Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Designer Lens

I view through world through many different lenses. I like thinking as a programmer or thinking as a philosopher or thinking as a… The list goes on. I wouldn’t call myself any type of designer, but as someone who has dabbled in web design, there’s a part of me that likes to look at the world through this lens. This person is especially obsessed with usability.

I confess that I have never seen nor touched an iPad, but it excites that part of my brain. The words in the commercials are revolutionary: “You already know how to use it.” It amazes me to think you could make a computer intuitive. They are awfully intimidating.

Because I do web design, it adheres to certain rules. Visitors are looking for specific things, and if they can’t find it, they leave. You’ve got seconds to catch them, if that. Web sites should not require training to use.

This has made me averse to any type of training. I think things should be usable. So when I hear about any type of issue and people say, “There needs to be more education,” I often think instead that the problem is in design.

This isn’t the best example, but let’s look at wasting energy. Do people need to be educated about turning lights off, computers off, TVs off? Lots of things suck up energy even when they aren’t being used. A plugged in TV draws power so it can be turned on quickly (evidently, we’re so impatient that we’d rather destroy the planet than wait an extra few seconds for the TV to turn on). We could complain about people… Or, TVs could automatically shut off all the way. Computers could turn off into going into standby.

There are bigger things, but I can’t remember them. Perhaps I can note them later on. That’s why this is a blog, not a book.

Anyway, sometimes this lens can be dangerous. Anyone can open a book, but it doesn’t mean they should be able to automatically understand what’s going on. I like the idea of laws being written in plain English and accessible to everyone, but that doesn’t mean they should be dumbed down. You might still have to study it. I don’t want laws to be like websites, where if you don’t get it in two seconds, it’s okay to leave. The iPad also locks out the user. [And I want to finish this later.]

This Frightens Me

This, from Nicholas Carr, frightens me: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.

The idea of my brain being rewired to think shallowly is frightening, and I feel like you can see its effects in my blog. There are more and more twitter-like posts. My excuse is that this comes from a purported lack of time, but I’m sure the time is there. It’s just that the time is being interrupted by all these foraging sessions: check facebook, check twitter. I spend lunch browsing the web, when I could be enriching my mind. The siren call of being plugged into the news cycle is pretty strong, though. But following the news can be so vapid at times! Who the fuck cares if Obama looks angry enough about the oil spill? (I should probably should read Matt Drudge, and I’ll know what all the talking heads will be droning on about for the next week; it’d be more efficient.)

Being jobless sucked, but my mind was a little less jumbled. I know I complained about internet addiction even then, but there were positive signs. I had been meditating. I had reduced e-mail checking to twice (once!) a day. All that is gone, gone, gone. As life changes drastically, habits are uprooted.

I want to change this way of life where I flit from meme to meme. I want to be able to focus. I want to spend a little bit more time writing so that I can be a model for my students. I want to rewire my brain towards focus, so I can out-think all the information-foragers out there. Thinking like a strategist is rare enough and will probably be more valuable in this age.

Hearing about graduation also scares me. It’s been a full year since I’ve been out of college. I don’t feel like I have enough awesomeness to show for it. I’m still proud of keeping my comic up, and slowly growing (over 600 fans on facebook now) — the artwork has even changed a bit –, but I had lofty goals that I never fulfilled. My social life also got better. I think I did more awesome things. I even began planning parties, which is crazy if you think back to the super-introverted person I was in middle school. Oh, and I dress better. Fuck yeah.

It’s not enough, though. The awesomeness quotient has missed growth expectations. Complacency is at an all-time high. It’s surprising given the kind of person I think I should be, but it’s not that surprising given the circumstances. I was jobless for many moons, so I was thankful just to have a job! There was still uncertainty until my contract got extended. So I finally have some stability. I have a good cash-flow. My greedy eyes love this, and take possession of it, even taking possession of the money that hasn’t come yet. I mean, I count on this future money to make purchases of the things I covet. If I get this cash in two weeks, then I’ll be 3/4s of the way to buying this way cool thing. But consumerism doesn’t equal awesomeness. That comes from making, not consuming.

I know I have enough time to do everything I’m doing now and be more awesome. It’s a matter of minimizing interruptions and re-ordering my priorities. If what gets measured gets managed, then I need to measure awesomeness from week to week, and on a monthly basis. Let’s see what happens.

Reality Show Idea

Bill Simmons on Mikhail Prokhorov:

Q: On a scale of A.C. Green to George Clooney, what kind of bachelor is this guy?

A: By all accounts, it seems as though he exceeds Clooney or comes close. He’s proud enough of his game that, on two separate occasions, he brought a “60 Minutes” crew and a Business Week reporter to the Soho Room, a hopping club in Moscow, and had no problem cavorting with upward of 20 women. He told Kroft, “Frankly speaking, I like women. In my heart, I am still teenager. And I am very open and I don’t want to hide this.” Then explained that he hasn’t married yet because he hasn’t found a beautiful woman who cooks well enough to please him, adding, “I think women make the same mistake with me all the time. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

(Quick tangent: First, that’s an awesome high school yearbook quote. Second, that sounds like an open challenge to every hot, buxom single female chef out there … assuming that person exists. And third, don’t we have the makings of the greatest reality-TV season ever? It could be a cross between “The Bachelor” and a cooking show: Start with 25 eligible ladies, and over the next 10 weeks, MRMC would whittle the number down based on looks, interactions and cooking challenges. How many times do you think one of the girls would hiss about another girl, “She’s not here for the right reasons, she doesn’t even like cooking!” Like, 30? I demand that this show happens. Come on, ABC. Step it up.)

That reality TV show sounds amazing.

Words I Enjoy

There is a large list of words I enjoy, but I can’t remember them on the spot. So, I’m just listing a few here, and this list will be amended at random times (but I will make a new entry, and not edit this one). There is also a list of words I find amusing, which has a huge overlap with the words I like. I think “larb” is a terrible word, but I find it hilarious. Maybe it will grow on me and I will add it to the list; it will be the pug of words I enjoy (ugly but cute).

Here’s the list:

  • burgle
  • smock
  • glom
  • babushka

Ideology Ignores Cultural Context

I enjoyed this, In Defense Of Rand Paul (Kinda), from Andrew Sullivan:

“Worse, Paul’s entirely abstract intellectual argument wrests pure principles out of an actual society, with actual historical atrocities, violence, oppression and contempt. That’s why I cannot be a libertarian the way some others like Paul are. I do not believe you can reify an abstraction like liberty and separate it from the context – historical, cultural, moral – in which it lives and breathes and from which it emerged. I can believe in freedom and believe in equality of opportunity but I should be mature enough to see when there has to be a compromise between the two – and decide. On the issue of race in America, the libertarian right was proven wrong – morally, empirically wrong. Giving up the ancient and real freedom to discriminate was worth it – indeed morally and politically necessary for America to regain its soul.”

This reminds me why I read Andrew Sullivan. Libertarianism really, really bugs me, and the reason why is because it ignores any sort of cultural context. It’s not grounded in empiricism. Because I’m sympathetic to this kind of argument, you also see why although I’m no longer politically conservative, I still find conservatism useful philosophically and sociologically.

To write about:
1) Why economics bugs me, philosophically
2) Open and Accessible Government

College Essays

This is an actual essay title from an essay I wrote for college: “How the Mind Creates Space for Personal Perspective: A Phenomenological Account of Deontology, and Its Interaction with the Impersonal.” If you wonder why I hated college, this is one good reason.

To be fair, after I handed that paper in, I wrote an e-mail apology to my professor for that god-awful title. As a believer in simplicity and clarity, it felt like an ethical violation to write such a monstrosity. I literally described it as a “sin” in my e-mail.

The rest of the essay was better-written, but my college experience often felt futile. No wonder I was such an existentialist.

No Car

I went car shopping today, and I didn’t buy a car. Nothing happened, and yet this seems noteworthy enough to briefly write about in my blog.

Before I looked, I was terribly apprehensive. The notion of further debt weighed on my mind heavily. Not only would I have car payments, but I would have to pay for gas, insurance, and maintenance. It would be a hassle. I also worried that it could hinder any future plans to move out. For some reason, the idea of a big purchase also brought out this odd spiritual side to me, and I resented another possession weighing me down. Yes, I could go anywhere, but it was a false freedom: I would always have to feed the car with gas and money.

In the end, I decided not to buy a car. My choice instead was to save up enough money to buy a car outright, instead of dealing with financing. This made financial and spiritual sense: I wouldn’t have debt tying me to this possession.

I should be happy with this solution. Yet driving the car infected me with want. I found the car I desired in the color I desired. I drove it, and my mind began to take possession of it. So, I was sad to see it go, but luckily during the entire process, I forced my rational mind to take precedence over any other part of my mind. I suppose if you subscribe to Plato’s theory of mind, my spirited side buttressed the rational mind. With the danger gone, though, the hungry, desiring mind is left to muse on what could have been.

I guess I’m a little more understanding of the saints and monks who want to escape from this. I, too, want relief.

Plain English

I found this pretty inspiring. I believe Naomi Wolf had a similar exhortation in one of her books. Laws should be in plain English or have a plain English translation. It’s time to kill the priestly caste and open up government to the people.

Here’s a web site with some stuff I want to explore:

I don’t want to become part of a movement, though. I don’t want to change the world. I don’t want to change the nation. I just want to see if this is possible in my home town.

Virtue and Happiness and House

I don’t want to get too snooty, but I found the last episode of House interesting from a philosophical perspective. Even if we don’t have a tradition of belief in karma in the West, there’s still Aristotle saying that virtue leads to happiness. So House has been becoming more virtuous this season, but it hasn’t made him any happier. In fact, after all that work, he’s being abandoned. What’s the point of reaching out?

I’m kind of surprised at how counterintuitive this feels because that the universe isn’t fair (even a fictional one) shouldn’t be counterintuitive at all.

Ugh, I’m too tired to make sense.

The Incentives of Capitalism

I wish I lived in the magical libertarian world where markets are efficient and the best product won. Unfortunately, capitalism doesn’t work that way. The incentives aren’t there for companies to provide what’s best.

Let’s look at television. If life were perfect, Arrested Development, one of the best television shows ever, would still be on (or have reached its natural end), and Two and a Half Men would have been aborted before it ever saw the light of day. Okay, I’m being too harsh on a mediocre sitcom, but bear with me. I don’t want to argue over specific shows or why specific shows fail. I do want to say that the incentives aren’t there to produce the best television show you can. Television doesn’t exist to serve you TV shows; television exists to serve you advertisements. So, the incentives are to make shows that advertisers will pay the most to be on, not make shows that people will love. Your eyeballs matter, but your brains don’t. Attention isn’t measured by quality; it’s measured by quantity.

Let’s look at talk radio — specifically, politically-oriented shows. The incentives aren’t there to provide quality content that changes America for the better. The talk radio host needs ears, needs to be exciting, so that people listen, and so that advertisers buy ads. The world revolves around advertisers. Glenn Beck’s show need not have any mooring in reality. He doesn’t have to be genuine. He just needs to say what makes him money. There are no incentives to produce better citizens or better laws; the incentive is there to produce better advertisers — and whatever gets you book deals and tours, etc.

Let’s look at social media. Facebook isn’t about sharing with your friends; it’s about sharing your information with marketers. All this talk about changing social norms is bullshit. Privacy gets in the way of sharing your data with marketers. Facebook solely exists to serve you ads so Mr. Zuckerburg can get his money. As with TV, the quality of your attention doesn’t matter. They want pageviews, and a pageview doesn’t care about you as a person. Facebook didn’t introduce “Like” for the universe because they wanted something great for its users. They don’t give a shit about their users. They want you to like things so they have lots and lots of data for advertisers to mine.

This all leads me to what I really wanted to write about, which is web standards. Sachin seems to be arguing that web standards should be abandoned and we should have an all-out browser war: “Browsers should innovate as fast as possible, adding additional functionality without concern about the other browsers out there.” He argues that this would lead to innovation. These are the supposed results of such a browser war:

  1. Greater innovation in browsers and the web platform as a whole.
  2. Each browser will become its own platform, with varying application support.
  3. Users will choose browsers that run the applications they care about. Browsers with poor application support will die.
  4. Developers will no longer worry about running on every browser. The goal will be to create the best experience on one browser.

Keep in mind what happened last time we had a browser war. IE won. Microsoft fucked us in the ass for years. In fact, I’m working at a large company where I have to support IE6 for my web development. I’m still getting fucked in the ass by IE6. Who says competition would lead us to greater innovation? The incentive is to beat down the competitors. While fantastic innovation that helps the user is one way to do that, it certainly isn’t the only way to crush your competition. And once you have a large enough market share, you don’t have to improve your product anymore. The natural tendency of capitalism is to produce monopolies and oligopolies. Capitalism won’t necessarily produce innovation.

I also want to take a closer look at #3. I don’t believe this is true. How can users choose browsers if they don’t even know what a browser is? Google made a video that showed the average person on the street can’t tell the difference between a search engine and a browser. People won’t pick what to do based on apps; they’ll pick what to do based what’s easier for them. As a designer, can you imagine telling a client that their web site won’t work in Internet Explorer, so most users won’t see their site? When they worry, you tell them: “It’s okay, they can still download another browser.” Yeah right. If users leave a web site if they can’t find what they want in five seconds, why would they bother downloading a new browser?

Just so that the last paragraph isn’t a complete diversion from the conversation about capitalism, I want to point out that the incentives aren’t there to provide “the best experience.” If a user doesn’t know what a browser is, how can capitalism provide the correct incentives for a company to create the best browser? We don’t live in a magical libertarian utopia where browser competition will provide the best route for innovation. In the real world, we got fucked in the ass by IE. I like standards.

So perhaps I shouldn’t have digressed, but the larger point is that capitalism isn’t about making things great for people. In the pursuit of money, it isn’t about making the best product, but maybe about making the best product for your advertisers. Or making it so that your product wipes out the competitors, without any regard for the quality of that product or the quality of the user experience.


When I write something for someone, I don’t necessarily want other people commenting on it. For example, I posted one of my comics on my friend’s wall because it reminded me of them; I don’t really want everyone commenting on that. But there’s pretty much no difference between posting a comic on a friend’s wall and posting it on my feed. It looks the same; the only difference is an arrow for someone’s name. So normally when I post a comic, I want people to see and comment on it. Yet when I post it for someone specific, there’s no visual distinction from my normal purpose.

You can’t really criticize me for getting annoyed at this because facebook is “public.” There’s a difference between something being public and something being broadcast. There’s a difference between posting a flier on your cubicle wall and putting copies of fliers in everyone else’s cubicles. There’s a difference between having a conversation in a coffee shop and having a conversation on stage. So yes, everyone can see what I post, but that doesn’t mean I want everyone updated with what I post.

It distorts communication. Instead of talking, you’re performing. Everything you say to someone is broadcast for the world. I used to have these updates turned off, but facebook keeps changing their TOS because they’re assholes. What’s the point of agreeing to something if they have the right to change it at any moment?

Again, we’re no longer people. We’re just memes floating in the stream.


Found this entry via @umairh: What iPads Did To My Family.

I don’t think I’ll be buying any more desktops going forward. I don’t think I’ll even be buying any more laptops going forward.

They’ve all been largely obsoleted (at least at my home) by a sleek $499 device that doesn’t really have any right to be called a “computer” in the traditional sense.

We make fun of old people for not knowing how to use computers, but computers are ridiculously unintuitive. There are so many options that nobody needs. I mean, what the hell are all those icons next to the date and time? It intrigues me to see a device that works like a computer, but isn’t a computer at all.

I’ve been obsessed with taking away options. The ticket system I made for work was based off an open-source program. When you submit a ticket, I took away almost all of the options. There are flexible rights for a bajillion things, and I took away everything I could for the end user. While I have like 8 menus, they only have 2, and I want to take away one of them in the next iteration. Less, less, less.

Even with the Chalkboard Manifesto, I want to take away things. I have a navigation menu with “home, faq, archive, links, rss”. I already took away “contact”. I don’t need most of these things. No one ever visits these pages (aside from the archive). I’m not even going to put my e-mail address up. If someone wants to contact me, they can do it via twitter or facebook.

TV Today

I was going to write something intellectual, but I couldn’t think of a topic. So, instead I’m writing a list of TV shows that I currently watch:

  • How I Met Your Mother
  • House
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Adventure Time

UPDATE: Also, I’m eating Ding Dongs.


I want to be more disconnected from the news cycle. The feeling of being hyper-connected to the news can sometimes be a substitute for action.

Let’s analogize this to friendship. Via facebook, you can passively keep track of a friend. From their updates, you can learn what’s going on in their lives. So, you can feel connected, even if you aren’t actually talking to that person. This passive hyper-connectiveness can be a substitute for real friendship.

The same thing can happen with politics. I can feel like I’m involved, just by the massive amount of time I spend keeping myself informed. However, keeping myself informed doesn’t mean I’m actually doing anything.