reality is weirder than you think

Tag: compare and contrast (page 1 of 2)

It bothers me when people treat “data” as a plural noun

There you go, the entire post is in the title. You can stop reading now if you want.

Some people still use data as the plural of datum (which is technically true), but then write something like “The data were crazy.” I believe that syntax like this makes the writer sound crazy, not the data–even if it is mandated by a house publishing style.

I think of “data” as a count noun; yes, there are multitudes of data points but they can be treated as one entity. Something more along the lines of “data set” rather than “chickens.”

“The chickens were crazy” totally works, you know.

To make sure that I’m not crazy, I ran a dictionary-check to be sure.

Mirriam Webster agrees that it’s “the data is plentiful,” not “the data are plentiful.”

This distinction has come up in my professional life a few times in the past few weeks, as some of the academic administrators who write about my job area love the make themselves sound smart. Apparently one strategy is to use data as plural when it doesn’t work.

Now I have ammo to fight against it, and so do you.


Always A/B Testing

One of the things I admire most about SM Entertainment is that they are constantly iterating and A/B testing the groups, songs, and concepts that they produce.

If you pay attention to how they operate as an entity, rather than focusing exclusively on one of their groups, you can see a real-time example of why they’re one of the biggest entertainment groups in k-pop.

They’ve created entire “entertainment properties” to showcase this A/B testing.

SM Rookies

Before NCT debuted as its various subgroups, SM conducted rigorous testing through the online series SM Rookies. They tried out various different configurations of trainee groups. Sometimes this is really rough, as with the “SR15B dance practice” video, or music-video quality in the case of “Bassbot” and “Super Moon.”

“Super Moon” is interesting because of the three members–Taeyong, Johnny, and Hansol–featured in it, Hansol did not debut with any NCT units. In fact, he’s no longer under contract with SM Entertainment.

I suspect this is because Hansol has an almost identical “look” as Yuta, who did debut with NCT 127.

[Warning: unknown quantities of confirmation bias ahead.]

With male groups, SM tends to assemble a variety of different types. For example, if you compare a photo of EXO with a photo of BTS, you can see what I mean. EXO members each have their own charm, while–with the exception of Rap Monster–BTS members have a similar vibe. NCT is no exception to this, as you can label each member as “The ______ One” even if you know nothing about their personalities.

If you compare Hansol and Yuta in other footage from SM Rookies, Yuta is hungrier. Despite being Japanese, Yuta has been described as “more Korean than the Koreans.” You can literally watch Yuta work solidify his status as “the sexy one” as NCT 127 has practiced, promoted, and performed “Cherry Bomb” this year. (I have the YouTube receipts for this–let me know in the comments if you want me to post them.)

From my completely outsider perspective, it makes sense that if you have two trainees who look almost identical but have different work ethics, you’ll pick the one who is going to work harder.

SM Station

One of SM’s staples on YouTube is SM Station, which features single songs that are collaborations, off-brand concepts for an existing group, or other “random” things. There are a lot of fun songs under this umbrella. (Don’t mind me plugging my boy Chen again.)

Right now, I suspect that they’re testing a subgroup or solo venture featuring Wendy from Red Velvet. In the past months, she’s been featured in two different SM Station releases.

One is a jazz version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which prominently features the fact that she’s an English speaker and a strong vocalist.

The other is a collaboration with singers Baek a Yeon and Jaehyun (from NCT). Another seasonal song, called “The Little Match Girl,” but it’s in Korean and puts Wendy’s voice in a different context than Red Velvet.

SM is also simultaneously running a test between Jaehyun and Doyoung as soloists from NCT 127. Jaehyun has gotten two SM Station songs so far versus Doyoung’s one (although Doyoung has been featured in some live stages), so we’ll have to wait and see what comes of this.

The one downside that I can see is that all of the tests attract at least some fans, so you still have a small contingent of NCT stans who wonder about Hansol. I could see this building up into ill will if SM made the wrong decision, but clearly NCT is succeeding reasonably well without Hansol so I doubt it will become a huge problem. I could see this negative feedback being another metric to check your decisions against.

I don’t really know what SM’s intentions are with SM Station, or what the outcome will be.If I can figure out a way to reverse-engineer YouTube views I’ll see if I can put together a predictive post.

In the meantime, I’m determined to learn from SM how to A/B test in real time while also producing quality product that people enjoy. The sheer volume of content that they produce is staggering, and I don’t doubt that it has a direct correlation with why they are so successful.

Reactionary Fashion vs Revolutionary Fashion

No further words needed. Thank you /pol/, courtesy of Peter Duke.

(Also, LOL Martin Luther)

Photo editing impacts fashion styling

It’s the power of cropping, folks.

I never realized what I huge difference the crop can make. The potential difference is rather obvious when it comes to composition (at least, for any of us 90s kids who grew up watching the “formatted for your TV” version of so many movies — I still remember that moment when I realized that the VHS version cropped out 30% of each shot!), since the surface area show of a photo directly impacts what parts of its subject are shown.

However, you wouldn’t think that the crop of a photo would mess with the styling impact of its subject.

You would be wrong.

Now, keep in mind that K-pop groups are usually styled for group effect, so that particular tropes and/or colors are balanced among the members. This outfit set was clearly designed for Wendy at the center (for once!!).

Consider this photo of Red Velvet that was posted on allkpop earlier today.

Top: Yeri, Joy, Irene / Bottom: Wendy, boots, Seulgi

Not bad. They look good — no clashing reds — and other than the fact that plaid-clad Wendy is not in the center of the photo, all seems to be well.

Except…Joy’s black boots. They stick out like a sore thumb. Even though they are similar in shape and tone to Joy and Seulgi’s long dark hair, there is something eye-pulling and offputting about those dang boots. They don’t belong in that sea of red.

As a result, the photo seems off balance. This is exacerbated by the fact that the torsos of the girls in the bottom row have been dramatically shortened by the crop, also lending an off-balance feel.

Here’s the original photo:

Much better, right?

Those boots just fade into the background, leaving a naturally-occuring visual hole that would have otherwise been filled by the dark wood of the stops behind the group.

The girls can breathe, the color palette makes sense — the bottle green floor makes a huge difference in offsetting all that red — and the spacing is not overly formal but still balanced.

This is a picture that makes sense.

Let’s talk about NCT 127

NCT 127 released “Limitless” in January 2017. It’s great (although I’m a bit biased — it’s my favorite of their singles). The lyrics are super-inspiring — about pushing yourself and exploring the limits of your talent — and I love when k-pop lyrics bend backwards to focus on their own group instead of singing another version of the generic love song.

The sound mixing on this one is different from a lot of k-pop. It’s dirty, grotty, grimy, built on an unrelenting bass line that creates a layer of underlying noise, which is both transcended by (notably singers Doyoung and Taeil) and mirrored in (Taeyong’s deep rap talent) the vocals to fantastic effect. It’s surprising, ESPECIALLY for a k-pop group out of SM Entertainment.

This comeback came with two music videos, of which the dance performance version is far stronger. The choreography is stellar, and of course the NCT boys perform it flawlessly. Plus, Taeil wears a jacket that looks like a shark.

You really can’t go wrong with sharks.

But apparently something HAS gone wrong in NCT-land, because 127 released a new version of “Limitless” this week and it violates quite a number of conventions.

It’s been over 6 months since the original Limitless comeback, and NCT 127 has gone through an entirely new era of music since then. (Cherry Bomb, for those of you who aren’t stalking them on YouTube like I am.)

The entire concept of NCT 127 was to promote based in Seoul, and this video is in Japanese. In fact, not only are the lyrics changed to Japanese, but the mix is different (bright and futuristic) and an entirely new video has been shot, that keeps the grotty NCT 127 trappings but makes them shinier (and one presumes more friendly to the Japanese market).

Twice has been cleaning up in Japan recently, and I could see SM jumping on that model. NCT 127’s Yuta is from Osaka, and he’s very charismatic in the way that Twice’s Japanese members also are.

NCT 127 is no longer confined to promoting in Seoul. Rather, they’re being sent out farther in Asia to promote. They’ve also been attending fanmeetings in Thailand.

This means that like the defunct concepts of Super Junior (one constantly rotating group of juniors to splinter off new groups each year) and EXO (one group, but two simultaneously-promoting subunits), the NCT concept is also dead. NCT was created to be a group with limitless members, breaking off into subunits based on geographical region and/or other concepts. NCT U was “proof of concept,” showcasing SM’s willingness to experiment with musical styles and their dedication to finding Actual Rappers. NCT 127 was the flagship, promoting in Seoul — but which hasn’t caught fire in Korea yet. (Wake up, Korea, these boys are great.) And then there’s NCT Dream, a SuJu-like group made up of the teenage members of the NCT overgroup.

I suspect that Ten, the Thai member of NCT who so far has only debuted with NCT U, was tapped to be the leader of the NCT-Thai group. SM held auditions in Thailand in Spring/Summer 2016. Nothing has materialized yet. Ten’s behavior in backstage videos (fun, but not necessarily leader material) and his “only” 4 million view SM Station test case, Dream in a Dream, probably put the nail in that coffin.

SM does a lot of A/B testing before they unleash a concept onto the world, and it’s looking like the concept of an ever-expanding worldwide NCT will not happen. Also, NCT stopped introducing themselves with “To the world…” which is sad because it was super endearing.

Anyway, while I’m glad that NCT 127 is sticking around, and I’m glad that SM is putting backing behind them, I’m a little sad to see the weird NCT concept go by the wayside.

The memetics of milk and cereal

First, it was milk. (Thank you for that, Shia.)

Now, it’s cereal.

What’s next, cookies?


There are literal Hitlers under every bed and inside every closet, it seems.

Memes are becoming reality at an increasingly rapid pace.

The line between mindset and meatspace is becoming increasingly blurred.


Earlier this week, I was checking out kids books for a friend’s daughter.

There was a whole section of Berenstein Bears.

I couldn’t bear to check the spelling.


Think it, and it will exist.

Terrifying or exhilarating?

You get to decide.

Creating the opportunity

I learned something today, that I think will stick with me for a great long while.

I thought I was negotiating for a new job. Trusted associates were giving me advice, tips on what to ask for and how to ask for it. Different industries and types of businesses have different ways of doing things.

Money vs. time vs. flexibility — what’s most important?

Turns out that none of that mattered, because my supervisor pre-negotiated on my behalf.

While I’m not sad about the outcome, I do feel like I missed a crucial point of inflection for learning how to negotiate. Instead of giving me the opportunity to try and fail, or to fail to try, I was given the end result.

Now, I’m not ungrateful. Don’t get me wrong.

But I do question methods.

If the data suggests that women fail to negotiate more often, and that part of the so-called wage gap exists because failure-to-negotiate leads to a smaller base salary that leads to smaller percentage-based raises 10 or 20 years down the line, wouldn’t it also make sense that you would want to demonstrate to women that they can negotiate, and reinforce that behavior by rewarding it with a salary raise?

So set the stage. Grease the wheels a little bit. Maybe carve out a “yes” from the HR compensation people first, then wait for a girl to try to negotiate up and reward her.

Giving it up front teaches the lizard brain that we can just expect it in the future, and we absolutely cannot.

This method is harder to watch, because it requires risk and includes the possibility of failure, either to plan or to execute. But it also means real success at the end.

Create an environment where someone can succeed by setting an expectation, providing necessary resources, greasing the wheels if need be, and then stepping back to let her learn how to fly.

Artificial, a bit, but effective.

I want to learn how to lead people like that.

Not by doing things for them and expecting them to learn the lesson despite that fact. That’s how you create dependents, not independents.

The inevitable changes at British Vogue

Vox Day, of all people, brought the regime change at British Vogue to my attention once again. Edward Enninful is purging white girls from the payroll (quelle surprise). On the one hand, it’s immensely satisfying to watch the predictable world of fashion “journalism” get shaken up in such a big way. On the other hand, I don’t have a lot of faith that British Vogue will continue to create beautiful, compelling content. Not that I’ve been reading many fashion magazines lately; I made myself stop reading them a while back because they didn’t contribute anything to my life.

But that doesn’t stop me from binging on digital fashion content every now and again. To that end, searching for a citation for my newly-updated my About page, I found myself down the rabbit hole of short fashion documentaries on YouTube. Some of the things that stand out to me in fashion documentaries never make their way online, which frustrates me. (What I’m realizing is that’s where I should act, instead of merely complaining about it.)

Anyhow, look! Enninful makes an appearance in The September Issue (a documentary about American Vogue), getting coached on assertiveness by Grace Coddington. Looks like that training paid off.


In another decision to hire a non-old non-white person to run a fashion magazine, Eva Chen became the youngest editor-in-chief of a Conde Nast publication when she was appointed to run Lucky magazine in 2013. However, Lucky didn’t last much longer (and it was kind of boring, tbh–I wanted to like it, but it always felt more like a catalog than a magazine).

Wintour brought in Chen in 2013 to bring Lucky into the digital age. Chen was young, highly visible through her social media presence, and brought an approachable cool factor to the magazine. She took a high-low approach, featuring unknown fashion bloggers in the magazine’s pages while recruiting expensive, upscale stylists like Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele and legendary photographers like Patrick Demarchelier.

That upgrade came at a cost. The pages were beautiful, but some say that the price points alienated readers who were used to more affordable clothes they could grab off the racks. The publication still slumped in circulation and newsstand sales were even worse. The turnaround flagged.

“It was too late, and she wasn’t given a chance, given a dead animal,” a source from Lucky magazine said in defense of Chen on the condition of anonymity.

Now, I really liked Chen’s work when she wrote for Teen Vogue back in the day. But it’s clear that, despite being hired on to a sinking ship, her decisions contributed to the fall of Lucky instead of turning them around. She brought the Vogue-style aspirational mindset to a magazine that most people bought for an anti-Vogue outlook. Not a winning combination.

Maybe that was all her. Maybe that was her being overly influenced by Anna Wintour, since she’s young and didn’t have Grace Coddington’s tough skin (Coddington was known for standing up to Wintour).

Maybe it’s because Chen have the savvy that Wintour does. Anna Wintour cultivates glamour in her job. Chen goes out of her way to be the “everygirl.”

Compare and contrast:

The sunglasses. Pre-selected questions that carefully cultivate her image as a patron of the arts, not merely a fashion girl. Cameos that reinforce her exalted status.

Now, Chen has somewhat of a disadvantage because this video is produced by Forbes rather than Conde Nast (which has a major stake in making Anna Wintour look good). However, Chen herself goes out of her way to try to “break the fashion industry stereotypes.” She focuses on approachability, rather than Wintour, who focuses on aspiration.


Like Eva Chen, it is interesting to note that Enninful falls on the approachable end of the fashion spectrum. We’ll see how things shake out at British Vogue.

Same advice, different source

Fran Meneses is an illustrator who vlogs about…what it’s like to be an illustrator. Or really, a freelancer of any sort. Or even more really, a “choose yourself-er.”

People who have chosen to take their destiny into their own hands instead of a mostly-guaranteed steady paycheck. The people I admire but have convinced myself that I could never join the ranks of, because I’m too scattered and/or lazy and/or lacking for time.

But I watch their videos and read their blogs anyway. I bet you do too.

Here’s a vlog of Fran’s that hit home with me.

Spoiler: her advice is BE PROACTIVE. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how or what to do, but instead figure it out for yourself.

“You only need yourself, and internet, the library and books. You also need motivation…and coffee.”

The funny thing is, as we started rounding out the video, I realized that I have heard most of this advice before. Where? From Mike Cernovich and James Altucher and Tim Ferriss. From other people who have actually done it. (Although they wrap their advice in very different aesthetics than Fran does.)

But what really caught my attention, is that I remember reading these things in the granddaddy of self-help books, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

In fact, I pulled out my nearly-full pink sparkly learning notebook circa 2015/2016, where I took notes from my first read-through. Mr Hill is a lot more prolific and early 20th century feeling than Fran, but they share some very common overlapping points.

Fran’s Advice on How to Be Good at Something

  1. What do you want to learn?
  2. Get organized–find where these things live
  3. Make a schedule–so that you will carry through with learning these things instead of procrastinating
  4. Surround yourself with people that motivate you, that make you want to do things
  5. Meet with a study group to learn and discuss
  6. Be consistent

Mr Hill’s Advice on How to Be Good at Something

  1. Desire backed by faith
  2. Clear and definite plan
  3. Decision is the opposite of procrastination
  4. Specialized knowledge (from the library!)
  5. Form a “master mind” group
  6. Persistent, continuous action

Funny how they’re almost exactly the same. Now, I have many more notes on Mr Hill’s advice (which is mostly general), and Fran has many more videos (which are very much more specialized onto freelancing, running an online shop, and illustration) so the comparisons won’t stand up to a huge amount of scrutiny.

I enjoy the synchronicity between them, and the echo of truth that rings when the same advice holds true, and actually works, in 2017 as it did in 1937.

Now, as always with the truth, the hardest part is doing it!

Award-winning book covers vs. bestselling book covers

Every year, the AIGA (that’s the American Institute of Graphic Arts) picks their favorite books and book covers for the year. It usually yields a roundup of pretty cool graphic design. What I found interesting about this process is that they judge the physical book, apparently without consideration of ebooks. Like in most professions, what impresses people who are constantly up to their eyeballs in graphic design may not be what actually catches the eye of the people.

Considering that very few books are actually bought in person anymore, no matter how beautiful they are, most of these books are in competition with other titles on Amazon and other online booksellers.

Because I’m now curious, I’m going to compare a random smattering of the best book covers against the highest ranking book in their category. This list is from 2016, so I’m not adjusting for time or anything, but I want to see if an award-winning cover outpaces a normal, workmanlike cover. For the AIGA covers, if the book is listed in more than one category, I’ll pick the highest-ranked one.

Let’s kick off with a nod to esoteric twitter.

German Poetry


The Essential Goethe, ed. Matthew Bell
Publisher: Princeton University Press
#34 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > Regional & Cultural > European > German

Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach
Publisher: Penguin
#1 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > Regional & Cultural > European > German

Not gonna lie, I am swooning a little bit over that Goethe cover: the beautiful copper color of the background, the intense blackletter typography, the way that the type frames Goethe’s eye, the playful way in which the type asserts that this is THE (only) Goethe reader that you’ll ever need. (I doubt that’s true but I appreciate the effort.) It’s so simple, yet it sings.

On the other hand, we have the standard-issue Penguin Classics cover design, which gets the job done.


German Historical Fiction

A Man Lies Dreaming, by Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Melville House
#396 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > German

Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum
Publisher: Mariner Books
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > German

Now. These two books are designed to appeal to two completely different audiences, although they are both novels about the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. The AIGA-approved one has lots of visual references to the Soviet brutalist style. You know it’s going to be a brutal book. Our other title is a softly hand-colored vintage photograph in a style that reminds me of inspirational fiction from the mid-1990s. The typography is basic. It makes me cringe a little, but clearly it is more what people want to read.

Genre Fiction: Occult

The Way of Sorrows: The Angelus Trilogy, Part 3 by Jon Steele
Publisher: Blue Rider Press (Penguin)
#328 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Suspense > Occult

The Man of Legends, by Kenneth Johnson
Publisher: 47North (Amazon)
#1 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Occult

This is a great example of a “designed” cover versus a very workmanlike cover. The Angelus Trilogy cover definitely draws my eye, and I would indeed love to have it in hardcover form, to stare at. But as we’re finding with indie publishing, a good story trumps any blemishes on the cover, and honestly, the Man of Legends cover isn’t that bad.

Short Stories

Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, by David Galef
Publisher: Columbia University Press
#37 in Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Genres & Styles > Short Stories

100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, eds. Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
#1 in Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Genres & Styles > Short Stories

Interesting how this is two different types of book, in the same category. One is more of a how-to manual; the other is actual short stories. (You can use those as a how-to manual if you want, but most are designed to be read for pleasure.) Despite the Brevity cover reading as “cleaner,” both covers verge on having one too many elements. There’s a lot going on. Brevity, though, definitely stands out. It reminds me of a pop-psychology book like The Power of Habit.


Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity, by Rebecca Lemov
Publisher: Yale University Press
#70 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counseling & Psychology > Ethnopsychology

Discipline Your Mind: Control Your Thoughts, Boost Willpower, Develop Mental Toughness, by Zoe McKey
Publisher: Kalash Media
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counseling & Psychology > Ethnopsychology

One cover is visually intriguing, but completely unreadable. The other is mildly interesting, but clearly communicates the point of the book. Stacked rocks = discipline. It feels like the design of Database of Dreams is too clever for its own good. Unless you know what the cover looks like, it’s going to be harder to identify if you’re searching for it online, since the title is so obscured and small.

It’s clear that you don’t have a great cover to sell big (although it does need to be decent–there are no truly terrible covers on this list), and having a great cover isn’t a prerequisite to selling well in your category. Overly-clever visual presentation is not necessarily helpful in bookselling. There are a lot of other factors at play (average star rating, content of the book, marketing platforms, the competitiveness of the category, etc.) but workmanlike covers are not something that will hold a book back from first place.

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