Describe, in your own words

8.4.2012

A few blocks east of Detroit’s downtown, just across Interstate 375, sits Lafayette Park, an enclave of single- and two-story modernist townhouses set amid a forest of locust trees. Like hundreds of developments nationwide, they were the result of postwar urban renewal; unlike almost all of them, it had a trio of world-class designers behind it: Ludwig Hilbersheimer as urban planner, Alfred Caldwell as landscape designer and Mies van der Rohe as architect.

6.13.2012

Genre might certainly increase some of your narrative freedoms, but it also diminishes others. That’s the nature of genre. It’s a voluntarily entered set of narrative limitations/expectations. Not that you can’t break or alter those limitations/expectations, but the breaking or altering depends on the very fact of those limitations/expectations in the first place. In the end, all worlds, whether they’re set in the future or in New Jersey of today, are fictions. Sure, you don’t got to do too much work to build a mundane world, but don’t get it twisted: you still got to do some work. It just happens that there are people that want to build real-ish worlds to address reality; others of us want to get at reality through unreal worlds. Different strategies, same goal. When I write what I long for is not more realism or fiction but more courage. That’s what I always find myself short on and what I have to struggle to achieve in order that the work might live.

6.3.2012

anthonybourdain on storytelling:

It was never my intention on NO RESERVATIONS to be a reporter, a critic, an advocate. It was also never my intention to provide audiences with “everything” they needed to know about a place—or even a balanced or comprehensive overview. I am a storyteller. I go places, I come back. I tell you how the places made me feel. Through the use of powerful tools like great photography, skillful editing, sound mixing, color correction, music (which is often composed specifically for the purpose) and brilliant producers, I can—in the very best cases—make you feel a little bit like I did at the time. At least I hope so. It’s a manipulative process. It’s also a deeply satisfying one.

5.8.2012

9.1.2011 Sure signs of UX’s adolescence

7.18.2011 Google+ and the “I don’t want to look like a dick” problem

Google+’s Circles has received a lot of well-deserved praise for the clever way it helps you control what you say to whom. But what about better controls over what other people say to me?

There is a tricky problem of reciprocation in social environments: what do I do when someone I know but don’t particularly want to be connected to adds me to a circle? If I don’t add them back, it will be noticed and I will look like a dick. I don’t want to look like a dick. On the other hand, I don’t want to create a network full of people whom I’m ambivalent (at best) about being connected to. I already have one, it’s called Facebook.

If I do reciprocate and add these people—even to the lowly Acquaintances circle—then I have updates I don’t want crowding my news feed. I already get these updates, on Facebook.

Yes, I know that Google+ allows you to have filtered views and block specific people but those options are too cumbersome and too harsh, respectively. Even I can’t be bothered.

Here’s what I’d like: a “muted” circle for people for whom I want to acknowledge but from whom I do not want to receive updates. This is where to put your Tea Party aunt, or a weak-tie colleague who posts way, way too much. When I first used G+, I thought this was what the Acquaintances circle was for, but alas, it’s not.

In an environment like Google+, this would allow you to avoid looking like a dick: the person receives a notice that you’ve added them to a circle but you suppress their updates with a minimum of effort.

7.1.2011 Squint test on the new Gmail design

Classic theme on top, new theme on the bottom.

I prefer the classic theme, which has higher information density—I see about 33% more messages by default with the classic theme—and more visual contrast. In the new theme, the message controls above and below the list of emails are sort of floating off on their own, without any sort of container. As a result, these controls feel unmoored and the entire experience is too loose and disconnected for my taste.

Fortunately! These are just themes so, like at Burger King, you can have it your way.

6.29.2011 Summer is 31-33% over

So, I started a blog called 13 Weekends a few weeks ago and it’s been going pretty well. I just posted Week 4's entry last night.

For this project, I wanted to take a stab at the “art directed” style of blogging (in which each post is uniquely designed). I’ve got five posts under my belt and since this is my “professional” blog, I’ll share some things I’ve learned along the way.

Separate writing from design

I write on Mondays, design and edit on Tuesdays. Separating the design work from the writing work is essential. In the past, I’ve gotten bogged down in the details of what I want something to look like, losing sight of what it was I was trying to say in the first place. Spreading the posting process over two nights lets me focus on what I want to say first, and then worry about how I want to present it second. Also, the writing improves dramatically if you give yourself time to sleep on the first draft.

Art directed blogging is a lot of work

I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I know my way around Wordpress and I know what I’m doing with CSS, and each post still takes somewhere between 6 and 10 hours to write, design, worry about, and publish. I try to keep the designs light, too—each post probably averages only 15 unique CSS declarations. What I’ve learned is that there are many other time consuming aspects of the process: image selection, layout decisions, and of course the inevitable false starts and bad ideas. 

But wait, there’s more. I had intended to use 13 Weekends as a way to get familiar with media queries, too. I wanted to design a desktop, iPad, and smartphone version of each post. But that is proving to be too much to learn on the fly. The homepage has been iPhone/smartphone friendly from the start. The entries… less so, although when I have a free moment I’m going back and adding a few media queries so they are legible. As it stands, I think I’m the only person who’s looked at this site on a phone anyway.

Frameworks and plugins are essential scaffolding

For this project, it might have been better to write and publish flat HTML files instead of using a CMS like Wordpress. But Wordpress I used, and if you do the same, I recommend the following tools:

  • Boilerplate—a solid HTML5 “clean start” theme. I created my own child theme, which is where I keep many of the post-specific customizations. This gives me a consistent foundation to build on with each post. 
  • Art Direction—essential plugin, and it took me weeks to discover it. It allows you to include unique Javascript and CSS for each post. Hat tip: viewing the source on Trent Walton’s amazing site.
  • Typekit—Typekit is a great service, I love it. But it’s not designed for my setup. Until you have a way to deliver post-specific scripts, you’ll end up with one of two undesirable outcomes when working with Typekit+Wordpress: 1) one giant kit that contains all the fonts for all your posts, which adds needless weight to each page or 2) a hacked header.php file in Wordpress that delivers slimmer Typekits depending on the post ID. Not pretty. If you plan to use more than one or two typefaces from Typekit, the Art Direction plugin is essential to keeping page load times down.

Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us

I had hoped that by taking the time to notice every detail about my summer weekends and record it all for posterity, I might have a sense of time slowing down, that I could savor the moment and enjoy my time with Maggie and Charlotte even more. Not true. Summer is screaming by faster than ever. But I’m quite happy I decided to do this project, my hope is that in 10 years it will provide the same satisfaction as the dusty photo albums my parents took the time to put together.

6.6.2011 How people (who read Business Insider) Really Use the iPad

The Atlantic is linking to a Business Insider survey about iPad usage. The results are interesting enough; I suppose they are useful as a daily reminder that You Are Not the User.

I take issue with the lazy and misleading headline, though. This is not how people use the iPad. This is how people who read Business Insider and are willing to fill out an “extensive questionnaire” use the iPad. I suspect that 30% of the global population does not, in fact, have two iPads in the home.

6.6.2011

A few blocks east of Detroit’s downtown, just across Interstate 375, sits Lafayette Park, an enclave of single- and two-story modernist townhouses set amid a forest of locust trees. Like hundreds of developments nationwide, they were the result of postwar urban renewal; unlike almost all of them, it had a trio of world-class designers behind it: Ludwig Hilbersheimer as urban planner, Alfred Caldwell as landscape designer and Mies van der Rohe as architect.