questionable ideas in architecture

the porous city



email me



Two punctures, one failed tube, and Daniel pulled through all the tough parts

Another good post about WeChat
When One App Rules Them All

WeChat has millions of "official accounts" - they're described as "apps within apps" here, but the author goes on to clarify that they're really web pages. Pages that WeChat gives APIs to handle payment, access to location, messaging - think of the amount of dev work it would take a typical mobile site or app to recreate that. Then think of how much more cumbersome and risky it feels to hand out credit card info or your email address to another site with janky UX and unknown data handling policies. As someone with a bias toward decentralization, it's terrifying how much more sense it makes to have a single provider mediate interactions this way.

What happens if Android tries to build in the same set of capabilities in at the OS layer? Or lets you swap in and out different identity/payment providers?

Brian Eno on walking away from success
"Now, the workaday everyday now, always looks relatively less glamorous than the rose-tinted then (except for those magic hours when your finger is right on the pulse, and those moments only happen when you've abandoned the lifeline of your own history.)" - via

Not sure why, but this song's been in my head recently:

Doing It For Themselves
Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox recording

Don't look under there
The Verge's web sucks (HN comments)
Just to put this in some rough perspective: Assuming I had a 1GB / month data plan, I could visit sites like The Verge about 3 times per day before I hit my cap. If I'm lucky, some or most of this will get cached between requests so it won't be quite that bad. In fact, another report tells me that a primed cache yields 8MB transferred - so maybe 4 visits per day.
Relevant to my day job. Unfortunately.

"in China ... WeChat is the web"

Okay divide by two given this guy's motivation to pump Kik's valuation but still.

Less breathless very interesting look at Chinese mobile UI patterns.

Pick your battles
I asked: 'I wonder if there's ever been a software company that said "you know what, we're going to do everything slowly. 100% stop and smell the roses pace." But did a good job at what they did do.'

Well ...
In the late 90s I got a chance to tour the legendary Massachusetts computer company Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC, later bought by Compaq), and the difference in culture was remarkable. There were people at DEC who had been working on threading (the manner in which operating systems manage concurrent sets of linear processor instructions) for twenty years. Half the people had PhDs in their areas of specialty. Corners were never cut to release something earlier.

Ah, I thought. This is why Microsoft won.

The once and future king
Motherfucking Website. Write once, run everywhere.

Wonder what actual commercial sites try to hew close to this. A lot of the world is going the other way.

Great moments in product management
Scene: videoconference to discuss design of new dependencies feature
Me: I should warn you, I have a fourteen-year-old CS degree and I just went on Wikipedia.
My tech lead: (sighs deeply) Let me guess, topological sort.

Ulysses annotated online
  • Infinite Ulysses (crowdsourced, some dodgy shit)
  • The Joyce Project (not crowdsourced, UI not as slick, why do I have to hover over a word to see if it has an associated note)

Finally a startup idea I'm excited about
Uber for a grizzled old cowboy to meet you on the pier where you're staring at the sea and the slate-gray sky and say "she's not coming back, you know."

When stress looks like calm
Hidden stress

"When deeply stressed, I become even more serenely calm and unflappable than usual. It happens gradually. Im a fairly laid back chap usually, so nobody (including me) notices the change. I shrug a few things off. I dont let things get to me, but over time I can end up letting things slide that I have no business letting slide. Or absorbing bullshit that I should be challenging and confronting. Or, worse, failing to help other people when I should."

Style on the web: hyperlinks
Writing Hyperlinks: Salient, Descriptive, Start with Keyword

Tagent: the concept of a hyperlink is overloaded. It seems weird that by default links to completely different domains are represented the same way as links to a paragraph on the current page.

Supporting women in geek communities

Software as an endless stream of cards from everywhere
The End of Apps As We Know Them

Lots of people trying to figure out what replaces the "grid of apps" approach to mobile. This article is a pretty good extrapolation of trends we're already seeing - first we had notifications. Then we had notifications you could interact with. Eventually, maybe, you'll get so many notifications you can't deal with all of them - and here PMs start salivating at the idea of being able to apply machine intelligence to the problem of what you need to look at next. (If I didn't invent the phrase "product managed to death" I don't want to know about it.)

What this approach under-emphasizes, I think, is user intent as an unpredictably evolving thing. We'll definitely get better at inferring your intent from your schedule, from your past behavior - but in a deep way user intent will always be impossible to model well. It's arguable how much this matters: most people have a daily routine, a set of boundaries they rarely go beyond. So maybe we'll be uncannily good at this most of the time. Maybe we'll even be able to model people's desire for novelty along different dimensions to keep their stream stimulating (although it's funny that we talk about stream optimization as a solved problem given how primitive efforts are today.)

But what's the UI for expressing intent above the level of a card in this model? Text or voice control, maybe, but that's just a modality. What kinds of intents - or preferences, or states - could be expressed that the system would be able to incorporate into its model? If I want something that isn't "find me X", are we back to a grid of app icons?

From: Paul Ford
To: Virginia Heffernan
Subject: wanted you to know
i had nothing to do with that article in gawker. yes your piece had problems, but you deserved better and it was wrong of them to bring your past into it.

Saving this forever in case I need the lulz.

Just Checking In

Locking the web open
The graybeards are gazing into their palantirs, warning of doom to come. The architects are looking at how their plans for the agora are being subverted by the walls the wealthy and powerful are building. Protocols are being designed, spells are being cast, all to keep the web ungovernable. The efficacy of magic, however, requires collective belief. Do users want to live on a perpetual frontier, or will they prefer the safety of the walled gardens of mobile apps, Facebook, WeChat, and Line?

Brewster Kahle on creating a more secure, distributed web. Calling for a web that's distributed (storage, bandwidth, authentication), private and (this is new): versioned.

Maciej Ceglowski on making the Internet more human. The diagnosis is more precise than the prescription, but the diagnosis is valuable all by itself: clearly voicing our anxieties, showing how they arise from concrete developments pulling the net away from our values and aspirations.

It's not clear to me that the next wave of change is going to come from the last generation (which I count myself a part of.) But the web is going to stick around, and since the web is such a thick layer in the stack (it can be used to carry pure semantic data, or that plus presentation, or add application logic ... ) and is still the connector, we will probably never stop working to adapt it to changing capabilities, changing desires for what technologies have a home there and what we want to do there.

Anna Fisher
Anna Fisher

Facebook sharing pretty broken for sites with client-side rendering (like AngularJS)
another hack for the web server-side user-agent detection :(

Recently in California

Mersey Beats
I'm going to try something new in 2015: I'm going to write at least a little about every book that I read. (Ok, I'm going to try. This isn't a job.) I just finished "Tune In", the first volume of a projected three-volume history of the Beatles by Mark Lewisohn. It was really surprisingly fascinating and I want to try to explain why before all the images and impressions the book created fade from my memory.

Why do you care about those old men anyway?
I feel like an apologia for Beatles fandom is kind of required at this point. They're so central to the rockist canon, such a touchstone for the type of reactionaries who would dismiss hip-hop, techno and everything living and vital that I care about in music, that caring about them enough to read a book on them (three books!) seems suspect.

First, a generic defense of the study of history:it's not only not opposed to a progressive outlook, it's an important part of any understanding of the present. I say this as foundation-laying, I doubt any of the three people reading this would disagree.

Second, a more specific understanding of the Beatles - actually grokking their context, their rise, their loves, hates and ambitions - helps in understanding them as a specific group of people operating in a specific context, reacting to the music around them, expressing a particular Liverpool sensibility. All the talk about them as "timeless, central to rock history, giants" just obscures who they actually were and why they did what they did.

Finally, their rise coincided with - helped bring about - the rise of a new kind of music, a new youth culture, a new music industry ... every stage of their story so far involves people doing things no one had ever done before. Even if you think rock would have reached more or less the same place without them, a lot of things changed in the Sixties and the history of the Beatles is a fantastic lens for viewing it.

I'm pretty sure you were going to tell us about a book
It's engagingly written, a tiny bit amateurish in the best sense of the word, astoundingly well researched but wearing that lightly, and packed with memorable quotes and scenes. Lewisohn does well sketching milieu, and this is the foundation of the book.

Say something about the Beatles? anything
They weren't fantastic musicians, Paul maybe excepted. Fantastic singers and songwriters, yeah. But it's funny to think about how many people yearning tiresomely for "musicianship" put the Beatles at the top of their list.

They wanted to make black music. They had other influences, but when Little Richard told them they had that "authentic Negro sound" I can't imagine how happy they must have felt.

They were direct, funny, often assholes. Lewisohn keeps emphasizing how they refused to do anything that felt fake, that they were always true to themselves. He maybe hits that point too hard but you do finish the book feeling that part of their success came from aggressive disregard for what other people wanted or expected. I'm not sure that I would have been friends with John, but I would love to have spent time in his company. Even just reading the book you get inspired by how original his behavior - all of their behavior - was. You start to feel it's possible to live life less by rote.

Finally, when the group starts producing great work (they definitely didn't always) there starts to be a steady stream of little eruptions in the book, the Beatles doing something new and amazing. I'm not sure how much of this is their musical originality. Maybe Lewisohn could have done more to show how novelty comes from recombination - but he already does quite a bit of that. Maybe they had something.

Filed for future travel plans
Having a local cook you dinner when you're traveling sounds like a good idea.


Content Forever
New test: if your essay has less value than an essay produced by a lazy algorithm maybe don't publish it.

Jolla / Sailfish
Mobile OS with a design that emphasizes spatial navigation, gesture-based interactions that work well on devices of varying sizes. Not beautiful but seems like there'd be something soothing about working on one of these devices.

Camlistore is a set of open source formats, protocols, and software for modeling, storing, searching, sharing and synchronizing data in the post-PC era.

Basically, this is designed to be How Individuals Store Their Stuff. Forever.

Ambitious, but it's from Brad Fitzpatrick, so it might actually work.

Interesting argument that display ads will come down in price eventually ... a lot
Social Advertising Economics. Implications for the future of FB/TWTR etc. He recently admitted to getting the timing wrong on this, but still thinks things will play out as predicted. He also thinks app install ads will come down in price, that they're inflated by VC-glutted startups looking for growth.

Instant Feedly add.

The mythical "install server apps as easily as smartphone apps" service

For Linux (dedicated box at home, EC2 instance, etc.) Currently mostly CMS, email and collaboration apps.

Running my own Flickr looks interesting.

Edit: see also Portal, which is also looking at interesting stuff like having apps use Camlistore for storage.

The Grant Study
The Grant Study is part of the Study of Adult Development at Harvard Medical School. It is a 75-year longitudinal study of 268 physically- and mentally-healthy Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 19391944.

Valliant's main conclusion is that "warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on 'life satisfaction'". Put differently, Valliant says the study shows: "Happiness is love. Full stop."


Trip notes, part one: Copenhagen

The queen of Denmark (who loves the ballet and goes to nearly every new show) has a terrible seat at the Royal Theater: her box is right next to the stage, so everyone can see her, but she needs to practically lean out of her private box to see even three quarters of the stage. And that's what she does.

Two internets
I once read a Choose Your Own Adventure book that had an ending (a happy ending, I remember a picture of a shining city) you could only reach by exploring the book and opening directly to that page. You couldn't get there by picking options "if you follow the man offering candy into his van, go to page 10."

The internet's kind of the same way, there's the default internet of feeds telling you what's new what's happening, and the other internet you can only find by Googling for random stuff like Ferris Bueller's bedroom.

R.I.P. Mark Bell
20 years after Frequencies still vital and urgent:

What it's all for. Ken Downie posted "you made a difference" about Mark today and I felt a little odd about it. But on reflection, yes.

Ignore this and die
"People's trust in the cloud in technology is based on a trust that it will work predictably and at their direction." - @grimmlem

Google Glass: actually pretty useful for quadriplegics

Given what we know about software timeline estimation, "sprint" is a pretty bad rhetorical frame to use on the reg, right? Maybe it should be "a nice jog followed by dinner with your family". Then half the time it'll end up being a sprint anyway.

I wonder if there's ever been a software company that said "you know what, we're going to do everything slowly. 100% stop and smell the roses pace." But did a good job at what they did do.

"What was that non-sucky domain registrar again?"

Quick, not-fully-baked thought: Twitter's successful because it's a better place to have conversations than Facebook or Google+. It's public by default, so new people can join conversations. It doesn't have the fiddly UIs that Facebook and Google+ have for comments on posts (sometimes it feels like Facebook/Google+ let you have conversations in comments only grudgingly) partially because there is no distinction between a comment and a post.

I'm not really sure what role the 140 character limit plays here, if any. (It means that it's always easy to scan your feed without worrying that you're missing something, but that's more about the reading experience.) Keeps it flowing, keeps it about the conversation?

Safari on iOS sets the size and scale of the viewport to reasonable defaults that work well for most webpages, as shown on the left in Figure 3-9. The default width is 980 pixels.

Even if your page doesn't have any style information, or any size information of any kind. Just put a blob of text in a <body> tag and your iPhone will figure you must want to view it a tenth of an inch high.

Getting excited about the web again
I got your unified view of a conversation via federated personal sites right here

Rebel fortress at IndieWebCamp

Not sure I can handle adding a permalink back to my site for every Tweet though ...

My favorite tacos in LA

Federated online services
There's a decent definition of federation here, in the discuss of Gmail and AIM. Basically: people using service provider X can interact with people on service provider Y.

  • email
  • XMPP, eventually - although that didn't save it

If that definition is right, it only really applies to interactions that peer-to-peer, mediated by servers. But identity/ single sign-on is called federated as well, and is really just a peer-server-server interaction, so ...

You've got mail
email beat service-specific messaging once ...

1. Internet used only by geeks, with open (federated) email services
2. Internet commercializes, but new users shunted into closed, service-specific messaging, typically tied to their ISP (Prodigy, AOL, ... )
3. Service-specific messaging platforms add external messaging
4. Messaging becomes decoupled from ISP (usually, you have a family member somewhere with a address)

Arriving in Newport Beach
A pier in Newport Beach from the air


Visual CSV Fingerprint

Games, Video, History, Berlin, Activism, Friday, Clothes, Feminism, San Francisco, Podcasts, Quizzes, Sports, Statistics, Personal care, CrowdFlower, Travel, Minnesota, Transportation, Law, Geography, Bicycling, Politik, Life hacks, Toys, L.A., Boston, Food & Drink, Agriculture, Surfing, NYC

Javascript, Audio, Open, RSS, Shopping, Social, Net, Storage, Wearables, Product Management, Hardware, Web analytics, Business, Mobile, Security, Medical, Visual, WRX, barcamp, Crowdsourcing, s60, Web, OS, Development, Collaboration, MacOS, PIM, Automobile, Energy

Good tracks, Musicians, Mailing lists, History, Shopping, Reviews, Streams, Booking, Business, Labels, Making, Mixes, Hip-hop, Lyrics, Mp3s, House, Videos, L.A., Events, Boston

Vocations, Weblogs, Enemies, ADD, Friends, Heroes, Health, Family, Languages, Me, MOTAS, Subcultures, Stories, Gossip, Working with, Life hacks, Exercise

Personal finance, Web, Real Estate, Investing, Macroeconomics, Insurance, Shopping, Microfinance, Personal services, Non-profit, Taxes, Marketing and CRM, International Development, IP Law, Management consulting

Movies, Animation, Comix, Visual, Literature, Humor, Burning Man, Rhetoric, Outlets, Sculpture, iPad bait, Events, Spoken Word, Poetry

Type, Cool, Data visualization, Web, Tools, IA, Process, Furniture, User experience, Architecture, Presentations

Zoology, Networks, Psychology, Statistics and Data, Environment, Physics

Uganda, Vagabond '08, Kenya, Kingdom of Siam

Photos I Wish I'd Taken, Friends, Moblog


One Acre Fund

Subscribe to this site's rss feed