I’m a fairly good marketer because of three things:
I seek the truth like a good journalist.
I have a doctorate in Fine Arts (emphasis essentially in storytelling).
and from an ethical perspective I want to ensure that the story I tell is true (not just technically, but perceptually).
I think it matters that the impression you create in a story actually rings true in reality, and not just in some small, narrow, legal-definitional sense. I strive for that in all the work I do because the story isn’t worth telling if it’s a lie or someone will feel had post-transaction. I’m in it for the truth and the long-term.
But the thing I hate most is marketing myself. It’s not that I’m incapable, but any reduction of a human person is inherently untrue. All human beings contain multitudes―so too do I.
However, the below tweet has reminded me of the importance of at least sharing things I’ve done more publicly.
It’s not that I’ve tried to hide things, but spending the past nearly decade at startup/incubators in the healthcare space and more recently a non-profit have been situations where the work I’ve done has been huge in scope, fast by necessity, and in most cases private by default.
That’s a far cry from the work I did as an artist/educator which was able to be vibrantly public (see #2510s project, for example, and the accompanying exercises). I’ve since done much other work, but I’ve neglected to organize it in a single location and in some fashion as to make it digestible for others. You’d be forgiven for not knowing about my visual art/graphic design showings at some coffee shops (because I mostly didn’t mention them), and my 3×5 project (which is probably somewhere online), and my photo manipulation project of soft squares (which I just found yesterday while cleaning up some photo files).
You probably didn’t know about a brief series I did on the negative space between bicycle frames.
Or my flat, cartoonish, object series (some below).
None of this includes the work I’ve done writing code, parsing data, researching, or any other number of things. It’s missing the work I’ve put in learning blender and creating new and interesting things there, often for the Fedora Linux project as a designer.
You can’t know if I don’t tell you.
So I’m going to try to take some time to arrange these things in a singular location in categories that make sense. And, honestly, not just for you―but for me. I honestly forget most things I work on, because I work on so many things.
The trick, as always, with art is to know when something is finished.
A number of years ago I was trying to learn python. Random numbers have always amused me (as I was recently reminded by a twitter nod to the weird usage of spreadsheets).
A user named @context_ing tweeted: “I love finding the ways in which people use spreadsheets. Personally, I use them for mostly budgeting, workout tracking and travel planning. Here’s a few in the wild I’ve found. Would love to see more! Please share if you’ve come across any or have any yourself.”
I felt compelled to reply with my own little story. “Reminds me of a decade old excel project. A playwriting book said something like “I guess it would be a play if you cut up words from a dictionary and pulled them out one-by-one, arranging them into lines of 10 words under character names, but it wouldn’t be a very good one.” So I took the entire public domain text of Oscar Wilde’s classic and had Excel recreate the play on every reopen of the file by randomly selecting words and character names I think using a vlookup and random. The result was interesting (and likely bad theatre).”
The text in question (blasted tweet limits!) was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The resulting play was garbage, but that random interger generation was magical. When combined with other functions it really could do wonderful things for art.
Fast forward some (10?) years and I had a different problem to deal with: I needed to seamlessly transition all staff and clients from one grouping of technology services at one company to a different group of technology services at a new and different non-profit that was going to just continue doing basically the same work for basically the same people.
To remove almost all complexity from this story: I needed passwords; lots of random, unique, and strong passwords.
I once again turned to my friend the random number generator, but this time in python rather than excel. I coded up a script that would allow me to specify the number of words I wanted, unique separator I desired, and―importantly―how many of these unique passwords I wanted to be generated in one go.
I had the program roll digital dice and lookup words from the EFF’s Diceware password list and then spit them out. People would get their passwords and privately think I was just very adept at coming up with wacky sounding passwords, but I did not deserve this misconception as random integers were to blame for everything.
Eventually I thought it would be a good idea to create a sort of Public Service Announcement on the web about the odd truth that a list of words obtained by rolling dice really can be unique.
The end result is a Twitter bot and a Mastodon bot that very frequently tweet out unique passwords they’ve generated (though you probably shouldn’t use them). More people follow on Mastodon than Twitter, and Twitter relatively frequently blocks my bot’s tweets makes me unnecessarily prove that there’s a human behind the bot to get things going again (anyone at Twitter can explain this?).
At any rate, here’s some examples embedded below. Note that I also added the Harry Potter wordlist as well. There are others for your enjoyment on EFF’s site.
Lastly, there are infinitely better versions of this if you’re looking to generate a password. I’d recommend the much more easily installed passphraseme by Micah Lee.
The WPA has long been a source of inspiration, awe, and and envy for me. With an extensive background in the arts and theater, the very concept of the government directly investing in the arts in a profound way that leaves a deep impact not only at the time but nearly a century later is something akin to the creation of fire―and the arts was only a part of that wonderful project.
The recent centrality of the Green New Deal―with it’s framing firmly and clearly recalling the New Deal, from which the WPA emerged―has allowed that previous envy to turn to a weird nostalgic hope that my own lifetime might have such a force of art unleashed on the nation.
And if you haven’t read the Green New Deal take the below, easily accessible links, as me encouraging you to read it. I highly recommend the attractively formatted 14-page PDF version, but here are both: [html] [pdf]
So entwined is this national history of art (even the stylistic components) that as the Green New Deal has continued to grasp the imagination of climate activists it was even promoted by commissioned artwork recalling that distant past.
I’ve long been musing and meandering internally about somehow contributing artistically to this Green New Deal reality that I would like to exist. Sanders’ movement was and is a part of that reality and seemed the most obvious conduit through which to achieve it.
It still is.
Noam Chomsky’s musing on the Sanders campaign―notably distinct from the movement―was instructive for me:
It’s common to say now that the Sanders campaign failed. I think that’s a mistake. I think it was an extraordinary success, completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion. Issues that were unthinkable a couple years ago are now right in the middle of attention.
The worst crime he committed, in the eyes of the establishment, is not the policy he’s proposing; it’s the fact that he was able to inspire popular movements, which had already been developing — Occupy, Black Lives Matter, many others — and turn them into an activist movement, which doesn’t just show up every couple years to push a leader and then go home, but applies constant pressure, constant activism and so on. That could affect a Biden administration.
So in addition to the nice quote and concept of “constant pressure, constant activism,” this comment helped me to contemplate what Sanders’ Not me. Us. movement might look like without the Not me part―just Us, graphically.
Yes, it is extremely basic, and no, I can’t say I thought about everything fully here from a design and/or marketing perspective as I was just making a poster with a nice quote, but the simplicity of US being on the bottom center of an otherwise empty sign for many reasons felt right.
Underdog: Us isn’t on the top… yet.
True Center: Us isn’t even really on the left―Us is center.
Young/Small: Us isn’t big enough… yet.
Acronym: Us is also the U.S.
Sans Sanders: Us doesn’t have a Me that it’s not anymore―it’s just Us.
On the last bullet point: I did briefly contemplate having aNot me on top of the Us, but it’s not needed and it’s not the point. There’s a beautiful simplicity and solidarity in the lone US on a sign, especially when it’s held by characters drawn between 1936 and 1940 as part of the WPA, which was part of the original New Deal, originally to promote books (and presumably the scary socialist libraries that house them). You can see artist Arlington Gregg’s other WPA poster work at the Library of Congress.
Let me know what you think of this thing. And, as the Sanders yard sign was recently stolen from my font yard I’m thinking of replacing it with an “US” yard sign. It might look nice for a minute before it disappears, but it’s meaning would live on.
This is the original playscript I wrote for The Art of Python that took place at PyCon U.S. in 2019. I additionally performed the piece at PyCon with the directorial help of Sumana Harihareswara and the stage management work and acting performance as the Figure by Mel Chua.
There were some changes to this script for the live performance. I created slides for the event and they were displayed behind me during the performance and are presented throughout the script below as images.
(slide reads: “THE VOID”)
(the stage is empty. We can make out one person, a figure, front and center.)
(staring, wide-eyed, excited, past the audience – beat * 3)
(slide reads: “This is Kyle –”)
(beat * 3)
(slide reads: “he’s learning the new skill of –”)
(Terrified / heavy breathing / beat * 1)
(slide reads: “computer programming –”)
(Covers his eyes with one hand, twists away from the audience as if what he is about to do might blind him, and clicks a single finger down on an imaginary ENTER key. Bright lights up full. Beat * 3 – he peaks through his fingers.)
It worked? It worked! Ha ha! Yes! Look at that. There it is: “Hello, World!” (Hand on hips – power pose) And you thought this programming thing would be hard.
(slide reads: “but Kyle was in for – “)
(Red lights, loud, blaring sirens)
(Kyle freezes in a macabre, horrific expression and body position)
(slide reads: “– a rude awakening.”)
Not a Programmer
(slide reads: “on not being a programmer”)
No, I’m not a programmer, I’m just better than you are at excel spreadsheets.
(click sound. beat.)
No, I’m not a programmer, I just figured out how to use this query-like syntax with your data in Google’s spreadsheets.
(click sound. beat.)
No, I’m not a programmer. It’s just a little bash script I wrote that helps me journal better from my phone, laptop, and desktop.
(click sound. beat.)
Ha! I wouldn’t say I’m a programmer, I just needed to batch download a really big list of files from a service we were using and python seemed easiest after a google search.
I’m sorry, what?
No, yeah―it did work―ran for about 80 hours straight before finishing. Lots of files.
(click sound. beat.)
Okay―fine―I’m doing some programming: but I’m not really a programmer…
Picking a Language
(slide reads: “on picking a programming language”)
Hi. My name is Kyle and I’ve decided to become a programmer. Several blog posts, books, and twitter surveys have lead me to believe that it is of the utmost importance that I:
(the next sequence is rapid-fire)
(between each beat are quick head, body, and vocal tone adjustments)
(very short beat. matter-of-fact:)
Learn Visual Basic, because my high school teacher gave me a book one time and I can probably find that in my basement if I look hard enough.
(very short beat. sarcastic:)
Learn Bash, because it’s already installed on the self-inflicted torture device known as my Linux Desktop.
(very short beat. in jest:)
Learn emacs lisp, because you’ve already invested the time into memorizing emacs keybindings and you’ve heard it could use a good text editor.
(very short beat. whatever:)
Learn Go because people talk about it on twitter a lot and it was created by Google.
(very short beat. haughty:)
Learn COBOL because it’ll always need maintaining, and it pays the best in my geographic location.
(very short beat. overheard/whisper:)
Learn Python because it’s the “second best language at everything.”
(very short beat. honest:)
(very short beat. snooty:)
Learn R, because it’s the best language at data analysis and graphical representation.
(very short beat. authoritative:)
Learn HTML and CSS because you can make things on the internet―oh, wait―nevermind―there’s disagreement as to whether or not these are programming languages?
(beat. drop all pretense. speak directly to audience―with pure, sincere, exasperation:)
Am I really learning programming if I just know something like “hello, world!” in 10 programming languages!?
… and HTML and CSS?
(slide reads: “submitting a question to stack overflow”)
(Kyle appears frustrated, staring straight ahead and typing in furious bursts.)
Python. Sort. Array. Count. Items. … Search.
No. No. No way! What? No.
(loud sigh. lowered head. stretch neck. he tries again:)
Python. Array. Group-by-count.
(beat. tilts head:)
Oh. No. No, no, no. Not that, kind of…
(beat. types again)
SQL group by with python?
Hey! That’s kind of it…
Oh! Rude! That’s not a helpful or kind response. Do I even want to submit the question here?―mean!―I already don’t know what to ask or how to ask it and apparently that’s a reason to say that you shouldn’t even ask the question.
Maybe I’ll just figure it out myself…>
(a transition. Kyle is holding a rubber duck.)
I’ve heard talking to you helps…
(slide reads: “Kyle works.”)
(duck is gone. cracking knuckles and stretching:)
Done―well, an example anyway, explaining exactly what I want to do and suffers the same problem as my actual work. But I still don’t know how to solve it.
Submit to stack overflow? Submit?
(resolve. clicks enter confidently:)
An answer!―that does basically what I need―and they think I asked a good question―and I got fake internet points!
Okay then. Maybe I can do this.
(slide reads: “on going to a meetup”)
(hands in pockets. kicking dirt. retelling:)
So, I was sick of trying to learn things on my own―by myself, in my basement―and I found a meetup online. It was at a chain soup and sandwich place on a Saturday.
I clicked “attending” and went.
(miming what’s described.)
I got my laptop charged up, threw it in my laptop bag along with a notebook, a pen, and my charger, and slung it over my shoulder and headed in.
I guess I didn’t know what I was expecting? When I walked in and scanned the room looking for more than like four college students with their laptops open over coffee. There they were―I think. Play it cool!
I headed to the counter and ordered a coffee―maybe I’d get thirsty―and walked up: “Is this the python group?”
(uncomfortable smile, holding breath and upright―more uncomfortable long beat…)
It was. That’s what it felt like―forever. They were nice. Young. Old. Macs, Linuxes, and Windows. Qwerty, Colemak, and Dvorak. Gnome and i3. Emacs and Vim and VSCode and Sublime. Working in finance, consulting, healthcare, insurance, startups, and going to college.
They were just people.
I didn’t learn much about programming that day―I did learn that there are real people in real life who care about some of the things I do.
I needed to reach out to more of them.
(break fourth wall. wink.)
Sending an email to a stranger in tech.
(slide reads: “on sending an email to a stranger in tech”)
(straight to audience. single light.)
(like an awkward introduction at a job interview. exasperated:)
Hi. I’m Kyle. I’m new here. I want to get better at this technology thing. Can you help me? You seem like you could help me.
’cause I need a lot of help.
(ding sound. beat. overly formal:)
Hello. My name is Kyle R. Conway. I have a PhD … in Fine Arts … and you do art … and so do I … but you also do tech things … tech things with art. I would like to do what you do. May I join you?
(extends hand for handshake. beat. wide eyes. beat. more intense.)
(ding sound. beat. casual:)
Hey, tech blogger. I really liked your post about unpackaged fonts with permissive licenses. I think that’s really cool.
(ding sound. beat. rapid-fire round. cheeky:)
(ding sound. beat. Irish:)
(ding sound. beat. concerned:)
I promise I’m not a creepy stranger.
(ding sound. beat. intense:)
I. Am. Your. Biggest. Fan.
(gong sound. rubbing eyes. honest:)
This is never going to work.
(quick fade. slide reads: “Kyle’s actual first email to a stranger in tech.”)
Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 11:36 PM> Máirín, Would the “Nina” font meet the criteria for inclusion? http://www.archive.org/details/NinaPaleyFonts Thanks, KYLE
(slide reads: “Thanks for writing back, Máirín”)
The Figure and the Void.
(A figure stands alone in the darkness.)
(The figure shouts with naive confidence into the void a single word:)
(The figure finishes the phrase―now a question:)
(figure stands awkwardly, concerned, awaitang a response with growing insecurity.)