Aug 30, 2012

depth and security

Being in Boston ... it's a little bit like meeting someone who you know is smart and very accomplished but is at the same time not at all posh or flashy or arrogant but is, at the same time, very generous. It's easy to learn and get to know them, but then you realize that, oh, my goodness, as you get to know them, there seems to be no end, there's a depth to the personality that can only be because they're learned, they're knowledgeable, and they are not too self-conscious. Boston is like an old, wise professor who is very generous in teaching you and with whom you feel like you can continue to develop.
kairos shen, in the boston globe.
i agree wholeheartedly but this is not, perhaps, the universal experience of greater boston. also see: paul graham on cities and ambition.

Aug 23, 2012

freedom and constraints

freedom is often misunderstood as the absence of constraints on your action. this is not the case: freedom is your ability to voluntarily choose the constraints on action and then to voluntarily submit to these constraints.

a useful consideration when designing products, services, organizations, careers, lives.

also see: kodawarithe key speechmindful eatingequilibrium maintenancethe groundwork on the metaphysics of moralsthe mad farmer liberation front; a just balance.

Aug 22, 2012

co-presence and collaboration

last night, we talked about the difference between services that allow users to be remotely co-present and those that allow users to remotely collaborate.

co-presence is consumption behavior: you are with someone, observing what they are doing. all get, no post, no problems with collision. collaboration is production behavior: you are with someone, working on something together. collaboration is much harder to do well, and gets harder the closer to realtime the collaboration is: at minimum, it requires good collision handling and clear attribution at close to the minimum atomic size of the content being produced. text seems to be the only content being collaboratively produced in any large quantity now and text requires sub-sentence attribution markings. gdocs does neither particularly well, while hackpad does a great job: it is a first-class collaborative document editing tool marked by economy of means. hackpad is nearly feature-complete for my use-cases.

the closer to realtime the collaboration behavior is, the more important it is to have both a way be co-present and a way to collaborate. this is not only good for the user, it is a natural way for the service to reduce collision problems: collaborators tend to avoid bits which they know other collaborators are actively working on. it is smart to build services that tacitly encourage good use. the co-presence information that supports this kind of behavior can be parsimonious and still be useful. this is the only thing that hackpad doesn't yet do which i would love and gdocs does it well: the highlight cursor that shows where someone else in the document's cursor is, to me, a lightweight and effective co-presence indicator. a richer but still lightweight co-presence implementation would be to indicate what other active users are looking at as well as where they are entering new text: viewports and cursor locations.

importantly, though, not all products need this sort of collaboration and co-presence infrastructure built in. some collaboration products need strong norms rather than technical infrastructure to support collaboration. wikis are good for large distributed production and solve the collaboration problem with human gardening; making it possible for lots of people to work on a wiki without wiki interaction norms is probably not a good idea. other products simply don't require collaboration at all. just because you can doesn't mean you should. motivations and objectives are good to think about when making things.

Aug 21, 2012

univariate ratings of multivariate objects

as ever, xkcd is a trenchant observer of our world. in this case, i have shanghaied this comic to concisely make the claim that it is often problematic to impose univariate ratings on multivariate objects like wine, books (mea maxima culpa), influence, etc:

Aug 19, 2012

look no further


jess, our midwest correspondent, sends a poem in book spines from the shelves of michigan's largest bookstore.

Look no further:
the art of eating,
a feast of words,
a cultivated life.
From generation to generation,
cooking amid chaos,
the frugal gourmet keeps the feast.

Aug 17, 2012


There were some good students, and wonderful moments. I think of a class I taught in Philadelphia one evening, at a reformatory. The students were problem children, some criminal, some radically disoriented. On a large block of newsprint I showed them how Chinese characters work, and how a poem written in pictographs is different from a poem written in an alphabet. I moved on to haiku (news to them). At the end of the hour a uniformed guard said my time was up. The whole class, one by one, hugged and kissed me. On the other hand, at Yale, after a lecture, a student stood up and said my every word was wrongheaded and behind the times.

Aug 12, 2012

Aug 10, 2012

Aug 5, 2012



this is the official bonbon of the academy of management's organizational behavior division. (milk chocolate with artificially flavored hazelnut filling.)

Aug 3, 2012

mind, hands, tools

Science originated from the fusion of two old traditions, the tradition of philosophical thinking that began in ancient Greece and the tradition of skilled crafts that began even earlier and flourished in medieval Europe. Philosophy supplied the concepts for science, and skilled crafts provided the tools.

Aug 2, 2012

teaching to see

edward tufte's film  about what inge druckrey (a swiss graphic designer on the faculty at the university of the arts in philadelphia) believes seeing is about and how she teaches her students to do it  is here. 30 minutes, and worth the time.

Aug 1, 2012

the electric cradle

asobi, by yasutoki kariya [via spoon and tamago]