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STORY

The topic of story has been important to me for as long as I can remember. I know it was instilled in me by my mother, in the way she faithfully read story books and bible stories to us three siblings as we were growing up in Williston, Tennessee. It was surely passed on to me by my father, who was as studious and careful a genealogist as they come. In school, Lois Lorenz and other dedicated teachers led us to work hard in, and at the same time come to love literature of all types. No doubt, growing up in the 70s and 80s culture, film and television played an enormous role in shaping my concept of story. Not to begin to mention the art of storytelling, which everyone partakes of on a daily basis, as we communicate to one another in our various means the details and anecdotes that compose the stories of our lives.

My vision is to embark on and offer another way to build, create, and tell our stories. It is a comprehensive storytelling that involves visualization at the essence, in the familiar form of a timeline.  There is something about a timeline. It almost seems, at least to me, that this is how we think of life: in a linear, sequential path. So, in keeping with our progress down our own real paths, this visualized path is a representation of the past, present, and even future life that we have and lead. 

I think it might be too lofty. I'm not so much worried about the work. But I'm not the best at completing projects, and not the sharpest tool in the technology shed. Surely I will need help to complete this. Edit upon edit is, and has been underway and will continue.

But I will just keep at the goal. The aim is to give back to the world what I have learned and observed, for whatever it is worth. 

My desire is to make this accessible to all, regardless of culture, personality, upbringing, or temperament. If you are data nerd, you will feel at home with the project. If you are a casual writer, you will find your place. If you just like posting pictures as you would in an app like Instagram, then so be it. Go for it. That is my goal. Use whatever aspects and features of the project you want. It is your story, with your life to paint onto the canvas. No rules. Just write.

PHILOSOPHY

Here I'm going to offer my thoughts on the philosophy (or rationale, if that is more palatable) on the purpose and use of the Story project. I'm going to talk about work, reward, comfort, life lessons, improvement, and essentialism. If this is too much, understood. Skip it. 

I don't recommend skipping it.

SETTING THE STORY STRAIGHT

Our brains are remarkable. It has been said that every system and function of the human body exists as support for two things: the muscles, and the brain. I might go farther to say that they exist so that the brain can use the muscles to carry out its wishes. So to speak.

But alas, our brains are not infallible. Most of us are all too familiar with the occasional "brain fart" that is either embarrassing or frustrating (or just flat laughable). But it is not just a familiar experience. Science has clearly demonstrated that our memory is not faithful nor bulletproof. Be it the use of memory for day to day tasks, or recalling our childhoods, or testifying in a court of law - our telling of the story may not (and often does not) really, fully align with what actually happened. 

There are a plethora of reasons for this, and I'm not setting out to explore all those here. What I am putting out there is that it is true: we can't always depend on human brainpower to recount the past.

So, we can use technology. 

Some use diaries. Some use spreadsheets. There are many ways to record events. Journals, books, and other media line libraries and homes. And then, there are the digital versions. Media is housed everywhere for us to record and recall data - information in its various forms - so that we can go back in time and in a sense, relive or retrace an event. A story. 

But I for one would like to get the facts straight. Why? Why not just let it go, and let people believe what they will? I'm all for that. But for myself, what I have discovered, is that if you get the baseline right, then whatever comes downstream of it will be more productive, fruitful, and worth having or doing. Lay the foundation wrong, and the whole thing will be warped the farther you more forward with it, and the less joy you will derive from it.

So let's get the story as straight as we can. It will never be fully accurate, as no system of data is such. But it can be as close as we can reasonably make it. 

I think the key is in how you go about it all - your method.

That's all I'm proposing: get a method of recording in place that enables you to paint a clear picture of life. Leverage the tools at our disposal towards that goal. Think about it like a painter who has the option of choosing the best paints and brushes in the world, versus those only that can be bought at a dollar store. It makes a difference in the outcome. 

Set everything in place, and then paint. The portrait will do justice to the subject.

WORK AND DISCOMFORT

Work hard, play hard. Or, so it goes.

Before the present culture (and all, actually, down through the ages) stands the challenge to manage, or handle, the power we have harnessed. It is an ever present reality. 

Rather than write an essay on the subject (which I could), I will narrow the point down to this: if you do not earn it, you will never experience the richness of a thing. It can never be as simple as a click. Not if you want life to count, to be rich and beautiful. You have to feel it, get your hands dirty, do your due diligence. Earn it. Don't just sit in the stands. 

So, my role in all this is not to sell you a product. It is to offer a way of you doing things, and train you how to do it. Or, coach you, if that fits your understanding. There must be some sweat equity in the investment of your own efforts, or it will not make sense, and the payoff will be weak and ineffectual. 
There are no two ways about this one, in my thinking. Either do the work, and respect the process, or watch others do it, and have no basis from where you will be able to value it. 

So the project is not mine, it is yours. I am only opening a door. 

You are the writer.

TECHNICAL CONCERNS

THE TIMELINE

The timeline I use was designed by and is hosted by Knight Lab. This is community of designers who have made a suite of open source story-telling tools. First of all, props. That is very cool and useful for all of us. They have developed several tools, and the one I like the best is the timeline. So, credit to the technological workhorse of Knight Lab for enabling me to produce my little project.

Fortunately, it works seamlessly with my Google tools. This is not just dumb luck, but a Godsend and essential. It's not just a matter of free, which, considering the computing power - even if you pay the paltry monthly fees for Google one - it plain works the best. I have bent over backwards over the years to find a better and more integrated solution than Google. Believe me, I have painstakingly given it all I can afford to give it. I've tried Microsoft 365, and other office/productivity suites and tools, and all the phone platforms, searching for the most efficient set of tools. I keep coming back to Google and Android every time, because at least for me, they plain work. And I don't have to hack my way through making them work. They just work right out of the box. Are they perfect? Hell, no. I am also their number one critic. But nothing in this world is perfect, and never will be. I'm just looking for the best ROI and uptime. And my experience tells me Google is the best choice.

Essentially the project proposes a suite of tools. What that means is that I can show you how I did it, and you are welcome to follow. But you don't have to. In fact, I am eager to see what I am overlooking or simply am not smart enough to figure out. If you see a way to improve, please come forward! I'd love to get on board. 

So again, this is how I did it, and what I recommend. 

First things first. Here are the platforms and integrations. It's what makes up the project - it's various main elements.

  1. Google Drive with Google One

    • Google Drive is the data storage. I will not cover here an concerns of safety, stability, or political position. These are fair topics for another discussion and another time. My purpose here is to offer that this is the easiest and most efficient way to store the data. All data is stored in tables in the Google Sheets format. This is compatible with and integrated into the other two elements: again, out of the box, so to speak. No hacking or coding necessary.+-

    • It's a bargain. For those of us old enough, we remember when cable TV came out. This was available at what seemed like a staggering fee. Having been used to the old VHF/UHF three channels plus one (or two) for FREE (rabbit ears and all), to PAY for TV was like highway robbery. What a racket. But then, we caved, of course. We became (begrudgingly or not) slowly used to the idea, and were eventually at home with the new costs. And the 100+ channels. Putting it all into perspective, we pay a lot more now for our subscription based media culture, beginning with Netflix and Amazon Prime, and all the host of other providers that followed in their wake (Hulu, HBO Max, Paramount, yada yada). Comparatively? Google One is in the same ballpark for 2 terabytes of storage. Yes, 2 terabytes. There was a time not so long ago that this number was unfathomable. But for 9.99 a month (cheaper than Netflix) you can get this much storage. And there is no end in sight, so long as Google and Amazon continue amassing their colossal stores of network servers. Bottom line is that for a reasonable fee, you can pay for more than ample storage to host your project. Even the 200 gigabyte option is enough, and that for only 2.99 a month USD.

  2. AppSheet

    • This platform has one main purpose in my project: a means to input data from a mobile app or web app in a clean and editable Form element. Google also has "Google Forms", a product that is useful for once-and-done uses, like surveys. But with Forms, one cannot return to the form for editing. With AppSheet, this is possible.

    • It must be emphasized that AppSheet is a development tool with the end goal of creating apps for commercial deployment - at a cost. For an individual, this cost would be hefty. For personal use - which is our aim - you just create your own apps for your own design and use. No strings attached. To be fair to Google, this is a great training ground whereby just being involved in the environment, one so disposed could easily find the aspiration to actually develop an app and deployment, just out of the pleasure found in the development process. If I was Google, that would be "worth it" so to speak. That's the investment. Put the platform out there, people get on board and develop skills and interest, and then buy the product. Nothing lost, everything gained. Training wheels, if you will. Or test driving the car. 

    • At any rate, the project's interest in AppSheet is it's function primarily as a tool for input. There are other nice aspects, such as usefulness (to a limited degree) in data relationships. There are plenty of ceilings here. I'm no fanboy of AppSheet for this reason. But I also understand that it can't be everything to everyone. It just is what it is. So, we are leveraging whatever we can.

    • Again, owned by Google, AppSheet is as close to "no-code" development as you're going to get with these products. There WILL be a tiny amount of code-like configuration. But it is not rocket science. For those more talented and skilled than me, I welcome the corrections and constructive criticism. For those not as experienced, I will be here to offer all the help I can give. Don't get overwhelmed. Just do the simple set up steps and then start to use it daily or whenever it fits for you.

  3. Knight Lab Timeline

    • This one is explained from the outset. The timeline uses a Cascading Style Sheet (CSS technology) and Java Script to create a visualization. This is your timeline. The configuration and setup page is very straightforward (Knight Lab website). They have a simple and excellent walk-through. I will offer a page that suggests modifications to the Google Sheet and edits when you install (upload) this table to AppSheet. This will just make it a little cleaner and easier to use in the long run. No big factor.

    • Again, integrated out of the box with Google Sheets and Google Drive. 

  4. Google Photos

    • There may be other platforms and servers which you'd prefer, and as long as they will allow for copying the url of the photo, you're in the game. Doing it from mobile will just pull from the camera files on your device. There are a number of ways to get media in. Look at it this way, you are building a story. Once it's done - once it's in the past - there's really no reason to go back and change a lot. The actions taken at that point will be that of enjoyment as a reader, not a designer or constant editor. This is what I cover later, in a more philosophical discussion over suggestions of how to write and use your story, both for your edification and improvement and pleasure, and for that of others you share it with.

    • Anyway, I use Google Photos since it's free (or can be set up that way), is (again) seamless with the other Google Products, and is as efficient a photo hosting service as you could ask for. Me, anyway. If you go Android or Apple, it's on your phone. Or can quickly be. Just take the picture and it automatically is backed up for use in your project. If it remains on your phone, you can access it there.


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