Tag Archives: writing

Ben Thompson: ‘Humans Run on Stories’

Ben Thompson on The Talk Show with John Gruber podcast:

Stories matter. Humans run on stories.

I look at my own site and the articles that often resonate are not the ones with brilliant analysis or something clever. It’s the ones that tell a story.

People know it implicitly, but have a very difficult time articulating it. If you’re selling to consumers, there’s so much that goes into it that doesn’t go on a spreadsheet. That sort of stuff matters.

I subscribe to Ben’s Stratechery Daily Update newsletter. I read a lot of it and consider Ben’s insights priceless. But it’s typically his free weekly articles that grab me.

His most recent, ‘Tech’s Two Philosophies’, had me reeling. After reading it over morning coffee, I raced to work to share it with my team.

I shoehorned Ben’s ideas into something relevant to our work. It was a stretch, but I don’t think overly so. Regardless, I was so moved by the story in the piece that it woke me up better than any cup of coffee.

Humans run on stories. They absolutely do.

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In Rainbows

After publishing ‘Building Zero Counts’, I became curious about syntax highlighting — the walls of rainbowed text you see splayed out in front of developers.

In ‘Building Zero Counts’, I used a gradient from sea foam green (#00fa92) to Zero Counts blue (#004992) to denote code. Here’s the Bitbucket Pipeline YAML example I used:

image: php:7.0.27

 - step:
 - apt-get update
 - apt-get -qq install git-ftp
 - git ftp push --user $SFTP_username --passwd $SFTP_password --verbose sftp://ftp.[host]/home/[username]/[domain]/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/modules/minileven/theme/pub/minileven
 custom: # Pipelines triggered manually
 - step:
 - apt-get update
 - apt-get -qq install git-ftp
 - git ftp init --user $SFTP_username --passwd $SFTP_password --verbose sftp://ftp.[host]/home/[username]/[domain]/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/modules/minileven/theme/pub/minileven

The color scheme and implementation is completely useless, but it’s meant to abstract how I perceive syntax highlighting. In the tech industry, it’s impossible not to see engineers, developers, and designers living in front of colorful walls of text. And for me, it’s impossible not to want to live and work in this world of rainbows. So, the way I display code on Zero Counts is a window into the beauty I see, the envy I have, and my ignorance of what is actually going on with syntax highlighting.

Poking around, I found some interesting posts about syntax highlighting and some methodologies behind color schemes and implementation. Ethan Schoonover’s Solarized is a simple color scheme that shares the same syntax highlighting between light and dark themes. It’s inspired by reading in the shade vs direct sunlight and incorporates fixed color wheel relationships:

Solarized works as a sixteen color palette for compatibility with common terminal based applications / emulators. In addition, it has been carefully designed to scale down to a variety of five color palettes (four base monotones plus one accent color) for use in design work such as web design. In every case it retains a strong personality but doesn’t overwhelm.

Meanwhile, Evan Brooks notes switching to semantic highlighting from syntax highlighting — an inverted use of highlighting, moving away from colorizing built-in keywords such as let, var, and function to coloring user-defined variables, methods, etc.:

We think syntax highlighting makes the structure of code easier to understand. But as it stands, we highlight the obvious (like the word function) and leave most of the content in black. Rather than highlighting the differences between currentIndex and the keyword function, we could highlight the difference between currentIndex and randomIndex. Here’s what that might look like:

Brooks’ method has been incorporated in a variety of text editors. Beyond that, KDevelop had actually incorporated semantic highlighting in 2009 — five years before Brooks’ post:

Understand code: The real facility that helps you understanding global code-structure is the navigation-tooltip or the code-browser. However those are not very useful to understand local algorithms. The following picture illustrates my favorite part of the semantic highlighting: Local Variable Colorization. That colorization assigns a semi-unique color to each variable in a local context. This allows much easier distinguishing those variables, largely without reading their full name at all. By freeing you of actually having to read all the variable names, this allows grokking local code relations faster, and has already helped me fixing quite a few very stupid bugs right away. 🙂
Great minds!

Syntax highlighting is a silly reason to want to learn to code, but well designed colorization and implementation certainly make it an attractive work environment. Who wouldn’t want to live in rainbows?

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David Benioff on Writing Fiction v. Screenplays

Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff on Aisha Tyler’s Girl On Guy podcast:

Writing dialogue. I love it. That’s the fun part for me. The hard part for me is writing the descriptions. There’s just something great about writing ‘INT. RESTAURANT. DAY/NIGHT’. A production designer’s going to figure that shit out. I don’t have to worry about it. I’m just going to write what the characters are saying.

I still love writing novels. Writing fiction to me… I still think of it as the highest form of writing, but it’s so fucking hard and it’s torture for me. I don’t have fun doing it. I have fun writing screenplays.

An extremely honest and reassuring quote. What aspiring writer doesn’t want to hear a quote like this from one of the co-creators of the most ambitious show on television?

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Pissing into the Wind

My phone has become a magic 8-ball of sorts; more 8-ball than magic. It can do phenonominal, unimaginable things but it can’t give me existential answers. No matter how many times I race to it when it vibrates; wake it, hoping to find an at-reply from someone of notoriety; imagine WordPress telling me my blog “is on fire”; there is never an answer. Nonetheless, my phone is a little black oracle. Today, it showed me some great things: Song Exploder with John Roderick, Marc Maron on The Moment with Brian Koppleman, Andrew Sullivan’s departing post:

How do I say goodbye? How do I walk away from the best daily, hourly, readership a writer could ever have? It’s tough. In fact, it’s brutal. But I know you will understand. Because after all these years, I feel I have come to know you, even as you have come to see me, flaws and all. Some things are worth cherishing precisely because they are finite. Things cannot go on for ever. I learned this in my younger days: it isn’t how long you live that matters. What matters is what you do when you’re alive. And, man, is this place alive.

I started Zero Counts to express my thoughts on the video game industry. Back then, I called it “The State of Gaming”. Shortly after it’s inception, I was quoted on Daring Fireball. Now, not a day goes by that there isn’t an urge to appeal to John Gruber. Every word I write, every passage I compose is critiqued by the “Gruber in my head”. I can’t shake it. Every entry comes with hopeful anticipation that my phone might vibrate with a Twitter notification— Gruber favorited or, better yet, retweeted the associated tweet. Or best case scenario, he linked to my post on Daring Fireball, hopefully leaving an inkling of praise or simply stayed neutral. It would be enough to validate me, at least for a little while longer; until I had built a sustained audience.

This wasn’t the first time this itch came alone. In 2008, my one and only vlog was posted to the front page of CNN.com for my favorite music of the year. (I still agree with my picks.) Maybe I was supposed to be a Youtube music reviewer. If so, I probably missed my opportunity. I never posted another. In 2010, I was cast into IGN’s Community Spotlight for blogging about non-gaming topics on a gaming website. Maybe I was supposed to be a non-gaming gaming blogger. If so, I probably missed my opportunity. Which brings us to the Daring Fireball quote for a piece on Mario Kart 8. Maybe I was supposed to be a games journalist or analyst. I am currently trying to ride that wave.

I’m pissing into the wind; throwing mud at the wall; hoping and praying that I will find exactly what it is that sticks for me. That thing that I can’t go another second without writing. There is an itch for conversation; I can’t help myself from blogging and tweeting throughout the day. And I will continue to piss into the wind and throw mud at the wall. I will look to my phone, listen to an inordinate amount of podcasts, and scrape my Twitter feed for answers. Surely, someone out there knows who I am, but it sure as hell isn’t me.

I’ve never read anything from Andrew Sullivan. For a Political Science major, that appears to be a crime. No doubt an influencial man and writer. The recent news surrounding his departure from blogging has me thinking a lot. If he can give this platform his all for fifteen years, I know I can too. I just hope I find a little something along the way.

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Jason Snell on Solo Blogging Stresses

Here’s a great bit about the anxieties of being a new, lone blogger from Jason Snell on The Talk Show with John Gruber, time stamp 1:18:50 – 1:32:45:

Being a one person operation, if you’re busy writing a deep-think-piece about something that’s going to go on for a thousand words, you’re not writing things to post to the site today. I feel like, with a less established site like mine, I definitely feel pressure to keep the lights on every day and try to balance those things. You have a different pace. You can post some links and then you put out a bigger piece every so often.

I like your pace but I don’t feel like I can do that right now. I feel like I need to keep the heartbeat a little stronger because I’m trying to establish myself and pick up an audience I may not have captured yet.

The review of the Retina iMac was an example. It took me two or three days to write that. One of my challenges was always should I keep writing this now, or should I stop and find something short to write and post to the site just to let people know I’m still alive while I’m also writing this longer piece. Trying to find that balance is tricky.

Again, not being on a team anymore, and being just myself, I’ve learned the powerful lesson of how little one person is capable of producing versus a staff.

Snell, formerly of Macworld, launched the fantastic Six Colors blog in 2014.

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2014: Zero Counts Launch + Greatest Hits

In April 2014, I realized my blog TheStarrList had taken a hard turn into gaming. It was time to start something new. I gathered up those gaming-centric posts from TheStarrList along with several lengthy comments I had made on Polygon and IGN articles and stuffed them into a blog formatted after John Gruber’s Daring Fireball. In May 2014, I launched The State of Gaming with the intention to focus on business, controversy, culture, education, history, health, and other topics in the gaming industry. After a link on Daring Fireball, I decided to cool-down the blog’s pretentious title into something more personal. I recalled a childhood debate: When considering “lives” in video games, does “x1” mean you are on your last, or does zero count?

Writing about games has long been a dream of mine, but there has always been insecurity in indulging in entertainment critique and commentary. For lack of better terms, Zero Counts has tapped into a rich well of inspiration, passion, and creativity. By surrendering my inhibitions about games writing, I have written more frequently and published more on varied topics than ever before.

Without further adéu, here are the most popular posts from launch year, 2014:

  1. Hail Mario (linked by Daring Fireball)
  2. Humanity in Hearthstone
  3. Club Nintendo stuck in Mario Kart traffic
  4. Old School Hip Hop is the new Golden Oldies (retweeted by Ben Thompson (@monkbent))
  5. Save developers and you will save your soul

Looking forward to even more writing in 2015.

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On Reading

Text has always challenged me. Regardless of copyright date, I look at books as insurmountable volumes rooted in earth’s history, just as permanent and timeless as a mountain or sea. Even the simplest publications feel as if they have always existed, their authors fables to the present day.

And yet, I had always felt a strange desire to write my own novel; to join the ranks of the immortal mystics, scholars and dreamers before me; to create art in a timeless medium.

I grew up in a world that had just given birth to the video game; whose culture was firmly rooted in television soaps, sitcoms and late night specials; on the cusp of harnessnessing the Internet. It was easy to skirt around the written word with spoon-fed visuals and peer-less interactivity. The attention and focus required to unfold a 40-hour story could be easily condensed into a relatively similiar experience of a 2-hour film so why waste my time. With quick summaries from literary classmates and short prayers that a pop quiz wasn’t in my near future, evading grade-school required reading was easy enough.

And then I discovered music. I joined a high-school punk band, and discovered vast amounts of angst fueled lyrics that I quickly paralleled to poetry. I found a connection to the sharp medium with content that could be as dense as a novel yet consumed quicker than a 30-minute televised drama. I toiled over the deeper meanings found in liner-notes and poems. I fell in love with the tiny format, incorporating it into my own lyrics.

This discovery sent me on a journey through college, attempting to challenge even the most admired poetry with lyrics from underground bands. Using this as fuel, I entered college English 101 with the assignment to write a short 5-10 page fiction. I had never attempted this sort of challenge before. I had never even focused the slightest bit of attention on the short-story format. After presenting my completed work (a piece judging myself through the eyes of a close friend), my professor planted the idea that I should pursue creative writing. I took the notion with a grain of salt and continued to focus on music, film and political science.

During the remainder of my college tenure, I realized that I would get lost in writing long-winded reports about Cuba’s standing with the US, the impact of international gangs or research on comparative politics but hated reading the material. While I couldn’t help but feel I was beginning to miss details by solely relying on lectures, cliff-notes and chapter summaries, I still could not bring myself to focus on the dense works in textbooks or even highly praised fiction.

Was it A.D.H.D.? Had the age of electronic media ruined my ability to focus? Little thoughts like these would trickle into my consciousness. While, others found solace in the great works of Tolkien and Vonnegut, I couldn’t focus on Harry Potter.

Then I found The Egg; a short story so profound I trembled to my core. Immediately after the read, the harsh reality of how much I had missed by avoiding the written word came like a rushing tidal wave. Though reluctant, I decided to set off on a journey for beauty in a world built with text.

Like many, I had fallen in love with the Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. With such respect for the films, I felt a duty to read the source material. After completing The Fellowship of the Ring, I noticed a change in my own vocabulary. Somehow, Tolkien’s words had soaked into my unconscious and allowed me to produce sentences and convincing arguments with gravitas and ease. The impact of reading had become prevalent in my own nature.

I continued hesitating to dive into novels the same way I would dive into a video games of the same length; a realization that left me unable to argue that pouring 20+ hours into any given story was a waste. On top of this, there was a notion that writing was a primitive method of storytelling made better by music, film and video games. Yet, a splinter in my mind told me that there was a single thread that ran though all of these mediums; something that enabled the existence of sheet music, screenplays and punched tape.

The answser was paper. Paper has been a generational through-line for the invention of nearly all forms of art. This was the notion that would propel me to commit to the written word.

Thus, my exploration began. I needed to know how a novelist could invest weeks, months or years into a single piece of work. Just as my technical support training had taught me the inter-workings of computers, I needed to understand the inter-workings of story structure, character development and prose.

I decided enough was enough. If I wanted to understand this medium and conquer my Everest, I needed to write a novel. November 2013 was growing close. I decided to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Since completing the challenge, I have had a much larger appreciation for the written word. That is to say I am beginning to understand the written word at both mechanical and artistic levels. I clamor at the chance to start a new book often times before I finish the last.

Yet, like the scar left on Frodo from the Morgul-blade, there is still a lingering pain in reading. I have not completely tackled the fear that there is simply not enough time to read; that too many profound novels will be left void of my awareness or time before my death that there is simply no point to start reading the wrong ones now.

I love to write. Often times, I dream about the idea of writing for a living. I used to be deterred by the notion that because I was never a reader, I will never be a writer. I now challenge this notion. I offer that it was not until I decided to write that I learned to read. Now that I have learned to read, I hope to learn to write.

Next up: On Writing by Stephen King.


Originally posted on Medium.com

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Game Play Has No Negative Impact on Kids, UK Study Finds

Game Play Has No Negative Impact on Kids, UK Study Finds
Games and Learning

Less TV. More games!

Headed into the study, the authors wanted to study both television and video games, arguing that connections with attention disorders, anger and other problems might be connected to both. Still, researchers wondered if “games may have more powerful effects due to active user engagement, identification with characters and repeated rehearsal and reinforcement.”


– Exposure to video games had no effect on behavior, attention or emotional issues.

-Watching 3 or more hours of television at age 5 did lead to a small increase in behavioral problems in youngsters between 5 and 7.

– Neither television nor video games lead to attentional or emotional problems.

– There was no difference between boys and girls in the survey results.

In my own experience, the participatory nature of video games adds stress, problem solving, and exploratory functions that can enhance one’s imagination. Speaking for myself (and hopefully many others), I feel that this medium has helped flesh-out ones creative passions be it storytelling, pattern assessment, communication, and/or technical know-how. ‘

As I am currently writing a book, I have found it easiest to open up a world by envisioning how I would explore a video game. I am able to more effectively envision the world through a first or third person view by relying on the mechanics that have been built into some of my favorite video games. The ability to attach myself to video game characters has had a profound impact on my writing abilities. My book may or may not be very good but the ease of writing it has been nurtured by a lifetime of gaming.

How have you benefitted from gaming?

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