October 31, 2000
Powerpoint Sux! So, Brigitte brought to my attention that the
HTML version of my presentation (posted below, October 28) has an
message for Non-IE types. For which I apologize. When I asked
Powerpoint to "Save As Web Page..." I didn't realize it
was going to use proprietary MS hacks. Unfortunately, I'm too lazy
to create a Netscape version of the talk. My apologies.
October 30, 2000
The best newspaper comic out there. Has got to be Tom
the Dancing Bug. It gets to you on so many levels. This
is my recent favorite. This
is another one I love.
October 28, 2000
Back from La Jolla. And tired. The slides to my talk ("How
Websites Learn: Information Architecture that Adapts to Use")
Version (800+ kilobytes)
Share and Enjoy. The Oompa
Loompa thing was funny at the conference. Trust me.
October 24, 2000
Heading to La Jolla. For the ACIA
conference. I dunno when I'll have update opportunities.
October 23, 2000
"Postmodern" used un-ironically! A smart hypertext
essay awaits you in "Stories
and Maps: Postmodernism and Professional Communication."
From the abstract:
In this text, I sketch out some of the ways that postmodernist
tendencies affect the careers and possibilities for business and
technical communicators. Communication used to be about telling
stories, about listening to narratives of discovery, learning,
redemption, and war. Not just little stories, but big stories:
heaven, hell, utopia. Relatively recently, though, the map has
started to replace the story as our fundamental way of knowing.
The new emphasis on spatial rather than temporal or historical
concerns goes by a number of titles--postcapitalism, networked
workplaces, nonhierarchical management--but the most popular (and
often misunderstood) is postmodernism. Briefly, I see the potential
for increased responsibility, prestige, and influence for business
and technical communicators, but only if we are able to reconceive
what we think of as the value of our work; that is, we must reposition
ourselves as mapmakers rather than authors.
October 22, 2000
Our favorite Canadian. Special to Pete Bevins--THANKS!
October 20, 2000
Robot talk. The best online
speech synthesizer I've found.
I'll be going to the "Nader Super Rally" tomorrow
night in Oakland. Going? Let
Hearty welcome! More
flash tasties, this time a tourism
site in Germany.
Vocoders rule. NTK
points to Captain
Low-Rez and the Pixel of Destiny, a nifty flash movie done in
8-bit graphix style, with all dialogue done with speech synthesizers.
I love speech synthesizers.
October 18, 2000
Time flies. Or something. A year ago today, I assumed my responsibilities
as Creative Director at Epinions. A lot can happen in a year.
Adopt, Adapt, and
Improve. I got a bunch of great responses to my request for
examples of adaptive information architecture. Everything2
is probably the single exemplar of the kind of thing I'm shooting
October 16, 2000
Dammit! When I was invited to the IA2000
conference, I thought they meant this
IA2000 conference. Shoot. Gives 'bottom-up' categorization a
whole new meaning. Huh huh. Collaborative filtering. Huh. "Explicit"
social navigation. Hoo.
October 14, 2000
Head to the newsstands. Stewart
beat me to the punch in lauding the latest The New Yorker, which
focuses on politics. A fat double issue, it'll be in newsstands
for two weeks, so you have no excuse for not buying and reading
it. Stew (I can call you Stew, right, Stew?) sums up the articles
well, so I won't duplicate his efforts.
I call particular attention
to Nicholas Lemann's essay "The Word Lab", where he discusses
how the phraseology of campaigning is arrived at. A lexiphiles delight,
it's scary to think how the simple twisting of a phrase gives two
semantically identical wordings totally different 'meanings'. Midway
through the piece, I wondered if the Lemann were familiar with George
Politics, a book I haven't read, but which I know covers
the linguistics of political discourse. Then I turn the page and
see that Lemann has gone to Lakoff himself for his take on the points
in the article.
While loving the article,
what it revealed disturbed me. Chronicling a focus group moderated
by Frank Luntz, Lemann relates:
Luntz went to an easel and wrote five words: "Opportunity,"
"Community," "Responsibility," "Accountability,"
[and] "Society." "When you think of what matters
most to you in life," he asked, "of all of these, which
matters most to you?" When he canvassed people's opinions
"opportunity" won, "accountability" was second,
and "community" lost.
Luntz asked what the word "opportunity" meant to people,
and as they called out answers he wrote snatches of wording on
his easel: "right to choose," "personal control,"
"no obstacles," "everyone gets a chance,"
"founding principle of the country." Then the group
voted among these phrases. "Founding principle" won,
"everyone gets a chance" was second, and "right
to choose" was third. Luntz handed out a sheet of paper to
the subjects and ducked into the room where I was sitting. "You
have the Republican and Democratic definitions of opportunity
right there," he said. "The Republican is 'right to
choose,' and the Democratic is 'everyone gets a chance.' Individual
Now, the group was picked
to be rather centrist, but I was bothered by how their opinions
were diametrically opposed to mine--"community" and "responsibility"
are my number one and two.
I also found odd the
notion that "right to choose" is a "Republican"
sentiment, considering they're party platform is against that most
controversial of choices, abortion. The lexical somersaulting that
surrounds the abortion issue has always fascinated me--both sides
are "pro" something (pro-choice, pro-life), suggesting
that perhaps their ideals are somehow orthogonal.
October 11, 2000
Trite references are our friends! My
"Deconstructing..." of AOL Moviefone is up at Internetworld.
(By the way, internetworld.com is a terribly, terribly designed
site. They should be ashamed.)
October 10, 2000
Rate me again. If you used the Bloghop thingy on the left before
today, your rating wasn't properly tallied (an error on their side).
Please rate again! Thanks.
3D is never the answer.
another article on how designers expect 3D to take over. Feh.
I particularly scoff at:
Information architects assert that 3-D creations encourage communication,
enhance education, clarify complex data and stimulate online sales,
along with giving Web surfers a more lifelike environment.
Oh, do we? 3-D will *never*
take hold in such fashions until:
- We have devices that
support 3D input. The mouse moves on a plane. It allows for interaction
on a plane.
- We have devices to
support 3D output. A monitor is a 2D display. No amount of clever
mathematics will change that.
Frankly, there's a lot
unexplored options in the 2D world, visualization possibilities
barely scratched at by things like ThinkMap, or Urbanpixel, or whatever
tool you dig.
has said this all very well in the past. It's one of those points
where I *strongly* agree with him. And one of those points where
flashy designers really piss me off, because what's clear is that
they want to do one thing--make something 'cool'. They have no true
interest in use.
Business 2.0 is evil.
I had always considered it a decent 'new economy' rag, but Tim
Cavanaugh's note on how they mutilated an article of his in
order to attack Jesse Jackson suggests that they're in fact quite
evil. Such behavior is reprehensible.
Why Anthropology Doesn't
Matter. Okay, that may be harsh, but it reflects personal Issues
with the field. This is spurred by the controversy around James
Neel, Napoleon Chagnon, and the Yanomami (which I first read about
in the New Yorker, and about which you can follow many
many links here.) I don't have opinions about this specific
furor--there's too much He Said/He Said going on, and I don't know
enough of the facts.
What I do know is that
the only people truly concerned with this are other anthropologists.
And that's sad, but expected, as the field of anthropology has done
pretty much everything it can to confine its findings to a small
cadre of practitioners.
I received a B.A. with
a major in Anthropology from UC Berkeley. I was drawn to the study
for a number of reasons, primarily because I couldn't imagine a
more relevant pursuit than the study of humans.
While I loved what I
learned, I grew increasingly frustrated as I realized that the leaders
in the field promoted texts that could be read only by others steeped
in the field, texts filled with jargon and obscure references. There
was little encouragement for presenting relevant findings to laypeople--any
such popularizing was frowned upon as "not rigorous."
My frustration was assuaged
by ethnographic film and video, which I considered the perfect vehicles
for spreading impactful anthropological thought and discourse throughout
the public. My unhappiness returned, though, as I saw how the overly
academic criticisms applied to texts were cast on these visual representations,
encouraging an ethnographic discourse that was too obscure or dull
for layfolk to embrace.
These sentiments are
what lead me to believe that 'academia blows,' and drove me out
of school ASAP and into the world of business, where I feel I can
make an actual difference in people's lives.
As I read about this
maelstrom of controversy, I shake my head in realization that so
few people give a flying fuck. The paradox of the 'activist anthropologist'
is that they seek to effect social change, but are seemingly wholly
disinterested in attempting to do so in a meaningful way.
Mister Mojo Risin'.
Over on StatingTheObvious,
Sippey's got an essay on strategies to ensure that peer-to-peer
file sharing doesn't suffer the Tragedy of the Commons. I posted
to the discussion
board, and one of the follow-ups came from Jim McCoy, creator
of Mojo Nation, a P2P network
built on a market model. Jim's been getting himself a fair amount
of coverage, with this
piece in Salon, which got Slashdotted
(and Jim responds to questions, there, too.) MN intrigues me, but,
because of the hoops you have to go through to set it up, I can't
get it to work (after about 10 minutes of installation trials, I
gave up). Are any petermeme
readers using it? What are your thoughts?
October 9, 2000
More about McLuhan. Samu Mielonen writes in:
On Sept 30. you were dwelling on McLuhan's "the medium is the
I would like to disagree with you on your reading of McLuhan
(and second hand readings of McLuhan):
"What does it all mean? Clearly, we're still figuring it out.
McLuhan was very clear that, in media and communication, what's
most important is not the content of the message, but the impact
and affect the message has on its receivers."
I think this is misreading (IMHO) McLuhan's idea. I think you
put it much better in an earlier sentence:
"The editor's notes point out that McLuhan was influenced by
Harold Innis, whose books Empire and Communications and The Bias
of Communication discuss how empires are shaped by their predominant
This is what "Medium is the message" is all about (IMHO). What
is the message?
- The message contents itself? no
- The message colored by the media? no
- The impact of these? perhaps, but rather
- The impact the use of a certain medium has on a society/people
(what it retrieves, what it obsoletes, what it enables and what
does it turn into when taken into its logical extreme. re: McLuhan's
October 8, 2000
Beautiful. Geegaw points
to Phoebe Gloeckner's
website. Gloeckner is an "underground" comix artist
whose work I'd never seen before. The comics seem interesting, but
I'm particularly drawn to her anatomical illustrations for The Atrocity
Exhibition (click 'Gallery', click 'Anatomical Paintings and Drawings'.
Her links are a bit messed up, so you might need to enter URLs by
hand. Or go here
and click through the pages beginning with "anat".)[Oops.
Never mind all that. Ms. Gloeckner wrote me to say that the links
So, there's this TV ad for autotrader.com
that does the best job of visualizing search querying I've witnessed.
A guy in a white white room says, "I'm looking for a car,"
and thousands of cars whoosh all around him, a la that weaponry-picking
scene in The Matrix. As he tailors the search, "a convertible...red...less
than 50,000 miles" the cars whoosh around him until providing
him the single result matching his needs. I suspect its not until
such mechanisms are offered actual users will people adequately
develop models of how search works.
Systems at work! So,
I wasn't chosen for the jury. Happily. It was some lawsuit where
an insurance company was suing a manufacturer for damages incurred
when an employee made a worker's comp claim. The insurance company
had to pay out (god forbid), and now they brought litigation against
the maker of the thing on which the accident occurred. I don't think
I would have been able to not be prejudiced. I marvel at how insurance
companies will do everything in their power to not have to do the
one thing that they're expected to do--pay up when something
Watching the justice
system at work is interesting. 50 people had a day and a half taken
up to select a jury of 14 (12 and 2 alternates). You can't help
but figure there's a more efficient method.
While waiting, I had
ample time to read Systemantics:
The Underground Text of Systems Lore, a book that Michael
bought and that Ed
recommends (it's a safe bet to read most any book that Ed recommends).
It's an amazing text. It should be required reading for anyone who
deals with systems. Which is everyone. petermeme
readers will adore it. 1) It's funny. 2) It's insightful. 3) It
feels your pain. Some revealing axioms notes from the book:
PATCH WILL VERY LIKELY BE PERMANENT
PERFECTION OF PLANNING IS A SYMPTOM OF DECAY
DESIGNERS OF SYSTEMS TEND TO DESIGN WAYS FOR THEMSELVES TO BYPASS
(Example: The Congress of the United States specifically exempts
itself from the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Fair Labor
BEHAVES AS IF IT HAS A WILL TO LIVE
DOESN'T KEEP ANY BETTER THAN FISH
also notes, STUDY YOUR BUGS. CHERISH THEM. Which reminds me of what
Wright, creator of SimCity and The Sims, said, "Bugs are an
unintended source of inspiration. Many times I've seen a bug in
a game and thought, 'That's cool - I wouldn't have thought of that
in a million years.'"
the use. Kevin has posted
pictures of "use paths"
throughout the UC Berkeley campus--walking paths created by how
folks actually get from one place to another, often worn into grass.
Such paths are delightul real-world analogs to the online notion
of "social navigation." Users have a remarkable facility
for making a system their own, and designers should accept that
and get out of their way.
October 3, 2000
Some thoughts while I'm waiting in the Jury Assembly Room. For
the first time in my life, I've been called for Jury Duty. I don't
really know what to expect. What I didn't expect was to see Jury
Assembly Room fully wired for laptops, with modem access and everything.
I didn't get in early enough to claim one of those hallowed spots.
My mobile phone service
was GTE Wireless, which has morphed into Verizon Wireless. Under
GTE, I would dial "*8" to retrieve my voicemail. When
I dial "*8" now, I get a recording telling me that the
system has changed, and in order to access my voicemail, I must
dial "*86". The System *knows* I want my voicemail, but
it won't give it to me. For no good reason, I must do it the way
The System wants me to do it--which now involves an extra keypress
on what is likely its most-used function. When you hang out with
user-centered design folks for so long, and everyone you talk to
understands that computers should fit people's needs, and not vice
versa, you forget that the rest of the world doesn't think like
The surest way to
get reader response. Is to mention McLuhan. Arturo Collantes
pointed me to a project
of his designed to convey McLuhan's ideas. And another reader
took issue of my interpretation of the power of messages, but I
just realized I ought to ask him permission before posting it!