A blog by Ross Floate

Episode 20: Self Doubt with Merlin Mann

Josh and I work pretty methodically. Along with our sometime co-host Jerome Lebel-Jones, we have recorded 20 episodes of The Nudge podcast. Nominally, it’s a show about being better designers –– our idea was to make a podcast for designers that mostly featured people who weren’t designers for their day job –– but really it’s about continuing to grow and learn throughout your life.

We’ve had a rule that we would only interview people face-to-face. Partially, that’s a hold-out from the way I was taught to interview people, and partially it was because to create something interesting it helps to have constraints, even if they’re made of smoke.

For episode 20, we broke our rule. Merlin Mann was nice enough to speak to us over Skype about self-doubt, premature praise, and how hard it is to do an Australian accent. If you have 37 minutes to spare then this is the episode of The Nudge for you.

Flies to wanton boys.

Alec Baldwin has, like Shia LeBoeuf before him, decided to withdraw from public life. In admittedly ironic manner, he announced this by speaking to New York magazine. The piece has been reproduced online over at Vulture. I encourage you to read it.

In his piece, Baldwin makes a lot of sensible points with characteristic bombast. But the bombast is kind of the idea – he’s a larger than life character. His problem is that the current model of celebrity doesn’t allow for larger than life characters. And it certainly doesn’t leave any room for flawed characters or people who make mistakes.

I’m disinterested in the things that Baldwin has done (or reportedly done) that have brought him to this decision. I’m interested in the broader idea of celebrity and what it says about us. What does it say about our needs?

When we look back at earlier civilisations, we tend to pat ourselves on the back for how much we have distanced ourselves from their savagery. Roman circuses. Aztec sacrifice. The Reign of Terror. Hundred of years from now, the people who look back at us will pay careful attention to the way we choose certain people seemingly at random, build them up as gods, and then capriciously destroy them.

On a recent recording of The Nudge, we tried to interview my dog.
He was not a great subject at all.

On a recent recording of The Nudge, we tried to interview my dog.

He was not a great subject at all.

Sometimes you have to go left if you want to turn right.

One of the iconic aspects features of Melbourne, especially the central city, is a strange traffic manoeuvre called the Hook Turn. In order not to delay trams when you’re making a turn at an intersection, you do something weird. To turn right, you must pull over to the left, wait for all traffic to pass, then make your right hand turn.

It’s strange, but once you get the hang of it, you can probably consider yourself a local.

So when we decided we wanted to create a home for quality podcasts and interesting new publishing ideas (all developed in Melbourne), naturally, we named it Hookturn.

We started with our existing design show The Nudge. The Nudge, hosted by Josh Kinal, Jerome Lebel Jones and me, is a podcast about being better designers, and I guess, people. It started as a branch out from our Nudge Live events, but now has a life of its own. The recent guests have included Ethan Marcotte, Jeffrey Zeldman, Debbie Millman, and Chris ‘Clarko’ Clarke.

Josh Kinal also features on another of our podcasts, Devil’s Avocado. This great program takes the big issues of the day and asks experts to help uncover the details you’re not getting in the breathless reports of the modern news cycle. The first three episodes have discussed Asylum Seekers, Drugs, and Melbourne’s culture of ‘Bad Business’. Co-hosting this great show is the wonderful Glenn Peters.

My personal favourite new member of the Hookturn family is Last Stop to Nowhere. In it, Michael Sloan and Kyle Sherer bring to life the complications of Australia’s past; it’s Australian History, but not like you learned it at school. So far they’ve covered fascism in 1930s Sydney, and now they’re tackling the 1629 shipwreck of The Batavia

We’ve got other things in the pipeline too, including a podcast companion to Twenty Seventy –– Clem Bastow’s year-long project to live life like it’s the 1970s. Keep an eye on the Hookturn website and see what comes along throughout the year.

Ding Ding!


But what’s it for?

Last night I imported all the better photographs I took at Webstock this year, edited them down to a reasonable number, and then uploaded them to Flickr.

And then I wondered “why?”

I like Flickr. But it’s not where my friends and family are. Not a lot of people see the pics I put on Flickr –– especially in contrast with images I put on, say, Instagram.

So, it’s not for social. At least not for me.

And then I wondered if I did it for storage. But I don’t. I have a storage and backup solution already. And I don’t trust any internet company to not eventually close down a service I like – especially when it’s free.

So in the end, I think Flickr is mostly for Nostalgia. It’s where I send the photos I would have cared for people to see maybe 5 years ago.

Webstock 2014 - 3 by sealfur on Flickr.Me and Erika Hall at Webstock 2014.
Photo by Josh Kinal

Webstock 2014 - 3 by sealfur on Flickr.

Me and Erika Hall at Webstock 2014.

Photo by Josh Kinal

I’ve given up on writing something meaningful about Sha Hwang’s Webstock presentation ‘The Future Happens So Much’. 
Once the Webstock organisers put the video of his presentation online, I’ll link to it so you can experience it for yourself.

I’ve given up on writing something meaningful about Sha Hwang’s Webstock presentation ‘The Future Happens So Much’. 

Once the Webstock organisers put the video of his presentation online, I’ll link to it so you can experience it for yourself.

Brands are a trust relationship.

I can’t imagine ever trusting my email account details to someone who’d render it in that typeface.

To build a relationship with customers, a relationship that will make customers think twice before changing electricity providers, smart retailers will deliver more than a firehose of data. Next-generation tools from retailers will need to inform, educate and delight customers.

In the future, they’ll link with other data sets, like weather forecasts, to tell people when to turn their heating up or down to maximise efficiency. They’ll alert customers to spot price hikes and give people a chance to temporarily turn off less-efficient appliances to avoid brownouts. They’ll alert you at work to let you know if there’s been an outage during the day. They’ll offer incentives for changing the time you run the dishwasher. In the shorter term, they’ll let you know if your energy use has spiked before you get an unusually-large bill in the mail.

Instead of data, they’ll deliver value.

I wrote about the next steps for Smart Electricity Meters over at the Floate Design Partners blog.


Way back in October 2012, I wrote a blog post about removing the idea of inspiration from the design process. Does inspiration exist? If it does, is it at all useful? How do we convey what we do to our clients in a meaningful way that doesn’t involve fairies?

We have a red hot go at answering all of these questions in a tight 30 minutes.

Featuring the dulcet tones of Jerome Lebel-Jones, Josh Kinal, and yours truly.

We’ve been feverishly working away on a project for about a year now – a new podcast about being better designers. It’s not about pixels, pantones or plunger coffee – it’s about the ideas behind the hard work of design.

It’s called The Nudge, and I hope you’ll subscribe. It’s available on iTunes and everything.

Hop along to the sites and if you like what we’re doing, have a listen to Episode 0, a live interview with Elise Peyronnet of Melbourne Music Week.

After all, recommendation matters only if there’s great art to recommend.
Known simply as Gita Hall in her heyday, she was a model in the photo used in a Revlon ad in the early 1960s. She says that she only gave permission for its use for that purpose and did not agree “to allow, forty years later, her image to be cropped from the photo, in secret, and inserted as a key element in the title sequence of a cable television series, without her consent and for commercial purposes.”

Slouching toward Hollywood.

In 2011, Charlize Theron appeared in an advertisement for j’Adore perfume, and despite the fact that I’m not the target market for the product, I was transfixed. The image depicted a flawless Theron with an impossibly long neck, looking like something from one of Midas’ better dreams.


Theron looks entirely impossible in this image, yet the image exists. Nobody will ever be as perfect as Theron is in that image. But we, as a culture, don’t care about that. We simply wish to see Theron-as-image, and as long as she is served up to us, we’ll evidently pay attention.


Last week a new advertisement for chocolate was released and it features the well-and-truly-dead screen great Audrey Hepburn. Except of course, it isn’t her. It’s the licensed likeness of Hepburn – the services of which were rather creepily rented by the Hepburn Estate to someone who wished her to shill chocolate bars.

(You can watch the commercial here.)

In the boom years after World War Two, futurists and cultural commentators speculated that our technological advancements were increasing at such speeds that we would some day need to work out what we as humans would do with all the extra time we were freeing up. I remember as a child being told that one day the 40 hour work week would seem archaic, as we’d all have labour-saving devices doing all of our menial work. We’d be writing, painting, sculpting, or some such, because what else would there be for us to do?

Of course, that’s not what happened. Our time did not become free, because our society is so wedded to consumption that it would collapse if we were not there to exist as a market. Our economy relies on our attention and our ability and desire to be entertained. Our very attention is the resource that’s mined by the culture industry. Film, television, and the attendant industry of Celebrity can only exist because we wish to be entertained and we are prepared to pay to be entertained, or because other people are prepared to pay for our attention (if that means it will sell products or services).

This commercialised attention culture forms a new social and cultural contract.  The cultural industry attempts to give us what we want, and in return we buy products (films, television, books, computer games, magazines, websites) or we give attention to things that attempt to market less ephemeral products and services to us. The economy, which relies on consumption, is fed by us. We are both the product and the market. 

However, because it’s difficult to predict which films we will like, or to cast the actors most likely to get us to open our wallets in every single role, the cultural industry takes risks. They cast actors in surprise roles, they give unknown directors a break, they fund longshots. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  But the desire to profit through risk is the fuel for our cultural furnace. It also produces much of the waste that keeps black-collar workers in busywork for 40 hours a week.


Earlier this year, Netflix released its Americanised remake of House of Cards. It looked like a bold gamble for Netflix, however it was nothing of the sort. You see, because of the huge trove of subscriber data Netflix has on its customers, its management knew that people liked Kevin Spacey, David Fincher, and the original BBC House of Cards.

All they had to do was convince Spacey and Fincher to get involved, and license the rights to House of Cards. The rest was nowhere near the risk it seemed.


Humans age. Charlize Theron will one day be replaced by a younger version of perfection onto whom we can project our desires. This truth is why it still makes sense for people to try to become actors, models, or other types of Celebrity. There’s always an opening at the bottom of the ladder.

Except now, perhaps Celebrities don’t age. Why would a movie studio take a chance on the next Charlize Theron when they can simply cast her licensed CGI likeness in a film that it knows (through access to our historical preference data) that we will like?

What happens to the culture when decisions as to which films and television shows will be produced rely almost solely on algorithms sifting our data? Business has a will to profit and abhors wasted capital. I can’t see a future where decisions about films and television are not increasingly made by algorithms, nor one where a caste of mega-Celebrities do not extend their careers significantly through licensing their 3-D likeness.