Andrew Stanton, Pixar, the Criterion Collection, and Me

This tweet…

…brought back a very specific memory. In 1995, I managed the website of The Voyager Company, a pioneer in multimedia CD-ROMs. It was a dream job, participating with a crew charting new digital media territory. Voyager was a sibling with The Criterion Collection, which at the time still only sold laserdiscs. In fact, Voyager was taking some Criterion titles (A Hard Day’s Night, This Is Spinal Tap, For All Mankind) and making them available as annotated movies on CD-ROM.

I was also an animation nerd. In college I had not just attended, but worked the Spike and Mike Festival of Animation, and had followed the development of Pixar through their shorts Luxo, Jr and Tin Toy.

In my webmaster role, I read every email that came through our contact form, and one day saw one from… Andrew Stanton at a pixar.com email address. This was before Toy Story had come out (I think). It turned out he was a huge Criterion fan, and a burgeoning CD-ROM collector. I forget what he asked about, but I remember exchanging a few emails (and doubtless fanboy-ing him). I think I learned that Pixar studied classic cinema very closely, in their endeavors to create greatness in their new medium.

27 years later, I see that image above, and I think how great it must feel for him, someone who deeply appreciated the efforts of Criterion, to have one of his works given that gold star treatment. And I think about the young man I was, with no clue where my life and career would take me. I’m grateful and gratified for the experiences I’ve had along the way.

A reflection on connection (on the occasion of my 50th birthday)

Today I turn 50. A milestone birthday and, pre-pandemic, one that many friends celebrated with blowout parties. For the longest time, I thought I’d do something similarly big, almost like a wedding party, with dozens of guests, food, drinks, music, games, everything.

I am not. There are many reasons, but high among them—what if I gave a big party and no one came?

I think this goes beyond typical host anxiety or sad sack “nobody likes me.” For a while now, I’ve witnessed that people just aren’t showing up for one another. I attend outings organized by friends, and am dispirited by the low turnout.

Yes, the pandemic is still out there, but considering the myriad mitigations (vaccines, boosters, masking, outside events, rapid tests, ventilation), it’s a weaker and weaker justification.

I do think the pandemic has triggered a kind of insular, isolationist, solipsism in many. In developing resourcefulness in making the most of our time alone, we’ve created comforting cocoons that we don’t want to leave.

Showing up for our friends takes time and effort, and it seems many have made the calculation that such work is not worth the outcome.

Showing up for our friends also might mean shifting our schedules. People calendar their lives with busy-ness, activities to stave off boredom or uncertainty. This scheduling ends up taking precedence over spontaneous or one-off connections with friends.

I recognize this isn’t always the case. People have very real commitments, and shouldn’t be expected to cater to the whims of others. But I suspect that if folks took time to reflect, their time could be freer than they realize.

Anyway, Instead of putting all my eggs into a blowout party basket, I’m leaning into this fractured reality. I’m celebrating my 50th year in ‘slow motion,’ with a series of hangouts, dates, excursions that may last a month, or even more. Shit, if it all works out, this may become a template for living the rest of my life.

Thoughts and tips for European travel

I’m in week 4 of a 5-week European vacation with my family. We’re definitely part of the “revenge travel” movement this summer—a trip we had originally begun planning two years ago we were finally able to take. Out on the road (or, really, the rails… we’re mostly moving about by train), there are some things I’ve seen and learned, and thought I’d share, in case you’re planning similar travel.

Europe is hot in the summer (even June); get lodging with air conditioning

As folks who follow me on Twitter know, I’ve been whingeing about the general lack of air conditioning throughout Europe—absent in many hotel rooms, transit, semi-public spaces like museums, restaurants, etc. Many Europeans insist that Americans are just soft baby humans who need climate control. Whereas I believe that if it’s over 30C (86F), it’s not unreasonable to want to cool off. And literally everywhere we’ve been, including Naples, Rome, Turin, Vienna, Prague, and Berlin, it’s been around 30C if not much higher.

Whether or not this is typical (climate change seems to have been a factor), I’m guessing this is the new normal. And if you want to sleep comfortably, you’ll want to find lodging with air conditioning. I didn’t, and many nights slept without covers to try to manage.

Internet and mobile phones are both a boon and a curse for travel planning

Part 1: Book your lodging well in advance; the era of show-up-and-find-a-place is over

A month or two out, I asked friends for lodging suggestions. As I looked into them, I found that many were already booked. The internet makes it trivial to find and reserve rooms. Regardless of Rick Steves’ advice to not over plan and be flexible and find a cute little pension as you roll into town… that’s just not how it works any more. Every city is fully booked, many weeks in advance. If you want to stay in quality digs in an interesting neighborhood, you’ve got to plan far ahead. Now, many of these places provide flexibility, and I suspect what’s happening is people are booking multiple options, and then canceling some of them as their itinerary settles. If I were to plan this again, that’s what I’d do.

Part 2: Desirable attractions are also booked well in advance

We wanted to see some popular places: Pompeii, the Colosseum in Rome, etc. Availability was already constrained over a month out. So I started booking other things early, too: museums, certain tours. It’s frustrating, because plans may change (especially in the era of Covid), but if you don’t, you’ll basically just be wandering the streets. For example, tickets for the Anne Frank House are sold out for the next three weeks.

Part 3: Pay for an international data plan; Google Maps, etc. are a godsend

The griping of the first two parts notwithstanding, having a mobile device with a full data plan ($50 for 30 days on T-Mobile) has made navigating these cities so much easier than anything I recall from my guidebook-based trips, particularly handling transit. In the past, I always found managing trams, trains, buses, etc., daunting. Now, with Citymapper (or Google Maps), I can get around easily.

Additionally, we’ve found great places to eat by looking at Google Maps, seeing what’s “open now,” and restricting the search to 4.5 stars and above. No more going only to the 20 places listed in the guidebook, or hoping that the place you stumbled into doesn’t suck.

Oh, and Google Translate’s camera has been hugely beneficial for understanding menus, information signs, etc.

Because of the phone, we’ve hardly ever bothered with the guidebooks we brought. They were helpful to set some context, but they always remained back in our lodging.

Trains are great

Apart from a flight from Paris to Naples, every other leg of this trip has been by train. And it’s by-and-large been great. Yes, there were the occasional delays (thankfully, never for a trip that required a connection), but the ease of rolling into a station, stumbling onto your train, sitting for 3-4 hours, and then rolling off again in a new city, just cannot be beat. For every transition between cities, we’ve found a train that leaves between 9:30-11am, and typically arrives in the afternoon, which also makes it perfect for checking out of one hotel and then in to the next.

GodDAMN I wish the US had a decent train network.

Visit Vienna

Of all the cities we visited, the most surprising was Vienna. I knew to expect Prague and Berlin to be interesting, vibrant cities. All I knew about Vienna, on the other hand, was palaces, classical music, and the movies The Third Man and Before Sunrise. So, we only budgeted two full days. Easily my biggest regret—Vienna is a thriving, large, modern city. It had my favorite museum so far (Museum of Applied Arts, or MAK), an excellent street food scene, quality restaurants, and, well, just plenty to do. So, even if you’re not a fine arts, classical music, palaces kind of person (as I am not), this is a city worth your time.

Visit Prague off-season and during the week

We showed up in Prague on a Friday afternoon. The rest of the weekend, we were surrounded by mobs of tourists, and what I learned is that Prague is where the rest of Europe goes to get drunk cheaply and PARTY. It’s disheartening, as this is a city rich with history, culture, and natural beauty, but it seems that the majority of visitors just want cheap beer.

When I return (which I hope to do), I’d go off-season (spring or fall), and try to avoid weekends.

Visit Turin

Of all the cities we’ve been to, this was the least touristy—tucked away in the northwest corner of Italy, near the Alps, it gets overshadowed by Milan, an hour train ride to the east. But our family really dug Turin, in large part for it being lower-key, while still providing plenty to see (film museum, Egyptian museum, a surprisingly good automobile museum), great food (the Argentinian dinner we had at El Barrio is still among my favorite on this trip), and beautiful scenery.

On working (in design) at Facebook

A set of thoughts rattling around my head.

Some facts, as of this writing:

  • ~360,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the USA
  • Botched rollout of Covid-19 vaccine in the USA
  • A stupid coup, including white supremacists storming DC
  • 74,000,000+ people voting for an incompetent and corrupt president

These facts have a common source—the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.

That Trump was elected, ignored the science of the vaccine, flouted the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, and that over 74,000,000 people voted for him is evidence of a bizarrely polarized information environment in the US. On one pole are respectable (though not flawless) journalistic efforts such as The New York Times, CNN, nightly news programs, etc. On one pole are the grifters and wingnuts of OANN, Newsmax, Infowars, anti-vaxxers, etc.

The role of social media, and Facebook in particular

Prior to social media, wingnut press existed, but it’s reach was blunted due to the barriers of publishing and transmission. With social media, wingnuts found their platform grow, as their inciting, fiery rhetoric triggers engagement from readers, cause it to spread.

It is reasonable to state that Trump would not be president if it weren’t for social media. And that the Covid-is-a-hoax, anti-mask, anti-vax, rigged election sentiment would not be nearly as prevalent if it weren’t for the petri dish that is Facebook.

So, while Facebook isn’t the cause of the shitshow we’ve seen in America and much of the world the past 4 years, it’s most certain a contributor, a contributor that has seen it’s own fortunes grow as greater chaos was sowed.

The business of Facebook

I appreciated the analysis shared in this tweet thread:

Where he gets at the heart of the business model:

And the reality of working there:

And it’s for reasons like those that this following tweet got such traction:

https://twitter.com/jdan/status/1345385162234851329?s=20

On designers working at Facebook

Since the start of the pandemic, I know of 9 or 10 (I’m losing count) design leaders who have joined Facebook. And I understand it—in an uncertain hiring market, they were offering good-paying (great-paying, actually) jobs, and they have interesting problems to tackle and (as I just laid out) enormous impact.

[I should also note that about 2 years ago, after I had been laid off, I interviewed for a role at Facebook. It wasn’t a fit, and, honestly, I do wonder how I’d feel now if I had taken a job offer there.]

And I am sure that many, if not most, of those designers joined Facebook thinking that either a) I’m working on something that isn’t the core product, so I’m not part of the problem or b) I’m joining to help them ‘get better.’

My concern being, specifically with designers at Facebook, they serve as the glowing light to the business model that was outlined above.

Designers make the experience of using Facebook so delightful, palatable, enjoyable, that they actually make things worse, given how corrosive that core business model is.

Designers may be like the “good intention” attorneys working in Trump’s Department of Justice

Another unfortunate, but probable, path for designers at Facebook is explained in this Op-ed piece by a DoJ lawyer who started under Obama, and continued under Trump: I’m Haunted by What I Did as a Lawyer in the Trump Justice Department.

She knew that Trump was awful, but stayed at the Department because she felt she could do more by “pushing back from within.” She initially justified her decision because she felt she could make Trump less destructive by narrowing his administration’s potentially heinous actions (think: Muslim ban).

But what the result of her work in narrowing Trump’s executive orders was to make them more palatable to the courts. If she wasn’t there, the clown car running the place wouldn’t be able to get any traction. But by being an “adult in the room,” she abetted Trump’s harm.

I fear this is the fate of many designers at Facebook. They may ameliorate egregiousness, but in doing making company’s behavior palatable, they enable it to continue it’s toxic practices.

The strangeness of Facebook’s behavior, who essentially leave their employees out to dry

Throughout all the bad press that Facebook has gotten, specifically around how it handles misinformation and political advertising, I’ve been shocked that they’ve made no credible PR effort to challenge these assertions, that they haven’t shared their research, findings, whatever that, you know, actually, while there are some unfortunately consequences to how we approach things, there are also all these benefits.

Oh, and I haven’t even talked about research that shows mental health benefits of not using Facebook.

And Facebook’s big PR efforts are bizarre things like using “small business” as a rhetorical shield to take potshots at Apple for taking their users’ privacy seriously.

And when Facebook people speak publicly, well, I wrote this tweet recently:

This ham-handed corporate behavior results in their employees (at least my many friends who work there), from eliding that detail from their social media profiles and pretty much never talking publicly about their work there. Working for Facebook now has the cache of working in Big Oil or Big Tobacco.

Mark Zuckerberg is a cloistered person with too much power

One final thought. Mark Zuckerberg, who went from upper-middle class suburbs to Harvard to having ever had only one real job, is far too cloistered, isolated, and unworldly a person to wield the kind of influence at this disposal. I mean, such influence should never be concentrated in any individual, but particularly one with such limited experience and understanding of how the world, and people, work, behave, live, etc.

Why am I writing this?

Because I can’t stop thinking about it, and want it out of my head. The stupid coup that has (currently) resulted in armed domestic terrorists roaming the streets of DC and infiltrating the Capital building was definitely a trigger (Facebook has a history of harboring hate groups). I recognize I’ve pretty much eliminated any chance I’ll work there (either as an employee or consultant). I would love to hear from my friends who work there, what credible information they have ‘inside’ that they’re efforts are not heinous (as Stephen Diehl lays out), but have many positive aspects (though I recognize my friends have no obligation to me, at all). And I’d like to better understand why those benefits are not shared publicly.

Addendum after originally posting this

I posted this at around 4pm Pacific. At 7pm, I saw this tweet, which only further calls into question what it’s like to work at Facebook:

An additional thought is, while this post is all about Facebook, it should serve as an object lesson for anyone thinking about the company and the industry they work for. Erika’s anglerfish wasn’t specific to Facebook, or even social media—it’s about how well-meaning employees find themselves weaponized to serve socially harmful business models (I know that a particular bugaboo of hers are the food delivery services that are making it harder for restaurants to survive by taking so much money in each transaction.)

The movies I most enjoyed in 2020 (that I hadn’t seen before)

Though a terrible year for new movies, 2020 proved a remarkable year to catch up on stuff I had not yet seen. According to my diary on Letterboxd, I watched 51 movies this year, with only one in a theater (Little Women), and 11 from 2020.

The best movie I watched in 2020: Mafioso

I had not known about Mafioso, an Italian film released in 1962, until my dad pointed it out to me on The Criterion Channel. This movie, from the outset, is never quite what it seems, and pulls you along through one situation after another until you arrive at a destination you could have never foretold. (And yes, I’m being purposefully cagey).

Though 50 years old, it has a remarkably modern sensibility to its tone and story. But it’s old enough to draw out a fascinating depiction, almost an ethnography, of Sicily when it was still quite pre-modern.

I’ll order the remaining films alphabetically.

Class Action Park

Though not a stellar exemplar of the documentary form (fairly standard mix of interview and archival footage), the subject matter is off-the-wall bonkers — a kind of cheapo theme park in New Jersey where the attractions were injury-inducing, the management were stoned teenagers, and it seemed everyone went there on a dare.
Stream on HBO Max.

Diabolique

A very French thriller about two women, a man’s wife and his mistress, conspiring to murder the man. Remarkable filmmaking craft, engaging story, never boring for something that many might consider ‘art house.’
Stream on The Criterion Channel.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Before going big with Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi wrote and directed this charming film about an orphaned adolescent, his adoptive family, and their delightful, strange, low-key adventures. Strong mix of a comedy and pathos, all underlaid with a genuineness typically lacking from such cross-generational stories.
Stream on Netflix.

Jojo Rabbit

Not much to say that hasn’t been said. Just a good movie worth watching.
Stream on HBO Max.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

If you haven’t watched it because you’re not all that interested in “San Francisco,” you’re missing out on one of the better pieces of filmmaking in the past couple years. Every aspect of the craft is on point. And Jonathan Majors performance is literally star-turning.
Stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Little Women

I haven’t seen any of the 5 or 6 previous versions of this film, so I have no basis of comparison, but it stands quite well on its own. The performances from the sisters are stellar, Chalamet is pleasant to look at, and the twisty ending is unexpected in something otherwise so straightforward.
Sadly, streaming on Starz, so you’ll have to digitally rent elsewhere or (shh!) pirate.

Oldboy

This year I caught up on a bunch of New Korean Cinema, including Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and Mother. While I appreciated each of them, Oldboy was truly transporting. It’s nearly 20 years old at this point, but if you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favor and settle in. Apart from the antiquated cell phones, it’s surprising how contemporary it feels.
Digital rental. It’s a shame it’s not on a streaming service.

Palm Springs

Came at just the right time during the quarantine. A smart, funny, arch, sweet romantic comedy.
Streaming on Hulu. It’s too bad Hulu’s user experience is such hot garbage.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Even though I love John Hughes’ silly comic efforts (more than I appreciate his angsty teen films), I’d somehow never seen this until year. Or if I had, I’d forgotten it, which made for the same viewing experience either way. I do not think I laughed as hard at a movie as I did watching this. Specifically this scene:

Yarn | You ever travel by bus before? ~ Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)  | Video clips by quotes, clip | 5307d364-ccf7-4b18-8c94-7556e039e0a7 | ç´—

Digital rental.

What’s Up, Doc?

The Criterion Channel turned this up earlier in the year, I didn’t really know what to expect (other than that it was a “San Francisco” movie), and it is a delightfully absurdist 1970s take on the classic screwball comedy, with some amazing comedy set pieces.
Digital Rental. Only $1.99, tho.

The Wicker Man

(The 1973 original, not the 2006 remake).

Another gem that popped up on The Criterion Channel as part of a Halloween horror connection. Though I was aware of the film’s cult status, I didn’t know what it was about, so was repeatedly surprised, and even occasionally taken aback. It’s a truly original film.
Still streaming on Criterion.

The (non-professional) books I most enjoyed in 2020

Like many, I’m trying to be a better book-reader, after too many years of internet distractions. 2020 proved both a boon and a bane to this desire, but, in all, I think I did pretty good on the book front. If you’re looking for something good to read, maybe you’ll find it here. (None of these are related to my professional interests—I may have a separate book list of those over on my professional site.)

The Best Book I Read: Caste

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In no way an original choice, it’s still worth calling out Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson, as the best book I read in 2020. This deconstruction and reconsideration of race as something more structural proved eye-opening and thought-expanding, and should be required reading for all Americans.

Thinking on the form of the book, what I distinctly admire is how Wilkerson balances the structural and systemic with the specific and personal. It’s a balance that can be hard to strike. Too systemic, and the analysis feels bloodless and academic, but too specific, and it just feels like a series of anecdata. Caste has the space, and Wilderson the savvy, to navigate the macro and micro to masterful effect.

Fiction

In my 20s and 30s, I was all about non-fiction. I had trouble engaging with novels, found them irrelevant, and prioritized reading that helped me Gain Knowledge. Starting in my 40s, and increasingly these past few years, that’s shifted, where I crave the escapism and empathy of good fiction over the Knowledged Gained of non-fiction.

Here are the fiction books that I rated ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ or more this past year on Goodreads, in the order I read them.

Dragon Hoops, Gene Luen Yang

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As an Oaklander, I’m a sucker for this graphic novel about the basketball team at Bishop O’Dowd high school, and how the author (who was a teacher there) overcame his aversion to sports and saw the positive role it can play in developing the lives of his students, many of whom come from challenged backgrounds. Dragon Hoops is distinctly Oakland in its exploration of race, ethnicity, heritage.

The Dog of the South, Charles Portis

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After the author’s death, I thought I’d try the book that his ardent fans love most (True Grit, while his most popular, is not the most revered). This is a peculiar, sly, shaggy dog tale that remarkably captures a place and time (1970s American South through to Central America), and should have you laughing out loud quite a bit.

Network Effect, Martha Wells

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The latest Murderbot tale, and the first full novel. I love Murderbot, and this book gets back to the spirit and verve of the first couple novellas (that had kinda waned the later ones). If you dig genre fiction (in this case, space-y sci-fi) with an arch sense of humor, and haven’t yet dug into Murderbot, you’re in for a treat.

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell

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I was surprised I had never heard of this book, written over 20 years ago and with quite an avid following (65,000+ ratings on Goodreads), and was turned onto it after a shout into the ether (well, Facebook) asking for good things to read.

It’s the story of humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrials, lead by a team of Jesuits. How the book probes matters scientific, spiritual, and ethical makes sense when you learn the author was an anthropologist. The Sparrow is remarkably thoughtful, good-humored, and ultimately brutal.

Oh, and I heard in an interview with Scott Frank, the writer and director of The Queen’s Gambit, that he’s developing this as a production.

Sacred Games, Vikram Chandra

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A lengthy, sumptuous cops-and-gangsters tale begins in Mumbai and expands across South Asia. At 900-plus pages, plenty of room for diversion from the main plot (about a policeman trying to unpack the story of a notorious gangster), but it never feels egregious—everything contributes to enabling the reader to dwell in the locale (including the use of local argot that had me looking up words frequently).

The Word Exchange, Alena Graedon

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I probably liked this book more than it deserves, but I’m a word nerd, and this novel is about, well, the dictionary, and runaway capitalism, smartphones, oh, and a virus, so yeah, it came to me at just the right time this year.

The Changeling, Victor LaValle

The Changeling

A captivating contemporary take on the classic “changeling” tale. Set in New York City, with a rare/antiquarian book dealer at the heart of a fantastical horror story.

Piranesi, Susannah Clarke

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One of the most discussed/reviewed novels of 2020, from the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Whereas that book was long, deep, rich, and thorough, this is shorter, sparer, and more suggestive. It’s a curious work, at first seemingly allegorical, then a detective story.

Non-fiction

The Biggest Bluff, Maria Konnikova

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With a Ph.D. in psychology, and extensive experience in longform non-fiction, Konnikova explores the world of high-stakes poker (specifically no-limit hold ’em) and how it proves to be an intense distillation of so much of what makes humans human. You don’t have to be interested in poker to appreciate the book—she connects her experiences at the table with how she (and we) make decisions and actions throughout our lives.

User Friendly, Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant

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While on the face of it, this is a professional book for me (and I think folks working in digital product design would benefit from reading it), it’s intended for a broad audience, and I think succeeds in appealing to that generally Interested Reader. I’ve long thought the world would benefit from a general audience book that peels back the mechanics of how design effects so much of our lives, and this book does that well.

The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Matt Zoller Seitz

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For reasons unbeknownst even to me, I didn’t watch The Grand Budapest Hotel until last year, and then found it my second-favorite Wes Anderson movie (after The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). And it is probably the height of Anderson’s craft, and this book, which deconstructs all that went in to making the film, proved to be a fan’s delight.

Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino

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I’m technically cheating with this one — I finished it at the end of last year. It’s an excellent book, a collection of new essays by one of my favorite The New Yorker writers. She has a keen eye and a remarkably sophisticated social-critical sense. It was all the talk of 2019, but if you never got around to it, do yourself a favor and read it!

Open letter to design leaders: Look out for your teams today

To my peers in the design community, in particular the design leaders and design managers who are responsible for others in a professional and business context

This weekend was emotionally draining for many of us, and we need to give the people on our teams space to recover. Don’t ignore it, and don’t expect people to return to business as usual. Instead, it’s your duty to encourage your teams to work through what they’re feeling. 

In our society, we are encouraged to separate our personal selves from our career selves. As employees, we are expected to be units of labor, creating value for the organization. To acknowledge whatever we’re facing in our non-work lives gets us labeled as unprofessional. 

This dichotomy has always been a false one. We are the same person between 9 and 5 as we are before and after. The pandemic has exposed this in a literal way; we’re working where we live, and the reality of our home lives—partners, children, pets, loneliness—seeps through our video conferences. Even so, there remains that expectation of emotional separation, so regardless of how upset you may be at 8:58am, you better pull yourself together for your morning check-in Zoom call. 

In my career I have led numerous design teams, and consulted with many others. Whenever I conduct an exercise to find out the values the team holds, literally every team has expressed this one: Empathy. And it makes sense, as to be a good designer is to be deeply empathetic, because you need to get inside someone else’s head and understand how they will engage with what you’re creating.

Among the disciplines with which they collaborate, designers (and researchers, content people, etc.) are distinct in this empathetic mode. If I were to conduct similar exercises with engineering, product management, and marketing, I doubt empathy would rank as a core value. This isn’t to suggest designers are better; just different. 

So, to the design leaders and design managers: we need to recognize this very real difference, because others might not. Our team members need us to look out for them. Their empathy, which enables their professional success, is not something they turn off when they leave work, and turn it back on Monday morning. It’s been active all weekend, and we need to ensure they have the space to process what they’re dealing with. 

I fear that our cross-functional partners will not share this sentiment, and may expect designers to just get to work. As design leaders, we need to step up and encourage our peers and executives to embrace humanistic values, lead with compassion, and respect the space that team members need. 

This is not a time for productivity, velocity, or other such measures of work. This is a time for listening, reflection, and looking out for each other.

#blacklivesmatter #justiceforgeorgefloyd

Best San Francisco Movies, by decade, a personal and idiosyncratic list

A while back, I was part of a Twitter thread where it was proposed that Vertigo had been surpassed as “the best San Francisco movie” by The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I took issue, as this smacks of both recency bias and virtue-signaling. As the thread unfolded, it became clear that such a statement was best done by decade, to spread the love (and hopefully deflate some of the more charged responses). Look for these on your streaming services is you need something to watch while we quarantine.

It’s important to distinguish between films that are simply set in San Francisco, and movies that meaningfully connect with San Francisco. I will incline towards the latter.

So, my take. The number of SF films that I have not seen far outnumbers those that I have, so if there are films I should be listing here that I haven’t, please add them to the comments.

1920s

Greed (1924) — only partially set in San Francisco, it’s a remarkable portrayal of early California, all shot on location throughout the state. And a criticism of capitalism and the insanity it inspires.

1930s

Shame on me, but I don’t think I’ve seen any 1930s film set in SF.

1940s

Thieves Highway — Among my favorite films, and the best film directed by my son’s namesake, Jules Dassin. The story goes from the Central Valley (the hero works in agriculture) to San Francisco. For SF locals, most notable for how it used the location of the San Francisco Produce Market (where the Embarcadero Center now is). It’s also just a great movie.

Honorable mentions:

Shadow of  a Doubt — my favorite Hitchcock film, set (and, in part, shot) in Santa Rosa.

D.O.A. — A noir classic with many scenes shot in San Francisco.

The Lady from Shanghai — Can’t say it’s truly ‘of’ San Francisco, but the finale, set in Playland-by-the-Beach (and famous for the hall of mirrors sequence), is worth admission.

The Maltese Falcon — the obvious choice, but I think these other films are better, and this movie is really about soundstages, not locations.

 1950s

Vertigo — One of the best movies ever made, and makes extraordinary use of real San Francisco (and other Bay Area) locations. It doesn’t necessarily feel like San Francisco, but it’s power cannot be denied.

Honorable mention:

The Lineup — Tight, surprisingly gritty crime film from the director who would later give you Dirty Harry. For SF-heads, truly delightful for it’s locations, in particular Sutro Baths before it burned down.

1960s

Bullitt — Could there be another choice? While it might not be the most “San Francisco” or films, it’s iconic car chase, which exploited SF’s distinct topography (even if it didn’t make geographic sense cut-to-cut) sets it apart.

Honorable mention:

Point Blank — Another personal favorite, it’s set mostly in Los Angeles, but uses the bay, Alcatraz, and Fort Point to remarkable effect. It’s also an art film masquerading as a crime drama.

1970s

Invasion of the Body Snatchers — This may be the most truly San Francisco film so far, in terms of something that could have only be set in SF, drawing from its culture. Also, remarkable use of locations, early Jeff Goldbum, and Leonard Nimoy without the ear tips.

Honorable mention:

Time After Time — A trifle (about Sherlock Holmes chasing Jack the Ripper using a time machine that brings them to modern-day San Francisco), but enjoyable. Written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, who would use San Francisco to great effect in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. 

Dirty Harry — Not so much about peace and love, but still very much of San Francisco after the ‘season of the witch.’ A taut police drama inspired by the Zodiac killings, it created an iconic character who went on to helm a franchise.

Dishonorable mention:

The Conversation — A hamhanded misguided attempt at a European art film. It’s only redeeming qualities are how it uses San Francisco locations. The movie itself is a ponderous bore. And a cheat.

1980s

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home — This is my list, okay? Also, from what I can tell, the 80s were not a great time for movies set in SF. STIV is lightweight, but legitimately entertaining, and makes superlative use of the Bay Area.

1990s

Sneakers — Prrrrobably the best “computer hacker” movie (though War Games holds up surprisingly well), it is a deeply Bay Area film, not only San Francisco, but uptown Oakland and the peninsula as well.

Honorable mention:

Crumb — Eye-opening documentary, and much of that initial underground comix scene was fomented in San Francisco.

2000s

There are plenty of movies set in SF this decade, but I didn’t see them, and the ones I did were not very good. So my choices are:

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill—There may be no movie more “San Francisco” than this. A loner who lives on the Filbert Steps below Coit Tower ends up ‘adopting’ wild parrots who have moved into his neighborhood. Sweet, delightful, melancholy.

Live Nude Girls, Unite! — Another documentary that defines “only in San Francisco.” The story of the first unionized strip club. A labor doc with boobies.

2010s

The Last Black Man in San Francisco — A necessary, meditative film, created by two guys who clearly love, and fear for, San Francisco. Jarmusch undertones.

Honorable Mention

Inside Out — The only animated film on this list, it also follow Last Black Man as a critical look at San Francisco. The family’s move to the city precipitates the daughter’s emotional transformation.

It’s Time to Reflect

We have all been thrust into a strange new reality, one where whatever assumptions we had about how we lead our lives, individually and with others, have been shaken like the “snow” in a snow globe.

My pal Scott Berkun wrote “It’s Time to Learn,” a blog post spurred by a compulsion to respond to Marc Andreessen’s misguided “It’s Time to Build.” And while I agree with Scott, I realized that I had a different, though related, take. Because “learning” feels like work, and I know many of us barely have energy to manage what’s expected of us right now.

These shaken assumptions lead me to feel that It’s Time to Reflect. Too rarely do we stop and take stock of our lives, our behavior, our relationships, our time. When things are chugging along, and things seem good enough, there’s no impetus to do so. But in these times, we owe it to ourselves to step back and reflect. Learning suggests looking outward. Reflection looks inward. No need for research. No worrying about finding legitimate and trustworthy sources. How do I feel about my job, friendships, relationships, and connections with broader society? Are there things that I assumed that this experience shows I now feel different about? What will I do about that?

This is hardly an original thought. But I felt it worthwhile to suggest that we not worry about productivity, about self-betterment, about progress, and instead prioritize reflection, and the new considerations that emerge from it.

Movies as content, not experience

My exercise routine involves ~40 minutes on an elliptical trainer in a spare room, in front of a television set. Usually, it’s when I watch my ‘stories’ — genre television shows including Mindhunter, Colony (RIP), Watchmen, The Good Fight, Star Trek: Discovery, etc. However, I’ve plowed through all that, and in looking for something to watch, I’ve fallen back on old movies I’ve never seen.

Recently I’ve watched Zardoz, Three Days of the Condor, and am currently in the middle of The Talented My Ripley. About a year ago, this is how I finally got around to watching The Godfather and The Godfather: Part 2. (I’ve also started, but not continued with, John Wick 3 and Freebie and the Bean.) Viewings take place over multiple sessions, and I’m essentially treating these movies as a series of television episodes.

And in doing so, watching movies has shifted from being an experience to an exercise in consuming content. I am no longer enveloped and carried along by a story and aesthetic, and having that communal experience in the darkened room, and instead am engaged in a strange type of ‘productivity,’ catching up on media that has intrigued me but I haven’t had time to watch, and doing so in a way that maximizes my consumption efficiency, during my exercise time.

For me, this is in large part a response to what it means to be a middle-aged professional and family-man and citizen. So many things compete for my attention that I feel like the only responsible way to watch movies is while I’m doing something ‘good’ for me — exercising, or sharing time with family. To simply see a movie for the sake of seeing a movie feels like a selfish luxury.

I’m sure I’m not the first to identify this shift in viewing from experience to content. I expect it’s what is driving much of the media production in a streaming age, this churning out of ‘good enough’ material that keeps people occupied. When Scorsese calls out these movies as not being cinema, I think part of what he’s getting at (and may not even realize himself) is how our movies have become “content.” With cinema, there’s as much, if not greater, emphasis on matter of character, scene, pacing, feeling, psychology, aesthetic. With content, plot rules everything, as it’s the easiest way to maintain audience engagement.

I don’t know exactly what the ‘so what?’ is of all this.