August 20th, 2008

How the entitlement of the rich got to John H. Summers, a teacher at Harvard:

(T)he students are the opposite of apathetic and indifferent. The new student rich have retained the radical energy of the 1960s, only to engage it in more lushly monetised competencies. The New Left occupied universities to protest against the bureaucratic hollowness of examination rituals and grading rationales. Now its children complete the attack on the authority of teachers, who are simply annexed to the management of student careers, drawn into a tacit agreement between corporation and client in which failure is not an option. I had to grade the students, and I had to grade them well. Everyone expected a recommendation letter.

Once their product became a career, not an education, it feels like many universities, not just those stuffed with the offspring of the privileged, slid into some form of the mediocrity Summers’ describes.

August 19th, 2008

Joshua Darden, easily my favorite modern typographer, has rebranded. The design is gorgeous, but more than anything else, I love the way he presents his work.

As an added bonus, he’s released a new typeface, Birra Stout, for free.

I use Joshua’s Jubilat for all my personal branding.

Disclosure: I did his shopping cart for him, so if anything fails, feel free to blame me.

August 18th, 2008

I made myself a cup of tea.

A handy, and quite extensive list of the default passwords for various popular routers.

Just came in handy when my why-the-hell-can’t-I-do-this-with-my-iPhone 3G USB modem just crapped out on me.

Chicago Tribune’s profile of Adrian Holovaty, the Chicago-based developer behind the deeply-useful EveryBlock and the Python web-framework Django:

“There’s the dot-com, Silicon Valley, blow-all-your-money-on-booze style,” says Holovaty, 27. “Then there’s the Chicago thing: Do something, do it well and be modest about it.”

Chicago strong.

Kyle T. Websters The Daily Figure:

A series of daily figurative doodles from my imagination.

Kyle’s drawings are the sort I’ve struggled to sketch for years. Sparse but expressive. Clean but emotional. Just staring at them made me want to run down to the art store and snag a new sketchbook.

Kyle’s also responsible for Original Design Gangsta, so extra points to him for injecting so much creation into the web.


August 12th, 2008

There’s a bit in this three-year old article that Gruber linked to about Apple’s design process that caught my brain:

Products get worked on in parallel by all departments at once—design, hardware, software—in endless rounds of interdisciplinary design reviews. Managers elsewhere boast about how little time they waste in meetings; Apple is big on them and proud of it. “The historical way of developing products just doesn’t work when you’re as ambitious as we are,” says Ive, an affable, bearlike Brit. “When the challenges are that complex, you have to develop a product in a more collaborative, integrated way.”

I don’t think it has anything to do with complexity. I’d take that sentiment and apply it to any project, big or small.

I’ve seen it both ways. Working in a teams where the vast majority of the staff were multi-disciplined, and in teams where each section was clearly its own echo chamber to the point where it felt like the considerations of one team would always be ignored by the other. I can tell you that the former was not only infinitely more productive, but that the results were exponentially better. In many cases, if only by the virtue that they were actually built.

The idea of design divorced from engineering is laudable, but the way it so often plays out makes it implausible. Yes, in theory, the design team should come up with a perfect solution and the engineering team should be smart enough to figure out how to pull it off and neither should ever have to talk to each other. The resulting product would look exactly as designed and would work perfectly. Keep on trucking you radical dreamer. Here’s a quarter for the jukebox.

The world’s supply of brilliant-the-first-time designers and can-figure-anything-out engineers is not nearly vast enough. While the ranks of folks who think they’re the former is exponentially higher than the folks who think they’re the latter. As an industry where the two sides are so co-dependent on each other, that either group would think of the other’s role as trivial is beyond ridiculous.

As an engineer, nothing infuriates me more than hearing a designer talk about something as “an engineering problem”. You absolute bastard. Why are you designing something that you aren’t even sure will work? Why bother opening Photoshop if what you’re producing is little more than a fantasy-world mockup? Do you have any idea how little talent it takes to envision perfect solutions? Any concept as the number of dreamers running about these streets with perfect inventions cluttering their heads, no clue as to the impossibility of their production? The fact you graduated from a midwestern art school makes you only marginally better, you hack of hacks.

Not to let engineers off the hook. Guilty as charged, the lot of them. Oh yes, that problem is very hard to code. I’m so sorry you can’t Google a solution for it. Amazon no help either, huh? Forced to come up with your own solution to the problem. Well, that must just suck. Actual creative thinking. Whiteboards and late nights. God forbid you work for your paycheck. God forbid you create something new, do something worth doing.

The two disciplines have to play off each other. One has to influence, guide, and challenge the other. The gulf between what technology is capable of and what we see in the interactive marketplace has to be shortened.

Designers running free, creating without concern for the production is nonviable. Designs can become hinged to interactions that will not work, with the compromised result damaged to the point of mediocrity.

Engineers paving the way is just as fruitless. Solutions will lack elegance and beauty. A utilitarian wonderland of marginal design with exquisite engines. Volvo-world.

Teams must collaborate throughout the project. Designers challenging engineers to at least try their idea. Engineers reminding designers that the supply of time and money being finite, choices have to be made. The two together defining more perfect solutions that ship, and work not just correctly but elegantly.

The idea of there being these two separate things has to be forced away from our thinking. They are one team, which produce one product.

Stick their desks together and see what happens.

Superman is not a republican, Mr. Serrano.

Actually, I’ll let Jim Henley counter that stupidity, he does it so very well:

The history of Superman’s politics is genuinely interesting. In Action Comics #1, his first appearance, he’s a dedicated isolationist. His enemies are a Senator and a lobbyist pushing a bill that will “embroil us with Europe.” He solves the problem by, well, kidnapping them, dumping them in the middle of a pointless war between two Central American nations.

His best sentence comes when he responds to Serrano’s charge that Spiderman is an independent with libertarian leanings:

“With great power there must come great responsibility” is as pure a distillation of Great-Society/New-Frontier liberalism as you’ll find. It’s like, find Objectivism on your political map; now go to the opposite spot.

Of course, it’s fantastically hard to pin any specific political leaning to characters who change creative hands several times a year:

(T)he correct answer is that all superheroes have the politics of whoever is writing them at the time.

While researching his book Excavating Kafka, James Hawes stumbled across the author’s stash of pornography:

“These are not naughty postcards from the beach. They are undoubtedly porn, pure and simple. Some of it is quite dark, with animals committing fellatio and girl-on-girl action… It’s quite unpleasant.”

Joel Stein on the joy of $8 dollar gas:

Cheap gas is unfair. Driving creates huge social costs in the form of traffic, health-damaging pollution and global warming that aren’t suffered solely by the person buying the gasoline. Governments usually set up idiotic systems to offset such social costs (emissions trading, ethanol subsidies, taco truck regulations) instead of forcing individuals to pay for their own mess by adding a tax to remedy the imbalance.

United Airline’s Sea Orchestra commercial by Barrie D’Rozario Murphy.

United is my preferred airline, and in strict honesty, it has more to do with their branding than their service. At 6’8”, my only real loyalty is to legroom.

August 6th, 2008

The return of downtown:

For several decades now, cities in the United States have wished for a “24/7” downtown, a place where people live as well as work, and keep the streets busy, interesting, and safe at all times of day. This is what urbanist Jane Jacobs preached in the 1960s, and it has long since become the accepted goal of urban planners. Only when significant numbers of people lived downtown, planners believed, could central cities regain their historic role as magnets for culture and as a source of identity and pride for the metropolitan areas they served.

Now that’s starting to happen.

Paris Hilton responds to McCain’s Celeb ad.

And her energy policy … makes sense. Excuse me while my head explodes.

A 3-minute clip from the rumored, and unreleased Buffy the Vampire Slayer animated series has leaked to YouTube.

August 4th, 2008

Every friday, numerous illustrators on Flickr create clever illustrations inspired by typography, whether it be a word, phrase or a single letter.

30 minutes of cartoon openings from the 1990s.

Nostalgia: it never gets old.

The Chop Shop Store just released a t-shirt version of “Helbotica” from the previously linked to and fully-wonderful FontBots collection by Jonathon Yule.

Disclosure: I did most of the HTML/CSS and PHP work for the store.

A special thank you to Ryan Halvorsen of Chicago-based Arlo.

An annoyingly talented designer, Ryan, his wife and his dog Kaylee have been kind enough to grant me temporary asylum in their home while I wait to move into my new apartment.

Thank you, Ryan.

DailyLit is a strangely compelling service. It delivers literature in installments, via RSS. One per day. I’ve been using it to read Oscar Wilde’s The Important of Being Earnest.

Won’t work for everyone, but it works for me. Seems I spend my life in a feed reader.

John McCain’s newest tactic: Sarcasm.

The political judo at work is stunning.

McCain, and his newly-appointed Rovian-disciples, are making Obama’s celebrity, or more precisely the affection and genuine admiration the public feels towards him, a liability. It’s the underdog play. Everyone hates a winner, they must be thinking.

Transparent and amateur, but you can see it working, to a point. Sadly, in any underdog play, the underdog has to be lovable. McCain is hardly lovable.

July 29th, 2008

Are you popular?

The Tulip Ego is a fashion-focused laptop which recently won Microsoft’s Fashion PC award:

For stepping outside the box, quite literally and right into a handbag, the Ego represents how technology can be dressed by design. Not just innovative but a real fashion statement.

It bears a striking resemblance to Apple’s original iBook, only, you know, wrapped in leather.

Robert Zubrin makes a convincing case that we should abandon the false promise of Hydrogen-powered cars:

The Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass says that she could believe “six impossible things before breakfast.” Such an attitude is necessary to discuss the hydrogen economy, since no part of it is possible.

Turns out Chris Brown’s Top 10 single Forever is just a jingle for gum:

Mr. Brown is one of a trio of pop stars enlisted by ad agency Translation Advertising, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos., to update the images of three of Wrigley’s best-known brands.

The campaign illustrates a deepening of the ties between pop music and advertising.

The economics of revenge:

In a working paper published last month on the Web site of the National Bureau of Economic Research (, Naci H. Mocan, an economist at Louisiana State University, gathered information on 89,000 people in 53 countries to draw a map of vengefulness. What he found was that among the most vengeful are women, older people, the poor and residents of high-crime areas.

Has Bansky been unmasked?

For years the graffiti artist known as Banksy has been the art world’s Deep Throat: a hugely influential figure whose identity remained shrouded in mystery. Now, like Deep Throat, he has been given a name.

“Controversial artist Robin Gunningham” just doesn’t have quite the same allure, does it?

Adam Platt and Josh Ozersky from New York magazine discuss the New York restaurant scene:

I like it when they are 20 cooks in the kitchen, coming up with ways to increase flavor … to me that’s what’s worth paying for. Otherwise, I could just get the mozzarella and eat it over the sink.

I could listen to these guys argue all day.

The honest earnestness of Diana Kimball, internet geek:

As it turns out, those early heroes of mine weren’t collages of favorites, but continuous and earnest personalities. They were treating the internet like a place to write letters, draw pictures, tell stories. It was a safe, gentle, honest place. I learned their rules. I still play by them. It’s old-fashioned, but it’s a game that I can believe in.

Her writing is passionate, idealistic, reflective, personal and fantastically geeky.

Some days, I feel like the only reason to have a blog is for the referrer logs. I find such wonderful treasures there.

July 28th, 2008

Slides from a 1975 IBM presentation.

I have an odd love for minimalist, 70s design.

Strangely, the slides also refer to a “data base”, not “database”. I wonder when the single-word form became the norm.

Update: Richard Holden, lexicographer of science words for the Oxford English Dictionary, is a teriffic human with many damn fine qualities. He answered my question:

The earliest use of data base that we have in the OED is from 1962, from a memo produced by the System Development Corporation of California, who seemed to coin the term. It looks like the two-word form was the only one in use until about 1970, when database first appears in our set of quotations. But the two-word form is still dominant until the early 80s, when data base and database are used at approximately the same frequency. It’s from about 1990 onwards that the form database seems to dominate almost entirely, with the two-word form now being pretty rare. As an aside, the hyphenated form data-base is quite uncommon throughout, making up only about 1% of all uses of the term in our database.

I am constantly amazed by the quality of the emails I get from readers.

A history of pre-fabricated housing, from the MoMA.

More interesting than the exhibit itself is the entries from the curatorial team and the architects. Few exhibit mini-sites offer as much “behind the scenes” information as this one.

Death Valley, a short film by Philip Bloom.

July 26th, 2008

How the name of a magic trick affected how observers thought about it:

For many years, Mr. Ralph Hull, the famous card wizard from Crooksville, Ohio, has completely bewildered not only the general public, but also amateur conjurors, card connoisseurs and professional magicians with the series of card tricks which he is pleased to call “The Tuned Deck”.

Like much great magic, the trick is over before you even realize the trick has begun. The trick, in its entirety, is in the name of the trick, “The Tuned Deck”, and more specifically, in one word “The”.

July 24th, 2008

Unnecessary knowledge:

Rapper Ice Cube’s real name is O’Shea Jackson.

Hit refresh until you have better things to do.

Days with My Father, a photographic essay by Phillip Toledano.

Sometimes when we’re talking

My dad will stop, and sigh, and close his eyes.

It’s then that I know he knows.

About my mum.

About everything.

Chanel commissioned architect Zaha Hadid to design a mobile arts pavilion. A 7,500 square foot structure, constructed of lightweight panels, it will be shipped, in 51 containers, to New York’s Central Park this October:

(T)he pavilion is a provocative advertisement. Chanel, the fashion brand, commissioned Ms. Hadid to create the traveling structure to house works by about 15 hot contemporary artists. Each was asked to create a work that was at least in part inspired by Chanel’s classic 2.55 quilted-style chain handbag, so named because it was first issued in February 1955.

Behold. Commerce.

July 23rd, 2008

Here, this is yours now.

Google has launched Knol, its take on Wikipedia:

With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together that we call “moderated collaboration.” With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content.

Mostly medical articles right now, though there are a few gems.

Extremely awesome indeed.

Update: Robb Irrgang, he of pretty skin and good taste, pointed out the difference in the released version of the site versus the original mock-up Google posted a few months ago.

Perhaps I have a predilection towards serif faces for body copy; The original was definitely more aesthetically pleasing and felt much more literary. The design felt more balanced overall, and more distinct.

I wonder why they changed it.

A fantastic explanation of the design flaw in DNS that Dan Kaminsky discovered:

How do you fix a fundamental design flaw that affects the entire Internet? Answer: You can’t. So you don’t. Instead, you find a way to make the design flaw much, much harder to exploit.

Still searching for an explanation for the patch.

Isn’t it amazing that such a massive design flaw is only now being discovered?

Why hackers are so often libertarians:

It isn’t that hackers tend to adopt libertarian politics, nor is there any third factor that influences both. Rather, people with a naturally anti-authoritarian attitude tend to become attracted to programming.

The libertarian mindset is one you don’t encounter often, unless you operate in specific circles. I’d never met one until I worked for one. Now I know way too many. It’s a den of friends.

I have found it oddly pervasive in what few programming circles I frequent. They don’t always call themselves libertarians, but if you dig deep enough, many of their core beliefs sort of circle around the ethos. Free markets, the importance of privacy and individual property, general concerns over censorship and big government.

But they often have a similar hatred for private enterprise, which is the back bone of the libertarian ideal. Let the market decide is a defacto solution for libertarians, but when the market decides something they don’t particularly like, many programmers I know are just as quick as anyone else to demand the government regulate business. Net neutrality, anyone?

Instead, I think like most people, these developers are cursed with an agenda of selfishness. So long as they have an unrestricted ability to play in their little sandbox, they’re content. Start throwing up barriers, and they’ll elect or adopt any philosophy convenient to their case.

That it’s often libertarianism seems more a coincidence of convenience than anything else.

I demand an iPhone version of instant rimshot.