an amazing extension, allowing you to send links, text and other goodies in to Ulysses without even launching it. You can even send an image into it. While you can’t append to a document (as Apple’s own notes allows), you can choose which folder your document will go into.
  • Yes, Ulysses has been on iPad for awhile now, but my iPad 2 is so long in the tooth that I rarely use it for much of anything. At this point, my iPhone is basically the computer I use the most, which is why this is such an exciting release for me.

I made a quick little workflow for iOS, so if you have Workflow installed, you can enjoy it. I call it Ulysses Draft, and all it does is launch Ulysses and make a new blank document. You can install it and add it to your home screen.

While it’s not so hard to launch a new document in Ulysses, you do still need to launch it and create a new document: two taps. This workflow mimics launching something like Drafts. One tap and go.

If you use something other than Workflow to launch app URLs, here’s the simple URL that makes this work: ulysses://x-callback-url/new-sheet?text=. Easy.

Ulysses Mobile is $19.99 for a limited time. The price will go up to $24.99 in the near future. Ulysses for Mac is $44.99 and worth every penny. I should mention the Mac app got a shiny new update today too. Go get them and get back to writing.

Me on Agee

Movies, Writing

I’ve been reading a lot lately. “Books, Jerry.” One book I keep plugging away at is Agee on Film, the collection of James Agee’s film writings in The Nation and elsewhere. I checked it out of the library (in this case the Library of America binding which includes much more of his work than the original compendium of his columns) knowing that it was unlikely I would read it cover to cover. As I wrote a month ago: “Instead of sweating what movies Agee is talking about, I’m simply reading to see how he talks about them.”

Two things about Agee’s column stick out to my modern, critical eye:

  • He wrote about any film he preferred, whether or not it was new or available to the public
  • Limited by column inches, he was careful only to cover just as much as he could fit; if a film deserved more inches, he would tell the reader to come back next week

One example is his column on August 25th, 1945, is devoted to three films, each getting its own paragraph: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, Over 21, and Bewitched. The final paragraph is an apology.

I must apologize for postponing even the attempt to review The Story of G.I. Joe; the secondary radiations of the atomic bomb render me still unfit to consider a piece of work I so deeply admire.

Three weeks later he makes up for it, devoting his next column entirely to The Story of G.I. Joe under the headline “A GREAT FILM.”

Now, film releases, publicity and publishing have changed a lot since the 1940s when Agee was writing. But it’s hard, as a modern writer, not to be a bit jealous of the way Agee wrote about cinema. Today we have unlimited space, so we can devote untold “inches” to each and every film. This is more a blessing than a curse, I would say, since we now have available so much amazing writing on each and every film. Yet as a writer it can fast become overwhelming. Unlimited space on the web doesn’t necessarily free up space in my mind.

It’s been a long time since I tried to keep up with reviewing weekly releases. Part of the reason I let myself drift away from it1 was because sitting down to review a movie stopped interesting me. I had a basic formula, and I had to push myself to work through the full piece. I’d go to edit them and realize I had gone through the motions and delivered X, Y or Z paragraphs, as I had for other films.

My mistake was thinking about movies atomically. Here’s a film I need to review, and so I will do so in a relative vacuum.2 Weekly reviews of single films is vital work, both in the moment and for posterity. Contemporaneous reviews of films are vital to our understanding of the state of the art.

And yet, there’s something so alluring about Agee’s method of sharing all that he’d seen. It’s closer to the sort of film writing I’d like to publish here. I’m not going to promise I’ll do it, since my archives are littered with promises never kept for turning this site into something more than it is. But I’d certainly like to try.

I’ve spent some time pondering: what would this sort of writing look like? Would it have a headline? Should I limit the length of the articles? Those are (somewhat) important considerations, but they’re pointless if I don’t just start publishing the writing. In the end it’s no one article that makes a film critic reliable, or have a style; it’s the body of work. People came to Agee’s column because they liked his writing. And maybe they encountered a film they’d like to see because of it.

So far this year I’ve seen (at last count) twenty-seven films, only one of which was actually released this year (Hail, Caesar!). That shouldn’t stop me from writing about what I’ve been watching, but it has. With SXSW upon us, it’s a perfect opportunity for me to crack my knuckles and stretch out the old writing muscles. Check back in the coming days to see if I follow through.

  1. There are many, many reasons, starting with this not being a job that pays the bills.

  2. To be clear, I’m talking about something that hampers me. There are so many critics who do amazing weekly writing that overcomes what I’m talking about here, whose voices and personalities come through given the weekly churn of releases.

Things That Are Not Movies

Movies

A quick rundown of things that are not movies, as there has been some confusion of late:

  • Trailers for movies are not movies
  • Posters for movies are not movies
  • Promotional materials are not movies
  • Exclusive clips are not movies
  • Featurettes are not movies
  • Tweets are not movies
  • Television spots are not movies
  • Television shows are not movies

Let us briefly recap what movies are:

  • Movies are movies

I like movies.

More on Day One 2, Movies Watched and Cool New Stuff

Movies, Technology

It’s been a week since my last entry here on the candler blog, so I thought I’d give a brief update on the week that was.

Plugging Away At Day One 2

Given how much time I devoted to questioning some of the new features in Day One 2, one might get the impression I gave up on it. In fact I’m using the new app even more than I used the original. I’m putting it through its paces and getting more and more delighted each step of the way. I still haven’t purchased the Mac version, which is $19.99 until Wednesday (they extended the launch sale an extra week). I’m pretty sure I’ll break down and get it eventually.

I’m really enjoying experimenting with Workflow to get more interesting information into Day One. I started a journal called “Films Watched” just for tracking my movie intake. I’ve made myself a modified version of Phillip Gruneich’s excellent Movie Diary workflow(s) to log films. It’s fun to see a calendar view of how often I actually watch films.

I also went on a few runs this week, all logged in Day One. The new inline photos are still tripping me up, though. While on a run I took a photo of myself with the Austin skyline in the background. I wanted to quickly get this into Day One with my location and a note of my current distance. I somehow created a photo post, selected the right photo but then somehow canceled the photo add dialog instead of adding the photo. I quickly typed out “4.9,” the current distance, saved the entry and put my phone away. Then I filled in the blanks, including the photo, later.

There really isn’t a reason for me to create the entry in the moment since the photo has the time and location data embedded. But it’s nice to be able to get it in there so I know to create it later. The “4.9” entry is technically enough, but creating a photo entry used to be a bit easier. I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

As to whether or not I should even be futzing with my phone while running, all I can say is that I’m a good multitasker and I was on a trail, not running into traffic. It doesn’t really slow me down, and when I run I’m alone with my thoughts. I wish I could record more of them.

Films Watched

Here’s what I’ve seen in the past week:

  • Irrational Man (Blu-ray)
  • My Neighbor Totoro (DCP, original subtitles)
  • The Man Who Loved Women (DVD, this time the François Truffaut original)
  • Mistress America (Blu-ray)

Irrational Man is kind of silly and forgettable. If you watch enough Woody Allen films you learn that there are some films that suffer from his relentless schedule of one film a year. This is one of those. But it’s not without its charms, namely another wonderful performance from Parker Posey.

Late on Monday I saw my My Neighbor Totoro for the first time. In fact it’s now the first Hayao Miyazaki film I’ve ever seen. And I flat out loved it. It’s such a simple story but so beautiful, and it perfectly understands what it’s like to be a child. I need to see more.

I’m hoping to put together a piece on the differences between Blake Edwards’ and François Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women so I won’t say too much. The films are so different, and yet surprisingly similar in ways I wouldn’t have expected. I recommend both.

I wish I had seen Mistress America before I put together my best of 2015 list. I loved it. Greta Gerwig is a national treasure.

I’m up to fourteen films seen this year thus far and not one of them is a 2016 release. So I’m way behind that arbitrary goal I set for myself. But I’m confident I’ll catch up soon.

Two Things I Want

I want to play Firewatch, the new game from Campo Santo created in partnership with the Panic team. It looks so gorgeous. Unfortunately I have neither a PS4 nor a Mac that will run it that well. My iMac is getting long in the tooth and has trouble dealing with some more menial tasks. When I play Firewatch I want to make sure I can be immersed in it. Really wish it were available for iPad. Or that I had a PS4. Or a better Mac.

And I really, really want the Operator Mono, the new font from Hoefler & Co. $200 is a very fair price for five weights each in italics, but it’s a bit of an extravagance for me. I mean…this would just be for my own enjoyment while typing in Ulysses or TextMate.

Now, I did splurge on Pitch a few years back. While I still love it, I actually don’t use it in my text editors that much anymore. Lately I use Courier Prime Sans, and I just started playing around with Office Code Pro and M+2m.

Operator Mono looks like a great font to write with. If you’ve got any pics of it in use I’d love to see them.

What I’ve Been Watching (And How)

Movies, Technology

We’re thirty-six days into 2016 and I’m yet to see a single film released this year. That doesn’t bode too well for my plan to see more new releases than I saw in 2015. The good news is that I’ve been watching older films. Here’s how I’m doing so far:

  • The Hateful Eight (70mm)
  • Ivan’s Childhood
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • The Mirror
  • The Man Who Loved Women (35mm; Blake Edwards, not François Truffaut)
  • American Dreamz
  • A Man Escaped
  • Inglourious Basterds (DCP)
  • Stalker
  • Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (35mm)

I’m finally tackling a handful of Tarkovsky films, and A Man Escaped is actually the first Bresson film I’ve ever seen. The screening of The Man Who Loved Women was the first I’ve ever attended at the Austin Film Society’s Marchesa Hall. I regret not going earlier. There was a great crowd of cinephiles there; I need to keep going back.

I’ve been going to the Alamo Drafthouse’s “Terror Tuesday” programs on and off since November. A friend who has been going every week for years invited me along then, and I’ve been back a few times. While horror has never really been my thing, Terror Tuesdays (a) costs $3, (b) is always a 35mm print, (c) regularly sells out and (d) features films I’m usually seeing for the first time. So Jason Takes Manhattan may be silly fun, but it was a gorgeous, archival 35mm print and it’s always nice to sit with an enthusiastic audience. Now I’m just waiting for Invisible Man tickets to go on sale.

Tracking What I Watch

I’m trying to more diligently track everything I watch so it’s not a mad scramble come December to figure out what I’ve seen. I still haven’t settled on a single method, so right now when I watch a movie I:

It’s a mess, but I’m okay with that…for now.

Tracking my television watching doesn’t interest me. In fact it would probably depress me if I ever figured out just how much I watch. Most of the time I’d rather watch 5 films, regardless of quality, than a single season of TV.

An Arbitrary Ratio

If I can do it, I’d like to try and keep a ratio of at least 6:1 in terms of old vs. new films I watch this year. In other words, for every six films I watch I should see at least one 2016 release.

Uh…I better get on that…

Day One 2: A Big Update

Apps, Review, Technology

Day One has long been a favorite app of mine, even if it fell out of regular use for me. Over the years1 I’ve tried using it a few different ways. Sometimes it’s a real diary (as in I hope no one ever reads it), other times it’s a little notebook, storing half-baked fragments of ideas. I even tried to use it as a catch-all for my digital life thanks to Brett Terpstra’s Slogger project, which he just updated for version 2.

The most consistent use I’ve gotten out of Day One has been using it as a running diary, which I’ve written about here before. It’s still my favorite way to track the more personal aspects of my runs. Whereas Runkeeper and, to a lesser extent, Apple’s Workout app, track data about my runs, Day One stores how I feel, how I look, plus the weather and what I’m listening to.2

So when Day One 2 hit the app store last night, it was a no brainer to purchase it. I’ve used it for so long, I was only too happy to kick another $5 in the direction of Bloom Built, the app’s makers. That’s the current sale price for iOS. On the Mac the new version costs $20 for the first week, after which it will double. The truth is I haven’t used Day One on the Mac in a very long time, so that price gives me pause enough to hold off. Of course, if I ever want to use the aforementioned Slogger again, I’ll have to get the Mac version. And actually one of the marquee features of Day One 2 might make me want to reboot using Slogger. More on that in a bit. Let’s talk about some other apps I use briefly.

Writing on iOS in 2016

I’ve been messing around with text editing in various apps for years. I thought by now I’d have settled on a single, clear workflow. This…is not the case. I really wish I could pare it all down to two apps like Ben Brooks, but I’m not there yet.

Like Ben, I’m using the Ulysses beta on my iPhone, and it’s very, very close to being the end-all be-all writing app for me. All of my writing on a Mac is done in Ulysses, so having that synced library available to me on the go is an incredible resource.

However, Ulysses doesn’t quite feel fast enough for jotting things down quickly. Oddly, its most compelling feature, that it syncs my entire writing library to all my devices, works against it: I feel like I can only store “real” writing in it. This is more neuroses than it is the fault of The Soulmen, but it’s something.

The only app on my home screen for jotting notes down is Vesper. It’s bare bones and its future is uncertain, but for whatever reason it’s been one of the stickiest note-taking apps for me. I love the way the top line becomes a headline and how it handles photo attachments.

When I read paper books (which I’m wont to do lately) and come across a compelling passage, I fire up TextGrabber, quickly join line breaks together in TextTool, and then paste the quote with title and page number in Vesper. Sometimes I’ll attach the still of the book page, for context later. I’ve tried in vain to use other apps, but the way Vesper implements tags (and something like, say, Apple’s own Notes, doesn’t) has proven incredibly hard to give up.3

So Vesper gets the book quotes and some other jottings. Notes actually gets a few entries from me, but mostly because I’m trying to wean myself off of Q Branch’s seemingly abandoned app. I still use Drafts every once in awhile, but never to store anything. Whatever gets started there will land in Vesper, Ulysses or Notes later.

Basically at present my iOS writing workflow is a mess. (And I haven’t even brought up all the writing that goes into Field Notes, never to be heard from again.) Adding a new version of Day One into that mix probably isn’t the smartest thing I could do, but I still feel like, outside of the running diary, it can play an important role in organizing my thoughts.

Headlining New Features: Multiple Photos and Journals

The original Day One was itself a repository. The app was the journal. The new version allows for up to ten different different journals, which at first sounds to me like a crufty solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Day One has long supported tags, which allow me to quickly enter and then revisit entries on a specific topic. My running entries are tagged “Running,” as the obvious example. In the old version of the app I could simply go to that tag and I was looking at what was effectively my running diary.

These new journals work similarly, but just one layer above. I was pleasantly surprised to find they offer advantages beyond my old tagging system. The key thing that makes multiple journals exciting for me is that each is assigned a different color. That may sound trivial, but since color now plays a big role in Day One’s overall interface, it actually makes for some interesting visualizations of your diary.

I moved all of my posts tagged “Running” into a new journal called (obviously) Running. I set the color to red, leaving the default journal (called Journal) in the light blue that has always been a part of Day One. Now I can choose to look at either just the Journal or the Running entries, or I can look at “All Entries” throughout the app. What’s neat is that the journal color now corresponds to entries across the whole app.

Take the app’s calendar view. When “All Entries” is selected, days that have entries from a single journal will be highlighted in that journal’s color. So on days when all I did was run, I see a red square; on days where I only did a straight journal entry I see a blue square.

The new map view, which drops a waymarker on your entries that have a location, does the same thing. So I can see where my running posts were, and have them clearly visible since the waymarker will be red. It’s a really nice touch, and something that I can see making multiple journals extremely useful.

Multiple journals, by the way, is the feature that may get me back into Slogger. The main reason I stopped using it was that I found my journal became overrun with archival minutae. Putting that type of content in a separate journal may be a nice compromise.

The other major feature is the ability to add multiple photos to an entry. In the old version of the app, you could attach a single photo to an entry. I actually liked that simplicity. (See also: my enjoyment of Vesper, which has the same limitation.) Adding more photos always seemed like it would be a nice addition, but something I knew would likely not be a feature I would use.

While adding multiple journals is an expansion of the feature-set in Day One 2, the implementation of multiple photos per entry is a fundamental change to the way the app works, and, unfortunately, it’s a step backwards. Before I go any further, I want to point out that this app is an exemplar of great iOS design. It’s an incredibly well thought out piece of work, and something I intend to use heavily for years to come. But I also need to be honest.

The trouble is hinted at in the release notes:

Multiple Photos per entry (up to ten inline photos)

I blinked and missed it. All entry photos are now inline, as in they appear in the middle of your text. Previously, the single photo allowed for each entry was treated more like metadata: it appeared at the top of your entry, but was selected as a piece of information that ran alongside your words, just like the location, weather or current song playing. While the ability to add inline photos is a welcome change (you couldn’t before without using Markdown to point to an image hosted elsewhere), by making all photos inline it actually demotes them to the level of regular content. They used to be the raison d’être for a post.

This isn’t just ideological. Creating a photo entry is now much more confusing. You’re presented with a great looking photo picker, which allows you to choose up to ten images. For my running diary, I only need one image. After tapping the one I want and hitting “Done,” I’m presented with the entry and the inline image, with the cursor in place above it. Right away this is a jarring change since the old photo entries that were imported put the photo at the top with the text below it. So which is correct?

Setting that aside for a moment, the image has a glass overlay down the right side of it with three buttons, which, as far as I can tell represent the following functions: expand/shrink, delete and comment. If one were to save the entry at this point, the photo would fill the width of your device screen and have no annotation.

The first thing that confused me on the edit screen was what the “expand/shrink” button does. Basically, the image preview is, at first, a small crop of the full image. I suppose this makes editing text easier, especially on a bigger screen like the iPad, while still allowing you the ability to see the full image at the tap of a button, but I had to spend some time fiddling with it to figure out it has no effect on how the image looks in the final, saved entry.

The more confusing icon is that “comment” button. Tapping it will move your cursor below the photo, something you could do by simply tapping below the photo. When I first tapped this icon I was expecting the ability to add some kind of caption (as in something like <figcaption>), not just the ability to enter regular text below it.

The trash can icon works as advertised, but itself is even a little confusing in context next to the comment icon. Tapping the trash can brings up a dialog asking if you want to remove the photo. It removes the photo, but not the text below it which, had you tapped the comment icon and added a description, feels like it should with the photo. Basically the functions of both of these buttons can be achieved with the cursor, and it’s much clearer to me what the cursor is doing.

Back to the initial placement of the cursor on a new photo entry. One thing I love in Day One is the ability to make the first line of any entry bold, causing it function as a title. Since all of my old photo posts have the photo at the top with text below them, I feel inclined to keep that up for all future entries. However, the state the app launches in makes me think it’s the “right” way from here on out, and it places the cursor above the photo.

It’s an easy fix for me: just move the cursor below the photo and Bob’s your uncle. Yet this is exactly what I mean when I say photos have been demoted. They are now just content, which kind of makes me wonder why there are still two new entry buttons: one for photo posts, one for all other entries. They all seem the same to me now.

So Much Unmentioned

And there’s so, so much I’m not going to be able to get to in this article. Every last pixel has been refined in this new version. Tags are immensely better in Day One 2, thanks to a brand new interface both for adding and searching tags. Getting through your journal archive is much easier now, with buttons for quickly getting to posts with specific metadata. Want to see only posts with music attached? Or from when you were flying? They’re just a few taps away.

The map view, mentioned above, is brand new and a truly remarkable feature. While I’m actually a fan of checking in places with Swarm, sometimes I want to remember where I was without sharing it with the world. Day One is perfect for that, and the map view makes viewing at my escapades fun. I’m thinking of starting a journal just for food and drink. Months down the line I’d love to see Austin peppered with little pins of my memorable meals (and beers).

And only just yesterday I picked up Workflow and started messing around with ways to log movies in Day One. I’m not sure if that will be sticky for me, but it doesn’t matter much. That the app is so flexible that it can fulfill all of these needs for me makes me deeply appreciative it exists. Day One takes the powerful technology of a social network and personalizes it just for me. I love that.

I know I spent a lot of time nitpicking about photos, but it all comes from a really positive place. Day One’s developers are quite open about this update laying the groundwork for bigger updates down the line, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with. This new app is a ground up rewrite, including a brand new sync backend. That means they put a ton of work into it, but it also means that it’s a new beginning. So change is expected, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

  1. My first entry is August 16, 2012, and says only, “This is a thing.” That’s basically my “Hello world” for new things.

  2. Runkeeper now tracks weather if you purchase a premium “Go” account, which offers a number of other perks, yet I’m still on the fence about upgrading to it.

  3. I’ve tried Quotebook many times, which is supposed to solve this exact problem I have, but it plainly isn’t designed to preserve quotes the way I think about them. For me, context is paramount, which means I want to know: the book, the page, the author and other bits of context important to me. If a quote I pull is spoken by a character, I want to know whom.

    Just the other day I pulled a quote from Agee on Film:

    Color is very nice for costume pieces and musical comedies, and has a great aesthetic future in films, but it still gets fatally in the way of any serious imitation of reality.

    On its own that’s an excellent quote. But when and if I revisit it, I’d like to know he penned it on July 24, 1943 in a review of Sam Wood’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Quotebook has no space for that kind of context.