writegeek

write with a W, geek like a G


MOOCing for fun (and profit?)

Last year I read an inter­est­ing blog post that taught me the name for some­thing I’d been hear­ing more and more about for a while: MOOCs (“Mas­sive Open Online Courses”). You know, they’re those online classes that you can take, offered by uni­ver­si­ties like Stan­fordHar­vard and oth­ers — plus a host of pri­vate com­pa­nies — typ­i­cally for free and with­out credit. Oh, and across an absolute met­ric fuck­ton of topics.

Yes­ter­day, set­ting aside any traces of an um-yeah-I-already-finished-college-thank-you atti­tude, I spent some time pok­ing around MOOC List — an exten­sive aggre­ga­tor of avail­able classes — and found some­thing that caught my eye: Intro to the Design of Every­day Things, as taught by Don Nor­man, author of that book you may have seen on my din­ing room table, wait­ing patiently to be read, for a lit­tle while now. (Okay, Ama­zon says it’s been over two years.)

So I’m tak­ing Don’s class now, and while I’m not sure if I’ve had my eyes opened to any truly new con­cepts yet, I’ve picked up a cou­ple of terms: “affor­dance” and “sig­ni­fier.” And to fin­ish off Les­son 1, I’m cur­rently on the look­out for a sig­ni­fier to pho­to­graph, cri­tique and improve.

So, why Intro to the Design of Every­day Things? I can actu­ally share the answer I posted to the class forum:

I’m tak­ing this class because, as a copy­writer whose opin­ions on the fin­ished prod­uct tend to extend a bit beyond my spe­cific area of exper­tise, I’d like a more solid ground­ing in these other areas.

Basi­cally, soon I’ll be telling you why I’m right about even more things, using all the right terms. Look out.

Written by Everett Guerny

March 26th, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Not everyone’s a critic

As a kid, I hated “crit­i­cal think­ing” questions.

I didn’t know what the term even meant, but what I did know was that about a third of the ques­tions at the end of each chap­ter in my school text­books were “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions. I’d read the assigned text — well, usu­ally — but skim­ming the chap­ter for key words would mag­i­cally reveal the answers… at least for all the nor­mal questions.

In what year did Napolean what­ever? I knew the hack for that: scan the text for numbers.

My goal was to get my work done as quickly as pos­si­ble, because the draw of TV time at home, and “free time” in class was strong. Crit­i­cal think­ing was an annoy­ing road­block to very impor­tant leisure. I just wanted to get done.

As an adult, I take my time when I work — I just try not to com­pletely Dou­glas Adams my dead­lines, if you catch my drift. Qual­ity is impor­tant (although it’s only job two), and if I fin­ish some­thing early, odds are it could use some more thought, another look tomor­row with fresh eyes, or some­thing like that.

There really is no prize for fin­ish­ing first.

I real­ize now that the crit­i­cal think­ing ques­tions were the only ones that ever really mat­tered. Teach­ers prob­a­bly told us that, but it didn’t mean any­thing at the time. And when I look around today, I get the sense that to a lot of my peers, it still doesn’t.

Written by Everett Guerny

February 28th, 2014 at 9:07 pm

The Premium McWrap packaging is very nicely designed

McDonald's Premium McWrap 1I’m clearly no stranger to mar­ket­ing, but my career hasn’t yet brought me in touch with prod­uct pack­ag­ing. I like pack­ag­ing, and I’ve actu­ally bought things over the years because they were nicely pack­aged — stuff like candy,1 Altoids Sours, some ran­dom bike part… and yes, I’ve even bought myself a few low-balance gift cards2 to keep in my this is so awe­some file.

I recently found myself impressed with the card­board pack­ag­ing around the McDonald’s Pre­mium McWrap — I should prob­a­bly go ask for a clean one while they’re still avail­able. I guess I didn’t notice when they added this item to the menu, because I ordered my first one by mis­take. My annoy­ance at pay­ing about dou­ble what I expected turned to intrigue about as soon as I peeked into my drive-through bag.

Some of that price cer­tainly went into the pack­ag­ing design. What I found wasn’t a cheap paper-clad item like stan­dard McDonald’s wraps, but some­thing that actu­ally looks like a “pre­mium” product.

  • The box is rather thought­fully designed, con­tain­ing the food very nicely within — you know, what you want from a container.
  • It has a pull-and-tear strip for open­ing the pack­age… and nat­u­rally, the strip runs right past the Xbox ad unit on the front.
  • There’s a lit­tle tab sys­tem on the side of the box that’s there pri­mar­ily to indi­cate which wrap you ordered, but also to pas­sively edu­cate you on the rest of the lineup. (“Oh look, they also have sweet chili flavor!”)
  • It doesn’t look like this should work, but once you’ve opened the pack­age, the box eas­ily stands upright, even with the wrap inside.
McDonald's Premium McWrap 2 McDonald's Premium McWrap 3

Wait, was what tasty?

  1. Still pissed that my par­ents wouldn’t buy me Bub­ble Tape.
  2. Con­fuse your local cashier today — ask for a $1 gift card!

Written by Everett Guerny

February 25th, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Derechos, am I right(s)?

Span­ish is a lan­guage I’ve stud­ied on and off through­out my life, but never hard enough, it seems. See­ing a pam­phlet recently, titled Declaración de los dere­chos, made me feel that way. The actual mean­ing (“dec­la­ra­tion of rights”) was easy enough for me to fig­ure out, but I was sur­prised when I real­ized that the Span­ish word for “rights” is dere­chos.

Whether or not you under­stand Span­ish, you may be won­der­ing why I found this so strange.

Well, a word in Span­ish I cer­tainly know is derecha (which means “right”… as in, the direc­tion that isn’t “left”) — it’s one of the first words any­one learns in Span­ish. And despite that word and dere­chos hav­ing dif­fer­ent gen­ders, it can’t be a coin­ci­dence that the two words are almost the same in both Eng­lish and Spanish.

What’s so weird about that? Why shouldn’t these Eng­lish homo­phones be sim­i­lar in Spanish?

I’d explain it like this: I mostly feel this way because of how it works with another pair of Span­ish words — in Eng­lish, the word free has dif­fer­ent mean­ings that each trans­late dif­fer­ently. Most of the time we prob­a­bly think of it in the “cost­ing zero dol­lars” sense… but there’s also the arguably higher-minded def­i­n­i­tion “exist­ing with­out restric­tion.” In Span­ish, they’re two very dif­fer­ent words, the for­mer being gratis and the lat­ter being libre.

In the English-speaking world, I see the dif­fer­ence between the two “frees” most often come up in the Free Soft­ware1 com­mu­nity. When dis­cussing Free Soft­ware phi­los­o­phy, peo­ple will wax elo­quent about the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of free, using phrases like “free as in beer” and “free as in free­dom” to help con­trast the two. They’ll also occa­sion­ally veer into expla­na­tions of Span­ish vocab­u­lary to high­light the dif­fer­ence, point­ing out that gratis and libre are more pre­cise ways to describe two kinds of soft­ware, both of which are “free,” but in sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent senses of the word.

With my mind steeped in this soft­ware salon cul­ture of the back-alley forums of the Inter­net, I became so keenly aware of the extra mean­ing words can pick up when trans­lated into other languages.

And that’s why I find it so hard to believe that, en Español, “rights” are sim­ply dere­chos. The trans­la­tion should be some­thing more abstract… more libre–like. I wouldn’t have guessed that when trans­lated, my rights become “not lefts.”

  1. You may also know this as “Open Source,” although there are folks who will tell you that they’re not the same thing. These folks have beards.

Written by Everett Guerny

January 31st, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Dear everyone who says “irregardless,”

The word you’re actu­ally look­ing for is irre­gard­ful.

You’re wel­come.

Written by Everett Guerny

January 20th, 2014 at 11:57 am

Firefox Miami Style?

Part of run­ning an actual server (as opposed to shared web host­ing) is actu­ally being con­cerned about secu­rity. I reg­u­larly keep an eye on my access logs and the like, and I don’t usu­ally find that much to worry about — I just keep ipt­a­bles, and a few other tools, within reach.

But this par­tic­u­lar user-agent string show up in vis­its from time to time (bots, I’m guess­ing)… what the hell is Fire­fox Miami Style?

An exam­ple:

37.9.53.64 - - [26/Dec/2013:13:34:39 -0500] "POST /wp-login.php/wp-login.php HTTP/1.1" 200 10956 "writegeek.com/wp-login.php/wp-login.php" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:21.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/21.0 USA\\Miami Style"

Try­ing to POST to a nonex­is­tent URL? That’s clas­sic Miami style, if I’ve ever seen it.

Written by Everett Guerny

January 9th, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Winamp — “feel the love”

Winamp 2.95I prob­a­bly haven’t used Winamp in a decade, but learn­ing that it’s finally going away for good brought it back to the top of my mind this week.

Winamp wasn’t just my pri­mary digital-music-playing-thing1 — like many peo­ple, it was the first thing I ever used to play MP3s.

Yes Junior, back then Win­dows Media Player was for CDs and WAV files, and iTunes didn’t exist yet.2

What made Winamp so awe­some? I could devote a whole post3  to the genius of Winamp skins, and things I’ve been read­ing (1, 2, 3) over­whelm­ingly ref­er­ence the clas­sic “whip the llama’s ass” sound clip — which, in addi­tion to being a neat lit­tle brand­ing thing, was per­ma­nently imprinted on everyone’s mem­ory by being the first thing that would play after installation.

Those were cool, but my favorite Winamp mem­ory is some­thing a lit­tle less… super­fi­cial, per­haps? It’s a short piece of writ­ing that long ago was fea­tured on the “About” page of winamp.com:

What is Winamp? A player you say? No, no baby. Winamp is much more than that.

Winamp is a lifestyle. It is freestyle. Give me a word. Ver­sa­til­ity? Yeah. Vision­ary? Of course. Com­mu­nity? Now you’re talking.

Winamp lives because it’s users have a life.

Winamp is in the cof­fee house. On the lap­top. Of the guy. Who is writ­ing the screen­play. That you will be watch­ing next year.

Winamp is on the screen. In the club. Where the DJ plays the tracks. That get you through the night.

Winamp is with you. When you take your playlist. Push it to the ether. And share the music that you love. With all of humanity.

Winamp lets you put together the sound­track. That runs in the back­ground of your mind. And allows you to define your life.

Winamp is your skin. Allow­ing you to look and feel the way you want.

Winamp is what it is and noth­ing more. But you are the one who makes it. Winamp is there for you. It is yours. What hap­pens next? You tell me. Down­load Winamp.

–jonathan “feel the love” ward

Read­ing it back then left me a bit misty, filled with this strangely inspired feel­ing. The piece comes to mind every once in a while, at which point I seek out a copy to re-read it. Look, I can’t point to any­thing in par­tic­u­lar that I wrote or cre­ated thanks to this inspi­ra­tion. But in some way, it made me think dif­fer­ently not just about the power of music, but the trans­for­ma­tive power of what would oth­er­wise seem like triv­ial soft­ware. Read­ing this made me feel like Winamp did more than just “play music.”

But in real­ity, that’s all it did. Or was there more?

Give me a word. Hyper­bole? Maybe. Awe­some? Undeniable.

  1. Until iTunes for Win­dows showed me the value in hav­ing a library of files. Yeah, I know Winamp has a library fea­ture, but I never used it.
  2. Oh, and by the way, MP3s were these things peo­ple used to lis­ten to before there was YouTube.
  3. And, shit, I may — Winamp was doing skeu­mor­phics before Apple did skeu­mor­phics before Apple stopped doing skeu­mor­phics.

Written by Everett Guerny

November 22nd, 2013 at 9:07 pm