I made something.

I get stuck, sometimes. Creation is hard, and it can feel overwhelming it its scope and depth. Fighting back can be hard, too- because creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life’s other pressures don’t abate just because you’ve started a new project.

Lots of folks have fought this- and many have come up with workable strategies. Among those I’ve found (that I like), Oblique Strategies is a favorite. It’s a deck of cards, designed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, to help musicians stuck in the studio. As much as I like them, they’re not wholly applicable to what I do. Also, Austin Kleon recently posted about how he’s making his own deck (though his, predictably, is made with a Sharpie…).

New thing over at stealstrategies.net #stealstrategies

A photo posted by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on

So, today, hungry to be able to create something (as much of my creation-materials are in storage in preparation for my upcoming move…), I lugged my typewriter out of the basement and grabbed the stack of blank cards I use to work on my kids’ game we’re building together.

And to work I went.

Today’s project.

A photo posted by Tim Calvin (@nothingfuture) on

43 Cards later, I have a deck of ideas and prompts. Things to push me in a direction and (hopefully) get me unstuck.

Video Essays

Ah, yes. A subject I’ve been going on about (if you’ve been reading my newsletter). I can’t help it, I suppose- video essays are clearly, I think, the next thing in education. They’re too versatile, too compelling, too multi-modal to be ignored. And, if we’re talking about any modern version of literacy, they’re necessary.

As a result of all this, I’ve been watching a ton of these things. There are lots of them out there, on a wide variety of subject and of a (predictably) wide variety of quality. There doesn’t seem to be any formalized consensus on the form itself (thus far), but there do seem to be a number of “conventions” that have been reached.

  1. Length seems to be in the 5-12 minute range. There have been some longer ones (Everything is a Remix, for example), but those tend to be divided into “chapters.”
  2. Most of the popular videos seem to be about following tropes in culture through multiple media- books, music, film, art, etc…
  3. Voice over is a thing. It’s what provides the bulk of the linking (from example to example), but the best ones let the examples speak, too.
  4. Tight tight tight. Not a wasted second, not an extra anything. Take your time with the examples, fine- but don’t pad it out with anything that’s not tightly related & integrated.
  5. Quality- examples you use have to be high quality- high def video, clear & high res pictures, readable text, clean audio. Your audience will be intolerant of anything else.
  6. Citations. As a favorite teacher of mine once said: Give credit where it is due (thanks, Mrs. Schwartz!). It really is that simple: anything you use that you, yourself, haven’t made? Cite it.
  7. Soundtrack isn’t an afterthought.
  8. Animation breathes life into static material. Paintings, text, and pictures all don’t move on their own, so you need to add that movement. Animated highlighting to text. Ken Burns movements on the images. Animated arrows or circles on static material. Direct your viewers’ attention.

Structurally, these really aren’t that different than a more “traditional” essay- introductions, conclusions, evidence, transitions- all those elements of construction remain conventions here.

I’m working on one of these, myself- it’s a super-duper busy time for me (both at work and at home), and so the progress is… slow. Still: I just shot some footage for a tiny segment yesterday, so I’m not making zero progress. I’d not hold my breath, were I you, however.


Here’s what I’m up to:

  • Newsletter #40 goes out this morning. Just a few more and it’ll have been a full year of these. Still not sure why I do it.
  • Getting all the ducks in a row for closing day on the existing house/new house. Renting trucks, getting documents in order, buying cardboard boxes, etc etc etc.
  • Experimental Education video project is ready for the next round of revision. That will (likely) be the last beta before I give it a try in a live setting. After that, I’ll be able to write about this with more details.
  • Car has been (mostly) converted to winter mode. Still waiting on a couple of parts. Suspension is fixed, winter wheels/tires are on. Needs new wipers and the windshield prepped.
  • New phone came. iPhone 6s Plus in grey 64gb. Very like. Currently wrapped in a Magpul field case (grey).
  • I’ve been researching mini metal lathes. That (usually) means a 7″ swing and a bed between 10-16″. It’s a daunting amount of research, but I’ve got some time before this is a real thing.
  • Starting to spec out a new computer for the new house. Looks like an iMac (27?), with a USB3 hard drive array and some other bits and baubles. I’m still working on if I’ll do a second monitor (right away? wait?), and what sort of stands/arms that will require. I’ll likely also use it as a place to consolidate my audio gear, so I’m imagining all that patched in too.

Blowing up on twitter.

Last night, just before getting off the train on the evening commute, I sent out a tweet. It was mildly political and mentioned William Gibson in it- who was the author of the quote I was mentioning. He, in turn, re-tweeted my tweet, and thus began a night of my phone exploding with twitter notifications.

By the morning that’d mostly settled down. Gibson has ~178K followers on twitter, and in the twelve (or so) hours since I sent the original message, that tweet got 92 retweets and 126 favorites. In my world, that’s a lot. When I checked the twitter stats on it, I found that it was seen by just over 20,000 people and “engaged with” by just over 3,000 people. That’s way above any sort of average engagement I get.

So I was curious as how this new-to-me attention would manifest in the rest of my online presence. Would I get subscriptions to my newsletter? Follows on twitter? Would my (this) website see a spike in traffic?


Of the 20,000 people who saw the tweet, two followed me. 23 clicked my bio link in twitter (which has this webpage link in it), and of those, 8 actually got here. Zero subscriptions to my newsletter.

So here’s what I’ve learned: twitter is a land unto itself. Things that happen there are largely isolated there- so if you want people to read something, it best be in the tweet. If you provide a link to something- it’s not getting clicked. Your profile isn’t going to be raised anywhere else. Indeed, any single spike on twitter isn’t even going to do much for you on twitter. The engagement you see there is only there, and it’s isolated from the rest of your online presence.

What do I do with this information? I change the way I tweet a bit. It’s less about links to things now- at least, no links without some of the content attached. I’ll stop worrying about trying to use twitter as a device to drive traffic anywhere else- no matter how easy I think I’ve made that. I’ll let twitter just be twitter.

Solving a Problem

So here’s the situation:

Students of all ages are increasingly turning to their mobile device to consume media. And, since part of what I do is deliver content for online learning, this has ramifications for me. Video needs to be optimized. There are a lot of parameters and vectors for this, but it can mostly be boiled down to this:

What is the video trying to accomplish and where will that video be consumed?

So a video that will be seen for 15 seconds at 60 mph on a highway billboard has different design restrictions than something that will be shown during a prime-time advertisement slot. That much should be obvious. But less so is the assumption that all web-based video will be consumed via a screen of some size. This, while (maybe) once was true, the days of our students by default consuming such video on a 20″ screen on a desktop are gone. The best you’re likely to do is a smallish laptop screen, and it’s more and more likely that it’ll be a 5″ phone screen. The question becomes, then, how to best convey video content (in the sense of video lectures and the like) via such little screen real estate.

We can make whatever stipulations we want- We can say that students need to use a “full” sized screen (whatever that means). We can say that things are best consumed on larger screens. But students will do what I do, and use whatever device is at hand. And most of the time, that’s a phone.

I’ve got some ideas in the works that might help with some of this- some methods that might allow greater student choice and better use of the limited screen space a phone has. I’ll be writing about them more in the future here, as it’s something I actually hope to publish and present on. I’m also in the earlier stages of testing some of this- I’m still learning what’s possible and what works/why. There are technical issues to overcome and consider (bandwidth, for example, looks to be an early hurdle), and there are issues of defining best practices and streamlining the workflow into a manageable and scale-able form. Still, the possibilities are enticing.

Anyway. This will be an ongoing thing- I’ll try to keep relatively up to date here with it, but again, I’ll be holding back somewhat, as I need to write a bunch of this up.


I’m trying to get back to posting here a bit more often. But, you should know: most of my writing about education stuff is happening over at my newsletter. You should sign up for that (if you haven’t already).

Anyway. What have I been up to?

  • Selling a house. This is not a fun thing to do
  • Buying a house. Also: not a fun thing. Especially under a time constraint
  • Tracking my diet via my Hobonichi Techno
  • Beginning a search for a new winter hat
    • Merino wool (or, alternatively, cashmere…)
    • Minimal labels/branding
    • Long enough to roll the edge
  • Packing packing packing
  • Designing a new computer work station (for said new house)
    • Currently, that’s looking like a quad-monitor setup with more than one computer running them. I’ve got a kickstarter Chip heading my way soon, so that might run one, and the main computer will be running at least two others… still some work to do here. Also, need figure out the storage solution for this whole rig. My data right now is spread across a pile of hard drives, and I need to consolidate.
  • Trying to source an acceptable duck-cloth vest for the cooler weather we’re having. There are a number that would be acceptable, but most of them have price tags I just can’t quite stomach. So I’ll keep looking (and eventually probably just try to make one myself).
  • Lusting over the new Glowforge laser cutter/engraver. It’s a totally reasonable price ($2k), though that’s more than I’d like to spend at this moment (see above: buying house). And the software is the real gem there, too. SUPER EASY. Any k-12 Makerspaces that aren’t buying one of these are missing out. Couple this with a decent 3d printer and there isn’t much you can’t make…
  • I’ve planned out a roof-top solution for carrying a selection of fishing rods. I won’t source the parts until after the move to the new house, but I think it’ll be worth posting about.
  • I’ve got a couple of days until I can order my new cell phone. I won’t post specs here (because I’m still not entirely sure which options I’ll go with), but I’m looking forward to it.
  • I’ve been running Ghosterly on my computers for the last couple of weeks, and I really like it. Sure, it breaks some things- but it lets my old, old computer I’m using surf significantly faster when it’s not loading endless junk. I’m also using Peace on my iPhone (pulled from the app store- natch!) and I can’t tell you how much better it is browsing on my phone with that. I totally understand why Marco pulled the app- the ethics of add blocking are… murky. But still. I understand that people derive earnings from ads- but when those ads degrade the experience as much as they have? Yeah. Time for something to change.
  • Also: as a result of running Ghosterly, I noticed that my site had more trackers/pings/widgets on it than I either realized or found acceptable. I’ve removed a bunch of those, and I apologize in the meantime. That said, I think there were 4 running- last time I went to a major site (cnn = 16, buzzfeed = 13, people = 19) I found the numbers egregious. So I don’t feel too bad about 4.


Ah, so. Fall.

Except it’s still pushing 90 here. I’m not happy about this, mind you. Regardless, things I’m up to:

  • Have packed much of my house into cardboard boxes. Reasons for this should be obvious. I’ve also finished a shocking number of minor house projects that had previously been further down the priority list.
  • Most of my making projects have been put on hold re:packing project.
  • I’m currently logging my food intake in an attempt to lose some weight. My Hobonichi Techno is the device of choice here (and I’ve ordered my 2016 copy already. Have you?) Intake is tabulated vs. my (estimated) Resting Metabolic Rate (plus any directed exercise calories I burn). I keep a running deficit tally. 25,353.
  • Ugh. I backed another Kickstarter project: They’re re-publishing the 1970 NASA style guide. It’s epic, and I’ve always wanted one. So.
  • I’m wearing a Seiko SNZF15K1 now and it’s mostly replaced my Croton 1878 (on a silicone deployment band) for reasons of durability. Also: good looking. Pepsi.


New/more video work. New/more bag constructions (I need to finish an in-progress build, and I need/want a welded tarp gear bag). Develop an unknown number of rolls of 35mm film. New home computer. New house.

Current EDC Update

Oh my. Never a dull moment with this (mostly because I’m never really satisfied). Current:

  • iPhone 5s 16bg Space Grey in a Magpul case
  • Ikea Kullar Vacuum flask
  • CORTIÇA mug
  • Custom CP3 Ti ring
  • Croton 1878 (on a silicone deployment band)
  • Friday & River wallet
  • Uniball Signo Micro 206 (0.38 black)
  • Retrakt Aluminum (G2 0.5 Black refill)
  • Field Notes Dark As Night x2
  • Leuchtturm1917 (standard size, dot grid)
  • Canonet QL17 Giii (this thing seems pretty sweet- though the meter isn’t working [yet] and I’ve just redone the light seals, so…)
  • Kershaw/Emerson CQC
  • Custom Bag (NF-P-815)


Busy busy busy.

I’ve got a bunch of irons in the fire, so here’s the breakdown:

  • I’ve got this site (finally!) looking (and more importantly, behaving) like I’d like. So that’s good. The URL works properly, and the posts look like I’d like. Weird settings were weird, and the previous theme was doing all sorts of stuff that was eating bandwidth and whatnot. Better.
  • My newsletter is thundering along. I got a shoutout from Roman Mars on it, and that brought a minor spike in readership. Thanks, Roman! Anyway- it’s been going for more than 6 months. If you’re not signed up, you should fix that here. I think it’s pretty great.
  • Working on some cool stuff at work that I might (maybe!) be able to share here. Video is a part of that.
  • I’ve been building stuff again- sometimes I forget to, and it’s one of the things that keeps me happy. It’s a bit like being outside: I don’t really ever think about it, but when I haven’t done it for a bit I get grumpy. I made some shoes (#timsnottoms) for my eldest kid, and I’m in the midst of making some for the middle kid. I also, in the middle of that, made myself a backpack. More on that below. I also finally finished refinishing a fiberglass shell armchair I’ve had for a while. I’ve been refinishing some vintage rangefinder cameras, too. More on those soon. If you want to see what I’m working on more often than my once-in-a-blue-moon posts here, follow me on instagram.
  • IMG_2406The backpack. I’m picky when it comes to bags- they need to do what I want, as I want, and they need to not fail. And they need to do only what I want- I hate the addition of features I don’t need. I hate extra. I’d made a shoulder bag for daily carry that also let me keep a camera with me, and that was great- but it was a little too small for days when I needed a jacket or second shirt or whatever- and when it was loaded, it could get a little rough on my shoulder. So- backpack. I’ve liked the work that GoRuck has done, and I’ve found Bo Gear to be building some good gear too- but GoRuck had more “stuff” than I needed (never mind the justifiably high cost), and Bo Gear was in Australia and similarly offered somewhat more “stuff” than I wanted. A simple solution: I built mine out of cotton duck cloth (10oz) instead of 1000d Codura because I want mine to wear in over time (and for some weight savings). No waist strap, no sternum strap. No padding on the shoulder straps either. No external pockets. No compression straps. Padded back, padded internal laptop/hydration bladder pocket. Two notebook pockets, two pen pockets. Three rows of PALS, one band of 2″ Velcro (loops). That’s it. I even got rid of the storm flap over the zipper and used a waterproof (resistant) zipper instead (a #8, if you must know). It’s about 10″ wide, 17.5″ tall, and 4.5″ deep. It’s exactly what I need, with none of the complications or features I don’t need. And it’s awesome. I just started a second, miniaturized version for my 2 year old son. It’s going to be sweet. And tiny.
  • I’m on Beme, but I’m not sure for how much longer. It’s neat, but it feels really hard for me to connect there. We’ll see if I keep it.

And so it goes.

Sit Rep: Current Status

It’s been a minute, so let’s get back to this:

  • Posts here have slowed because I’m putting much of my education-centered thinking into my newsletter. What?! You haven’t signed up yet? You best fix that here.
  • My shoe resole project went well- they’re back in heavy rotation and seem to be holding up well. In fact, embolden by this success, I went ahead and made some shoes for my eldest daughter from scratch. Those, too, have gone well. They’re roughly modeled after Tom’s shoes, so my daughter (and wife) call them her Tim’s. Cute.
  • Tons of work around the house done. Doors and windows, plumbing, deck, etc etc.
  • Refinishing a fiberglass shell chair. This has been going on f o r e v e r. I originally scored the chair on the side of the road with some nasty upholstery, but I stripped that off and cleaned it up- and it looked great. Then it broke (or, more accurately, the base came off the shell), and I took that as an opportunity to sand and refinish the whole shell, repaint the base, and generally improve the thing. Anyway, the base is painted and the shell is sanded and they’re back together (side note: steel reinforced epoxy is even more of a pain to work with than regular epoxy).  Now all that’s left is to seal the shell and she’s good to go.
  • I’ve grown dissatisfied with my backpacks. Most of them are larger (both because I’m tall, but also because I’ve needed to carry a lot in the past). Anyway, I’m in “need” of a smaller backpack. I built out a shoulder day bag for myself a while ago- it’s great and is holding up pretty well, but it’s just a tiny bit too small for days when I’ve more-than-average to haul. I’m not overly fond of the commercial options I’ve found, so… it’s build my own time. Much of the design is done, and it’s time to start sourcing fabric and hardware. And we’ll see if my sewing machine can keep up…
  • I’m on the latest & greatest social media too- Beme (pronounced “Beam”) which has come out of the brain of Casey Neistat. My username there is “nothingfuture” and you can feel free to add me. What is it? Ah. Um… ok. It’s like snapchat, in that you share video (and video only). But: there’s no preview of the video, all clips are 4 seconds long, there’s no edit, and there’s no likes. You can send reactions to videos as you watch them, and you get to watch any Beme once and it’s gone- including your own, strangely. It’s neat, though I’m not sure what sort of legs it will have.