there are 14 posts from January 2008

January 28, 2008

i'm starting to hate this primary race

Bill Clinton on Saturday in North Carolina:

“Jesse Jackson won in South Carolina twice, in ‘84 and ‘88, and he ran a good campaign. And Senator Obama is running a good campaign.”

Jesse Jackson, reached by phone in India by the New York Times:

“I don’t read anything negative into Mr. Clinton’s observation.”


January 26, 2008

of note of late

A few things of note from the week, somehow all related.

First, Russell Davies’ post on 2008 being the year in peak advertising.  “If the online advertising promise comes true (though I have to admit I’m skeptical about that) then increased relevance and targeting means you won’t get attacked by so many irrelevant attention seekers. So even if there isn’t actually less advertising online, it’ll feel like there is.”

Next, Mark Chu-Carroll’s piece Databases are hammers, MapReduce is a screwdriver. “Just because you’ve got the best hammer in the entire world doesn’t make everything a nail. If you’ve got a screw, even a cheap, old, rusty screwdriver is going to do a better job.”

Next, WD-50 in Manhattan. Enjoyed the popcorn soup and the Wagyu flatiron with coffee gnocchi. But the real surprise was the beer ice cream, which was delicious.

Next, Lost Maps, because I’m more than ready for the (abbreviated?) season to get started. Also, the little tidbit highlighted on the Google Maps team blog: “ It seems that whenever someone mentions Canada, they are in fact lying.” Canada == giant Mystery Box.

Finally, the game Passage.  A twisty maze, all alike.  “The world in Passage is infinite. As you head east, you’ll find an endless expanse of constantly-changing landscape, and you are rewarded for your exploration. However, even if you spent your entire lifetime exploring, you’d never have a chance to see everything that there is to see. If you spend your time plumbing the depths of the maze, however, you will only see a tiny fraction of the scenery.” (Emphasis mine.  And I should have followed .tiff’s advice back in December.)

January 22, 2008

short messages not sent

From the “short messages not sent” department.

  • Putting a new watch on your wrist changes how you perceive time.
  • I spend way too many cycles messing with sync, even though I think I have a decent system figured out to work around the awkward combination of Microsoft Exchange, Apple iCal, an iPhone, and Entourage.
  • When I’m not online I can string more than a few hundred words together at once, and have them make sense. This is good.
  • That said, midtown hotel lobby + powerstrips + wifi = WIN.
  • When you have to pay to use something to its full advantage, it’s not really free.
  • Season two of The Wire gets really interesting around episode 8. Looking forward to the next four.
  • I’m still waiting for a delivery date on the Kindle I ordered. I’m tempted to cancel.

OK, that second one up there wasn’t so short.

January 19, 2008

designers accord

Business Week’s Jessie Scanlon covers The Designers Accord, “a call to arms for designers to engage in the environmental movement with optimism and creativity.” The core of The Designers Accord is a set of principles around bringing sustainability principles and practices to the product design process. From Scanlon’s piece:

For clients this is significant because it means that sustainability is going to be part of the conversation regardless of what studio they’re talking to. Core77’s Chochinov draws a comparison to LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), the rating system introduced by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2000. “Today, you can’t have a conversation with an architect without the question of LEED coming up,” he says.

LEED obviously has a head start, with its well-defined set of ratings and processes for project certification and professional accreditation. It will be interesting to follow Designers Accord to see if there is a similar path to follow w/r/t product and packaging design…

January 16, 2008

gmail, iphone and ajax

This is pretty much the definition of a first world problem, but I know I’m not the only one who thinks the new Gmail UI for the iPhone isn’t all its cracked up to be. They moved basic transactions like reading and archiving messages into asynchronous calls, and it creates this incredibly disjointed and sluggish user experience. Case in point, archiving a message.

  • Steps to reproduce: view a message, touch the archive button.
  • Expected result: user is returned to the message list, with that message removed from the list.
  • Actual result: user is returned to the message list, with that message still in the message list. After several seconds a banner message appears stating that “The conversation has been marked as read.” And then, after several more seconds (longer depending on the speed of your connection, on EDGE I’ve seen this take at least 10 seconds), another banner message apperas stating “The conversation has been archived.”

Look, I’m a big fan of asynchronous JavaScript and XML. Just like I’m a big fan of HTML and CSS. And heck, HTTP for that matter. But the team made the technology they used the lede of the story, which leads me to believe that the requirement wasn’t “make Gmail faster for iPhone users, especially on EDGE,” but something like “port UI to AJAX.”

On the plus side, IMAP setup is now much easier, so maybe I’ll switch to that.

January 14, 2008

five wishlist items for macworld

Just because, an entirely selfish list of five AppleiPhone-related things I’d love to see come out of Macworld this week. Not being a shareholder (you idiot –ed.), these matter to me more than some 0.3” thick flash-RAM based tablet multitouch Macbook bundled with free EVDO for life as long as you consume all your media through iTunes.

  • Bluetooth syncing for calendar and contacts. Somewhere in a drawer at home I have an old Nokia that will iSync to iCal and Address Book; why is it that I have to plug my iPhone in to get my latest calendar updates in my pocket?
  • Landscape view for mail. Not to read more effectively, but to type more effectively. It’s just more comfortable typing in landscape mode.
  • Haptics feedback for typing. Speaking of typing, I’d love a little, tiny piece of vibrate action when I type. The typing sound is annoying (to me and others), but I need a bit of feedback to make typing feel a bit more…real.
  • Navizon. They’ll have to add this, right? Isn’t this already available on a bunch of other devices with Google Maps apps?
  • A Kindle app for the iPhone. I did order a Kindle, but they’re hopelessly backordered to the point where Amazon customer support can’t won’t tell me even what month it’s targeted for. In the meantime, if Kindle really is a “service” and not a device, how about an app for supporting that service on the iPhone?

Hey, three of the five meet the “something in the air” criteria, don’t they?

January 11, 2008

yes, i'm obsessed with bags

Yesterday American Public Media’s Marketplace ran a segment on the death of the plastic shopping bag and the rise of the reusable. Here in San Francisco plastic shopping bags have been banned, and when you’re around town you see more and more folks trucking around their consumables in their own bags.

The Marketplace story featured Vincent Cobb, president of the ecommerce site, which sells, obviously, a wide variety of reusable shopping bags – from ultracompact to thermal to heavy duty. They’re also venturing into the “Fashionable” category, with about 15 SKUs that are a little less utilitarian and a little more “high design.” The entire category of reusable shopping bag is relatively new; though was started in 2003, searches for similar product on, the gorilla in the bags space, came up empty.

Which brings me to the opportunity: designer and custom-printed reusable shopping bags. The trend setters in the major cities (where banning or reducing the use of plastic shopping bags is likely to happen) are going to look at the shopping bag as another outlet for self-expression. In the near term, look for boutiques in these cities to start carrying limited run high-design reusable shopping bags.

And then, look for the shopping bag to jump to the mass-customization and community-designed segments. How long until Zazzle or Qoop offers custom printed shopping bags? Wouldn’t you just love to guilt your friends and family into adopting a reusable bag with a bag that features pictures of their kids? (“Do it for the children…”) Or how about skinnycorp spinning out a threadless or Naked and Angry tailored for shopping bags? The clever illustration opportunities are endless…

January 11, 2008

the mystery box

Timed perfectly for the pre-Cloverfield marketing cycle, has posted J.J. Abrams’ talk from last year’s conference:

J.J. Abrams traces his love of the unseen mystery – the heart of Alias, Lost, and the upcoming Cloverfield – back to its own magical beginnings, which may or may not include an early obsession with magic, the love of a supportive grandfather, or his own unopened Mystery Box.

I’m queuing that one up for the weekend.


Relatedly: Over the past several years, Bay Area painter Squeak Carnwath has routinely contributed Grab Bag Mystery Boxes to fund-raising art auctions. Here’s the description of one from a 2002 di Rosa Preserve auction:

The object contained inside this box is presently a mystery to all. You, the bidder, are now taking a risk similar to the creative risks that artists take when they make a work of art. You, dear auction bidder, are experiencing the UNKNOWN. For the artist, making art is an exercise in trust. Trust that the unknown will reveal insight. You, like the artist, do not know what your desire will reveal to you. The item contained herein could be an artwork of my own making, studio archeology, an artwork by another artist, a grocery list, a sculpture, a drawing, jewelry, photos, materials to make your own artwork, a lock of hair, etc. etc.

January 09, 2008

and now it's about smart media buying

More Wednesday coverage of what New Hampshire Tuesday means: Ad Age looks at the shift coming in the campaign from on-the-ground flesh pressing organizations to a necessarily more media-driven campaign. After all, there’s no way in hell the candidates will be able to shake hands with every single likely voter in all of the Super Duper Tuesday states.

“They’ll be looking at tactical media strikes in select markets vs. a national effort,” [Democratic Media Consultant Steve McMahon] said, predicting that national cable and some network TV news and public-affairs programming could be the beneficiary of any national buys.

It’s even more interesting for the Republicans than the Democrats, according to Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, especially if there’s no clear front-runner.

“Feb. 5 is potentially going to be a problem for most of the Republican candidates,” he said. “Unless Romney wants to take all his [personal wealth], competing in all 20 states is going to be prohibitively expensive. They don’t have $40 million to $50 million in the bank, so what you are going to see is a very different process and a different kind of ad strategy where they are going to do national cable and look for other places to target.”

January 09, 2008

after new hampshire

A few random post-New Hampshire thoughts on primary season. First, a hearty [this is good] for Maureen Dowd’s column this morning re. Hillary’s tears and the impact they had on the New Hampshire primary:

There was a poignancy about the moment, seeing Hillary crack with exhaustion from decades of yearning to be the principal rather than the plus-one. But there was a whiff of Nixonian self-pity about her choking up. What was moving her so deeply was her recognition that the country was failing to grasp how much it needs her. In a weirdly narcissistic way, she was crying for us. But it was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing.

Yes, that -- the tears at the prospect of losing – is precisely what bothered me so much about that particular media moment. Sure, it was an opportunity for voters to connect with Senator Clinton emotionally, and it fit perfectly in a sub one minute clip. But for emotional punch I’ll take Obama’s thirteen minute victory speech in Iowa over Clinton’s breakfast tears any day.

And as Steven Johnson blogged this morning, what’s really exciting is that it looks like Super (Duper) Tuesday is actually going to matter. All the hand-wringing about states jockeying for position in the primary schedule – which to these untrained ears was indistinguishable from the rest of the early election season noise – is turning out to have been a really important news story. Back in September the New York Times argued in an editorial that…

An ideal system would start slowly enough that candidates who are not well-known or well-financed can score some early victories or at least show well. At the same time, it would allow larger states to participate early enough in the process that their voters could play a significant role in choosing the nominees.

While it’s hard to argue that Obama was not well-known or well-financed, would the Times had predicted back in September that Huckabee would take Iowa? Or even that Obama would have hurt Clinton so badly? I’m obviously not an expert, but it seems that with this year’s primary season we have almost what the Times called for – save the “slowly” adverb.

January 07, 2008

just one question

So…this weekend’s debates. Did Facebook pay ABC or did ABC pay Facebook? It was probably some kind of barter deal…but who had the upper hand?

January 04, 2008

every story needs a zoo angle

So yeah, it’s raining here. Really raining. And blowing – this morning on the Bay Bridge water was shooting up from the grates that connect the sections of roadway, thanks to the wind tunnel on the lower deck. Never seen that before.

SFGate’s reporting half a million homes without power, a bunch of highway, bridge and tunnel closures, BART shutdowns, and, of course, this gem: “The San Francisco Zoo is closed because of downed trees that pose a potential escape risk with animals.”

January 02, 2008

software design as performance art

Kai Krause answers John Brockman’s question What Have You Changed Your Mind About with an interesting take on the nature of software design.

I used to think “Software Design” is an art form.

I now believe that I was half-right: it is indeed an art, but it has a rather short half-life: Software is merely a performance art!

A momentary flash of brilliance, doomed to be overtaken by the next wave, or maybe even by its own sequel. Eaten alive by its successors. And time…

This is not to denigrate the genre of performance art: anamorphic sidewalk chalk drawings, Goldsworthy pebble piles or Norwegian carved-ice-hotels are admirable feats of human ingenuity, but they all share that ephemeral time limit: the first rain, wind or heat will dissolve the beauty, and the artist must be well aware of its fleeting glory.

(That link there? To the Goldsworthy images? That’s what they call “added value.”)

January 02, 2008

both numbing and euphoric

Thank God it’s online, because it deserves to be online, if only to make it linkable, spreadable, digestible by the blogosphere. If you haven’t yet, go read David Foster Wallace’s introductory essay to the 2007 edition of Best American Essays. In it, he compares the task of being “the decider” on the collection of essays to the task of filtering the “Total Noise” of U.S. culture.

It’s worth quoting this graf at length, where he’s working through a list of the pieces he’s chosen…

And yet Beard’s and Orozco’s pieces are so arresting and alive and good that they end up being salient even if one is working as a guest essay editor and sitting there reading a dozen Xeroxed pieces in a row before them and then another dozen in a row after them – essays on everything from memory and surfing and Esperanto and childhood and mortality and Wikipedia, on depression and translation and emptiness and James Brown, Mozart, prison, poker, trees, anorgasmia, color, homelessness, stalking, fellatio, ferns, fathers, grandmothers, falconry, grief, film comedy – a rate of consumption which tends to level everything out into an undifferentiated mass of high-quality description and trenchant reflection that becomes both numbing and euphoric, a kind of Total Noise that’s also the sound of our U.S. culture right now, a culture and volume of info and spin and rhetoric and context that I know I’m not alone in finding too much to even absorb, much less to try to make sense of organize into any kind of triage of saliency or value. Such basic absorption, organization and triage used to be what was required of an educated adult, a.k.a. an informed citizen – at least that’s what I got taught. Suffice it here to say that the requirements now seem different.

He goes on at length and with footnotes (it’s DFW, after all) about the definition of “Best” and “American” and “Essay,” and then comes back to make real the challenges of dealing with Total Noise.

Or let’s not even mention the amount of research, background, cross-checking, corroboration, and rhetorical parsing required to understand the cataclysm of Iraq, the collapse of congressional oversight, the ideology of neoconservatism, the legal status of presidential signing statements, the political marriage of evangelical Protestantism and corporatist laissez-faire … There’s no way. You’d simply drown. We all would. It’s amazing to me that no one much talks about this – about the fact that whatever our founders and framers thought of as a literate, informed citizenry can no longer exist, at least not without a whole new modern degree of subcontracting and dependence packed into what we mean by ‘informed.’