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  past petermemes

September 30, 1999
After something of a brief hiatus, Carl is writing again. Tasty content nuggets. Though, I suppose knowing him helps me appreciate it. Though, everybody knows Carl. Some have just not yet met him.

Judith pointed me to this article on mapping cyberspace. Some cool pics. [NYTimes, free registration required. You've registered right? I mean, there's no reason not to.]

Merritt Thompson pointed me to his Scientorium project, an intriguing science museum concept. On the home page scroll down a bit and read "The Museum as Church," an approach to exhibit design that's novel for focusing on the thoughts and interests of the visitors, not on the items in the collection.

September 29, 1999
Picking up where you left off.
So, yesterday I had lunch with Squishy, the Senior Director of User Experience at Bigstep.com, and conversation turned to the task-oriented nature of the site's (damn fine) interface. (Yes, we actually have discussions like this over beer.)

A key aspect to the Bigstep task-based design was "resumability" (no, it's not a word, but it should be. Webster's listening?), the way that the site remembers what you were doing when you were last there and helps you continue upon return. It's a notion so pathetically lost in software and Web design, which typically assumes that users remain transfixed to their computers, ignoring that computers exist within some context, be it home or office or cybercafe, where numerous distractions abound.

Ever been to an online store, loaded up the shopping cart, answered the phone and engaged in a long conversation, and returned to the store only to find your items gone because your session was killed? (BroadVision is notorious for this behavior). Bad design.

The e-commerce world is riddled with non-persistent shopping carts. This assumes that, oh, you know, browsers don't crash, and that you can find everything you want quickly, and that anything you place in your cart you want to buy right now. Ahem.

Gin like a baby's bottom. Last night I enjoyed a martini made with Anchor's Junipero Gin. Ardent peterme readers will recall my love of Old Potrero, distilled by the same company. Well, Junipero Gin is amazing--smooth, dry, goes down like drinking silk. If you see it offered (most likely on here in SF), do yourself a favor and order it. This store seems to carry it.

September 28, 1999
Ich mag den Telefonstand des Ödlands Mojave.
When I visited the Mojave Desert Phone Booth, a couple of guys from a German radio station were there getting the story. It's now on the Web. Head here for the pics (I really do need to extract sponsorship from Unocal 76), and click this for the RealAudio stream (When you hear a voice say, "Mojave Desert Phone Booth, how may I direct your call?" that's me.

Not sick of hearing about books? Have something you want to say? Then head on over to Jen's forum on "The future of books."

That's what I want. So Richard [September 26] calls me out on the apparent contradiction in my lambasting the mercenary attitude taking hold in this city, and then turning around and saying, take everything you can get. [See my September 24 post] He glosses over a key phrase: "In whatever the situation." The situation takes primacy, and bounds the monetary possibilities. At Voyager I took as much money as I could get--it's just that the amount wasn't all that much, particularly compared to elsewhere in the industry. And there was no way I was going to leave Voyager for money's sake. To be mercenary is to place the importance of money before the kind of work being done.

Richard ends with the question, "How has your life changed, Peter?", and considering the lack of context for the query (Over the last 3 years? Ever since SF became mercenary? Since I worked at Voyager?), the only consistent answer I can provide right now is, "it hasn't."

September 27, 1999
Multiple Attention Span Theater
. Paul's musings on the worth of attention include the the notion that it's theoretically possible to follow three simultaneous conversational threads at once. In Rethinking the Book (mentioned below), David discusses a section of the Brain Opera where

"...Motion was used to elucidate multiple overlapping voices. In the score shown the soprano is singing four different and overlapping lines. One of the properties of music is that, as Marvin Minsky says, it 'lets you think of three or four things at a time.'
"We were unsure if we could give the audience the idea that they could read more than one thing at a time. By using motion paths to distinguish the four typographic streams, we were able to create the sense of four simultaneous voices, even if the audience only thought that they read the actual text."

Multiple channel information reception, anyone?

September 26, 1999
Research is fun! So, in poking around the Web attempting to develop a syllabus for my information design course, I find myself stumbling across delightful nuggets.

Rethinking the Book [1.3 MB PDF, worth the download] is David Small's Ph.D. thesis written at MIT's Media Lab. It's an exploration of interactive textscapes, definitely in line with my musings in the qualities of the "book." If nothing else, I learned that the formal name of the bound-pages book is "codex," as distinguished from the single-sheet books you know as "scrolls."

Tangent: what a wee furor my thoughtwander on the book caused! All sorts puzzled by my puzzlement of people's devotion to the physical form of the book. And you know what I learned? You're all a bunch of book-sniffing weirdos. The most-offered reason for the love of tangible books was the way they smell. Which, well, has nothing to do with the purpose of books and kind of proved my point.

Another Tangent: A search on "codex book" turns up all manner of interesting forays into the form of the book amidst the onslaught of electronic technology.

A search on David's colleague Yin Yin Wong led me to this paper on "Dynamic Presentation of Document Content for Rapid On-Line Skimming," [PDF] (oddly pertinent to the whole blog phenomenon, and suggests strategies to deal with "How People Read on the Web") as well as Stanford's HCI program.

Among the highlights for non-students is the Human-Computer Interaction Seminar, an open-to-the-public event where industry types speak about what they're up to. If you can't make it, the lectures are available online.[Click "CS547"] The October 8 presentation looks quite tasty.

Stanford is also home to captology, the study of computers as persuasive technologies. And professors Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass wrote The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places, which I keep meaning to read.

September 25, 1999
Self-serving? Yes!
It's my site! Happy Birthday to me-e-e-e! The last I'll be nn. Unless medicine starts making some leaps and bounds.

September 24, 1999
Need a movie to rent?
While everyone runs out to rent Patton, may I make a couple of other George C. Scott suggestions? The most obvious is Dr. Strangelove, featuring Scott's turn as General Buck Turgidson ("He'll see the Big Board!"). Another treat, quite appropos of these The Sixth Sense times is The Changeling, a tasty haunted house story that you really don't want to watch alone.

Some deep thinking for a Friday afternoon. I know, I know, you're all thinking, "Weekend!" but maybe some mind candy to take with you.

Paul Pangaro is a smart and articulate man, with whom I've had the happy fortune to work, and who loves wielding the term "cybernetics." If interested in design, organizational theory, personalization, or anything to do with computers, read his stuff.

Care of Alamut comes a pointer to Synthetic Zero, a lemonyellow-inspired notebook. He immediately gets on my good side with many Feynman references.

San Francisco, Where Art Thou? In conversing with a friend who's lived in this city for the past 6 years, I figured out something that's bloody obvious, but I hadn't yet put my finger on, as I'm so immersed in the environment: for the first time since the Gold Rush, people are moving to San Francisco for money.

For decades, this transient-attracting city (it's hard to find people who were actually raised here) has drawn folks for cultural reasons--the beat scene in North Beach, hippies in the Haight, queers in the Castro. Or simply the general openness and friendliness of the place. More recently, artsy geeks were drawn here for the mix of culture and technology (its apotheosis being Burning Man, for better or worse).

But now, in the age of Dot Com mania, people are moving here for the cash. To work. To get paid. It's a mercenary attitude, highly individualistic, and I fear its effects on life in the city.

Tangent: Money, at heart, is a shitty motivator. I learned this at Voyager. We were a woefully underpaid staff. With some of the most brilliant and capable talent in multimedia. We could have worked anywhere else for twice as much. But we stayed at Voyager because nowhere else could we take part in projects as cool, important, deep, meaningful, and do so with a team of brilliant brilliant colleagues. Companies that wave higher salaries and stock options in the hopes that people stay on or join a miserable environment just don't get it. The money might provide a temporary salve, but the wound will eventually reopen.

This is not to suggest money's not important. In whatever the situation, get as much money as you can--the person employing you plans to make as much profit off your labor, so why shouldn't you? Money is what makes our capitalist society go 'round. It's just not where good work comes from.

September 22, 1999
So, I don't get how items are added to Epinions. I've reviewed Understanding Comics for the Art and Architecture section of books, but the only way to find it right now is through my page. It seems. Damn shame, as it's a book that needs to be on their list.

September 21, 1999
Narrative as organizing principle.
In New York a couple weeks ago I did a consulting gig, preaching the gospel on information architecture and user-centered design methodology, and the continually recurring theme was, "What's your story?"

Narratives are an amazingly powerful tool for cohering design, as well as ensuring that what you're creating, well, makes sense.

Case in point: in the design of a weather page on the site, a three column structure was used--thin left column for navigation (natch), big middle column for feature weather story, and thin right column with temperature in various cities.

Now, when you go to a weather page on the site, what is it you want to do? It's likely either you want to find out what the weather will be where you are or where you're going. However, the story being told by the aforementioned design says, "Dave goes to the weather page to find out what's happening in the world of weather." Silly, huh? Almost ludicrous even. When going to a weather page, people likely don't want weather news--if they want news, they'll go to a news page.

By framing the design's message as a story, the fallacy became bleeding obvious in a way that simply viewing The Design wouldn't show--the page had nice composition, a single striking image to draw attention, pleasing colors, and other hallmarks of "good" design. But the story showed how it actually failed to meet real needs.

I'm far from original in my blather about storytelling and design. Tom Erickson wrote a marvelous essay, "Design as Storytelling," showing the power of narrative to communicate design ideas. Digital storyteller and designer extraordinaire Abbe Don weighs in with the deeply academic (and I mean that in a good way) "Narrative and the Interface." And here's a more business-friendly approach to the subject (great for showing those with the purse strings who think "storytelling" is what you do in kindergarten).

Irony for the day. Riding my bicycle to the DMV to renew my driver's license.

Love is what I've got. Without any person to focus it on, I'm finding that I'm producing tons of diffuse "love energy" (sorry for the New Agey speak), and it's having the odd effect of sapping much of my motivation. I feel almost paralyzed.

Another update. So, Aaron has tweaked surfmenu to be more pop-up window aware. Right-click (or option-click) this updated bookmarklet. Added features include: 1) Automatically loads the first blog into the main browser window; 2) When clicking "horz" or "vert" to set-up your preferences, the big blog list appears in the main browser window.

You might be wondering, "Where the hell are the petermemes?" Well, they'll be coming.

September 20, 1999
Void where prohibited.
Bryan Boyer sent me a little fix to the bookmarklet I discussed yesterday. Now it won't return that ugly "_newwin" in the main browser window. Right-click this bookmarklet for the new goods.

September 19, 1999
So, I've ditched "peterme surf" in favor of using Aaronland's surfmenu. It's continually updated with the latest blogs (care of eatonweb), and just makes more sense.

I've gently extended surfmenu to allow for easier browsing. Here's what you do.

1. Go here [spawns window] and check off the blogs you like. Save your preferences. Then come back here.

2. Right-click (or option click, I guess, on a Mac) this bookmarklet I created and select "Add to favorites..." in Internet Explorer or "Add bookmark" in Netscape. Name it something you'll remember.

3. From your favorites/bookmark list, select the bookmarklet. Watch as it pops up your surfmenu in a small pop-up, and as you click through it, sites are viewed in your main browser window.

Any problems? Let me know.

Damn funny stuff. The video stylings of Ingredient X are well worth waiting for. "Party" and "Pickle" are good places to start.

Trust no one. So, I just submitted my first epinion, a review of American Beauty (good flick, go see it.)

Like minds. This morning Marc pointed me to a bunch of goodies:
SmartDraw, another business graphics tool in the Visio vein.
Spyonit.com, a service for tracking anything on the internet (news items, weather, favorite band in town, package delivery, what have you).
Elab, a consultancy which, like the Doblin Group mentioned a few days ago, applies ethnography to help businesses understand their customers and their role in the market. Also like Doblin, Elab has published some interesting thoughts about experience design on their site, though, also like Doblin, their site is presented in frames, so I can't point straight to the article (click "By us").

You should, of course, click around Marc's personal site, as it's got Good Content and a top-notch recommended reading list. His excellent taste is made clear by his love of Understanding Comics.

September 17, 1999
Get me rewrite. Wanna know what you'll be seeing in theaters next year? Follow the script and pitch sales done throughout Hollywood. I love pitches. The log lines are great. A story boiled down to its essence.

September 16, 1999
If the pastor had a gun, this wouldn't have happened,
is what I'm assuming Moses would say.

Oh, duh. Lawrence reminded me that Perot Systems acquired The Doblin Group. (referring to the petermeme below) Such synergy!

Special to Judith. "It's delightful, it's de-lovely, it's de-meta!"

"Freebird!" The ever lovely Viv pointed me to The Music of the Internet, which composes a musical arrangement based on your IP number.

They Get Paid To Think! The Doblin Group is a business consultancy renowned for applying Deep Design Thinking to their client's problems. They actually get away with performing ethnography in order to best understand customers. They also love love love models--charts and graphs that reflect trends. This morning, Michael pointed me to their Innovation Landscapes, a report with lovely red charts 'n graphs for Visualizing Innovation. You see, if you show people enough charts and graphs, no matter how specious the data (and I can't qualify the data on these pages), people will believe whatever it is you're saying, because, look, it's right there in the chart. Ross Perot understood this.

Maybe I'm being unfair to the Doblin Group. Any antipathy expressed is solely due to jealousy, as these guys get to sit around and think and observe and make models, and they don't really have to do anything, and clients seeking their wisdom prostrate themselves before them.

Also checkout Zounds, which, along with providing a toy to print out and play with, highlights the five stages of a "great experience":

It calls to you. You want to try it, watch it, play it.
As you enter the experience, you are removed from your everyday world. [Reminiscent of this piece I wrote]
You are doing it, Feeling it, listening to it, smelling it, forgetting time.
As the actual doing of it ends, you rejoin your everyday life.
You want to share it, relive it. You collect programs, call a fellow traveler, search out similar experiences.

September 15, 1999
Keeping options open. As I'm wary of the continuing progress towards Microsoft Everything™, I was pleased to find out about the existence of Visual Thought, a business diagramming (read: flowcharting!) tool for Windows and Unix. I'm downloading a copy now...

September 14, 1999
Well, I guess it's not technically voyeurdom, but I do feel like a bit of a snooper when reading this page that chronicles the whereabouts of alumni of Apple's Human Interface community. Still and all, the links to the individuals' home pages are well worth following!

What makes a book a book? [Thanks to Lindsay for recovering an earlier version of this from his cache.] Reading Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things foments all manner of ideas. Ostensibly a linguistics text on how categories reveal the workings of the mind, it spurred a thoughtwander on the nature of "book."

Ever since I worked at Voyager, I've been surprised at how attached people are to the physical nature of the book. Obviously, I love books--but by and large insofar as they're the most efficient vessels for the transmission of deep ideas. People's attachment to the form of the book, front and back covers, leaves of paper bound together, black ink organized in recognizable typographic symbology, has continually puzzled me.

(I am also annoyed by smug condescension toward electronic books, i.e."Can I read an electronic book in the bath?" This was, in part, why I so wanted the iBook to be waterproof, because then I could tell those folks to shut up. Since I've started, I might as well keep going an express annoyance with intellectuals who believe that "library" means "place for books," and get all hot and bothered when new libraries have the audacity to offer internet access through computer terminals. Libraries are places to traffic in ideas, in whatever form best suits them. A good essay with some odd ASCII formatting can be found here.)

Bringing this puzzlement to the subject of categories, I wondered, just what makes a book a book? It's not its form--magazines and other periodicals often match a book's physical properties, but would never be labelled "book." And electronic books, which have no physical form beyond the device through which they're viewed, still qualify as books.

Is it the content? To some extent. Unlike a magazine, a book's content has an aura of permanence and timelessness, and delves into more involved thoughts.

Still, though, the form is important, and electronic books highlight this. I could take the exact same content, and present it either in a form like a Voyager Expanded Book, or in a single long scrolling Web page. The latter would not be called a book. The notion of page-turning is essential to the category of book, again, even if that page-turning is only being done metaphorically on a computer screen.

So, a book, at it's core, is an object containing content of permanence presented in a page-turning medium.

I hope you weren't expecting a point to this rumination on books. The journey is its own reward and all that.

Urp. A host of potentially tasty links resides here, particularly under the "Information Visualization" header.

Like minds thing alike. Fellow ENTP and GSSM Anil Dash's thoughts and links will be right on target for petermeme readers. Scroll down to August 15 for an interesting take on the notion of multi-channel information reception. I just wish there was more on the man himself. Unlike some, I invariably crave context!

The cause that effects. My friend Jan is helping teach an interface design class, and in the first session the question was posed, "What is an interface?" She told me some of the items that were brought up, such as sheet music, none of which I would have considered an "interface." Sheet music is simply a representation of information.

While I was able to label what is and is not an interface, I couldn't come up with succinct reasoning to back it up. That was, until reading a passage in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things on causation and direct manipulation, and how a key factor in how humans categorize things is how they interact with them--separate and distinct from any internal attributes the thing might have (obviously, those are important as well).

In my view, an interface must be that which allows for the process of cause and effect. Sheet music isn't an interface because, well, it just sits there. It prescribes interaction, but I can't engage any "cause" on the sheet music that leads to an effect. The paper the music is printed on is an interface, as I can scribble on and annotate it.

September 13, 1999
I'm back from New York.
Lotsa thoughts to say. But I'm sleepy. So, before I go to bed, I leave you with this:

Don't ever ever ever use the phrase "information architecting." Gah. It sounds terrible. And "architect" is not a verb. So I guess that makes me a pedantic anti-semantic.

September 10, 1999 [New York City]
GSSM's On Film. All you gay-seeming types who love classic American movies will enjoy "The Sissy Gaze in American Cinema," a brief and witty exploration into the now-gone fop archetype once so popular in American romantic comedies. Special added bonus: tough tomboy women! (Oh how I swoon for Miriam Hopkins.)

More on anti-semanticism. Noam Chomsky's critique of Derrida's intellectual strategy captures well my ill feelings towards miring oneself in semantics and not addressing the real problems at hand (in fact, how obsessing over semantics is a way to not seriously address the issues.)

Fascinating. As of right now, in the poll on the left, 37 people have said that it would take them "more than 30 minutes" to get a soft drink. Considering you can find Coke at base camps in the Himalayas, I'm surprised that anyone using a computer is so far removed from fizzy water. I'd love to hear from those folks just where you are that so distances you from soft drinks.