Making Media for Ready for Rain Newsletter 📹 📄

November 19, 2019

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


My Workstation in the Guest House
My Workstation in the Guest House

When I first started planning Ready for Rain, what excited me was not only telling stories but creating media. One of my true passions is using technology to share an experience or relate an idea. In fact, it’s been my day job since 2007.

Now that you’ve seen the types of media I post, I thought it would be interesting to share how they come to life. 

Overall

Because my goal is to publish a new post every week of 2019, Ready for Rain is on my mind every day. From the moment a new issue is published on Tuesday evening, my attention turns to the next issue. I don’t work from a publishing calendar or have a plan for future issues. I just feel it out and try to publish what I think could be interesting.

Usually, a new issue is drafted by Saturday and that’s when Sachi gets involved. She is my editor in nearly everything I do. I share the post with her via Google Docs and she provides copy edits and editorial feedback. On a couple of occasions, she has stopped posts in their tracks and said I should start over or find a new topic. Over our many years working together, I trust her judgment, even if it stings a little.

By Monday night, the post has taken shape and I move the text into a publishing tool, called Revue, to start adding media. I use Revue because it’s built to be a newsletter tool, but also creates a blog-like archive. We both continue to tweak the post until it’s published on Tuesday evenings.

Photos and Videos

This year, I have taken over 8,000 photos (and videos). I’ve always loved photography and mostly use basic tools. It’s possible to spend large sums on software and camera equipment, but I don’t bother. My favorite camera has become my iPhone and I use simple editing software that came with my Macbook. My goal isn’t winning awards, but sharing an experience. Sometimes, professional-level tools can get in the way.

Drone Footage

When I flew the drone for the first time, it felt like I was a kid again. Growing up, I was fascinated with paper airplanes and learned to make them to optimize both acrobatics and air time. I remember wishing I could see the world from their point of view. Now, the drone gives me this ability and I’m still amazed.

DJI Spark

I chose a DJI Spark, which is a basic model that costs under $500. It’s an incredible piece of technology that includes a video camera, GPS and sensors that prevent it from hitting objects from multiple directions. Unfortunately, I still find a way to crash into trees sometimes. 

The drone comes with a remote control that can be connected to an iPhone. Once you have everything connected, the phone becomes a screen that displays what the drone’s camera sees. I can send the drone up 200 feet and see what it’s like up there. It feels like a dream come true.

iPhone as Drone Camera Feed

And it’s not just seeing what the drone sees, but being able to capture it and relive it. With the press of a remote control button, I can take photos and switch to video that makes it feel like I’m flying.

The Camera
The Camera

Everything is recorded onto a micro-SD card that fits into a slot on its body. When I get back to my computer, I import the video and images so I can edit them.

Animated GIFs

In a number of issues, you’ve seen short videos that play on a loop. These are “animated GIFs” which are not videos, but images displayed in quick succession. I’ve often compared them to a digital flipbook. I use these in the newsletter because true video doesn’t play reliably in email.

The Implosion of the King Dome

These GIFs are easy to make, but the problem is file size. Because they are made of dozens or hundreds of photos, they can easily become too large for an email. I use a tool called GIF Brewery (iOS only), which turns a video clip into an animated GIF with the press of a few buttons. 

3D Models

Building plans on paper can only go so far. 3D models, on the other hand, bring the structure to life and help you anticipate how it will look. In the planning stage, I learned to create 3D models and now it’s one of my favorite projects. I sometimes feel addicted when I’m working on a model. I’m willing to miss dinner or a dog walk, just to keep designing. There’s always something to add or improve.

An Animated GIF of a 3D Model

The software I use is called Sketchup, which is a sophisticated and expensive tool. For my needs, however, I’ve found that the free online version of the software works wonderfully. All the models you’ve seen were created for free. 

Digital Drawings

Most people believe Powerpoint is just for clicking through presentations. But it also provides an easy way to draw and arrange simple shapes. With a few clicks, I can create models that relate ideas, processes, and buildings. When they’re done, my Macbook helps me take screenshots, which are photos of whatever is on my screen.

A PowerPoint Drawing

Most of the videos I’ve shared on YouTube are from the drone. Others come from my iPhone and most of the editing happens with software that came on my Mac, like QuickTime and iMovie. 

Because the house is a physical object that is growing and changing over time, I can’t imagine not using media to tell the story. I’ve always been fascinated with unique and interesting ways to share ideas and Ready for Rain is the perfect outlet for me to test what’s possible. If I’m doing it right, you’ll experience the project from a perspective that’s new and unexpected.

If you’re curious about what media I enjoy that’s related to the project, see below…


Inspiration

I’ve become fascinated with home design and construction, and that fascination is apparent in my media consumption of late. A few examples:

We both love the show Grand Designs on Netflix. The show follows homeowners in England who are building very interesting homes from start to finish. It’s hosted by a charming architect and is as much about the people as the buildings.

My Instagram feed has been taken over by architecture accounts which provide daily inspiration and sometimes, disgust. A couple of my favorites are:

Engineering and Architecture (Instagram) – This account has taught me about the basics of building, like this graphic about foundations.

Engineering and Architecture

A few other resources include…

D.signers (Instagram) – A variety of design inspiration

Dwell Magazine (Instagram)

#ContemporaryArchitecture (Instagram Hashtag)

A YouTube channel recently caught my attention thanks to two different friends named Tony (thanks, guys!). It’s called Essential Craftsman and it documents a house being built along with explanations of every part of the process. The host is a lifelong carpenter who is excellent at communicating the process and reviewing the best tools for the job.

Reminder: I’m sharing project photos on my Instagram account.

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