Jul 30, 2012

in the mail

from detroit, jess sends fresh garlic, music, coffee, jam (a new siri-undertaking), white rabbits, fruit, a book.

the moustache is for "dire situations."

Jul 29, 2012

ads on streaming radio

i believe, the way some xooglers do, that properly targeted, relevant, well-produced ads are unobjectionable and can even be enjoyable. spotify is a beautifully designed, well-implemented service and i thought, at first, that the radio ads on spotify wouldn't bother me much. i was wrong. wrong, wrong, wrong. the voice talent is awful but the worst thing is that spotify ads are incredibly poorly targeted: playing a tanqueray gin ad between tracks of glenn gould's goldberg variations is comical only once.

(though i will admit to snorting some coffee in dwelltime yesterday when i overheard the laptop next to me play an ad for durex condoms right after maria callas sang ave maria.)

Jul 24, 2012

the importance of the corner


i don't have stuff shipped to me very often, so the arrival of a box in the mail is the occasion for great excitement: what new development in packaging will be revealed today?

when packing an object within a box to be shipped, the goal is to immobilise the object so that agitation and crushing forces don't harm it, while keeping the enclosing box as small as possible. there's been some interesting consumer-facing packing innovation in the last decade, mostly driven by companies that ship a lot of high-value stuff. about 10 years ago, i noticed that dell was shipping assembled laptops in folded, die-cut cardboard matrices. they have recently switched to modular pop-out foam sheets, which do a better job at immobilisation, compression-protection, and volume conservation. dell's boxes have become noticeably smaller. amazon, maybe 8 years ago, started shipping books packed flat and sandwiched inside two layers of corrugated, self-adhering cardboard, like a book raviolo (they have been doing some smart things with packaging research) and have also begun to immobilise objects with large air-filled plastic packs that fill up empty space using a minimum of material that must later be disposed of.

i'd never gotten a box in the mail from apple before and was expecting some interesting packing considering how much trouble they go to in designing the product box-opening experience. i wasn't disappointed. these fiberboard corners are mostly empty (i dissected one), have tremendous crush resistance (i applied 168lbs to one of them by standing on it), spread external forces over a large internal surface, and contain one material and one binder (good for recycling). four units completely isolate and immobilise the object (a macbook air) from the surrounding shipping container, and they add less than 2" to each outer dimension. there is no other packaging material other than the box and the corners are recyclable.

this parsimonious packing solution is thrillingly elegant.

Jul 21, 2012

bigger isn't always better

and certainly not for mobile devices. the size of a device determines its mobility: those intended to be mobile, such as laptops and smartphones, should be small, small, small.

laptop manufacturers might consider that some people still use their laptops for things other than movie-watching, and that some people enjoy carrying around a laptop that is fast and fully functional but not the size of a butcher block cutting board. for those who don't watch movies on their laptops, a 16:9 screen proves mildly useful for using the kind of application that has toolbars on the side, but is worse than useless for popular laptop use-cases such as document-reading, code-writing, and scrolling-page navigation. a 4:3, retina-display, 11" macbook air would be a dream with a small footprint. it is all but certain that 2 out of the 3 will be in the next air refresh; will the 4:3 aspect ratio be an option? we, or at least i, can only hope.

smartphones are inherently mobile devices, and the good ones (fast, high-resolution, with good platform compatibility) are now almost all too big. the few small phones these days are mostly underpowered budget models with crummy displays. the iphone is the only exception to this trend: a premium phone with a small footprint. samsung's galaxy line would be more competitive with the iphone if they released a galaxy nexus with a better designed rear camera housing and a smaller footprint than the iphone.

though i am not an apple fanboy, i will say this: apple gets a lot of credit for detail-oriented hardware but they should get more credit for resisting—as few major hardware manufacturers appear to be doing—the urge to differentiate their products by simply making them bigger. that, as kierkegaard says, is the bad infinite.

Jul 20, 2012

the green man

if the round-trip travel time from san francisco to burning man were less than 24 hours, i would contemplate going again.

i packed for burning man in one day, but it was a day of lists and traveling from place to place being foiled in my intentions by people who had been there before me and purchased the last campstove/camelbak/tube of biodegradable soap/etc. rainbow grocery was full of people wheeling about dollies stacked with 2.5-gallon water cubes and looking pensively at dried foods. we drove out to the desert heavily laden with the stuff of life.

black rock city, when we finally got there, was a place of rich contrast. by day, the light permeated everything and so did the dust. our camp, filled with many people from deep springs, contributed a trough of oobleck to run on and sink into. it sat in the trough up front, fermenting slightly in the heat and left our hands stained a pale but persistent green. at night, the light came in neon shades of green, blue, and red, from electroluminescent sheets and wire and many thousands of glowsticks, but was immediately swallowed by the desert. periodically, huge gouts of flame would erupt into the sky and everything would suddenly look as if it was illuminated by sodium streetlight. giant art cars sailed slowly through the darkness in pools of light and music, heading for no destination in particular.

in the vast open space at the center of the city, someone had constructed a radial matrix of full-spectrum LEDs and turned it into a pulsing cylinder of light—i sat there for hours watching these thousands of lighted spheres on the cubitron cycle through a series of displays [video; i recommend watching with the sound off].

one night, we walked out at 2am into the eastern expanses of the playa and climbed up inside the giant sculpture made of cut-up 18-wheelers, then found a mirrored room hung floor to ceiling with strings of red LEDs such that, after climbing in and closing the door, you seemed to be adrift in a matrix of dim red points stretching away into infinity on all sides. it was probably not a real yayoi kusamaa distant black lump in the night turned out to be a clump of couches under palm-frond umbrellas at the edge of black rock city. i fell asleep there and woke up just as the sun rose over the mountains in the east. a panama hat rolled in from the desert and came to a stop at my feet.

i saw more utilikilts than i'd ever seen before and made pancakes one morning with nothing more than flour, baking soda, powdered milk, and water. (they were decent, though dusty.) mike from the camp is a more accomplished cook than i. thanks to him, we had, one night, fresh sweet potato fries and a smoky, cumin-scented pot of lentils and carrots.

we left several hours before the temple of forgiveness was scheduled to burn, and took three hours to get to the edge of black rock city (a whole mile). by the end, we'd shut off the engine and put the car in neutral—rolling it at 0.3 mph wasn't hard. at 5.30am, twelve hours after leaving camp we got back into mountain view, then i drove north to a city washed in morning sun.
san francisco
september 2007

Jul 15, 2012

consider the lobster

sources close to the matter tell us that the lobsters are swarming from the seas in such profusion that the bottom has fallen out of the market: an opportunity to make chili lobster in the fashion of the motherland. this usually onerous task is no chore if someone else does all the work, including boiling the animals and picking their flesh, and making the two sauces needed, leaving only the most nominal of shallot chopping and ginger grating to be done. it is worth pointing out that extracting the flesh from the shells before adding the sauce 1) allows eating at the table to be done without anyone getting squirted in the eye with lobster hemolymph and 2) leaves behind the raw materials for a lobster stock.

Jul 8, 2012

Jul 7, 2012

great things

But why, people ask, did New Englanders formerly eat so much for breakfast? The answer is quite simple. It was because they had great things to do.

Jul 3, 2012

the nature and art of workmanship

People are beginning to believe you cannot make even toothpicks without ten thousand pounds of capital. We forget the prodigies one man and a kit of tools can do if he likes the work enough.

Jul 1, 2012

café integral x ats

the coffee was good, the cafe was even better. more heredensely populated cities (such as cambridge or boston) need more, many many more, of these minimal retail configurations. 

the west side