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Feedback on The Signal So Far

"The description is so vivid, it almost feels like I'm there."

Sat 22 November 2014

Monks marching in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. May, 2014.

Feedback on The Signal so far:

  • "The description is so vivid, it almost feels like I'm there."
  • "Love these updates."
  • "Amen brother."
  • "I love the model that you've established Jeremiah and think what you have is so perfect."
  • "I’m living vicariously in a faraway, strange, and wonderful land through your photos and writing – never actually felt that way before."

My theory was that communicating directly with people would lead to better content than posting to Facebook or my blog. That seems to be holding up. Very excited for the future of this.

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The Signal #2: Life on My Sidewalk (sample)

A sample of content from The Signal

Fri 21 November 2014

My new apartment, the first home I’ve had in seven months, is about a quarter mile from where the king of Cambodia sleeps at night. It’s a rich neighborhood by any stretch. My rent is about $250 per month, which is more than the average Cambodian makes in a quarter. Yet outside it’s still full on culture.

Children playing on my street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

One of the reasons I moved here is because the sidewalks are so alive. This neighborhood is particularly good for it. On the sidewalks outside my door a gang of nude, dirty, giggling children chase each other around. A boy with his rear hanging halfway out of his pants jumbles and runs around to the point of almost dancing. Kids kick a small soccer ball that seems to be elegantly folded from scrap paper.

Read the rest by subscribing to The Signal.

A boy playing on my street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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Getting a Good Deal on Travel Insurance

Pick the duration carefully.

Fri 21 November 2014

I just renewed my travel insurance from World Nomads (no affiliate relationship) for another six months. Although I've never had to make a claim they seem to provide solid service at a reasonable price and are recommended by Lonely Planet.

If you decide to ever buy insurance from World Nomads you should be aware that different durations have surprisingly different monthly rates. I ran the full estimates for one to twelve month travel insurance for a 29 year old American male from World Nomads and found again, just like last time I did this, that six months is an optimal period.

There's no penalty for creating a new contract while still on the road so I've again opted for six months. Run the numbers yourself — the savings is too big to pass up for a long term traveller.

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Why I Use VSCO Film

I hate post processing. VSCO makes life easier.

Thu 20 November 2014

Note: This article does not have any affiliate links. If you want to buy the film packs I talk about just go here and get VSCO film packs 1 and 4. I won't get any kickbacks.

I couldn't disagree more with this article disparaging the use of VSCO film. A ton of the pictures on this website are processed using VSCO Fuji Provia 100F and VSCO Kodak Portra 400F.

Why? Because I hate post-processing color images. So did most people who shot color film. With VSCO I trust that someone else has gone through the work to create post-processing profiles that get decent colors. I just shoot the image in the camera and maybe adjust the exposure later. To me that's worth the $50-100 that each film pack costs (depending on volume).

An image shot on actual Fuji Provia 100F on a Mamiya 6 rangefinder. Cropped from square format.

I thought about shooting my travels on actual film, but when I added up the costs of one roll of film per day for two years including developing I would have spent over $10,0001. Going digital just made a lot more economic sense and keeps my gear far lighter.

I shoot using VSCO film profiles because I think film looks better but I don't want to pay for it or wait for it. Professionals do this too. Sebastião Salgado's workflow involves shooting on digital then having the results processed in a uniform way digitially and exposed onto film negatives. Afterward he prints from negatives in a darkroom.

Beijing, China. Shot and processed with VSCO Film. Instead of worrying about every aspect of development I got the exposure right in the camera and let VSCO do the rest. This shot looks find and didn't overload my low powered computer spending all day editing.

Why film packs? Going deeper, I think our minds are used to the colors from film. Done right, using the same colors as old film to shoot in the modern day plays tricks with my mind. It gives me a bit of distance from current events and makes them look like a medium I'm familiar with from viewing in my childhood.

Just like movie producers spend lots of money on software to resample their movies at 1/24 second, I'm spending some money to make my individual images look more like old 35mm film like.

One more thing: these days I'm shooting a lot of black and white images. For black and and white I've developed my own preset loosely based on this Fuji 100 RVP color preset by Terrance Lam. Terrance's preset does a great job increasing the dynamic range of raw files to the higher levels represented in film without adding saturation. If you're interested in the VSCO packs I'd suggest downloading Terrance's preset first and seeing if it does the job you need.

This was an original piece for the blog and was not published in The Signal.

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  1. There's a good chance that shooting film means I only would have shot one to three rolls per week, making the film cost a lot lower, but I didn't want to find that out later. 

  2. At least it was worth $80 compared to the price of shooting an actual trip on film. 

The Signal and the Noise

The first issue of The Signal and some notes.

Wed 19 November 2014

The Signal has been a big success. Having a bunch of my smartest friends sign up to read it is awesome and inspiring.

Just so you know, this blog isn't going away. It will still have new content. The only change is that most content will go into The Signal first.

Why? Because the endowment effect is very real. People value things that they pay for. More importantly, the converse of the endowment effect is real: people undervalue work that's done for free.

You would not believe the negative feedback I get about this blog. People who hate the blog are vocal. People who love the blog are often quiet.

For a long time I was cool writing stuff for free and enjoyed just having it read. Yet over time I've found myself doing more and more self censoring of content. Seeing the endowment effect in action has convinced me that paid content has a fundamentally different quality than free content. I'm more direct and honest when I write to an interested audience.

As a result, I think that the best path forward for this blog is to first write things The Signal and later republish a subset of those stories for free. I'm convinced that the next six months are going to be great for all of my writing: this blog, The Signal, and anywhere else as a result.

Finally, I don't want to bomb your RSS reader. This is the last time for a while that I'll be giving you an update on The Signal. From here on out blog articles will just be published with a small note that they appeared there first.

With that out in the open here's issue #1 of The Signal.

Signal Issue #1: The Signal (and the Noise).

Originally published Saturday, November 15th.

Welcome to the first issue of “The Signal”. Thank you for supporting me right out of the gate.

Today “The Signal” has [...] paid subscribers. You’re the awesome crowd of people who were willing to pitch in money before I even told you what you will be getting. That’s fantastic and was necessary for this to work.

Why is that? It’s because even in writing this first entry I’ve noticed that I have a new writing style. I’m no longer writing for public consumption but instead for a paid audience. There’s no reason to sugar coat life, no reason to modify language to increase the chance of something going viral, and no reason to generate anything but content which I hope you will find interesting enough to continue to fund.

Why do I think that writing for a paid mailing list is different? It’s easiest to understand if we talk about free content first.

We are bombarded with so much free content online that the primary focus of most readers is not on finding something to read, which is easy, but on finding the right things to read. The New York Times reports1 that the average Facebook user only has time to read 300 stories per day out of 1,500 stories available. Facebook does a remarkable job of finding the 300 most interesting stories for you.

If that’s so true — if Facebook is so good — then why did I bother to create a paid mailing list? It’s both because I want to make money and because I want to generate better content than can be given away for free.

I’ve found that free information sacrifices quality in order to maintain itself as free information. This is because free information isn’t designed to inform the reader. Free information is instead designed to spread itself further.

Free content producers need an audience to make money. That audience is amplified when readers like, comment, and share articles. As a result, the free content which prospers is the content designed to be easily to like and share. It’s designed to spread. This puts the free media industry into an all out war for our attention.

Which are you more likely to like on Facebook: A selfie of a friend in a park (A) or a status where your friend says "I have cancer" (B)? How about a long-form article in The New Yorker (C) or a picture of a comic from the same New Yorker (D)?

For me I would like (A) and (D), no question. (A) is noncontroversial and the message of liking it is clear. On the other hand (B) is hard to engage with -- do I like it, do I comment? What do I say? As a result I often just pretend that I never saw it.

I would generally like (D) before (C) if only because I don't have time to read an article now and don't know if I'll like it. Once I'm done reading the article I'm not sure I'll bother going back to Facebook to like it.

Another example: If you find an article about how powerful gangs have become in United States prisons, how do you tell your friends about it without looking like a jerk? We’ve solved this problem already: headlines are rewritten so that a “like” is almost always an endorsement of a broadly acceptable concept. The sentence is never "Jeremiah likes 'Gangs running prisons in the United States.'" it's instead "Jeremiah likes 'Look at 10 terrible things that gangs are doing in prisons.'"

With this, free content creates an enormous amount of noise on the web. Instead of articles with meaningful headlines, we have headlines trying to trick us into clicking them. Instead of long form writing which builds complex points, we instead read short nuggets which are enticing enough to briefly hold our attention before we go back to check for another story. In the short term we might like it, and in a line at the grocery store it’s a great way to pass time, but maybe you’re like me and find it dissatisfying day after day.

I wrote Jeremiah Takes Pictures for seven months and spent a lot of time making sure that the website was quality, not misleading, and easy to read. I’ve written some articles that blow up online and get a ton of likes. Overwhelmingly, however, I find that the articles that people enjoyed the most are also the articles that got the least quantitative feedback. I still get emails about articles that people love but that have less than five likes on Facebook.

How can an essay be strong enough for a person to email me and thank me but not strong enough to replicate itself through the information web? I think it’s because I refuse to play content games. I want to write clearly and not mislead people. I felt left with a decision: start creating viral information or start charging for quality information. I chose to create “The Signal.”

The $5 per month you pay to read “The Signal” suddenly aligns all of the incentives in content production. It incentivizes the “The Signal” to contain information that you will find interesting and worthwhile. If you don't think it's worth the money, the publication goes away. The content also doesn’t need to be censored and rewritten in a way that’s easier to like and share in order to be profitable.

I hope this means that that you will get more signal and less noise.

Have a great weekend.

Leave a comment

  1. I did some of this analysis myself but it is nice to have a public source to quote. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/15/technology/facebook-to-cut-unpaid-posts-by-marketers-on-news-feeds.html

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