Curious Rat

Reddit AMA with Gillian Flynn →

Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn stopped by Reddit for a Q&A to celebrate the release of the book in paperback. One person asked for advice about how to deal with the overwhelming nature of writing a novel. Her answer is enlightening for anyone interested in taking on such an endeavor:

It can feel really overwhelming. My first novel, I didn’t even admit it was me writing a novel. The very thought seemed too much. I had to kind of sneak up on it and not let it know it might be a novel. No opening line, no title, nothing. Anne Lamott has an absolutely fantastic book about writing called Bird by Bird. The title means to look at one piece of the novel at a time, not the Whole Big Novel because that will feel too daunting. I agree: I take it page by page…

There’s quite a bit more, but you should read the whole exchange there.

Flynn is one of my favorite authors and someone I look up to. It’s heartening to know she struggled with the same issues many of us face when attempting to erect an 80,000 word monument to our ideas.

♦ 'A-ha!' Entertainment

Most weekends when I have little to do (which is rare), I like to veg out on the couch and see what’s on television. I’m one of those people who pays for cable because I enjoy watching my favorite shows when they air, not a week later. However, when I’ve exhausted my TiVo reserves and I don’t have a craving to watch something specific, I channel surf. You know, that thing people used to do before they binge-watched Breaking Bad on Netflix?

It’s not uncommon for me to turn off the TV in protest of my 900 channels with nothing to watch, but once in awhile I stumble across a favorite movie, or a TV show I was interested in watching that just happens to be part of a marathon at the time. I love that “a ha!” moment when I’m able to catch Ghostbusters at the Sedgewick Hotel scene, or a great Bogie flick on Turner Classic Movies.

Unsurprisingly, I also listen to terrestrial radio when I’m in the car (and on my Apple TV from 6-8 pm on Saturday nights). As much as I adore having all my music with me via any number of apps, including Pandora, Spotify, and the iPhone’s Music app, I still go to the radio when I want to hear something unexpected. On my early morning drives to the train station, it’s WQXR I wake up with. In the afternoon, I throw on NPR and catch up with the day’s news.

One might wonder why I don’t just rely on podcasts, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, and my various music apps for something like this, since radio and television are dead and the Internet killed them because new shiny. The answer is two-fold:

  1. I do use those things.
  2. I don’t know.

I don’t know what I may want to watch or listen to at any given time. I don’t know how long I’ll have before I need to be somewhere else and if I start a podcast/movie/show, I may want to finish it in one sitting. I don’t know what I want to watch after scouring Netflix’s library of 5,000 terrible movies, 47 decent ones, and six films worth watching. That paradox of choice is a real mood killer.

Maybe I just want to dip in and out of a program because I’ve got a few minutes to kill. More often than not, that red badge number on Pocket Casts feels like an obligation I’ve no interest in fulfilling at the time.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve shunned on-demand services entirely. I still use them every day. I just don’t use them exclusively. I get more of a kick out of hearing a favorite song spontaneously on the radio than I do from conjuring Siri to fetch it for me on my phone. On a lazy afternoon, I’d rather sit and watch Back to the Future from the halfway point on Starz than pop in the Blu Ray and watch it from the beginning. 1 Discovering something I love is available without my provocation is exciting, like finding five bucks in a jacket I haven’t worn in a few months. The randomness is half the fun.

Of course, there are those who find that randomness antithetical to their beliefs in how content should be consumed. I see sentiments like the one below on blogs and Twitter all the time:

“Cable is a waste of money and radio is a crapshoot. I can get all the content I want via Hulu, Netflix, iTunes, and podcasts.”

You probably could, but you wouldn’t get Bob Osborne’s introduction to Love Finds Andy Hardy, nor would you hear Jeff Spurgeon’s vivacious radio voice guiding you from a Bach etude into a prelude by Debussy. A personality can enhance a program in a way an algorithm cannot and for that reason alone, the “old ways” of doing things are still just as relevant and necessary as they were decades ago.

I’m not advocating for one over the other. Please do not read into this as me saying, “Give up your Netflixes and Hulus and HBO Gos and enjoy content only one way.”2 I wouldn’t have been able to catch up on Walter White’s shenanigans without Netflix and I don’t know what I would’ve done without HBO Go and a weekend of nothing but True Detective. Sometimes, we know what we want and we now have services there to cater to those desires. That. Is. Awesome.

However, there are also have those days when a couch is just as comfortable as the edge of a seat and it might be nice to stop and smell the Law & Order: SVU marathon once in awhile. Enjoy those pleasant surprises. They don’t come often enough.

  1. Usually when I do this, my wife comes into the room and says, “You own this. Why are you watching it on TV from the middle?” My answer: “Because it was on.” 

  2. I can hear the furious rebuttals being typed now because reading comprehension is dead, as evidenced by the responses I received to this post soon after it was published. Something tells me I should’ve bolded that sentence. 

The Crazy Story of Clinkle →

Alyson Shontell has a great piece over at Business Insider (yes, that Business Insider) about Clinkle, a mobile payment startup that managed to woo a major Yahoo executive to join its team…for a day:

Last June, Clinkle announced a $25 million round of seed financing from a dozen top venture capital firms and angel investors — the largest early investment raised in Silicon Valley history. A few months later, the company raised $5 million more from Stanford’s StartX fund as well as Virgin CEO Richard Branson. Duplan, a first-time founder who was barely of legal drinking age, seemed full of promise.

But nine months later — during which time several rounds of layoffs have been announced and rumors swirled of turmoil inside the company — the app still has yet to launch publicly. We spoke to a half-dozen former Clinkle employees and other insiders to find out what happened and what scared Chi-Chao Chang away. Most asked not to be named, either because they feared legal ramifications or they didn’t want to sever ties with the company.

A rapid rise with numerous investors dumping money into a Silicon Valley startup is nothing new. However, multiple rounds of layoffs in under a year gave me pause, as did this:

Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz personally visited Clinkle’s office and spent an hour with him. Duplan didn’t have a slide deck. Instead, he played a demo of what the app could be, and it blew Wennmachers away.


What no one seems to have bothered asking is whether the actual product the developers were building was accurately reflected by Duplan’s super-sleek demo.

No one who invested was shown a working demo of the app before checks were signed, only a rendering. Why not just throw money at the iOS concept designers on Dribbble? One thing I’ve learned in my journey as a budding novelist is agents and publishers won’t sign you based only on an idea. They need to know you can execute. I’d like to imagine this philosophy is the same across other industries, but the Valley is a confusing and backwards place to begin with.

Make sure to read the whole article. It’s a fascinating look into what’s wrong with today’s startup scene. Something tells me Mike Judge’s new HBO show isn’t exactly a parody…

Turner Classic Movies Turns 20 →

Noel Murray:

One big reason why I stay devoted to Turner Classic Movies is that while other cable channels have abandoned their original missions in the chase for fleetingly popular original programming, TCM has dug deeper into what it means to be a “classic movie channel.” The programmers haven’t coasted on nostalgia, catering exclusively to the kind of older viewers who smugly say, “Boy, they don’t make ’em like they used to.” Instead, TCM has reached out to cinephiles, with annual salutes to the Telluride Film Festival, and past programs devoted to the output of Studio Ghibli, and the world cinema classics featured in Mark Cousins’ cine-essay The Story Of Film: An Odyssey. Operating like one of the best-funded repertory houses in the world, TCM spends each month running series dedicated to certain actors or directors—or even to certain themes, such as the series TCM ran a few years back on the evolving representations of homosexuality in cinema.

TCM is one of the main reasons I still pay for cable. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have Robert Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz, and some of the greatest movies ever made to keep me company on weekend afternoons. TCM may not be a huge moneymaker and it may not bring in the viewer numbers of a network like AMC, but it’s exposing audiences to cinematic history and amazing films they might not have ever seen before.

Turner Classic Movies truly is worth every penny.

New on Tech.pinions: 'Home Automation: At the Intersection of HD DVD and Blu Ray' →

My latest piece for Tech.pinions is up and it discusses the fascinating world of home automation. This industry is the first thing to get me interested in anything technology-related in a quite a while, so I’m excited to see how it progresses over the next few years.