Uncanny Valley.

The 6th paragraph of “Uncanny Valley” starts:

skim recruiter emails and job listings like horoscopes, skidding down to the perks: competitive salary, dental and vision, 401k, free gym membership, catered lunch, bike storage, ski trips to Tahoe, off-sites to Napa, summits in Vegas, beer on tap, craft beer on tap, kombucha on tap, wine tastings, Whiskey Wednesdays, Open Bar Fridays, massage on-site, yoga on-site, pool table, Ping-Pong table, Ping-Pong robot, ball pit, game night, movie night, go-karts, zip line. Job listings are an excellent place to get sprayed with HR’s idea of fun and a 23-year-old’s idea of work-life balance.

Please tell me how this is fiction.

(Via The Awl.)

The web we have to save.

I’ve read a lot of defenses and descriptions of hyperlinks, but this may be the most poetic:

But hyperlinks aren’t just the skeleton of the web: they are its eyes, a path to its soul. And a blind webpage, one without hyperlinks, can’t look or gaze at another webpage – and this has serious consequences for the dynamics of power on the web.

Part prescient critique, part nostalgic complaint; a little glib and a lot biased – but Hossein Derakhshan’s essay is in the ballpark of righteousness. He benefits from the unique position of having held a measure of power through the ’00s and having no access to the internet at all during Facebook’s empire-building of the last seven years: it allows him to see the present social network platform oligarchy as a whole and strange thing.

Also, though his essay skids off the rails after this section, this bit is totally real – emphasis mine:

Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex and secretive algorithms.

Welcome to 2016 everyone.

Pounder.

Yesterday I learned that an alternate name for a tallboy is a “pounder.” Which as far as I’m concerned is a brilliant (and rare) single-word double entendres.

My first interpretation was that a sixteen-ounce can of beer is an ideal format for “pounding,” or sport drinking. But it is a sixteen-ounce can.

A pounder weighs a pound!

All made-up constructions.

Just as we look with curiosity at the hep lingo of the Beats (and selectively adopt their patois), I predict generations hence will both mock and adopt the Google-optimized syntax and gleefully vulgar diction of the contemporary listicle. And in that future, linguists and grammarians reverse-engineering our decade’s contribution to language will probably extract something not unlike this: the BuzzFeed style guide.

And it’s a nonclusterfuck. While it may seem to the casual observer that BuzzFeed plays fast and loose, this style guide is evidence that the enterprise employs a flavor of editorial rigor seemingly bygone, more conservative era. This is a good thing.

The word list is a time capsule in waiting. Editors openly acknowledge the role the site plays in a broader conversation, advocating hat-tips in their corrections policy. The LGBT section is thorough and humane. Just as On Writing is my favorite Stephen King book, this is probably my favorite thing BuzzFeed has published.

A few of my favorite bon mots:

  • On combining forms:

    “-esque (closed up/hyphens depend on readability: yolo-esque, Kafkaesque)”

  • On headlines:

    “For lists, always use a numeral. ‘9 Adorable Photos Of Monkeys Riding Cats,’ ’54 Amazing GIFs Of Naked Presidents'”

  • On music:

    “Hyphenate all made-up constructions.”

  • On periods:

    “Use one space between a period and the next sentence. Never two.” (Yes please.)

  • Miscellaneous numerals:

    “8mm film, 8-track tape, Hot 97, 55 mph, $150K”

Related, both in the Atlantic: Because Internet and TL;DR: Srsly, this is the future of language. Squee.

Turtles all the way down.

Last Saturday, Christina and I watched a reading of “Manahatta” by Mary Kathryn Nagle at the Public as part of their New Work Now! 2013 series. It’s a delightfully arch production, structured as a series of scenes between two time periods (17th-century Manahatta and late-2000s Wall Street, with dramatic overlaps) like Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” worth watching if you’re a New Yorker, care about Native American issues, or the peculiar interplay of indigenous people and ambitious conquerors and its long-term consequences. Its structure lends itself to juxtapositions, and even if they sometimes overreach in this play, they’re intriguing enough to merit proper staging. A scene depicting the infamous $24 real-estate deal successfully elicited a knowing, sympathetic cringe. History repeats throbs just under the surface like a subwoofer through drywall.

From all the clever chronological cross-referencing, among the more incisive and memorable fulcra was Nagle’s use of the word speak. In “Manahatta,” it means more than merely uttering words: it means a presence in the consequential moments of one’s own history. To lose the ability to speak, to have it beaten out of you, or to arrive at a consequential moment with neither the necessary language nor immediate skill to translate is pretty much terminal for one’s culture and way of life.

In both time periods, characters tell the Lenape story of the origins of life on earth: a turtle rose from the water, a tree grew from its back and sprouted a man, the tree bent over to touch the ground again and sprouted a woman. I like this story because it’s the foundation of one of my favorite cosmological epigrams.

And “Manahatta” is a rich story well-told, but a staging with sets and costumes will undoubtedly change the effect of the words (to say nothing of the stresses of syllables from show-to-show). Unlike so much of what I consume, this is explicitly a work in progress, something put forth as something that will potentially be quite different in the future (and I feel invested enough to return).

Related: I watched “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” in its premiere run at Woolly Mamoth last year and would recommend it to interested friends in New York who’ve ever compulsively quoted the Simpsons. I am interested to find out how too this has changed since it made its way up the 95.

Since last time: I wrapped a project in Pennsylvania with a design presentation and delivery of a pair of PDFs for functional specifications. Took a day off to take delivery of a new dresser, a vintage stainless-steel number not unrelated to tanker desks and barrister bookcases I have loved.

This weekend in theater, literature, and music: “Matilda” tonight, back to the Public on Saturday for “All The Faces of the Moon”, and the Brooklyn Book Festival and Chvrches in concert on Sunday.

Next week: a new project in Michigan opens with two days of interviews bookended by late-night flights with layovers. And before that, drinking about wireframes at the Brooklyn UX happy hour in Gowanus.

Finally: these are some awesome pictures of goats.

The dialogue between desire and possibility.

I added War From the Ground Up to my to-read list, largely based on this crystalline, headstone-worthy epigram:

As Simpson puts it, strategy is always “the dialogue between desire and possibility”. Politicians may desire an outcome but their strategy has to be tempered by the operational realities on the ground.
—Emile Simpson, as quoted in the Financial Times

Seriously, I can’t believe the concept of strategy had not been defined so damn neatly until that point in time, over steak tartare and Dorset crabs. The closest I’ve gotten to such a sweet summation is my definition of wireframes (but as anybody who works in web design well knows, nobody cares about wireframes).

The last time I consumed a book based on an such a sentence was Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent, which ended with its protagonist (Luca Turin) defining metaphor as the currency of knowledge. As a half-bored 21-year-old in the backseat of my parents’ Camry on the way home from Sunday mass, I remember hearing Burr read the book’s last two paragraphs on a Studio 360 interview, and the words froze me. I knew I had to read this book, and the next day, I borrowed it from the Downey Public Library, read it in two days, and have counted it among my favorite books since. (It’s also the deepest root of my present love of perfumery.)

Speaking of favorite books, while it does not have any singular narrative thrust, Lunch with the FT is a tremendous tome for high-brow travellers in a mood for non-fiction: short articles that fit neatly into train platforms and airport lounges, public figures both familiar and obscure rendered somewhat at-ease (and occasionally in watercolor illustrations), and proceedings described with details of some of the world’s better restaurants (including receipts) – I’ll vouch for its place on your to-read list and your carry-on.

At its center is the squirrel, combusting.

From the apocalyptic imagery of its opening lines to one of the most evocative descriptions of bureaucratic residue I’ve read, very few articles about our electrical grid have captured my imagination quite like “Squirrel Power!” It’s a story about power outages caused by squirrels, and it’s a strong contender to be one of my favorite pieces of journalism of this year.

While it doesn’t have the same import as last weekend’s also-brilliant (and definitely more grave-feeling and timely) “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask,” it’s worth pointing out that it is much, much better than its frivolously punctuated title might lead you to believe. Jon Mooallem’s use of imagery is about eight levels better than it needs to be, and his use of acronyms recalls their humorous deployment in The Princess Bride. On the journey between the Thus spake Zarathustra by-way-of Mel Brooks opening and the perspective-shifting final paragraphs, cheek and statistics abound. Spokespeople from utility companies and townfolk chime in from South Carolina, Montana, and Michigan. And squirrels pop.

Some of my favorite passages (with added emphasis):

I wind up hearing a lot of the same snarky jokes. People say the squirrels are staging an uprising. People say the squirrels are calculating, nut-cheeked saboteurs trying to overthrow humanity. Like the apes in “Planet of the Apes,” or the Skynet computer network in “The Terminator,” the squirrels represent a kind of neglected intelligence that’s suddenly, sinisterly switching on.

And while gruesome, the phrase “lingering, second wave of obstruction” that necessarily describes the nature of the problem just sticks in the mind, a fully-formed beauty. (Everything after and including the words “dead weight” also recalls Monty Python.)

But if the squirrel doesn’t fall off the equipment — if its charred carcass is lodged there — the squirrel can trigger a so-called continuous fault, interrupting the restarted flow of electricity all over again. It’s a zombie attack: a lingering, second wave of obstruction. The lights go out when our electrical grid can find no way around this stuck hunk of dead weight that used to be a squirrel.

This passage about navigating public records to study this issue is unexpectedly rich:

What exists, instead, are only flecks of information, the partial outline of a very annoying apparition.

And this is the first of those aforementioned final paragraphs. “Natural order” is a pretty loaded term, but since he’s writing about nature (and the way squirrels’ teeth grow), I’ll withhold my usual cringe:

A power outage caused by a squirrel feels so surprising only because we’ve come to see our electrical grid — all these wires with which, little by little, we’ve battened down the continent — as a constant. Electricity everywhere, at the flick of a switch, seems like the natural order, while the actual natural order — the squirrel programmed by evolution to gnaw and eat acorns and bask and leap and scamper — winds up feeling like a preposterous, alien glitch in that system. It’s a pretty stunning reversal, if you can clear the right kind of space to reflect on it, and fortunately power outages caused by squirrels do that for you by shutting off your TV and Internet.

Another paragraph begins: “There have been very few squirrel specialists throughout history.” And while this bald assertion seems meant to prompt a guffaw, I’d like to think it also alludes to the melancholy (and rather meta) revelation that there are very few outlets today where 2,200 words could be published about the effects of small synanthropes (love this word) on the delivery of basic services. Or really, in an age when this article is barely satire, where journalism about any factors that affect the delivery of basic services could be published.

And while I wish for a natural order of vaguely emo short-form infrastructure writing, that would not guarantee a similarly satisfying blend of introspection, statistics, and cheek that Mooallem has produced here. Still, I am grateful for this alien glitch and the space to reflect on it.

(Via Christina)

Artisanal GIFs.

Moomin says hi

With broadband connections and high-definition YouTube and Hulu clips as prevalent as they are, why do people want to watch these relatively grainy, endlessly looping little videos? Part of the answer is that animated GIFs—soundless, coarsely textured, and powerless to describe complex color—appeal to an imperfection fetish like the one columnist Rob Walker recently discerned in the vogue for photographic technologies that simulate the degraded look of Super 8 film and Holga cameras. But the present-day GIF love goes beyond aesthetics and nostalgia. Animated GIFs aren’t just throwbacks—they’re uniquely suited to some very contemporary modes of cultural consumption, and they perform distinct functions that other formats can’t.
Jonah Weiner

Three Frames deploys art memes. If We Don’t, Remember Me makes them poignant. From Me To You makes them sexy. I’ve been pinning my favorites, anticipating art.

You are listening to Los Angeles.

You are listening to Los Angeles is an astounding single-serving site. Technically, it’s a cloud-leveraged mashup of a SoundCloud file, LAPD streaming audio, Cabin typeface, and a Flickr photo. As an experience, it’s not unlike a Pandora station started by a fan of Heat.

Self-described in metadata as Ambient music and live LAPD police radio. What’s not to like? It could also work with the Jurassic Park theme slowed down 1000%.

(via BLDGBLOG)

Also, New York takes a less literal approach.

A web of yes.


via Kindra

I thought these two were related:

I’ve learned that the web has countless ways to say “no,” or to say “meh.” It has fewer ways to say “yes.” Readability looks like a way to say “yes” to people doing hard work—whether they’re journalists, essay and fiction writers, publishers, editors, fact-checkers, illustrators, photographers, proofreaders, circulation specialists—or the people who write the checks. The web needs more “yes.”

Paul Ford via Frank Chimero

My persistent frustration with most web design is that it doesn’t give me what I want or, for that matter, what the site seems to want to give.

Google ads, tag clouds, and excessive hyperlinks litter the page, forcing type smaller and smaller just so it can “fit above the fold.” Or, worse, the tl;dr Tumblr crowd who present us with nothing but acontextual photos and clever sentences from the first paragraphs of The New Yorker articles in large, bold, sans-serif type.

Fuck the fold. And fuck tl;dr. I like scrolling, I like long reads, and I like large (enough) type.

Andrew Simone

In case you missed it:

Recent viewing: I can’t more strongly recommend The 39 Steps, which we watched as part of the AFI Silver Theater’s Hitchcock Retrospective. Occasionally slapstick and often disorienting, the whole show is elliptical but rich, especially so for a sub-90 minute feature film.

I also recommend Inside Job. Though the tone gets pushy and the filmmakers do an uneven job of keeping all the facts in order, they are to be credited for getting at the deeper systematic causes of the 2008 financial crisis with an unusually strong indictment of higher education institutions – and perhaps it only seems strong because it is merely present.

Oh, and I have a working television at my residence for the first time in almost six years. What’s everyone doing for Oscar night?

What is internet, anyway?

I came across this video on YouTube, a company that started as a website that hosted short videos, bought for upwards of $700 billion by another company whose revenue is largely generated through advertising on a web search engine. And the @ symbol is part of MoMA’s permanent collection.

(Via The Daily What, sort of.)

This video of Quebecois kids and obsolete technology seems somehow related:

Traces of interfaces.

It’s hard to appreciate the variety of UIs though, since turning the screen off removes virtually all evidence of them. To spotlight these differences, I looked at the only fragments that remain from using an app: fingerprints.
Remnants of a Disappearing UI via things magazine

I often play Boggle on my iPod touch during my commute and end the day with a four-by-four grid of smudges clustered around the home button.

By their covers.

First class each semester I hand the students a questionnaire. One of the questions asks the students to draw, from memory, the cover of their favorite book of all time. I superimpose the drawings over a photo of a blank book, then show them to the students the following class.
Spine Out, “Favorite Book Sketches”

Related: The Times on books as decorations and the dying art of judging commuters by their reading preferences.