The World of Coca-Cola kinda blows

Later I’ll give a fuller report from our Southern Road Trip, but while it’s fresh, I thought I’d report on our visit to The World of Coca-Cola, a new Atlanta tourist destination all about, well, Coca-Cola.

I’ve been to a similar, though much smaller, attraction in Las Vegas, which I enjoyed. I have a strange respect for Coca-Cola’s business history, which I learned through the fascinating book, For God, Country, and Coca-Cola. I say this to suggest that I don’t simply pooh-pooh such brazen attempts at marketing-through-theme-attraction (and really, isn’t that just what Disneyland was, anyway?)

Speaking of Disneyland, though, Coca-Cola could have learned something from Disneyland. And that thing, that one simple thing, is quality. Particularly of the two specially-made film (well, probably digital video) entertainment, The Happiness Factory, and The Secret Formula 4-D Theater. The first is a film that *all* attendees much walk, a 7-minute (though it felt like 15) “documentary” of what happens when you put a coin in a Coke vending machine. It cops the style that Nick Park created for his Creature Comforts short (and which has been used by Chevron in their teevee ads) — interviews with various folks about what it’s like for them to do what they do. The Happiness Factory is hackneyed and not particularly inventive, and it was interesting to see just how little the audience reacted to the “spectacle” and the “jokes.” The second was a quasi-ride, similar in some ways to Star Tours at Disneyland/world, where you sit in a theater and “experience” what is happening on the screen. The acting was *so poor*, the story such a repeatedly pathetic sop to the Magic of Coca-Cola, and the seat effects *so annoying* that I simply couldn’t wait to leave.

I’d love to know more about how these two features were created. They felt *very much* like the products of committee, where any truly interesting idea was filtered out as it passed through too many hands, until all that was left was bland, inoffensive, rah-rah with no charm nor personality whatsoever. What’s strange is that Coke *can* produce good video — their recent “videogame” ad is brilliant.

Anyway, there is some decent stuff — the historic walkthrough has cool old stuff, the bottling works actually works (if you end up seeing stuff oddly out of order). Oh, and drinking flavors from around the world is a blast. But, in the end, we both felt like we’d wasted our time and money.

LOST Pissing Me Off (Semi-spoiler)

So, here’s the thing that pisses me off. We know that Locke and Ben are probably right with their warnings… But for some reason the writers feel it necessary that their motives remain hidden and secret… So of course Our Heroes do what they think makes the most sense. If Locke and Ben are so frickin’ concerned, why not spill the beans, since maybe that would get Our Heroes to pay attention? Why would Our Heroes be expected to listen to these two cranks who have done everything in their power to prevent their escape?

Argh. Sloppy lazy writing at its worst. Which is too bad, because the show also got interesting again in the second half of this past season.

Southern Road Trip

Tomorrow we fly to Atlanta to begin our Southern Road Trip. We’re visiting states neither of us have been to. Our planned route:

  • 21-24 May: Atlanta
  • 24-25 May: Birmingham
  • 25-26 May: Natchez
  • 26-27 May: Jackson, maybe Tupelo
  • 27-29 May: Summertown, Tullahoma, Nashville
  • 29-30 May: Nashville, Rugby
  • 30-31 May: Back to Atlanta
  • 1 June: Fly home
  • We’re driving the Natchez Trace from Natchez to Nashville. In Tennessee, we’re visiting intentional communities old (Rugby) and new (The Farm).

    And we plan on eating lots of great food.

    Suggestions for these areas are welcome in the comments!

    NBA Playoffs – Real Drama

    When the playoffs began a few weeks ago, who could have predicted that the most interesting, dramatic, compelling teams were going to be the 4th seed Utah Jazz and the 8th seed Golden State Warriors? Neither team had gotten much national air time, and so had flown under the radar of most viewers. The Mavericks were #1 and crazy dominant; the Suns continue their up-tempo fun ball; the #3 Spurs have been a contender for so long that, while they didn’t get the press of #1 or #2, there’s always a story; #5 Houston had the T-Mac and Yao excitement combo; #6 Nuggets had the AI and Melo show; and, of course, the #7 Lakers are Kobe.

    Neither the Jazz nor the Warriors had much a story, and no (at the time) telegenic superstars. The Warriors were assumed DOA, and the Jazz had done so poorly at the end of the season that their prospects were dim.

    Yet, as the second round of the playoffs wraps up, the Warriors and Jazz emerge as the most interesting teams to talk about. For the Warriors there’s the Cinderella aspects, dominating the “dominant” Mavs, with the new leader of Show-time, Baron Davis, exciting everyone. The Jazz had the emotional breakdown of Kirilenko to start their series, and then the oh-my-god-afterschool-special-of-the-week story of Derek Fisher’s daughter’s battle with cancer, and his remarkable performance upon returning to the team.

    Supposedly, NBA audiences are reliant on having superstars on the floor — your Kobes, your T-Macs, your AIs. What seems to be happening here, though, is that the fans are engaging with the deeper, subtler, and more interesting dramas of teams emerging, unfolding, and evolving before our eyes. Maybe the same qualities that have lead to the success of multi-episode dramas like The Sopranos and Heroes is also priming an audience to find the interesting stories within the playoffs. I know I find it far more interesting than some type of KOBE VS T-MAC showdown.

    The Eastern Conference? The less said about them, the (yawn) better.

    Steven Johnson has a Hammer

    Last Friday I attended Steven Johnson’s talk at the Long Now Foundation. Titled “The Long Zoom,” Steven explores the trend towards looking at systems at a variety of scales. This has become a theme of Steven’s recent writings, starting with his book The Ghost Map, where an appreciation of factors at various scales was required to address cholera outbreaks, and his feature on Will Wright and his upcoming game Spore, which allows players to track life, beginning at the cellular level, and steadily complexifying until you’re managing societies on planets.

    I am intrigued by Johnson’s work, because I do think he’s tapping into a contemporary trend around people’s ability to work at multiple scales at once. It’s obvious in the popularity of mapping services, where you’re constantly zooming in and out to understand context at different levels. In a total other realm, I see it as a requirement in the practice of information architecture — when we teach IA, we’re very conscious about how the practitioner has to bounce between the global and the local in designing a robust system.

    However, Johnson needs to be careful that he doesn’t get too enamored of his framework. It’s tempting for a public intellectual to put forth a model, and try to get everything to fit within it. Gladwell tried this with The Tipping Point, coming up with ideas around “mavens,” “salesmen,” and “connectors” that don’t really hold water. In his presentation on Friday, Johnson began to fall into the same trap.

    A key point of The Ghost Map is that in order to solve the problem of cholera transmission, John Snow needed to be able to think at many levels. Johnson pointed out these levels, in ascending order:

    Microbes — Organs — Humans — Neighborhoods — Data Systems — Cities

    Snow believed cholera existed at the microbe level; this was because, as a doctor, his familiarity with organs lead him to that conclusion; humans were the level of transmission; neighborhoods were the level of spread, in that same neighborhoods got it while others didn’t; data systems, in particular statistical tables of deaths, made apparent the broader trends; cities are organisms with infrastructure that handles (or doesn’t) hygiene and waste.

    I basically buy this “zoom,” (though I’m skeptical of “data systems,” which feels like One Of These Things That’s Not Like The Other Ones.) Where Johnson begins to fall, though, is his attempt to provide a “Long Zoom” on the “miasma” theory of cholera transmission (which preceded Snow’s theory, and was proven wrong). It’s not worth going into the detailed of miasma theory (basically: smell is disease; kill the smell, remove the disease), but Johnson laid out these levels (again, from small to large):

    human sensory system — “great men” — contemporary politics — technology — urban development — cultural traditions

    I might be able to buy “human sensory system” at the smallest level, and maybe “great men” at the next level up, but then everything else is pretty much a mush. I particularly don’t understand how “technology” is below “urban development” — technology is a fundamental human endeavor, and intimately wrapped up with culture.

    My real point, though, is less about the outcome than the process. Johnson has his “Long Zoom” hammer, and every system he sees looks like a nail. And while the Long Zoom works great for things with truly physical scale (as exemplified in the film Powers of 10), I suspect it is pretty much useless for concerns which are fundamentally semantic.

    This is why, listening to Johnson’s talk, I began thinking about Weinberger’s new book, Everything is Miscellaneous. Among Weinberger’s many points is the messiness of categorization and the meaninglessness of arbitrary distinctions. Johnson, however, expends a lot of effort determining these levels of the Long Zoom, which are essentially categories. But they’re arbitrary categories, and their relationship to one another is not scalar. Johnson is committing exactly the kind of fallacy that Weinberger rails against. Johnson needs to be careful of the seeming convenience of frameworks, or he’ll miss the truly interesting factors at play.

    Mother’s Day for Peace

    Growing up, my mom forbade any gun-like objects in the house. She loathed guns with an unabiding passion, so I didn’t have what many boys had — water pistols, cap guns, and the like.

    I grew up loathing guns myself, perhaps to an irrational degree. I don’t know.

    Anyway, it’s come to my recent attention that Mother’s Day (which the United States is celebrating today) began not as a “Hallmark Holiday” as I originally assumed, but as a proto-feminist holiday, to gather for the cause of peace following the Civil War.

    There’s a sad irony today, what with the Powers That Be, those who most readily hide behind concepts of Family Values and middle-American notions of Mom and Apple Pie, jeopardizing the lives of those mothers’ sons and daughters in a needless and pointless war.

    I know my mom’s gun-free world was one of fantasy, but damn if it wasn’t a fantasy worth aspiring to.

    Adaptive Path’s UX Week Shaping Up Nicely

    On August 13-16, Adaptive Path will be presenting its annual flagship event, UX Week. This is our conference for UX professionals, and it’s going to be a doozy this year.

    If you look at the program, you’ll see a bunch of great sessions, involving search engines, interaction design, management challenges, participatory design, social media, usability for web 2.0, and more.

    We’re extremely pleased to announce Deborah Adler as a keynoter. As a graphic design student, Deborah developed the SafeRX pill bottle design, which evolved into Target’s ClearRX pharmaceutical system.

    If you register by Friday May 11 (two days!) you’ll get the early registration price of only $1,795 ($500 off the full registration price). And use promotional code FOPM and receive an extra 15% off!

    Review: Everything is Miscellaneous

    I received a reviewers copy of David Weinberger’s latest book, Everything is Miscellaneous. I’ve been following David’s work since at least early 1999 (judging by an old peterme.com post (6 Feb 1999), and have been fortunate enough to have gotten to know him. I find The Cluetrain Manifesto to still be an important book 7 years later. (The less said about Small Pieces, Loosely Joined, the better.)

    I’ve eagerly awaited Everything, and it does not disappoint. Many of my readers are information architects or in related fields, and, yes, you should all read this book. Really. It captures in one place much of what has been hot in IA over the last 5 years — facets, categories rooted in cognitive psychology, tagging, etc.

    But I’m thinking that anyone whose work involves information and classification should read it. That includes, say, my partner, who is an archaeologist. Actually, it probably includes *anyone* in a research field. David’s exposition and insights are key for understanding where we’re headed in this increasingly digital world we live in.

    What sets David’s book apart from other recent texts covering similar ground (say Ambient Findability and Shaping Things) is that, fundamentally, it is not a book on information or technology; it’s a work of philosophy. David has a doctorate in Philosophy, and it shows on every page.

    I mean this in a good way–David’s background gives him a perspective quite distinct from others involved in this conversation, and it’s valuable in connecting his themes with a larger purpose. Because David’s book isn’t about information, it’s about understanding, knowledge, and meaning — fundamentally, it’s a book on how the human condition is evolving.

    In later posts, perhaps I’ll address my take on some of the specifics of this work. As it turns out, I’ve already addressed many in posts that go back to the genesis of this site…

    - Memory palaces (14 May 2000)
    - Tags and classification schemes (Clay Shirky’s Viewpoints are Overrated, Metadata for the Masses)
    - faceted classification (seminal post,
    - Collaborative filtering and algorithmic relationship creation (IA2000 presentation)
    - relinquishing control (essay for Adaptive Path)
    - social network analysis (I’ve interviewed Valdis Krebs)
    - basic level categories (12 Dec 1999)
    - the Semantic Web (11 April 2001)

    A necessary precursor to Everything is Wurman’s Information Anxiety (the original, not the puerile second edition).