Why I'm happy I don't design airplanes. Because the ramifications
of a crash or a (search) engine going down aren't nearly so critical.
the light on for you... A delightful
feature on motels in American pop culture, written by a Brit
(link from Arts
and Letters Daily). Along with crashing with friends, motels
are my preferred method of lodging while travelling. I'd love to
see this feature turn into a book on the history of motels, dwelling
on the business, design, and cultural developments of this recent
it's already been written? Further poking around turned up Motel
Americana (a website "exploring classic roadside architecture"),
Architecture in 1950's America: Reflections of Society (with
info on, among other things, Burma-Shave
Some day I'll stay at the Madonna
Inn (but in which
Motel In America, by Jakle, Sculle, and Rogers, seems to
address my interests (it's part of their Road and American Culture
series, which includes Fast
Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age). Coincidentally,
At Borders yesterday I looked over Fast
Food Nation, which struck me as likely a good companion
to my old favorite, For
God, Country, And Coca-Cola. Methinks I'm a sucker for deep,
somewhat populist/leftist/'alternative' reads on American pop culture.
New York Times readers! I'm quite flattered to be mentioned
article on weblogs (And I'm particularly grateful to those new
folks who typed in my URL--god forbid The Times should actually
link to their web site-ations.) I often ponder what first-time readers
think of this place. I've been publishing for about two and a half
years, slowly building an audience who groks my POV. I don't
know what I'd make of a site like this if were just dropped into
it. (I'd probably wonder aloud who would bother to read the self-indulgent
ramblings of a 'designer' with such poor design skills. And then
I'd click off to something worthwhile, like Feed,
or The Onion, or the Brunching
Shuttlecocks, or Scitech
is also cute in their stodgy copy ways. They refer to the format
as "Web log", two words, with "Web" capitalized--no
one else on earth writes it like that. It's also a hoot to see references
to my friends Mr. Williams, Ms. Hourihan, and (hehe!) Ms. Blood.
Space over time. Manhattan
Timeformations resides in my psyche next to the Archeological
Collage--both use interactive media to present the evolution
of urban landscapes over time. And both are pretty damn nifty.
heavy. This holiday season finds me back in Ann Arbor for nearly
a week. I was able to pack everything in two large backpacks. One
backpack is stuffed with clothes. The other, books and my laptop.
Books are heavy. Particularly when you're sprinting to catch a connecting
flight. But I cannot travel without books. What I brought on this
I also brought, and just
Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds,
by Mitchel Resnick. Ostensibly a description of his StarLogo
programming language, it's also a remarkably accessible primer
on self-organization, a great place to start wrapping your mind
around emergent properties of complex adaptive systems. Cosma
Shalizi's thorough review is revealing, though his analysis
of the book's weak points seem like criticism for the sake of criticism.
I'm now reading Memoirs
and Stories of a Madman, by George Gilbert. You won't find this
work at Amazon--George has self-published
on Iuniverse.com. George is an old family friend--he and my
dad moved came out to California from Chicago together in 1950.
The title is spot-on accurate--the book is a collection of vignettes,
real and imagined (and, more often as not, the two are intertwined),
from George's life, mostly his last 30 or so years in San Francisco.
Writing from the vantage point of a 68-year-old man, there are moments
of hilarity and of deep sadness, as he looks back on what could
have been--how an aspiring Hemingway ended up a career taxi driver,
an alcoholic who abandoned his family, a chronicler of the Free
Love era, a man who calls sex "oompus boompus." Memoirs...
is a surprisingly solid piece of work, one I especially recommend
to those who do now or have once resided in San Francisco--it'll
show them a side of the city they likely didn't know was there.
Curious but want to know more? Read
the first chapter.
Twinkle twinkle little cities. Making the rounds is this awesome
satellite composite of the Earth
at night. The detailed image warrants prolonged gazing.
It's Official "Insane Travel Day." The woman on the
airport reservation shuttle line, after I asked if things were busy,
said, "You know when Homer Simpson says, 'Oh god oh god oh
god!'? Today's been like that."
Flash: Interfaces Still Suck. So, just completed a round of
user testing. And though I can't get into details (that'll
cost you!), I can relate that I was surprised by the degree to which
people had difficulty manipulating the interface of a browser (In
this case, Internet Explorer for Windows). Of particular trouble
was scrolling a web page. A number of people would click and hold
the scroll bar, and, dragging down, the mouse would increasingly
tend to the left. And after it goes a certain distance to the left,
the scrollbar snaps back to it's original position, even if the
person has the button still down. A number of people got confused
browser is so riddled with interface problems that it automatically
limits the usability of anything within it. I wonder if interfaces
developed with tools like Flash, designed with express intent to
overcome this idiocy, can make a significant impact. Or if we're
Cherished industry secrets revealed! Are you studying e-commerce
competitors with wide selections? Want to really tax their search
engines? Search on "elmo."
That little fucker is on everything.
take the Wal-Mart out of the dot com. This might be the only
office I've ever been in that offers, in its free beverage selection,
And I like
Insert buzzword here. So I'm becoming increasingly interested
in "bricks-and-clicks" or "clicks-and-mortar"
for a number of reasons. Most obviously, because I'm working on
contract with Walmart.com,
serving as an acting Director of User Experience. (Spare me tirades
about how Wal-Mart stores destroy communities--I voted for Nader,
remember?) But also because it's clear that there's actual value
in clicks-and-mortar, unlike the pure plays we've been seeing cluttering
up the obituaries. As I mature, I find myself interested in that
which has actual value in the market. Maybe I'm getting boring.
I like to think I'm simply getting practical, and cutting through
most appealing things for me, when it comes to clicks and mortar,
is that they're founded on companies that are already profitable.
There's already an understanding of selling things for more than
you bought them for. An area that's been poorly explored up until
now is how to integrate the online and offline worlds... Many stores
(Best Buy, Gap, Old Navy, etc.) are doing the 'buy online, return
at the store,' but that's not a particularly innovative notion.
If I weren't
working at Walmart.com, I'd be quite interested in doing intranet
design. I'm attracted to it for three reasons: 1) Intranets and
other 'inside the enterprise' technologies have clear value; 2)
it's terribly unsexy, and I think working on the terribly unsexy
would be good for me; 3) I've never done it before, and so there'd
be a whole host of new challenges.
Because robots are like boys. A
great article on FEED about AI and homebrew robots.
I decide to assemble a crackerjack team of experts (my architect
roommate and computer whiz boyfriend) to help me build my robots.
They are excited, as is every male friend that I tell about the
project. All boys love robots.
What are you plotting? Jorn
points to the Gallery
of Data Visualization.
Quality VC-bashing. I'm not much into pointing fingers (mistakes
are often innocent, and should also be encouraged far more than
they are in this society), but much of the Dot Com Debacle (such
as it is, if it even exists) can be laid at the feet of venture
capitalists. Upside, which I usually can't stand, has a decent
article about the CEO of a failed B2B railing against the VCs
that, through their control of the pursestrings, promoted activity
that ran his company into the ground.
recent hatred of VC's was spurred by reading this in a New York
on the state of e-commerce:
Venture capitalists themselves now ridicule the thought of putting
money into a mass-market e-tailer, the so-called business-to-consumer
sector. "B-to-C is dead," said A. Barr Dolan, a partner at Charter
Venture Capital. "Excuse some venture capital humor. We call it
'back to consulting.' " The more recent batch of business-to-business
sites that were meant to help companies trade steel coils, paper
cups or whatever earn similar scorn. "Back to banking," Mr. Dolan
Such pomposity is appalling,
considering the degree to which their shortsightedness played a
when does the US need "healing"?
funny stuff. I don't know how I never saw it before, but NewYorkerMag.com
is high-sterical, and the banner ad is the funniest thing I've seen
on the Web in a long time.
Lacking... motivation... to... write... Dunno why, just don't
have much to say. So, why not head over to the newly re-sprung Monstro.com.
Lane wrote up a good brief presentation on "Marketing
vs Usability" (a topic title he was given, and which he
rightfully labels as stupid). Presentation in PowerPoint's "Save
as Web Page" so it'll look crappy on anything other than IE.
Thoughts from a weekend. Spent the weekend at a retreat with
a bunch of brilliant people, some familiar, some new, all delightful
companions. An intriguing subject that came up over dinner was Conversation
Analysis, made particularly a propos as one of the other
attendees was Doc "markets
are conversations" Searls (who is also quite a fan of George
Lakoff, and spoke a great riff on the metaphors we use to describe
markets. Doc pointed out in his blog that Lakoff has a new book
Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics
into Being -- sigh... something else to add to the pile.)
Conversations are often the most productive aspects of my life--I
think best when bouncing ideas around with other people, and it's
in such situations where I synthesize disparate notions and (occasionally)
create something new. Such mental activity never happens alone--I
rarely have the attention span to think through a problem in solitude.
Doc is writing
a piece on Why Operating
Systems Suck -- my take is that they (and I mean WIMP GUIs like
Windows and Mac OS) are ill-suited for the new set of tasks people
engage in with computers. The WIMP GUI as we know it was developed
by Xerox PARC for the Alto. Xerox is The Document Company. The Alto
was designed to manage document creation. And until the Web, document
creation was the primary purpose of computers (having superceded
calculation). But now there are two new primary tasks--communication
(via email) and information consumption. And none of our OSes are
equipped for that.
topics from the weekend that I want to pursue: gift
economies (time to get back to Durkheim),
natural capitalism (and the Rocky
Mountain Institute); developing a model for degrees of user
input in the design of interactive spaces; oh, and more, I'm sure.
Live specifications. Unfortunately I don't have time to read
it now, but I'm keen on perusing Michael
Kopcsak's masters thesis, the abstract of which reads:
My ITP MPS Thesis will be a prototype for a flash driven Information
Architecture visualization tool. The tool will function as an
elegant and easy to use solution for the difficult task of mapping
and documenting complex large-scale site architecture and functional
specifications. Through the variable passing and expression building
features of Flash 4.0, I will create a front-end experience that
allows a user to build a customized interactive presentation without
knowing anything about the Flash authoring environment. The prototype
will be supported by documentation that will articulate the information
architecture and functional specifications used in the development
of the concept.
In talking to Michael
about it, it sounds like a first step towards creating live, dynamic
specifications. A problem all Web designers have faced is turning
requirements into specs, and then specs into wireframes/mockups,
and then those into final design. This usually requires translating
across different types of media and formats, which is silly, since
the *data* is always the same. I don't have the database savvy to
solve this problem myself, but I know how it could be addressed--I
want someone else to do the hard work of figuring out the details.
Looks like Michael has definitely gone part of the way there.
shop shop! A reader pointed me to Surprise.com,
a smart gift guide written by the site's users. What's best are
the quirky "What are they like?" categories, such as Caffeine
Under X: Conspiracy Theorist, Krispy
Kreme Maniacs, and Organized,
Or Wants to Be. Each category features a number of gift options
and related categories, and the site intelligently keeps track of
categories you've browsed (since it's likely you'll wander serendipitously,
it would otherwise be hard to get back to stuff you found). This
is 'e-commerce' how I like it--simple, effective, useful.
successful e-commerce experience is Bed,
Bath, and Beyond's website. A snap to navigate (the menus get
you pretty much anywhere super quickly), with big, clear product
thumbnails that load quickly, and some smart browsing features--on
a product detail, you can page back and forth between products in
a little conflicted. ResearchBuzz
points us to The Library of Congress' new Fifty
Years of Coca-Cola Television Advertisements online exhibition.
And while it's pretty cool, and Coca-Cola has proven to be an important
player in American history, I'm still made a little uneasy over
what is, essentially, using civic institutions to advertise flavored
sugar water (try to find anything damning about Coca-Cola in this
collection). But, hey, you get the Mean
Joe Greene ad, which actually used to make me well up.
Ah, the irony. I'm writing this from seat 10F of United Flight
59 from O'Hare to SFO. On the video screen in front of me, the film
is being shown. Which is essentially about union-busting. United's
workers aren't doing themselves any favors with such cinematic selections!
I'm not getting it. You know that saying, "You catch more
flies with honey than with vinegar"? Well, yeah, but you catch
even more flies with shit.
for the delay. I've spent an extended weekend in Ann Arbor,
MI (WOLVERINES!). It was lovely. If you plan on visiting make sure
to: eat barley malt ice cream at Stucchi's; wander through The Arb;
have a martini and beef (burger, steak, etc.) at Knight's;
enjoy an afternoon coffee respite at the Sweetwater Cafe.