Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A Small Gedankenexperiment

Great post about ethics in computer science. Which is also about ethics in design, since code typically lives inside designed products.

Posted at 07:57 AM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, February 19, 2004

Tivo Remote

NYT article on the creation of the Tivo remote. Interesting that it isn't until the middle of the second page that we learn that IDEO designed it.

We've had the discussion in my interface class about whether or not things like mice or remotes could be considered interfaces on their own. Certainly this article lends credence that yes, maybe they are.

Posted at 09:10 AM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, February 16, 2004

Unhappy Birthday

Today is my birthday. At 10:20 EST, I will turn 34. I can't remember a birthday I've looked forward to less.

Typically, as my wife will attest, my birthday is a multi-day bacchanalian festival of presents, food, and such. And while we certainly had those things this year, my heart's just not in it.

Back in 1997, I worked for a dotcom startup. Among the 23 year olds, there was one "old guy," Kevin Sykes, a really talented artist and hilarious guy. One of my coworkers at the time commented, "I hope I'm that cool when I'm that old." Need I mention that Kevin was 34 at the time? I keep hearing that quote echoing in my head these days.

When you hit 34, there's no pretending you just turned 30 or that you are in your early 30s anymore. It just feels older, and I don't like it. I'm trying to intone my grandmother's mantra, "Age is just mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter." I'm trying not mind, and I'm trying to have it not matter, but today it does. Tomorrow will be better.

Posted at 09:55 AM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, February 13, 2004

yes I said yes I will Yes

Before I visited Dublin for the first time, back in 1997 when I was able to do things like travel, I read Ulysses, James Joyce's massive, sometimes incomprehensible, sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, day in the life of Leopold Bloom. I did a lot of my undergraduate work in postmodern literature, but, even so, it was not an easy read. I wholly confess to skipping ahead a lot and not understanding whole passages. So this debate, on the relevance and greatness of Ulysses is interesting to me.

Much like the music I listen to, I've always been a fan of the alternative, yet accessible, pieces of fiction. Ulysses decidedly does not fall into this category: it is still, some 80 years later, the alternative to end all alternatives. There's very few things to compare it to, and this is probably a good thing. It didn't exactly spawn too many imitators.

And yet there is undeniable power in the book and some astounding passages. Can you think of another book that people would be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its fictitious events? Or that people are still arguing about 80 years later? Me neither.

For my money, the best Joyce book isn't Ulysses or even the overrated A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Or (God forbid) the nearly incomprehensible Finnegan's Wake. It's Dubliners, which Joyce published when he was like 32 or something. The last three pages of the last short story in it, "The Dead," are what I consider to be the best writing in the English language. Period.

"The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not comprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived was dissolving and dwindling."

Since nearly everything about my life is about design these days, let me tie it back to that. What makes Dubliners greater than Ulysses is that Joyce (unconsciously of course) used Raymond Loewy's MAYA principle: Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable. Anyone who has ever tried to write a short story could tell you that Dubliners does some wickedly difficult things, seemingly effortlessly, breaking rules left and right as it does it. The last paragraph of "The Dead" uses the word "falling" six times, something that writers are told never to do. And yet, it's very readable. Ulysses scores big on the Most Advanced--it's still Most Advanced--but fails, I think, at making it acceptable. I know quite a few well-read folks, but none I know count Ulysses as one of their favorite books.

Joyce in Ulysses is unlike Shakespeare in, say, Hamlet. Both presumably set out to capture a wide swathe of a man's life and about humankind in general. Yet Hamlet can (and is) performed thousands of times a year, all over the world. It must be acceptable. It's a chore to even hear someone read Ulysses.

Perhaps, though, when you write something as brilliant as Dubliners, the only place to go is not up but sideways. It was tough to top, so Joyce simply didn't. He created something new, something people had never seen before, nor likely ever will again. Is it the best novel of the 20th century? Not to be Clintonian about it, but it depends on what your definition of best is. Did it change the way people think of novels? Yes, of course. But this only makes it great, not the best. To me, the best books are those that touch the mind and the soul, and while my mind was certainly engaged while reading Ulysses, I'd be lying if I said my heart always was.

Posted at 09:02 PM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Saturday, February 7, 2004

Gizmos Need Interaction Design

Yet another article on the desperate need for more interaction designers working with consumer electronics. (Although they don't say that, per se of course.) An interesting fact cited: A Yankee Group study [indicated] that 50 percent of consumers postpone purchases thinking the products would be too difficult to use.

Posted at 09:07 AM | link


Thursday, February 5, 2004

My New Favorite Phrase

I was intrigued by this article on Jack Nicholson just to laugh at his Viagra comment, but at the bottom was this nugget I've been trying to figure out:
Asked if his life had passed quickly, he replied: "It's been like smoke through a keyhole."

My first thought was, WTF Zen Koan answer is that? But a Google search revealed that it is a phrase in use. I'd never heard it before, but now it's my duty to slip it into as many conversations as I can like smoke through a keyhole. See how cool it is?

Posted at 08:58 AM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Are Personas Useful?

Interesting discussion on The Persona Crutch.

Are personas useful? To me, they certainly are, just as a reference point for others on the development team ("Joe would find this feature very useful") and for myself, to help me envision the lives of users and to understand their world view. In short, for me to empathize with them.

Now, I agree with Andrei in that they can be misused and can be a shorthand for lazy thinking. They can be used to only create sympathy, and I'm not sure any great design can come from sympathy (although for testing it is useful). It's empathy I'm after, and personas are a step towards empathy. The designer has to take the final step (a leap really) from personas to a product. For a while, I was thinking about this topic for my Master's thesis paper: how to turn empathy into creativity.

This is an especially interesting conversation for me to follow now, since I am teaching personas next week in my class. Personas have become part of the standard toolset now (which is pretty amazing in itself, considering they've only been around for less than a decade), so much so that they are almost a cliche. But they aren't important per se, only in what they allow designers to do: generate empathy. If there's other methods to do this that a designer finds more comfortable (through drawing or writing), then my feeling is, knock yourself out. Ultimately, it's the end product and how much it empowers its users and changes the world that matters, not the methodology we use to create it.

Posted at 11:46 AM | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Political Book Map

Since I'm taking a mapping and diagramming class, I've been looking around at some interesting ways of mapping data. This book network map, created using Amazon's "Customers Who Purchased This Also Bought..." data, is pretty neat.

I bet there's a lot of these book and music networks, linked by some sort of metadata. I wonder how he determined the political leanings of those how purchased these books (aside from the content of the books themselves).

Posted at 09:17 PM | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, February 2, 2004

NYC Mapping Software

Cool article (and another in Wired) about the Citywide Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in New York City. Surprising that there isn't more online about this system: seems like it would be a really cool case study on the power of combining data. It's basically a mapping software that overlays NYC streets with various data like floor plans, street blockage, vehicle weight restrictions, power lines, etc.

It even plots out the streets with the most garbage, which rankles the sanitation engineers union. Great quote reflecting the resistance people sometimes feel when a new technology enters an old system:

"We are not computers, you know. We are human beings," he said. "Does a computer get lunch time? Does a computer sprain his ankle? Does a computer die like one of my members did the other day? We have very, very efficient managers on this job. They came up through the ranks. They know the best way to pick up the garbage."

Posted at 10:57 AM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


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