🦊 Quick Brown Fox #11

Hi friends,

This week, I assembled a desk for my improvised living room office. It’s such a relief to have a proper ergonomic setup again. Since shelter-in-place began, I had been using the kitchen table to work. My neck was not a fan!

I’ve been thinking about how remote work has increased our dependence on written communication. Online collaboration is certainly not new to us, but without in-person conversations, our written words need to convey so much more.

In a world of remote work, we are all writers.

At the same time, we consume far more information than we can actually process. As writers, we have to be mindful of the burden of consumption. The kindest thing we can do for each other is to write with clarity.

Make the most of every word. Your peers will thank you.

When writing long-form pieces, introductions are critical. A reader typically decides whether to keep reading based on the first paragraph alone. Here’s some great advice from David Perell (a.k.a. “The Writing Guy”) on writing captivating introductions:

Introduce action, conflict, or curiosity:

  • Half-told story: Share the start of a story, but withhold the end.

  • Discoveries: Reveal new findings, but only a portion.

  • Questions: Pose a question, but don’t give the answer.

  • Arguments: Present your case, but not how you arrived at it.

P.S. In case you missed last week’s edition, I explored the question of what makes writing resonate.


The Playground

I can’t stop making animations with Looom. It’s just so much fun! I’ve been wanting to create animations since I was a kid, but the typical process of building animations is complex and time-consuming. This app changes everything.

For this animation, I first drew the purple worm in its own layer, frame by frame. Then, I cloned that layer, changed its color, and offset it by a couple frames to give the appearance that it’s just about catching up to the other worm. I found that it was a bit disorienting to watch the worms alone (they move fast!), so I added the little “compass” in the middle to help ground the eyes of the viewer. The compass alignment actually reveals the offset of the worms as well, which I thought was a nice side effect.

The Magic of Looom

I think Looom is going to open the door for many aspiring animators. A few things that make it special:

  • Swipe-to-Switch Frames: While you’re drawing with one hand, your other hand’s finger is used to swipe and quickly switch frames. This means you can just focus on drawing, without having to pause and switch contexts between each frame. It drastically speeds up workflow.

  • Limited Layers: You can only have five “threads” at a time, and each thread can only be one color. This limitation forces you to keep things simple — the best creative work often comes out of strict constraints. Instead of being overwhelmed with endless possibilities, you can explore every avenue within a limited area.

  • Drawing While Running: You can press the play button to watch your animation, and then you can draw while it’s playing. I can’t emphasize enough how insanely cool this is. The first time I tried it, I had goosebumps. I think it’s the game-changing feature of the app.

It’s tough to explain these features without showing a demo, so I’m working on getting an over-the-head webcam setup to record some live tutorials. In the meantime, here’s a 1 minute demo from the creators.

Mixing with Music

To take it these animations even further, I’d love to add a layer of music. But I’d prefer not to spend a bunch of time in post-processing with a tool like After Effects. Ideally, my workflow stays entirely on my tablet — I want to keep it simple, fast and fun.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I ran into this example of mixing animation with a musical synthesizer on-the-fly:

The device to the left of the iPad is a music synthesizer — the OP-Z by Teenage Engineering (they make incredibly well-designed electronics). I’ve done a ton of DJing in the past with a Traktor S4 controller, but I’ve never used a synthesizer before. It looks really fun! In particular, I’m excited by the potential to quickly and easily mix music with animations. I’m pretty tempted to give the OP-Z a try…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about surviving shelter-in-place, it’s that I need to make an active effort to inject fun into my life. I found it works best to actually prioritize time for play just like with any other project. So far, being intentional about play has had a positive influence on how I feel throughout the week.

Play isn’t just for fun — it enables you to process thoughts you’ve been carrying around, so let you can let them go and free your conscience. As my friend Dave puts it:

Play lightens you.


Quick Links

  • I’ve been exploring Andy Matushak’s working notes — they’re an excellent resource, and an example of how to build back-linked notes on a public website. So far, I’ve been building a back-linked “web of knowledge” using Roam, but it’s fascinating to imagine making some subset of it public. Unlike blog posts, you can create the graph-like structure which connects your different ideas, and present them in a contextual interface. Essentially, it’s like hosting a public Wikipedia for your mind.

  • Pretty awesome to see this video of Chyenne Smith demonstrating her innovative use of modern farming technology. It reminded me a lot of the typical approach for software development — mixing and matching different tools to optimize for efficient workflows.

  • If your feed has been overwhelmed by talk of Animal Crossing, you might find this piece interesting: Low-Challenge, High-Skill Tasks in Terrible Times. It provides a theory of why games like it may be so popular right now.

Speaking of video games, I just started playing Final Fantasy VII: Remake! I was obsessed with the original as a child, and have been looking forward to this game for many years now. So far, it’s living up to the hype!

Any fellow FF7 fans out there? :)

—Salman