Good News Update

Beer in Hoi An

I’ve spent the past month bunkered down in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, working on a little project that I’ve been thinking about for about a year now. It’s an email newsletter focussed on ‘good news’ that attempts to balance a news cycle that favours the shocking, gruesome and grotesque.

It’s been an interesting time going through the many large and small decisions that come with starting an enterprise. I’ve tried to mix both the necessary admin like registering domains and social media accounts with the big picture stuff like validating the idea.

I drafted some emails and became semi-familiar with Mailchimp in an effort to craft some decent looking campaigns – I found the software incredibly easy to use. I’ve researched successful newsletters like The Skimm, The Hustle and Finimize. I played around with content and wrote two weeks worth of newsletters.

When I was ready I asked a group of friends to give some feedback on the idea, and signed up 20 of them for a little trial which is running now – I’ve scheduled the first four emails through Mailchimp.

In the meantime I’ve been working on setting up the website – I wanted something basic in WordPress but got so frustrated trying to customise it myself that I switched to Squarespace. At $30 AUD per month it’s more than I’d like to pay but it’s very easy to get up and running quickly, so I plan on looking for a more permanent solution later.

I’ve also been looking in to the business admin side of things – I toyed with setting up a company in the USA using Strip Atlas, or becoming an e-resident in Estonia, both of which look like interesting high-tech options. I settled with the cheapest and easiest option for me – becoming a sole trader in Australia. The only cost was registering the name of the business for $36.

I am vaguely aware that there are some tax implications of this business structure, so I searched for some online accounting software. Xero seems to be the clear leader in this space, but since I haven’t started and have no plans for revenue yet I didn’t want another $25 per month subscription. I did a bit of research and went with Wave, a cloud provider who have easy connections to bank accounts so I can import my credit card transactions and highlight the relevant expenses.

At times it seems like everything is coming together and on other days I feel like I wasted hours tinkering in WordPress to no avail. Overall it’s been a great learning experience so far and I’m really enjoying the process of setting things up!

I’m now in Hoi An, toasting the new venture with my Hannah, my partner in crime. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all goes!

Vale Anthony Bourdain

I first heard the news about Anthony Bourdain coming home from a night out in Ho Chi Minh City. Part of the reason we were in Vietnam was because of Bourdain – he evangelised the country and its food and I hung on his every word.

I looked up to Bourdain – he was a fantastic writer, a traveller and a lover of street food. I was first introduced to him watching No Reservations, one of the iterations of his television show. I read Kitchen Confidential in Costa Rica, and soon devoured his follow up books. His cookbook (illustrated by Ralph Steadman of Gonzo fame) has pride of place in our kitchen at home. His shows were about more than food – he shone a light on our shared humanity through food and booze.

He was curious, adventurous and non-judgmental. Nothing was ‘weird’, just different to our limited definition of ‘normal’, a definition he encouraged us all to expand. He was and will continue to be an enormous inspiration to me and many others.

He left behind a fantastic body of work – you can read about him in this great piece in the New Yorker, browse The New York Times ‘best of Anthony Bourdain’ or check out his life through photos over at Esquire.

I’ll aim to do him proud by spending the next two months sitting at small plastic tables, eating delicious local street food, sinking cold Vietnamese beers and sharing conversations in the country that he loved visiting most. I hope he has found peace. Vale Anthony Bourdain.

 

Searching for Syria – evocative use of media

Searching for Syria - Screenshot

SearchingForSyria.org is a website put together by the UNHCR in partnership with Google. It’s a great example of storytelling on the web, using fantastic photos and an interactive site to convey a message.

More like a powerpoint presentation than a traditional website, navigation is minimised and stunning, full screen images take centre stage. “What was Syria like before the war” engenders empathy – google searches, Gorillaz concerts and days at the beach highlight universality, hammered home by personal stories and anecdotes.

Content and messaging is easy to read and clever use of media (like overlaid before and after photos with a sliding divider) amplify the words. The stories and images are truly horrific, and the statistics break your heart.

I think that efforts like this are really crucial in helping people understand the breath taking magnitude of a crisis like this and more importantly breaking down stereotypes and emphasising the human connection, the sameness in all of us.

The Best of Journalism

Conor Friedersdorf  is one of my favourite writers, and one (along with Sam Harris) that I turn to for nuanced (and counter-intuitive) takes on current affairs.

He puts together a “Best of Journalism” newsletter and each year publishes a list of over 100 exceptional pieces of journalism. This is an amazing snapshot of long form, investigative journalism that will keep you interested for hours.

Get lost in the abyss here.