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.
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.
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:
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.
Waka Waka Waka
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.
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
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.