"You are a web programmer. You have users. Your users rate stuff on your site. You want to put the highest-rated stuff at the top and lowest-rated at the bottom. You need some sort of "score" to sort by."
When this is on Threadless, I am getting it ASAP. (Although: Ken's super should be a Shoryureppa, not the Shinkuu Hadouken that belongs to Ryu). I think this might be called "splitting hairs", though.
Some great notes from Dan Heaf on Clay Shirky's talk a week or two ago; I particularly like the notions of building not-quite end-to-end functionality, forcing the user to do something for themselves.
"“The User Illusion” is what Alan Kay and the PARC designers called “the simplified myth everyone builds to explain (and make guesses about) the system’s actions and what should be done next.” Nørretranders says the user illusion is “a good metaphor for consciousness. Our consciousness is our user illusion for ourselves and our world.” The world we experience is really an illusion; colors, sounds, smells, tastes, etc. are interpretation made by our brain." This sounds interesting, if a challenging read.
This looks very, very interesting. Yes, it's IF, but it looks like it's pushing that genre quite far.
"There are no cut scenes, no uninteractive passages, no portions where the characters are essentially "switched off" and indifferent to what the player does. Everything counts. Everything is part of the story." Excellent Emily Short piece on Blue Lacuna
"there's a new form of graffiti in town, and it's extremely pleasant. so pleasant that i can't imagine even the harshest critics of regular graffiti getting wound up. i mean, who in their right mind would come face to face with a sweater-wearing tree and do anything but smile?"
"…there are dozens of talented programmers who live outside of Seattle who can’t participate in our weekly chats. This makes me sad. So I decided to share some of our graphics as part of a brand spanking new game prototyping challenge. Free graphics + new game prototyping challenge = Happiness." Lovely idea. Wouldn't mind trying this at some point.
"There are many reasons one might want to book a commerical space flight, but fleeing Earth just to reclaim rights on a crappy thrash metal midi track you made in Guitar Hero: World Tour when you were 16 and had way too much free time is never going to be one of them." EULA fail.
It's something a bit like the first 2-3 minutes of Mirror's Edge. But in LittleBigPlanet. People are great.
"I mapped the strength of the wi-fi signal across levels 1 and 2 of the Library, the primary areas that the Library’s wi-fi is used. By taking readings across the floor of both levels, using standard wi-fi-enabled consumer equipment in order to mimic the conditions for the average user […], I was able to construct a snapshot of the wi-fi signal strength across the Library." Some lovely work by Dan Hill.
"i have made an "electronic" 8bit calculator (not "mechanical" calculator) with the Beta LBP demo.it do decimal/binary conversions and it can do Add and Sub… computation take clearly less that a half second. this calculator use: – 610 magnetic switches – 500 Wires – 430 pistons – 70 emitters and others stuff…" Amazing – especially the pan-out to the whole contraption.
"The big dilemma is that needs are different. I’m normally on Mobile Google Maps when I’m frantically trying to find a place, often the hotel I’ve booked. I’m lost, I want to sleep – I’m not exploring the possibility space, and I don’t want to wade through marketing garbage. Note that this doesn’t make sense for these kinds of advertisers either: I’ve booked already, and I don’t want alternatives." Once again, the problems of the mobile context (rather than the mobile technology) rear their heads.
"On April 1, 1977 the British newspaper The Guardian published a seven-page “special report” about San Serriffe, a small republic located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several semi-colon-shaped islands. A series of articles described the geography and culture of this obscure nation." Wonderful
Oh gosh, the Rock Band 2 community site is lovely. Lovely URLs, lovely public-facing site with no wall, lovely. (Thanks, Brandon).
"The Medieval eye found any surface in which a background could not be distinguished from the foreground disturbing. Thus striped clothing was relegated to those on the margins or outside the social order – jugglers and prostitutes for example – and in medieval paintings the devil himself is often seen wearing stripes." Wow. I did not know that.
"When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you're really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you're in the right state of mind?" Amazing.
"I don't begrudge Blow an attempt at addressing important historical events, but the weight of the atomic age seems too much to address with a few lines of text that feel incongruous with the rest of the production." This is, I think, a worthwhile point. I'll be returning to the whole "atomic bomb" question in a blogpost soon, I hope.
"Given that Valve is being forced to charge for the update, they wanted to ensure that 360 owners were getting their money's worth." Such a shame they have to charge for it – but still, more TF2 on 360, and that's a good thing from my perspective.
A nice simple explanation of what using Git is really like.
"What the hell is wrong with me? There are a lot of ways to win at Civilization Revolution that do not involve taking a happy, peaceful city and reducing it to a smoldering gravesite filled with radioactive trinitite." Clive Thompson on a case of Walter Mitty syndrome.
"Keldon Jones has published an artificial intelligence opponent for the game Blue Moon with an user interface written with GTK+ toolkit. This is a native Mac OS 10.5 version of the game written with Cocoa, so there's no need to install X11 and GTK+ libraries. It runs straight out of the box (on Leopard)." Heck yes.
"This is a write-up of my diploma project in interaction design from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. The project is entitled ‘Adventures in Urban Computing’ and this weblog post contains a brief project description and a pdf of the diploma report." Well worth a read, and beautifully presented. I need to chew over this more.
"It's a shame to me that a game with Braid's narrative, artistic, and aesthetic aspirations is inaccessible to so many people hungry for exactly those things." Yes. Much as I adore it, Braid can be awful hard at times. A smart game for smart gamers, alas.
"A popular misconception about agile is that it doesn’t allow for plans. This isn’t true. Agile focuses on the activity of planning rather than focusing on a fixed plan."
The Little Things in Life
15 June 2008
Productivity and work tips are big with geeks. No idea why; probably some inadequacy complex we have about the fact we still haven’t finished our novel and we’re already in our late twenties.
Anyhow, one tidbit that I’ve been trying this week to surprising effect comes from a sentence fragment in Dan Hill’s review of his time at Monocle magazine, namely:
“coats in the cloakroom not on the back of chair”
And so, this week, I’ve been putting my coat or jacket on a coatstand in the corner of the office, as a very deliberate action, to see what difference it makes.
I’ve rather enjoyed it, to be honest. There’s something nice about not feeling like you’re in some transition state between indoors and outdoors – feeling like you’re about to be called away somewhere. There’s also something nice about the ritual of having to pick up your coat if you want to go outside. There’s probably a noticeable social effect from everyone doing it, but still, I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve been getting from it. Yes, it’s nice to not have anything resting on the back of one’s chair… but it turns out the net effect is more than that. So I think I’m going to try to stick with this habit. It does, somehow, feel more civilized, and has helped me shift from “outside mode” to “work mode” a little bit more smoothly.
Consumption is also about choice
01 May 2008
Many of us linked to Clay Shirky’s great talk at Web 2.0 last week, where he described the “cognitive surplus” bound up in millions of man-hours spent watching TV. We read it, and nodded, and grudgingly admitted he was right. I mean, he has a point.
I’m somewhat envious of Chris’ slightly more considered reaction:
“I’m a bit shocked at the general protestant work ethic undercurrents. It’s not a cognitive surplus; it’s a way of coping. The real question is why these people are creating Wikipedia when they could be sleeping instead. We’re processing hundreds, if not thousands of times more information per day than previous humans – how are we meant to make sense of it all if we have no downtime?”
Envious in that some days, I wish I had the balls to say “hang on a sec“.
Chris makes a good point. He also got me thinking a bit about the issue. And I think it’s important to note than when Shirky says “television“, he has a very particular meaning of that word. He’s describing a combination of the medium itself and a particular use of that medium.
Specifically: he’s describing consumption without choice. So to all of you fans of The Wire worrying that he implicated you, don’t worry.
To my mind, Shirky is describing the (depressingly commonplace) reality wherein the television is not something you turn on, but something that is on.
I was talking to Alex about how much TV we watch a week, and whilst we thought it was quite high – six to seven hours, tops – I pointed out that most of that is television we have actively chosen to watch. This week, it’ll be Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men, Pulling, Peep Show, and of course, The Apprentice. But that’s about it. We rarely ever turn the TV on “just because”, and if we do, it’s usually me doing it – and the first thing I reach for is the EPG. On top of that, we probably won’t even watch that all in real time, but PVR it to watch when’s more convenient.
We are very much in control of our television watching.
We are not the kind of customers TV companies would like us to be. These days, TV is designed to be sticky; something you consistently choose not to turn off. Trails, stings, picture-in-picture; all are designed to stop us “touching that dial”. For a network or station, there’s no difference between changing the channel or turning the box off. Everything’s designed to keep you there.
This is how it’s been for decades, and why, in houses around the world, the TV is a constant presence; once you’ve turned it on, it entices you to keep it on, and so rather than making a choice of next action… you keep watching.
(Incidentally: whilst TV has always been a medium of choice for me, radio is something I often listen to “just because”. Radio’s incredibly sticky… and yet it’s less obssessive about being sticky, I guess because the likelihood that you’re already doing at least one other task – driving, working – is high. Radio’s always been designed to multi-task).
The thing that I have in common with the Wikipedia editors, when I sit down to watch an episode of Doctor Who is that I’ve chosen to do so. Wikipedia won’t edit itself, and you can’t just do it passively; have to actively decide: “I am going to edit some Wikipedia“. The truth of the web – something we can’t say for TV – is that it’s easier than ever to switch from the passive mode (“I’m just browsing some Wikipedia“) to the active mode (“that’s a mistake; I should change it“) – and even back again (“ooh, that link looks interesting“). There’s no possible passivity in creation, but it’s possible to return to a more active state having created.
And so the world Shirky describes as preferable to the constant passivity of TV is not one of constant production, constant creation, but one where “passive” and “engaged” are two ends of a sliding scale – and that it’s the inner of that scale, not the edges, that is most commonly inhabited.
“…the thing that makes participation valuable is that someone’s there to read it.”
And the more I think about this, the more reductive I think it is to describe the TV/not-TV perspective as being one of choice/not-choice. Indeed, most of us fall into neither the “hardcore” all-choice category – constantly running things and editing pages and creating stuff – nor the “totally passive category”; rather, we hover around the middle, scaling up and down to either end. That’s something that’s often forgotten in all the 70-20-10 discussions, where someone invariably flashes a pyramid up in their slide deck: the thing that makes participation valuable is that someone’s there to read it.
The thing that makes being a ten-percenter worthwhile is the seventy percent.
And we’re not all ten-precenters, all of the time; the ten-percenters are going to stop creating for a moment, and become part of their audience. I think that’s something we lose track of in all the “culture of participation“: when do we stop to take in all the things we’re participating in? Chris put this well:
“how are we meant to make sense of it all if we have no downtime?”
I don’t think we can.
This isn’t all to say that Shirky’s point is invalid, or that he’s incorrect – far from it. More the thinking that there are subtleties contained within his talk – and the ideas it stands for – that need to be considered sooner rather than later, before we all start parroting the same lines in our own presentations. By exploring what we understand our own work ethic to be – and examining the choices of how we spend our time – we can make better judgment and make better consideration of how other people spend theirs.
“Only once you can automate the boring processes and provide free time do people have to worry about what to do with their free time.”
The other interesting thing that came out of my chat with Alex was the importance of remembering what the pre-industrial society looked like. Alex pointed out that the Victorians essentially invented the concept of “personality“. Prior to then, shaping one’s individuality was harder simply because there was less free time; the rural lifestyle shapes the individual around the seasons, the environment, the wider group. Only once you can automate the boring processes and provide free time do people have to worry about what to do with their free time. Gin filled that niche for people who really didn’t know what they wanted to be, let alone do. TV is the same: it was progress, and at the time of creation, there were fewer more compelling alternatives.
It’s only recently that the barrier to creativity/productivity has been lowered to the point that it’s a viable alternative to watching TV. Compare the number of people with blogs to the number of people who published zines thirty years ago – a big part of the barrier to making a zine is the amount of time necessary to assemble it, photocopy it, and distribute it. Now, anyone can throw up a website in an evening and potentially have more readers than many of those zines. Since the 1970s, creating-for-pleasure has become much easier, and it’s worth remembering that when we try to illustrate the diversity of alternatives to passive staring at the TV…
Twitter: a messaging bus for telescopes (and almost anything else you’d like to overhear)
22 May 2007
One of the things that’s been making me happiest recently has been the fact that Jodrell Bank’s telescopes have been Twittering. These big machines, peering into the cosmos, chattering to themselves about where they’re currently pointed – and that chatter is overheard and reproduced on the web. Obligatory screengrab, in case Twitter is down:
It’s cute, and adds to the growing number of non-humans burbling away on Twitter. As I thought about this, it became clear that Twitter isn’t just “the status message turned into communication” (as I usually describe it), but a human-readable messaging bus.
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