preparing not to over-prepare

I'm overdue for an update here! I posted my last update for my Patreon followers only in June, and didn't re-post it here until September. I am grateful to folks who would pledge their money towards the production of my future videos, and perhaps early access to my writing is a reward in lieu of new moving pictures.

This summer I haven't produced any videos, because I've been working on a documentary about my first 20 years online. I don't have a title yet, but I do have 35 minutes of edited footage. Here's a 40,000x speed preview of what I have so far:

The Innovators book by Walter IsaacsonI have reason to believe I may make an appearance in Walter Isaacson's upcoming book The Innovators. He's including some history of the early web and he interviewed me about my work on this web site, and my work at HotWired (just before I turned the camera back on him, almost a year ago: Video Walter Isaacson: Storyteller Preacher Manager).

When Isaacson's book comes out in early October 2014, if anybody says "whatever happened to that web geezer Justin Hall," I'd like to have some hard-earned online wisdom to share with them. I'm 70% done with a short documentary I look forward to sharing free online.

My deadline for this documentary was originally mid-September, to show at the XOXO conference - a celebration of independent internet-enabled creativity. Well, they were nice enough to give me a speaking slot and not a film screening. I have a speech to give this Sunday, and a film to finish for early October.

The last time I gave a speech was at the Game Developers Conference (here's a video episode I produced about the event). I promoted #OGDY - Open Game Data Yes. I wanted to encourage more sharing of experience by people making interactive entertainment. I had a 7 minute timeslot and I scripted my talk and rehearsed it until I had it memorized. Down to the gestures!

The feedback came back from audience members: the talk was polished but soulless. My point seemed shallow compared to the pompous depth of my presentation style.

"Justin was feeling too self-important in his delivery (wide-eyed stares into the room and pregnant pauses should be followed by something revelatory)."

That feedback had the fortunate effect of making me quite concerned about over-preparing for my XOXO talk. How does one prepare not to over-prepare? With a lot of writing, rewriting, drafts, writing new drafts and throwing away the script.

Fortunately the topic for my talk is the same as the topic for my film - how I've shared myself online, why I failed to live up to my earliest goals, and what I've learned. So I'm steeped in the questions, steeped in the material, and deep in conversations with trusted advisors on how to best digest and spew forth what I've learned.

My strategy has been to rely on an outline instead of a script - easier with 20 minutes, more time to inhabit my ideas in progress. XOXO has filmed and posted their films with weeks of the event, so I look forward to hopefully sharing some footage of my XOXO remarks here.

A chap named Justin McMurray messaged me to apologize to referring to my "crappy green screen" in his DO Lecture about "turning the camera back on the internet". I'm honored by the reference (about 11 minute 20 seconds in), and curious how he snuck a peek in my studio to spy my green screen fabric held aloft by chip-clips.

I appreciate McMurray's message of doing and reflecting, doing and reflecting. I'm a big believer in sharing what I've learned, and what I'm learning from others. As humans alive with language and hungry minds, it's the best we can do to support each other: sharing our truths towards greater understanding. That's what I aim to do up on stage at XOXO!

Sharing knowledge is also what I aim to do with future episodes of the Justin Hall show. I've been immensely cheered to see additional people sign up to support future episodes on Patreon, even during this production pause. The growing monies inspire me to make more and hire others.

I know that making videos is the best way to raise money for making more videos; I have no current strategy to monetize my 20 years of documentary, other than to hope it will send more folks with open wallets towards After I publish my documentary, I look forward to more interviews, more essays, more questions, more sharing what I've learned as long as I'm alive!

Appeared on a podcast: Montreal Sauce

Miracles of the 21st century - people have conversations and record them to share with the world!

Montreal Sauce

I met Christopher Sikkenga through the web game PMOG. A few years later, he's started a regular podcast conversation with Paul DeLeeuw called "Montreal Sauce." On 26 June 2014 I was allowed to be a guest; you can listen Justin Hall on Montreal Sauce podcast!

Borrowing from their web writeup, here's a breakdown of some of what we discussed; much of it concerns my video efforts with the Justin Hall Show, and what it means to make personal media:

I am grateful these two decided I might be worth their attention. Perhaps you'll find Montreal Sauce is a tasty addition to your media diet!

Originally posted 29 June 2014 on Patreon; my supporters there got an early glimpse of this

Hello Patreons!! Thanks for your support. I want to explain why I haven't posted any new Justin Hall Show for a few weeks. I've been working on a single long video about my experience of publishing my personal web site.

This project has a deadline - I've been invited to speak at a conference called XOXO in Portland September 11-14. It's an intimate-looking "experimental festival celebrating independently produced art and technology" and it seems like the perfect place to give a public gander of this "20links" video. XOXO conference tickets are available until the end to day Monday, tomorrow! Would be fun to see you there, if you can make it:

So far I'm working almost entirely alone so I want be integrating feedback early and often. I now carry a draft of the video on my mobile phone, so I can review it or share it with others on the road. Soon I look forward to previewing clips for you folks here!

Here's a recent behind-the-scenes update video: that was a hasty production shot with a 13 year old webcam late last Sunday evening to make the occasion of receiving a deadline and entering the go phase of the project.

I'm wrestling to make my experience of the early web relevant to strangers. I'm currently speaking a script and script revisions into the project timeline. On top of this voiceover I'm adding videos, pictures and effects to visually anchor the story.

I just finished a film editor's memoir: "When the Shooting Stops, the Cutting Begins" by Ralph Rosenblum, the editor for Annie Hall and a slew of other movies, and he published this account of driving storytelling through image sequences. He cut his teeth on documentaries, including WWII-era propaganda films. I loved his moment-by-moment descriptions of film edits; he inspired me to think of ways to show more and tell less.

Now I'm started "Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice, and Sound Effects in Cinema" by David Sonnenschein. Sound is the most visceral aspect of filmmaking and I know little about it. This book encourages me to think about sounds that communicate story, besides voice and music.

Amidst editing and researching, I like to re-focus my brain. Yesterday I found "A Dark Room" which is a simple, free text-only experience. A Dark Room is stirring and provocative - a great example of an experience unique to video games.

I aim to craft a uniquely video experience about a personal web site! And I look forward to sharing it with you.

A Long-term Personal Digital Archive Strategy

Recently I read with horror as Ben Brown posted on Twitter about a burglary in March 2014 - gigabytes of personal photographs were stolen with a computer hard drive from his home:

As I felt terrible for Ben, I realized I was in a similar boat. All my personal digital memories are in my home. I have too many gigabytes to store in the cloud. Working with video, I now have many terabytes of storage here for my memories. Someone who broke into my house would sell my hard drives for spare parts and the contents would be lost to me.

So, spurred on by Ben's sad story, I began asking around for people's backup strategies. During a visit to the Internet Archive, just before I interviewed Richard Stallman, I complained to John Gilmore than I had too much data to backup in the cloud. Gilmore suggested I get a harddrive, fill it up and mail it to my parents.

Howard RheingoldTwas a brilliant low-tech suggestion: I bought a big hard drive, copied all my personal digital assets on to it and shipped it to Chicago - about a five hour plane flight away. If the entire United States is rapidly overtaken by a government of totalitarian infophobes seizing our bits at taserpoint, I'll be hosed. But if there's a California earthquake, fire or burglary and I survived without my immediate computers, I'll at least have copies of my photograph of Howard Rheingold in his citrus fruits shirt.

For about two years I've been slowly emptying a storage space I had in San Francisco: scanning old personal video tapes, papers, photos, DVDs, EZ Drive disks and hard drives. You can see some of the results in my "Justin Hall appearing elsewhere" YouTube feed. I realized that old data is fragile and very small relative to today's data. It's only getting more expensive to rescue old files from old drives. And I don't have a job. And I'm making a documentary about my life, which is sorta what I've been doing for 20+ years anyhow. So now is a good time to preserve my datas.

After a brief bit of research, I purchased the "WD My Book 4 TB USB 3.0 Hard Drive with Backup" for $160 from Amazon, and saved the box it came in to remail it.

Spring 2014, I spent a few weeks consolidating my photos, videos, school papers, personal scanned documents, email backups, web site backups, old laptop dumps, archives from my company GameLayers - whatever I could get my hands on, to copy onto the drive. Then I shipped it yesterday! In a few months, I'll buy a second drive, fill that up, and swap it with the first drive each time I travel to Chicago.

Now there's a copy of all my personal data on a hard drive labelled "continuance" that should soon be collecting dust far away; thusly I spent many hours and $160 + $19 shipping for peace of mind.

I still need to figure out what I expect anyone to do with my data when I die; I can pretend I have some measure of preference and control over that while I'm alive.

Just In Berlin

I had a free plane ticket to Europe and some free time; I decided to visit Berlin Germany for my first time. I was attracted to Berlin because of all the creative folks I know moving or visiting there. When I arrived I was stunned at how hard the tragic history of the place affected me.

Here's a short video about the trip:

YouTube: Just In Berlin

Featuring interviews with Doris Steinbichler, Gabriel Shalom, João Paglione and Felix Petersen. Plus footage from a performance by Urnamo Ali at Savvy Contemporary and time well spent at Holzmarkt 25.

I attended Sunday services at Berliner Dom which features English translations. I was rejected from the infamous dance club Berghain, and spent much time at the Topography of Terror and German Historical Museum.

Huge thanks to João Paglione and Der Magnetmann for hosting me! I met João years ago through Flickr where I enjoyed his lively cheerful presence. We established communications and Berlin was the first time we met. I was grateful they could put me up.

Behind the Scenes

I filmed all of this with my mobile phone (iPhone 5s) and a cheap lavalier microphone. I used an inexpensive mobile phone tripod to film myself talking out in front of the Topography of Terror museum; that was an intense half an hour - riffing on horror and humanity and my travels as people wandered around nearby.

I used Motion to make a "lower thirds" title template that I could edit-once and change across all the text in the video. For the background, I used cobblestones I filmed abroad, slowed down and color-tweaked.

I finally learned how to reattach clips elsewhere in the timeline of Final Cut Pro X - command+option click where you want it; so easy I never knew.

Plus I learned how to export frames as images from FCPx, thanks to Larry Jordan.

My Video Publishing Future

So my skills are improving, I've got more polish at my reach plus an evolved sense of how to capture useful source material. In the last eleven months I've learned about green screens, color correcting, audio balancing, lower thirds, motion graphics, sourcing content from the web, the importance of soundtracks, uploading and sharing video in 2014. It's a lot to learn! It's been fun to motivate and publish myself in regular videos.

Your sponsorship on Patreon is fantastic - I'm grateful to the people there who support my videos, and the money is motivating. Having patrons makes me want to make sure I produce something worthy of your dollars, so that has me combing over one video to polish it, and not cranking 'em out the way I did late last year.

Sometimes I debate publishing less-polished videos more often - informal riffing, maybe like I used to do when I filled web pages with free verse poems each night. For now I'm enjoying the craft of prioritizing a single story for a spell.

I aspired to one video per week; I'm now averaging more like 2 per month. May 2014 I will probably only publish this video, Just In Berlin!

In the next few months, I'll be returning to the 20 Links project - making a short film about my time on the web. I look forward to more video sharing with you here! Just maybe not as often as I have been producing. Based on how much time I spend making a 6 minute video I like, polishing up a 20-40 minute video could take a good while.

Jake Lodwick: Weirdo CEO

It's been almost three weeks since my last video; the divorce project really took it out of me. I got a bad cold. Then a pipe burst and I learned a little plumbing.

All the while I was working on footage I shot: an interview with Jake Lodwick from 27 February 2014. Jake is an engineer and entrepreneur. He developed the video sharing web site Vimeo. Vimeo was sold for millions of dollars and Jake was soon fired. He admits he was then adrift, at a time when his personal oversharing on the web became more challenging as well.

Now Jake has started Elepath, a software studio. I was curious to hear what he had learned, and how he's adapted his personality for the task of building a company.

YouTube: Jake Lodwick: Weirdo CEO

Jake was one of the first people to encourage me to do interviews and videos on the web when I started talking about it last year. He offered himself to be the first guest on The Justin Hall Show and I'm glad to have finally gotten him in my folding chair.

This video has 39 images and moving pictures I found freely-shared on the web. What a miracle - a cultural commons. I thank many of the usual suspects in the credits; I'd also like to give a special thanks to Zabou for permission to use her Surveillance illustration about 10 minutes and 8 seconds in.