June 27th, 2008

The economy is facing an energy crisis. Skyrocketing demand and space-rocketing prices may finally make alternative sources economically viable competitors to fossil fuels. Solar energy, the most abundant, is seeing progress every month as new technologies come online that allow for cheaper, more efficient panels.

So what does our forward-thinking and caring government do. Why put a two-year moratorium on building new solar plants of course:

(T)he decision to freeze new solar proposals temporarily, reached late last month, has caused widespread concern in the alternative-energy industry, as fledgling solar companies must wait to see if they can realize their hopes of harnessing power from swaths of sun-baked public land, just as the demand for viable alternative energy is accelerating.

In fairness, yes, the environmental impact of these plants should be considered, and studied. And the 130 already submitted applications will be processed, with each project receiving individual attention.

Bill Gates Last Days, one of maybe 2 actually funny Microsoft-internal videos. How’d I not see this one?

One wonders how much they paid for some of those cameos though. Bono don’t come cheap.

Debris.

June 27th, 2008

At some point, we just started throwing shit in.

So many sites these days are filled with what can only be called “debris”. Useless remnants of other sites: things of no real use, yet there anyway. The right-hand columns and after-article white-space has turned into a free-for-all of features that may as well be advertising banners. Blogrolls and ISBN numbers; Scrobbler feeds and Twitters; Share This or Rate This.

It’s like we saw a feature in one place, where it was appropriate and useful, and decided it’d be so handy to have every where. “Man, rating things on Amazon is so great, I should let people rate my posts!”

You have six visitors, and at least one of them is your mom. She’s gonna love everything you do and fuck up the average.

It stopped mattering whether the feature was even useful to the visitor. We ask our visitors to “Digg This” not because it adds any value to their experience, but because we need the traffic. We showed off our favorite books not because the visitor may enjoy them, but because we hoped at some point they’d click on one and buy it, generating a small but welcomed tip in our electronic tip jar. We stopped adding value and started trying to subtract, or at least get in on the action.

On social-networks, it’s an epidemic. Facebook applications have begun to clutter up profile pages to the point that not only can’t I tell what’s new or interesting in my distant-friend’s lives, I have a hard time figuring out whether they’re still human or have been taken over by an alien-force who feeds solely by learning which Buffy character they are.

Stop.

The only promise I’ll make to you is simple: I will never add debris to this site. I will never ask you to link something, or beg you for traffic. I will never sell you a product I don’t love, or review one I didn’t buy all on my own. I’ll never treat you as a pawn in my play for internet fame and wealth.1

You don’t need to know which web browser I support, or what blog-network I’m apart of. You don’t need me to point you to a social-bookmarking site, because chances are, you know them already. And if not, Google is always right there. You don’t need know what song I just listened to, because hopefully you have your own soundtrack. And I don’t think knowing what book I last read is of any real use to you unless I write a lengthy review and tell you what I thought of it.

I’m gonna write things, and link to things, mostly because I find them useful, or amusing; Because I think something should be seen or something should be said. And I’ll hope you agree with me and enjoy it. And maybe, someday, if I’m really lucky, I’ll find an advertiser willing to help me pay for the thing. But if not, fuck it. I make a living thanks in large part to an army of writers and sites who came before me, and I’m happy to contribute back without monetary reimbursement.

But I’m off debris. I’m off using it, and I’m off sites that push it. I’m pushing a new mentality here:

Debris: Isn’t your site better that that?

I’d make a badge, but the irony might kill me.


  1. I make no promise about self-whoring. I’m just not asking you to do it. 

June 26th, 2008

Enjoy the Silent World of Michael Kenna.

John Timmer over at Ars Technica takes Wired’s Chris Anderson to task for his Katzian article How The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete:

I can’t possibly imagine how he comes to that conclusion. Correlations are a way of catching a scientist’s attention, but the models and mechanisms that explain them are how we make the predictions that not only advance science, but generate practical applications.

ICANN voted today to extend the right to third-parties to set up any top-level domain they want, so long as they can afford it.

The new guidelines could lead to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Internet addresses to join “.com,” including “.lat” for Latin America and a Bulgarian address in the Cyrillic script. New names will not start appearing for at least several months, and the Internet agency, called Icann, will not be deciding on specific ones quite yet.

Of course, the existing top-level domains make very little sense. “.com”, “.net” and “.org” are open to registration by just about anyone, and the suffixes no longer mean much. Many country specific top-level domains are also open to just about anyone - including the begging for it .ck. If so many of the existing TLDs hold no real meaning, why bother pretending they do?

But the proposal, as approved, is bullshit. The cost of establishing your own TLD is exorbitant, leaving small-businesses and personal sites left to play in the existing sandbox, or new ones created by entities who may or not be benevolent. Larger companies will of course rush to establish their own TLDs, effectively creating a tiered internet. Custom .name’s for the big boys, regular one’s for everyone else.

Of course, the fact someone can finally get “.xxx” setup and running is great. And yes, the availability of shorter domains will also be a boon to companies struggling with the horseshit that is domain squatters snagging every good domain left. That’s not what worries me.

The internet used to be flat. It was the great equalizer. “www.apple.com” and “www.jackshedd.com” are, for all intents and purposes, equal; Equal until you hit return. With this new proposal, Apple will obviously seek to get “store.apple” running. Because frankly, that’s just a better URL than www.apple.com/store. But little-oh-non-billions having me is gonna be stuck with www.jackshedd.com, and mark my words, the day will come when .com is looked down at just as .ru is now.

“.com? Are those guys legit?”

The barrier to reputation will get higher.

A simple neutrality clause, stating that any newly-minted TLD provider must accept public registrations at a reasonable cost would have made the proposal golden. As it stands, it’s just ICANN begging for money from folks with deep pockets.

Why the new wiretapping law is a lot worse than you think:

Whatever Hoyer and Pelosi—and even Obama—say, this amounts to a retroactive blessing of the illegal program, and historically it means that the country will probably be deprived of any rigorous assessment of what precisely the administration did between 2001 and 2007.

Robert Valdemar was bored, and wondered what would happen if he threw random, anonymous, violent love notes online. Some folks assumed it was an alternative-reality game and became dedicated to solving it. Robert played along, and the result was perhaps the greatest Rick Roll yet.

A school in New Jersey was locked down after a ninja was sighted in nearby woods.

Mini-Me has a sex tape. I predict slightly lower sales than One Night in Pairs.

Who doesn’t love afternoon naps? Or morning naps. Or “I’m avoiding work” naps.

Make sure yours are optimal.

The giant type-nerd in me loves retrospectives like this one on Anivers over at I Love Typography.

Type design is one of those things I wish I was decent at. Sadly the last time I tried, the result ended up looking like someone had subjected Garamond to water-torture. Out of professional dignity, I refuse to show you just what I mean by that.

The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You, from the folks who brought you the deeply-troubling How to Traumatize Your Children.

Nicholas Felton and Matt Masons’s collaboration for Penguin Books “Hard Times is simply gorgeous.

My team recently had to put together a lengthy research document, which meant tons and tons of charts and graphs. Every time the team got stuck, I pulled out Felton’s 2007 Annual Report as a reminder that even relatively boring data can be presented in compelling ways.

Updated: Thanks to Jeremy Ettinghausen for pointing out my Penguin/Pentagram swap.

June 25th, 2008

Paul Collin asks if modern life has killed the semicolon:

The semicolon has spent the last century as a fussbudget mark. Somerset Maugham and George Orwell disdained it; Kurt Vonnegut once informed a Tufts University crowd that “All [semicolons] do is show that you’ve been to college.”

William Deresiewicz on the disadvantages of an ivy league education:

Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League dees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

The Cost of War is an illustrative video which helps you visualize just how much we’re spending every day in Iraq.

Peter Lovenheim decided he wanted to get to know his neighbors and figured the best way to do that was to sleep over at their houses for a night:

Why is it that in an age of cheap long-distance rates, discount airlines and the Internet, when we can create community anywhere, we often don’t know the people who live next door?

Quick: Name two people living within twenty feet of your home.

Fifty Designer’s Current Favorite Typefaces, a fantastic little book with proceeds going to UNICEF.

Steve Albini’s famous missive on The Problem with Music from Maximum Rock n’ Roll in the 90’s:

Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit. I imagine these people, some of them good friends, some of them barely acquaintances, at one end of this trench. I also imagine a faceless industry lackey at the other end holding a fountain pen and a contract waiting to be signed.

Sadly, still 100% relevant.

Allison Radcliffe from birth to age 32: a photographic essay by her father.

Glenn Greenwald over at Salon noticed something peculiar in a recently-released Fox News poll: The Democratic Congress is more popular amongst republicans than amongst democrats.

Aeron Alfrey has drawn 1,000 beasts.

McSweeney’s delivers again; Lit. 101 class in three lines or less:

1984

WINSTON: Don’t tell the Party, but sex is way better than totalitarianism.

EVERYONE: Surprise! We’re the Party.

WINSTON: Oh, rats.

How Google’s MapReduce works, or How They Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Threw Lots of Hardware at The Problem.

Bill Gates attempts to download MovieMaker, fails, and writes a glorious email:

So after more than an hour of craziness and making my programs list garbage and being scared and seeing that Microsoft.com is a terrible website I haven’t run Moviemaker and I haven’t got the plus package.

Here’s what I don’t get. I’m fairly certain that if Steve Jobs went to download iTunes, and couldn’t, the entire Apple web team would be replaced in about two days and would get

Bill Gates, the richest man on earth, a guy who founded arguably the most powerful technology company we’ve yet seen, can’t figure out how to download his own company’s software and this is what happens:

When we were concluding our interview last week, I showed Gates a printout of the e-mail and asked if he ever got Movie Maker to work. Gates noted that Microsoft plans to include Movie Maker as part of Windows Live, so people will get the program when they download that online package.

Bill Gates gets the same answer we all get; “It’ll be fixed in the next version.”

June 24th, 2008

There are moments when I’m nothing but impressed with the Bush Administration’s ability to skirt the law:

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

To quote a Senior Administration Official:

LALALALALA I can’t hear you!

Well, Mr. Second-Grade mentality, we voters would like to call you a doo-doo head:

A group going by the regal-sounding name of the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco is planning to ask voters here to change the name of a prize-winning water treatment plant on the shoreline to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant.

June 23rd, 2008

Returning to the web, seemingly out of nowhere, Matthew Harding has posted a new video of himself dancing around the world:

14 months in the making, 42 countries, and a cast of thousands. Thanks to everyone who danced with me.

Oddly amazing. See the original here.

Ira Glass on getting better at creative work:

The most important thing you can do is just do alot of work.

Watch four parts of his interview on storytelling: Part 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Seems like there should be a Part 5, but it’s not on YouTube.

Two new Mac-specific trojans are in the wild and boy-oh-boy do they sound … dull:

Two security firms have reported that two rate[sic] but dangerous in-the-wild trojans are attacking Mac operating system.

Not to undercut the seriousness of any security exploit within a modern operating system, but given that a Trojan requires a user to specifically open and execute a program, they’re not that dangerous. They’re non-viral usually, since infection is not automatic, and easy enough to stop. No real danger here.

The first and more dangerous, is a rare trojan … If a user has turned on Remote Management in the Sharing pane of System Preferences under Mac OS X 10.5, or if a user has installed Apple Remote Desktop client under Mac OS X 10.4 or earlier and has activated this setting in the Sharing preferences, the exploit will not function.

So turn on Remote Management and open strange files at will!

Intego also reported another trojan posing as a poker game. When the user attempts to launch the application, simply titled ‘PokerGame’, a dialog box appears asking for the machine’s administrator password.

Alright, this is not an exploit. It’s just a malicious application. I can write a two-line AppleScript capable of deleting everything on your hard drive. If you’re stupid enough to launch said AppleScript, and provide it your administrative password, you’ve just given my little application everything it needs to do as much damage to your system as possible.

The sky is not falling. There is nothing to see here.

Do not open random files sent to you from untrusted sources. And certainly don’t give those applications administrative access. It’s just common sense folks.

George Carlin has died.

June 22nd, 2008

The untold story of the TiVo remote over at Gizmodo is worth a read, if only to soak in the amount of thought that went into designing the best remote you’ll ever use.

Tom Brokaw will take over “Meet the Press”, at least through the election.

A non-controversial move, yes. But probably the best option in the bunch.

Designering.

June 21st, 2008

Jason Santa Maria’s call to arms continues to fester in my stomach.

Santa Maria, a wonderfully talented designer, has launched a new site where instead of the once-designed-soon-forgotten interface-esque design we’ve all come accustom to on the web, he plans to design individual entries. Altering text treatments, adding visuals, changing the page layout, whatever he feels necessary to better visually communicate. While this is common in print - especially in magazines - it’s fairly unheard of on the web.

Excuses, Excuses.

There are numerous, fantastically lame excuses for why design on the web has become such a static affair.

Often web sites are designed once by an outside firm, only to be handed off to editors and writers. The level of technical knowledge required to produce compliant, compatible markup and CSS styling rules is high. And while applications such as Dreamweaver attempt to make the entire affair visual, the code they produce is often subpar, even when it technically works. The task of creating unique visual presentations is not an easy one, and most folks just wouldn’t be up for it.

Most sites are powered by a content management system, or CMS. Systems love normalization. The more alike each thing is, the easier it is to deal with. When designing, we look for a rhythm that elements will share; header, sub-header, date stamp, paragraphs. We design those elements, then design a content management system that demands they exist. We tell our clients never to stray from our structure. And while these systems make our lives easier in some respects, they do destroy our ability to create designs as varied as what you may see on your news stand.

CSS, the language designers use to describe the appearance of a page, is sadly very broken in many ways. Browsers interpret the language differently. The language lacks any type of conditional statement - at least officially - making it difficult to craft a set of rules that describe every possible permutation a client may try.

Beginners.

Interestingly, some of the most “designed” pages – and I use that term loosely - are often pages I run across on sites like LiveJournal, or Geocities; sites crafted with no concern for all the so-called “best practices” our industry has established over the last decade.

Without the self-imposed constraints, without the content-management system gargoyle on their backs, the novice is in some ways more capable than the experienced. If you walk around, you can find sites that appear to be lovingly curated, each page unique. Sure, beneath it you have tables and image maps, and I’m sure a folder full of HTML pages that have to be updated by hand – all horrible ideas we threw away long ago. But the end result is something less static. More explorative. It’s strangely compelling.

You adopt templates and content systems because you know they save you time. But what good are they if they’re making us look lazy in the face of the dedicated amateur?

Fester.

The reason Santa Maria’s post festered so long in me is that, like many designers I’m sure, it feels like I’ve perfected the art of the template. I can sit down and layout a content-heavy site in a day or two, knowing what elements to account for, what uses are most common, issues I’ll have to resolve to translate the design into markup and eventually into a data store and administrative interface. Worse, as a data nerd, I’ve come to love my perfectly partitioned systems. I think in text and repetitive texture, not necessarily in visual systems. I have my grid and vertical rhythm like everyone else, but it’s a problem I’m used to solving once. Not solving every day. I design the “home page”, then an “article page”, then an “archive page” and I’m done. Lorem ipsum fills in the white space and I move on to the markup and back-end code.

Yet, Mr. Santa Maria seems to be on the right path. As browsers continue to advance, and as our libraries become more stable, problems more predictable, capabilities better documented, it makes little sense that we wouldn’t turn back and look at the techniques of print designers. That we wouldn’t revisit the idea of the template itself, making it broader, more elastic. In retrospect, it feels almost amateurish that no one had done that before. Or at least, done it well.

Jason’s post makes me feel amateurish. Lazy. All those terrible adjectives that should make a professional cringe. This is a problem I feel I should have solved years ago. Something more important than rewriting my personal CMS for the fourth time in as many years. Damn you Mr. Santa Maria!

Next.

What’s worse of course is that, despite my agreement, it will take me a long time before I can try what Jason is trying. Time is a bitch. Never enough of it to explore everything. But it’s something I’m going to keep in the back of my mind until I can come back to it. It’s something that will eat at me every time I open Illustrator.

Don’t just design the site. Design the page.

Reihan Salam, on the “inequality” of campaign finance donation limits:

If George Soros or Michael Bloomberg wrote Obama a check for $500 million, he’d surely continue to build his more sustainable network of small donors. He’d also be able to buy hours of time on primetime network television to share his vision of America’s future. Or he could literally put a chicken in every pot, or create a series of Obama-themed daycare centers across the country, winning the support of stressed-out parents everywhere.

Salam’s point is not a new one. “Is money equal to speech” is an old question in politics and law. While there are numerous arguments for limiting donations, the primary argument for not boils down to individual liberty. It is deemed oppressive that a billionaire can not donate a vast sum to a political candidate of his choosing.

This misses the point of the law. The law is aimed to ensuring that candidates are not beholden to any large entities at the expense of the people they govern. If George Soros wrote you a check for $500 million, and he really wanted you to make clubbing baby seals legal, you’d probably find a way. By limiting the maximum contribution, you effectively democratize the process.

Justice Stephen Breyer said it a good deal better than I can:

To focus upon the First Amendment’s relation to the Constitution’s democratic objective is helpful because the campaign laws seek to further a similar objective. They seek to democratize the influence that money can bring to bear upon the electoral process, thereby building public confidence in that process, broadening the base of a candidate’s meaningful financial support, and encouraging greater public participation. Ultimately, they seek thereby to maintain the integrity of the political process - a process that itself translates political speech into governmental action. Insofar as they achieve these objectives, those laws, despite the limits they impose, will help to further the kind of open public political discussion that the First Amendment seeks to sustain, both as an end and as a means of achieving a workable democracy.

Tata, India’s largest automotive company, is ready to begin production on the MiniC.A.T, a car powered by compressed air:

It costs less than one Euro per 100Km (about a tenth that of a petrol car). Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car (200 to 300 km or 10 hours of driving), a factor which makes a perfect choice in cities where the 80% of motorists drive at less than 60Km. The car has a top speed of 68 mph and it comes with

An info-graphic from Xplane that details how Barack Obama fundamentally changed campaign financing.

That’ll never work, a collection of quotes from relatively smart people dismissing relatively awesome technologies:

There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will. ~ Albert Einstein

Approximately 80% of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation. So let’s not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emissions standards for man-made sources. ~ Ronald Reagan

Let this be a lesson to us contrarians.

What happens when an ambidextrous pitcher faces off against an ambidextrous hitter?

Laser-cut typographic scarves.