Aug 12, 2011

the giraffe is about to get his account suspended


Aug 12, 2011

i hope they call it the girlfriend experience

Matthew Sweet is not only selling ceramics on Etsy, he has a new record coming out called Modern Art, and he's going on tour this fall. From Matthew Perpetua's story at Rolling Stone:

It may be a while before fans will get to see Sweet and his band perform his ambitious new material. "I think it would be difficult to play live, just to have everybody learn it," says Sweet. "It's especially challenging because we're gonna tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Girlfriend this fall and we're going to be playing the whole Girlfriend album."

Emphasis mine. Twenty years!??!! I saw him play once and my GOD was it loud. In a good way. (You can stream a track off the new record at the RS post linked above. It's catchy!)

Aug 10, 2011

a life lived entirely without nostalgia

I have a thing for nostalgia -- trying to understand the interplay between aging, romanticizing the past and the inevitable March of Progress. No grand theories yet, just a bunch of blog posts that share a category. But I've been reading with interest a bunch of posts lately from Things Magazine which are grappling with the same thing. Today, commenting on a post from James Bridle at, they have this great bit. (Emphasis mine.)

The author continues: ‘I am so bored of nostalgia. Of letterpress and braces and elaborate facial hair. I appreciate these things, but I think there’s something wrong with a culture that fetishises them to the extent that we currently do.’ Very probably. But such fetishists represent a very small part of wider culture, and their obsessions are – it would seem – almost entirely without impact or consequence. Is there a term for a life lived entirely without nostalgia, without any capacity for romantic and emotive engagement with the past? Futurist doesn’t seem to cut it.

Couldn't agree more that the hipster obsession with things like letterpress and facial hair has very, very little impact on the wider culture. But a term for a life lived entirely without nostalgia? Would have to be something very, very close to amnesia.

Aug 09, 2011

start reading it in under a minute

Nicholson Baker's new novel House of Holes, a Book of Smut is out today. The Times Magazine had a nice profile of Baker this weekend, but I also like The Millions' review, which (more succinctly) connects the dots between Nicholson's non-smut work like The Mezzanine and Room Temperature to Vox, The Fermata and now House of Holes.

Nicholson Baker has been thinking about rigid stonkers and prime Angus cockbriskets spewing hot loads of silly string into various slutslots and lettuce patches. That, plus cold iced tea, and the little bubbles that you see when you shake up a bottle of salad dressing. Baker’s many fans are sure to lap it up. The rest of us will be slightly amused but ultimately bored.

I'm a fan, and I'll lap it up. But I have to wonder just how many people will be reading it undetected on their Kindles on the subway or the bus, enjoying their own little Fermata-like moment, undetected. I'm sure Baker's curious, too; remember his ambivalent piece on the Kindle in The New Yorker from two years ago?

I had some success one morning when I Kindled my way deep into “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance,” by Alison Kent. There are, I learned, four distinct levels of intensity in the erotic-romance industry: sweet, steamy, sizzling, and scorching.

My God, the guy can even make the word "Kindle" sound dirty.

Aug 08, 2011

off and on

This weekend I managed to make it 7% of my way through James Gleick's The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. I consider that a major accomplishment, especially since my primary reading device is essentially a beautiful distraction machine.

I did manage to highlight this little bit in the introduction, where Gleick recalls a letter that Claude Shannon wrote to Vannevar Bush...

"Off and on," Shannon wrote to Vannevar Bush at MIT in 1939, "I have been working on an analysis of some of the fundamental properties of general systems for the transmission of intelligence."

Gleick, ever the master of restraint, doesn't bother to call out the brilliance of that first clause. He leaves that to the reader.

Aug 08, 2011

interactive paper books

And two makes a trend! Last month Berg London (yep, them again) published SVK, a comic from Warren Ellis and Matt Brooker. A critical piece of the story line is printed with invisible ink that you can only read with the "SVK object," a UV light source that's packaged with the book. I had a chance to see it in person when I was in London and it's very, very cool. The technique is integrated into the plot in a way that rewards the reader for investing the effort in reading in a new way.

SVK Closeup 01 - UV

On Friday, via Brainpickings comes news of a fall children's title from McSweeney's that features heat-sensitive invisible ink. The preview video is fun, and gives you a sense of what it's like to rub the pages to reveal what's underneath...

More like this please. And there's a lesson in here for designers that are crafting screen-based interactivity on top of classically narrative content: make sure the distraction and the effort that's required for readers to push, click, highlight, scrub, type, shake, tilt, etc. is worth it. If you're going to entice the reader out of their state of reading "flow," then make sure what you want them to do adds to their experience of your content.

Aug 05, 2011

the opposite of camouflage

Go read Matt Webb's post on the Berg blog that recounts a recent talk he gave on the Robot-Readable World. As Matt points out, QR codes feel crude and obvious, and over time we'll find ways to embed information that is not only designed for devices, but is built to entice them to use it...

Timo and Jack call this “Antiflage” – a made-up word for something we’re just starting to play with.

It is the opposite of camouflage – the markings and shapes that attract and beguile robot eyes that see differently to us – just as Dawkins describes the strategies that flowers and plants have built up over evolutionary time to attract and beguile bees, hummingbirds – and exist in a layer of reality complimentary to that which we humans sense and are beguiled by.

And I guess that’s the recurring theme here – that these layers might not be hidden from us just by dint of their encoding, but by the fact that we don’t have the senses to detect them without technological-enhancement.

See also The New Robot Domesticity at BLDGBLOG. The bit I keyed off of: "Homeowners will even help their robots learn through computational games—like Fröbel blocks for machines."

Aug 05, 2011

pitchfork's favorite music books

I missed this when it was published last month, but I love Pitchfork's list of their 60 favorite music books. Blogging this as a reminder for when I somehow find myself without a new book in the queue.

Particularly loved this bit about the retitled Greil Marcus book, which went from Invisible Republic to The Old, Weird America.

With a single evocative phrase, Marcus inadvertently articulated a collective nostalgia (part real, part imagined) for the strange, creaky old folk songs that animated the first half of the 20th century in America.

It wouldn't be a Pitchfork list without some bitching about what they missed, the hell did they not include Marcus' Lipstick Traces, too? He deserved to be on there twice.

Aug 04, 2011

danah boyd on real names, identity, facebook and google

There is no universal context, no matter how many times geeks want to tell you that you can be one person to everyone at every point. But just because people are doing what it takes to be appropriate in different contexts, to protect their safety, and to make certain that they are not judged out of context, doesn’t mean that everyone is a huckster. Rather, people are responsibly and reasonably responding to the structural conditions of these new media.


Emphasis mine. danah's entire post is worth reading (as always), but I'm always amazed at how this key point is lost in design decisions about social media: context matters. And that's not just about the identity you use when you're in a particular context, but how the things you do in that context get shared across the network. Facebook's working to flatten identity, which is troublesome not only for vulnerable people (as danah points out), but for varied personal expression across the web.

Aug 04, 2011

Chris Burden's Metropolis II

One of my favorite exhibitions was MOCA's 1992 show Helter Skelter: LA Art in the 1990s. I was young(er) and impressionable, and it opened up my eyes to what contemporary art can be. The centerpiece of that show was Chris Burden's Medusa Head (referenced recently), a hanging sculpture, 14 feet in diameter, made of plywood, steel, cement, rock...and model railroad trains and tracks.

Burden's topped Medusa's Head with Metropolis II, a new kinetic sculpture that's on its way to LACMA. It features 1,200 custom-designed toy cars traveling through 18 lanes around a fabricated city. You have to see it to believe here's the preview.

Metropolis II is a follow up to Metropolis I, which only had two single-lane highways and 80 Hot Wheels cars. It was purchased by a Japanese contemporary art museum.

Who's up for a trip to L.A.?

Aug 03, 2011

creating things from the stuff around you


Via Things comes makedo: "a set of connectors for creating things from the stuff around you." The projects in their galleries look amazing, of course, and make me want to order some of these for the munchkins.

There has to be a name for this product category: the "you really don't need this product, but it provides enough structure and inspiration to kickstart what you otherwise wouldn't have done on your own at home left to your own devices on a rainy day" category.

Jul 22, 2011

flattery will get you everywhere

Chris Piascik, inspired by this post, drew this as one of his daily drawings.


Love it.

Jul 21, 2011

clients from hell from hell

From the latest clientsfromhell:

Recently a potential client came to us to develop a brand and Web site layout for a new project dedicated to serving pornography that contained “wholesome eroticism” and displayed proper Christian values relative to sexuality.

This one actually sounds reasonably interesting. But on the whole I really dislike Clients from Hell, because as much fun as it must be to bash on people that you feel are below you, it puts the blame in the wrong place. It’s not their fault that they’re not as smart as you about things related to the Interwebs; it’s your fault for not treating them with the respect they deserve. Either by not hiring them in the first place, or by realizing that part of your job is to help make them better. They’re your clients. If they’re not treating you well or they’re not smart enough for you, that’s your fault...not theirs.

Jul 15, 2011

Polystyrene Orb

Via Beautiful/Decay, John Powers' Polystyrene Orb.


I'll swipe Beautiful/Decay swiping from the NODE10 catalog:

Meticulously constructed by hand, Power’s forms are constructed out of a limited formal vocabulary: Polystyrene blocks cut to a selection of preset sizes, attached to each other at 90 degree angles.

Feels to me like the antiseptic response to Chris Burden's Medusa Head. Love it.

Jul 07, 2011

What Google+ hasn't done is just as important

Originally posted on my Google+ account, for reasons which will become obvious once you read the below. There's a discussion happening there (of course); posting it here for posterity I guess. (#shoebox?)

I must follow boring people (Hi, Friends!) because so far it seems that the primary purpose of Google+ is talking about Google+. Instead of bucking the trend I'll dive right in point out two interesting things that I think are happening based on what's not happening so far. (aka silence matters)

  • API. I'm sure there will be one. But there's not one now, AFAIK. Which means they're waiting, and watching, and hopefully learning from past API efforts. It's easier to change the user experience on the web side as the service grows and evolves. Watch the pathways evolve, shape those pathways. And then create API methods that work for developers, users and Google.

  • Automatic integration with other services. You'll note there's currently no way to automatically cross-post Tweets, Flickr photos, Foursquare updates, etc. I think this is a good thing. Friendfeed had some nice UX touches, but became entirely too noisy when people had hooked up their dozen social services. Flickr's become the shoebox of photo sharing; Google needs to make sure that Plus doesn't become the shoebox of social media -- your searchable profile of everything you're doing online. (Not that there's not value in that, they're just optimizing for actually taking time spent away from other services and delivering explicitly shared actions).

More as I think about it.

Jul 07, 2011

In Chicago

It's the summer of travel. Enjoying the week in Chicago with my family and seeing some friends. I love this city...especially when the lake isn't frozen.


Everyone here can't stop talking about Groupon. Maybe it's just because I've spent so much time in the Bay Area, but I'm kind of blasé now about companies with astronomical valuations that everyone thinks will crash and burn. What I've been arguing is that while Groupon's (creative) financials may not be able to support its current valuation, it's all about execution over the long term. There's still a ton of opportunity to use the Internet to create value for retail businesses, and if Groupon can hook them with efficient (and profitable) marketing / demand generation, then follow on products and services could end up being massive. The bankers may be playing the short game, but the company's playing long ball. (Hey look, mixed sports metaphor in a sports town!)  But they'll need to develop a technology / product advantage so that they don't have to compete on the size of their email list, the size of their sales force...or the cleverness of their copy.

Jun 28, 2011

American McCarver

Very happy to announce the launch of American McCarver, the group sports blog I'm contributing to along with Catalano, Gruber, Knauss, Michaels, Monteiro, Snell and more to come.


It's good company to be in. As my friend Mat Honan tweeted, "Wow, so this is an all-star lineup. I mean, except for @sippey." Couldn't have said it better myself. Humor me, though, and go read the post I wrote when we were in double secret beta, about David Foster Wallace and Roger Federer.

Also, kudos to Monteiro for the brilliant touch of cycling through classic McCarverisms in the header, like my favorite "It's better to have a fast runner on base than a slow one." Couldn't agree more.

Jun 27, 2011

In London

I'm spending the week in London. Arrived here yesterday afternoon and after dumping bags at the hotel wandered down to the Tate Modern. I'm generally a fan of timelines, but found the Tate's artist timeline a bit artist's entire life's work, reduced to their name on a wall, clumped with others to make it easy to understand. Ah, reductionism.

Tate timeline

Loved the Barclay's bike hire system, though. Nabbed a bike for the afternoon and managed to survive riding on the left-hand side of the road, out through Hyde Park, down to Kensington, back up to Camden. Ten or twenty years ago a system like this would never have worked in San Francisco, but enough of the life of The City has moved to the flat lands (Embarcadero, downtown, SOMA, South Beach) that maybe?

Jun 16, 2011

even if it's fake it's real, vancouver edition


Getty Images photographer Rich Lam, at Esquire, on the kissing couple in the middle of the Vancouver riots last night:

It was complete chaos. Rioters set two cars on fire and then I saw looters break the window at a neighboring department store. At that point, the riot police charged right towards us. After I stopped running, I noticed in the space behind the line of police that two people were laying in the street with the riot police and a raging fire just beyond them. I knew I had captured a "moment" when I snapped the still forms against the backdrop of such chaos but it wasn't until later when I returned to the rink to file my photos that my editor pointed out that the two people were not hurt, but kissing.

Remember kids, even if it's fake, it's real. See also this, this, this and this. I should start a Tumblr or something.

Jun 03, 2011

mobile: the bored in line network

Jonah Peretti once told Gothamist that “the Internet is powered by bored office workers who sit at their desks forwarding emails, surfing the web, reading and writing blogs, and IMing funny links to their friends.” He called this the Bored at Work Network, or BWN.

The mobile corollary to the Bored at Work Network is the Bored in Line Network, or BLN. Mobile is powered by bored smartphone owners standing in line, updating their Facebook statuses, reading Twitter, thumbing through Instagram, playing a turn on Words with Friends, checking in on Foursquare or flinging an Angry Bird.

Web experiences have optimized for the BWN: related story links, skyscraper ad units and share buttons designed to divert attention and spread virally to other bored people. Mobile experiences are quickly optimizing for the BLN: bite-sized moments of media consumption, content sharing or game play designed to last as long as it takes for the person ahead of you to pay for their groceries.


  • Being on the home screen matters. When you’re bored in line, do you reach for an app or for your phone’s web browser?
  • If you’re translating your web experience to mobile, think about if and how it works for the BLN. Would you read your site while bored in line? (Relatedly, responsive web design is necessary but not sufficient tool for the mobile web.)
  • Remember that with the BLN, you’re not competing against your competition. You’re competing against Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and the dopamine rush of flinging an angry bird at those obnoxious green pigs.

Hat tip to Todd Lappin of Telstar Logistics for the lunch conversation (God, I love lunch) that motivated this post.