April 2014

Previously, in Spring Cleaning

spring cleaningWelcome to the ninth article in the Spring Cleaning series, where I take articles that have languished unfinished for too long, finish them, and finally post them here on the Accordion Guy blog. In case you missed any of the previous eight, I’ve listed them below:

  1. Burgers. Burgers everywhere.
  2. Which beer is most likely to land you in the emergency room?
  3. Weber Cooks, the saddest cooking show
  4. Get on your bicycle!
  5. Fireworks and sensitive body parts
  6. Work!
  7. Storytelling, “Save the Cat”, and same-old-same-old in Hollywood
  8. The best financial advice fits on a 4-by-6-inch index card

Spent, the minimum wage simulation

spent

Click the graphic to play Spent.

Even though I’ve recently bumped up against a few financial difficulties of my own — all thanks to an unscrupulous rip-off artist of a business partner and former friend — I’m still a long way from being in the situation of having no savings, few employment opportunities, and little hope. I’ve never been in the situation where I had to choose between paying the rent and eating, or falling back on that fastest-growing job category, retail work, to pay the bills. I have no idea of what it’s like to have nothing to work with. According to the demographic analytics package that I’m using, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, chances are that you have no idea, either. Welcome to the lucky club!

Spent is a simulation in which you start the month with a thousand dollars and have to make it to the end of the month without falling into debt. You’re unemployed, so you choose among the fastest-growing job categories today. They also happen to be the lowest-paying. Choosing “temp” puts you into a typing test to qualify for the job…

typing test

A piece of cake for me, but I’m someone who’s downsized to “just” two laptops. I landed the job, which nets me a weekly pay of $306:

spent 2

$9 an hour? The last temp job I took paid almost 9 times that.

Next task: find somewhere to live, balancing being close to work with being able to afford the place.

spent 3

My new place was too small for all my stuff, so I held a yard sale:

spent 4a

Dam right I kept this:

spent 6

Maybe next semester; I’m strapped:

spent 7

I went with the “running buddy” option for this one:

spent 8

Salad? What am I, Bill Gates? Besides, isn’t the McDouble the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history?

spent 9

Oh, it’s on:

spent 10

What the hell? Was I working for GitHub?

spent 11

Walk it off, plebe, walk it off:

spent 12

Bill time:

day 12

In a matter of a few minutes and an in-game month, I made it with money to spare by stiffing myself and my kid. The game is over; the real-life version requires you to wash-rinse-repeat for several dozen real-time months.

spent final

Want to give the game a try? Click here to play.

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spring cleaningWelcome to the eighth article in the Spring Cleaning series, where I take articles that have languished unfinished for too long, finish them, and finally post them here on the Accordion Guy blog. In case you missed any of the previous seven, I’ve listed them below:

  1. Burgers. Burgers everywhere.
  2. Which beer is most likely to land you in the emergency room?
  3. Weber Cooks, the saddest cooking show
  4. Get on your bicycle!
  5. Fireworks and sensitive body parts
  6. Work!
  7. Storytelling, “Save the Cat”, and same-old-same-old in Hollywood

In this installment, I look at financial advice…

The 4-by-6 card that has the best financial advice

4 by 6 card financial advice

The 4-by-6 card with all the financial advice you’ll ever need.
Click the photo to see it at full size.

On financial matters, Harold Pollack of the blog The Reality-Based Community says that the best advice fits on an index card. After having a conversation with Helaine Olen, author of the book Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, he took her advice and summarized it on a 4-by-6-inch index card, pictured above. The text of the card reads as follows:

  • Max your 401(k) or equivalent employee contribution. (In Canada, the closest analogue is the RRSP; see this quick summary on the MoneySmarts blog for the similarities and differences between 401(k)s and RRSPs.)
  • Buy inexpensive, well-diversified mutual funds such as Vanguard Target 20xx funds.
  • Never buy or sell an individual security. The person on the other side of the table knows more than you do about this stuff.
  • Save 20% of your money.
  • Pay your credit card in balance in full every month.
  • Maximize tax-advantaged savings vehicles like Roth, SEP, and 529 accounts.
  • Pay attention to fees. Avoid actively-managed funds.
  • Make financial advisor commit to a fiduciary standard.
  • Promote social insurance programs to help people when things go wrong.

Pound Foolish by Helaine Olen

pound foolishPound Foolish is Helaine Olen’s look into the “myths, contradictions, and outright lies” that have been perpetuated by the personal finance industry, which started as a response to the Great Depression and has since grown to become a juggernaut that sells the illusion of financial security but provides little in the way of actual help. In Pound Foolish, Olen says that there are many myths about spending and saving, including these ones, which I’ve taken from the book’s site:

  • Small pleasures can bankrupt you: Gurus popular­ized the idea that cutting out lattes and other small expenditures could make us millionaires. But reduc­ing our caffeine consumption will not offset our biggest expenses: housing, education, health care, and retirement.
  • Disciplined investing will make you rich: Gurus also love to show how steady investing can turn modest savings into a huge nest egg at retirement. But these calculations assume a healthy market and a lifetime without any setbacks—two conditions that have no connection to the real world.
  • Women need extra help managing money: Product pushers often target women, whose alleged financial ignorance supposedly leaves them especially at risk. In reality, women and men are both terrible at han­dling finances.
  • Financial literacy classes will prevent future eco­nomic crises: Experts like to claim mandatory sessions on personal finance in school will cure many of our money ills. Not only is there little evidence this is true, the entire movement is largely funded and promoted by the financial services sector.

“Most of the financial advice published and dished out by the truckload is useless,” Olen writes, saying that it’s “oblivious to the messiness of the human condition.”

A former personal financial columnist for the Los Angeles Times herself, she says that most advice fails to factor in matters such as job loss, long bouts of unemployment (who are often caught in a vicious circle because employers don’t want to hire long-term unemployed), medical bankruptcy (which accounts for the majority of personal bankruptcies in the US), and high-interest debt. Many employers think of employees purely as costs…

…and believe that it’s a law of capitalism to pay their employees as little as possible. When people manage to save, their savings gets outclassed by the stagnation or drop in housing prices and interest rates, and other economic events well beyond their control. Even the good advice that comes out means little when you have little savings.

At the same time, the issue of staying afloat financially is seen in the hyper-individualistic culture of America as a problem one could deal with on one’s own rather than as a social problem. The quip commonly attributed to Steinbeck seems quite true: the American poor don’t see themselves as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires, which is why you end up with fake “heroes” like “Joe the Plumber”, who is neither named Joe more a licensed plumber, but is a staunch defender of tax cuts for the rich. This has created an industry of snake oil that feeds off people’s fear, especially as people approach retirement age; in 2009, the AARP found that one in ten people over 55 had attended a “free financial seminar” in the past three years.

Talking with Helaine Olen

Harold Pollack, who created the 4-by-6 index card above, talked to Olen in a two-part interview. In the first part, shown below, they discuss topics such as:

  • How she became a personal finance columnist,
  • Why divorce is bad for your financial health,
  • Why trusting financial advisors is generally a bad idea, even if your advisor is above ethical reproach,
  • The false hopes placed in personal financial skills to offset stagnant wages for millions of Americans,
  • That Suze Orman isn’t one of the world’s greatest financial advisors, but has found one of the world’s greatest sales gigs:

In the second part, shown below, they go on to cover things like those dinners where hucksters sell rip-off variable annuities to seniors afraid of outliving their savings. According to Pollack, “these salespeople predictably trash Social Security—the one solid source of annuitized wealth Americans can turn to in their retirement years”:

If you’d like to hear more about the ideas in Pound Foolish, here’s an hour-long presentation featuring Olen talking about the ideas in her book at a gathering put together by The New America Foundation’s Asset Building Program:

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i was like whoa taco yogurt

Original found here; I cleaned up the typesetting.

I wanted so badly for taco yogurt to be real.

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spring cleaningThis is the seventh article in the Spring Cleaning series, in which I’m going through the rough drafts of blog posts that have languished in the “storage” for far too long, finishing them, and finally posting them. In case you missed any of the previous six, I’ve listed them below:

  1. Burgers. Burgers everywhere.
  2. Which beer is most likely to land you in the emergency room?
  3. Weber Cooks, the saddest cooking show
  4. Get on your bicycle!
  5. Fireworks and sensitive body parts
  6. Work!

In this latest installment, I look at Save the Cat, a book that shoulders a fair bit of the blame for why many big Hollywood movies seem to have the same “feel”.

The Hero’s Journey

heros journey

“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” — Willa Cather

If you tell stories, whether as a writer of books, an essayist, a blogger, a presenter, or even just as someone entertaining friends at your local pub, coffee shop, or living room, you should have at least a passing knowledge of the elements of good storytelling. One concept that you’ve probably already internalized without knowing is the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey, a pattern of storytelling described by American mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. As a student of myths and narratives from around the world, Campbell kept noticing a pattern appearing and re-appearing in stories, and extracted the theory of the Hero’s Journey from them.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is worthwhile reading, but if you’ve only got five minutes and change to spare, here’s a nice, funny, puppet-filled summary by Glove and Boots that explains the Hero’s Journey, shows you where you’ve seen it before, and as a bonus, explains why Adam Sandler films aren’t what they used to be:

As I mentioned earlier, the theory of the monomyth is a storytelling convention, derived from observations of millennia of storytelling, from the Epic of Gilgamesh (which includes a story similar to Deucalion’s Flood and Noah and the ark) to Gone With the Wind.

(In case you’re not familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh, here it is, in animated form!)

The stories came first, the theory of the Hero’s Journey came second. But what if someone decided to reverse things and put the cart in front of the horse?

The Book

save the cat cover

If Hollywood movies have seemed increasingly formulaic and similar to you — perhaps you noticed that Skyfall, The Avengers, and Star Trek: Into Darkness all featured an eloquent villain with a non-American accent who was a former ally and whose evil plot required getting caught by the good guys on purpose — give yourself a pat on the back. Many of them are following a formula: the formula spelled out in Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.

I stumbled across a copy of Save the Cat in an Ottawa bookstore back in the summer of 2011. I thumbed through it and soon found myself taking a seat as I continued reading. Before I knew it, I’d gone through the entire book. It was a fascinating read, because it described just about every Hollywood movie I’d recently seen or friends had been raving about.

three-act structure

A diagram of the three-act structure, with lots of Hero’s Journey stuff thrown in. Click to see it at full size.

It should cause you some concern that the best-known movie by Blake Snyder, Save the Cat’s author, is the terrible Syvester Stallone/Estelle Getty vehicle: Stop or My Mom Will Shoot.

Save the Cat build upon the Hollywood staple known as the three-act structure of setup, confrontation, and resolution and expands upon it, listing 15 “beats”, each one being key event in the film that drives the story forward. Not only is there a specified order of appearance and name for each beat, such as “Catalyst”, “Debate”, “Fun and Games”, and “Dark Night of the Soul”, there are even specified screenplay page numbers for each beat. The convention is for a page of script to represent a minute of movie time, so Save the Cat isn’t just a formula, it’s a formula that specifies movies down to the minute.

Save the Cat gets its name from one of one of the first things you need to do in its formula: make the audience sympathetic to the main character. You want your audience to know that this person’s worth rooting for, and since the rule is “show, don’t tell”, you need the protagonist to do something to make the audience like him or her. It’s usually a decent, noble, kind act, such as…well, saving a cat. Here’s a YouTube video featuring a handful of “save the cat” moments from Aladdin, Sea of Love, Heist, and Raiders of the Lost Ark:

Save the Cat’s Beats in Frozen

Let’s take a look the Save the Cat set of beats, applied to a recent megahit: Frozen. I got the list of beats and their definitions from Tim Stout’s blog, while the “beat sheet” for Frozen comes from the official Save the Cat site.

frozen 0

Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins:

 A single snowflake drifts through the sky, its crystals developing into a unique shape, followed by more snowflakes doing the same. As the title lingers on the screen, it quickly fades to an image from the perspective of under the ice as men saw through it.

frozen 1

Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life:

In the Kingdom of Arendelle, Anna (voice, Kristen Bell) and her older sister Elsa (voice, Idina Menzel) play together, living a life with a happy childhood. Anna wakes Elsa up, asking her if they can build a snowman. While Anna is a normal child, Elsa is anything but: she has been born with the power to create ice and snow from her hands, and she can manipulate it at will. The girls play in a giant room in the castle, with Elsa creating huge mounds of snow for Anna to slide down and hop across. They continue to giggle and play until Elsa starts to lose some control of her abilities, and she accidentally hits Anna in the head with her powers, knocking her unconscious.

Strands of Anna’s hair are turned white, and their parents rush her to a group of mountain trolls. The troll elder is able to save Anna just in time, but he cautions the king and queen to shield Anna from Elsa’s powers to prevent another accident. He alters the memories Anna has of Elsa’s powers, making her forget the uniqueness her sister possesses.

Anna and Elsa grow up in the same household, yet totally separated from each other in an effort to protect Anna. Anna can’t understand why her sister won’t play with her anymore, coming to her door and continually pleading with her to build a snowman like they used to. As they grow in age, their father cautions Elsa to wear gloves to prevent her powers from manifesting; they must remain a secret from everyone. “Conceal; don’t feel,” he tells her.

Eventually, their parents are lost at sea, and Anna is lonelier than ever before. She longs for a time when she can interact with the world outside.

Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it:

As the troll elder heals Anna, he tells the king and queen that they are lucky the magic did not hit her heart. “The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded,” he tells them. He then addresses Elsa, saying that her powers can be something of great beauty, but she must learn to control them, and that fear will be her greatest enemy. This bit of foreshadowing will be the focus of the story: Anna will need to learn what it truly means to love, and Elsa will be the key to all of this.

Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway:

As Elsa comes of age and is heir to the throne, the time for her coronation is at hand. “For the first time in forever,” as Anna sings, the kingdom is actually open. For Anna, this is a joyous occasion, as she will have the opportunity to interact with the world outside. For Elsa, this is yet another time of fear for her, as she must control her abilities.

frozen 2

Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out:

As the castle walls fill with guests, both girls wonder what this will mean for them and for their future. The Duke of Weselton arrives and is eager to trade with Arendelle, suspicious about why the kingdom’s walls have been closed for so long.

Anna is eager to meet “the one” to share her life with, while Elsa is afraid of what might happen if she cannot control her powers. Can she harness them for this one day? Will her sister still love her? Will the subjects of the kingdom accept her or see her as a monster if something goes wrong?

Elsa is able to control her abilities when she takes off her gloves at the ceremony, but the day is not over yet. After the ceremony, she and Anna speak to each other for the first time in years, beginning to rekindle their love. While Elsa is still apprehensive about any social interaction, Anna meets a young prince named Hans, the youngest of 13 brothers. As the day passes, Anna falls more and more in love with him, ultimately accepting his proposal of marriage. When the two go to ask for Elsa’s blessing, Anna is angry when Elsa does not give it. She lashes out at her sister, unable to understand why Elsa doesn’t want her to be happy.

In a slip of her emotions, Elsa unleashes her powers in front of everyone at the ball. Fear fills the room, which only causes things to get worse for her. She flees as Anna watches in shock, their world turning into an icy wasteland in a matter of minutes. The Duke of Weselton wants to hunt her down, accusing her of sorcery and of being a monster, but Anna has another plan.

Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two:

Anna goes after Elsa, leaving Prince Hans in charge of her kingdom while she is gone. She must leave her familiar life of safety and isolation and step out into the upside-down world of the frozen outdoors.

frozen 3

B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”:

While Anna attempts to cope with the freezing cold, her horse runs off, and she stumbles upon a small trading post and enters it, where she also meets Kristoff (voice, Jonathan Groff), who sells ice for a living.

Fun and Games, a.k.a. The Promise of the Premise – The entertaining aspects of the story’s premise are explored (in scenes that might make the movie trailer) – highlighting the main character’s unlikeliness for this “upside down world – which are fun to watch, but NOT fun for the main character, who is essentially in HELL until the end of the story:

At the trading post, Anna is able to find some winter clothes, but Kristoff has an argument with the owner and is thrown out. Anna bands together with him, needing his help on her journey.

Meanwhile, Elsa has found refuge and has used her powers — for the first time without repercussions — to create a magnificent ice palace. It is the only time she has ever felt truly free and uninhibited. She can embrace her abilities, seeing them as something wonderful rather than as a curse.

Anna, along with Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, journey up the mountain. Kristoff questions her future marriage to Hans, but they are soon attacked by a pack of wolves. Further on, they encounter a jovial talking snowman, Olaf (voice, Josh Gad), who is eerily similar to one that Anna remembers Elsa making in their childhood. Olaf joins them, singing about how he desires to see summer weather, not knowing what this would entail for him. But Olaf’s appearance is an indicator that they are close to finding Elsa. He leads them to Elsa’s ice palace, while back at the kingdom, Anna’s horse returns without her, and Hans recruits some men to go and confront the queen.

frozen 4

Midpoint – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end:

Arriving at Elsa’s ice palace, Anna marvels at what her sister could create. She finds Elsa inside and pleads with her to return, claiming that together, they can solve the problem. Elsa refuses, relishing her freedom, but Anna tells her that her actions have caused a winter condition that only Elsa can reverse. The stakes have been raised, and only get higher when Elsa begs her sister to leave, accidentally hitting her in the heart with an icy blast. This brings the theme forward in a literal way. Anna doesn’t realize it at first, but if she doesn’t find help soon, her heart will freeze, killing her.

Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates:

Elsa kicks Anna and Kristoff out of her ice palace, creating a huge ice creature to chase them off. Anna and Kristoff are pursued by it until they fall off the mountain to the snow drift below. When Kristoff realizes that Anna’s hair is turning white from the blast to her heart, he races her to the only ones he knows who can help: the trolls that raised him, the same ones who had saved Anna once before, to which he was a witness. The trolls believe that Anna and Kristoff are in love, although they both deny it. They hint at the theme, singing that sometimes people do things out of fear that they would not otherwise do, and that love will help show them the way.

The elder troll comes forward and says that there is nothing he can do to heal Anna; only an act of true love can heal a frozen heart. Anna realizes this must mean “true love’s first kiss” from Hans, and Kristoff races her back to Arendelle.

Meanwhile, Hans and his band of men have arrived at Elsa’s ice palace, only to confront the snow creature and fight it. The Duke of Weselton’s men storm the palace and attack Elsa, causing her to unleash the full brunt of her powers, almost killing them in the process. During the battle, she is knocked out and awakens in a prison cell back at the castle, her hands manacled by iron. Hans tells her that Anna hasn’t returned, and Elsa despairs.

Kristoff arrives at the castle gates, leaving Anna in the care of her staff to bring her to Hans for a kiss. When Hans arrives and Anna tells him this, he reveals his true nature; he was merely using her to obtain the throne.

frozen 5

All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born:

Hans leaves Anna in a cold room to die, then informs the staff that Anna is dead, and lies as he declares that they had said their marriage vows. Assuming the position of the throne, he charges Elsa with treason and sentences her to death. The whiff of death is in the air for both Anna and Elsa.

Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again:

As Anna struggles to stay alive, Olaf appears and kindles a fire to help her. He muses about how much Kristoff helped her, and as he looks out the window into the distance, he sees Kristoff racing back toward Arendelle. Anna then realizes that it is Kristoff, not Hans, who can give her “true love’s first kiss” and save her.

Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again:

Anna and Olaf attempt to make it out of the castle to meet Kristoff, who is racing toward Arendelle and the swirling vortex of snow and ice that envelops it.

Finale – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis:

Anna and Olaf find a way out of the castle and step onto the icy fjord, her heart freezing more and more by the minute. As Kristoff races toward her, Hans finds Elsa alone on the ice, telling her that Anna has died as a result of her inability to control her powers. Anna sees Kristoff getting closer, but then spies Hans raise a sword from behind Elsa, ready to kill. Digging down deep, Anna leaps in front of the sword, freezing into solid ice right as Hans slices downward, his sword shattering upon impact.

Elsa sees what her powers have wrought and despairs, realizing the sacrifice Anna made for her. It is at this moment that Anna begins to thaw; the act of true love had come from within, healing her frozen heart. Elsa realizes that love conquers fear, and she soon embraces this as a way to balance her abilities.

Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character:

As the kingdom returns back to normal, Elsa sees her powers as a beautiful gift, not as a curse. Hans is returned to his own land, and the Duke of Weselton is forever banished from Arendelle. Elsa vows to Anna that they will never close the gates of the kingdom again and proceeds to use her abilities to inspire awe in the townsfolk, creating a winter wonderland in the palace courtyard.

Love has conquered all; it has healed a frozen heart and has reunited the two sisters once again.

More examples: Back to the Future and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial

If you’d like to see more examples of the Save the Cat structure applied to movies, MediaJuice put together a couple of ten-minute videos. Here’s their Save the Cat breakdown of Back to the Future:

and here’s their Save the Cat-ization of E.T.:

There’s even software

If following an outline from a book seems too much like work, worry not: there’s even Save the Cat software to take some of that burden away

save the cat software

If you’d like to see the software in action, here’s a series of YouTube videos that walk you through version 3 of the Windows edition software (it’s also available for the Mac):

If you find working on a desktop or even a laptop too confining, there’s even an iPhone version of Save the Cat, which sells for $20. Want to try before you buy? There’s a Lite version that’s available for free.

Did Save the Cat ruin Hollywood films?

I’m sure that a good writer can do wonders following the Save the Cat formula, and that a great one has probably internalized the general idea about it: enchanting audiences with an engaging story. However, as a crutch, it’s led to a lot of movie feeling the same, a trend that’s reinforced by the need to not only recoup the money spent in making a film, but to actually show some profit. There’s strong pressure to play it safe and stick with what works, and while Save the Cat has been proven to work. Chris Keelty makes a good point in this YouTube video, On Story Structure (and how Save the Cat ruined Hollywood):

Want to find out more about Save the Cat? Check out this Salon article: Save the Movie!

And here’s an interview with Save the Cat‘s author, Blake Snyder:

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Picture of a "Slinky" toy captioned with: "Some people are like Slinkies. Not really good for much, but bring a smile to your face when pushed down the stairs."

We all have a Slinky or two in our lives.

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“Spring Cleaning” post #6: Work!

by Joey deVilla on April 23, 2014

joey devilla hard at work

spring cleaningHere’s another post for my Spring Cleaning series, the set of articles that I’m taking out of my Drafts folder, finishing, and posting at long last. In case you missed the earlier ones, here they are:

This post is filled with stuff I’d been meaning to point to on a topic that takes up anywhere from one to two thirds of our weekdays (one tenth if you’re from Portland): work!

your job makes you sick

This is just part of the infographic. Click it to read the full infographic and matching article.

This one’s from two years ago, but it still holds true: an infographic featured on Mashable saying that work is killing you slowly. It’s not that you should quit working, but that you need to work around today’s most common work style (especially for readers of this blog): sedentary, desk-bound, and often in front of a computer for hours. If you can find a way to work some kind of activity into your workday — think of it as interval training — you’re likely to see some benefits.

medium_timesink

Time. Sink. Get it? Click it to read the matching article.

Jason Friedman, on his blog HumbledMBA, talks about things that take up precious work time at startups and do nothing to delight customers: launch parties, office food, team-building activities, meetings, meetups, agile processes, business cards, PowerPoint, and many more. “Of course, much of this stuff still needs to get done,” he writes, “At some point. And some of it really is important to the process that eventually creates delight for users. But none of it directly delights users. They’re all inputs. None of it is product.” He’s writing for people in startups, but it could just as easily apply to people in the non-startup world.

ect-brain-damage

Running a current through your brain can help generate ideas. Click it to read the matching article.

Want to get ahead in your workplace? This Harvard Business Review article points to some research with disturbing findings: be disagreeable, get someone to wish you luck, look at a dead cat, “live in sin” before getting married, jokingly ask for a ridiculously high salary, and run an electric current through your brain.

The “Always Be Closing” scene from Glengarry Glen Ross. Be advised: there’s swearing aplenty.

Here’s another HBR article: How to Close a Sales Call. Here’s how the article itself closes:

If you are a senior salesperson, you’ve already closed your share of business and know many different closing techniques. You also understand that your closing strategy must vary depending upon the customer’s background, your competitive position, and the circumstances that are unique to the sales cycle. Sometimes, you need a commanding hard close for your meeting. For example, if the sales cycle for the products you sell involves only one or two customer interactions. With experienced buyers, consider a softer close because how many times do you think they have heard “this is our best and final offer” and every other type of hard close before?

blog

Be sure to check out more of Drew’s comics on his site, Toothpaste for Dinner.

Blogging isn’t for everyone, but it’s been nothing but great for me and my career. You might want to check out Why Every Professional Should Consider Blogging and The Secret Formula To Never Being Unemployed for more details why.

a380 flight deck

The flight deck of an Airbus A380. Click the photo to see the source.

And finally, some advice from a Cessna pilot’s emergency checklist: FLY THE AIRPLANE.

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Good morning, Carrollwood!

by Joey deVilla on April 22, 2014

As I write this — 10:36 a.m. on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 — it’s 72º F (22º C) in Carrollwood, the suburb of Tampa where I live and telecommute. For my Toronto friends, the drive from home to downtown Tampa takes about the same time as the drive from my place in High Park to downtown Toronto.

Here’s what the start of my bike ride looked like this morning. That’s home, with my car, Rhonda the Honda, in the outdoor parking spot. She doesn’t look it, but she turns 16 this year:

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Click the photo to see it at full size.

I got greeted by this fella on the way out. While while peacocks are nothing new in this neighbourhood, they usually hang out a couple of blocks south. This is the second time in a couple of weeks that one of them has shown up in our complex:

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Click the photo to see it at full size.

The morning started off without a cloud in the sky:

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Click the photo to see it at full size.

So I hopped on the bike and made my way down to the road:

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Click the photo to see it at full size.

Time to put on some miles!

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Click the photo to see it at full size.

And there are many miles of quiet streets on which to lay rubber:

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Click the photo to see it at full size.

After a quick ride, it’s time to get back to work. Here’s the interim home office, currently set up in the dining room. The second bedroom will become an office in a couple of weeks:

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Click the photo to see it at full size.

And now it’s time to make mobile tech sing and customers happy:

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Proof that I am a direct descendant of an American: look at all that ice in my glass, the way God and the Founding Fathers intended.

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