July 16, 1999
Not that there's anything wrong with that. With friends and new acquaintances, I've been discussing the notion
of the gay-seeming straight
male. The thread of thought has become quite complicated, so please bear
I'm often assumed gay. There are certain superficial reasons--soft features, bright clothing, a campy sense of
humor, a predilection towards uttering "fabulous," being a single guy in San Francisco.
But there seems to be an even deeper reason. It came up a couple months ago when I was chatting with a new friend
who was unloading some angst she'd been feeling. She apologized for being such a downer, and I replied that, no,
you're a friend, and I want to know what my friends are feeling. She responded, "That's like a gay man,"
which kind of took me off-guard.
Earlier this week, another new friend puzzled herself by revealing to me personal details that she had never told
people who knew her well. I mentioned the "gay man" comment, and she said, "Yeah, straight boys
don't listen. They just want to talk."
I was discussing this in email with J, who added that it doesn't really have anything to do with actual homosexuality--"some
of the most self-absorbed people I know are gay."
What clinched it was an ICQ chat with L, who says that men often think she's a dyke, because she puts across a
rather strongly independent persona. (And no, they don't presume for the obvious reason, which is "not being
interested in them," because, well, men she's quite interested in have presumed her homosexuality.)
Now, if you've been following, you'll notice that actual sexuality has not entered into the picture.
What I realized is that people aren't necessarily presuming L and I as "gay," but as "Other."
A guy who listens isn't "typical." An independent woman isn't "typical." And since we're primary
dealing here with gender relationships, the easiest "Other" is "gay."
Now, how odd is that? What I find additionally intriguing is that these atypical behaviors are those which society
considers positive, healthy. Listening is a good trait. Being independent, able to stand on your own, is a good
trait. So, to be even more specific, "Positive Other" is "gay."
And I'm not the only het boy I know who's been erroneously presumed gay (GSSM's are actually quite legion in the
new media design community). From what I've gathered, we're the product of a post-feminist society. Growing up,
my parents never inculcated me with notions of How To Act Like A Man; they just wanted me to be a good person..
I was left to my own devices, and developed tastes, attitudes, and behaviors based on what interested me--some
of which are traditionally masculine, and others feminine.
There's no real conclusion to this thread of thought. I just wanted to get it out there.
Hug a librarian! We here at peterme.com love when our users help us out. So it was with great pleasure we received
a note from researcher extraordinaire, Jessamyn, pointing us to the domain registration page for Necessary Illusions,
the company that produced Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.
Special Cardhouse homage. Please forgive if I don't quite compare with Mark's
"squeaky clean image" is being used with that delightful British sense of irony.
Oh, I see, yes. Unions are okay only if I benefit directly. Excuse me, but,
REPUBLICANS, BLOW ME. Libertarians, too, for that matter.
Why I Love the Web, #149 in a series. Tonight I had the fortune of sampling a couple of single malt scotches--"Spey-something-or-other" (according to our waitress) and "Knockando." It made me wonder how much of
my love of the drink has to do with the funny spellings. Anyway, I did a little poking around on the web, and found
the site that I linked those two scotches to. Now, dig this. Click on "Soundclip" and learn the proper
pronounciation of each scotch! The "do" is pronounced "doo" not "doe"! Now I finally
know how to pronounce "Laphroaig," (pretend there's no second "a"), "Glenmorangie," ("rhymes with 'orangey'"),
and "Lagavulin." (accents on 1st and 3rd syllables... I'd always put it on the 2nd.)
This might seem specious, but I actually think such information is what the Web is all about.
July 15, 1999
What's this? A normal link? Ninfomania is a British-based meme-spreader, kinda like a blog, only with more context. Oh, and a
wicked interface. Lord love that ALT tag!
Information barrage. So I recently re-watched Manufacturing
Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media on video. It's an amazing work,
and a groundbreaking documentary, both in content and form. The content is familiar to those who've studied the
mass media--big media companies are typically kneejerk mouthpieces of those in power, real discussion and debate
is nowhere to be found, and amazingly few number of companies control more and more of what we read, see, and hear.
The form is particularly startling, though. I have never seen a time-based audiovisual product impart so much information.
Control of a VCR is necessary when watching this movie, because the density of data requires much rewinding. Multi-threading
through irony is often used (though not in the ham-handed Michael Moore fashion), but even when it's just straightforward
presentation, the viewer's vigilance is required to process it all.
At one time, I know that Peter Wintonick (one of the doc's creators) was interested in bringing this content to
interactive media (he approached Voyager when I worked there). But a trip 'round the web turned up no work on his
part, just links to Chomsky resources. I couldn't even find a page for Necessary Illusions (the production company).
If anyone knows how to contact Peter, please let
July 14, 1999
The choice of no choice. Designing Disney's Theme Parks, pg. 86:
"For all its architectural inducements to follow the script, Disneyland
was still a place that celebrated choice. The park resuscitated the act of choosing one route or destination over
another by eliminating the unpleasant consequences: there were no bad neighborhoods lurking around the next corner...
"But during Scene One--the ritual procession through the ticket gate, under the railroad station, and down
Main Street--the layout of Disneyland allowed for no deviations from the master narrative... The act of entry was
a rite of passage telling the stranger to shake off the customs of that other place--the formless sprawl of Los
A couple interesting themes at play here. First is the notion of control,
of choice. On July 9, I discussed the role control plays in the reception of information. Clearly, Disneyland doesn't
"celebrate choice," it celebrates the illusion of choice, and that illusion suffices to allow the visitors
to feel in control.
Second is the notion of transition. Over a year ago I wrote a little piece for this site on the use of transitions in experience design. That was the beginning of my Pro-Splash Screen Agenda (a.k.a., Peterme's Folly), as they
can help users "shake off" the ways of the rest of the Web, and orient themselves as to what is ahead.
July 13, 1999
Because we care. We here at peterme.com
are always looking out for you. That's why we're telling you about Acses. It's a shopping comparison agent for books,
music, and video. It's fabulous. It not only compares prices, it also compares shipping, so you get the true cost
of each item. Most impressively, not only does it work for orders of a single product, it can find the lowest overall
price on multiple-product orders. The next time you plan on buying online, go to Acses first.
Such a simple scam. You all realize, I mean all of you, that when a portal asks for your birthdate in order to provide
a horoscope, that it's simply to get your birthyear, which is unnecessary to know your star sign, and they do this
to know your age, which they then use to attract advertisers. You know this, right? Right?
Be dense. Lou Rosenfeld (who is a really smart guy who studied library science and wrote a book about information
architecture and so you should listen to him when he says things about web design) wrote in Web Review about colleagues researching
tables of contents:
Their findings were interesting: The subjects preferred the longer, more
information-rich tables of contents (as shown in Fig. 1) over ones that had just major categories or major categories
with scope notes (as shown in Fig. 2). In other words, they preferred a broader, shallower hierarchy, with many
options on a single long page, over fewer options per page but a deeper hierarchy to click through.
Lou finds this surprising, as it goes against his taught notions of presenting
hierarchies. I'm not surprised. Three years ago I wrote an article for The Net magazine (R.I.P.) on navigation
design (lord knows where the original is, but a student synopsized my piece here), and asked the design gods at CNET why they
had changed their page from having a simple 7 links to something like 50. Conventional wisdom held that you present
people 7 +/- 2 choices at any point. Their response was straightforward--the more links you offer, the more clicks
you get. People were finding information on the site that they didn't even know was there.
Web users seem remarkably accepting of information barrages. This plays into the multi-channel information reception
stuff I've blathered about on previous days. As long as the information is somehow chunked on the page, there seems
to be little limit as to how much you can get across in one place.
I've been researching e-commerce sites, and the most effective home pages fell into two camps. Either they were
and graphically intense,
getting a single point across, or they were exceedingly long, showing the user all
possibilites. The former are best for the visceral emotional play, which
is obviously key in marketing fashion. The latter is good for sites with thousands, if not millions, of products,
and makes sure people understand the site's depth and breadth, and find what they need. Pets.com's home page is almost obscene in length,
but the sections are well divided, and I don't think anyone would get lost on it.
Disney's Theme Parks, pg. 66:
"The old pros in the carnival business thought nobody would trudge
upstairs to get to the railroad tracks, for example, but Walt's theory was that if the promised goody were good
enough, if what was going to be there was clear enough from environmental cues embedded in the design, then
Disneyland guests would go anywhere and relish the trip." (emphasis mine)
This was what I was getting at with my "Wait for It" piece on Webmonkey. And whose
legacy lives on? The "old pros" or Walt?. Oh, and guess what can be a said "environmental cue"
on the web--a splash screen!
It's become inevitable. At some point they say, "Why am I telling you things I don't even tell my good
friends?" I don't know what to say, so I shrug and smile.
July 12, 1999
E-business? E-fun! Okay, that's a tad boosterish, but y'all should walk on over to Bigstep, a web service devoted to bringing small
businesses online. I've had the fortune of closely watching the service's development, and peterme regulars should note the devotion to detail throughout the site's interaction design.
For kicks, I've created my own Bigstep site for my
business. It's not much, I know, but it does show you how to physically
Toys! I just found that Scott McCloud has opened up the Inventions part of his site. It includes the diabolically
Machine (give us all of it, Scott!).
Speaking of comics, this picture of me, taken by Judith with her Lomo camera (which takes 4 pictures in a single
second), is oddly reminscent of the archetypal "sequential art" depiction of a man doffing
July 11, 1999
"He who lives in paper houses shouldn't light matches." Lemonyellow's pointers to Shigeru Ban's Paper Log House reminded me that I've some images from London worth passing along. See, attending the
Cities on the Move exhibit at the Hayward
Gallery, I poked around and took pictures of a paper log house which was
on display. It's a marvel of engineering, and if built in San Francisco, I'm sure would become the domicile of
choice among the new media elite (and it's far sexier than the stucco boxes sprouting relentlessly). I have two
exterior shots, showing the house more clearly than the above-pointed-to website.   (Images appear in a new window)
Perhaps my favorite piece in the exhibit was titled "Live/Work Space." The tenant is outlined
by the red circle. So woefully a propos for my city of residence.
Elsewhere in the city, I visited the OXO
Tower, home to numerous boutique design shops and the Peugeot's design-oriented
gallery@oxo. In a building celebrating good design, it was a remarkable shame to see doors like this, that swing only one way, yet have identical
handles on either side.