where that last post left off

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009


since my last entry in this blog, i have begun using facebook, extensively, and i find that it has in some ways replaced my blogging, because it is good for me to be encouraged to be pithy, and the reward in terms of feeling more connected to so many people in so many different spheres of my life is addictive.

somehow, in the past year, facebook has managed to swallow up so much of the general population that it’s network now includes: the more computer savvy members of my extended family, in both colorado and florida, which means many cousins whom i see once every couple of years, if i’m lucky; most of my friends from highschool and college, including people whom i have not really seen or heard from since, but liked at the time, and now i really appreciate having a window onto where their lives have led; designers and techie people whom i have met and/or worked with since going to grad school, and who are now dispersed; bloomington townies i knew and loved before ever going to IU, and have been anchored by since; and various other people i met while traveling in the UK, living in portland, becoming involved with burning man, and generally circling the western 2/3 of this country for the last two years, while keeping as many tops spinning as possible in order to figure out what the hell to do next.

that’s quite a list, when it comes down to it, and it makes facebook by far the easiest way for me to keep up with the world right now. better than email, better than the phone, better than christmas letters, better than blog posts that i always Wish i could find time to write but then never do…

facebook is like just being able to think of the title of a blog post, and then not actually having to say anything else about it, unless people prompt you, which is a really nice option for my brain. :)

and i do like the freedom to write more than a 140 character twitter update, and attach pictures and links, though as with any new freedom, a learning period wherein we all must learn what it means to be judicious with our powers is part of the deal.

i still like twitter, and i should use it more, but it only includes the hci/techie circle i mentioned above, and celebrities and companies and news sources, which is nice, but not nice enough to win over facebook, when i’m pressed for time.

when i explain twitter to people, i call it a virtual water cooler, and i think that facebook status updates have really grown into the potential of that concept. it’s like a network of water coolers, with one in every building of your life, from which you draw not water, but random sequences of interesting tidbits of news and commentary, from everyone you have ever known.

and friends who don’t know each other – who live in different countries even! – can meet through your comments!

and we are forced to choose which sorts of conversations we WANT to carry on this publicly, and which to have more privately — how much do we talk about what we Really did last weekend? or what we think about our boss? or who we are going to vote for? or what we think about our neighbors?

and what does our willingness or reluctance to be transparent about these things say about us?

it is fascinating.

and i am thrilled to be able to witness it, much less shape it.

it is an example of why i continue to err more on the side of technophilia than technophobia.


find me on facebook if you want, k?

i logged on here because i was reading old blog posts, and realizing how long it has really been since i wrote, and how i do enjoy the record of my life and thoughts that my blog provides me, regardless of whether other people enjoy reading it, so i should do my best to avoid letting the gaps get too large.

and i don’t know about you, but when i have trains of thought like that, i find it best to follow them through, which in this case, meant just hit “write post” and see what happens.

and now it seems that i have written a post about facebook, which is fine.
it really is the best answer to “so, where’ve you been?” when it comes to the part of me that lives in the blogosphere, so it’s as good a place to start as any. :)

it’s characteristically not pithy, however, so i’ll just have to come back later with updates about, you know, the part of me that lives in the real world. ;)

i know i say ‘i’ll say this later’ a lot, but eventually, i might just surprise us all.

one potential benefit of winning nanowrimo this year is that it will make a daily writing habit easier, so i just have to structure my time, and that’s kind of my focus right now with kwerk, so ding! winner!

oh, yeah! i just won nanowrimo! :)

remember two years ago when i first tried it and failed miserably after a week or so of nervous effort, and then went on a trip to florida wherein i barely wrote at all?

don’t worry, i don’t really remember it, either.

but i really did blog more in those days, didn’t i?

anyway, i’m kind of in shock about it this time, because it was too easy, and that means that i really have no excuse to not write a novel…

but that’s another post, too.


kwerk is a game of four colors

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

kwerk is a game of four colors – green, red, yellow, and blue.

each color corresponds to a different way of looking at the world.

green is the color of foundation and structure – of plans, logistics, and routines; the rhythm of physical existence.
red is the color of action – of work, economics, and ‘progress’; the creation of material things that didn’t previously exist.
yellow is the color of reason – of science, logic, and formal language; the development and articulation of ideas.
blue is the color of intuition – of memory, emotion, and art; the sense of connection to something beyond the self.

i am happiest when swimming in blue, comfortable with yellow for sport, alarmingly reluctant to devote time to red until the last possible minute, and nearly totally oblivious to green when it is not being actively enforced by other people.

if that makes sense, you actually know quite a bit about me now.

there are four colors for the same basic reason that there are four elements, and four suits in a deck of cards, and four continuums of the myers-briggs personality survey; fourness just seems to keep popping up when people go about trying to subdivide the human experience into meaningful chunks. there are lots of theories about why, and i am devoting a good amount of yellow time to studying them, but that is not the focus of this post. on the whole, the crosscultural persistence of the meme is enough to capture my attention, and when it comes to the initial decisions about how to structure kwerk, i am inclined to respect my elders.

playing kwerk is about learning to think in four colors, as if your life is one of those video games where your character has different health bars, and you go around collecting items or playing minigames or talking to tree sprites in order to build up the different bars. thus, you prepare yourself for the different sorts of challenges that present themselves as the story unfolds, and you improve your chances for success.

to get started in kwerk, you color code your actions and your goals, and then you log what you spend your time doing. over time, you get a color distribution of your life that is increasingly informative. it’s kind of like using quicken to keep track of how you spend your money in order to help you figure out your budget, except it’s keeping track of how you spend your time in order to help you figure out your dreams.

kwerk is a game that i am inventing for myself, to incentivize red and green activity that i tend to procrastinate or ignore completely, and to reward myself for blue and yellow activity that i tend to dismiss as easy and therefore undervalue.

on the whole, kwerk is a tool for cultivating balance.
and it’s a game because i see no reason that such pursuits should not be fun.

right now, kwerk exists mostly in my mind, but bit by bit, conversation by conversation, it is taking root in more minds and sending out fragile little shoots that we can see and touch and nurture and name.

it’s kind of exciting. :)

so… an online version is the goal.
hopefully by the end of the year.
who wants to play?

more broadly, i suppose, who’s still reading this blog?

and what should i talk about next?

metapost, after the jump, for the intrepid amongst ye…

wordpress hackery for the day – automatically generate category rss links for category archive pages

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

i’m helping my dad set up a blog for his law office, and he’s decided to focus on a few main category areas and build up audiences for each.

i told him that we could use the category archives that wordpress generates to filter the posts. then we could link to these pages and style them however we want as we design the site as a whole, and people can subscribe to the rss feeds for only the categories they want.

i was not lying, but today when i actually set about to ask the category feeds to play nice with my dad’s theme, it was a little bit harder than it should have been, and i decided to blog about my solution.

the theme has a big friendly “subcribe to our feed!” link, that i like very much, and it uses a file that it calls ‘subscribe.php’ to generate the link, which i also like. for those of you playing along at home, that means that you can just include ‘subscribe.php’ anywhere you want an rss link to show up, and if you ever want to change the way the link works, you only have to update one file. hurray!

for my purposes, however, a different rss link needs to be generated when you are on a category page, and it has to be the right one. one way of doing this would be to make a custom category template for each page, which wordpress lets you do by making pages like ‘category-17.php’ in your theme folder. but that would be annoying, and it would take away the benefit of having only one piece of code to change, which would be even more annoying, not to mention bad practice.

the better way is to add a condition to the ‘subscribe.php’ file that checks to see if the page you are on is a category archive, and then generates the appropriate rss link. that should be easy enough, but i couldn’t find a function that automatically retrieves category-specific rss feeds, and the otherwise convenient fact that there are several different ways to refer to rss feeds (but only one way to refer to a category-specific feed), was giving me trouble.


i spent a while searching the wordpress codex to see if someone had already written the code or a plugin for me, because it seems like the kind of thing that would be a relatively common desire. sure enough, i found lots of people who wanted to do this, but only one who seemed to have succeeded, and his solution seemed really wonky to me and i wasn’t sure it would even work in the new version of wordpress.

in many ways, the strength of the wordpress community spoils me for times like this. i can almost always find answers to my codex questions in less than five minutes, so when i can’t, i just assume the answer isn’t out there, which probably isn’t true. in any case, if i can’t find the answer before i get tired of looking, other people probably can’t either, so it seemed like a good opportunity to increase the number of answers in the pool. :)

after a few frustrations with brackets and such that are par for the course, i made it work!

‘subscribe.php’ now uses the following code to generate the RSS link:

" title="Subscribe to this Feed via RSS">Subscribe via RSS

that’s a lot of babbling so i won’t say more unless there are questions.
good night and good luck!

i really do need to learn to sleep before driving cross-country

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

here i am in boulder, colorado, and you might start to get the suspicion that i only blog when i’m at startup weekends anymore. fair enough. there does indeed seem to be a trend developing. a commentary to my proximity to wireless access in the past few months, perhaps.

anyway, the boulder startup weekend is off and chugging along and it’s mixing things up a bit by not requiring the group to pick one idea, but instead breaking up into as many groups as can successfully recruit support for themselves. it’s like walking around a little startup factory, and i’ve decided to pimp myself out as a consultant rather than join any one group, and so far that’s lots of fun.

i got in late last night because i drove out from bloomington without really sleeping first, so i had to stop a few more times than i anticipated when i planned my very time-crunched driving schedule, a schedule which was further complicated by the fact that my car was in the shop for a day longer than i expected, so… pant, pant, pant…

now here i am.
and back into the flow i go.

in case you didn’t believe me that we were a real web startup

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

i can’t really talk about how things are going here because the legal team has advised us against it.

there’s also the fact that my brain is having difficulty following any train of thought from start to middle, much less… what comes after that part again?

anyway, a lot has happened today, whether i can tell you about it right now or not, and i’m excited.
plans are afoot.
i’ll write more reactions soon.

i think i should write another blog post but i don’t really have the energy

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

today has been good. it’s quite a ride. tomorrow we do as much testing as we can while the development team is building the house up around us.

our target launch time is 9 pm tomorrow.

tonight i sleep because not much of that happened yesternight.

our final full-group meeting of the day is taking place around me and we just killed a feature that was totally not needed.

we are ninjas.

the commodification of the “user”

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

a REALLY fascinating thing that is coming up this weekend is the way that people are using the word “user.” i’m not supposed to talk about exactly what we’re building, but basically there have been lots of conversations this morning that go something like “ok, but then after that person goes and does that, what will the user see?”

it’s as if web 2.0 and the social software “user-friendly” revolution has turned user into a synonym for “everybody” or perhaps “normal people.”
as if the goal of user-centered design is to create one universal portal for everything that everyone can use without thinking about it, and anything less is not about “users”, but instead about “lawyers” or “business owners” or “gardeners.”

basically, the question “who is the user?” is in danger of becoming meaningless, because “user” itself is becoming a category of person in the common tongue.


Saturday, February 9th, 2008

starting a company in a weekend is an excellent exercise because there is NO TIME to argue about each decision. you just need to learn to roll with stuff as it comes and let go of your preconceptions regarding what the team is trying to do. every speech is an elevator speech. everything needs to be distilled into its essence. everyone needs to bring full energy full time.
in terms of best practice, we are unable to do the full amount of user research and usability testing that we are taught to believe necessary, but since we are doing everything in a couple of days, there will also be a lot of room for flexibility when we’re done. basically, we are creating a full working prototype of a business, and just launching it to test as we go. it is agile business creation. it is throwing us at the ground and making us run, and that is exactly the skill people need to develop in the tech world right now – just make things people. that is a form of research.

i’m having fun. :)

it’s worth noting

Friday, February 8th, 2008

this startup weekend thing is really an awesome idea, and part of why i’m so excited about it is because i am increasingly finding myself saying things like “what i really need to do is just start a business that is basically a place for people to come together and start businesses”

and i realized i hadn’t said that here before, so…

i really just need to start blogging more little statements like that.

listening to talk now. pizza soon. yay!

this must be the start of something

Friday, February 8th, 2008

greetings from bloomington, people of the internet.

i arrived in town a few weeks ago under cover of friends whose circles overlap only somewhat peripherally with the HCI/Design/Informatics circles of my world, and since i tend to blog most consistently within the more techie circles, that’s the easy excuse for my silence since the new year.

the fuller story, however, is that i decided to take this hoosier hiatus not only because i am using this time to think about my plans from the perspective of finding work that puts my degree to good use, but also because i am growing increasingly convinced that the good uses that most attract me have to do with communities outside the hipster design bubble, and i want to reconnect with the non-university world of bloomington, which was the world that first led me to view this town as a home.

i am staying with good friends of mine whom i didn’t spend enough time with during school, playing with them and their kids, making up projects for myself in the name of my ongoing education, hacking out a little work back at the math department, and sincerely enjoying the chance to get my bearings for a while in a place that i know and love.

i haven’t felt too stressed about the question of reuniting with planet informatics, however, because right after i arrived i signed up for this: which is beginning in the room around me as i type. the school of informatics (principally kevin) is playing a major organizational role, and i’m really excited about it because it’s giving me the opportunity to merge my current personal business development goals, my love of design, and the larger-than-IU b-town that i am realizing i will always, at least in some fashion, call my home.

it’s a great opportunity to practice keeping the lights on in multiple areas of my personal and professional life, and i’m excited to see where it leads.

i should listen to the welcome talk for the weekend a bit now, so that’s this post.

i’ll be back soon.