A very busy month of creative activity

I had really been wanting to get more into blogging – and publishing my writing on a more consistent basis.

But for the month of May, that didn’t quite work out the way I hoped.

It’s frustrating not being able to put out content as regularly as I would like.

I reflected on this for a bit… and then quickly realized there was an underlying reason: Over the past month, I was really preoccupied with all sorts of activities related to creating – just not writing!

Here’s what took up my time throughout May 2022.

WordPress 6.0

WordPress has been transforming in a big way the past several years, but especially in 2022 with the release of version 5.9 last January, and then the milestone 6.0 unveiling on May 24. Both releases bring a host of all-new developments aimed at delivering a vastly more appealing and satisfying user experience – with the objective of significantly broadening the appeal of WordPress to content creators and business owners.

In preparation for all the new and exciting stuff to come for website creation and management, I put myself through an in-depth tutorial to bring myself up to speed. I also spent time getting familiar with the new user interface and the many new features and capabilities.

The future of WordPress is very exciting, and I’m definitely planning to have it as a major aspect of my future career or business ambitions.

Getting more deeply into JavaScript

I’ve been pleased with having been able to build my website from the ground up – by hand-coding with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. But there were some aspects of the underlying code structure that were less than ideal.

Specifically, I was duplicating content by simply repeating the underlying code – not a very good practice. Over time, this was going to make it harder for me to manage things effectively and keep the content up to date.

So I set out to address this by getting more deeply into JavaScript, learning something called Web Components, that would allow me to encapsulate a visual element into a module, and then call up that module whenever I want to reuse it – instead of inefficiently copying and pasting code. I’ve been able to finish out all the work necessary to fully implement Web Components into my website.

Card designs for portfolio webpage
Web Components allowed me to go from duplicating 76 lines of HTML for each card, to a custom HTML tag that calls up the code.

Spending more time with my camera

I’ve really been wanting to use my mirrorless camera more regularly, and acquire an intuitive feel for what I can capture with it. The problem is that like the 3 other interchangeable lens cameras I’ve bought over they years, I haven’t used it enough to appreciate its imaging capability.

That is, until last May. I decided I had enough of buying camera gear but not using it as much as I would like. So I started to devote more time to playing around with photo and video shooting. Almost every time I felt like whipping out my smartphone, I would conscientiously bring out the camera instead to purposefully get more practice and familiarity.

A dedicated camera delivers far superior optics compared to a smartphone, but is a pain because you have to tweak with the settings to get the shot “just right.” However, I’ve been experimenting with something called Intelligent Auto mode on Sony cameras that’s pretty fantastic. It makes the camera more like a smartphone and its “automagic” simplicity of generating quality images without having to do anything.

Sushi photographed in Sony Intelligent Auto mode
Photographed using Sony Intelligent Auto

I’ve been rather pleased with what I’ve been able to capture thus far with Intelligent Auto, and plan to cover this more in a future blog post.

Wait… there’s more!

Yep – I was able to do several more things around my nonstop desire for creativity and making fun things.

  1. Updated the design of my personal logo. See below. The dimensions are in there for fun… but are also an important visual reference.
  2. Reviewed and tweaked some of the motion graphics created for my videos. This includes an animated version of my logo.
  3. Shot a video in which I discuss how I focused first on designing these motion graphics before beginning to make my videos.
  4. Did an extensive review of my Adobe Creative Cloud library – reorganized, archived, and deleted stuff to free up valuable storage space and preserve only the things I needed.
  5. Experimented with creating product photography shots. The goal was to reproduce the product photos on the Adafruit website (which I’ve always admired).
Perry Sun logo with dimensions

My butt was saved by a PC from 2010

My main computer is a MacBook Pro. I use it every day for my job as a Product Marketing Manager, and every night for working on side projects or just kicking around.

The other computer I own is a PC, originally purchased with the anticipation that I would get into gaming.

The MacBook Pro is not much more than a few years old. The PC, on the other hand, is now 11 years old (!). It still runs nicely, but I barely use it nowadays (maybe once a week).

Due for repair

For a period of time last year, the PC replaced the Mac as my main machine. Let me explain.

My MacBook Pro needed to be serviced by Apple to address defects in the keyboard. It qualified under Apple’s special recall program to repair or replace problematic keyboards at their expense. (The cause was a novel but ill-fated “butterfly” switch design in 2015-2019 MacBooks. Refer to this blog post for more information.)

I bought the MacBook Pro in July 2017. Apple’s keyboard service program would expire after 4 years from the initial purchase, which meant that I had until July 2021 to claim a free repair for my Mac.

I wanted to get the Mac serviced in 2020, but that wasn’t possible due to Apple Stores shut down for most of the year. The first opportunity finally came up the following spring, so I immediately took advantage.

A PC from 2010 comes to the rescue

But very soon after I dropped off my Mac at the local Apple Store, I came to the realization that I had a big problem.

At work, we were in the midst of a major product launch. One thing I urgently needed to do was create graphical animations to help promote the features of the new product.

Animated content creation requires ample computing power and Adobe After Effects, both available in my Mac. But without it in hand, I was stuck!

Or so I thought. I wondered if my 11-year old gaming PC would be up to the task. After all, I had used this PC for years with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

My gaming PC from 2010

Let me tell you a little more about this PC.

  • I ordered a custom-built, fully decked-out computer in 2010. It had all the latest specs and features, and I thought I would use it to get into gaming.
  • A few years later, I decided to splurge on a high-end graphics card for the PC. Along the way, I also beefed up the RAM.
  • As it turns out, I never got into gaming. So for over a decade, the PC was overkill for most of my everyday activities with it.

Continuing my story – I decided to install After Effects and see how it ran on a 2010 machine. Other than a small amount of lag (when compared to the Mac), I was actually able to do everything necessary to execute my projects. Amazing!

A helpful factor in making this a success was doing the production in 1080p. It might well have been less than favorable if I was working in 4K.

Yes, you can use an old PC for 4K video editing!

While I was using this computer for work projects, I also wanted to create a video. And yes, this machine from 2010 served just fine for a 4K production. Below is what I published while my Mac was in the shop.

How is it possible to do 4K editing on an old computer? It’s pretty simple. You create what is known as a proxy, which is a lower resolution of the original 4K camera footage that you use for editing and processing. Typically, proxies are created at HD resolution, sometimes even lower.

Once you’ve finished your editing and other work, the final video is rendered using the original footage.

It’s very common for video content creators to edit with proxies. It’s what makes it possible to work with 4K video without having to upgrade to the latest and greatest Mac or PC. It even makes 8K editing a reality today.

Without using proxies, it would surely have been difficult to scrub through 4K video on the PC. Again, I was amazed and impressed at what this machine could still do today.

Takeaways

This experience reinforced two things I’ve always known about buying computers. First, a PC (or Mac) can last far longer than you might realize. I think most PCs or Macs should be able to provide 4 to 5 years of very useful life. The exceptions would be if you are a dedicated gamer, or a serious video creator – both typically chase after the technical bleeding edge which translates to the fastest and most powerful processing available.

The second takeaway from using my old PC is that it’s all too easy to go overkill on the computer you think you need. We always think having the latest and greatest, the most CPU and graphics processing we can afford is the way to go when buying a new machine. But if it ends up lasting well over 5 years with no trouble, it’s a very good sign you over-specified your computer in the first place.

The good news, however, is that you won’t have to buy a new one for at least a while longer. PCs really do have greater longevity than you think.

Warren Buffet writes his own stuff… and so should you

Warren Buffet just published his annual, legendary, letter to his shareholders. It’s 14 pages and he’s been doing this since at least 1965.

If you peer into this letter, you’ll know definitively that it was written by him. (The dead giveaway is the first-person prose throughout the writing.)

I’m a great admirer of Buffet for this reason: he communicates in a manner that is unassuming, absolutely straight-up, and honest. Whenever you read his letters or listen to him in interviews, you’ll always notice his down-to-earth, direct tone of voice.

Buffet of course is deeply passionate about what he does in running a very large business conglomerate. He’s proud of the successes of the many companies owned or invested by Berkshire Hathaway (such as Geico, Apple, and Coca-Cola).

A key part of Berkshire’s success is Buffet connecting to their shareholders. And when he does, he feels the need to communicate through his own words to convey his assessments, inner feelings, and points of view.

And that’s the very reason why Buffet writes his own letter every year.

Valuing good written communications

I really feel businesses, corporations, executives, and all working professionals can do more to appreciate the ability to communicate through writing.

A lot more, in fact.

Writing is something far too often taken for granted. Everyone says they can easily write something if they wanted to, but they just don’t have the time.

That’s an excuse.

So what’s the quick solution when written communication is needed? Hire someone on Upwork or Fiverr to do the ghostwriting. Or, push the task on a lower-level worker.

Either way, you’re just hoping for the best, but in reality there’s a high likelihood of a disconnect between what is produced and what was expected.

Warren Buffet is a billionaire. He can find the the time to write his own stuff. So can Bill Gates and many other luminaries. (Buffett has said he’ll spend many months throughout the year, writing and refining his drafts in stages.)

Good writing is simple, honest articulation of thoughts and statements. It usually comes from people that really know what they’re talking about and have a deep affinity at the same time.

Farming essential writing out to someone else is very often a cop-out. Unfortunately, I’m seeing this more nowadays with even entry to mid-level marketers who think they’re too overloaded to sit down and write something that speaks to the essential value proposition necessary to promote their products.

Or worse, that writing is something “beneath” their position within the company.

The answer of course is to turn to freelancers. That may adequately do the job in the short term, but it does nothing to build your own personal confidence. Or for that matter, your own value proposition.

At higher levels of a company, using your authentic writing to reach out to your colleagues and customers can be incredibly rewarding. You’ll make them feel valued and connected. And over time, that will feed into a virtuous cycle of positive loyalty and trust.

So what can you do?

We all need to write content from time to time. And when you do, it’s always a great opportunity to be a little more conscientious in how you express yourself through words. Just doing that alone can help hone your instinct in writing to your audience.

You can take advantage of written communication opportunities within your company. For example, if you’re a product manager, you can be proactive in posting to your company’s message boards to explain a specific feature of a new product you’ve just launched. In doing so, your sales team will feel more engaged and better informed.

Another great opportunity is to contribute to your company’s blog. It’s a great way to reach out to your customers in a more direct, informal manner than your standard array of marketing collateral (datasheet, press release, etc.).

As you write more and more over time, you’ll find your confidence and natural instincts evolving.

Beyond your professional life, you can have a personal blog to talk about your interests, and get more writing experience at the same time. Or simply be a little more deliberate in what you’re saying when posting on social media, or writing an email.

That’s a great way to share your interests with others, while also giving yourself a chance to express yourself through words. Each time you do, you’ll gain a little more mastery in your natural ability to communicate, and bring it back to your professional life.

The 3 pillars of marketing content

The 3 pillars of marketing - collateral, web, and video

Content is always the central focus of any company’s marketing operations. Without content, marketing can’t perform its most fundamental task: communication.

There’s so many types of content you can create to engage your salesforce and your customers.

I like to think marketing content generally falls into 3 categories, or ‘pillars’ as I refer to in the title of this blog post.

Before I get into these categories, I’d first like to establish the context, since the type of content you create depends on the nature of your company or business.

  • I’m approaching this from a B2B (business-to-business) perspective, rather than B2C (business-to-consumer).
  • My experience is with technology companies, for which content is frequently necessary to properly explain products of a complex, technical nature.

Collateral

Collateral is the classic term for marketing content. Traditionally, marketing collateral is defined as material that is read on a page. This includes:

  • Customer-facing material such as product brochures, case studies, catalog pages, advertisements, and press releases. On the web, there are product pages and dedicated landing pages. Many businesses have their own blogs with regularly published articles.
  • Content specifically for technical and technology products, including white papers, datasheets (also referred to as specification sheet or cut sheets), and technical guides (sometimes known as design or technology guides).
  • Materials for sales training (or sales enablement), including product training slide decks (sometimes narrated), battlecards to help the sales team position themselves against competitors, and documents that further explain product features and customer benefits.

As part of sales enablement, marketing may be requested to create specific content to help influence a sale, lure a prospective customer away from a competitor, or better help a customer understand how a product functions or satisfies a specific requirement.

Additionally, you may need to produce collateral for customer accounts and channels. If you have distribution partners, for example, you’ll often be requested to assist with their product training and web content initiatives.

Traditionally, marketing collateral has always been printed, but now typically appears as webpages and PDFs. There is still some value in providing printed material, most notably to hand over information to a customer after a face-to-face sales meeting.

Web

In the previous section, I mentioned several types of marketing content that reside on the web. So why even talk about the web here?

The reason: when it comes to web content, there is so much more than the words and artwork on a webpage.

Someone is responsible for the overall look and feel of the company’s website – colors, fonts, navigation, user experience, accessibility, mobile-friendly responsiveness, visual designs for new landing pages and microsites, and so much more.

These all generally fall to marketing. In fact, when it comes to anything web, visible or not, that is marketing’s domain.

  • Website management and maintenance. Marketing is usually accountable for making sure the company’s website is fast at all times, secure, and all essential components up to date. The responsibility includes working with IT and developers to resolve issues promptly.
  • Website content development. Marketing creates wireframes and mockups as the first step in creating new webpages. Some may proceed to final production with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript or PHP, or collaborate with in-house or outsourced developers.
  • Web applications. Many businesses face the challenge of selling complex, technical products. Custom-built web applications can help customers better understand them by way of interactive product demos, configuration tools, and even system design assistance. For further convenience, some applications allow a user to export a BOM (bill of materials) and specification documents.

Web apps are the newest and most important frontier for web-related content, offering new and novel capabilities to facilitate understanding of products and streamlining critical buying decisions.

Video

Some people like to associate videos as part of web content. That’s partly understandable since videos predominantly reside on the web.

But I strongly believe videos belong in their own category. Video production is altogether a distinct domain from the web.

Creating videos is a lot of work and really time-consuming – especially for a business!

When is comes to making a new video, there are a lot of moving parts to take into account.

It all begins with the initial scope, followed by detailed planning and coordination, then proceeding with filming primary and B-roll footage. Sometimes you need to generate animated content as well, usually with Adobe After Effects.

Afterward, it’s the long, exhaustive post-production processes such as editing and color grading – and then finally, generating the final render and publishing onto the web and (usually) YouTube or Vimeo.

Let’s summarize the general types of video content commonly associated with a company or business.

  • Product introduction videos. These are almost always part of a product launch. Most people today prefer to learn about a new product by watching a video, rather than reading paragraphs of text on a product page or datasheet.
  • Product information videos. It’s often necessary to follow up an introduction video with additional content to cover specific features and capabilities. Additionally, these videos are sometimes created to help drive more demand for a product.
  • Short video clips. These are often created for a product or landing page, or social media posts. They can be effective in illustrating a key feature, for example, or provide a quick digest in place of a formal product intro video. It’s not uncommon to create clips as animations without any camera footage.
  • Live / recorded streaming content. This includes webinars and customer-centric events with the intent to present naturally to customers (as if in an event with a live audience). They’re frequently used for product training, part of a new launch campaign, and to help keep customers up to date on a company’s most recent product offerings.
  • Sales training videos. These are perhaps the easiest to create, since they’re made for internal purposes and don’t necessarily require high production quality. In fact, it’s possible to generate an effective training video using PowerPoint.

Looking for a better Adobe CC deal?

Currently the cost for an Adobe Create Cloud subscription is $52.99 per month. That is pretty steep for many, including myself.

In 2019, just before Black Friday Adobe offered a smoking deal of $29.99 monthly for one year. I took advantage of that deal and enjoyed the discount until it expired November 2020.

For this Black Friday season there was no such deal available, just a $39.99 per month special for new subscribers only.

I felt stuck until I remembered that companies often will dangle last-minute offers if you decide to cancel your subscription. So I tried that, and it worked – discount for another year!

To see if you can get score a discount, first go into your Adobe account and look at the details of your CC plan. Then click the option to cancel.

You’ll first need to enter your password to confirm your identity, and then you’ll be greeted with this screen.

You’ll need to answer whether you’re sure you want to cancel, and then you’ll get the warnings about what will happen to your files and access when you cancel.

Then you should see some offers, like this for me.

Note that Adobe tried to lure me into what was labeled as the “best offer” when it really wasn’t.

What you’ll see is likely to vary. But nonetheless it’s well worth looking into any available deals.

If your subscription is currently discounted, it may be better to wait until just after that has elapsed. Any offer you choose will apply immediately, and if applicable you’ll receive a pro-rated refund for the current month. If the offers you see aren’t appealing, you can always quit the cancellation process and go back.

P.S. Creative Bloq regularly posts Adobe CC deals on a dedicated page. It’s definitely worth monitoring, especially around the Black Friday / Cyber Monday period.

Creating content requires great effort and time

I’ve been working in marketing for 16 years. I can tell you that by far, the greatest challenge in marketing is…

… creating quality content.

Content creation is the single most important aspect of any company’s marketing initiatives.

It always takes more time than you think, and involves more effort than you might have imagined. Everyone believes they’re able to create content, but few do so on a regular basis.

Because of this, most of us don’t have good visibility into what it takes to create content, and very good quality content at that.

As content creators we all go into a project thinking it will take maybe a few days, when it ends up taking a week or more. We all think, “it just takes 3 or 4 steps to complete” when it’s really more like 10 to 15.

Recently, I’ve been hearing some YouTubers lament about the time and sheer amount of work it takes to create a polished video.

A video production requires planning, scripting, shooting, editing, color grading, creating B-roll content, and bringing it all together for the final rendering with transitions, opening and closing titles, bed track for background music, etc.

All that can add up to as much as 40 hours for a start-to-finish production for a 10 to 15 minute video clip. That’s in the range of what I’ve actually heard from some YouTube creators.

Even an 800- 1,000 word copywriting project can take the better part of a day. I know this darn well, being a professional copywriter for many years.

If you don’t create content regularly, you think of the process as beginning with typing your first word and continuing, linearly and consecutively, to your 1,000th. No interruptions in between.

Try sitting down and writing a 1,000 word piece on your own. It has to be something related to your business, not one of your hobbies in which you can just ramble on with casual babble.

If you can consistently type away from start to finish with no editing, re-reading, refining, iteration, or re-scoping – and the final result is always perfectly structured and business communication-worthy – then congratulate yourself as an incredible genius.

You’re clearly in the wrong career.

What will the transition to Apple silicon mean for Mac users?

In a nutshell, you’re going to benefit a lot if you’re someone with both feet in the Mac and iOS camps, someone who cherishes the mobility of a laptop, and someone who develops apps and websites on a Mac.

macOS Big Sur desktop screen shot
Source: Apple

Let me explain a bit further.

  • With future Macs, iOS developers will easily be able to make available their apps with no extra development effort. Your Mac in effect becomes another iOS device so you can readily access the same productivity and entertainment apps you use on your iPhone and iPad.
  • Apple is promising dramatically better computing efficiency from their future Macs over Intel processing technology. If this pans out, then it means you’ll be able to get much better battery performance, and hopefully with less heat radiated (leading to longer life). This could be great if you consider yourself highly mobile and constantly need “all-day” availability from a laptop.
  • The new Macs will not only offer the benefits enjoyed for years by software developers, but will also allow virtualization for running Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, SUSE, or Fedora. If you’re a Mac person that also wants or regularly needs ready access to Linux, then this will make you feel right at home.

There are two more potential benefits to the future Macs running on Apple silicon: the ability to provide custom features and capabilities specific to the new chips, and also develop and launch new Macs with greater control over supply chain availability. The latter means Apple won’t have to rely on a third-party (Intel) to make new Macs available to their customers.

Unfortunately, there are going to be some downsides to consider, as well – at least in the two-year transition Apple has defined for moving away from Intel.

  • You’re going to be relying on developers to update their x86 apps to run natively on Apple silicon (ARM). If not, there is still a path forward via emulation, but performance may be compromised somewhat.
  • Generally speaking, you won’t be able to run Windows on your future ARM-powered Mac. Apple is still going to be supporting its Intel-based Macs well into future and is working on new ones as well, so you won’t feel the need to rush into the transition.
  • Just speculation at this point, but power Mac users are likely to have to rely on their beefy Intel-powered machines for at least a while longer – it’s likely the first Apple chips will not yet be as capable.

Apple is not abandoning Intel anytime soon

Despite all the excitement and grandeur around Apple’s long-anticipated announcement that it’s embarking on a two-year transition to Macs powered by its own ARM-based processors, Tim Cook did let slip out the following at the very end:

In fact, we have some Intel-based Macs in the pipeline that we’re really excited about.

(Cook also affirmed that Apple will continue to issue OS updates for Intel-powered Macs for years to come.)

So, why then is Apple is even bothering to launch more Intel-powered Macs, despite expecting to ship their first ARM-powered Mac at the end of 2020?

Benchmarking may hold the answer

The reason may lie in one thing no one is yet able to do outside of Apple: benchmark Mac performance in a head-to-head comparison between Apple and Intel’s processing capabilities.

This is a just a guess, but I’m sensing there’s enough of a concern right now that Apple’s processors, while more than capable to power future Macs, may currently still fall short of the most powerful Intel CPUs.

Once they’re able, techo-geeks are sure to scrutinize the capabilities of the new Macs, just as they would any other new computer.

What this possibly means is that for the foreseeable future, the real die-hard content creators demanding ultra-powerful computing will still need Intel-powered Macs, thereby compelling Apple to cater to them.

The other reason for Apple to keep selling Intel-powered Macs has to do with maintaining revenue. Many hardcore users rely on the x86 architecture to allow running Windows in a dual-boot or virtualization scenario.

Cutting off these users would likely just make them jump over to Windows for good.