Getting Married, Finishing My First Draft And Making Deepfakes
🤵🏻 📘 🥸
Well hello! It’s been a while since my last newsletter. In a nutshell, I got married, then life got busy, then I spent some time focusing on finishing my book. But here I am, back in action and ready to share some stories. Fasten the chinstrap on your thinking caps, ladies and gentlemen, lest the powerful gusts of my brain knowledge blow them askew.
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PLANNING A WEDDING IN A PANDEMIC
Ooh boy. Last year was incredibly stressful for my now wife Kristina and I.
We got engaged in July 2020 and set a wedding date for November 2021, thinking that's super far in the future and COVID will be a distant memory, like Y2K or that phase where it was cool to let your undies show a little bit over your pants. Young, naive fools, the both of us.
What was meant to be a two week lockdown in July turned into a 3 month ordeal where we essentially had to pause planning and just sit there waiting. Every day, cases went up. Suddenly, it was September, and close friends of ours had to reschedule their wedding. Things started looking bleak and we had to come to terms with the fact it probably wouldn't go ahead.
Then finally, we got a glimmer of hope. A limit of 50 guests was announced in late September. We had a decision to make: 50 guests was less than half our original list, but would that be better than having to move it to 2022, where it would be near impossible to get a date due to all the other unfortunate souls rescheduling their weddings? And, more importantly, was it worth putting off the rest of our lives to party with a few extra people? We decided we'd go ahead, and went through the gruelling task of cutting down our guest list to the bare essentials.
Then, mercifully, things started becoming more optimistic in the final hour. The NSW Government took forever to come out with a vaccination roadmap, but when they did we learned that when 80% of people were double jabbed we'd be allowed 100 guests. Estimations said we'd just make it to that figure in time.
We started planning full steam ahead, and had to make up for 3 months of wedding purgatory. When I tell you there was a lot to do in not much time, I am severely under-emphasising. We cut it very fine - I picked my suit up 1 week before the big day - but everything came together. Restrictions even lifted to the point where we were allowed a full capacity wedding with dancing and drinking while standing up! I love drinking while standing up!
But there’s always something to worry about, and the final stress hurdle for us was the weather. A couple of weeks out, we saw a 90% chance of rain. With one week left, there was allegedly a 100% chance at the exact time of our ceremony.
But on our wedding day, the universe was clearly on our side. It was a little cloudy and a touch windy, but as my wife turned the corner to walk down the aisle towards me, everything went still and the sun came out. We shared a beautiful day of pure joy with our closest friends and family, and it went down as easily the best day of my life.
WATCHING ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING
Three names that go together. Steve Martin, Martin Short and... Selena Gomez?? Not exactly the expected third, but it's actually a winning combination!
Only Murders In The Building follows three residents of a New York apartment complex who share an obsession with true crime. When a guy in their building dies in suspicious circumstances, they start a podcast together and try to solve the case, but the lies they tell each other just make things more and more complex.
It's a fun, quirky mystery with a lighthearted tone and loveable characters. I give it 8 murders out of 10.
FINISHING THE FIRST DRAFT OF MY NOVEL
Just over a year ago, I had the idea. It was the sort of idea that lights you up with an excited energy, like you’ve seen a glint of gold in an untapped riverbed. I was obsessed with the possibilities for the stories I could tell with this idea, the moral and political questions I could explore, as well as the high stakes badass action. I quickly pumped out a short story as a proof of concept, but I knew that I wanted to turn it into a novel. So I did! I joined the Writers Studio’s First Draft Course in March last year and committed to 10 months of developing the idea.
The Writers Studio is a school based in the top floor of an old church in Bronte. You walk up a narrow set of wooden stairs, hands shaking and a voice in your head whispering that you can’t write for shit and everyone will know you’re a fraud. You emerge into a modest open space with tables and chairs set out along the hardwood floor. A few people are already here, and a sausage dog, who barks at you like you’re Satan himself. You look around, trying to find where you’re supposed to be, and lunge at the desk that has your name tag on it, throwing down your bag and starting to unpack.
But then you notice the book covers and movie posters plastered on the walls around the room. You notice the bookshelves filled with the published works of previous students. You even look around and realise you can see the ocean from up here. And most of all you notice the smiles, enthusiasm and good grace of your tutors and fellow students. For the first time in your life, you’re around other writers.
After the initial daunting sense of imposter syndrome, the studio becomes a wonderful place of community, openness and creativity. Through Rich, Roland and Kathleen, you learn about story structure, get continued inspiration and motivation, and tips on honing your craft. What really makes this place special though is the connections you form with other writers. There’s something so energising about speaking with other people who are going through the same struggles as you, particularly when everyone agrees to be vulnerable and share their stories. Reading something you’ve written aloud for other people is uncomfortable, but the positive feedback you receive is what keeps you going through what really is a long and difficult slog.
I’d definitely recommend the First Draft Course for anyone who struggles to finish a novel or script, or has trouble with story structure. I think one of the main things I learned was simply how colossal a novel actually is. It’s a massive undertaking, and comes down mainly to perseverance and consistency. The truth is, most people’s first drafts are garbage. Mine is. But it’s finished, and that’s a huge achievement in and of itself. The metaphor that applies here is that of a sculptor. They’re capable of crafting works of great beauty, but they all need to start with a block of clay. Your first draft is your block of clay - lumpy, sticky and not particularly nice to look at, but a solid piece of foundational material that through careful working and reworking you can slowly mould into something beautiful.
My plan now is to spend a month writing short stories to get a bit of space from the novel, then come back to it and write my second draft. Maybe in another year or two I’ll have something worth reading, but at the very least I will have finished my first novel, and can start writing my second.
At DIJGTAL, we have a tradition of photoshopping the birthday person’s face onto a card that embodies/meme-ifies their quirks. Lately, we’ve been doing animated cards, which look awesome but take a whole bunch of time.
Tim, our Senior Creative Technologist, taught us all how to use Adobe Animate, and his homework - because he likes to think he’s special - was for everyone to make him an animated birthday card. However, I am time-poor/lazy so I needed a faster method.
As a compromise, I did some searching and found an app that absolutely blew me away with the quality of its deepfakes. With the Reface app, you upload a photo of someone’s face then search through a catalogue of videos and gifs, choose one, and bam! The person’s face is seamlessly swapped in.
Needless to say, it’s resulted in a lot of laughs, both uncomfortable and genuine (the combination I like to aim for).
Of course they’re no doubt harvesting biometric facial recognition data for China or Russia, but it’s all worth it for the memes.
JUDGING THE USYD GRAD SHOW
Recently, I had the privilege of being a panel judge for the University of Sydney’s grad show. I got to hear finalists from three different graduate and postgraduate degrees present their major projects, and there was a really interesting mix of ideas.
Here are some highlights from the day with links to the exhibition website.
MASTER OF INTERACTION DESIGN & ELECTRONIC ARTS
Virtual reality could be a great way to combine exercise with video games, but how do you visualise the health aspect without breaking the user’s immersion? Dylan’s project was an exploration of how a person’s heart rate could be displayed in a virtual reality world, and how exercise could be further integrated with VR games.
Self-reflection is becoming more and more popular, but it takes a lot of time and effort to get anything meaningful out of it using existing techniques (eg. journalling). Michelle explored how we could use artificial intelligence to turn self-reflection into a faster and more exploratory activity. The tool she was experimenting with was Art Breeder, which is this weird thing that allows you to blend images together, it’s pretty cool.
MASTER OF DESIGN
Their Trails - Hydration Pack For Female Trail Runners
The product concept wasn’t anything crazy futuristic, but Elanor’s market research and viability work was faultless. The idea was a customisable hydration pack for females who participate in trail running, an up-and-coming Summer sport with an increasingly high percentage of females. In fact, 50% of trail runners are now female, but there are still very few female-specific products that meet their needs. The most fascinating part for me was that this product was pitched at a real company that currently specialises in skiing gear, with a few minor offerings in the trail running space. Elanor’s rationale was that it makes perfect sense for this company to shift more focus onto Summer sports due to the rapidly declining ski tourism industry, which has been affected by COVID-19 as well as climate change.
BACHELOR OF DESIGN COMPUTING
Confidante - Support App For Domestic Abuse Survivors
Claire Say, Monica Tsui, Cyrilla Lowas, Wiryawan Onggo
Leaving a violent partner is not the end of a person’s suffering. There are many long term effects that victims have to deal with, including emotional, social and financial struggles. These students designed a support system to help alleviate these difficulties, connecting survivors to essential services, helping to find accommodation and employment, and allowing them to anonymously share their stories with one another. It’s an important problem with a well-researched solution and an elegant design.
FamilySim Magic Mirror - Assisting The Young And Old To Stay In Touch
Caitlyn Burton, Harrison Khannah, Kim Truong, Miguel Tamondong
Staying connected with those you live apart from is an issue that affects everyone, young and old. The elderly often struggle to use video conference software, while for young people it’s more of an issue of fitting these calls into their day to day lives. These students designed a mirror that doubles as a video call screen and utilises avatar representations of family members to give a visual indicator of how long it’s been since you called them. Seeing grandma under a raincloud is enough to guilt anyone into give her a ring!
COOPER PUPDATE: HE WAS A SK8ER DOG
I decided that while Cooper is a wonderful dog in many ways, he could do with being a bit more radical. To remedy this, I’ve been teaching him how to skateboard.
He’s such a clever little hound that it’s already going quite well. On the first day of training, I just got him used to putting his paws on the board while I held it perfectly still, rewarding him liberally with treats. After that, it’s been a slow process of getting him comfortable sitting while stationary, then rolling the skateboard slowly back and forth, and then finally getting him to sit still while it glides forward without my support.
Next steps will be to get him standing and eventually maybe even pushing himself along.
In any case, it’s a glorious sight to behold.
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