web commentary

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.


yeah, but when you face the sun? please cast no shadow. light’s too bright. kthxbye.

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

i was listening to marketplace the other day and there was this piece about these new apple ads starring “mac guy” and “pc guy”. story goes that they make mac users out to be all slick and savvy while showing pc users as geeky and frustrated. i don’t have a tv, so i haven’t actually seen these ads, and i should probably go watch one on youtube or something before writing this post, but whatever, because i’m not actually responding to the ads, i’m responding to the way they were covered on the radio.

the piece talked about how apple might be biting itself in the ass with the ad campaign because “mac guy” is so self-confident as to be annoying, and current mac users might not enjoy the association. marketplace quotes marissa gluck, a marketing analyst, as saying:

The character of the Mac guy is almost too perfectly cast. He is smug. He is condescending. He’s just that uber-hipster you love to hate. It just makes you want to slap him.

fair enough. condescension not always the best marketing strategy. noted.

but the piece goes on from there. after assessing “mac guy” in this manner and questioning apple’s wisdom in promoting itself through him, it cites a study by a media research group that surveyed 7,500 different computer users with regard to their lifestyle habits as well as their computer usage. the direct quote from a representative of the research group was:

This is a group that is not afraid to shout its accomplishments from the mountaintops. They’re happy and proud to talk about their successes and their accomplishments, and that can come across as possibly a bit conceited.

can and possibly being rather major keywords in that summary, imh?o…

but the Marketplace correspondent summarized this information thusly:

They found that Mac owners pretty much personify the Mac guy from the commercials. Among other things, they think they’re more extraordinary than the average Joe.

and at that point, i’m scratching me head a bit, guvna, because i thought we were talking about how this stereotype might not be the best to use for the PR division, but now we’re using our own NPR-special heads to decide that mac users have superiority complexes because —

The survey revealed that Mac users often describe themselves as perfectionists. They’re also more likely than PC users to whiten their teeth, drive hybrids, drink Starbucks coffee and eat organic food.


i think that what i actually said aloud after the “they think they’re more extraordinary than the average Joe” nod was something like “or, um… their computers actually let them do stuff and then they are happy…”

now again, for clarity, i’m not talking about “mac guy” here at all, because i still haven’t seen the commercials, and i’m definitely not saying that there aren’t some annoying, conceited mac users out there, with myself on the ballot like everyone else.

i just found it striking that being “happy and proud to talk about their successes and their accomplishments” is apparently so closely synonymous with “being an arrogant arsehole” in our cultural vernacular that the two can be used interchangeably on a major evening radio program, not just without the commentator batting an eye, but with her apologizing for her own audacity in sometimes engaging in similar behaviors herself.

um… yah.

sent from my iBook, sure, but…

[begin sarcastic grunting voice]

me think things.
me say some things out loud.
me change mind sometimes.
you do whatever.
we grow.

[raised-eyebrow smile at world and self as transition from grunting voice]

onward with the week.

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. :)

sometimes we make an impact by losing our audience

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

i’m purging my old drafts and i found this, which isn’t really a draft, and to which i really don’t need to add much.
it was copied from post secret.

—–Email Message—–
Subject: It’s not a secret any more

Dear Frank,

I recently sent you a postcard with one of my secrets on it, and having told the whole internet it didn’t seem like such a big deal any more. Last week I told one of my friends and I feel so much better. I think from now on I might send all my postcards to my friends rather than you.

Here’s hoping you never get another postcard from me.

things i think about instead of working

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

how much would it rock if there were status message madlibs? like it could prompt you to enter what you’re doing with a certain syntax: “verb, adjective, noun, adverb” and you put in something predictable like “drinking, cinnamon, tea, slowly” and it spits out “While drinking through the cinnamon forest, Kynthia threw some tea out the window and nearly had her arm bitten off… slowly.

the words you put in could even be a different color or something, so the actual information remains, but the nonsense adds value.

and that right there shall be my new status message in the meantime.

onward now to other business.

filling space

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

i have so much that i’ve been meaning to post about that it’s not even funny, but instead you get this, because it’s easy. :)

i tripped over this blog today, and was struck by a few ways it breaks from the current blog layout cookie cutter. i like how it uses depth, rather than just width, to separate the main content from the sidebars, how it isn’t afraid to use the full screen even though the edges might not fit on low-res displays, and how beautifully it ties the levels together with that nifty thin band of color across the top.

ever since i heard scott mccloud talk at the closing plenary for CHI this past spring in montreal, i’ve been thinking more and more about the idea of the display as a window onto a larger canvas, rather than a projection screen that flips through one fixed-size image after another, and while this example was actually probably just designed by/for someone with the luxury of a wicked huge display, i think it hints at some of what might change if we think about the screen a little differently.

at the very least, it reminds me that i shouldn’t put off my own redesign any longer, and it gives me a few ideas about how i might get around the “sidebar, content, sidebar” wireframe that has been boring me lately.

do you like it?

should there be a way to keep track of tinyurls?

Monday, July 10th, 2006

i love, love, LOVE http://www.tinyurl.com

if you don’t know what it is, you should go there, and if you use firefox, you should grab this extension so that it’s even easier to make use of its brilliance every day.

the basic idea, for the uninitiated, is that they take a really really long url like: http://www.youwantsomethingeh.com/howaboutthis/

and associates it with a really tiny url like this: http://www.tinyurl.com/uthl3

and then when you put in the tiny one, it looks up the long one for you, and sends you there.

so you don’t have to cut, paste, type, or otherwise associate with the long one.

which is very convenient, and makes you look magnum when you use it in emails and stuff because you don’t piss people off by pasting in things that break lines and get screwed up.

the only question that occurs to me about the whole business is that it seems like there are a lot of duplicates being made, because i’m pretty sure it generates a new tinyurl every time you tell it to, even if there’s already one out there, because it’s easier to do so than to look through all the existing ones to see if there’s a match.

that makes sense, really, and after all, they are TINY, so i don’t think there is really any reason to worry about taking up disk space.

but it still does make me wonder… at the very least about keeping track of the ones that i make myself, because i know for a fact that i have made more than one for the same url. it’s just impossible to remember something like http://www.tinyurl.com/oslt2d, and it would be silly to try, but i still feel a little… decadent, or something, when i know that i am populating their database with 14 links to a book on amazon or directions on google maps.

it doesn’t bother me that much, but it also makes me say, well, if there WAS an easy way to reduce the duplicates, there wouldn’t really be anything BAD about that, right?
and who knows?

does the fact that they’ve made one before dissuade Anyone from making a tinyurl again? because they have some idea that they should have kept track of the old one?

that would suck.

and DO they have any problems with disk space or clutter?  how many duplicates are there, really?
would there be peripheral benefits of a way to keep at least a personal history, if not a communal history?

like what if it was built into something like del.icio.us?

accidental discovery

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

did you know that if you type something into the firefox address bar and just hit return, it will take you to the top google link for whatever you type?

so it’s basically a shortcut to i’m feeling lucky.

i discovered this when i was starting to type in snowedin.net/planetinfo, of which i usually just type the first few letters, and then pick from the dropdown menu.

i guess this time i didn’t get into the dropdown menu, though, and just hit enter after typing “sn”

i was directed to this lovely informational site about the mineral tin, for which sn is the two-letter periodic table abbreviation.

i thought that i had potentially discovered some weird element lookup easter egg, so i typed in “ag” (which is silver), and got The Assemblies of God, and “au” (which is gold), and got the African Union.

those are not minerals.

acting on a hunch, i did the same searches in google, and sure enough, those are the top hits for those searches (after the stock information that it pops up automatically now).

i think that this disagrees slightly with something david told me a couple of weeks ago that i had kind of forgotten, which is that firefox does a google search for you if you type in the address bar, making the separate google search bar somewhat moot.

but maybe i misheard him.

in which case, i apologize. :)

it reminds me, though, of the rest of what i learned in that conversation with david, which is that you can type “wp ____” into the address bar and it will search wikipedia for you, or “az ____” and it will search amazon.

these both do indeed seem to work as well.

a quick old-fashioned google search on “firefox address bar shortcuts” brings us this informative lifehacker article explaining that this is the manifestation of the “quick searches” feature, accessible via your bookmarks menu, and you can make your own by right-clicking in any search box anywhere and entering in a shortcut phrase. they give a list of suggested ones, and even let you download a little bookmarks file of their favorites if you don’t want to do all that typing.


i must say, however, that in some ways this discovery just put a bit more of the fear of google in me (like the fear of god – it’s kind of fear, but it’s also just… awe), because there is a point at which putting in other quicksearches is silly, because the google quicksearch encompasses them all.

just as i currently search wikipedia by googling “wikipedia ____” (because it’s faster than the wikipedia search and involves fewer steps), you could mimic other searches simply by naming them in the google search, which may or may not be easier than going through the trouble of making and remembering a separate quicksearch.

as further evidence to support this claim, i offer this: after learning where the quick searches were stored, i went and looked at them, and it turns out that the amazon quicksearch isn’t actually installed by default. but the “az ____” shortcut that david mentioned, that i gave you above? it still usually works. because if you google “az _____” amazon is often the first hit.

glory be.

for the record

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

i hate it when i type a lot of stuff into a web form and then click submit and then it says that my password has expired and then i enter the password and then everything is lost.


and it just happened to me, while i was filling out profile stuff at http://www.couchsurfing.com, which is a brilliant idea for a website, and i might just have more to say about it as a travel planning tool before too long, if i ever forgive it for eating my story about snow on red square and my summary of the importance of IT and my reading list and my desire to learn to sail better and my link to the new best way to fold a t-shirt (thanks to erik for that particular addition to my corpus of knowledge).

we just need some time apart first.
i’m sure we will be able to work it out if it’s really meant to be.

in the meantime, though, what are people’s thoughts on the best ways to deal with the form-clearing problem, both from the developer side and the user side?

i always feel relieved when i hit back and then the text is all still there, but from the security standpoint, this seems less than optimal.
it would be nice if it checked to see if you were logged in when you hit submit and then warned you before it left the page forever.
or, of course, it could just do a good job of saving the data and redirecting you to the right page.
but in the meantime, while the world is still imperfect, what should we do?
a browser extension that temporarily saves the data for you?
does that already exist? like that time i invented the thermos?

i guess i could just do a better job of keeping all of the things i could ever want anyone to know updated here, and then give links.
because entering that shiznit in a bajillion times is what i Really hate.
this is why all of my profiles everywhere are boring as sin.
but that’s another problem.
it will have to wait until after dinner.