December 2007  
A Meditation on Fate, Chance, and Luck at Year's End

I've never been a big believer in Fate with a capital F, with its creepy overtones of predestination. I don't care to think there is an intelligent power who has pre-ordained your life for you, or that your biology and environment makes it impossible for you do anything but what you will do. Even if this may be true, it's a horrible principle to base your life on, I think. By doing so, you think the future is already determined, and that makes life not really much worth living.

I do, however, believe in chance and luck. Chance, as I define it, is an accidental event you have no control over that happens without your direct action. A bridge collapsing, picking up a magazine in a doctor's office and finding a great article, overhearing your favorite song blasting out of someone's window--all are examples of chance. Chance can be random (a kicked-up stone hitting your windshield) or semi-random (a terrorist blows up a building near you). Random (or really, seemingly random) chance is usually a result of some natural or social process. Rust weakens a bridge, for instance, causing it to collapse. Semi-random chance is triggered by someone else's actions that in turn affect you. A drunk driver smashes into your car. It's caused by someone's actions, but you did nothing to instigate or trigger the event personally.

Chance can ruin or make your life worse, as anyone who has caught a strange illness can attest. It can also enhance your life, and this is what we call luck.

Luck is really just a type of chance: an event that goes in your favor. You can meet someone who offers you a job or becomes a spouse. You can find money on the street. You can win the lottery. Bad luck is just chance, really.

Now, there are those who would argue that we make our own luck. You have to be prepared to meet a possible spouse. You have to buy the lottery ticket to win. And I suppose there is some truth to this. There's probably two forms of luck too. The kind where you've positioned yourself to receive it, and the other kind, which theologians call grace. Grace is an unexpected, undeserved gift. You don't have to be prepared to receive it, or worthy to receive it, you just do.

Coincidence is a form of luck, I think. Bumping into the right person at the right time. Having someone give you a book you were just thinking of. It's a form of good luck.

I wish you and yours the best of luck in the new year.

Originally posted on Saturday, December 29, 2007 | Link | Comments (4) | Trackback (0)


Best Interaction Design Blogs of 2007

Time again for my annual picks of the blogs I found the most interesting and the most helpful over the last year. (See my picks for 2005 and 2006.)

In no particular order:

  • Jeff Howard's Designing for Service always uncovers interesting links with good commentary on service design.
  • Brian Oberkirch's Like It Matters always has clear-eyed commentary on products and the web.
  • Marc Andressen's pmarca blog has become required reading, not only for its insights on technology and Silicon Valley, but for its hilarious commentary on pop culture too.
  • Design A Day by Jack Moffett is probably the best pure design blog on this list. Daily goodness.
  • Adam Greenfield's Speedbird isn't exactly interaction design-oriented (although let's be honest: few of my picks this year are), but it does contain a host of critical thinking about topics interaction designers should care about, namely architecture, cities, and ubicomp.
  • Putting People First constantly uncovers (and summarizes well) great UX posts.
  • Making a return to the list is Not only good analysis of trends, but links to great practical tools too.
  • Nicolas Nova at Pasta and Vinegar posts too much, but often finds things, especially from the academic world, that others miss.

So that's the list! There are lots of other blogs I follow of course, but these have been the most consistent, the most insightful over the last year.

See you in 2008!

Originally posted on Saturday, December 22, 2007 | Link | Comments (3) | Trackback (0)


My Top 10 Albums of 2007

It's been a surprisingly great year for music. Lots of great new bands and old favorites returning. Even some of the albums that didn't make this list were pretty good. Here are my picks in order:

10. In Rainbows, Radiohead. Took me a while to get into this album, but it is one of their best.

9. Costello Music, The Fratellis. "Flathead" was the second best single of the year.

8. The Stage Names, Okkervil River. Heartfelt, personal.

7. The Information, Beck. Personal lyrics for a change make this album ring true. Who else can use a telephone dialing fit into a melody?

6. New Magnetic Wonder, The Apples in Stereo. Happy happy joy joy!

5. Reunion Tour, The Weakerthans. While not as great as some of their earlier efforts, still a solid album. "Sun in an Empty Room" is one of the best songs they have ever done.

4. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon. Has the best single of the year, "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb." I wasn't a fan of these guys before, but I am now.

3. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire. Darker, deeper.

2. The Broken String, Bishop Allen. My new favorite band. Catchy, charming. "Click Click Click Click" is my ringtone, if that tells you anything.

1. Leaves in the River, Sea Wolf. Great lyrics, soulful melodies, and frequent use of a cello. What's not to like? My pick for the best album of the year.

In the disappointments category, put the missing Courtney Love album, Traffic and Weather by Fountains of Wayne, and Wilco's Sky Blue Sky.

Originally posted on Friday, December 21, 2007 | Link | Comments (1) | Trackback (0)


Does Marshall McLuhan Still Matter?

As part of my winter break reading list, I've been trying to plow through Essential McLuhan by Marshall McLuhan because for a while now I thought I was missing out on some crucial piece of my education in media theory, some lost piece about the medium I'm working in.

As it turns out, not so much.

While still an interesting read and while some of the concepts, namely "The Medium is The Message" which the internet makes perfectly obvious day after day, are still sound, a lot of these writings seem hopelessly dated and almost laughably irrelevant now, 40 years later. Saying that, for instance, radio is Hot (demanding the use of a single sense) while TV is Cool (requires more participation) seems, if not obvious, then at least non-helpful as a model in the age of satellite radio and TV like Lost. And the internet? Well, it pretty much blows the Hot/Cool thing to hell. It's Hot and Cool, often at the same time, and as far as I can tell, the Hot/Cool model doesn't much help us understand the medium (or its message) any better.

His simplistic take on the electronic world seems quaint now, almost Victorian in its language, filled with bad puns and quotes from Shakespeare and Joyce to prove his points. He's not a fan of television and god knows what he would make of the web. He saw electronic media as the end of civilization and of the printed word. Satan is a great electrical engineer, he noted. And although he invented the term "global village," he certainly doesn't seem like he wants to live there.

In short, I don't know what to make of his work. He could simply be one of those seminal figures who turned a critical eye on something overlooked (in his case television) and went on to influence other critics. Maybe he's the Velvet Underground or Big Star of media theorists. Or maybe, just maybe, he was wrong about a lot of things. Electronic media like what you are reading now hasn't destroyed the world or the printed word. The global village? Probably a good thing. Television? Awesome.

The most damning piece of evidence? The Wikipedia articles around McLuhan do a better, more concise job of explaining his theories than he does.

As for me, I'd rather watch TV.

Originally posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 | Link | Comments (6) | Trackback (0)


Awesome End-of-Year Conference Discounts

If you want to see yours truly in the flesh talking about interaction design and the like, here are some conferences you should register for and get a cheap rate:

Saturday, December 15th is the last day to get the early bird rate of $499 for Interaction08, the conference I'm Chairing. It's an awesome program and, it being in Savannah and all, it should be a tremendous social event. Here's me in Boxes & Arrows talking about why you should go.

Also in February, Adaptive Path's UX Intensive is happening in San Francisco. This time, with a rebooted Interaction Design Day that is chock-full of hands-on activities and information. (The new schedule of activities will be posted soon--it's hot off the presses!) Early bird registration ends December 31, and use my code of FODS to get another 10% off that!

Originally posted on Thursday, December 13, 2007 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)


Winter Break 2007 Reading List

Adaptive Path shuts down for the last two weeks of the year, and I'm taking a few days off at the end of that, so I have three weeks of reading (and of course writing) ahead of me. I have a stack of books I've been neglecting for a long time as I suffer through this strange period of not reading very much. Thus, I'm hoping to tackle the following over break:

Half the fun of posting (and reading other people's) book lists is discovering the books you should be reading. So. What else should I be reading?

Originally posted on Sunday, December 9, 2007 | Link | Comments (3) | Trackback (0)


2007 Review: Work Travel

Somehow, it doesn't seem like it, but running the numbers, I traveled a lot less this year than in 2006. The raw stats are 56 days away in 2006 and only 41 in 2007. There were whole months that I stayed in San Francisco this year (January, April, May, October, December) and that only happened once in 2006 (May), and when I went anywhere, it was for fewer days. Good thing I can sleep on red-eye flights!

In both years, there was still one ginormous trip (Sydney in 2006, Malmo-Copenhagen-Amsterdam in 2007). The difference was, I think, a client project in early 2006 that had me on-site nearly every week for several months, and that bumped up the travel time.

This past year, I did spend time in some cool places:

  • The aforementioned Malmo, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam
  • Vancouver
  • Toronto
  • Austin
  • Helsinki
  • Chicago
  • and Washington D.C.

Next year is already filling up with trips to Japan, San Diego, Austin, Savannah, and Washington D.C. already scheduled, and rumors of Copenhagen and Sydney on the horizon.

I'll see you somewhere.

Originally posted on Saturday, December 8, 2007 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)



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