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May 31, 2008

Error Messages


Hey, thanks. This was after an initial round with a registration form on the same site that told me that my registration info--for setting up a new, free account to view articles on the site--was incorrect because I hadn't entered a valid email address. There was nothing on the form requesting an email address. The phrase "email address" didn't even appear on the form. So I took a wild guess and went back and entered an email address in the field simply titled "user name". Then I got the error message above. Then I gave up.

May 29, 2008

Elegance in Design

At the Google I/O conference, Marissa Mayer, VP for search products and user experience at Google, discussed how the company A/B tests different page weights, layouts, and other site design features on their live site to see their effects on users. But what I thought was amusing was this tidbit about one of Google's most discussed design features:

Mayer oversaw much of Google's design, but the sparse start page wasn't her doing and wasn't even part of a plan, she said. Instead, it was the design of co-founder Sergey Brin.

Why so minimalist, she wondered? Sergey's response: "We didn't have a Webmaster, and I don't do HTML."

(More at Stephanie Shankland's c|net report, quoted above.)

May 28, 2008


If you're like me (god forbid), you frequently hear poll results about public opinion and are alarmed by the number of people who seem out of step with, I don't know what to call it, common sense? Then I remind myself about ideological structures and the variety of belief and decide I'm just being dogmatic. Then I see things like this Gallup poll on American's General Knowledge Levels. Ben Smith noted (among other things) this item from the survey:

As far as you know, does the earth revolve around the sun, or does the sun revolve around the earth?

Earth revolves around the sun: 79%
Sun revolves around the earth: 18
No opinion: 3

Then I'm back to where I started. I can't decide if the "Sun revolves around the earth" or "No opinion" are more difficult to grok. Who answers this question "No opinion"?

[via Crooks and Liars]

May 27, 2008

Sonic Camera

Sonic Camera from dimitre on Vimeo.

Sonic Camera, a Processing program.

[via Everyone Forever]

May 25, 2008

Bankrupt Offices


Phillip Toledano's images of bankrupt offices.

[via Boing Boing]

May 23, 2008

Where Ideas Come From

An overview to growing and harvesting creatives.

[via Noisy Decent Graphics]

May 21, 2008

That's Not a Bug, It's a Feature

Tim Barker's "Error, the Unforseen, and the Emergent: The Error and Interactive Media Art" discusses (as you can probably guess from that title) the productive role of glitches in interactive media:

Rather than thinking of an event as the process by which preformed or preconceived possible information becomes realised, we can only think of an error as coming into being as the unformed and the unforeseen potential is actualised. This potential emerges from unique activities that occur in the process of a system. These unique activities open the system so that unforeseen information may emerge (DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy 36-37). If a system runs through its process without the potential for error it is essentially closed. It does not allow the potentiality of the emergent or the unforeseen. It is only through allowing the capacity for potential errors that we may provide the opportunity to think the unthought, to become-other, and to hence initiate further unforeseen becomings in the virtual (Rodowick 201). In a sense, when there is potential for an error to emerge in a system, the system cannot be regarded as a pre-formed linear progress; rather, it can only be thought as a divergent process that actualises elements of the virtual.

[via Remix Theory]

Tom Waits, Interviewed by Tom Waits

Tom Waits interviews himself at Anti's website.

Q: What is up with your ears?
A: I have an audio stigmatism where by I hear things wrong- I have audio illusions. I guess now they say ADD. I have a scrambler in my brain and it takes what is said and turns it into pig Latin and feeds it back to me.

May 20, 2008

Five Themes for Interaction Design

Dan Saffer points to a slightly old but still very useful-looking paper about embodied interaction design and re-thinking the current, relatively thin approach to how people interact with computers (and other work technologies/environments): "How Bodies Matter: Five Themes for Interaction Design" [pdf]. Here's a summary from the article's introduction:

This paper presents five themes that we believe are particularly salient for designing and evaluating interactive systems. The first, thinking through doing, describes how thought (mind) and action (body) are deeply integrated and how they co-produce learning and reasoning. The second, performance, describes the rich actions our bodies are capable of, and how physical action can be both faster and more nuanced than symbolic cognition. The first two themes primarily address individual corporeality; the next two are primarily concerned with the social affordances. Visibility describes the role of artifacts in collaboration and cooperation. Risk explores how the uncertainty and risk of physical co-presence shapes interpersonal and human-computer interactions. The final theme, thickness of practice, suggests that because the pursuit of digital verisimilitude is more difficult than it might seem, embodied interaction is a more prudent path.

[via O Danny Boy]

May 16, 2008

Terminal Jetlag

things magazine notes this odd story, a small chunk of an NYT article by Pico Iyer on jet lag:

One day in 1971, a woman called Sarah Krasnoff made off with her 14-year-old grandson, who was caught up in an unseemly custody dispute, and took him into the sky. In a plane, she knew, they were subject to no laws, and if they never stopped moving, the law could never catch up with them. They flew from New York to Amsterdam. When they arrived, they turned around and flew from Amsterdam to New York. Then they flew from New York to Amsterdam again, and from Amsterdam to New York, again and again and again, month after month.

They took about 160 flights in all, one after the other, according to the stage piece ''Jet Lag.'' They saw 22 movies an average of seven times each. They ate lunch again and again and turned their watches six hours forward, then six hours back. The whole fugitive enterprise ended when Krasnoff, 74, finally collapsed and died, the victim, doctors could only suppose, of terminal jet lag.

As Iyer notes, Krasnoff and grandson's story shows up in Jet Lag, a play by Jessica Chalmers. (Surprising that there's not already a DeLillo or Ballard novel or short story about about Krasnoff....)

[via things magazine]

The First Phone Book

Christies is auctioning the first-ever telephone book: The Telephone Directory, Vol. 1, No. 1, for New Haven, Connecticut, November 1878.

The instructions provided in the Directory for correct use of the telephone, the first such directions ever published, include much sound advice: "Never take the Telephone off the hook unless you wish to use it....Should you wish to speak to another subscriber... you should...commence the conversation by saying 'Hulloa!' When you are done talking, say 'That is all!', and the person spoken to should say 'O.K.' ... While talking, always speak slow and distinct, and let the telephone rest lightly against your upper lip, leaving the lower lip and the jaw free..." The push button phone bore slightly different requirements: "After speaking, transfer the telephone from the mount to the ear very promptly ... When replying to a communication from another, do not speak too promptly ... Much trouble ensues from both parties speaking at the same time.... No subscriber will be allowed to use the wire for more than three minutes at a time, or more than twice in an hour, without first obtaining permission from the main office... Any person using profane or otherwise improper langauge, should be reported at this office immediately." (pp. 4-5).

[via Gizmodo]

May 15, 2008

The Day There Was No News

(no comment)

[via pretty much everywhere]

May 14, 2008

Hacking Text

Mark Bernstein provides a short, illuminating little account of why symbolic-analytic work relies heavily on (a) knowing your work environment, (b) being able to hack together tools on the fly, and (c) situating both of those into a broader rhetorical purpose. Here's one part, while he's trying to set up a method for assigning reviewers to proposals for WikiSym 2008:

OK. I could scrap the screen, parse it in ruby, dump the result to xml, and get the xml into Tinderbox. But that's a bother.

Instead, I copied the text from Safari to BBEdit, quickly turned it into a tab-delimited file, and pasted it into Numbers. In Numbers, I rearranged the columns so the first column was the title of the paper. Then, I copied the table from Numbers and pasted in Tinderbox, Voila!

  • I get a note for each paper
  • The note title is the paper title
  • I also get new user attributes, already populated, that tell me
    • the paper's identification number
    • its author's name
    • its length in pages

So far, so good! I made new new prototype Paper, and assigned all the papers to use this prototype.

Next, I wanted to distinguish short papers. I added a rule to the prototype:

Rule: if($pages<6){BorderColor=white;} else {BorderColor=black}

Now, short papers have white borders.

The promise of computers was always that they made things easy. And they do, but not always the way a banner ad or 30-second commercial might suggest. Would it be easier to have simply done this work in Excel (or Numbers)? Only if you defined "easier" so that it reduced the problem space to the point that it left out important variables. So in cases like this (as with much symbolic-analytic work), programs like Tinderbox (and the slew of other programs present in Bernstein's workspace) make things "easier" by making them possible at all. So on one hand, doing the things that Bernstein is doing here look amazingly complex to someone without Bernstein's particular set of expertises. But gaining those types of expertise is absolutely crucial for someone who works with data in complex rhetorical contexts. It's not that what Bernstein describes is easy—it's just easier than the other available options for the same problem space.

[via Mark Bernstein]

May 13, 2008

Uncanny Graphic


Kottke has, I'm assuming, many interesting things to say about the above graphic, but for me the graphic itself is almost more compelling without any accompanying text. In fact, so far I've actually avoided reading any of the other material in his post because I'm guessing that the text will explain what the figure means, and I rather prefer the sense of wild possibility that the figure currently suggests to me. Some things are better left as mysteries.

[via kottke.org]

The Evolution of Game Controllers


Pasta&Vinegar compiles several key resources (w/images) on the evolution of game controllers. Above is a snip from Sock Master's Controller Family Tree.

[via Pasta&Vinegar]

May 12, 2008

Turn teen texting toward better writing

Although usually this topic is covered as a harbinger of the end of civilization, it's nice to see Justin Reich's thoughts at the Christian Science Monitor on how students using MySpace, IM, and weblogs is potentially a very good thing for improving communication skills:

Our student bloggers and digital writers of all backgrounds are part of a journaling culture which America has not seen since the great age of diarists during the Transcendental movement, when Thoreau and Emerson recorded their daily lives for eventual public consumption.

Failure to harness that potential energy would prove a terrible misstep at this junction in American education. As educators, we face two choices. We can scorn youth for their emoticons (J), condemn their abbreviations (Th. Jefferson would have disapproved), and lament the time students spend writing in ways adults do not understand. Or, we can embrace the writing that students do every day, help them learn to use their social networking tools to create learning networks, and ultimately show them how the best elements of their informal communication can lead them to success in their formal writing.

[via Christian Science Monitor | Commentary]

May 11, 2008



Books at Home: A weblog about bookshelves. What's not to like?

(Above is an image from a post on Skoom & Slordig's Extended Kast shelves at Covers.)

[via The Mediaburn Radio Weblog]

History of the Color Wheel


COLORlovers posts a nice history of the color wheel. Above is Gautier's attempt to illustrate gaps in Newton's Optiks (w/Newton's band of color in the center).

May 09, 2008

Grammar Police

Part of me really likes this: YouTube Comment Snob (a Firefox Extension):

YouTube Comment Snob filters out undesirable comments from YouTube comment threads. You can choose to have any of the following rules mark a comment for removal. Here's the description from the Mozilla download page:

* More than # spelling mistakes: The number of mistakes is customizable, and the extension uses Firefox's built-in spell checker.
* All capital letters
* No capital letters
* Doesn't start with a capital letter
* Excessive punctuation (!!!! ????)
* Excessive capitalization

Then another part of me noticed that, ironically, the description uses asterisks instead an HTML bulleted list. I don't know, maybe Mozilla's extension posting form doesn't let submitters include HTML or something. The Design Police sticker project needs to create Firefox Extension so I can stop getting adhesive all over my monitor.

[via Lifehacker]

Tech Corp Workspaces

Vallywag follows up their top 10 workspaces in tech report with 10 worst workplaces. Mostly tongue-in-cheek: much criticism is placed on Facebook's graffiti door-art and Google's gray cubicles (Google also made the top 10 list).

[via Slashdot]

Obtrusive Design


Roglok posts a handful of psychoactive wallpapers, animated GIF images that pretty much negate the idea of "wallpaper" as something that sits in the background. The one above is a just a static screenshot—imagine it flickering wildly. Or visit the site. (NSF, it probably goes without saying, epileptics.)

Welcome to my jazzy collection of Psychoactive Wallpapers.

My aim in this project is to generate static and animated .gif images with a low filesize that provide interesting visual effects.

I am inspired by the Structural Film movement of the 60's and 70's as well as stereographic 3d images and early webdesign..

Use these on your website and you could give even a MySpace page a run for the money in the Annoying Design Award.

[via Rhizome.org]

May 08, 2008

Flickr & Design Inspiration

Vandelay Website Design offers links by category of 99 Flickr Groups for Design Inspiration. Useful for those times (which is most of the time for many of us) when you're looking for new ideas to hack around with.

Web designers and graphic designers are always looking for new sources of design inspiration. Of course, many of us turn to CSS galleries, and there are even more sources of offline inspiration. Personally, I find the work in many Flickr groups to be another excellent source of inspiration. Aside from the billions of photos on Flickr, there are also some groups that have been established to showcase the work of designers. Here is a look at 99 of them according to category (about half of them are general graphic design groups). Below the link to each group you’ll see the number of members and the number of items (pictures, graphics, screenshots, etc.) that have been submitted to the group, plus I have included part of the group description as listed by the moderator.

[via xBlog: The visual thinking weblog | XPLANE]

Now Watching: Okkervil River

As one more drain on my time, Pitchfork.tv is running a five-song Okkervil River set, shot on the roof of Pitchfork Studio in NYC. Starts, as Pitchfork says, glacial and then picks up.

Party Shuffle, Vol. 13

"Feb 14 3:41," Drive-By Truckers (A Blessing and a Curse)
"Cry Like A Baby," Kasey Chambers (The Captain)
"St. Jimmy," Green Day (American Idiot)
"Mansion On The Hill," Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Weld (Disc 1))
"Saint Mary," Sparklehorse (Good Morning Spider)
"El Gusto," Los Lobos (Just Another Band from East L.A.: A Collection (Disc 1))
"Sligo River Blues," John Fahey (The Legend of Blind Joe Death)
"Dog Faced Boy," eels (Souljacker)
"Pyramid of Tears," Alejandro Escovedo (Live, Somewhere, Somewhen)
"It's All Over Now Baby Blue," Link Wray (Bullshot)
"The Farewell Bend," Frank Black (Live In Amsterdam [11.28.03])
"Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz," The Black Crowes (The Complete Tall Sessions)
"Ain't No Money," Rodney Crowell (Live at the Catalyst Club [4.6.01] )
"Mystery Train > That's Alright Momma," Warren Haynes, Kevn Kinney, & Edwin McCain (Live at the Bottom Line [2.15.97])
"White Line (version 1)," Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Ragged Glory Outtakes: The Ranch Rehearsals)
"Wayfaring Stranger," Neko Case (The Tigers Have Spoken)
"My Heart," K's Choice (Almost Happy (Disc 2))
"I Fought the Law (Take 2)," Norm Chomsky (07.07.25 Practice)
"One," Johnny Cash (American III: Solitary Man)
"Devil's Sidewalk," Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Greendale)
"As I Fall," Alejandro Escovedo (A Man Under The Influence)
"Rain On Tin," Sonic Youth (Murray Street)
"I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," Richard Thompson Band (Live In Tucson [9.25.07])
"Tony & Maria," Los Lobos (Good Morning Aztlan)
"Wild Honey Pie," The Pixies (Pixies at the BBC)

Wikipedia 1, Common Wisdom 0


Spork pointed out to me that she'd heard the much-criticized Teen Talk Barbie apparently didn't say, "Math class is hard." Instead, she said the slightly less pithier phrase "Math class is tough."

Which I thought was odd, because I was pretty sure I'd only ever heard the latter phrase (and used it frequently enough that Spork gave me the jar of Barbie heads above with the comment, "I thought you'd like this"). And a guick google search showed 13,000+ plus hits for "Math class is hard," but only 595 hits for "Math class is tough." However, hits on the Wikipedia article showed up for both variations.

Helpfully, the discussion page on the Wikipedia article included a mention that "math is tough" seemed to be a widely repeated urban legend. And for the "math class is hard" variation, referenced in the main page of the Wikipedia article included a source for the "math class is tough" quote, to this 1992 article at New York Times, which includes a quote from Jill E. Barad, then president of Mattel: "In hindsight, the phrase 'math class is tough', while correct for many students both male and female, should not have been included."

May 07, 2008

Working the Wall

Although it's sort of mundane, John King at CNN's use of a large touchscreen during Democratic primary elections last night is sort of interesting. Not so much for the topic (I can barely stomach election coverage at this point in the cycle) but notable for the interactivity in King's zooming the display in and out, then panning around the map of Indiana to show election results, population centers, etc. It'll be interesting to see how (and if) this sort of genre develops. I'm not sure how much this added to the coverage—a well-timed use of standard information graphics would have worked better—but it does allow King to make a lot of decisions about what and how to show things on the fly.

Other interesting technical/rhetorical features include the cuts to a second camera to highlight some text for readability--the control room apparently wanted to focus more tightly on some things than King did, Wolf Blitzer walking into the frame occasionally to offer additional points, etc.

[via The Huffington Post | Raw Feed]

May 02, 2008

"The Whole City Was Her Draft Copy"

Jeff Deck's Typo Eradication League hunts down typographical errors in published signage. Then fixes them. Here's a portion describing their interventions at a gift shop:

I’d initially only noticed the it’s, but Marie pointed out that there was a comma missing after blossoms. Presumably the blossoms themselves didn’t grow to four or five feet tall. Marie was having fun with this, which came as no surprise given her decades of editorship. For today, the whole city was her draft copy, to be marked up as necessary. There were three copies of the sign. I brought one of them over to the cashier and pointed out the error.

“I’m gonna tell the idiot who made those signs,” he said.

“Sounds good,” I said. “Would you mind if I white out the extraneous apostrophes, to fix these?”

“Sure, go ahead,” he said, and smiled. “This place is meant to be educational, isn’t it?”

It sure was. I fixed the two signs in the front, then reached through the thorns to get the one in the back.

[via The Morning News]

May 01, 2008

Advanced CSS: Homer Simpson

Romàn Cortès uses a bunch of very elegant CSS code to draw Homer Simpson using only letters. Ned Bachelder added some additional code to animate the drawing, so that the characters are drawn on screen one character at a time. Impressive work.

I have to admit, I'd seen a link to this several times over the last few days and skipped it since I assumed it was just some ASCII art. It's not.

[via Daring Fireball]