Fiverr is a service that allows you to easily find artists/writers/creators/whatevers to hire for very short contract gigs. Often times you can find someone for right around $5, hence the name Fiverr.
I used Fiverr a lot recently, especially with the artists I’m using for KnifeTank: The Shuffling, and I really loved it, so I thought it’d be fun to attempt an experiment. I wanted to see what would happen if I hired writers to describe an image, then hired artists to create images based on those descriptions. To start it off, I posted a photo I shot of Dance Party Robot along with this text “Describe this image in 300 words or less. Be specific enough that someone else could draw it based only on your description.”
Here is the text I received:
It’s an image of a street side with a building in the background. The building has a deep blue colour. There are three large closed windows in the building that are green in colour. There’s a black coloured metal fence that covers two third of the background. The building has a modern look with square blocks.
The main focus point of the picture is a Robotic figure. Its height is similar to the average human height. It has a square as a head, a triangle as the middle part of its body and rolled cylinder shaped legs. Its body is silver coloured that looks like aluminium. The hands are rolled sleeves made with aluminium foils. Its face has a laughing emoticon shape. There are four square black boxes at four sides and two small round black coloured shapes on the stomach part of his body.
We can see one-third of a street lamp by the side of the robotic figure. There are countless blurred pigeons, looking like they have just been scattered of all around the robotic figure. Only one pigeon is above the head of the robot which is flying desperately and beautifully.
The background is deep blue coloured. It’s past noon and the sun is still bright. The sun rays stop before the lamp and covers the whole robot and pigeons area.
I then asked an artist to create an image based solely on that description:
I sent that image to another writer on Fiverr and received this description:
This picture must have been designed with an Illustrator. This picture basically has a robot with a head like a square shape.
*The eyes are strategically designed in such a way that the head looks like a television.
*There are rays around the face like the blue sky.
*The robot itself is moving away from the direction of the birds behind it.
*The body of the robot looks like a rectangular shape at the upper part while from the chest downwards is more like a triangular shape without a sharp end.
*It has two skeleton hands; the ulna and radius are evidently showing. The part of the humerus has two bones like that of the lower arm but with a stripe of white dot joining the lower parts of the bones with the upper part. At the upper part of the arm is attached something like round ribbon with stripes across it.
*Additionally, across the chest are strips linked together with the upper arms’.
*The abdomen has like two small boxes as if they were windows.
Right under the small box to the left is a trace of the movement of the birds to the left of the building in front of which the robot is almost exiting.
*The path of the bird continues but bigger and closer to the floor than the one that pass through the robot at the left-back of it.
*The total color of the robot is grey.
*There is a big black bird at the back which is hauling up.
*The floor is tiled with bitumen like a road.
*Around the big bird are three other small ones diving to the left. There is a bird on top of the building close to the diving ones at the extreme.
*There is a house beside the robot with a street light.
*The color of the building is grey to the left and black at the other parts. Close to the robot are two rectangular shaped windows.
*These windows have green curtains with yellow shield.
*The Windows are barricaded with yellow color line round them.
*There is a door at the upper part of the house behind the robot to the left.
*This door has a read light on top of it.
*The sky is white and skyblue.
*The totality of the environment is cool and fascinating.
Which led another artist to draw this:
Which would later be described as:
A robot with giant light blue button eyes stands there across the street with no expression on its face and its metallic body motionless. Its ears are what seems to be two antennas erected from a radio box except that these antennas are on the sides of its rectangular shaped metallic face. To add to it, a crescent-shaped metallic lip and thick rectangular metallic eyebrows complete its friendly looking face. However, it’s somewhat human-like body features two hands and legs that widens out on the lower part of them respectively, whilst a thin neck and lower body but a flat broad metallic chest complete the whole structure of this robot.
In the backdrop of this poised robot are the buildings with square windows on them and three green birds flying in the sky.
Which inspired an artist to draw this:
Things were going well until this point, but this is where the train quickly slipped off the rails. Despite hiring another writer for “technical description” of the previous image, I ended up receiving something a little more imaginative than I was expecting:
Humans are converted into robots. Because, robot has no feelings they only think about itself. They are destroying forest and making building there just for the sake of earning money and profit. According to them, they are making world beautiful and bright. But in real they through the world toward darkness.
I couldn’t imagine what the next artist would create based on that description, though I certainly wasn’t expecting them to create a two page comic:
This is the point where I considered the project completed. I already felt like I was getting more work from my artists than I was paying for, but I couldn’t imagine trying to hire some poor Fiverr user to describe a poorly lit photo of some coloring pencil art so I decided to stop the experiment.
I hired 8 contractors for about $19 each ($5 for the gig, $10 in tip, and $4 in Fiverr’s extremely high service fees), meaning I spent about $152 total. I had originally intended to publish the results in a 24 page zine, but I just can’t imagine how I’d throw this all together at this point, so I’m just sharing it here.
The artists were all great to work with and in most cases I think I received far better work than I paid for. Surprisingly all of my contractors completed their work on schedule and I only had one artist drop the ball on their work. There was a noticeable loss in data as the project continued, but it really was going better than I expected until the last two bits fell into place. That’s how these things go though and I have no regrets.
I wanted to give a huge shout out to all of the artists and writers who shared their skills with me, including:
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Liminal space has long been my favorite, yet most exhausting, place to be. It is where new things are being tried, where curiosity lives, where people are stepping out of their comfort zones to acknowledge the vastness of the world.
I’ve been slowly making my way through a book about liminal space, called The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. It speaks of people who harvest the Matsutake mushroom, a highly sought after delicacy which thrives in human disturbed forests. It tells a tale of how to survive in, and move beyond capitalism.
Liminal space is also queer space, where there aren’t (yet) norms to follow. Every movement is a question, and therefore full of oxytocin and peril. It is exhausting. Nothing is assumed.
And I do love me some infrastructure. I thrive on predictability. So what is the step after entering (and lingering) in liminal space? It is to fully commit to the new course of action. And while nearly all the phrases associated with committing have to do with military conquest and colonialism (including “burn your ships”), this won’t be the first time the nuanced meaning of such a phrase will continue to be a reminder to me in my life.
I transitioned in December 2017 to a job doing govtech work. I don’t focus on community-led crisis response any longer. While I still get to nerd out about it sometimes with excellent people, there are only so many hours in each day and I have chosen a new path to be on. It has come at a cost to my ego, and possibly to the domain (although they’ll be fine without me). I am continually reminded of this excellent comic from SMBC about living lives across one lifetime. To be a beginner at something, after being at the top of a field I helped create, is humbling and scary. But it is also necessary for me to grow, and for the things of which I have been a part to grow without me.
I spend a year and a half between when Aspiration and I decided to part ways, and settling into a delivery manager role at Truss. It took another 9 months for me to feel certain in the value I had to contribute at Truss. We’re now working on our delivery management playbook which I expect to be shared externally.
I’m also learning about how organizations grow and change. We were about 14 when I joined. We’re now 70. The team I was delivery manager for has grown from 12 to 37. Everything breaks from 15 to 50, and now we’re gearing up for the transition to 150. Being intentional about what should be centralized and what should be distributed hails back to what I learned in crisis response, although it’s in a completely new environment. I wouldn’t be able to be in the liminal spaces of learning these new skills if I hadn’t fully committed to the life in which I now live.
So three cheers for liminal space. But burn your ships for sanity and growth.
A few months ago I flew out to St. Louis to check out the United Yo-Yo Contest. While I was in town I got to hang out with Kyle Nations, one of my favorite modern responsive yo-yoers, and shoot a clip video of some of his rad tricks.
This is the first non-Doc Pop clip video I’ve made in a loooong time and I really love how it turned out. Kyle is using a Weekender Yo-Yo, which I sell on my site and is great for responsive yo-yoing.
If you’d like more goodies, check out this long interview I shot with Kyle too.
As anyone who has ever spent more than 5 seconds with me probably could have predicted, I hang a lot of my sense of self-worth on my work. And while I don’t always mean what I get paid to do, I certainly do mean that as well. As I once said at a hacker conference panel on taking money from tainted places: “no one could ever pay me enough to not do what needs doing.” As in, while other folk can be happy doing net-neutral (or even net-negative) work as their day jobs, I cannot. I have a complete mental block on it and cannot do it, regardless of how I spend my non-work hours. To each their own – others are able to balance the impact they have in the world in various ways, and I’m honestly a bit envious of them.
That means the jobs I have, I believe in. Whether it was Jigsaw or Geeks Without Bounds or Aspiration or now Truss, I see my “job” as being part of a collective effort to change the world for the better. I don’t leave my work at work, and I don’t like taking vacations. The world is a mess and the only way it changes is through our active effort. No, I will not put my laptop down. (I am actually working on this, to my benefit.)
This also means I can be a mess sometimes, because of work. Because of financial needs, and political systems, and growing pains, my ability to act within or through an organization can be disrupted. Which would be fine, except I have rough time with it. It is, as I like to joke, a direct reflection on my moral character.
So I brought this challenge to my amazing therapist. They asked me great questions about how I interact and perceive needs, and my identity in regards to (and beyond) work. But it still didn’t land.
Therapist: imagine you're in a clean, empty room. No one needs anything from you. How do you feel?— Willow (@willowbl00) June 26, 2019
In thinking about who I would be without connection to others or beyond the actions I take, I realized how much I ascribe to the Buddhist idea of just being a collection of molecules brought together in this moment. That life is meaningless but that we give it meaning. And that meaning is created through action and connections. So to try to describe an identity outside of connection and action is impossible for me to do.
What does this mean about my relationship to work?
A great conversation came up in the #kids channel at Truss a bit ago, about how people explain to their kids why they go away all day. And folk fell pretty squarely into two camps: “everyone has a job (including you),” and “capitalism is a system we exist in.” And I realized in this conversation about managing 4 year olds that I have grown up in an environment which says “everyone has a job,” but that the “we have to survive in capitalism” narrative far better aligns with how I actually view the world. There is a difference between responsibility to a system (the former), and responsibility to the people within that system (the latter).
How do y’all think about responsibility and creating meaning, and how it does or doesn’t overlap with your work?
PS, aside on how the American Dream / Work Ethic is actually protestantism and a plug for this great piece from back in the day from Quinn.
Knifetank: The Shuffling is a two player card game I’ve been working on for a bit. After a year or two of playtesting, I recently started working with two artists in Italy and I’m really liking the results so far.
I recently bought the new Oculus Quest VR headset and it’s incredibly impressive. I’m convinced that this will be the year that consumer VR goes mainstream and I suspect the Quest will be the smash hit this holiday season. The surge of new adopters will lead to more startups and investment in VR content kicking off a positive feedback loop drawing in new customers and content creators.
I’ve been playing around with VR for years and while I’ve always believed in its potential there were very real drawbacks preventing wide spread adoption:
The Quest overcomes most of these:
The experience is magical, you just put on the headset, without any cords and immediately in a rich virtual environment. The quality of the room-scale experience is phenomenally immersive and I’ve enjoyed friends and family jump in and be blown away.
While previous generations of VR felt like a cool gimmick, I anticipate using the Quest almost every day for a combination of exercise (finally fun!), entertainment experiences, and social spaces. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to design to VR experiences as well.
Despite loving the Quest so far, there are a few downsides:
These are fairly minor quibbles, though, especially compared to past generations.
If you’ve been considering getting into VR, now’s a great time to jump in!
This week I swung by NYC for the Games4Change festival. It was my first time attending and it was great to see lots of designers working on serious games for social good.
The most helpful session I attended gave an overview of different government grants that are being given out for game design, mostly by NSF, NIH, and the Department of Education. It looks like they have extremely long application cycles but the grants are quite sizable $200,000 and up. I’ll be looking into them a bit more and possibly applying later this year.
Most of the conversation was round digital games but I did find some great analog designers to talk to. Hopefully next year there will be even more folks working on in-person games!
This blog post is heavily influenced by a conversation I had with one Ethan Zuckerman months ago on magical thinking.
I feel like something major has been taken away from the way I’ve liked to approach the world.
For years, I’ve placed my hope and my strategies into imagining the world as if it could be something other than what it is right now. A world where there aren’t borders, where the binary is opt-in, where people are equitable, where there is hope.
To do this takes imagination. It takes magical thinking. It takes imagining and acting as if the world was other than what it is.
And of all the things this administration has taken from me, it is that. Magical thinking has been sullied. To say the world might be, or is other than what it actually is, is no longer a tool to fight the status quo, it has instead become a way to undermine a shared reality, to fight back against science through the psyche. I never saw this coming.
And I have started to feel that just to acknowledge the world in the state it is actually is, is as much of a fight as I’ve got in me most days. To imagine it better is something I don’t have energy for. Fascism is creeping, it is not all at once.
My amazing therapist has been trying to remind me that just to survive in the world right now is an accomplishment. Go team. We’re surviving.
So I’ve been watching this a lot, and trying to imagine a future I’d like to be in, grounded in the realities of today.
What is inspiring you right now?
Christine and I are travelling through Europe on our way to WordCamp Europe in Berlin. This week we are in Copenhagen, enjoying the weather and food. I’ve been experimenting a bit with the “Live Photos” feature on the iPhone and wanted to try sharing a batch of gifs created with that feature. I think they look keen. Kind of wish I could work with the team at Apple to make this feature even KEENER!Breakfast nailed it! At the Viking Ship Museum. “Merman with his seven sons” … the planet.
I spent this weekend in LA at RefactorCamp and it was a great! This was my fourth time attending and full of quirky intellectual insights and discoveries.
I designed a lightweight game for this year called “Walking the Future” which 35 of us played this afternoon. We went on a ~hour walk around Santa Monica, speculating on how the neighborhood might transform in 2030-2040.
I passed out cards with different components of the city / society / technology / inhabitants and as we walked around, used those cards as lenses to look at aspects of the future. Participants then created short vignettes that used their cards as well as inspiration from our surroundings (a transit hub, a park, a school). They also reponded to prompts such as “What was the biggest IPO that year?” or “What was the biggest protest event?”
It went really well! Folks seemed to have a great time playing it and we generated some fascinating visions of the future. I’ll definitely continue refining the game and write up a share-able version soon so that anyone can run it where they live.
I realized a thing about six months ago. While I was doing disaster and humanitarian response, I stopped telling stories. The reason was this: there were few people I worked with regularly. For anyone else, any story I might tell about life would seem like oneupmanship. “Oh, that reminds me of this car ride to rural Tanzania…” is not a way to further a conversation, it is a way to shut it down. Even with friends who did response work it could get into a genital-waving contest of who had been in the most dire situation, which is also not something I’m interested in.
So I just stopped telling stories. I offered synthesis of what I had learned, but rarely offered any specifics.
And the impact is many fold. I don’t remember much of that time of my life. Years just faded away for lack of revisiting and retelling. I’ve since learned how much folk benefit from specific examples (not just the summary) so they can make sense themselves. It also means that I’ve lost some of my ability to do sensemaking. I can describe my day, sure, but I wasn’t telling stories. I wasn’t connecting what had happened to me that day to what had happened the day before, or the week before, or to other people who were also involved.
I don’t feel like a lesser person because of this, but it does seem like something to remedy if possible to do so. How does one start telling stories again, if one has lost that skill?
Tangent that will totally come back to this (hey look, I’m doing sensemaking!): There’s this theater troop in San Francisco (original group in Chicago, second in NYC, third in SF) that I adore. They’re called the Neo Futurists and they do a show called the Infinite Wrench. The show is 30 plays in 60 minutes, whichever happens first; done in a style called “non illusory theater.” That means everyone is always themselves, where they are. No one pretends. You can be absurd, but you have to sort of acknowledge you’re being absurd. And they offer classes! You can see where this is going.
I somehow had the 7 Monday nights in a row free that the classes were. We learned a new technique each week, wrote a play as homework related to that technique, and then performed it for the class the following week. It culminated in a show attended by friends and family of our little troop.
I love that every play was 30-180 seconds long; that the order they go in is up to the audience (no time to get nervous or over-psyched for mine); that some are funny, some are sad, some are political; and that they all fit together in camaraderie without necessarily riffing off the others. I enjoyed being creative with others in a way that demanded we all be ourselves. The constraints were intense, and the output was joyous.
So now I’m thinking a bit more about how to tell stories about everyday life again. And it’s needed, especially right now. My anxiety has returned to hilarious highs, and while I also pursue talk therapy and chemical interventions, I also don’t want to have this time in my life fade away. To survive and thrive with mental health issues, especially with my identity what it is, in today’s political climate, is something worth celebrating, and I don’t want to lose it.
I think every one of those commas was necessary, don’t you?
I’m writing more each day, to try to track what’s been happening and my experience of it. Some of those I’d like to approach like non-illusory plays, to turn them into stories of a sort. And I’d like a friend or three to help me out by joining me in accountability for telling stories (in blogs or plays or by voice). Any takers?
The fictional premise is that wizards are trying to fight back against the ‘Dark Lord’ and are running simulations to find a successful approach, but in each simulation the heroes are defeated.
The way MageFrame works is that each reader (e.g. me) fills out a Google Form with narrative prompts (e.g. What do the questers seek?) which them is fed into a AI (GPT-2) algorithm that fleshes out a meta-scenario designed by Robin. The unique result is then mailed out to the reader, including a map!
You can see my results below – the AI did a surprisingly decent job of creating a legible story, though how much is due to Robin’s meta-structure I’m not quite sure.
I think this is a really cool approach to interactive storytelling I’m keen to see more experiments like it in the future. A few natural extensions could be:
– Serialized stories where the reader provides new prompts after each “chapter”
– Prompting more storytelling on the part of the reader through both open ended and pointed questions. Single-player rpgs and larps have been exploring this space for a bit and I think there could be a cool hybrid approach with a GPT-2 algorithm
Our three months in Japan were over all too quickly!
We had a phenomenal time living in Tokyo and exploring beyond. Our days were filled with countless amazing meals, great conversations with locals and expats, gorgeous hikes, fascinating museums and landmarks, and so much more.
We weren’t ready to leave!
That said, we were deeply grateful for the time we had there and appreciate that it went so well. We’re already dreaming of future trips back - maybe later this year, maybe in 2020.
This weekend I had a chance to attend the famed Tokyo Game Market and it was great!
Game Market features tons of Japanese board game and tabletop RPG designers and I had a lot of fun wandering the booths and checking out games, even if I couldn’t understand most of them.
Some of the more unusual games that caught my eye:
“It’s Actually Hard to Take a Photo” A game that involves building a town out of cardboard and then trying to get optimal photos that include as many animals as possible.
“Strange Vending Machine” which involves feeding (fake) coins into different vending machines.
Gift10 Industries had a few board games that used phones in interesting ways. The middle one is “Floorplan Cards VR” and has one player using a phone to look around and describe an apartment in VR while the other players race to guess which floorplan they see.
“Group Date TRPG” is a storytelling game about Japanese Gokon (group dates). One of the character archetypes is “unrequited love”
“Summon Skate” has plaers saving the world through figure skating by skating out symbols that summon monsters to help your cause.
In “Karepo” you play a woman trying to live her best life, from 20-80 years old. Designed by a financial planner!
I had a great time wandering through Game Market and would definitely go again if I happen to be in town!