January 29th, 2009

Daniel Lyons, he of previous Fake Steve Jobs fame, doesn’t think much of how reporters treat Apple:

The fact is, in the eyes of the media, Apple is the corporate equivalent of Barack Obama — a company that can do no wrong. Even in Silicon Valley, where much of the press corps are pretty much glorified cheerleaders (think of all those slobbering cover stories about the Google guys) Apple’s kid-gloves treatment stands out. Reporters don’t just overlook Apple’s faults; they’ll actually apologize for them, or rationalize them away. Ever seen reporters clapping and cheering at a press conference? Happens all the time at Apple events.

Sir David Attenborough, mostly known for the BBC nature series “Life”, gets hate mail for not crediting God:

They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.

Make Something Cool Every Day, a Flickr group devoted to doing exactly that.

I love you more than blank, a well-timed project from Paperwhite.

Derek Powazek on getting help from programmers:

Like designers, if you give a programmer a problem with parameters, they’ll apply every bit of genius they have to solve it in the best possible way. If you tell them how to do it, you’ll suffer the wrath of an angry God.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to print this up in 170 point Helvetica and staple it to various people’s foreheads.

Dennis Overbye reflects on Obama’s call to “restore science to its rightful place”:

Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth.

That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view. These are the unabashedly pragmatic working principles that guide the buzzing, testing, poking, probing, argumentative, gossiping, gadgety, joking, dreaming and tendentious cloud of activity — the writer and biologist Lewis Thomas once likened it to an anthill — that is slowly and thoroughly penetrating every nook and cranny of the world.

As a side-note, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to saying “President Obama.” He’s just Obama, and probably always will be.

Mozilla Labs is asking students to design a web browser without chrome:

“What would a browser look like if the Web was all there was? No windows, no unnecessary trappings. Just the Web.”

First person to submit the iPhone wins.

When a volcano erupts through ice.

Paul Carr is trying to stop the hate:

You simply can’t have a system which rewards nastiness over niceness and which offers no consequences for those who commit cowardly anonymous attacks and then act surprised when people don’t know where to draw the line.

I’m never sure what to think of the vitriol of the online world. There’s a bit in me, unshakable, the bit that donned a green mohawk in high school, smashed around in pits and fought cops, who threw rocks at the windows of midwestern skinheads and wrote manifesto’s in every notebook he ever head, that will not let the more civil bastard in me win. Passion, above all things, he says, is a sign you’re doing something right. Even when it’s something horribly wrong.

It’d be nice if passion only inspired positive reactions. If all the good it caused could be distilled, the bad it’s done removed. But they’re a pair. A set of conjoined twins; Kill one, you risk the other.

When I read bits like Carr’s column, or about why-in-the-fucks like Arrington’s spit take and death threats, there’s the bit in me, civil and educated, that stares slack-jawed at the stupidity of clearly loony people.

But, while I abhor the death threats, that stupid kid in me cheered the guy who spat. Something in me loved the protest of it, the simplicity of the action and all that it said. It wasn’t violent, no one’s life put at risk, but it was honest and fast, and probably said everything the man wanted to say. It was passionate.

And a bit of me excused him for that.

In Carr’s list of “utterly reasonable demands for a more civil universe”, he requests:

If you’ve ever considered spitting on someone because you don’t like something they’ve said online, kill yourself. Seriously. Do it now. The world will be a better place without you.

And there’s this bit of me that thinks that if you’re not willing to spit on someone, maybe you’re doing something wrong.

A completely fake interview with Bjarne Stroustrup, inventor of the C++ programming language:

Well, one day, when I was sitting in my office, I thought of this little scheme, which would redress the balance a little. I thought ‘I wonder what would happen, if there were a language so complicated, so difficult to learn, that nobody would ever be able to swamp the market with programmers?

I fully admit to finding this funny.

January 28th, 2009

Clever anti-theft lunch bags from the same guys who brought you the chat bubble speaker set.

The Pew Research Center takes a look at why people move, and why they stay in the same place:

Home means different things to different people. Among U.S.-born adults who have lived in more than one community, nearly four-in-ten (38%) say the place they consider home isn’t where they’re living now. But there’s a wide range of definitions of “home” among Americans who have lived in at least one place besides their original hometown: 26% say it’s where they were born or raised; 22% say it’s where they live now; 18% say it’s where they have lived the longest; 15% say it’s where their family comes from; and 4% say it’s where they went to high school.

Maybe it’s the nomad in me, but I’ve always thought of home as a place you go searching for.

November 20th, 2008

Mark Danner reflects on the lost power of the scandal:

Scandal represents movement, the audible cracking of the ice. And yet it is all an illusion, for beneath the rapidly moving train of gaudily hyped “breaking news,” beneath all the grave and breathless stand-ups before the inevitable pillars of public buildings, beneath the swirling, gyrating phantasmagoria of scandal lies a kind of dystopian stasis. Everything changes and nothing does.

It is not information, it is politics. If we have learned anything this past decade it is that “the people,” that vaunted repository of public good—”the people always find out”—the people are willing and able to live with quite a lot. They read, watch television, grunt a pox on all their houses, and turn back to their dinners. Thanks to the efficiency of our age of scandal we now know as never before what the public is willing to live with.

I’d counter that the recent election more than proved the public, at least the American public, has a more delicate relationship with scandal than Danner paints.

Still, Danner’s essay at times makes points quite large. Points worth considering.

Shoji Ueda’s Self Portrait with Gorilla Mask from 1975.

Mitt Romney’s editorial on why we should let detroit go bankrupt makes numerous incredibly solid points:

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

I still loathe the man, all that he stands for, and dream of the day I can punch him in his exquistely tanned, perfectly square jaw. But solid points indeed.

30 years after the Jonestown massacre:

Many of the Jonestown survivors and their families find the Kool-Aid references and jokes insensitive and deeply hurtful — reminders of the tragedy they suffered and, worse still, the widely held perception that the men, women and children in Jonestown were a bunch of crazies who willingly committed suicide out of blind devotion to their leader…

Much more is known today about the inner workings of the Peoples Temple than was known in the immediate aftermath of Jonestown. For example, many of those who died that day were highly educated. And at least some did, in fact, commit suicide. But there is clear evidence that armed guards loyal to Jones forced mothers to poison their children and gave adults a choice: Drink the deadly potion or be shot. And it later turned out that Flavor Aid, not Kool-Aid, was mixed with the cyanide…

Was Jones a sadistic egomaniac who cynically abused his followers? Or was he a decent man who fell victim to the drugs, power and paranoia that finally devoured him and the 913 other men, women and children who died in Jonestown? Why didn’t more people resist when they were ordered to die?

What a very strange massacre.

Joe Golike gives me a freebie:

If you haven’t already watched the 2007 PBS film about Jonestown, it’s absolutely riveting. The official website is still up and has several video interviews with surviving cult members.

A bit of googling and I found the full-length film here.

Thanks, Joe.

November 19th, 2008

Buddhist Monks in the Sisaket province of Thailand have built a temple out of one million recycled glass bottles:

The Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple is about 400 miles northeast of Bangkok in the city of Khun Han close to the Cambodian border. Using Heineken bottles (green) and Chang Beer bottles (brown) the monks were able to clean up the local pollution and create a useful structure that will be a visual reminder to the scope of pollution and the potential we can make with limber minds.

Thanks, Andrew.

Joshua Davis’ work for our event this Friday showed up on his Flickr stream, and bits have been trickling into my office. Color me impressed.

If you’re in Chicago this Friday, and want to stop by the event, shoot me an email with your name. The last event had to be list-only due to sheer number of folks who showed up.

November 19th is World Toilet Day, a holiday created by the World Toilet Organization to promote basic sanitation in developing countries:

So central are flush toilets to our lives that we easily forget how many people do without them, or any other kind of effective sanitation either. Nobody seems to keep toilet statistics per se, but the World Health Organization and UNICEF monitor access to what is called “improved sanitation” — which they reckon 2.5 billion people live without.

Contrary to what the term appears to imply, “it doesn’t mean anything indoors and it doesn’t mean water. It certainly doesn’t mean flushable toilets,” says Patricia Dandonoli, the president of WaterAID America, an organization that works to provide sanitation in developing countries. It does mean a private, covered pit latrine — which Dandonoli stresses is “several steps up the sanitation ladder” from open defecation.

Long rumored, now somewhat confirmed: Hitler only had one testicle.

After nearly two years of use, I’m finally retiring my desktop backgrounds. Not entirely sure what to do with them, I feel they should be archived somewhere. Made public. Maybe someone else will find them as calming and stabilizing as I have.

One for your left monitor, and one for your right one.

They really do work best in pairs.

Joel Splosky is a bit sick of anecdotes as science:

Whether it’s Thomas Friedman, who, it seems, cannot go a whole week without inventing a new fruit-based metaphor explaining everything about the entire modern world, all based on some random jibberish he misunderstood from a taxi driver in Kuala Lumpur, or Malcolm Gladwell with his weak theories on tipping points, crazy incorrect theories on first impressions, or utterly lunatic theories on experts, it all becomes insanely popular simply because the stories are fun and interesting and everybody wants to hear a good story. Spare me.

In my never-ending quest to be the king of all things pop-culture, and despite my better angels, I pre-ordered Gladwell’s Outliers. While I have little if any respect for his ability to construct a plausible hypothesis, the velocity of his anecdotes, the way Gladwell can pull from the arbitrary to create the grand, is something I can respect. Even envy.

But staring at the pile of books I’ve sworn I’d finish this year, and remembering how frustrating reading Blink was for me, shouting and pacing and fuming, it dawned on me how unnecessary reading the actual book was.

The best anecdotes will find their way into the conversations of my over-educated friends quickly enough. Within the next week, I’ll see no less than 25 posts dedicated the celebration or criticism of the book, and from the snippets I’ll be able to easily construct a mental abstract of whatever it is Gladwell is on about this time, without so much as cracking the spine.

If I only have so many hours in the day to devote to genuinely insightful things, Gladwell’s track record screams at me to ignore Outliers. At least for now. At least until I’m stuck on a cross-country flight, liquored up, and ready for a good fight.

I handed off the book to a friend, and will instead sit down with Rob Walker’s Buying In, which decried anecdotes over evidence in the first five pages.

Brook Reynold’s immaculate photo series, We Are Sleeping Giants.

The series feels like a memory of a summer night, made perfect as the evening has gotten more distant in your memory.

Thanks, Matthew.

November 18th, 2008

Louis CK is a vastly underrated comic.

The difference between lucky and unlucky people:

I gave lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to tell me how many photos were inside. On average, unlucky people spent about two minutes on this exercise; lucky people spent seconds. Why? Because on the paper’s second page — in big type — was the message “Stop counting: There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they’re too busy looking for something else. Lucky people see what is there rather than just what they’re looking for.

More importantly, “lucky” people tend to see themselves as lucky, whether they are or not:

I asked my subjects to imagine being in a bank. Suddenly, an armed robber enters and fires a shot that hits them in the arms. Unlucky people tended to say this would be their bad luck to be in the bank during the robbery. Lucky people said it could have been worse: “You could have been shot in the head.”

No matter what happens, it could always be worse.

A clever business card idea for a circumciser.

I’ll limit myself to just the one pun.

JS-909 is a sound machine written entirely in JavaScript without any pre-existing libraries or Flash.

Avinash’s weblog is precisely the type I’d like to see more of.

A mix of topics, passions, and links, with essays just thought-provoking enough to keep you scrolling down the page.

Joey Pfeifer asks you to answer the age-old question: What is graphic design?

Merriam-Webster defines “graphic design” as:

The art or profession of using design elements (as typography and images) to convey information or create an effect.

The preceding definition is spiritless and boring. Graphic design is so much more than that…

I say, “No, it’s really not.”

But you’re welcome to email your own definition over.

November 17th, 2008

An overly-scientific look at caffeine consumption strategies:

Over the long term, consistent caffeine consumption is as good as nonconsumption, because of (you guessed it) tolerance. Is there a better strategy? Of course there is. Periodic abstinence lets adenosine levels return to normal.

You can pry this 20-ounce bottle of Cherry Coke from my cold, dead hands.

November 16th, 2008

A profile of Tracy Letts, the Tony-winning playwright behind August: Osage Country, easily the best play I’ve seen in three years:

“We’ve been contracting and contracting and contracting for so long in terms of drama,” he says.

“Casts have got smaller; sets have got smaller. My first two plays [Killer Joe and Bug] were five-character pieces on a single set, and I thought, God damn it, at some point, I’ve got to be able to breathe deeply again and start to push the canvas a little bit.”

He certainly did.

Chris Cilliza at the Washington Post looks at five myths about the election:

A wave of black voters and young people was the key to Obama’s victory.

Exit polling suggests that there was no statistically significant increase in voting among either group. Black voters made up 11 percent of the electorate in 2004 and 13 percent in 2008, while young voters comprised 17 percent of all voters in 2004 and 18 percent four years later.

November 15th, 2008

Something that stuck with me:

The new definition of art is when you do something and other people talk about it.

From an article in the Times on Joseph Arthur and his circle of friends, who may be best summed up by a David Letterman quote:

I want to go with those people. I would like to be with those people. I think they’re probably doing things I’m not.

November 14th, 2008

Simon Pegg, co-writer of the go-fucking-watch-it movie Shaun of the Dead, on why zombies shouldn’t run:

[T]he fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety. As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.

Give up and use tables:

We’ve scientifically determined the maximum amount of time that you should need to make a layout work in CSS: it’s 47 minutes. When your time is up, we’ll even give you the table code you need. Take three minutes to build a table. And ten minutes to get a donut.

Fairly sad that 10 years after the founding of the Web Standards Project I can’t disagree with this.

CSS makes certain things remarkably easy. But there is a class of design problems that are nearly insurmountably hard due to poor design decisions within CSS.

It has gotten better, but the promise land always seems a few generations away.

For the last 14 years, Ellie Uyttenbroek and Ari Versluis have been documenting the informal dress codes of numerous social cliques, and platonic ideals. The resulting work, Exactitudes, is beyond exhaustive, introspective and revealing:

By registering their subjects in an identical framework, with similar poses and a strictly observed dress code, Versluis and Uyttenbroek provide an almost scientific, anthropological record of people’s attempts to distinguish themselves from others by assuming a group identity. The apparent contradiction between individuality and uniformity is, however, taken to such extremes in their arresting objective-looking photographic viewpoint and stylistic analysis that the artistic aspect clearly dominates the purely documentary element.

There’s a book as well.

Thanks, BuzzFeed.

How much sticky tape does it take to be Peter Parker?

More than you’d think.

The Curious Capitalist on the 2.8% drop in consumer spending in October:

[T]he hardest-hit category by far, gasoline stations—down 12.7%—was down largely because gas prices were down. It wasn’t that consumers were cutting back. It’s that they were saving money. Take gas stations out of the equation and the retail spending decline is 1.5%. Take gas stations and cars (motor vehicle & parts dealers) out, and the decline is 0.5%. Then again, if you take all the stuff that went down out of the equation, retail sales were up.

This recession seems stranger the more I look at it. We’re not seeing a decline in work, and I know few people curtailing their spending habits. Quite the opposite. I know more than a handful who are spending more than normal, capitalizing on many of the unfathomable bargains available.

Anecdotes are of course useless, but the disconnect strikes me as something to think about.

October 30th, 2008

The radio silence is something I regret, but for the last month I’ve been neck deep in an all-consuming project. We’ve been working with Burger King on a pilot program in Chicago that’s hard to explain:

Part art gallery, part think-tank with a dash of Mad Scientist’s experiments thrown in for good measure.

It’s been an absolute rush to be apart of something that feels like a genuinely new idea, and to see it executed so well by a team whose talent level surpasses any I’ve worked in before.

Go make yourself a t-shirt and let me know what you think of the program.

I’ll be back to normal next week, promise.

September 29th, 2008

The Sarah Palin Quote Generator:

It is for no more politics as usual and building new relationships finding a solution and taking action.

Methinks we have a meme.