Go Outside

Hey guys, I have something to say.

The internet has been pretty dull lately, and it’s to be expected – it happens every spring. We get excited and lured by the frolicking adventures to be had in that place that isn’t your desk.

For that reason, and because I too am human and feel it’s for the betterment of my own psyche, that I’m pausing the blog.

I’ll be back, rest assured. This isn’t one of those hiatus things that people “try out” and then never resume. It’s not that I can’t take the blogging – I’ve been doing it very happily for however many years now – it’s that I feel the need to not do it right now. I will probably break down and post things occasionally; there are cool things out there and they will be found and I will feel overwhelmingly compelled to share them, but the average will certainly drop. I say ‘pause’ in more of a mental sense for me: I refuse to let my lack of posts hold guilt over my head. The readership is taking it’s natural dip and I’m going to follow suit and enjoy the spring as well.

Now, I will still write, perhaps even more than before, but it won’t be limited to design and it won’t be posted here. I’ll make a Tumblr or something, I’m not sure yet, and it’ll be in a format that’s far more forgiving and far more workable for my out-of-the-house-ness. Supplementing that is the audio version: basically the same as the writings except narrated by yours truly. I say narrated, but there won’t ever be a script, just as my prose is rarely edited after the fact. I’ll be ignoring fan base and viewership entirely and doing exactly what I want to do, not what I think people will like.

As such, I’m cutting all the ad space so as not to disappoint them.

I’ll post an update when the writing thing goes live, but in the meantime: I appreciate you all and I’ll still try to answer your emails (albeit slower). Thank you for the past year, and I do look forward to seeing and hearing from you on the other side.

Have a good summer, build something real, make new friends, share everything. Stay awesome.

J+- Calculator

I often wonder / complain about why they don’t just design cheap things better. It’s really not that different from a manufacturing standpoint. I mean, the obvious answer is cost for designers and most manufacturers simply don’t care. Cheap stuff is cheap. Still, given the choice between this and the others on the shelf it was an easy choice – and for $4.49, I really couldn’t go wrong.

It’s just lovely. It’s made of the same cheap stamped plastic as every other calculator, but it doesn’t feel quite as cheap. The sheen is nice. It’s light and creaks slightly when twisted, as to be expected. Buttons are buttons and work well, the LCD screen is actually more dot-matrix than the traditional fair, which… doesn’t really effect much of anything. I don’t have any particular point to make except that it’s less than five dollars and I’m proud to keep it on my desk next to $1000+ milled aluminum computing hardware. It’s an accomplishment.

The only thing I would notice is that the viewing angle is pretty dismal. It’s not an issue for me since I keep it fairly close to me on my desk (so I look down on it more perpendicular), but I can see how the sharper angled screen found on other models would be an advantage for the long-reachers out there. That’s doing pretty good for such a cheap item.

Bought from Superstore, and while the J+- logo didn’t show up anything terribly useful on the internet, I suspect it’s some offshoot of the President’s Choice / No Name Brand since it was surrounded by the iconic yellow on other desk items. They’re doing really well for themselves – they also sell lovely black pencils in cardboard tubes and I really ought to buy some just to share the brilliant packaging.

The Neil Gaiman Address


“You should enjoy it.” and I didn’t. Instead, I worried about it. … … I wished I’d enjoyed it more.

It’s a common thing, it seems. This is where, I think, I see the need for more enjoyment of transience instead of end goals for end goals’ sake. The journey can be the rewarding part instead of just the grind in between zero and one.

Pretending you know what you’re doing is pretty much the same as knowing what you are doing, so even if you aren’t sure, just go for it anyway.

– The Holstee Manifesto, if I’m not mistaken. Actually, and I just quoted that from my head, so I’m probably both a terrible source of information and a lazy liar.

Be good.


Snapstag Cider 001

It’s been a whole twelve days since we started the yeast a-going in the first ever batch of Snapstag Cider. Yesterday I racked it, taking it from the fermenting jug and siphoning just the drink part out into a new container so it doesn’t taste yeasty when it cures. At this point it’s entirely drinkable, but if you leave it there will be some mellowing over time.

Normally a very patient person, I threw that aside and bottled one for myself. Note: for the brewers who actually know what they’re doing, I’m not bottling anything else in twist caps – this is just for me and I’m aware it’s bad practice. I just wanted a temporary vessel to keep in the fridge for a while. The cap itself was dipped in my new favorite Zissou Blue (which we just watched again the other night – a brilliant, brilliant film) and stamped in basically the same treatment as the hatchet.

It should also be said at this point that I am a completely unprepared taste tester of alcoholic beverages. I’m young and haven’t really developed that palate yet. So please bear with my utter naivete as I try to review this drink.

I’m not sure if it’s bias because I know exactly what went into it to begin with, but I do think the result is more ale tasting than commercial ciders tend to be. We used Nottingham Ale Yeast under recommendation and while it’s not bad by any means, it’s just more reminiscent of a pale beer than a true cider. Perhaps if one had mixed Strongbow with Corona or Trad Ale in a 3:1 ratio.

But it’s good, overall. I mean, I had no expectation for the first batch – honestly, I was half sure it would be an undrinkable mess that would end up down the drain – but it turned out surprisingly well. If this was a drink in the bar I think I’d order it again, for whatever that’s worth. The light beer hues make it pretty perfect for sitting on the patio in the sunset with good friends and a juicy burger / onion rings. Strongbow the exception, I don’t find many ciders are good with food; so that’s one advantage to mine, I guess.

So, considering this is the “harsh state” just after racking I’m pretty pleased so far. I’m excited to wait a few weeks and try tasting again. In the meantime we’ll probably get one or two more brewing with some slightly changed variables and see how they compare. I have no idea what we’ll do with it all, haha. We’re makers, not consumers.

Chris Franklin on Gamification

I’m a big fan of Errant Signal because it’s such a transcendent platform – game reviews are there, yes, but even those are so much more than about just the game itself. Then, there are works like the above, which tackle the bigger topics without the immediate proxy that the specific game would provide.

It’s a cool topic, gamification, and one that I always meant to write about myself. Honestly, though, I’m not sure I have any further commentary to provide – he nails it dead on. I could put the industrial design spin on it and talk about the psychology of using a physical product instead of a virtual one, but when it boils down the metaphors stand: using something for the sake of itself is different than using it for some arbitrary reward. I might add, actually, that the physical product market does add another logically pointless reward: this concept of coolness.

While you could argue for and against the coolness of using Foursquare, the virtual gamification doesn’t immediately care about what others think. You’re getting rewarded for the things you do. Sometimes it’s a public thing – you want others to see your achievements or point score or whatever, but it’s not nearly as open as, say, driving a nice car or wearing that expensive watch. The reward mechanism for physical product usage is available much more directly to strangers on the street. As such, choices are made to maximize that, often in spite of more practical and reasonable concerns. This would be a prime example for using a system (or product) more for the reward than for the inherent joy of the product itself. This would the real-life equivalent of grinding for GP.

Coolness – if I may go off now on a complete tangent – is a bizarre thing. It’s only acceptable if it’s seemingly effortless. People who try too hard to be cool are even less cool than where they started because true coolness would be apathetic to being cool. The truly cool people are those who just are, while the people who want to be seen as cool cannot be. It’s actually one of the few status related actions in humanity that I really appreciate. It’s hilarious and ironic and much like golf rewards those who are able to relax and let it be. If you try too hard to be good at golf you will tend to do miserably. Then there’s the downward spiral: if you slice a ball terribly the mulligan has to be better, so you try harder, and it gets worse. Repeat. The more you fail trying to be cool the more you want to be cool and the harder you try, the more you’ll fail.

In summation, golf and coolness are Chinese finger traps, and both Chris Hecker and Chris Franklin are awesome.

Re: The Pantheon

I feel the need to elaborate a few more practical outcomes of the previously mentioned East / West divide.

The West will see the East’s idea of accepted transience as a sort of bum’s life. In accepting what is instead of striving for what could be, you are in effect making excuses for your laziness and  therefor aren’t a contributing part of society. This is partially true – if we were all 100% happy with simply what is, we would really never invent anything new or solve any problem with the famous “this could be better” inspiration we designers think so often. On the other hand, if we were all 100% strivers (and I think this is more true to our reality now) we would run into each other and counteract a lot of innovation with this silly notion of fame or overwhelming financial success.

The immediate example that comes to mind is patent trolling.

I use the word “silly” which implies my feeling for a thing. I’ve received outraged emails before that I’m biased. Well, yes. I am not a journalist and as such under no such obligation to unbias ‘truth’ (as if such a thing were to exist, anyway). With that said, my bias will often change and occasionally flip to the opposite completely over time.

But I do think it’s silly that someone or a company will have an awesome idea, spend all the money and time and effort to patent and… not do anything after. No attempt to actually make it or implement it. They wait instead for someone else to have the idea and make that awesome thing real, and then sue them for “infringement” walking away with money. It’s just, counter productive to society in favour of personal profit.

Does this make me anti-capitalist? Debatable. I would say in this example it shows that I value  the greater advancement of design (both as a physical and an ideal outcome) over mere personal gain, yes. I think a truly capitalist person would look at this as the ultimate way to make money without having to do anything besides predict future inventions and get there first. If money is the measure of success, then yes, this is a very successful practice.

Full circle: if that’s the West’s true pantheon, I would argue it’s corrupt. Is infamy the same as fame? Depends who you ask. The funny thing – the fickle thing – about fame is it inherently cannot be available to everyone. While everyone can learn to be content, not everyone can make themselves famous. As the number of famous people increases, the disparity between ‘fame’ and ‘non-fame’ lessens. Essentially, we could all say we’re all famous right now, but because everyone is, it’s not special at all. Now, you can re-read that entire paragraph and substitute the word ‘wealth’ for ‘fame’ and it’s the same thing. The pantheon of the West, it seems, is inherently unavailable. That is the point – you could be the person who rises over everyone around you.

Call me socialist if you want, but doesn’t that goal seem pretty messed up?

But it’s not about me, this is about design with me as an author-proxy.

Should design be socialist? And by that I mean, available for everyone? I’d say so. The Eames definitely would say so. Rams, given his economic time, would say so. The ultimate irony is the remnants of their legacy is the exact opposite: their works are inflated and expensive now because someone more recent decided that rarity implied disparity. Obviously I can’t point to Herman Miller as evil, but I do think the Eames would be disappointed if they were alive now.

Full circle #2: the pursuit of money is not evil in itself, but to put it before the greater good of design is selfish in the bad way. If it were not a status symbol thing as the West insists it should be, it would happen less. If there was some compromise in the middle that took the West’s ability to create new and awesome things and the East’s ability to allow it to be nameless and freely available, we’d be better off.

Next week: the Scandinavians do just that.

The West and East Pantheons

I’ve been devouring mythology lately – brought on, in part, by Skyrim’s own fictional lore – and while I’ve always known a lot of these things, I’m just now developing a sense for how they connect. This, I feel, is the important part.

The West’s pantheon (and I say this less in the strict sense of the word but rather the metaphoric) has two parts, as does the East’s. Old and new. I don’t want to distinguish them so bluntly, but we should describe them, at least, as two ends of each spectrum and a chronology of evolution in between.

Now, I should say up front that I don’t claim to fully understand all these things yet. This is not an instructional piece by any means. It is, however, a collection of observations that I’ve found interesting, and some thoughts on how they connect to my life personally. The West and East, it should also be mentioned, aren’t strictly the same as the geographic kind by the same names. If it helps, think of those words as meaning completely different things and used here as mere placeholder variable names instead of actual things. This too will alleviate the mistakes and inaccuracies I will inevitably make.

The West’s newer end is this so-called “American Dream” and it’s one that’s been shaping the rest of the world as we know it. I don’t want to directly associate it with egoism, but there are strong threads tying them together. The goal, typically, is success. Better defined as: a beautiful wife, 2.2 kids and a lovely house with a cherry tree and a white fence. This was the 50’s. We have the same thing now, but it’s more amorphous: now, perhaps, success could be measured in YouTube fame or a car with the bigger engine in it. The outcome effect, typically, is still one of external values. The goal is to make the people around you envious. It’s one of making a name for yourself and being the best there ever was. It’s one of wealth and influence.

The East’s (and this is where you’ll have to correct me, I’m still learning) tends to be more accepting. This will probably more refer to the traditional philosophy of wabi-sabi. Happiness is not in making things better, but learning to fit better into the existing things. As such, fame isn’t really a goal and striving to be ‘better’ leads down a different inherent thought path.

Where the West seeks perfection as ideal, the East seeks acceptance of imperfection as ideal.

What does that mean for design?

Now we enter into a tricky semantics minefield. I don’t want to say that things should be done carelessly, but I do want to stress that sometimes perfection is impossible and we can do better work by not striving for it. All of my works are imperfect. I downright despise half of them, and half of that group I force myself to post and the other half I so selfishly hoard away because at some root level I will always be something of a perfectionist.

Today we were working on a bracket and the ‘elegant’ solution turned out to be the ugly one. There was the option to make it out of one piece of aluminum and bend it all into shape, which I had cleverly designed to actually be possible (it’s amazing how easy it is to design impossible bent shapes) but the option to weld a piece in turned out to be faster, easier and in the end much simpler. Is that, then, the truly elegant one? Is that, then, the more ‘perfect’ one? And so, is imperfection here considered better?

I’d say so. I mean, the simplicity was beautiful; making anything out of one piece of anything else is a feat worth mentioning, but it wasn’t really the best option.

Will I say the East or West schools of thought are better? I simply can’t.

Will I say that the East is becoming really, really interesting to me lately? Definitely.

Blue Snowflake Mic

As I was saying.

It’s here! And gorgeous.

Quick and dirty audio test / mini review:


I’m so sorry it’s not embedded. I’m still not sure how to deal with that sort of thing short of adding yet another plugin. The podcasts proper will probably be using Youtube or some such service for streaming and then links to the .MP3 for downloading. In the meantime: horrendous workarounds.

Recorded with Quicktime on “meh” settings to keep the filesize reasonable. Compared to the old Nexxtech I’m very pleased. The other advantage is USB input doesn’t have the same sorts of line noise issues I was running into with the 3.5mm input – so, good to note.

I’m running out of excuses to avoid doing a proper show. I wonder if everyone hates the sound of their own voice played back…

Free App Idea: Money Maker

I had the idea years ago and promptly forgot about it entirely, but here, once more, a chance to get it out there:

It’s an app for your phone (could also be made as a physical product, but honestly, why?) with a clock and a counter, a reset button and a pause / resume button. You put in how much you make per hour of work and then it constantly and fluidly counts up as you go. Pause for lunch / breaks or whatever and keep a running count.

Silly, sure, but I’d love one.

Take it one step further: add a subtraction amount. When you eat lunch or buy something, you take money out of that count. It’s not a sophisticated book keeping thing by any means, but it’d be cool to be able to chart the constant rise (hopefully) and pitfalls of spending over time.

Maybe it’s just me and my obsessive need to quantify things in real time.

Anyway. App makers: it’d be so easy to do. Do it! Share it with me! If you make billions of dollars off sales from it, take me out somewhere nice for dinner or something.

Leap Spacial Interface

By now you’ve probably all seen this: the new $70 Kinect-like interface for your computer.

And by now you’ve probably already figured out what I’m going to say.

The problem with spacial interfaces isn’t accuracy, it’s the fact you’re going to have to hold one or both of your hands up for extended periods of time. This is why touchscreens, when presented as direct replacements for monitors, are almost never used after the initial gee-whiz factor wears off. Mice are actually pretty fantastic. I can very accurately point to anything on my screen quickly and by moving maybe a few centimeters at most. Muscles used: just whatever’s required for my first two fingers and thumb. You want to sell your product on the basis of efficiency when you have to move an entire arm (or two) (which are slower appendages in that context) farther and then move the wrists and fingers to work the interface? I just, it doesn’t make any sense.

Now, are they inherently useless? For now, maybe, but I look at the touchscreen example: would I ever want a touchscreen monitor? Nope. Never. Would I want a mouse to control my iPad when I’m curled around it reading emails / ebooks or browsing Flipboard in bed? That’s just silly. Or when using your phone on the train: your thumb’s scrolling up and down is ideal for that size and position (unless you have the Mammoth LTE X4 G6 911 Slim Xtreme Android Envy Prime, in which case your thumb can’t actually reach that far).

We changed our posture to fit the technology better and it works.

Can I think of any posture where a spacial interface would be ideal? Not at the moment, but hey, that’s where the touchscreen started too.

So with the technology becoming smaller, cheaper and more accurate (and hopefully non-laggy, which even Wacom struggles with) I am excited to see where this goes. Until then, I won’t be buying one.

Via every blog in the world right now.

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