Note: I wrote this article in August, but I didn't realize it wasn't published
until October. I kept the published date as it was, but if you didn't see it
before well, that's why.
Are you familiar with a small streaming company called "Netflix"? If so, you
might recognize their opening sound.
And even if you don't, you might have
seen one of their multiple recent press campaigns regarding this topic.
From a recent episode of the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast
on all the sound choices that go into their logo to their announcement that
Hans Zimmer has worked on making it longer for cinema productions.
What none of those articles are saying is that this sound is also
the sound of Kevin Spacey hitting a desk at the end of Season 2 of
House of Cards. Yes,
that House of Cards, the critically-acclaimed series that made Netflix' stock jump
a 70 percent even before it started
and put Netflix on the map.
If I were a Netflix executive back then, I would be proud of having the series
as part of my corporate identity.
If I were an executive today, however, I would be terrified of people forever
remembering that my company's official sound, the one that plays before every
show, was first heard in a scene with an actor that has been very publicly
accused of sexual assault
in 2017. So I can understand why someone would feel that a change
is needed, and I'm all for it. No one is blaming Netflix (as far as I know) for
not running background checks on their actors.
Having said that, it seems that Netflix has gone all the way to completely erase
that any of this ever happened, in what has to be the most pointless
history rewrites in some time. In the above-mentioned podcast, a sound engineer
talks about all the sounds that came together to compose the current Netflix sound,
from a ring on a cabinet to the sound of an anvil, with no mention whatsoever
of Kevin Spacey hitting any desks.
Suffice to say, I was confused by this omission, so I dug a bit more and found
a Facebook post from August 2019 from the
Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast official account, where they posted:
"I'm convinced the @netflix sonic logo was originally built from Frank Underwood banging on
the desk at the end of House of Cards Season 2. BUT, I'm dying to know who
enhanced it! I can't find anything online! (...)".
I can only conclude that the "it's a ring on a cabinet" story is technically true
and a sound engineer has actually used it to enhance Kevin Spacey's desk
banging sound, but they conveniently "forgot" to mention the relation between
these two facts. One of the answers to this Quora question
mentions that "The tapping on the table with his (Kevin Spacey) ring is
associated with completing a mission or one of his plans being accomplished",
which sheds even more light into why they were banging rings on furniture to
begin with. And let's pray that the hand wearing the ring wasn't Kevin Spacey's...
None of this is mentioned in the podcast. As for the longer version
composed by Hans Zimmer,
it does not include the original soundbite at all. I
believe that Netflix is going on a PR campaign to rewrite their history, has
convinced the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast people to just go with it, and have
so far been very successful.
And yet, I have to ask... why? Was it so difficult to come out and say "we don't
want to be associated with this sound anymore, and therefore we are releasing a
new one"? I honestly don't care about Netflix nor House of Cards (which I have
not seen), but I am kind of annoyed at such a transparent attempt to hide their
history behind a PR campaign. Or even worse, that they seem to have gotten away
I remember seeing two main camps in the old debate on whether a hot-dog is
a sandwich: those that argued "it's meat between two pieces of bread, therefore
it's a sandwich" and those that counterargued "if I asked whether you wanted a
sandwich and then gave you a hot-dog, you would be surprised". And both sides
are right! That said, one of them is more right from a language-theoretical
point of view, and that's the point of today's post.
(Spoiler: the "not a sandwich" camp is right. Sorry, pro-sandwichers!)
According to Herbert Clark a dialogue is a cooperative activity.
It is a joint activity in which both speakers try to accomplish a common
objective, ranging from something as formal as "make me understand where the
train station is" to as vague an objective as "let's kill some time".
And because it is cooperative, we do not expect the other person to be
deliberately obtuse. If I ask "Can I get you something to drink?" and someone
replies "I don't know, can you?", nobody would assume that this person has a
genuine interest in my capacity for carrying drinks. Instead, we would
immediately see this for what it is: that this person is not cooperating, that
any reasonable person would have understood what I meant, and that this person
stopped cooperating on purpose. Whether he did it to make a joke or because
he's a jerk, that's a topic for a future discussion.
There is also a principle called the "maxim of quantity" (one of Grice's
according to which a person will always give as much information as possible,
but not so much that it breaks the dialogue. If someone asks me where I come
from, my answer can be as precise as a specific neighborhood or as vague as
"somewhere near the border with Brazil". My answer will depend on how familiar
I believe the other person to be with South-American geography, because I don't
want to give them excessive information that they cannot handle. Again, I'm
Which brings us to the hot-dog debate. From a taxonomic point of
view, a hot-dog is a sandwich:
it is composed of two pieces of processed meat between two pieces of bread,
which is as clear as it gets. But this is only half the story.
The definition of sandwich came long after the sandwich itself. It is an
artificial construct designed to model and understand a set of real-life
language usages. Spoken language, on the other hand, is the real deal. Language
rules and word definitions model how we speak, and not the other way around.
All definitions are artificial and, therefore, may not always reflect the way
we actually use those words.
Bringing this all together, I would only use the word "sandwich" to describe a
hot-dog if I had a reason to believe the other person doesn't know what a
hot-dog is. If you know what a hot-dog is and I know you know what a hot-dog is,
using the word "sandwich" to speak about a hot-dog is neither maximally
informative (I am giving you less information than I could) nor cooperative
(I know which word would help us the most, but I'm not using it). "Sandwich" is
a catch-all word that can only be used when no better word exists.
Even worse: you know we both know what a hot-dog is. By choosing "sandwich", I
am actively leading you to believe that I want to offer something that can be
described as a "sandwich" but not as a "hot-dog". Fans of malicious
compliance will argue that
this is not technically untrue, but you and I both know that there's little
practical difference between "I told you a lie" and "I told you something that
any sane person in the world would understand in a certain way while secretly
using a different, opposite interpretation that I kept to myself".
So there you have it. A hot-dog is a sandwich if you stick to rigid categories
created by researchers with a tenuous grasp of the real world at best (you know,
people like me), but you are only allowed to use it if you talk to people who
never heard about hot-dogs before. Using the word "sandwich" for a hot-dog in
any other context is uncooperative, mildly dishonest, and kind of a jerk move.
People do not use the word "sandwich" like that and, since spoken language is
where "true" language usage lies, they are the ones who are using it right.
As so many
immigrants expats around the world, I like to
follow the news regarding what's happening back in my home
country. But getting complete, reliable information has been getting more and
more difficult every year, and 2020 is the year in which I finally ran out of
Unlike my parent's generation, I don't consider newspapers a reasonable source
of reliable information. The problem is that, following the example set by
Fox News, the largest newspapers at home have substituted fact for opinions,
extremely biased articles, and outrage has replaced objectivity as the
main selling point. All of this seasoned with local celebrity gossip, of course.
If despite my best judgment I decide to check what's going on based on
newspapers, I currently start with the biggest newspaper
(which is very right-leaning) and then compensate with their main opposition
(which is, as expected, very left-leaning). I then figure out which news are
common to both, and decide which version is more likely to be true -
one newspaper's fair trial is the other newspaper's witch hunt, and one
newspaper's smart move is the other newspaper's national betrayal. Finally, I
check which news have been mentioned in only one of them, and decide on a
reasonable narrative for why only one of them is talking about it. Suffice to
say, doing this in the morning on my phone takes a lot of effort.
In my case, this was one problem (probably the only one) solved by the news
aggregator Reddit. The sub-reddit for my
country used to be relatively good at highlighting the main issues in the public
conscience, and reading the main posts used to be enough to get a good, updated
picture. But not anymore: extremely lax moderation and general apathy
have turned the forum into a meme-laden wasteland where all information has been
replaced by bad jokes, political outrage, and the occasional "kill all poors"
post. So I quit it for good, and haven't looked back.
Which leads me to today. I have not yet found any source of news that I can
trust to inform me. Sure, I can easily get distracted, entertained, outraged,
tricked, and lied to, but informed? Good luck with that. I have remained
uninformed for a couple months now, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Being a programmer who has spent a bit of time toying around with NLP,
I have been working on a solution - a small news aggregator where I can get a
proper sense of what's going on. But it hasn't been easy: news agencies no longer
offer RSS feeds, important
data is locked behind proprietary formats made intentionally hard to read, and
there is barely any corpora around in Spanish that I could use to train models.
I don't have a deeper point. I can't promise that my solution will work, because
it's entirely possible that it never makes it out of vaporware. I don't have a
website to recommend, because websites are getting bad faster than good ones are
propping up. And I'm not going to talk about the cesspool that are unmoderated
forums because we all know about that already.
I just wanted to say: I am very unhappy with this situation.
I am okay at drawing. That means: I am probably better at drawing than
a random person walking down the street but I'm far, far behind the type
of artists that regularly post in Instagram. I am also mostly self-taught:
I took some initial lessons via mail from the well-known (at the time)
gave up for a couple years, and picked it back up in my late teens when
I needed something to do besides programming and not having friends.
Some of my drawings have been published,
and one in particular has been stolen countless time by people who
thinks copying things from the internet without attribution is fine.
I was recently asked what I would recommend to someone who wants to
learn how to draw. This question took me by surprise for two reasons: one,
because I was never asked this before, and two, because my answer was
surprisingly useless even to me:
Any tutorial you find online will give you the right steps. But you'll
only understand them after you already know how to draw.
This is a pointless answer, which also happens to be 100% correct.
This post is my attempt at giving a slightly clearer answer, explaining
why anyone would think that my advice makes sense and hopefully give
beginners some good points on where to start.
Note 1: this post contains links to drawings of naked people. If you are
not comfortable with drawn nudity, you should probably not follow the links
and definitely reconsider whether figure drawing is good for you.
The boring advice
All drawing is, at its core, more or less the same. Whether you are
interested into realistic drawing, comic drawing, manga drawing (a term
I hate), webcomics or editorial cartoons, the art of representing human
figures in 2D is based on 90% the same rules. Sure, US comics have more
muscles and japanese manga characters have no nose, but the fundamentals
are the same. A typical drawing curriculum should include:
- How to sketch a human figure. This guide
is relatively good, while this one
sucks for reasons I'll explain later on. If you've seen those wooden
they are useful for getting the hang of this step.
- The proportions of the human body. More specifically,
on how many heads you need to draw a full body.
- The proportions of the face. This is annoying enough that it often
warants a section on its own.
- How perspective works. One, two, and three points perspective are
the typical ones.
- How shadows work. Getting it perfect will take a long time, but
"dark part is dark" will get you far with little effort.
Once you reach this point, you can either start learning about muscles
and improve your anatomy (have you ever stopped to think about how weird
knees look?), or become a caricaturist and call it a day.
The number of books and tutorials out there convering all these points is
virtually infinite, and therefore any book you choose it's going to be
probably fine. If you want some more specific advice, multiple generations of artists
have learned with Andrew Loomis' books, which are freely available on
the Internet Archive. You should start with Figure drawing for all it's worth,
follow up with Drawing the head and hands,
and fresh up your perspective with the first half of Successful drawing.
Practical advice I: Keep drawing
There are two extra pieces of advice worth discussing.
The standard advice says "keep drawing until you become good at it",
which is technically true but only barely. The full, honest version
Start with one drawing. It will suck, and that's fine. Once you're
finished, look at it objectively and enumerate its defects. For
your next drawing, focus on solving those defects. Repeat until
you consider yourself good enough1.
In other terms: you can draw circles all day and all night
for years, but that won't make you any better at drawing squares. If you
want to get better at drawing, you first need to be aware of what's
there to improve.
That doesn't mean that you can't be happy about something you just drew.
Few things are as rewarding as putting your art supplies to the side,
looking at your drawing, and admiring something knowing that you made
it. All I'm saying is: you need to know what your blind spots are. If
you are like me and your eyes are always sliiiiightly out of alignment,
it is perfectly fine to still be happy about that portrait you just made.
But if you are not honest and accept that yes, that one eye looks weird,
then you will never learn how to fix it2.
Practical advice II: Copy other people
As the quote goes,
"Good artists copy, great artists steal".
Therefore, it is your duty as aspiring artist to copy as much as you can.
Most self-taught artists I know started the same way, copying drawings
over and over until they felt comfortable enough to start doing their own.
My suggestion: find an artist you like. Pick one of their drawings and
copy it. Add the final work to your sketch folder. Repeat. This exercise
serves several purposes:
- It will improve your pencil grip, make your lines stronger, and
improve your technique overall.
- It allows you to focus on a sub-part of the problem (drawing a figure)
without having to worry about the complicated stuff - you don't need
to think about perspective, shadows or posture because the artist
already did it for you.
- It helps you to build your personal portfolio. It will help you visualize
your progress, and gives you something to brag about whenever someone
learns you are drawing and asks you to see something you've done.
Plus, it's not like you wanted to throw those drawings away, right?
- It will help you answer questions you didn't know you had. Do you
want to know how to draw a feminine-looking nose? Copy one of
Phil Noto's illustrations. Would you like to
know how does a professional go from zero to done? You can watch
professionals like Jim Lee do a couple pieces in real time
online and even explain their
process as they go. Are you wondering how much attention to pay to
clothes and background? Once you notice that classical painters
couldn't care less about whatever is below your shoulders,
maybe you won't lose your sleep about it either.
Eventually, you'll start noticing that different artists have different
skills to offer. Maybe that guy draws cool hands, that other artist
draws clothes very well, and that third other one has very expressive
faces. Copying their work helps you understand the tricks they are
using, and adding them to your repertoire helps you develop your own style.
Rest of the owl
The final point is both super important and really difficult to explain
Are you familiar with the
how to draw an owl meme?
This picture is very popular in amateur art circles because it goes
straight to the core issue: that most tutorials will take your hand and
guide you step-by-step, but then they will let go at a critical step and
you'll fall down a metaphorical cliff.
The root of the problem, I think, is that one step where the book
tells you to "do what feels natural" or to "just keep going". What these
people forget, however, is that learning what feels natural takes a lot
I mentioned above is as bad as it gets: the instructions
tell you to "Draw some vertical and horizontal lines to plan your
drawing", which is completely useless advice that only makes sense once
you know which lines to draw and where. Whoever wrote that guide has
forgotten what it was to be a beginner, and their advice is really not
When that happens, you have two choices. You can look for a better
tutorial, or you can keep going, and see how far you make it. There is no
shame in trying and failing, and who knows? maybe you'll still make it.
Truth be told, there is a point at which no tutorial can help you and all
that's left for you to do is to just draw. But that only applies for
specific, advanced tutorials. It is the sad truth that, as a beginner,
you will often recognize bad tutorials only once you are stuck in them.
Nobody said the life of an artist was easy.
This guide ended up being longer than I intended, and half as long as
it should be. That's always going to be a problem: the average artist
does not let structure get in the way of their vision, and
any attempt at a "formal" answer will stop halfway (as I have complained
That said, if you would still appreciate a more structured approach, I have
heard good things about Betty Edward's book
Drawing on the right side of the brain.
And finally: have fun. All of this advice is useful for when you want to get
objectively better, but there's a lot to be said in favor of simply drawing
because you enjoy it.
Fair warning: in my experience, most artists never feel that they are
"good enough". This is a well-known bug of art.
I believe the process of "find defect, correct defect, repeat" is
why most artists I know are never happy about their work.
Seriously, go to an artist and tell them you like a particular
drawing of them - there's a good chance that they'll give some excuse
for why the drawing sucks.