From the Journal
My father was a world class chess player and, as such, I never stood a chance playing against him. (It’s a measure of his single-minded dedication to the game that he found it profoundly difficult to allow anyone to win, even when playing his grandchildren.)
As a consequence – never winning and never having a chance of winning – my early passion for the game evaporated over time. I just lacked the strength required to win, and playing against an international standard player didn’t help.
Discovering Really Bad Chess reignited my love of the game. An iOS app, developed by Zach Gage (@helvetica on Twitter), it turns the game upside down, breaking all the rules in the process. I discovered it via John Gruber via Jason Snell, who both wrote glowing reviews. As Snell puts it:
[The game] puts a clever spin on chess by seeding the board with a totally random collection of pieces.
Whilst the allocation of pieces seems arbitrary – “Try 8 Knights, 4 Bishops, and 3 pawns… why not?” – it is in fact heavily weighted. Snell summarises one of its innovations nicely:
Ranked mode lets you play increasingly difficult boards – you start with a huge power advantage over your computer opponent, and the advantage slowly shifts until you’re trying to defend while underpowered.
This fundamental reimagining of the game completely alters its dynamic and I’ve been enjoying playing it as a result. As its creator, Gage states:
Chess is one of those games I always wished I enjoyed, but its commitment to beauty, elegance, and perfect balance always turned me away. Really Bad Chess removes these boring restrictions and flips chess on its head.
The game itself offers lessons we can learn from and apply in a wider context. The history of chess stretches back thousands of years – it’s rules are set in stone – and yet, here’s a version of the game that questions those rules, toying with them to create something similar, but entirely new.
Just because something exists it doesn’t mean you can’t rethink it.
Ask yourself, what might you reimagine? There’s plenty of room in the world for more than one execution of an idea. If you make an idea your own, who knows what you might achieve.
Once a year the team at Campaign Monitor put together a list of the Top 100 Email Marketing Campaigns. It’s always a helpful reference, and if you’re thinking of running an email campaign, it’s worth exploring.
As they put it:
We’ve curated a selection of the most inspiring and effective email marketing campaigns sent in 2016.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your email marketing campaign – and email remains a great way to connect with your customers, so you should be – take a look. They’ve gathered together some very lovely work.
I try to focus my attention at Tiny Books on the intersection of design and business. Occasionally, however, my mind strays… and I hope my occasional foray into the worlds of typography and music don’t prove too distracting. I’m me and these are my thoughts. (Most of them.)
I discovered Cory Arcangel’s ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’ yesterday (heaven knows how… hyperlinks, I imagine). It’s utterly wonderful. I’ve been using it as an aural wallpaper and it’s a perfect backdrop for getting work done.
Arcangel describes himself as a post-conceptual artist (make of that what you will) and I’ve always found his works consistently interesting and challenging. He studied at Oberlin Conservatory for Music and this pedigree suffuses ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’.
I’ve always enjoyed compositions for piano – Debussy, in particular – but Arcangel’s two dozen compositions hit a sweet spot, marrying the crisp cadence of the electric piano to musical motifs drawn from the era of house music.
You don’t have to have lived through the golden era of house music – I have warm memories – to appreciate Arcangel’s music. These motifs have carved their way into the fabric of contemporary culture. As he puts it:
The sounds on certain machines can take on a life of their own. They’ve been used by so many people that they have this whole history when you hear them. You don’t hear a tinny, shitty sound; you hear all the previous songs you have loved.
I couldn’t summarise it better. What’s so enjoyable about ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’ is the fact that it’s the essence of house, and pop, culture. Boiled down. Incredibly distilled versions of versions.
I was surprised to discover, in an article at Vulture, that – contrary to what you might think when you’re listening – every composition is original. This only serves to underline the remarkable nature of the project.
Arcangel has captured the semi-anonymous, underground language of turn of the millennium club culture and abstracted it into the distinctive, machine language of the here and now. The album’s liner notes, summarise this ‘ghost in the machine’ spirit perfectly: “As performed by Musical Instrument Digital Interface Controlled Korg Emixr Music Workstation.”
Human. Computer. Soul.
It’s been a long journey, but I’m excited to – finally! – announce that the first of my Tiny Books, Start! Stop Procrastinating and Pursue Your Passion, will go on sale on Tuesday.
If you’ve ever dreamed of running a business, and imagined a future where your business aligns with your passions, I think you’ll find it useful.
The content of the book – and its accompanying screencasts, slide decks and worksheets – will help you get started so that you can turn your idea into a reality, building a profitable business. As Lee Munroe, one of my successful Masters graduates, puts it:
Think of it as a Masters education without the Masters price tag.
Helping others realise their dreams is incredibly important to me, so I’ve priced everything very affordably. I believe education should be within reach of everyone, and through Tiny Books I’m sharing my tried and tested teaching tools with as wide an audience as possible.
Even better, if you sign up for the Tiny Books Newsletter you’ll get a special 48 hour discount when the book launches, saving you 1/3 off the price. Win, win!
I can’t wait to share what I’ve been working on and I’m very much looking forward to reaching lift off on Tuesday.
The fine folks at The Do Book company are having a Christmas Sale, offering a 20% discount on all Do Books. Use the code ‘FRIEND’ when you checkout and save a fifth on your purchases.
Buy a few copies for yourself, they’ll change your thinking. Better still, buy a few and give them to your friends as presents this Christmas. The gift of knowledge is a gift that’s well worth giving, I’m sure you’d agree.
If you work for yourself you’ll be aware of the (hopefully!) constant challenge of being in demand whilst still needing to factor in down time for the occasional holiday.
Making unpaid time off work can be a challenge, especially when you’re aware that your free time – sitting by the pool and soaking up the sun with a beer in hand – isn’t paying any bills.
Helpfully, Matt McCue of 99U, has gathered some ideas on managing your time (and your money) so you can unwind and enjoy that beer without worrying. Take a Break: 5 Ways Freelance Creatives Make Unpaid Time Off Work is well worth reading.
As Ann Friedman puts it in the article:
If you don’t take full advantage of the schedule flexibility that self-employment allows, you’re doing it wrong.
Working for yourself can be incredibly liberating, but with that liberation come a whole new set of challenges. Set aside a few minutes and read the article, it’s filled with useful real world advice.
Each and every one of A Book Apart’s books are on my reading lists at the Belfast School of Art, so I was delighted to see the company is now offering Book Packs for an additional discount.
There are five Book Packs on offer, but the one that caught my eye is Design Business: featuring two books by Mike Monteiro (Design is a Job, and You’re My Favorite Client) and one by Dan Mall (Pricing Design).
Both Monteiro and Mall know their stuff and all three books (which I own, enjoyed and recommend) are welcome additions to any self-respecting designer’s library.
I’d encourage you to explore A Book Apart’s library, there’s certainly something that will tickle your fancy.
I discovered Tim Urban’s wonderful site, Wait But Why, thanks to a spot of judicious yak shaving last night.
His thoughts on time, particularly the idea of 100 Blocks a Day, caught my attention. I’m currently researching the effective use of time for a forthcoming article for 24 Ways, so this was a welcome – and timely – discovery. (Sorry!)
As Urban puts it:
Most people sleep about seven or eight hours a night. That leaves 16 or 17 hours awake each day. Or about 1,000 minutes. […] Let’s think about those 1,000 minutes as 100 10-minute blocks. That’s what you wake up with every day.
Urban encourages you to consider how you use your blocks of time each day, ensuring you put them to good use. Framing this idea he explores where that time might be allocated:
How many of them are put towards making your future better, and how many of them are just there to be enjoyed?
Importantly, Urban proposes that some of your blocks should be intentionally left empty, with no assigned purpose at all. This idea – building in margin – is something I’ve been exploring more, recently (and is definitely an idea worth acquainting yourself with).
Think of your 100 Blocks a day. How are you putting them to use? Are you making the most of them? If not, you might like to rethink things and make the most of every moment.
I’ve a number of Harvard Business Review’s books and they’re all worth every penny. As part of a Black Friday promotion, they’re offering a one day sale with a discount of 40% when you spend $50 or more.
Check out the offers, there are some great books and bundles and they’d make a welcome addition to any aspiring entrepreneur’s library.
It’s a lovely idea that, like all innovations, is made of other ideas. Passengers choose a one, three or five minute story and a little printer, reminiscent of BERG’s Little Printer, conjures up a story for you. All for free. As Metro put it:
The stories are printed on paper, and topics range from children’s stories to lyrical poetry. The authors of the stories are all anonymous, and over 5,000 have submitted stories.
It’s a lovely example of the potential for rethinking how content is distributed (and is something I’ve been exploring in my recent ‘Micro-Publications’ masterclasses).
Field Notes’ 33rd Quarterly Edition for Winter 2016 is Black Ice. “Eternal, shiny and chrome,” it’s a striking addition to the Field Notes line up.
As usual the Field Notes team have extensively outlined the materials, inks, printing processes and other special effects at the edition’s project page, for those that like details (doesn’t everyone?). Get yours now.
In this day and age, where there’s a wealth of reading at the tip of your fingerprints online, I subscribe to few magazines. Lagom is one.
I’ve written for Lagom in the past, but that’s not the reason I subscribe. My primary reason is that I enjoy its mix of content – which magically transports me from the world of the web to the real world, around us – and the magazine’s production values.
Nothing beats a beautifully printed magazine filled with thought-provoking content, and Lagom ticks both those boxes.
This year Elliot and Samantha Stocks are running a Black Friday sale with a difference. They’ve reduced everything by 50% (so you’ve no excuses not to pick up a copy) and, even better, they’re contributing the 50% you pay to four charities close to their hearts.
If you’re looking for inspiration subscribe, you’ll not only be helping an independent publication, but you’ll be giving to charity, too. Hats off to Mr and Mrs Stocks for all their hard work and for their approach to Black Friday, which puts philanthropy before profit.