The tools matter and the tools don’t matter

It is easy to sneer at a question about what brand of pen to use, or whether you should use a pencil or a typewriter.

But in this piece, Austin Kleon argues that different tools can help you “get you to a certain way of working in which you can get your conscious, mechanical mind out of the way” to enable creativity.

…handwriting is great for coming up with ideas, for note-taking and big picture thinking…

Typing, on the other hand, is great for producing writing for other people… There’s a thing called “transcription fluency,” which boils down to: “when your fingers can’t move as fast as your thoughts, your ideas suffer.”


Liminal thinking

A powerful explanation of how beliefs are formed, and what little resemblance they have to reality.

Your beliefs form the fundamental model that you use to navigate the world, to think about things, to decide what to do and what to avoid, like a map. We form a lot of these beliefs by middle childhood.

And since you’re the one who built the map, it’s natural to believe that it corresponds to the territory that you are navigating. After all, most of the time, your map gets you where you want to go. So much so that when the map doesn’t get you where you want to go, the first thing you question is not the map but reality.


Bertrand Russell’s chicken (and why it was not an economist)

How introspection can lead to greater understanding — and how it may not.

The chicken that is fed by the farmer each morning may well have a theory that it will always be fed each morning – it becomes a ‘law’. And it works every day, until the day the chicken is instead slaughtered.

…Economics is at a disadvantage compared to the physical sciences because we cannot do so many types of experiments (although we are doing more and more), but we have another source of evidence: introspection… why is the farmer doing this? What is in it for him? If I was the farmer, why would I do this? And of course trying to answer that question might have led them to the unfortunate truth.


Of software designers and broken combs

An interesting way of thinking about skills development that I hadn’t heard of before. Conventional wisdom suggests aiming for a T shaped distribution of skills — (the horizontal bar representing shallow skills across many disciplines; the vertical bar representing deep understanding of one discipline).

The broken comb model suggests developing a moderately deep understanding across many disciplines.

With certain exceptions, organizations with many T-shaped people may have difficulty keeping all of those T-shaped people busy. If the base of my T is icon design, but there are no icons available to design, I am either stuck twiddling my thumbs, or doing something I’m much less good at.


Escaping Twitter’s self-consciousness machine

On how the experience of using Twitter is transformed by removing all metrics from the interface.

The article makes a good point about why platforms like Twitter place so much emphasis on numbers:

The type of person who tends to be a high-level coder at a top tech firm… usually got great grades, attended a premier university, and now competes for bragging rights by trying to log the longest hours of anyone at the office. These people thrive in numbers-focussed environments. Perhaps it’s predestined that their world view would infect the user interfaces they create.

It is tempting to think our obsession with metrics is part of human nature. But is it just a trait of a particular type of person?


Design’s lost generation

As usual with Mike Monteiro, I don’t agree with everything he says (or the way he says it). But this is a seriously thought-provoking article on the failure of a generation of designers.

I am part of design’s last generation. I’ve fucked up. We all have. None of us did enough. Maybe the tide was too strong, or maybe we were too weak. But as I look behind me I see the hope of a new generation. They’re asking better questions, at a younger age, than we ever did. And I truly hope they do better than us because the stakes have never been higher.


Birmingham Superprix

Retracing the Birmingham Superprix

Looking back on the street race that ran in Britain’s second largest city for a few years in the 1980s. It is almost unimaginable today, and going by the weary comments from the business owner whose building was used as the pitlane, you can see why it didn’t last.


Reclaiming my blog as my thought space

Dries Buytaert on reclaiming his blog. It’s just the latest of many blog posts I have read recently from people keen to share more personal content on their own websites.

My blog is primarily read by technology professionals — from Drupal users and developers, to industry analysts and technology leaders — and in my mind, they do not read my blog to learn about a wider range of topics. I’m conflicted because I would like my l blog to reflect both my personal and professional interests.

This is a struggle I well recognise. When Twitter was born, those more personal snippets moved to social media. Bloggers felt the need to become more professional and write more polished, fully-fleshed articles.

But Twitter (and other social media services) no longer fill that gap the way they used to. The most viable answer is to go back to the good old days of more personal blogging.


My original iPod is a time capsule from 2002

What happened when one person started up his iPod for the first time in 15 years.

…I also came across music and artists which made me wonder what on earth I was thinking of when I loaded their tracks into iTunes. If I could talk to my 2002 self, I would sit him down and explain that Limp Bizkit’s album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water is an abomination and not at all funny (my London music buddies and I thought it was hilarious at the time)…

…looking back through the playlists on my first and oldest iPod I was struck by the fact that some of the music from 2001 and 2002 seemed far more dated than some of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

I certainly have a memory of music from 2001/2002. In fact, because of my age, it is precisely when a lot of my favourite music was released. But I do wonder what I would discover if I found my iTunes library from that period, warts and all?


How liberals amped up a Parkland shooting conspiracy theory

Conspiracy theorists purported that young anti-gun activists are crisis actors. It turns out that those outraged about the theory did more to promote it that the theorists themselves.

Frank Luntz… tweeted in protest of the Gateway Pundit story, becoming one of four non-right-wing amplifiers of the story with verified accounts… The other three are the New York Times’ Nick Confessore, MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin, and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton. Each of them quote-tweeted the Gateway Pundit story to denounce it, but in doing so gave it more amplification.

This is what I meant when I said don’t feed the trolls.

There is a class of professional conversationalists who have realised how this works and have taken advantage. These people express outrageous and offensive opinions specifically because it is a super-efficient way for them to get the publicity they need.

A dangerous man became US president because he understood this, and millions of his opponents didn’t.

The next time someone says controversial, ask yourself why, rise above it, deny them the publicity and move on.


The 9 rules of design research

One of the hardest things about design or user research is convincing people that it actually needs to take place. That is especially maddening when working for an research organisation.

(Researchers themselves are sometimes the most reluctant to undertake user research before spending serious amounts of money on ineffective websites.)

So this snippet, among a series of useful rules of thumb, made me cheer. 🙌

If you’ve ever worked with a leader who was resistant to doing qualitative research as part of a million dollar project, ask yourself whether they would skip doing their own research before buying a $50,000 car.

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A few notes on daily blogging

A striking article, partly because I find it slightly eerie that the author chose to start blogging daily on 1 October, the same day I started blogging again.

I haven’t quite managed to blog on a daily basis. Although I do publish something at least once a day, I tend to write multiple posts at a time and schedule them for future publication.

(As an example, I’m writing this on Wednesday 28 February, in the expectation that I will publish it on Tuesday 6 March.)

As a result, I’m not sure I have benefited yet from resuming my regular blogging. Perhaps I will endeavour to carve out some time each day to write something.


Design, system

Ethan Marcotte on the “delicate act” of working with a design system. It’s the same challenge facing anyone working with a hub and spoke structure.

How do you balance a drive to standardise designs (or business processes, or policies, or whatever), against the often legitimate requirement to meet unique local needs?

It’s easy for an organization to look at that one-off pattern as a problem of compliance, of not following the established rules. And in many cases, that might be true! But it’s also worth recognizing when a variation’s teaching you a lesson: namely, that your design system isn’t meeting the needs of the people who’re using it.


What colour is a tennis ball?

It’s the dress part two!

I make this decision as much on the basis of what I think I know about tennis balls—that they are yellow—as I do on what color I recall that they looked when I last saw one… In other words, like the color of a lot of objects, how we label [a tennis ball] is determined both by perceptual and cognitive factors: the actual physical light entering your eye and … knowledge about what people have typically labeled the objects.

I have to say, it never occurred to me that a tennis ball might be any colour other than yellow.


If Google wanted to get found in Google

If you ever have to say you’re simple, you’re not. Because if you were truly simple then you wouldn’t have to waste time telling people you are. You’d just be simple. Only those with complexity syndrome feel the need to explain that they are simple. The more you have to write about how to use your product or service, the more you have failed as a designer.


The big problem with change programmes

An intriguing connection between modern human narcissism and corporate change programmes. Did they both start in the same place?

Far from pursuing some unrealistic dream, perhaps we’d be much happier if we learned to live with our imperfections, neuroses and human frailties…

Maybe we need to accept that not all problems are there to be fixed. That our organisations are flawed. They always have been and always will be.


Inside Facebook’s hellish two years — and Mark Zuckerberg’s struggle to fix it all

A very lengthy, but entertaining and informative, read about how everything went wrong for Facebook in the past two years, and why it is a mess of their own making.

While Facebook grappled internally with what it was becoming—a company that dominated media but didn’t want to be a media company—Donald Trump’s presidential campaign staff faced no such confusion. To them Facebook’s use was obvious. Twitter was a tool for communicating directly with supporters and yelling at the media. Facebook was the way to run the most effective direct-­marketing political operation in history.


Subverted design

As designers have gradually become more senior (or perhaps more experienced), their role in organisations has evolved. But it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Products will always be made through compromise. But in a world where Designers are focused on balancing business needs against user needs, while other stakeholders are focused exclusively on business needs, these compromises will almost always favor the business.


How many dimensions are there, and what do they do to reality?

Reading this article is the closest I have ever come to understanding what is meant by having more than four dimensions.

Imagine… you are an ant living on a long, very thin length of hose. You could run along the hose backward and forward without ever being aware of the tiny circle-dimension under your feet. Only your ant-physicists with their powerful ant-microscopes can see this tiny dimension.


It’s the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech

You may think you’ve read it all from people complaining that the likes of Facebook are threatening free speech. But this is a genuinely smart, thought-provoking article on the wide-ranging ways society need to rethink its approach towards freedom of speech.

We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges us on them.

I have thought before that we need to start thinking about ‘eating your digital greens’. Which means being wary of processed content (processed through an algorithm, that is), and ensuring you seek out a balanced diet of content from different sources and perspectives.


What is design ethnography?

A useful overview of how you can apply principles from ethnography when designing. You are unlikely to be able to use a fully ethnographic approach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate elements of it.

Our view is that, if we liken traditional ethnography to a prize heavyweight boxer, then design ethnography is more akin to a street fighter. It doesn’t follow all of the rules but it gets the job done.


Ed Yong: I spent two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in my stories

…I looked back at the pieces that I had published in 2016 thus far. Across all 23 of them, 24 percent of the quoted sources were women. And of those stories, 35 percent featured no female voices at all. That surprised me. I knew it wasn’t going to be 50 percent, but I didn’t think it would be that low, either. I knew that I care about equality, so I deluded myself into thinking that I wasn’t part of the problem. I assumed that my passive concern would be enough. Passive concern never is.


Cheating Fanboost rivals a catastrophe for Formula E — Abt

Audi Formula E driver Daniel Abt has accused rivals of cheating the series’ Fanboost voting system and says drivers unfairly winning it is a “catastrophe”.

So apparently voting patterns in Formula E’s fanboost vote are suspicious. It was surely inevitable that would be happening. But it sounds like Formula E don’t know what to do about it.

Last weekend’s race was the first time this year that Daniel Abt didn’t receive the fanboost himself though. And his team mate (in the team with his family’s name in it) Lucas di Grassi did receive it. So it does make me wonder what makes him such an expert on what’s going on. 🤔

Here’s a radical idea though. How about not having the ridiculous fanboost in the first place, and leave the drivers to get on and race on an equal footing rather than turning what’s supposed to be a sport into a popularity contest?

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Podcast listeners really are the holy grail advertisers hoped they’d be

On average, according to Midroll’s data, podcast listeners are making it through about 90 percent of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads.

This is interesting, and in the detail is some cheering news for podcast listeners.

But I wonder how long it will last? I’ve been listening to podcasts for well over ten years, but I am becoming increasingly tired of the ads that are taking up more and more time during my day.

As ever, it’s a balancing act. News publishers messed this up big time by bombarding their website users with horrific ad experiences. Podcasters have to be careful not to go the same way.


Google memory loss

This is interesting. It appears as though Google is losing older documents (such as 10-year-old blog posts) from its index.

I’m in two minds about this.

On the one hand, Google has long been something other than a mere web search engine, and rightly so. They want to get you relevant answers to your query. And old blog posts will rarely be the answers to many people’s queries.

But on the other hand, someone ought to be indexing the web. And if Google can’t (or don’t want to), who can?

My men­tal mod­el of the Web is as a per­ma­nen­t, long-lived store of humanity’s in­tel­lec­tu­al her­itage. For this to be use­ful, it needs to be in­dexed, just like a li­brary. Google ap­par­ent­ly doesn’t share that view.


​Mosaic’s birthday: 25 years of the modern web

It feels like the world wide web has had more 25th birthdays than I’ve had hot dinners.

This article marks the 25th anniversary of the Mosaic web browser. You may not have heard for it, and I certainly never used it — it was before my time.

But Mosaic was one of the first graphical browsers, and one of the first to enable people to view images within pages. The makers of Mosaic went on to create Netscape Navigator, which in turn became the basis for Firefox.


‘Fame proved toxic for the relationship’: when comedy double acts go sour

David Baddiel, Andy Zaltzman, Richard Herring and other comics on fame, failure and friendship.

What happens to the members of a comedy double act who have gone through a ‘divorce’? This article focuses mainly on the comedians whose partner has gone on to have greater success.

A fascinating topic, also often regularly mentioned on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast.

And is it just me, or are most of these less successful comedians actually funnier than their more-famous counterparts?


Why you should check email less often, and how to do it

Why do we check our email on average 18 times a hour, when most of us don’t receive anything like that many emails? Tim Harford suggests ways we can decrease our addiction to checking our email, and explains how checking it frequently makes our habit worse.

The psychologist BF Skinner once found himself running out of food pellets for one of his projects, which like many of his experiments involved rats pushing levers to receive rewards. To eke out his supply of pellets, Skinner restricted their release: rats would get no more than one pellet a minute, no matter how often they tapped the lever. Rather than discouraging the rats, this intermittent reinforcement soon had them hooked. These days, we’re the rats, the computer is our Skinner Box, and email is our intermittently released food pellet.


How Sony’s blunder revived Vib-Ribbon, a long-lost classic

This is a few years old. But I was reminded of the brilliantly quirky PlayStation game Vib-Ribbon this week, and came across this amusing article.

It tells the story of a new CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America who knew his PlayStation games, but forgot that Vib-Ribbon had never been released in North America.

Shawn Layden just wanted to make a good first impression…


Web trend map 2018

iA reflects on the spirit of the web that has been lost.

There seems to be a weak undercurrent of old and young bloggers like us that feel sentimental or curious and want to bring back blogging. Blogging won’t save the world. But, hell, after two weeks now, we can confirm: it feels great to be back on the blogging line.

If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic.


Cars found trapped in Edinburgh’s ‘robot car park’ 15 years on

This news story has blown my mind in so many ways.

Firstly, that in 2001 we had the technology to use robots to store cars in a car park.

Secondly, that someone thought to give it a try in Edinburgh.

Thirdly, that this building has existed in a very central location in my city for 15 years and I had no idea about it.

Fourthly, that this prominent location has remained unused for 13 years.

The ‘abandoned’ cars are just the icing on the cake. This is Wall-E territory (although it turns out they were in fact owned by the car park and used as test cars).


Fears of the IndieWeb

I am toying with the idea of embracing the IndieWeb community and adding some IndieWeb features to this website.

This article from Michael Singletary pinpoints one of potential flaws of the IndieWeb, and a reason I have been reluctant to join it.

…I’m worried about the long-term survivability of this as a whole. With Known, specifically, I noticed that many of the plugins required for syndication and backfeeding are either maintained by extremely small groups of people that do not update them frequently (the Twitter plugin, for example), or others that require non-monetary motivation to keep up their service (like, for example). While it is great to see community-driven projects and services like these, I worry about waking up one morning to find that my content no longer syndicates or talks to other services.