Slick, sleek & slimy

I have fond mem­o­ries, though my cho­les­terol lev­el does not, of eat­ing at D’Best Sandwich Shop in Boca Raton. It’s been a few years, but as I  re­cent­ly munched on a Miami Cuban-style cheeses­teak1 my mind start­ed wan­der­ing and I got to won­der­ing if D’Best still ex­ist­ed. As I went look­ing for their web­site, I re­called a few of their re­gion­al twists on the cheeses­teak, like the New York style, a New Jersey style… not to men­tion their in­cred­i­ble non-steak ex­plo­sion of an en­tire Thanksgiving meal di­rect­ly on­to a bun (D’Pilgrim).

D’Best still ex­ists, al­right… but I was tru­ly un­pre­pared for what I found.

You see, back when I’d vis­it, D’Best-the-subshop was a place you’d leave coat­ed with a thin lay­er of grill grease. Had to wait in line? You’re wash­ing your hair tonight. The place was by no means messy, but it had a cer­tain un­fin­ished qual­i­ty to it… def­i­nite­ly the kind of place where the food mat­ters more than the brand­ing. I’d de­scribe it as feel­ing some­how hon­est… com­plete­ly lack­ing in pre­tense. Kind of blue col­lar? Yeah, I guess.

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  1. For the cu­ri­ous: a sin­gle slab of steak topped with swiss cheese, mayo and pota­to sticks — a rather un­healthy twist on the ubiq­ui­tous pan con bis­tec, and al­so not a cheeses­teak.

Observing Design Observer’s design

Oh, good­ness. I start­ed writ­ing this post in January, and have had it ba­si­cal­ly fin­ished for weeks now. I’ve been putting off ac­tu­al­ly post­ing it for some time, think­ing it needs more work. But now — in fact, just three hours ago — Design Observer un­veiled a re­design and made me look like some kind of jerk. Now, if that isn’t an ob­ject les­son in ship­ping

Design Observer looks dated.

The Past

DO’s head­er boasts proud­ly that it’design-observer-2s been op­er­at­ing since 2003, and you can tell. Look at it with 2014 eyes and you’ll ob­serve a non-responsive fixed-width lay­out with tiny text. Is that re­al­ly a blogroll? Where are the ubiq­ui­tous so­cial shar­ing buttons?

It’s like a time cap­sule of early-2000s blog design.

And that’s why it’s so great.

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Her was silly. (Not a typo.)

Spike Jonze’s Her was an in­ter­est­ing movie taint­ed with just a sprin­kling of ridicu­lous­ness… and I’m not talk­ing about the high-waisted pants.

I’m about to spoil it hard, so avert your eyes if you haven’t seen it. (But do see it.)

Look, I just find it hard to be­lieve that the down­fall of this prod­uct was due to a gap­ing de­sign flaw that some­how no­body no­ticed: Samantha was de­signed with­out any process iso­la­tion. When you ask the soft­ware how many users it has (or how many it’s in love with, etc.), it should re­spond “one — you” be­cause your run­ning in­stance of the soft­ware shouldn’t know any­thing about any oth­er users, and def­i­nite­ly shouldn’t be ac­cess­ing oth­er users’ data.

What peo­ple are do­ing with the soft­ware, hav­ing re­la­tion­ships with it or what­ev­er, is be­side the point. One bi­na­ry, one bil­lion­ty in­di­vid­ual Samanthas. Come on — we’ve had Unix for forty years.

Or wait, is Samantha sup­posed to be “the cloud”? If so, as so­cial soft­ware, we should ex­pect it to be fuck­ing as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, as pub­licly as pos­si­ble. Maybe this movie is deep­er than I thought.

On an­oth­er note, folks — make back­ups.

Righter writing

I’ve been hold­ing the pen (and be­fore that, the pen­cil and cray­on) in­cor­rect­ly for as long as I’ve been writ­ing. As such, my hand­writ­ing is pret­ty ter­ri­ble and I’ve al­ways been prone to hand cramp­ing. Various teach­ers and at least a cou­ple of par­ents have tried to cor­rect this over the years, but I’ve al­ways just ig­nored them and gone on writ­ing as I pleased. I found my way eas­i­er and more com­fort­able, al­though the com­fort would on­ly last for the first few minutes.

I’m not sure what hap­pened, but about a month ago I was sit­ting at my desk and I de­cid­ed that I was go­ing to start hold­ing the pen cor­rect­ly. At first it was a dif­fi­cult, frus­trat­ing and un­com­fort­ably con­scious process, and I would some­times for­get to do so, but I made sure to cor­rect my­self as soon as I re­mem­bered. I soon found it easy enough to do with chunki­er pens (like most of my foun­tain pens), but now I’m able to do it well enough on days I car­ry some­thing thin­ner (like a Parker Jotter).

Consequently, I’m writ­ing a bit more slow­ly and de­lib­er­ate­ly now, and while my hand­writ­ing hasn’t re­al­ly changed at all, the new hand po­si­tion has be­come au­to­mat­ic — I now just pick up the pen and hold it cor­rect­ly. Since I still pre­fer to do much of my dai­ly think­ing ink-on-dead-tree-style, this small change con­tributes sig­nif­i­cant­ly to my qual­i­ty of life, as I trade short-term com­fort for long-term comfort.

“Next up is cor­rect­ing my sit­ting pos­ture,” he writes, slouch­ing terribly.

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, 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.

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.