Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

Seems counter intuitive but like most things it’s not always clear and cut. Recently, due to my impending graduation, I was required to take a kinesiology class in order to graduate with the proper requirements met. In short order I had to take a P.E. or physical education class. While I’m not someone to complain about these (I actually usually enjoy them quite a bit) this has to be one of my least enjoyed classes I have ever been able to partake of while getting my Bachelor’s. A physical education class? Really? That’s the same thought’s that I had particularly once we started to get into the class a fair bit more. See I’d done weights, swimming, and tennis and in each case all of them gave me great hands on experience. They allowed me to enter into the world of the sport and be able to tinker or even just to be on my own schedule in the case of Tennis. However, what has diametrically changed between these courses and the current volleyball course that I’m taking? Simply put, practice. We practiced, practiced and then we continued to practice for the next 6-7 weeks never playing an actual game of volleyball (I still wonder if we will). At this point we probably could, but like most things at one point I wondered, “what point is there is practicing volleyball if we aren’t even going to ever play it?” For me the point had become clear, there was no real point to practicing continually as we were but more importantly we had lost sight of what we really were there for … to play volleyball and enjoy ourselves while we played it. We didn’t need to be the best but not even playing at all seemed like a hell worse than death or like carry a rock up to a top of a hill only to watch it fall all the way down.

What practice? One would hardly grumble over the fact at being able to hone your skills right? Wrong. See what most people confuse for practice is actually just repetition and even more so the added problem of simply rehearsal for doing the actual thing. Put frankly you can go out onto a basketball court and shoot free throws all you want. But would that simulate you having to shoot a game winning free throw in front of 20,000 cheering spectators? No, not in a mild chance. That is the predicament that my class has fallen into but more importantly the problem I believe many people have fallen into on a regular basis without even realizing it. See the whole entire purpose of practice is that it is meant to be a bridge between the unlearned and the actual thing itself so that you might better perform at it. However, at some point everyone has to get into the water and swim because no matter how long you’ve been in a classroom learning the breath stroke it doesn’t matter unless you can actually do it.

For many people this is very difficult and while many might gawk at what I’m saying and reply, “yeah but people go out eventually and do the the real thing anyways because they’re forced right”? Not entirely, and in fact I would make the case that many people for a very long time even long after they should have stopped continue to practice without real world situations or actual effectiveness situations to call for. Take example, the slew of companies or even of anything that is produced and how effective it actually is on multiple players in the market. For example, I will use Call of Duty or even Destiny as an example of what I am talking about. In the case of Call of Duty even though they produce high technical content, or content that looks and game wise plays very good, it lacks a certain soul aspect or heart to the matter. One might make the case that this is because Call of Duty has been producing games on the same Game Engine for several years. However, even it’s campaigns have become dull, the interface formulaic, the dialogue feels like the same battle talk pulled from Starship Troopers but more importantly it feels “practiced”. It doesn’t feel as though it desires to take itself seriously that it wants to treat your time your even it’s own time seriously. Mish moshed together it comes across as generic, rehashed, and ultimately falls flat even with the talents of Kevin Spacey and Troy Baker involved it can’t seem to pull itself out of the mire of it’s own repetitions in it’s most recent expansion.

A similar aspect befalls Destiny as well. While there might be some question to blame especially when it comes to the fact that the writers were changed midway through development that still can’t account for how little to no real content that didn’t feel rehashed was put out. Put simply, it felt generic and in a bad way to with even some of it’s gunfire sounds feeling reminiscent of all the previous Halo games up until Fall of Reach (which by the way was the best Halo game out of them all). The mechanics felt similar and why not the game was made by Bungie so I’d imagine cross over. Yet, much of the story still failed to connect. This especially a problem when you take into account the budget for the game was around the 200 million dollar mark with an additional 300 million spent on advertising. Through portions the grinding became a sort of tool to push yourself forward but towards what really became the question. It had as well an identity crisis of repetition of qualities.

So what did both these game’s lack that really gave they’re previous generations souls and meaning? Well for starters they severely lacked in the real care aspect of the game. The story’s themselves felt ultimately quite meaningless and they’re really never became a way to connect with either of the games fully. Sacrificing process for outcome they became slaves, not only to Activision, but to the entire need and desire simply to make something even if what they are making isn’t that great to begin with. As a whole they’re forgot the main purpose of what was really in story in place for simply putting mechanic’s we’d seen before in place. Just like my Volleyball class they’d become slaves to the act and lost sight of the real purpose of what they were doing.

That brings me to a topic that I really want to talk about and that is Christian Films or even in general why Christian’s can’t seem to penetrate the culture at a large scale seriously here in the United States. While a more learned person might reply that it is due to them falling from graces with the masses or even they’re lack of ability to adapt (partially true) I would say it is largely the inability of the current generation’s mindset to get out of “practicing”. They seem to eternally sit on the sidelines practicing they’re Christian attempts at setting or bumping all the while they have never seen a lick of combat or the speed of a real Volleyball game let alone taken part in the game itself. Is it due to some timidity on they’re part that they aren’t willing to take chances? Possibly, but a more systemic issue is as fault and that is they’re inextricably tied to converting people and winning them over that they’ve forget the real heart of the issue of being a Christian. Relegated to practice they’ve become just that, practicers and not players, watchers and not doers, condemners or copycats and not real ambition that tries to change the world around it.

I recently had the joy of reading these two articles.

http://blogs.indiewire.com/criticwire/why-christian-artists-dont-want-to-be-christian-artists

http://www.vox.com/2015/2/15/8038283/christian-movies-bad-old-fashioned-fifty-shades

What was one thing that both these touched on that struck me as fascinating however, was the complete lack of real care of genuine love for what mattered in the Christian faith. It wasn’t about the gospel or even about making art that was alternative or “indie” so to speak. It was simply about sending a message and very crappily at that. It many ways it speaks of the near legalistic tendencies and Pharisaical approach many Christian’s have become accused of and even more importantly rampantly practice on a daily basis. They care more about making sure that the product is within they’re “practice” or “yoke” or they’re frame of mind and not what it actually has to say. Ultimately it seems to me as if they have given up something living breathing with a soul for something that is rather quite soulless, continuous, mechanic, or might we even say “Religious” (and yes I do believe you can be “religious” and still not believe in a religion. They care more about the rule and making sure they have they’re serve down instead of putting themselves out in the world, taking a chance, and actually struggling and making something that is great art.

I’ll never forget the time I wanted to go see District 9, which is arguably one of the greatest Science Fiction films ever made or at least in the top 10. I was cobbling together a group of friends to go see it and to be honest we had a small motley crew ready to see what would become the highlight of movies for my Junior year in highschool. While asking one particular friend I’ll never forget what he said when I asked him if he wanted to go. He replied, ” I really don’t want to see the movie, I mean it could be cool, but I heard the movie has around some 150 f-words so that’s a definite no for me”. To be honest it came as quite a shock to me, this was the same friend who had admitted to me to having developed code names for women, consistently listened to music that was quite profane or extremely superficial, and consistently seemed to care less when it came to the quality of movies he watched. Yet, when it really mattered when there was some real value he shied off due to his “concerns as a Christian”. To be honest I don’t think he was concerned enough. Me and my other friend’s went on to watch a movie which would have us talking about how much it meant for the next week and possibly the semester at school.

This is just another case in what has been a losing battle for Christians for some time in the United States. They’ve forgotten what is really important in Christ and more importantly what they are fighting for. They’re not fighting against flesh and blood, what is on television, or movies that are exposed. They’re fighting against ideas, concepts, and abstractions of ideas and emotions. More importantly they’ve lost Jesus entirely and what he said about what makes people whole in regards to what leaves them making them unclean.

In many ways they’ve become like Sisyphus, a man cursed by Zeus to roll a rock up a hill continually for the rest of his life. Right at the moment that Sisyphus would near the top of the mountain near the end of the day magically the rock would roll down the bottom of the hill and he would have to restart the task the next day. Christian’s in many ways are still rolling they’re rock up the hill only to realize that they’ve become a slave to repetition and with repetition results a lack of purpose and without a purpose we become beings slavishly beholden to a hellish insufferable cycle.

It brings me back to the aspect of practice but also the loss of importance to lack of real vision and perspective. You can see this with businesses as well when those who were once Titans suddenly become stricken with disaster. A few to name are Atari, Sony, Circuit City, and film companies like Polaroid.  All of them stopped being great when they stopped producing what they really cared about and real innovation and the heart of the message that made them great and simply adopted a “standard repetition operating procedure”.

So where does this come from? Well one might say it comes from a lack of preparation but I would say that more likely it comes form a lack of willingness to put oneself into difficult situations or more challenging situations. After all you can’t get the impurities out of gold unless you are willing to get it it heated to a high degree. Through fire and flames is often how some of the greatest things in the world have been created. Through struggling through it’s cocoon a caterpillar emerges after all it’s hardship to become a beautiful butterfly. Similarly, great things don’t happen in slightly troubling situations but are born out of necessity of absolute dire situations. As is said necessity is the mother of invention.

One of my favorite quotes on this comes from Sun Tzu:

“To muster his host and bring it into danger: this may be termed the business of the general. If there is no place of refuge, soldiers will stand firm. Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive. Plunge it into desperate straits, and it will come off in safety. On the day they are ordered to battle they may weep, those sitting up wetting their garments. But let them once be brought to bay and they will display the courage of a Chu or a Kuei. At first exhibit the coyness of a maiden. Until the enemy gives you an opening. Afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you. It is precisely when a force has fallen into harm’s way that is is capable of striking a blow for victory. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If they face death, there is nothing they may not achieve.”

Indeed sometimes it seems the only way to a great path is a difficult one. One which many have shied away from. But unless we do so Christian’s will continue to make crappy movies, we’ll continue to only practice volleyball, and we’ll continue rolling our tiny Sisyphean lives up the mountain only to watch them come crashing down in the end.

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Erin Kissane and Revelation

Recently as per usual I was reading though Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane and I must say … it is very interesting hearing her thoughts on how much information a person can reveal. While I’m not adverse to being coy about your projects one would think that you would desire a high degree of transparency between yourself and your client. As Kissane writes:

“Programmers rarely present raw code in client meetings. For every visual design comp or interface prototype that goes to the client (or manager), there are dozens or hundreds of cocktail-napkin and whiteboard sketches that no one outside the core team ever sees. In the same way, we should resist the temptation to show our clients everything we make.”

I thought this was rather interesting coming from someone so experienced with delivering the proper content to the proper users. Yet, I find myself disagreeing with her in large part due to the fact that sometimes it is good for your client to understand your creative thought process so that they will know how to interact with you better. Still, I guess if it’s a poker game then there is nothing wrong with holding your cards close to your chest and only revealing your hands when necessary to pull your flush to sweep the table.

However, what is another interesting topic is the “deliverables” Kissane discusses. We’ll talk about three today that she mentions of several: Community and Social StrategyTaxonomies, and User Scenarios. Lets take a moment to break each down.

Community and Social Strategy

While this is a fairly broad term I think it’s safe to say that at this point most people know what content management is. Specifically, being able to build communities that are thriving and specifically understanding the community basis of your website or whether or not the community would be deep and interactive or mostly aloof and not necessary. After all if people are heavily involved naturally that will develop commitment and with commitment comes communities and from communities natural social orders. But still, I think it would be a good idea not to just limit yourself to facebook, twitter, and instagram as the per usuals.

Taxonomies

While Hierarchy may be the king of allowing your eye to focus on what is important and what is less noticeable Taxonomies are the kings of allowing people to be organized in their looking. It would be dreadful if things became free flow on the internet even more than it already is. After all a little bit of flow is necessary while a nice chunk is good for easing how a site flows. But too much and it becomes a mess and a complete frustration for the purpose or goals (unless it’s goal is to frustrate you). But as always keeping good Taxonomies when you are sorting your pages and content is crucial and a minor step that can’t be overlooked.

User Scenarios

While it may seem crazy planning out how a specific person might use and even navigate your website it is of utmost importance that you take to heart the message of user scenarios. It’s not like it necessarily has to be a doctoral dissertation but in short writing down the exact steps someone might do when they visit your website is good practice. It forces your to think like your enemy who is your audience and get inside they’re thought process possibly and understand how to get them on your site and use it. Not to mention also writing down what the person might be like might allow you to realize just exactly what you are missing as someone who isn’t you using your website. For example, after I make my products I first try them on my colleague designers. Then afterwards I do a real world test on my friends and people I meet who I then ask how they feel about it and what made them feel that way or why they reacted negatively. It allows me to get a double take on a subject by way of the devised and the natural.

Anyways those are all my thought this week on Erin Kissane’s little book. I might have more to come though so we’ll see where this goes.

Pieces of the Puzzle

Recently I had the pleasure of reading through The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane and I can’t tell you how interesting the second chapter of the book was. In summary most of the chapter discusses the various roles that each person has in regards to making great content strategy. The Editor, the Curator, the Marketer, and of course the Scientist. But what is more interesting is Kissane’s use of the various forms of rhetoric or appeal in order to relay the use of the Marketer. While I think this is rather interesting promotion I think she missed a fundamental key in regards to the use of rhetoric to the roles. One could easily for example, explain how the three forms of rhetoric of logos, ethos, and pathos don’t simply apply to the Marketer but also to everyone as a whole. Put into action would could put it this way.

  • Logos – The Scientist – He uses information as his means of better understanding how to generate his proper internet content. His strategies are always tactful and continually based in ration and reason. But more importantly his tools are relegated to data and information and the proper usage of them.
  • Ethos – The Marketer – He is the quintessential user of proper respected nomenclature to garner interest. The person always selling something and yet doing it with clear respect and at the same time using proper ethical standards to make you want to buy their toaster ovens because they’ve been in the business now for over 50 years. But more importantly they are stringently based on making sure that people get their content because they don’t deal with hard logic or whimsical emotion but tried, tested, and true tactics.
  • Pathos – The Curator – The person with the highest emotional quotient (EQ) in the room and just knows how to feel they’re way around things. They have amazing taste in nearly everything and when it comes to content management they can see between the lines to really get to what people at the heart of things want. When they’re visions are properly displayed and relayed to the audiences that they know they are nearly unstoppable.

    Of course the only one that I didn’t mention was the Editor. Why is he removed you might ask? Well in all reality he is a combination of the three. Mastering the waters of each and combining them either to make a Frankenstein or the next star wars. His roles are less clearly defined and for each of these roles as is fitting they both find several roads to Rome. Each approaches the zenith or apex of content management from a different angle and as a such it is quite interesting that they each can succeed in they’re various markets if done correctly. For example data information of the scientist is how google runs with it’s analytics. One would need to trust Budweisser’s commercials and not their taste in order to buy their beers. And last but not least the emotional pulling of those “please don’t harm animals” or humane society ads which are clearly pathos generated. But in each of these cases the ones that are the most effective are the ones that make good use of each combined into a great way.

What you see Isn’t always what you get (But it’s close)

Recently I had the pleasure of being able to discuss the WYSIWYG editor in many a website thrown up by blogospheres such as Tumblr or WordPress. There are many drawbacks and inconsistencies along with a innumerable lies even in it’s name itself. However, for all of it’s drawbacks the attitude of the style of editor is very much of a robust state and is a perfect editor for the oncoming of the age of the digital renaissance. While I’m more of a fan of teaching people the deeper aspects of computer technology, and feel as though kids should be more properly schooled in the information, I also believe that it is a nice to be able to have something to bridge that day when it comes. After all much of the world had to adjust to the car, telephone, television, and electricity when it was invented and similarly I believe that as a result one simply can’t wade deep immediately into the pool of modern technology. Rather instead it is better to have yourself sprinkled before you are entirely doused in it’s infinite pool of knowledge.

That is where the “What You See” editor is great at being able to do amongst a largely tech illiterate population and allowing for a greater interface between the heavy tech understander and engineer and the common man. After all if were all still stuck in the stone age of technology the ability to get information from someone very literate at writing, and conveying ideas through words, would suffer at the thought of having to use direct HTML to get their points across along with possibly using countless other coding languages that when added up would create a barrier. As is the case with many of the new interfaces developed today the new choices in designs have not been to make the interface easier for the engineer but to rather make the distance between the common man and the powerful device much more abated. One needs only observe the new smart-phones, head interfacing tech, and the ever more approaching mobile wearable to know this to be true. In the ever fast paced world of taking the technical to the common ease of use trumps all.