June 2005  
Albums for Driving Long Distances

WINNEMUCCA, NV -- I'm currently near the end of my 2600-mile, cross-country journey from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. By the time I'm done, it will have taken me roughly 40 hours of driving time and I will have passed through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. It's a lot of driving, and, since I've only got my dog Pepper for company, that means a lot of listening to music.

Out of the 300+ albums in my iPod, a few of them have distinguished themselves as being excellent background music for driving. These albums all share a few things in common: few slow songs, many songs that are easy to sing along to, enough variety so as to not make you zone out, no more than one so-so song on the album that you would have to skip through or endure, not overly complex (no "Kid A" for example), and a driving beat. So, without further ado, some albums that have saved me from serious Route 80 insanity.

  • Green Day, "American Idiot." The best album of 2004 is also a great album to drive to. Relentlessly melodic. Dare I say it, but this might be the best album of the decade thus far. And I'm no Green Day fan. Several listens this trip.
  • Guided By Voices, "Do The Collapse." I tried listening to any number of GBV albums, but this is the one that stuck. Maybe because it was produced by The Cars' Ric Ocasek.
  • Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, "Hearts of Oak." Best drum solo EVER on "Ballad of the Sin Eater."
  • Arcade Fire, "Funeral." I'm not sure how this album works, but it does.
  • The Killers, "Hot Fuss." Jam-packed with great songs.
  • The Pixies, "Doolittle." Needs no explanation.
  • The Weaker Thans, "Reconstruction Site." Great lyrics, punchy melodies.

Honorable Mentions: U2, "War," Wilco, "Summerteeth," The Wonder Stuff, "Never Loved Elvis," Weezer, [Blue Album], Radiohead, "The Bends," R.E.M., "Monster," PJ Harvey, "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea," Oasis, "Don't Believe The Truth," Garbage, "Bleed Like Me," Elastica, "The Radio One Sessions," ccc, "Revolved," Brendan Benson, "Lapalco," and Ben Folds, "Rockin' the Suburbs."

I suppose depending on what mood you are in, and when and where you are, any album could be a good driving album. Your mileage may vary.

Originally posted on Thursday, June 30, 2005 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)



It's my last few days in Pittsburgh, after being here for two years while I went to grad school. My stuff is half in boxes, and I'm frantically ripping CDs for my cross-country drive to my new home in San Francisco. I'm desperate to get to my new place and start my new job, but since I'm a reflective kind of guy, I thought I'd note some of the things I'll miss, aside from my friends and teachers, about Steel City:

  • the smoke-filled loft at The Cage
  • tattooed girls on mopeds on the South Side
  • Dave and Andy's Ice Cream
  • the baby elephants at the Pittsburgh Zoo
  • the view as you come out of the Fort Pitt tunnel
  • sitting on my front steps on humid summer nights, smoking cheap cigars and drinking even cheaper beer
  • the jukebox at Gooski's, which miraculously always plays "Teenage Riot" by Sonic Youth every time I'm there
  • movies on Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park
  • the interactive art installations at the Children's Museum
  • the bridges. With more bridges than any city except Venice, Pittsburgh has a tremendous variety of impressive bridges and their resulting vistas. You can often see several of them at once.

Pittsburgh itself was a bridge for me: a link between where I was and where I wanted to go. And while I've enjoyed living here, I need to cross to the other side.

Originally posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | Link | Comments (1) | Trackback (0)


Waka Waka Waka

Pac Man turns 25 this month. Hard to believe. On my Atari 2600, I definitely had Pac-Man Fever.

As the CNN tribute rightly points out,

"This was the first time a player took on a persona in the game. Instead of controlling inanimate objects like tanks, paddles and missile bases, players now controlled a 'living' creature," says Leonard Herman, author of "Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of Videogames." "It was something that people could identify, like a hero."

It was the first time most of us had ever adopted a digital persona, primitive as it was. But perhaps its primitiveness was part of its power, allowing for easier identification (see the great Understanding Comics). In the years following, game heroes took on more distinct forms, imbibed with more and more personality: Link, Mario, Gordon Freeman, et al. Part of the fun of playing these games--and really, part of the fun (and I suppose danger) of the digital world itself--is this taking on and playing different roles. I can be one persona on my blog, another on Everquest, a third on IM. In a broader sense, I suppose we play different roles nearly everywhere we go online (and maybe even in all life). I'm a shopper on Amazon, a stock trader on Ameritrade, a searcher on Google. (I think there's a lot to explore in this sort of role-directed design.)

But what Pac Man and his ilk can teach us is that we'll follow and identify with these digital beings, these pixel versions of the self, in all sorts of unfamiliar, alien settings that really don't even make much sense (You mean I eat that big dot and then I can eat those ghosts?). Imagine applying the game-like principles of pac-man to something that does make sense, like stock trading.

Twenty-five years of the little yellow pie-chart guy and we still haven't come to terms with what games are all about and how we can use their parts in things that aren't games per se. We're still like pac-man, running frantically around a maze, pursued by phantoms.

Originally posted on Thursday, June 16, 2005 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)


Everything Bad is Good for Design

Want to be an interaction designer? Spend some quality time playing video games and watching TV.

I just finished reading Steven Johnson's latest book, Everything Bad is Good for You. It's a great, provocative read and makes me feel much better about the hours I've wasted spent productively on Lost, Survivor and Medal of Honor. The book posits a number of concepts that are interesting to think about as a designer.

Johnson's basic premise is that over the last twenty years, popular culture has gotten more complex and is making people smarter. He calls this the Sleeper Curve, after the Woody Allen "sci-fi" movie Sleeper where scientists from 2029 are astounded that people in the 1970s didn't know the nutritional merits of cream pies and hot fudge. The type of intelligence that pop culture is training us in is the same sort of intelligence I use every day as a designer: pattern recognition, decision-making, and the ability to assess and respond appropriately to emotional signals. Television, video games, and the internet have all conspired to make us smarter in specific ways.

Johnson gives names to two types of activities that interaction designers not only engage in, but also observe all the time with users: probing and telescoping. Probing involves the discovery of the rules of the system through exploration, through playing with it. You discover not just rules, but the physics of the system: the patterns and tendencies. Probing can take the form of testing the limits of a system, pushing it until its artificiality (the seams) show. Telescoping is about the nesting of objectives inside each other like a collapsed telescope. It's about focusing on immediate tasks while keeping in mind the ultimate goals, something both designers and users often need to do.

"Telescoping is about order, not chaos; it's about constructing the proper hierarchy of tasks and moving through the tasks in the correct sequence. It's about perceiving relationships and determining priorities."

Johnson argues that the heightened probing and telescoping that we're seeing is a result of complex forms (e.g. video games, the internet, etc.) that "encourage participatory thinking and analysis" and that "challenge the mind to make sense of the environment." Johnson has a lot of interesting things to say about form, and about learning new digital forms. "Learning the intricacies of a new interface can be a genuine pleasure," he writes. "I've often found certain applications more fun to explore the first time than to use."

It's an interesting, quick read, right up there with his other books, Interface Culture (a must for interaction designers), Emergence, and Mind Wide Open. I recommend it.

Originally posted on Thursday, June 2, 2005 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)



« May 2005 | Main | July 2005 »

February 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
  O Danny Boy is About Me, Dan Saffer, and has my Portfolio, Resumé, Blog, and some Extras. It also has the blog I kept of my graduate studies and ways to Contact Me.  
  Blog RSS Feeds
Blog Excerpts
Full Entries
Design Entries Only
Atom Feed