Paolo Amoroso's Journal

misc

In these digital era there's a growing interest in analog writing with pen and paper, possibly fueled by a reaction to technology and a romantic vision of art.

Almost four decades ago, in 1983, I wrote a full-length book with these tools, all 216 pages of it. Plus one third of the manuscript worth of additional text I cut while editing. Also, for years I kept a personal journal with pen and paper.

Although a practical necessity back then, handwriting was an awful, time-consuming experience that brought no value to me.

Not anymore.

Now I use pen an paper only for occasional short notes of up to a couple of lines, and computers or other digital devices for everything else. I'm not missing the fascination with handwriting, at all.

You’ll have to pry my digital writing tools from my cold, dead hands.

#misc #publishing

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

Most instructional and tutorial videos of screencasts have a common flaw that makes them less effective.

The videos zip by over details such as menu and option selections, changes of settings, and manipulation of user interface elements. These key decision points and actions the users can glimpse only briefly are the whole point of a screencast. And they play out fast, too damn fast.

What makes the issue worse is screencasts are often published as animated GIFs, which don’t provide any control over playback speed or pausing.

Instead, let each action remain visible and motionless for at least 3-5 seconds. Leave menus open more, and don’t release the mouse button too early after a click. The screens with a lot of text or elaborate charts should remain motionless for longer.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

Published links to the original sources of the media, quoted text, or other content shared online are increasingly less common. Not that they ever were much common.

Academia has always had a strong culture of crediting and referencing. And this is what the users with this background have been doing online since the early days of the Internet and the web. Most of those who still do are in academia or communities with similar values like bloggers and open-source developers. It’s a lost art, especially as more and more ordinary users come online.

Why take time and effort to link the sources?

The most obvious reason is fairness to the original creators of the content, who deserve recognition for their work. But there’s more to linking than crediting and fairness.

The references to the sources and other metadata are invaluable research tools.

They enable to track where ideas originate, how they spread, how influential they are. Metadata are essential for accessing the original content in its full form and the best available formats such as high-resolution images, complete videos, or the full text and context of quotes. References allow to explore the rest of the shared content and discover new ideas or overlooked portions of works.

But the most important reason for always providing full references and links to the sources is they enable uses not originally anticipated. The absence of sources makes all this unnecessarily difficult or impossible.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

The conventional marketing wisdom is to emphasize product benefits rather than features.

Is it universally true? Are there products or customers for whom the features are more important than the benefits? Think for example of technical products such as tools or platforms for software developers.

I prefer to learn about the features because the benefits are too vague, focus on average users, and often feel unrealistic or patronizing. I wonder how representative I am.

The features let me figure the benefits that are important to me, which those promoting the product may not even think of.

If I know the product domain well, the features suggest the benefits I can get out of it. Or I may plan to use the product in ways the vendor didn't intend or anticipate in their benefits-oriented communication.

If you pitch a product to me, skip the benefits and talk features.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

When I decide to buy a tech product or gadget, I know how to use it even before ordering or ever having held it in my hands.

How? As a side effect of researching the product.

To learn more, I download the manual or visit the documentation website and read it in full. Reviews, unboxing videos on YouTube, blog posts, and Reddit discussions are other valuable sources of information and tips.

By the time the product is in my hands, I know how to operate and find my way around it. Reading the manual also gives a heads up on any required setup steps, data I need to gather, decisions to make, handling precautions, usage quirks, and useful features.

This knowledge saves time when I want to get up to speed with a new gadget.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

I made a poll on Mastodon asking what's the preferred delivery format for online courses. Although having a mix of formats and material is a good thing, I advised those taking the poll to select the format that best matches their learning style and needs, the one they'd prefer to get the majority of the content in given a choice.

Of the 33 polled users, 55% said they prefer text, 39% video, and 6% audio. Although the sample is tiny, there are a couple of interesting takeaways.

Video is the default format, with many creators and course platforms focusing on or requiring this medium. But I strongly prefer text, to the point video is a deal breaker for me. I suspected I may not be alone, hence the idea of the poll.

The majority of the users who took the poll prefer text like me. This is unexpected, I didn't think there may be so many. Another interesting takeaway is there's a small but significant preference for audio, possibly related to the popularity of podcasts.

I hope this bit of insight will help course creators, who seem to take video for granted.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

We love their success stories.

They are the creators who made it. The major tech sites, blogs, and podcasts feature these creators as case studies and invite them as guests. Their products make millions of Dollars; their books sell tens of thousands of copies; their newsletters have tens of thousands subscribers; they have huge and engaged social followings.

We sincerely admire these creators, buy their products, share their stories, and genuinely cheer up the success they deserve. But are they inspiring? Is there anything we can learn from them and apply to our creative journeys?

Not for me.

These successful creators feel distant and hopelessly unreachable. They seem closer to the fictional heroes of the movies and novels I love than to actual people.

My impression is these creators have something I don’t and can’t have. They are outliers, unicorns. Experienced professionals with unique skills and high-demand products that nail a niche, as well as massive, existing audiences with “buy first, think later” raving fans.

These creators discuss how they designed their landing pages and dissect the growth hacks they implemented. But my impression is they are so talented, charismatic, and well known they could have launched their products any other way with the same outcome.

They could throw anything at the wall and it’d still stick. Yes, they started from zero. But their talent blasted them to where they are.

Instead, the stories that inspire me most are those of the underdogs.

The lesser known, ordinary folks at the other end of the spectrum. The creators who sell a few hundred copies of a book; make a few hundred bucks or so per month off their creative work; publish newsletters with a couple hundred subscribers; and have fewer than a few thousand Twitter followers. Those who earn enough to pay a bill or two or buy a new laptop.

These underdogs show the way to realistic, rewarding goals within reach with reasonable effort in the short to medium term. Not in a lifetime of sweat, creative drive, and luck.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

When I run across a well written or insightful post, I can quickly discover other content from the same author and enjoy more of their interesting thoughts or projects. What I do is tremendously effective.

How do I do that? What's my secret?

I click links.

I start from the initial article or post and click any links that may lead to more of the same content. For example, if the article or post is published on a blog, I go through the navigation bar, sidebar, header, or footer where content is typically organized. Social profiles are other good starting points for links.

I specifically look for these publications or resources by the author:

  • blogs
  • newsletters
  • books
  • personal websites
  • GitHub repos
  • Twitter profiles
  • podcasts
  • videos, especially talks and screencasts

Once there, I repeat the discovery process, usually in depth-first order.

Interesting people tend to share content by other interesting people, so I click also promising links in the content itself and browse blogrolls to review the quoted or linked authors. Then I start the process again for the new authors.

It's amazing how many gems this helps me uncover.

It's trivial. And it's what we did in the early days of the web.

But many no longer do it. Social platforms trained them so effectively not to click on or read anything beyond the snippets and bits of content the algorithms feed them, these users are less and less familiar with the open web and other content formats or platforms.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

With a group of friends, in April of 2022 I did a dream trip to view the launch into space of astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

We flew Turkish Airlines from Malpensa, Italy, to Miami, USA via Istanbul. Although the airline food was better than average and the staff helpful, a number of issues made the flights unpleasant and stressful: broken, confusing, and limited website and mobile app that didn't issue boarding passes, forcing us to long lines at check-in desks; hard, uncomfortable seats that hurt our butts; unresponsive and miscalibrated touch screens of the in-flight entertainment systems; tight margins for connecting flights; delays that forced us to mad rushes for chilometers at Istanbul's airport to catch connecting flights at impossibly far gates; too many passengers not wearing face masks, or wearing them incorrectly, while the flight crews didn't care much.

On top of that, our baggage didn't arrive with the return flight. Most of us got the baggage soon, but one of my friends is still waiting for his.

I'm not sure I'll ever fly Turkish Airlines again.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org

Ever since trying the IndieWeb I realized something the tech elite rarely thinks about, if at all. The IndieWeb needs a lot of work to be useable by ordinary people, let alone considered an option. Manuel Moreale reached similar conclusions:

Personal sites are not going to “come back” because they never “went away” to begin with. At one point they were the only available tool and that's why they were everywhere. But at that time the web was also dominated by tech oriented people and those same people still have personal websites to this day. They've simply become a minority. Today's web is filled with people who are not tech savvy—or nerds—and they are content to use social media platforms. They never cared about having a personal site. It was never a thing for them.

#misc

Discuss... Email | Reply @amoroso@fosstodon.org