What’s in a Last Name?

I’ll tell you what’s in my last name.

It means “quivering bog.”



That’s absurd, I thought when I first came across this definition years ago in a name dictionary in the then-new $4 million downtown Seattle Public Library, which, by the way, is an equally absurd hodge podge of modernist “design” elements that looks like something out of a bad dream. That place should have been torn down the day it opened. Now these are some cool libraries.

But I digress. That particular definition has always gnawed at me, and the Surname Database offers the same lame definition, but it also offers a much more interesting and appealing meaning: “alder stream.”

This first meaning was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, a wide scale census, and the Surname Database says that Warne was the name of the stream of the place. I found the specific location of the Warne place on a website that made a database out of the Domesday book, which is in Devonshire, in southwest England. Wearne, a variant, also appears to originate in the same part of the country. There are a few roads and even a bed and breakfast that share variants of the name Warne, which include Wearne, Warn, and Wearn. The origin of the name seems to be a toss-up between Somerset and Devonshire, both in the same region of England.

The meaning that bothered me so much came from the Pipe Rolls of 1194, which is a tax document. Apparently, my last name was composed of pre-7th century elements meaning to quiver or to shake and bog/swamp/fen/marsh. Wage plus fen was how the transcriber copied down my precious last name, but after more research, I realized that there’s a potentially complete disconnect between this secretary’s transcription and the real “meaning.”

In other words, the scribe could have been having a bad hair day, and he could have simply copied down phonetically what he heard. I doubt that the tax collectors were very interested in preserving detailed semantics for antiquity from citizens who may not have put any stock or thought into the meaning of the name of the place where they lived. Additionally, there could be semantic nuances that don’t come across very well. “Shaking bog” means nothing to me, but “rustling marsh” or something along those lines tends to make more sense, because we tend to use words like shake and quiver to refer to objects, not landscape elements.

My lack of knowledge of the language and historical context is clearly a limitation, but these are some common sense logical connections the researcher can make.

Last names were new, at that time. Most people simply acquired the last name of the place where they lived, to comply with a new tax system that had recently come about. So it appears there were locations called Wearne in Somerset and Warne in Marytavy, Devonshire, so people living at those locations simply adopted the location name as their last name. Blah blah of Warne.

I couldn’t find any more revealing information in the UK National Archives.

Of course, I am rooting for “alder stream,” but I was not able to find an image of the page out of the Domesday book to verify the Surname Database claims about that particular meaning. More digging may turn it up.

Update 4/28/14:

An extensive genealogy of the Warne name exists on, but it doesn’t cover the meaning of the name, which is my chief interest.

After a bit more browsing (the internet really makes research a piece of cake), it seems clear that Warne and its many variants, whatever their origin, are related either to the elder or alder tree. The semantic and linguistic element, regardless of whether you are talking about the Gaulish vern, the Celtic element verno/uerno, the Welsh gwern, or any other variation, the common element appears to be elder or alder. The Online Etymology Dictionary, which I use so much it is pasted into my toolbar, points to completely different roots for the word alder, as well as verno, but also suggests there may be some confusion or relationship to the word elder.

Alder seems to be the general consensus, though I’d be interested to dig around more into the actual linguistic confusion around the issue. I know firsthand exactly how information spreads on the internet.

The etymological and semantic history, regardless of which language you’re researching, points to either an elder or alder tree, not a quivering bog, like some silly tax collector suggests.

You’re welcome, Warnes. ;)

How to Write a Complete Story in Nine Sentences

Impossible, right?

mtf_yJCUs_120Wrong. Write every day, they say. And they’re right.

But the block hits everyone from time to time like a ton of bricks or a light tap on the brain, depending on the person. Writer’s block can be a menacing obstacle for many writers, so I designed an exercise to help creative writers overcome writer’s block.

Are You Blocked?

According to The Altucher Confidential, if you want to be a writer, then write regularly, and you will become a writer. Interestingly, a Lifehacker article of his says that “if you sit down and stare at a blank screen every day, then you are a writer,” then subsequently links to an article that recommends writing regularly, as opposed to staring at a blank screen. He also paradoxically claims he’s not a writer.

If you sit down and stare at a blank screen every day and do nothing I think you might want to see a doctor.

That’s a joke, of course. He must be referring to the infamous writer’s block, which bubbles from subconscious depths unknown to afflict many — if not all — writers at some point during their lives.

In 1991, says Altucher, he wrote his first novel hoping women would like him. In 1991, I wrote my first novel still young enough to think girls were gross. In the mid-nineties, during the summer break between sophomore and junior year of high school, I wrote nine or ten novels.

Ten hours a day

usually, non-stop, stream-of-consciousness, fantasy and scifi and paranormal fiction, and what came out was an actual story. I didn’t know structure, theory, or anything. They were shit, but they were complete stories.

Since then, I delved deeply into esoteric literature, Japanese, art, and even had a prejudice against most creative fiction and literature for a while. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t write compulsively. Writing’s second nature to me.

I always have at least two notebooks, a laptop, and a sketchbook because I’m an amateur artist too. I’m one of those coffee shop ornaments with his nose and pen buried in his notebook.

In short, I’m a writer, but I, like many who have come before me, also suffered from writer’s block, specifically when it comes to creative fiction.

How to Fix Writer’s Block?

Everyone’s different. Not everyone sits down after work every day and writes for hours like they are scratching an itch that won’t go away.

This exercise won’t work for everyone, but if you are a creative fiction writer, you might want to give it a shot, since it can be done in less time than it takes to drink a double half-caff latte with extra foam or take your dog out for its morning business.

Writers often have something they want to say. A message, a story, a song, an idea, any, some, or none of the above. But something blocks the idea from becoming a completed story. When I got the creative fiction itch last year, though, I found myself blocked.

So I bought a bunch of stuff to help me get through it. I got Magic and Fairy Tale Dice, where you roll dice with little pictures of characters that would appear in a fairy tale, such as a magician, a wolf, a skeletal tree, and a fairy. It’s supposed to be for kids, but I played around with it for a while and tools like that actually do help stimulate the story creation process.

I also got Rory’s Story Cubes, Wired for Story (highly recommended), some Magic: the Gathering Cards, and, the primary inspiration for my exercise, The Story Template.

How to Write a Story in Nine Sentences


This thing fits in my pocket and has a science fiction trilogy, a few crime thrillers, and some kids’ stories in it

If you aren’t familiar with the three-act story structure, google it. Though I was aware of it, I’m not a big fan of academia and its smarty-pants jargony theories about stuff that’s often really simple.

The exercise I came up with is inspired by the three-act structure as outlined in The Story Template and a little bit by The Storymatic. Both are highly recommended.

The Story Template makes the three-act story structure very digestible, and includes other ideas that help structure the other elements of a good story. The latter part of her book is devoted to the publication process — not so useful unless you have a story ready to publish. But the first part of the book alone makes it worth the buy.

The Storymatic is a bunch of idea cards. You pick a character card that will say something like “Person who hates fish” and “First date” or whatever. I don’t have access to these resources now, since I’m halfway across the world, but it’s basically a character card and a situation card.

The Niner Puts These Two Tools Together

If you look up the three-act story structure, which I won’t go into here because if you can’t use Google you shouldn’t write, then you’ll see how many people clearly define a three-act story structure.

To do the exercise, you break each act into three parts.

Three acts.

Three sentences per act.

Nine sentences.

Each sentence performs a specific function.

The first sentence

introduces the character and the Ordinary World situation, kind of like a story starter, or the Storymatic cards. We see things as they are before everything starts to stray from the ordinary. For example:

“Tarzan hasn’t had sex with Jane in months, and really wants to spice up their sex life, and came up with a great idea he wants to talk to her about, but when he swings into their bungalow he sees her crying Amazon rivers of tears.”

This sentence I just pulled out of my mental diarrhea stream, by the way. I didn’t pre-plan any of these sentences. Just a tiny edit here and there, which is what you’ll be doing when you do this exercise anyway.

The second sentence is, what I believe The Story Template calls the “challenge” to the protagonist, what has been called the inciting incident elsewhere, a crisis, etc. This is the first obstacle or crossroads that the protagonist faces. We see the first glimpse of the conflict around which the story is based.

“‘Tarzan,’ Jane says, ‘I’m pregnant.'”

The third sentence is the end of the first act, when the hero makes his decision to exit the ordinary world (his normal life with Jane) and enter act two, the Second World. The second act, according to The Story Template, takes up something like 3/4ths of the story volume, by the way, so keep that in mind for the final version of your story.

“Tarzan is blinded by rage, knowing the child isn’t his, so he kicks the front door off its hinges into the river, grabs the nearest vine and swings off into the jungle.”

Personally, I don’t care about sentence length, word-prettiness, or any of that: it’s about getting as much information and the big picture as fast as possible.

The fourth sentence begins act two,

so I’ve started labeling them like this.

“2.1: Tarzan, enraged, swings wildly around, beating trees with sticks, until he comes up with an evil plan.”

The fifth sentence is the mid-point of the whole story (big-twist), which, according to The Story Templateif I remember correctly, is either a dark point or a false high.

“2.2: Tarzan stakes out his house and waits for hours until Jane leaves, and he follows her to a local village, where he sees her enter the hut of the chief’s son, with whom he has been trading furs for the past year.”

Stakes are rising, tension is rising, and Tarzan is facing an internal struggle, probably ready to beat somebody else’s chest in instead of his own.

The sixth sentence is when we hit another crisis point. Many TV series are just a long string of crises, one after the other, drawing out the second act indefinitely until the show gets cancelled.

In my opinion.

The final conflict and enemy is becoming clear, if it hasn’t already, and here we are leaving World Two into the Conflict Resolution of World Three.

“2.3: Tarzan, not known for his cool-headedness, swings into the village, crashing directly through the roof of the hut, spear in hand, ready to impale the chieftan’s son.”

There’s no turning back to the innocence of the First World (act one).

Again, we’re going for speed and structure, nothing else.

The seventh sentence begins the third act,

which is the conflict resolution, be it violent, peaceful, or somewhere in between. Call it obstacle, crisis, entry into the Third World, whatever you want, this is often the lead-in to the final confrontation.

“3.1: Tarzan finds Jane weeping in the other man’s arms, and his rage abates somewhat, so he decides not to slit the traitor’s throat, but does not lower his spear.”

Don’t think hard about this stuff. Rewrite later. Just go go go.

The eighth sentence should be the climax.

“3.2: Tarzan has blood in his eyes and murder on his mind, with his spear point inches from the other man’s throat, but instead of killing him, he uses his spear to scar a ‘T’ across the man’s chest and escapes back into the jungle.”

Sentence nine is the end.

“3.3: Tarzan swings away to the highest tree on the highest hill in the jungle, where he looks at his ape friends’ dwelling places, his bungalow, the betrayer’s village, and, far in the distance, beyond the jungle, Tarzan’s eyes remain locked on the metal spires of a distant city.”

This ending leaves openings that can go in a few different directions, where we could choose to write a sequel, continue the story, or compress this niner into a single act, chapter, and so forth.

The End is Just the Beginning

This is where you start another niner, begin editing this one, rewriting it with a different chain of events, write a sequel, expand, etc.

I don’t sit around theorizing about story structure, plot, character development, exposition, foreshadowing, and so on, but it really helps to know this stuff, regardless of how much you buy into it or which theories you subscribe to.

I’m not going to turn this Tarzan thing into a story.

Neither will I flesh out a skeleton I wrote an hour ago about a cat named Pumpkin who manages to take out a cat mafia gang with a trojan pumpkin full of catnip. Well, maybe I will, who knows. That one has more promise than this one.

This exercise is as rigid or as flexible as you need it to be, but the object is to generate a beginning, middle, and end, as quickly as possible, because, for some people (like me) over-thinking is the enemy.

It’s similar to the idea that spawned NaNoWriMo.

Just quit quibbling over details and write write write.

Google reveals many who decry the three-act structure, saying it was made just for theatre, because people need bathroom breaks, and the seven-act structure was developed for TV because there are seven commercial breaks and each act should end with a crisis or cliffhanger, etc.

These perspectives are also worth researching, but they are beyond the scope of this article.

While it took me a while to write this article, it should be clear that a nine-sentence story outline can take but a few minutes. Do three or nine in a row, then nine more, or one a morning for a week, refine the ones you like, or add more sentences where needed, change ones that need changing, and do whatever you want to to get the result you seek.

Part of the advantage of this approach is that nothing you write is sacred. Your brain realizes it’s just an exercise you can crumple up and toss away if you want. Or it has the potential to snowball into a series of novels.

But first make sure to familiarize yourself with some of the ideas out there about story structure, plot, character, setting, and so forth, because you have to understand what each sentence in the exercise does.

This article is going on 2,000 words. If you know your stuff and you’ve read this far, you can probably write out a niner in less time than it took you to read this article.

Go ahead.

The Beginning

1.1: Groceries still in hand, the first thing he noticed wasn’t the pool of blood soaking the bed, but the crumpled piece of paper that lay at his feet.


SEO to Now: Content Marketing’s Future

The basic “currency” of SEO is the backlink, which can vary in value, from the negative-value spam links to quality links from authorities such as Amazon, Wikipedia, or government sites. The basic mindset of SEO used to be “more, more, more,” in terms of both content and links, because it was quantity that mattered. As Google wised up, we gradually saw a shift towards quality content and content marketing, yet we still see filler material everywhere. Google’s emphasis on quality content will never change, but as technology changes, what other changes can we expect to see in the marketing world?

The search engine’s algorithm updates helped steer the marketing world towards content marketing, where the bottom line has been “promotion through valuable content.” Content subsequently replaced links as the atomic unit of internet marketing. Google Now, a personal assistant and prediction service based on the Google search engine, is poised to become the search interface for Google Glass.
The goal is to create an easy-to-use personal assistant, as opposed to a search engine.

Beyond the Search Engine

The gap will continue to grow between the top results and all the rest
The gap will continue to grow between the top results and all the rest

Google itself is obviously not just a search engine any more, but has become a full-fledged tech monopoly with multiple agendas. In the post-SEO world, especially with Google+, Google has made it clear that if you want to be successful with Google marketing, you have to play Google’s ballgame. Google will continue to compete for the same types of multi-market dominance as Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung. So they will push harder and harder to have everyone “integrate” with Google services.

Content marketing will be affected by the further consolidation of data and traffic into an even more biased and simplistic interface. For one thing, the top results will become more static and difficult to penetrate. The content itself will become shorter, simpler, and designed to be more attention-grabbing.

Google or Bust

While technically speaking a search engine should be a database, Google has been called an advertising agency, which makes sense from a marketing perspective and a design perspective. Businesses will face even more pressure to integrate with Google services in order to be featured in the search results. If you opt out of Google+ or anything else Google, then you just won’t make it near the top.

Some might say this type of filtration system is good, because it weeds out the filler content and spam. But it also means that the search results will be more simplified than they already are. It means that legitimate businesses will have to compete harder against each other and against spammers to make it into the results that actually matter.

And for those who do not want to join Google+ or get a Google account?

Good luck with your marketing.

Travel Post: Phnom Penh to Kampot

Lately I’ve been so focused on work that I have neglected my travels and my travel blogging. Instead, I have been indulging in my love of technology, science fiction, and future design.

But soon my digital nomad work travels will come to an end, soooo…

On to the Travel Blogging

IMG_20131227_074156Phnom Penh (PP) was great, as far as cities go.

It’s hardly the massive, gridlocked, bustling Bangkok. PP buzzing with motorbikes and tuk tuks hollering at you, food vendors pushing carts full of food down the streets, with odd loudspeaker announcements echoing in Khmer every so often, until around midnight, when some light switch is turned off and the city turns black and silent.

Yet somehow, perhaps due to the Cambodians laid-back attitude, PP retains a much more relaxed feel than any other capital I’ve been to. Though I’ve herd Vientiane is even more “quaint.”

During the day, you find cheap markets, smiley Khmer lounging around their shops, until the slammed rush hour floods past, and if you’re in the touristy areas, you have constant offers of tuk tuks, weed, and hookers…kind of like a less-busy Khao San.

Guest Housing it on St. 172


View from 3rd floor of White River Hotel on St. 172, Phnom Penh

But that was, of course, because I mostly stuck to the touristy Street 172 and worked from my guest houses. At first investigating the possibility of renting an apartment, I abandoned the idea when I realized they wanted a full three months deposit up front, which deposit, according to a couple grizzled old expats, I would never see again. Why risk such an investment when I could get a guest house for the same price or less?

So I stayed in one guest house, White River I, which was hard to work in, because it had no desk in the room, was filled with partiers and lots of pressure to socialize, buy food, drinks, and weed.

I also volunteered for a day with a program that was looking for a short-term English teacher, and it was there and then that I realized I don’t mix with kids, no matter how smiley and friendly and cute they are.


Sunrise from my room in Last Home on St 172, Phnom Penh

The next guest house, The Last Home, was much more suited to my working style, and there I sorted out a lot of my short- and long-term goals. A desk, a nice view, and a quiet environment go a long way towards getting work done.

It was in that guest house that I spent Christmas, turned 34, realized some other “trivial” stuff about the path of the digital nomad, my own life path, and I consequently decided to move on to Kampot, a town near the southern coast of Cambodia.



Fields outside Kampot town

I’ve worked here a couple days so far, walked, mingled, and ridden a bike around nearby dirt roads and agricultural fields.

Kampot’s an attractive little town. It has a riverfront, guesthouses a-plenty, nightlife, good food, geckos, really big geckos, exotic bugs, fields extending as far as your bike or motorbike will take you, and, of course, nice, smiley Cambodians.

If I decide to stay in Cambodia, Kampot is definitely a relaxing town to spend time in, meet some nice people, and get some work done.

Sexbots, AI, & Androids: Nathan’s Future Predictions, January 2014

When I think of the future’s impending waves of technology, I think of this quote from Mat Honan’s Google Glass piece, “I, Glasshole“:

We need to think about it and be ready for it in a way we weren’t with smartphones. Because while you (and I) may make fun of glassholes today, come tomorrow we’re all going to be right there with them, or at least very close by. Wearables are where we’re going. Let’s be ready.

At the turn of the year, we saw many columnists and writers roll their dice on the table and make predictions about what trends we’ll see this year in technology.

Instead of doing that, I decided to take a look at where the technology industry is headed over the next several decades, so we can truly understand what “be ready” means.

It’s good to know that wearable technology is coming, but what comes with it? And what else is coming alongside wearable tech?

Google Will Build Androids

And all the glasshole Google employees will walk around with pet androids on leashes.

HandroidAmazon already uses robots in its warehouses. Some time in the coming decades the robots will walk among us, they’ll look like us, & they’ll talk like us. At first they’ll probably look like the robot in Robot and Frank, but it won’t be long before they look more and more like us, as seen in Time of Eve.

Ghost in the Shell‘s vision of the future is, in my opinion, probably the most accurate picture of the future. Not so much the robots that talk with little girls’ voices, but the fact that cybernetic augmentation and VR tech will become normal, we’ll be able to access the internet through brain chips, and so forth.

Right now, Google does research into robotics, they bought an army of robots, they are researching AI, and they are building a brain. What do you think they’re aiming for? What happens when you research robotics, AI, and artificial brains?

Androids, obviously. And the androids will all be wearing Google Glass.

Google Glass, Wearable Tech, VR, & Virtual Sex

"If you had all the world's information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you'd be better off." - Sergey Brin, 2004

“If you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” – Sergey Brin, 2004

While I semi-satirized this freakish technology in the past, the fact is it will probably change the world. And if it doesn’t, something similar will. You’ll be able to put on wearable tech such as Google Glass and sit down to dinner with someone halfway across the world. You’ll be able to go to virtual nightclubs, virtual business meetings, virtual orgies, play virtual tennis, and go on virtual crime sprees (otherwise known as video games).

Wearable technology, for those of you who don’t know, means smartwatches, smartglasses, and other wearable smart-tech. I wouldn’t be surprised if smart jewelry and smart tattoos come along.

We’ll have virtual reality immersion tech, such as VR helmets and VR suits. You’ll be able to put on some pilot’s helmet and gloves, and enter a virtual world from your bedroom at night while your parents think you’re asleep.

Best scifi book I’ve read in a while.

Eventually we’ll probably have complete VR suits that you can slip inside, as seen in Ready Player One. In order to provide for all bodily functions, the suits will probably have tubes for all your holes, so you don’t have to get out every time you need to take care of said bodily functions.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Google advances chip tech so far that all you have to do is glance to the upper left for a second and then the chip connects your brain directly to the Net.

Until brain chips and super suits hit mainstream, everyone will start getting chips or wearable tech that is unobtrusive. A watch, a pair of smart earrings, a pair of smart contact lenses, smart glove linings that fit inside your black stylish leather ones, some smart undergarments, and even though you’re on a flight from Paris to New York, you can project your Avatar into your family’s bedroom for dinner, while simultaneously attending a friends’ house party in Dublin with a different Avatar.

You’ll Be in Ten Places at Once

When you land, Google’s iChatLocalApp will tell you that there’s a girl downtown who wants to go to that electronic music festival who shares your taste in TV and Mediterranean cuisine, so you AvatarChat for a few minutes while waiting to pick up your luggage, then meet up in real life and make it to your friend’s house party, where you’ve been half-attending with your PartyAvatar#13 all along.

And while riding the taxi to the party you use your LinkedIn Avatar to correspond with some of your business contacts, only half-paying attention to the girl you met, who is also half-somewhere else, half-chatting with someone else behind her Google Lens, probably recording you and having her MyFace friends rate your looks. When you arrive at the party, you have between half-a-dozen and a dozen conversations and content streams whirling about your Lens interface.

So when you’re surfing the content streams and half-chatting with half-a-dozen avatars halfway around the world, where are you really? Your attention will be split and pulled in a million directions by a million signals competing for your time, money, and intellectual resources. Enter Rushkoff’s Present Shock, which points out the fragmenting effect technology has on our consciousness.

Augmented Reality

Present shock becomes even more ominous when you consider that augmented reality will saturate our lives even more than it already does. Now we look at the virtual world through our computers, which have found their way into our pockets as smartphones, but the internet of things will make augmented reality into a permanent stratum of our daily lives.

I used to envision VR as this other world that you just plug into and then come out of and then you’re back in the real world. Like Narnia, VR was something you could turn on and off by going through a doorway. But it’s not shaping up that way.

The evolution of the interface-on-your-face

The interface-in-your-face

Technology is turning out to be a sphere that’s always on, that we can’t seem to unplug from. Again, Ghost in the Shell has the right idea. If you’re wearing Google Contact Lenses, you’ll be able to sit in a recliner in a roach-infested filthy bachelor pad, then open your eyes inside a palace on a distant planet with tons of alien babes crawling all over you. Or you can look out your living room and, instead of seeing a dirty alley wall, gaze at an empty tropical beach, a mountain vista, an alien landscape, or outer space.

While walking down the street you can add dynamic backgrounds that don’t exist in reality. Say you want a more saturated color palette? Done. A flock of birds? Done. Virtual graffiti on those walls? Done. Say you wish your neighbor was your sex toy for the night? Done.


SexbotWith your Google Lenses you can steal images of some hot chick you see on the street then use some pirated software to take that girl’s face and make a sex avatar out of it. When you get home to your android that night, you just have your Google Lenses sync up that girl’s face with your lifelike android’s hot body. And you can do it again and again every day with some other chick. Imagine the virtual harems that creeps will hoard…if they ever leave their basements.

Because, whether we like thinking about it or not, we will build robots and androids that will be our complete slaves. As they should be. They are fucking robots, after all.

As with all new technology, this wave will be a double-edged sword, with the potential to revolutionize the world, while also introducing some darker possibilities.

Horrible Stuff

Robots already exist in the military. Modern day drone pilots bomb the enemy, then go home to their wives for dinner. We have robots outfitted with machine guns and cameras. War could become a video game tournament for rich nations. What happens if Google can create a real army of robots for the US government? What if we had a bunch of android house cleaners and servants and they got hacked by an enemy country or by that kid down the block? Or the NSA decided to make them all pick up weapons?

Weapon-wielding spiderbots, dogbots, hoverbots, and tankbots could roll across the battlefield while we watch through a detached dopamine-addiction in our Google Lenses. Outfitted with human-killing weaponry, they could decimate the opposition without a single homeside casualty.


We forgot about EMPs. Electro-magnetic pulses that can disable all electronics within a several-mile radius.

The electro-magnetic pulse disabled our robot battalion and now the robot tech is in the hands of the enemy. This is why EMPs are illegal.

Probably best to stick to stratosphere-flying drones.


We’ll also have AI, which you can install into that open-source brain you printed from your 3D printer, which you can then install into that new iJeeves bot you printed.

Get Ready by Looking Forward


Feel like getting rid of pesky senior citizens? Just pop them inside one of these machines. They take care of all the dirty work & keep them entertained at the same time. Just be careful the machine doesn't turn into a giant robot, like it does in this anime.

Feel like getting rid of pesky senior citizens? Just pop them inside one of these nursing beds.

The nerdiest science fiction has the best predictions of how we’ll interface with technology in the coming decades. Ghost in the Shell, Roujin Z, Ready Player One, the Matrix, Phillip K. Dick fiction, modern day concept art, cyberpunk, and countless others point to the trends that are manifesting in both technology and society.

As Mat Honan said, we need to be ready. Fortunately, science fiction designers design the future constantly, so we can use their predictions and future designs to better prepare for tomorrow.

We can start by looking further than one year at a time.

Three Marketing Automation Tips for the Freelancer

If a Tweet is Tweeted in a busy city and nobody hears it, did it make any sound?

If a Tweet is Tweeted in a busy city and nobody hears it, did it make any sound?

When you are a freelancer and work from home, you don’t always have time to maintain ten different social networks. The social network scene soon becomes a time sink of sharing, liking, linking, and tweeting. And with the need for constant self-promotion, the freelancer can end up spending way too much time online.

The mainstreaming of automation tools has changed the landscape for everyone. In the old days, i.e., five or ten years ago, internet marketing automation was only for the tech-savvy. If you knew how to program, you could design your own scripts or programs to assist you, but these days, applications such as Hootsuite and Buffer are pretty much necessary for anyone that has multiple social presences.

I hope he doesn't get mad at me for posting this...honestly this is what it looked like when I scrolled down...

I hope he doesn’t get mad at me for posting this…honestly this is what it looked like when I scrolled down…

The Twitter user interface needs a lot of work, which is one reason that more functional applications like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Tweetadder, and Buffer came around. Twitter really needs to revolutionize its model before other programs, like SnapChat or Prismatic, come in and push it out of the way. However, as long as Twitter maintains its hold on the mass-chat model, it will stay there. If next generation social networks don’t incorporate a tweet-ish feature, Twitterers will stay Twitterers, and, in my opinion, the post-Facebookers will become SnapChatters or Prismacticers.

So with the state of social networks in constant flux, how do you manage it all?

Use Hootsuite

Currently, Hootsuite is the ultimate  social media marketing tool that organizes your data streams for pretty much every outlet you can think of, and some you may not know about. For instance, did you know that MySpace is still around? It must be, since Hootsuite offers integration with it.

Try not to crash

Try not to crash

At first glance, its interface looks like the cockpit of an airplane. But once you start trying to maintain several presences, its benefits will become obvious. But if you want to be able to quickly share to multiple accounts, there’s another app that you should use. It’s called…

Buffer App

Personally, I use Buffer to schedule post to a handful of accounts. Buffer’s app can connect to Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, (whatever that is — just kidding! I’m sure it will be very popular one day), and Facebook. You install an add-on for your browser, and whenever you click the Buffer button it queues it to a customizable schedule for any or all of your connected accounts.

At this stage, Buffer’s limited social network selection may be a deterrent for some. They are building out functionality, though, so the future probably bodes well for Buffer users.

Using Buffer is a snap, and Hootsuite gets easier with time, but with all the choices of social networks, which ones are right for you? Many people will give you different advice. Usually they tell you what works for them, or base their advice on popular opinion, etc. But the bottom line is:

Choose the Networks You Like

I never liked Facebook, the same goes for LinkedIn, and Google+ was DOA, but your choice of marketing should really be based on one of two things: your personality, and your personality.

If you are a Facebooker, then marketing on Facebook will come more naturally, you will enjoy it more, and you will have an easier time connecting with other Facebookers. Consequently, Facebook marketing should work best.

Kevin Muldoon interviewed a number of successful bloggers, and they all had different styles that worked best for them. Some advocated a large social network presence, some advocated accumulating bylines, while others were entirely successful as ghostbloggers, without bylines or a social presence.

Most people will tell you to do things one way, because that’s what worked for them. That’s problematic, because they don’t know your business or your target demographic, among other things. Regardless of your approach, time spent is time spent. You will get a return.

What Buffer looks like right before you share. Obviously I'm not going to share a post of me working on this blog.

What Buffer looks like right before you share. Obviously I’m not going to share a post of me working on this blog.

For most freelancers, Buffer and Hootsuite are more than enough. Buffer lets me post to Google+ for SEO purposes, Facebook even though I think it’s pointless, and Twitter because I think that’s the best way to connect with other like-minded people. And Hootsuite lets me manage conversations easily and quickly.

All freelancers should definitely automate their marketing to a certain extent. As online networks evolve, they are dividing up the internet population into many social networks, and managing all your networks is becoming more and more difficult. Fortunately, automation tools will always be around to help you maintain your online social presence.

Copywriting & PS4: The Pyramid Scheme

Playstation Ethos

according to PS4…because reality is apparently too boring…


This is a long article.

I love long articles.

How else can you really go in-depth?

I love long attention spans, long sentences, long blog posts, long books, long headlines, long commercials, long-tail search, and long hair. My last blog post was merely a pre-amble to a long-planned long-term series of blog entries, but I decided to wrap that crap up now and here, for a few reasons I’ll get into later and somewhere else.

Copywriting, like everything else in the universe, is based on the shape and scheme of a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is the goal of your writing, and the rest of your writing supports that goal. The goal is the eye on the top, the next couple bricks are the headline, the next layer is the first sentence, the next layer is the first paragraph, and if they’re still reading by then you’re lucky, or really good. Each successive sentence and paragraph supports the previous ones.

From the Playstation Ethos commercial

From the Playstation Ethos commercial

Copywriting is writing with a goal. You don’t just write coherently with good grammar, as the SEO clients request, you write to capture attention and influence the reader. This kind of writing takes a lot of time and crafting, and a long attention span, and, incidentally, that’s not really how I write this, my personal blog. I write my personal blog mostly to have fun and experiment and practice writing, and transmit high quality ideas to other people who have long attention spans. But mostly to do my personal work and have fun.

After all, as Noah Bradley says, if you don’t do your personal work, you go crazy. And since my personal work tends to be long, it’s not the best place to advertise my copywriting, which, as mentioned, is designed to capture attention quickly.

Take Twitter, for example, which limits tweets to 140 characters. Copywriting at its finest! The Twitter playground reminds me of the Wall Street stock exchanges, with thousands of loose neck-tied professionals screaming and yelling at banks of monitors. You have exactly 140 characters to capture someone’s attention. If you can’t do it, tweet again. And again. And again. And again. And…oops!

You’ve annoyed them too much and now they unfollowed you. One exclamation point too many. Capturing attention is not an art form, as many internet marketers would fart. To say something is an “art form” means nothing. I prefer the term “craft” over “art.”

Playstation wants you to play

Playstation wants you to play

“Art” in my world means creativity, spontaneity, and the opposite of science, which is calculations based on proof. “Craft” is a balance of both art and science. Carpentry is a good example of a craft. You have a pre-defined amount of space and material to create an aesthetitically pleasing, yet functional object.

Writing can be art, science, crap, or craft, depending on its function. But goal-oriented copywriting is craft, which, because it has goals, implies design.

I hinted at this in my last blog post with the PS4 commercial analysis, For the Players Since 1995. That particular commercial was designed for a specific purpose, i.e., to support the slogan, “This is for the players,” which slogan was, in turn, designed to support the marketing strategy in the Great War of the PS4 vs. the Xbox One.

Let’s take a look at this ad to see why the Xbox One is about as dry as the Arizona desert.


Now watch this and see why, in comparison to the PS4, the bland Xbox One does not deserve a place in history or anyone’s living room, anywhere, ever.


As we can see, there is a slight difference in the ad campaigns, but some of you might be saying, “What does any of your rambling have anything to do with anything anywhere ever?”

Others may be saying, “Okay, so their ad campaign sucks, so what? Xbox One’s still a good device. It still has cool games and does pretty much the same thing that the PS4 does.”

Hi, I'm old and boring

Hi, I’m old and boring

If all things are pretty much equal, then I would not choose Xbox One, based on how much care and effort they didn’t put into their campaign. I think it’s quite amazing that Sony, some no-name whatever company from some little island off China, has managed to create a gaming device that is outselling Microsoft. After all, the USA dominates the world, and Microsoft has dominated the USA’s technology industry for a long time, yet Sony has created the most amazing place to imagine and play: the Playstation Nation.

Supporting the PS4, powering this David’s rise to meet the Goliath of the Xbox One, lies their energetic marketing campaign, which supports on one copywritten slogan, “This is for the Players.”

At the end of For the Players Since 1995, we see the slogan directly beneath the name of the device, PS4.

Me too.

Me too.

Everything in the ad has been specifically designed to support that slogan, and that slogan has been carefully crafted specifically to support that device, the PS4. In the same way that the slogan supports the name, the whole commercial works together to support the slogan. Therefore, the ad supports campaign supports the slogan supports the device name supports the device itself supports the salaries of the people at Sony etc.

Thus, we can see how the design-oriented disciplines in marketing and advertising, such as copywriting, are shaped like a pyramid, just like everything else in the universe.

PS4: For the Players Since 1995

My last post analyzed a couple commercials from the PS4 and Xbox One campaigns, and in this post I’ll pick up with the PS4 commercial, titled on YouTube, “For the Players Since 1995.” This ad is so detailed and well-crafted that it would take a thesis paper to analyze everything inside it. But we’ll just scratch the surface, to get a rough idea of the kind of work that goes into good copywriting and advertising.

This commercial, of course, represents the culmination of the work of a slew of people, including copywriters, marketers, designers, filmmakers, actors, and so on. These types of commercials are fun to analyze, and a useful way to better understand copywriting. The creation of these commercials involves the same essential process as copywriting: design. In fact, this is the goal of most writing, which is why different “types” of writing skills are so transferable. They all involve the same essential design process.

But on to the commercial.

“For the Players Since 1995” is a coming of age tale, a tragedy, a romance, a bromance, a story of heartbreak, and a story of adventure. We follow Daniel from his high school years to his post-college years, and throughout the ad, the Playstation acts as a centerpiece and an anchor in the storm of Daniel’s normal life. While he grows older, friends and girlfriends come and go, but the Playstation remains.

I can’t emphasize enough the extreme level of detail the creators put into this commercial. To get a glimpse of this, count the number of red and white objects you see in the first thirty seconds. And then count how many objects and symbols you see recycled throughout the commercial. For example, you’ll see a number of guitars, bicycles, Playstations, TVs, Domino’s Pizza boxes, signed shirts, and so on.



Most of the commercial’s Playstation “eras” are accompanied by band posters — such as Blur, Kasabian, and Tinie Tempah — that indicate the time period. Signed shirts denote Daniel’s graduation from high school, university, and then something else, perhaps a dojo. There are color scheme changes, lighting shifts, and musical shifts, which act to change the mood and transition the story into new life periods. The dialogue bits are windows into the players’ lives, and each little interaction suggests backstory.

Girl’s hand shoots up to Token’s hand. The poster on the wall timestamps this PS3 “era.”

For instance, at around 2:24, as the camera leaves the player party and pans back to the PS3 and TV, the girl’s hand jumps up to Token’s hand at the controller (the black guy). Why? To suggest some love interest, obviously. Maybe this level of detail sounds a bit extreme, and maybe I am reading a bit too much into an innocent action, but the director told her to do that for a reason. When you sit down and actually look at some of the commercials being fed to us on a daily basis, you will start to notice some extreme attention to detail. Lots and lots and lots of work goes into the creation of a commercial like this.

Everything in the commercial is designed with a specific purpose; the commercial has been engineered to support the “This is For the Players” mantra, the latest battle cry of the Playstation Nation. This five-word slogan did not come out randomly at the water cooler or on the toilet. Like all good copywriting, it was crafted over a period of time and takes into account the bigger marketing strategy, the business aims, and the audience. “This is For the Players” is designed to fulfill a specific strategic function, as mentioned in my last post, just as each detail of this ad is designed to create a specific impression on the viewer.

Two red, black, & blue jackets plus a Domino's box

Two red, black, & blue jackets plus a Domino’s box on the left

In the opening PS1 sequence, you may have noticed a large number of red and white objects, which all but disappeared in the later sequences — until, that is, the very final image of the ad, when you see a red and white race car skidding into the future. The PS2 color palette cools down a bit, and in the PS3 sequence, you notice more objects which are red, blue, and black. By the time the final sequence has arrived, Daniel’s apartment is cleaner, more modern, and the modern feel is reinforced by a futuristic blue and purple palette.

Attempts to overanalyze the purpose or the “why” behind the color schemes and significance of the objects might yield some interesting ideas, but it would often just be an exercise in speculation, since only the creators really know the answer to such questions. For example, I could attempt to draw parallels between the red-white-and-blue of the Domino’s boxes and the British flag that appears a million times, or the significance of the guitars and bicycles as objects that thematically suggest playfulness and competition. Such analysis and speculation is a useful way to study copywriting, but there’s no point getting caught up in circumstantial theory.

The abundance of detail put into this ad, and the PS4 ad campaign as a whole, indicate an assertive, knowledgeable approach to their campaign and their target audience. Every time you watch this commercial you will see something new, and that goes quadruple for the Players. I can’t even begin to count the number of game references in this ad.

This ad is one of the more interesting and carefully constructed commercials from which to study high quality copywriting and advertising. I suggest watching it at least one more time. You will certainly notice new things each time you watch it.


And after you watch it again, watch this:



Obviously not all commercials are created equal.



Copywriting: PS4 & Xbox One Showdown

This copywriting leaves no doubts in your mind. You know exactly what this place is about.

Not the most grammatically correct English, but you know exactly what this place is about.

My little post about why you shouldn’t write how-not-to articles has a parallel in the world of copywriting. The examples I’ve linked to all have something in common with bad copywriting: Don’t Tell it Like it Isn’t,  as Tom Albrighton of ABC Copywriting so succinctly summed it up. The most vivid example in his article — for me at least — is the gym poster by Nuffield Health, and their dead-end slogan, “The gym. It’s changed.” You look at the poster and have no idea what they’re talking about. The entire ad epitomizes what not to do when writing, copywriting, or designing ad campaigns. This particular design reminds me of a teenager suffering from an identity crisis. “I don’t know what I am but I’m not that. I’m different. But I’m still cool.”

A piece of writing, copywriting, or an ad campaign should know what it is about and be able to sell itself to you. Let’s take a look at some better examples of copywriting.


Good vs. Evil, Right vs. Wrong, PS4 vs. Xbox One

Kids are cool and different, adults are not. This is the reason video game companies shouldn’t advertise to old people. Albrighton noted that almost half of PS3 owners were over 34, and suggested a few reasons why old people would be a good demographic to target. There’s a number of problems with this, I think, and they all revolve around age and the perception of cool, video games as being a “kids’ thing,” and adults as being uncool. There is a certain age where we all begin to lose our cool, until one day you wake up, look in the mirror, and realize that you are old and not cool. So if you run a campaign that markets to uncool old people, that console’s market might implode. Video game companies would alienate younger generations if they showed middle-aged folks behind a controller with beer and pizza. Sure, it happens a lot, but usually behind closed doors.

Kids don’t want to play a machine that old people play, because old people aren’t cool. Old people who play games don’t want other non-gaming old people to think they’re kids. And old people don’t want kids to think they’re not adults. The only way to fix this problem is to overhaul the worldwide perception that video games and Trix are just for kids. A multi-year, multi-lateral advertising campaign by all the major tech giants, video game companies, and eSports venues should be enough to convince the world that video games aren’t just for kids, they’re for everybody. But until that utopian age arrives, and people of all ages play video games together in harmony, we must live with the knowledge that only kids are cool enough to play and “get” games.

In his piece comparing iPad Air’s and PS4’s ad campaigns, Albrighton criticizes PS4’s “This is for the players” ad for being too busy, among other things.



At the time of this writing, the top comment under the YouTube video reads, “Playstation makes the best ads ever.” I loved this ad and I think it’s quite appropriate for its target audience: gamers. If anything, the ad needs more adrenaline, more action, more budget, more everything. The PS4 commercial should be compared to the Xbox One commercial or the iPad Air commercial within the context of their respective campaign strategies and audiences. PS4 shoots for younger, cooler gamers, but Microsoft’s strategy is much more ambitious.

Xbox One’s Invitation ad opens up with a twenty- or early thirty-something businessman being invited into the cockpit of a giant robot, but his smooth skin and babyface still don’t make him seem too old. This campaign is shooting for a broader demographic, positioning the Xbox One as the household appliance used for all your entertainment and communication needs.



Each ad campaign has a different approach to this virtual world of entertainment. The PS4 ad thrusts you into a vortex of gaming worlds (the type of chaos that many games throw at you), which would appeal to a young, imaginitive gamer. The Xbox commercial rather politely brings one world at a time into our mundane lives, invites “a new generation” to step into that other world, then brings that other world into the living room.

And both worlds become one…if you buy an Xbox.


Copywriting Serves the Marketing Strategy

And the marketing strategy serves the business’s overall world domination strategy. Microsoft takes on the family omni-device and PS4 takes on the hardcore gaming device. Looking at the big picture, we see that Microsoft aims for the more family-friendly-yet-still-edgy-enough approach to dominate the omni-device market while keeping its foothold in the gaming market via the household. Sony competes by being cooler and entering via the gamer brain.

Since brand or product must define itself clearly in order to appeal to a certain market, it can’t be two things at once. The PS4, by targeting the young gamers and defining itself as a gamer’s machine, can’t appeal to the uncool old people, for instance. The Xbox One has to maintain a more politically correct and calmer approach so as not to disrupt its family-okay image. Therefore, it can’t target adrenaline junkie gamers like the PS4 can.

Obviously, by defining their target market and focusing on that, they make certain sacrifices, because you can’t be everything. But they avoid the trap that befell Nuffield health, which failed to define itself at all — at least in that example. A brand differentiates itself by saying it’s not something, but doesn’t tell you what it is. From our case study of the console wars, we can see how each product shows and tells us exactly what it is, who it is for, how it defines itself for a target market, and how it uses copywriting and ads to serve its marketing purpose.

Resources for Further Study

This post owes inspiration to the above-linked posts by Tom Albrighton of ABC Copywriting. For those interested in learning more about copywriting, head over to his blog and be enlightened. Other good copywriting resources include the Ad Contrarian and Unmemorable Title.

Here is another one of PS4’s cool ads, which follows cool from then till now. In this ad we can see the age boundaries of cool being pushed slightly upwards. Perhaps by PS7 or PS8 we will see senior citizens playing from their wheelchairs, with the slogan, “Players Forever.”




Probably not.